Medieval Arthurian Legend
Old French pre-Vulgate Lancelot
13th century, Old French.
When Sir Gawain enters the first gate of the Dolorous Castle, he comes upon a strange cemetery. Within it lies the fresh grave of the white knight.
Sir Lancelot, in white armour that has been given to him by the Lady of the Lake, arrives at a Dolorous Castle. In order to enter this mysterious fortress, Lancelot needs to achieve great deeds of arms. In these he is helped by a damsel sent by his foster mother, the Lady of the Lake. She gives him three shields, to go with the white shield he already carries. One has a single red diagonal band across its white surface, another, two such bands, and the other, three. It is the property of the shield with one stripe that when it is hung about the neck, as shields are when going into battle, it will confer upon Lancelot the skill and energy of another knight besides himself. The shield with two red bands will give the additional strength of two knights, and the shield with three bands, a prowess that is marvellous to behold.
So Lancelot goes into combat with the aid of such changes of shield, finding new strength in his limbs when fighting tires him, and conquers the ten knights who guard the Dolorous Castle. And with the aid of this varying identity, now a knight of one red stripe, now of two, now of three, he manages to elude recognition by Sir Gawain and later, by King Arthur himself when he arrives. One wonders why this white knight will not allow himself to make contact with King Arthur and his retinue. Lancelot acts at best like an indifferent stranger and at worst like an enemy; on no account like a friendly knight who has just conquered a castle that will bring him great credit in the eyes of his new lord. He will soon wear a red shield with a white band in order to conceal his identity, then a simple red shield, then a white shield with a black band.
But perhaps there is more to it than meets the eye. When Sir Gawain enters the first gate of the castle, he comes to a strange cemetery which perhaps explains the shenanigans of avoidance. Within the cemetery lies the fresh grave of the white knight.
Story fragment recounted from: Corley, Corin, with an introduction by Kennedy, Elspeth, 1989. Lancelot of the Lake. (The pre-cyclic prose Lancelot). Translated from Old French with an introduction. Oxford University Press. Sir Gawain's discovery of the fresh grave of the white knight, pp 125–6.
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Lancelot – Wikipedia