Lancelot and Elaine by Mary MacGregor
Her name was Elaine. But she was so fair
that her father called her ‘Elaine the Fair,’
and she was so lovable that her brothers
called her ‘Elaine the Lovable,’ and that
was the name she liked best of all.
The country people, who lived round about
the castle of Astolat, which was Elaine’s
home, had another and a very beautiful
name for her. As she passed their windows
in her white frock, they looked at the white
lilies growing in their gardens, and they
said, ‘She is tall and graceful and pure as
these,’ and they called her the ‘Lily Maid
Elaine lived in the castle alone with her
father and her two brothers, and an old
dumb servant who had waited on her since
she was a baby.
To her father Elaine seemed always a
bright and winsome child, though she was
growing up now. He would watch her
serious face as she listened to Sir Torre,
the grave elder brother, while he told her
that wise maidens stayed at home to cook
and sew. And he would laugh as he saw
her, when Sir Torre turned away, run off
wilfully to the woods.
Elaine spent long happy days out of doors
with her younger brother Lavaine. When
they grew tired of chasing the butterflies
and gathering the wildflowers, they would
sit under the pine-trees and speak of Arthur’s
knights and their noble deeds, and they
longed to see the heroes of whom they
‘And the tournament will be held at
Camelot this year,’ Lavaine reminded his
sister. ‘If some of the knights ride past
Astolat, we may see them as they pass.’
And Elaine and Lavaine counted the days
till the tournament would begin.
Now Arthur had offered the prize of a
large diamond to the knight who fought
most bravely at the tournament.
But the knights murmured to each other,
‘We need not hope to win the prize, for Sir
Lancelot will be on the field, and who can
stand before the greatest knight of Arthur’s
And the Queen heard what the knights
said to each other, and she told Lancelot
how they lost courage and hope when he
came on to the field. ‘They begin to think
some magic is at work when they see you,
and they cannot fight their best. But I
have a plan. You must go to the tournament
at Camelot in disguise. And though
the knights do not know with whom they
fight, they will still fall before the strength
of Lancelot’s arm,’ added the Queen, smiling
up to him.
Then Lancelot disguised himself, and left
the court and rode towards Camelot. But
when he was near Astolat he lost his way,
and wandered into the old castle grounds,
where Elaine stood, with her father and
And as Elaine’s father, the old Baron,
welcomed the knight, Lavaine and Elaine
whispered together, ‘This is better than to
see many knights passing on their way to
And Lancelot stayed at Astolat till evening,
and he told many tales of Arthur’s court.
As Elaine and Lavaine listened to his
voice, and looked at his face, with the scars
of many battles on it, they loved him. ‘I
will be his squire and follow him,’ thought
Lavaine, and Elaine wished that she might
follow the strange knight too. But Sir Torre,
the grave elder brother, looked gloomily at
the stranger, and wished he had not come
In the evening Sir Lancelot told the Baron
how he was going in disguise to the tournament,
and how, by mistake, he had brought
his own shield with him. ‘If you can lend
me another, I will leave my shield with
you till I come back from Camelot,’ said
Then they gave him Sir Torre’s shield, for
Sir Torre had been wounded in his first
battle, and could not go to the tournament.
And Elaine came running gladly to take
the strange knight’s shield under her care.
But none of them knew that it was Sir
Lancelot’s shield, for he had not told them
And Elaine, carrying the shield with her,
climbed the tower stair, up to her own little
room. And she put the shield carefully into
a corner, thinking, ‘I will sew a cover for it,
to keep it safe and bright.’ Then she went
downstairs again, and saw that the knight
was going, and that Lavaine was going
‘He has asked the knight to take him as
his squire,’ she thought. ‘But although I
cannot go,’ she murmured sadly, ‘I can ask
him to wear my favour at the tournament.’
For in those days a knight often wore the
colours of the lady who loved him.
Very shyly Elaine told the knight her wish.
Would he wear her favour at the tournament?
It was a red sleeve, embroidered with white
Lancelot thought how fair Elaine was, as
she looked up at him with love and trust in
her eyes, but he told her gently that he had
never yet worn a lady’s favour, and that he
could not wear hers.
‘If you have never worn one before, wear
this,’ she urged timidly. ‘It will make your
disguise more complete.’ And Lancelot
knew that what she said was true, and he
took the red sleeve embroidered with pearls,
and tied it on his helmet.
