The Legends of KING ARTHUR and his KNIGHTS
Sir James Knowles
Illustrated by Lancelot Speed
TO ALFRED TENNYSON, D.C.L. POET LAUREATE
THIS ATTEMPT AT A POPULAR VERSION OF THE ARTHUR LEGENDS IS BY HIS PERMISSION DEDICATED AS A TRIBUTE OF THE SINCEREST AND WARMEST RESPECT
PREFACE TO THE EIGHTH EDITION
The Publishers have asked me to authorise a new edition, in my own name, of this little book—now long out of print—which was written by me thirty-five years ago under the initials J.T.K.
In acceding to their request I wish to say that the book as now published is merely a word-for-word reprint of my early effort to help to popularise the Arthur legends.
It is little else than an abridgment of Sir Thomas Malory's version of them as printed by Caxton—with a few additions from Geoffrey of Monmouth and other sources—and an endeavour to arrange the many tales into a more or less consecutive story.
The chief pleasure which came to me from it was, and is, that it began for me a long and intimate acquaintance with Lord Tennyson, to whom, by his permission, I Dedicated it before I was personally known to him.
Addendum by Lady Knowles
In response to a widely expressed wish for a fresh edition of this little book—now for some years out of print—a new and ninth edition has been prepared.
In his preface my husband says that the intimacy with Lord Tennyson to which it led was the chief pleasure the book brought him. I have been asked to furnish a few more particulars on this point that may be generally interesting, and feel that I cannot do better than give some extracts from a letter written by himself to a friend in July 1896.
"I am so very glad you approve of my little effort to popularise the Arthur Legends. Tennyson had written his first four 'Idylls of the King' before my book appeared, which was in 1861. Indeed, it was in consequence of the first four Idylls that I sought and obtained, while yet a stranger to him, leave to dedicate my venture to him. He was extremely kind about it—declared 'it ought to go through forty editions'—and when I came to know him personally talked very frequently about it and Arthur with me, and made constant use of it when he at length yielded to my perpetual urgency and took up again his forsaken project of treating the whole subject of King Arthur.
"He discussed and rediscussed at any amount of length the way in which this could now be done—and the Symbolism, which had from his earliest time haunted him as the inner meaning to be given to it, brought him back to the Poem in its changed shape of separate pictures.
"He used often to say that it was entirely my doing that he revived his old plan, and added, 'I know more about Arthur than any other man in England, and I think you know next most.' It would amuse you to see in what intimate detail he used to consult with me—and often with my little book in front of us—over the various tales, and when I wrote an article (in the shape of a long letter) in the Spectator of January 1870 he asked to reprint it, and published it with the collected Idylls.
"For years, while his boys were at school and college, I acted as his confidential friend in business and many other matters, and I suppose he told me more about himself and his life than any other man now living knows."
