In Arthur’s Court, every knight or lady who was found unworthy was banished; yet it often took some time to discover one’s real character.
One of the ladies of Arthur’s Court was named Vivien. She was very pretty, and as graceful as a willow wand, and so bright and attractive in her ways that no one suspected her of being very wicked.
Among Arthur’s bravest warriors was King Pellenore. He had once had a great fight with Arthur, but after that they had become friends, and King Pellenore had been made a Knight of the Round Table. He was not often at court, for he spent much of his time seeking for adventures. Now and then he would return and put away his armor. Then he rode with the ladies or talked to the other knights.
The lady Vivien admired King Pellenore for his valor and his mighty deeds, and whenever she could she talked with him about his adventures. One afternoon she begged him to go for a long ride with her through the forest. So their horses were brought and they set forth. Just as they were passing a thick part of the wood, a beautiful golden-haired lady stepped out.
“Good sir knight,” she cried to King Pellenore, “I ask your help. I am here in the wood with the dear lord who is to be my husband. He is sore wounded, for an enemy crept up behind him as we were riding to Arthur’s Court, and thrust a sword in his back.”
Then King Pellenore turned his horse’s head toward the maiden.
“Gladly will I help,” he said; “lead me, maiden.”
But Vivien called him back.
“Do not go with her,” she said. “She may be a witch. Ride on with me.”
“She is no witch, but a good maiden,” said King Pellenore.
Then the golden-haired lady spoke again. “Oh, sir knight, help me! I must go to Arthur’s Court to see my father. My dear lover is going to ask permission to marry me. Help us or he will die.”
“Assuredly I will help you, damsel,” said King Pellenore.
Vivien held his arm, but he put her gently aside. When the wicked woman saw that he was going to leave her, she made her horse plunge and throw her to the ground. There she lay as if in a faint.
King Pellenore did not know what to do. He felt as if he must help the beautiful lady, and yet he could not leave Vivien. So he said:
“Fair damsel, you shall have my help. I have never wanted to aid any one so much as I do you. I must save your lover and bring you both to Arthur’s Court. But let me first ride back with this lady who has swooned. Then I will return here to you.”
“Alas, alas, I fear it will be too late,” cried the damsel, turning back into the forest.
Then King Pellenore lifted Vivien on her horse, and tied her to its back by her long green scarf. At this she opened her eyes and groaned, and said that she was very sick. She made him ride very slowly to the court.
King Pellenore did not talk to her. he was thinking all the time of the golden-haired maiden. As soon as he reached the city gate he gave Vivien over into the care of a knight who was passing, and galloped back to the woods.
When he reached the spot where the beautiful damsel had spoken to him, he turned into the thick part of the wood and followed a narrow path. It was so narrow that the branches of the trees on both sides struck his shoulders, but still he hurried on. The path ended in a glade, and there he saw the lady and lover lying on the grass.
“Alas, alas!” the lady said, “my dear lord is dead and I am dying.”
Then King Pellenore saw that the fair young knight who lay on the ground was very pale and quiet, and that all the grass about was blood-stained.
“Ah, good knight,” said the lady, “after you left me, a lion ran out of the wood and slew my lover with one stroke of his paw. He has wounded me so sorely that I too shall die.”
Then King Pellenore wept.
“I wish that I had made Vivien wait here,” he said, “and helped you. I fear I have done wrong.”
He sat down and took her golden head on his knee, and spoke to her gently till she died. Then he put her body and her lover’s body on his horse, and walked beside them sorrowfully until he reached Arthur’s Court.
Near the great hall he met Arthur and Merlin and several knights.
“I am a miserable man,” he said.
Then the wise Merlin said: “You are more miserable than you know. This beautiful lady was your own daughter who was stolen from you as a child. Only lately she learned who her father was. She was coming here to seek you.”
Then King Pellenore wept loudly.
“This is my punishment,” he cried, “for not aiding the maiden. The one who needs help most should be given it first, and she needed it more than Vivien. I am indeed punished.”
“And you shall be punished yet more,” said Merlin; “and in good time, Vivien also for the part she took. Some day the friend whom you most trust shall deceive you, and you shall be betrayed to death.”
King Pellenore bowed his head meekly.
“I have deserved it,” he said. “And now I must bury my dear child and her lover.”
The beautiful golden-haired lady and her lover were buried with great mourning, and it was many a day before King Pellenore cared to seek for adventures.