THE FAIR MAID OF ASTOLAT 131
Knights, for the King would have the letter read openly. He then broke the seal himself, and bade a clerk read it, and this was what it said:
'Most noble Knight Sir Lancelot, I was your lover, whom men called the Fair Maid of Astolat: therefore unto all ladies I make my moan; yet pray for my soul, and bury me. This is my last request. Pray for my soul, Sir Lancelot, as thou art peerless.'
This was all the letter, and the King and Queen and all the Knights wept when they heard it.
' Let Sir Lancelot be sent for,' presently said the King, and when Sir Lancelot came the letter was read to him also.
' My lord Arthur,' said he, after he had heard it all, 'I am right grieved at the death of this damsel. God knows I was not, of my own will, guilty of her death, and that I will call on her brother, Sir Lavaine, to witness. She was both fair and good, and much was I beholden to her, but she loved me out of measure.'
' You might have been a little gentle with her,' answered the Queen, ' and have found some way to save her life.'
'Madam,' said Sir Lancelot, 'she would have nothing but my love, and that I could not give her, though I offered her a thousand pounds yearly if she should set her heart on any other Knight. For, Madam, I love not to be forced to love; love must arise of itself, and not by command.'
' That is truth,' replied the King, ' love is free in himself, and never will be bounden; for where he is bounden he looseth himself. But, Sir Lancelot, be it your care to see that the damsel is buried as is fitting.'