One of these damsels was sixty years old or more and wore a golden garland about her white hair; the second was thirty years old and wore a gold circlet about her head; the third was fifteen years old and wore a garland of flowers. They waited by a fountain in the forest of Arroy, and when Ywaine, Gawaine, and Marhaus came by, the damsels put themselves forward as guides for a year of adventuring. Ywaine chose the oldest,
for she hath seen much, and can best help me when I have need.
Marhaus choose the thirty-year-old, and Gawaine thanked them for leaving him the youngest. Very likely these damsels were of supernatural origin in early versions of the tale or in the models from which Malory drew them, but in Malory’s account they behave like ordinary women with now special powers aside from knowing their way around the territory.
“Printemps” (‘spring’) seems an appropriate name for the fifteen-year-old, “Èté” (‘summer’) for the thirty-year-old, and “Automne” (‘autumn’) for the sixty-year-old.
“Printemps” soon grew disgruntled with Gawaine for not riding in to help Sir Pelleas right away, whether Pelleas wanted help or not, so she went off with another knight.
“Èté” brought Marhaus to the Duke of South Marches, whom he won for Arthur; to Lady de Vawse’s tournament, where he won the prize circlet of gold; and to the lands of Earl Fergus, where he slew the giant Taulurd.
“Automne” brought Ywaine to the Lady of the Rock, for whom he fought Sirs Edward and Hue of the Red Castle, so both the older damsels showed their knights good adventure.
At the year’s end all three knights and damsels returned to the fountain from whence they had set out, “Printemps” coming either with the knight for whom she left Gawaine or perhaps by herself. Then the knights “departed from the damosels”, who presumably settled down to await three more champions.