Medieval Arthurian Legend
Chrétien de Troyes: The Knight of the Cart
12th century, Old French.
All at the tournament are intrigued by this unknown knight bearing a red shield. Lancelot is at first invincible, then plays the part of a cowardly incompetent.
The land of King Bademagu has become a part of the real world and access between it and King Arthur’s court is now the same as between any two normal kingdoms; despite the fact that the only access into it earlier in the story had been a perilous Sword Bridge and an equally perilous Underwater Bridge. Death by drowning and death by the sword? Having been released from this mysterious region by Lancelot, Queen Guinevere and the captive people of King Arthur’s land are now free to leave. A few days after the combat that releases them, Queen Guinevere, Sir Gawain and Sir Kay all return quite normally from King Bademagu’s castle back to King Arthur’s court. They do not have to cross any perilous bridges.
But while the arrival back at court of Queen Guinevere and the others is celebrated by King Arthur, Lancelot has been thrown into prison in the land of King Bademagu. Here, Lancelot learns of a tournament at which Queen Guinevere will be present and, desperate to attend, begs the wife of his jailor to allow him to go, under oath that he will promise to return to his prison immediately afterwards. She concedes and lends Lancelot her husband’s armour, sword, lance and steed.
All at the tournament are intrigued by this unknown knight bearing a red shield. Lancelot is at first invincible; but then, under instructions conveyed secretly to him by Queen Guinevere, who has guessed the truth, he acts as a cowardly incompetent. Finally he is invincible again and rides off before anyone but the Queen has any inkling who he is.
Story fragment recounted from: Kibler, William W., and Carroll, Carleton W., 1991. Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances. Translated from Old French with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. The Knight of the Cart (Lancelot), pp 276–81.
∩ Weird Tales—discussion.