The Finding of Merlin—The Fight of the Dragons—The Giants' Dance—The Prophecies of Merlin and the Birth of Arthur—Uther attacks the Saxons—The Death of Uther
Merlin's Advice to the Archbishop—The Miracle of the Sword and Stone—The Coronation of King Arthur—The Opposition of the Six Kings—The Sword Excalibur—The Defeat of the Six Kings—The War with the Eleven Kings
The Adventure of the Questing Beast—The Siege of York—The Battles of Celidon Forest and Badon Hill—King Arthur drives the Saxons from the Realm—The Embassy from Rome—The King rescues Merlin—The Knight of the Fountain
King Arthur conquers Ireland and Norway—Slays the Giant of St. Michael's Mount and conquers Gaul—King Ryence's Insolent Message—The Damsel and the Sword—The Lady of the Lake—The Adventures of Sir Balin
Sir Balin kills Sir Lancear—The Sullen Knight—The Knight Invisible is killed—Sir Balin smites the Dolorous Stroke, and fights with his brother Sir Balan
The Marriage of King Arthur and Guinevere—The Coronation of the Queen—The Founding of the Round Table—The Quest of the White Hart—The Adventures of Sir Gawain—The Quest of the White Hound—Sir Tor kills Abellius—The Adventures of Sir Pellinore—The Death of Sir Hantzlake—Merlin saves King Arthur
King Arthur and Sir Accolon of Gaul are entrapped by Sir Damas—They fight each other through Enchantment of Queen Morgan le Fay—Sir Damas is compelled to surrender all his Lands to Sir Outzlake his Brother their Rightful Owner—Queen Morgan essays to kill King Arthur with a Magic Garment—Her Damsel is compelled to wear it and is thereby burned to Cinders
A Second Embassy from Rome—King Arthur's Answer—The Emperor assembles his Armies—King Arthur slays the Emperor—Sir Gawain and Sir Prianius—The Lombards are defeated—King Arthur crowned at Rome
The Adventures of Sir Lancelot—He and his Cousin Sir Lionel set forth—The Four Witch-Queens—King Bagdemagus—Sir Lancelot slays Sir Turquine and delivers his Captive Knights—The Foul Knight—Sir Gaunter attacks Sir Lancelot—The Four Knights—Sir Lancelot comes to the Chapel Perilous—Ellawes the Sorceress—The Lady and the Falcon—Sir Bedivere and the Dead Lady
Beaumains is made a Kitchen Page by Sir Key—He claims the Adventure of the Damsel Linet—He fights with Sir Lancelot and is knighted by him in his True Name of Gareth—Is flouted by the Damsel Linet—But overthrows all Knights he meets and sends them to King Arthur's Court—He delivers the Lady Lyones from the Knight of the Redlands—The Tournament before Castle Perilous—Marriage of Sir Gareth and the Lady Lyones
The Adventures of Sir Tristram—His Stepmother—He is knighted—Fights with Sir Marhaus—Sir Palomedes and La Belle Isault—Sir Bleoberis and Sir Segwarides—Sir Tristram's Quest—His Return—The Castle Pluere—Sir Brewnor is slain—Sir Kay Hedius—La Belle Isault's Hound—Sir Dinedan refuses to fight—Sir Pellinore follows Sir Tristram—Sir Brewse-without-pity—The Tournament at the Maiden's Castle—Sir Palomedes and Sir Tristram
Merlin is bewitched by a Damsel of the Lady of the Lake—Galahad knighted by Sir Lancelot—The Perilous Seat—The Marvellous Sword—Sir Galahad in the Perilous Seat—The Sangreal—The Knights vow themselves to its Quest—The Shield of the White Knight—The Fiend of the Tomb—Sir Galahad at the Maiden's Castle—The Sick Knight and the Sangreal—Sir Lancelot declared unworthy to find the Holy Vessel—Sir Percival seeks Sir Galahad—The Black Steed—Sir Bors and the Hermit—Sir Pridan le Noir—Sir Lionel's Anger—He meets Sir Percival—The ship "Faith"—Sir Galahad and Earl Hernox—The Leprous Lady—Sir Galahad discloses himself to Sir Lancelot—They part—The Blind King Evelake—Sir Galahad finds the Sangreal—His Death
The Queen quarrels with Sir Lancelot—She is accused of Murder—Her Champion proves her innocence—The Tourney at Camelot—Sir Lancelot in the Tourney—Sir Baldwin the Knight-Hermit—Elaine, the Maid of Astolat, seeks for Sir Lancelot—She tends his Wounds—Her Death—The Queen and Sir Lancelot are reconciled
Sir Lancelot attacked by Sir Agravaine, Sir Modred, and thirteen other Knights—He slays them all but Sir Modred—He leaves the Court—Sir Modred accuses him to the King—The Queen condemned to be burnt—Her rescue by Sir Lancelot and flight with him—The War between Sir Lancelot and the King—The Enmity of Sir Gawain—The Usurpation of Sir Modred—The Queen retires to a Nunnery—Sir Lancelot goes on Pilgrimage—The Battle of Barham Downs—Sir Bedivere and the Sword Excalibur—The Death of King Arthur
Of scenes from the Legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table many lovely pictures have been painted, showing much diversity of figures and surroundings, some being definitely sixth-century British or Saxon, as in Blair Leighton's fine painting of the dead Elaine; others—for example, Watts' Sir Galahad—show knight and charger in fifteenth-century armour; while the warriors of Burne Jones wear strangely impracticable armour of some mystic period. Each of these painters was free to follow his own conception, putting the figures into whatever period most appealed to his imagination; for he was not illustrating the actual tales written by Sir Thomas Malory, otherwise he would have found himself face to face with a difficulty.
