134 LANCELOT AND GUENEVERE
departure unwillingly. The Knights were mounting their horses, when suddenly out of a wood on the other side rode Sir Meliagraunce, who for many years had loved the Queen, and had sought an occasion to carry her off, but found none so fair as this. Out of the forest he rode, with two score men in armour, and a hundred archers behind him, and bade the Queen and her followers stay where they were, or they would fare badly. ' Traitor,' cried the Queen, 'what evil deed would you do? You are a King's son and a Knight of the Eound Table, yet you seek to shame the man who gave you knighthood. But I tell you that you may bring dishonour on yourself, but you will bring none on me, for rather would I cut my throat in twain.'
'As for your threats, Madam, I pay them no heed,' returned Sir Meliagraunce; ' I have loved you many a year, and never could I get you at such an advantage as I do now, and therefore I will take you as I find you.' Then all the Knights spoke together saying, ' Sir Meliagraunce, bethink yourself that in attacking men who are unarmed you put not only our lives in peril but your own honour. Rather than allow the Queen to be shamed we will each one fight to the death, and if we did aught else we should dishonour our knighthood for ever.'
' Fight as well as you can,' answered Sir Meliagraunce, 'and keep the Queen if you may.' So the Knights of the Round Table drew their swords, and the men of Sir Meliagraunce ran at them with spears; but the Knights stood fast, and clove the spears in two before they touched them. Then both sides fought with swords, and Sir Kay and five other Knights were felled to the ground with wounds all over their bodies. The other four fought long, and slew forty of the men and archers of Sir Meliagraunce; but in the end they too were overcome. When the Queen saw that she cried out for pity and sorrow, ' Sir Meliagraunce, spare my noble Knights and