So Elaine was glad, and after the knight
and Lavaine had ridden away, she went up
the turret stair again to her little room. She
took the shield from the corner, and handled
the bruises and dints in it lovingly, and made
pictures to herself of all the battles and
tournaments it had been through with her
Then Elaine sat down and sewed, as Sir
Torre would have wise maidens do. But
what she sewed was a beautiful cover for the
shield, and that Sir Torre would not have
her do, for he cared neither for the strange
knight nor his shield.
Lancelot rode on towards Camelot, with
Lavaine as his squire, till they came to a
wood where a hermit lived. And they
stayed at the hermitage all night, and the
next morning they rode on till they reached
And when Lavaine saw the King sitting
on a high throne, ready to judge which
knight was worthy to have the diamond, he
did not think of the grandeur of the throne,
nor of the King’s marvellous dress of rich
gold, nor of the jewels in his crown. He
could think only of the nobleness and beauty
of the great King’s face, and wish that his
fair sister Elaine might see him too.
Then many brave knights began to fight,
and all wondered why Sir Lancelot was not
there. And they wondered more at the
strange knight, with the bare shield and the
red sleeve with pearls on his helmet, who
fought so bravely and overthrew the others
one by one.
And the King said, ‘Surely this is Sir
Lancelot himself.’ But when he saw the
lady’s favour on the knight’s helmet, he said,
‘No, it cannot be Sir Lancelot.’
When at last the tournament was over,
the King proclaimed that the strange knight
who wore the red sleeve embroidered with
pearls had won the prize, and he called him
to come to take the diamond.
But no one came, and the knight with the
red sleeve was nowhere to be seen. For Sir
Lancelot had been wounded in his last fight,
and when it was over, had ridden hastily
from the field, calling Lavaine to follow.
And when they had ridden a little way into
the wood, Sir Lancelot fell from his horse.
‘The head of the spear is still in my side,’
he moaned; ‘draw it out, Lavaine.’
At first Lavaine was afraid, for he thought
of the pain it would give the knight, and he
was afraid too that the wound would bleed
till his knight bled to death. But because
Sir Lancelot was in great suffering, Lavaine
at last took courage, and pulled the head of
the spear out of Lancelot’s side. Then he,
with great difficulty, helped the knight on to
his horse, and slowly and painfully they rode
towards the hermitage.
They reached it at last, and the hermit
came out and called two of his servants
to carry the knight into his cell; and they
unarmed him and put him to bed. Then
the hermit dressed the knight’s wound and
gave him wine to drink.
When King Arthur found the strange
knight had disappeared, and heard that he
was wounded, he said that the prize should
be sent to so gallant a victor. ‘He was tired
and wounded, and cannot have ridden far,’
said the King. And turning to Sir Gawaine,
he gave him the diamond, and told him to go
and find the knight and give him the prize
he had won so bravely.
But Sir Gawaine did not want to obey the
King. He did not want to leave the feasting
and merriment that followed the tournament.
Yet since all Arthur’s knights had taken a
vow of obedience, Gawaine was ashamed
not to go, so sulkily, like no true knight,
he left the feast.
And Sir Gawaine rode through the wood
and past the hermitage where the wounded
knight lay; and because he was thinking
only of his own disappointment, his search
was careless, and he did not see the shelter
Sir Lancelot had found. He rode on till
he came to Astolat. And when Elaine and
her father and her brother Sir Torre saw
the knight, they called to him to come in
and tell them about the tournament, and
who had won the prize.
Then Sir Gawaine told how the knight
with the red sleeve embroidered with white
pearls had gained the prize, but how, being
wounded, he had ridden away without claiming
it. He told too how the King had sent
him to find the unknown knight and to
give him the diamond.
But because Elaine was very fair, and
because he did not greatly wish to do the
order of the King, Sir Gawaine lingered
there, wandering in the old castle garden,
with ‘the Lily Maid of Astolat.’ And he
told Elaine courtly tales of lords and ladies,
and tried to win her love, but she cared for
no one but the knight whose shield she
One day, as Elaine grew impatient with
the idle Sir Gawaine, she said she would
show him the shield the strange knight
had left with her. ‘If you know the arms
engraved on the shield, you will know the
name of the knight you seek, and perhaps
find him the sooner,’ she said.
And when Sir Gawaine saw the shield he
cried, ‘It is the shield of Sir Lancelot, the
noblest knight in Arthur’s court.’