King Arthur and his knights fought, endured, and toiled in the sixth century, when the Saxons were overrunning Britain; but their achievements were not chronicled by Sir Thomas Malory until late in the fifteenth century.
Sir Thomas, as Froissart has done before him, described the habits of life, the dresses, weapons, and armour that his own eyes looked upon in the every-day scenes about him, regardless of the fact that almost every detail mentioned was something like a thousand years too late.
Had Malory undertaken an account of the landing of Julius Caesar he would, as a matter of course, have protected the Roman legions with bascinet or salade, breastplate, pauldron and palette, coudiere, taces and the rest, and have armed them with lance and shield, jewel-hilted sword and slim misericorde; while the Emperor himself might have been given the very suit of armour stripped from the Duke of Clarence before his fateful encounter with the butt of malmsey.
Did not even Shakespeare calmly give cannon to the Romans and suppose every continental city to lie majestically beside the sea? By the old writers, accuracy in these matters was disregarded, and anachronisms were not so much tolerated as unperceived.
In illustrating this edition of "The Legends of King Arthur and his Knights," it has seemed best, and indeed unavoidable if the text and the pictures are to tally, to draw what Malory describes, to place the fashion of the costumes and armour somewhere about A.D. 1460, and to arm the knights in accordance with the Tabard Period.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The Marriage of King Arthur
Then fell Sir Ector down upon his knees upon the ground before young Arthur, and Sir Key also with him.
The Lady of the Lake
The giant sat at supper, gnawing on a limb of a man, and baking his huge frame by the fire
The castle rocked and rove throughout, and all the walls fell crashed and breaking to the earth
Came forth twelve fair damsels, and saluted King Arthur by his name
Prianius was christened, and made a duke and knight of the Round Table
Sir Lancelot smote down with one spear five knights, and brake the backs of four, and cast down the King of Northgales
Beyond the chapel, he met a fair damsel, who said, "Sir Lancelot, leave that sword behind thee, or thou diest"
"Lady," replied Sir Beaumains, "a knight is little worth who may not bear with a damsel"
So he rode into the hall and alighted
Then they began the battle, and tilted at their hardest against each other
And running to her chamber, she sought in her casket for the piece of iron ... and fitted it in Tristram's sword
By the time they had finished drinking they loved each other so well that their love never more might leave them
Waving her hands and muttering the charm, and presently enclosed him fast within the tree
Galahad ... quickly lifted up the stone, and forthwith came out a foul smoke
"This girdle, lords," said she, "is made for the most part of mine own hair, which, while I was yet in the world, I loved full well"
At last the strange knight smote him to the earth, and gave him such a buffet on the helm as wellnigh killed him
Then was Sir Lancelot sent for, and the letter read aloud by a clerk
But still the knights cried mightily without the door, "Traitor, come forth!"
THE LEGENDS OF KING ARTHUR
The Prophecies of Merlin, and the Birth of Arthur
King Vortigern the usurper sat upon his throne in London, when, suddenly, upon a certain day, ran in a breathless messenger, and cried aloud—
"Arise, Lord King, for the enemy is come; even Ambrosius and Uther, upon whose throne thou sittest—and full twenty thousand with them—and they have sworn by a great oath, Lord, to slay thee, ere this year be done; and even now they march towards thee as the north wind of winter for bitterness and haste."
At those words Vortigern's face grew white as ashes, and, rising in confusion and disorder, he sent for all the best artificers and craftsmen and mechanics, and commanded them vehemently to go and build him straightway in the furthest west of his lands a great and strong castle, where he might fly for refuge and escape the vengeance of his master's sons—"and, moreover," cried he, "let the work be done within a hundred days from now, or I will surely spare no life amongst you all."
Then all the host of craftsmen, fearing for their lives, found out a proper site whereon to build the tower, and eagerly began to lay in the foundations. But no sooner were the walls raised up above the ground than all their work was overwhelmed and broken down by night invisibly, no man perceiving how, or by whom, or what. And the same thing happening again, and yet again, all the workmen, full of terror, sought out the king, and threw themselves upon their faces before him, beseeching him to interfere and help them or to deliver them from their dreadful work.
Filled with mixed rage and fear, the king called for the astrologers and wizards, and took counsel with them what these things might be, and how to overcome them. The wizards worked their spells and incantations, and in the end declared that nothing but the blood of a youth born without mortal father, smeared on the foundations of the castle, could avail to make it stand. Messengers were therefore sent forthwith through all the land to find, if it were possible, such a child. And, as some of them went down a certain village street, they saw a band of lads fighting and quarrelling, and heard them shout at one—"Avaunt, thou imp!—avaunt! Son of no mortal man! go, find thy father, and leave us in peace."
At that the messengers looked steadfastly on the lad, and asked who he was. One said his name was Merlin; another, that his birth and parentage were known by no man; a third, that the foul fiend alone was his father. Hearing the things, the officers seized Merlin, and carried him before the king by force.
But no sooner was he brought to him than he asked in a loud voice, for what cause he was thus dragged there?
"My magicians," answered Vortigern, "told me to seek out a man that had no human father, and to sprinkle my castle with his blood, that it may stand."
"Order those magicians," said Merlin, "to come before me, and I will convict them of a lie."
The king was astonished at his words, but commanded the magicians to come and sit down before Merlin, who cried to them—
"Because ye know not what it is that hinders the foundation of the castle, ye have advised my blood for a cement to it, as if that would avail; but tell me now rather what there is below that ground, for something there is surely underneath that will not suffer the tower to stand?"
The wizards at these words began to fear, and made no answer. Then said Merlin to the king—
"I pray, Lord, that workmen may be ordered to dig deep down into the ground till they shall come to a great pool of water."
This then was done, and the pool discovered far beneath the surface of the ground.
Then, turning again to the magicians, Merlin said, "Tell me now, false sycophants, what there is underneath that pool?"—but they were silent. Then said he to the king, "Command this pool to be drained, and at the bottom shall be found two dragons, great and huge, which now are sleeping, but which at night awake and fight and tear each other. At their great struggle all the ground shakes and trembles, and so casts down thy towers, which, therefore, never yet could find secure foundations."
The king was amazed at these words, but commanded the pool to be forthwith drained; and surely at the bottom of it did they presently discover the two dragons, fast asleep, as Merlin had declared.
But Vortigern sat upon the brink of the pool till night to see what else would happen.
Then those two dragons, one of which was white, the other red, rose up and came near one another, and began a sore fight, and cast forth fire with their breath. But the white dragon had the advantage, and chased the other to the end of the lake. And he, for grief at his flight, turned back upon his foe, and renewed the combat, and forced him to retire in turn. But in the end the red dragon was worsted, and the white dragon disappeared no man knew where.
When their battle was done, the king desired Merlin to tell him what it meant. Whereat he, bursting into tears, cried out this prophecy, which first foretold the coming of King Arthur.
"Woe to the red dragon, which figureth the British nation, for his banishment cometh quickly; his lurkingholes shall be seized by the white dragon—the Saxon whom thou, O king, hast called to the land. The mountains shall be levelled as the valleys, and the rivers of the valleys shall run blood; cities shall be burned, and churches laid in ruins; till at length the oppressed shall turn for a season and prevail against the strangers. For a Boar of Cornwall shall arise and rend them, and trample their necks beneath his feet. The island shall be subject to his power, and he shall take the forests of Gaul. The house of Romulus shall dread him—all the world shall fear him—and his end shall no man know; he shall be immortal in the mouths of the people, and his works shall be food to those that tell them.