Elaine touched the shield lovingly, and
murmured, ‘The noblest knight in Arthur’s
‘You love Sir Lancelot, and will know
where to find him,’ said Sir Gawaine. ‘I
will give you the diamond, and you shall
fulfil the King’s command.’
And Sir Gawaine rode away from Astolat,
kissing the hands of the fair Elaine, and
leaving the diamond with her. And when
he reached the court he told the lords and
ladies about the fair maid of Astolat who
loved Sir Lancelot. ‘He wore her favour,
and she guards his shield,’ he said.
But when the King heard that Sir Gawaine
had come back, without finding the strange
knight, and leaving the diamond with the
fair maid of Astolat, he was displeased.
‘You have not served me as a true knight,’
he said gravely; and Sir Gawaine was silent,
for he remembered how he had lingered at
When Elaine took the diamond from Sir
Gawaine she went to her father. ‘Let me
go to find the wounded knight and Lavaine,’
she said. ‘I will nurse the knight as
maidens nurse those who have worn their
favours.’ And her father let her go.
With the grave Sir Torre to guard her,
Elaine rode into the wood, and near the
hermitage she saw Lavaine.
‘Take me to Sir Lancelot,’ cried the Fair
Elaine. And Lavaine marvelled that she
knew the knight’s name.
Then Elaine told her brother about Sir
Gawaine, and his careless search for
Lancelot, and she showed him the diamond
she brought for the wounded knight.
‘Take me to him,’ she cried again. And
as they went, Sir Torre turned and rode
gloomily back to Astolat, for it did not please
him that the Fair Elaine should love Sir
When Lavaine and Elaine reached the
hermitage, the hermit welcomed the fair maid,
and took her to the cell where Lancelot lay.
‘The knight is pale and thin,’ said Elaine;
‘I will nurse him.’
Day by day and for many nights Elaine
nursed him tenderly as a maiden should,
till at last one glad morning the hermit
told her she had saved the knight’s life.
Then when Sir Lancelot grew stronger,
Elaine gave him the diamond, and told him
how the King had sent him the prize he had
won so hardly. And Lancelot grew restless,
and longed to be at the King’s court once
When the knight was able to ride, he
went back to Astolat with Elaine and
Lavaine. And as he rested there, he
thought, ‘Before I go, I must thank the
Lily Maid, and reward her for all she has
done for me.’
But when he asked Elaine how he could
reward her, she would answer only that she
loved him, and wished to go to court with
him, as Lavaine would do.
‘I cannot take you with me,’ said the
knight courteously; ‘but when you are
wedded, I will give you and your husband
a thousand pounds every year.’
But Elaine wanted nothing but to be
with Sir Lancelot.
‘My Lily Maid will break her heart,’ said
her father sadly, ‘unless the knight treats
her less gently.’
But Sir Lancelot could not be unkind to
the maid who had nursed him so tenderly.
Only, next morning when he rode away,
carrying his shield with him, though he
knew Elaine watched him from her turret
window, he neither looked up nor waved
farewell. And Elaine knew she would never
see Sir Lancelot again.
Then day by day she grew more sad and
still. ‘She will die,’ said her father sadly,
as he watched her; and the grave Sir Torre
sobbed, for he loved his sister dearly.
One day Elaine sent for her father to
come to her little turret room.
‘Promise me that when I die you will do
as I wish. Fasten the letter I shall write
tightly in my hand, and clothe me in
my fairest dress. Carry me down to the
river and lay me in the barge, and, alone
with our old dumb servant, let me be taken
to the palace.’
And her father promised. And when Elaine
died there was great sadness in Astolat.
Then her father took the letter and bound
it in her hand, and by her side he placed
a lily. And they clothed her in her fairest
dress, and carried her down to the river,
and laid her in the barge, alone with the
old dumb servant.
And the barge floated quietly down the
stream, guided by the old dumb man.
Then when it reached the palace steps,
it stopped, and the King and the Queen and
all the knights and ladies came to see the
And the King took the letter from the fair
maid’s hand and read it aloud.
‘I am the Lily Maid of Astolat, and because
Sir Lancelot left me, I make unto all ladies
my moan. Pray for my soul.’
When they heard it the lords and ladies
wept with pity.
And Sir Lancelot buried Elaine sadly.
And sometimes when those who loved him
were jealous and unkind, he thought tenderly
of the pure and simple love of the Lily Maid