"But as for thee, O Vortigern, flee thou the sons of Constantine, for they shall burn thee in thy tower. For thine own ruin wast thou traitor to their father, and didst bring the Saxon heathens to the land. Aurelius and Uther are even now upon thee to revenge their father's murder; and the brood of the white dragon shall waste thy country, and shall lick thy blood. Find out some refuge, if thou wilt! but who may escape the doom of God?"
The king heard all this, trembling greatly; and, convicted of his sins, said nothing in reply. Only he hasted the builders of his tower by day and night, and rested not till he had fled thereto.
In the meantime, Aurelius, the rightful king, was hailed with joy by the Britons, who flocked to his standard, and prayed to be led against the Saxons. But he, till he had first killed Vortigern, would begin no other war. He marched therefore to Cambria, and came before the tower which the usurper had built. Then, crying out to all his knights, "Avenge ye on him who hath ruined Britain and slain my father and your king!" he rushed with many thousands at the castle walls. But, being driven back again and yet again, at length he thought of fire, and ordered blazing brands to be cast into the building from all sides. These finding soon a proper fuel, ceased not to rage, till spreading to a mighty conflagration, they burned down the tower and Vortigern within it.
Then did Aurelius turn his strength against Hengist and the Saxons, and, defeating them in many places, weakened their power for a long season, so that the land had peace.
Anon the king, making many journeys to and fro, restoring ruined churches and, creating order, came to the monastery near Salisbury, where all those British knights lay buried who had been slain there by the treachery of Hengist. For when in former times Hengist had made a solemn truce with Vortigern, to meet in peace and settle terms, whereby himself and all his Saxons should depart from Britain, the Saxon soldiers carried every one of them beneath his garment a long dagger, and, at a given signal, fell upon the Britons, and slew them, to the number of nearly five hundred.
The sight of the place where the dead lay moved Aurelius to great sorrow, and he cast about in his mind how to make a worthy tomb over so many noble martyrs, who had died there for their country.
When he had in vain consulted many craftsmen and builders, he sent, by the advice of the archbishop, for Merlin, and asked him what to do. "If you would honour the burying-place of these men," said Merlin, "with an everlasting monument, send for the Giants' Dance which is in Killaraus, a mountain in Ireland; for there is a structure of stone there which none of this age could raise without a perfect knowledge of the arts. They are stones of a vast size and wondrous nature, and if they can be placed here as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand for ever."
At these words of Merlin, Aurelius burst into laughter, and said, "How is it possible to remove such vast stones from so great a distance, as if Britain, also, had no stones fit for the work?"
"I pray the king," said Merlin, "to forbear vain laughter; what I have said is true, for those stones are mystical and have healing virtues. The giants of old brought them from the furthest coast of Africa, and placed them in Ireland while they lived in that country: and their design was to make baths in them, for use in time of grievous illness. For if they washed the stones and put the sick into the water, it certainly healed them, as also it did them that were wounded in battle; and there is no stone among them but hath the same virtue still."
When the Britons heard this, they resolved to send for the stones, and to make war upon the people of Ireland if they offered to withhold them. So, when they had chosen Uther the king's brother for their chief, they set sail, to the number of 15,000 men, and came to Ireland. There Gillomanius, the king, withstood them fiercely, and not till after a great battle could they approach the Giants' Dance, the sight of which filled them with joy and admiration. But when they sought to move the stones, the strength of all the army was in vain, until Merlin, laughing at their failures, contrived machines of wondrous cunning, which took them down with ease, and placed them in the ships.
When they had brought the whole to Salisbury, Aurelius, with the crown upon his head, kept for four days the feast of Pentecost with royal pomp; and in the midst of all the clergy and the people, Merlin raised up the stones, and set them round the sepulchre of the knights and barons, as they stood in the mountains of Ireland.
Then was the monument called "Stonehenge," which stands, as all men know, upon the plain of Salisbury to this very day.
Soon thereafter it befell that Aurelius was slain by poison at Winchester, and was himself buried within the Giants' Dance.
At the same time came forth a comet of amazing size and brightness, darting out a beam, at the end whereof was a cloud of fire shaped like a dragon, from whose mouth went out two rays, one stretching over Gaul, the other ending in seven lesser rays over the Irish sea.
At the appearance of this star a great dread fell upon the people, and Uther, marching into Cambria against the son of Vortigern, himself was very troubled to learn what it might mean. Then Merlin, being called before him, cried with a loud voice: "O mighty loss! O stricken Britain! Alas! the great prince is gone from us. Aurelius Ambrosius is dead, whose death will be ours also, unless God help us. Haste, therefore, noble Uther, to destroy the enemy; the victory shall be thine, and thou shalt be king of all Britain. For the star with the fiery dragon signifies thyself; and the ray over Gaul portends that thou shalt have a son, most mighty, whom all those kingdoms shall obey which the ray covers."
Thus, for the second time, did Merlin foretell the coming of King Arthur. And Uther, when he was made king, remembered Merlin's words, and caused two dragons to be made in gold, in likeness of the dragon he had seen in the star. One of these he gave to Winchester Cathedral, and had the other carried into all his wars before him, whence he was ever after called Uther Pendragon, or the dragon's head.
Now, when Uther Pendragon had passed through all the land, and settled it—and even voyaged into all the countries of the Scots, and tamed the fierceness of that rebel people—he came to London, and ministered justice there. And it befell at a certain great banquet and high feast which the king made at Easter-tide, there came, with many other earls and barons, Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, and his wife Igerna, who was the most famous beauty in all Britain. And soon thereafter, Gorlois being slain in battle, Uther determined to make Igerna his own wife. But in order to do this, and enable him to come to her—for she was shut up in the high castle of Tintagil, on the furthest coast of Cornwall—the king sent for Merlin, to take counsel with him and to pray his help. This, therefore, Merlin promised him on one condition—namely, that the king should give him up the first son born of the marriage. For Merlin by his arts foreknew that this firstborn should be the long-wished prince, King Arthur.
When Uther, therefore, was at length happily wedded, Merlin came to the castle on a certain day, and said, "Sir, thou must now provide thee for the nourishing of thy child."
And the king, nothing doubting, said, "Be it as thou wilt."
"I know a lord of thine in this land," said Merlin, "who is a man both true and faithful; let him have the nourishing of the child. His name is Sir Ector, and he hath fair possessions both in England and in Wales. When, therefore, the child is born, let him be delivered unto me, unchristened, at yonder postern-gate, and I will bestow him in the care of this good knight."
So when the child was born, the king bid two knights and two ladies to take it, bound in rich cloth of gold, and deliver it to a poor man whom they should discover at the postern-gate. And the child being delivered thus to Merlin, who himself took the guise of a poor man, was carried by him to a holy priest and christened by the name of Arthur, and then was taken to Sir Ector's house, and nourished at Sir Ector's wife's own breasts. And in the same house he remained privily for many years, no man soever knowing where he was, save Merlin and the king.
Anon it befell that the king was seized by a lingering distemper, and the Saxon heathens, taking their occasion, came back from over sea, and swarmed upon the land, wasting it with fire and sword. When Uther heard thereof, he fell into a greater rage than his weakness could bear, and commanded all his nobles to come before him, that he might upbraid them for their cowardice. And when he had sharply and hotly rebuked them, he swore that he himself, nigh unto death although he lay, would lead them forth against the enemy. Then causing a horse-litter to be made, in which he might be carried—for he was too faint and weak to ride—he went up with all his army swiftly against the Saxons.
But they, when they heard that Uther was coming in a litter, disdained to fight with him, saying it would be shame for brave men to fight with one half dead. So they retired into their city; and, as it were in scorn of danger, left the gates wide open. But Uther straightway commanding his men to assault the town, they did so without loss of time, and had already reached the gates, when the Saxons, repenting too late of their haughty pride, rushed forth to the defence. The battle raged till night, and was begun again next day; but at last, their leaders, Octa and Eosa, being slain, the Saxons turned their backs and fled, leaving the Britons a full triumph.
The king at this felt so great joy, that, whereas before he could scarce raise himself without help, he now sat upright in his litter by himself, and said, with a laughing and merry face, "They called me the half-dead king, and so indeed I was; but victory to me half dead is better than defeat and the best health. For to die with honour is far better than to live disgraced."
But the Saxons, although thus defeated, were ready still for war. Uther would have pursued them; but his illness had by now so grown, that his knights and barons kept him from the adventure. Whereat the enemy took courage, and left nothing undone to destroy the land; until, descending to the vilest treachery, they resolved to kill the king by poison.
To this end, as he lay sick at Verulam, they sent and poisoned stealthily a spring of clear water, whence he was wont to drink daily; and so, on the very next day, he was taken with the pains of death, as were also a hundred others after him, before the villainy was discovered, and heaps of earth thrown over the well.
The knights and barons, full of sorrow, now took counsel together, and came to Merlin for his help to learn the king's will before he died, for he was by this time speechless. "Sirs, there is no remedy," said Merlin, "and God's will must be done; but be ye all to-morrow before him, for God will make him speak before he die."
So on the morrow all the barons, with Merlin, stood round the bedside of the king; and Merlin said aloud to Uther, "Lord, shall thy son Arthur be the king of all this realm after thy days?"
Then Uther Pendragon turned him about, and said, in the hearing of them all, "God's blessing and mine be upon him. I bid him pray for my soul, and also that he claim my crown, or forfeit all my blessing;" and with those words he died.
Then came together all the bishops and the clergy, and great multitudes of people, and bewailed the king; and carrying his body to the convent of Ambrius, they buried it close by his brother's grave, within the "Giants' Dance."
The Miracle of the Sword and Stone, and the Coronation of King Arthur—The Sword Excalilur—The War with the Eleven Kings
Now Arthur the prince had all this time been nourished in Sir Ector's house as his own son, and was fair and tall and comely, being of the age of fifteen years, great in strength, gentle in manner, and accomplished in all exercises proper for the training of a knight.
But as yet he knew not of his father; for Merlin had so dealt, that none save Uther and himself knew aught about him. Wherefore it befell, that many of the knights and barons who heard King Uther speak before his death, and call his son Arthur his successor, were in great amazement; and some doubted, and others were displeased.
Anon the chief lords and princes set forth each to his own land, and, raising armed men and multitudes of followers, determined every one to gain the crown for himself; for they said in their hearts, "If there be any such a son at all as he of whom this wizard forced the king to speak, who are we that a beardless boy should have rule over us?"
So the land stood long in great peril, for every lord and baron sought but his own advantage; and the Saxons, growing ever more adventurous, wasted and overran the towns and villages in every part.
Then Merlin went to Brice, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and advised him to require all the earls and barons of the realm and all knights and gentlemen-at-arms to come to him at London, before Christmas, under pain of cursing, that they might learn the will of Heaven who should be king. This, therefore, the archbishop did, and upon Christmas Eve were met together in London all the greatest princes, lords, and barons; and long before day they prayed in St. Paul's Church, and the archbishop besought Heaven for a sign who should be lawful king of all the realm.
And as they prayed, there was seen in the churchyard, set straight before the doorways of the church, a huge square stone having a naked sword stuck in the midst of it. And on the sword was written in letters of gold, "Whoso pulleth out the sword from this stone is born the rightful King of Britain."
At this all the people wondered greatly; and, when Mass was over, the nobles, knights, and princes ran out eagerly from the church to see the stone and sword; and a law was forthwith made that whoso should pull out the sword should be acknowledged straightway King of Britain.
Then many knights and barons pulled at the sword with all their might, and some of them tried many times, but none could stir or move it.
When all had tried in vain, the archbishop declared the man whom Heaven had chosen was not yet there. "But God," said he, "will doubtless make him known ere many days."
So ten knights were chosen, being men of high renown, to watch and keep the sword; and there was proclamation made through all the land that whosoever would, had leave and liberty to try and pull it from the stone. But though great multitudes of people came, both gentle and simple, for many days, no man could ever move the sword a hair's breadth from its place.
Now, at the New Year's Eve a great tournament was to be held in London, which the archbishop had devised to keep together lords and commons, lest they should grow estranged in the troublous and unsettled times. To the which tournament there came, with many other knights, Sir Ector, Arthur's foster-father, who had great possessions near to London; and with him came his son, Sir Key, but recently made knight, to take his part in the jousting, and young Arthur also to witness all the sports and fighting.
But as they rode towards the jousts, Sir Key found suddenly he had no sword, for he had left it at his father's house; and turning to young Arthur, he prayed him to ride back and fetch it for him. "I will with a good will," said Arthur; and rode fast back after the sword.
But when he came to the house he found it locked and empty, for all were gone forth to see the tournament. Whereat, being angry and impatient, he said within himself, "I will ride to the churchyard and take with me the sword that sticketh in the stone, for my brother shall not go without a sword this day."
So he rode and came to the churchyard, and alighting from his horse he tied him to the gate, and went to the pavilion, which was pitched near the stone, wherein abode the ten knights who watched and kept it; but he found no knights there, for all were gone to see the jousting.
Then he took the sword by its handle, and lightly and fiercely he pulled it out of the stone, and took his horse and rode until he came to Sir Key and delivered him the sword. But as soon as Sir Key saw it he knew well it was the sword of the stone, and, riding swiftly to his father, he cried out, "Lo! here, sir, is the sword of the stone, wherefore it is I who must be king of all this land."
When Sir Ector saw the sword, he turned back straight with Arthur and Sir Key and came to the churchyard, and there alighting, they went all three into the church, and Sir Key was sworn to tell truly how he came by the sword. Then he confessed it was his brother Arthur who had brought it to him.
Whereat Sir Ector, turning to young Arthur, asked him—"How gottest thou the sword?"
"Sir," said he, "I will tell you. When I went home to fetch my brother's sword, I found nobody to deliver it to me, for all were abroad to the jousts. Yet was I loath to leave my brother swordless, and, bethinking me of this one, I came hither eagerly to fetch it for him, and pulled it out of the stone without any pain."
Then said Sir Ector, much amazed and looking steadfastly on Arthur, "If this indeed be thus, 'tis thou who shalt be king of all this land—and God will have it so—for none but he who should be rightful Lord of Britain might ever draw this sword forth from that stone. But let me now with mine own eyes see thee put back the sword into its place and draw it forth again."
"That is no mystery," said Arthur; and straightway set it in the stone. And then Sir Ector pulled at it himself, and after him Sir Key, with all his might, but both of them in vain: then Arthur reaching forth his hand and grasping at the pommel, pulled it out easily, and at once.
Then fell Sir Ector down upon his knees upon the ground before young Arthur, and Sir Key also with him, and straightway did him homage as their sovereign lord.
But Arthur cried aloud, "Alas! mine own dear father and my brother, why kneel ye thus to me?"
"Nay, my Lord Arthur," answered then Sir Ector, "we are of no blood-kinship with thee, and little though I thought how high thy kin might be, yet wast thou never more than foster-child of mine." And then he told him all he knew about his infancy, and how a stranger had delivered him, with a great sum of gold, into his hands to be brought up and nourished as his own born child, and then had disappeared.
But when young Arthur heard of it, he fell upon Sir Ector's neck, and wept, and made great lamentation, "For now," said he, "I have in one day lost my father and my mother and my brother."
"Sir," said Sir Ector presently, "when thou shalt be made king be good and gracious unto me and mine."
"If not," said Arthur, "I were no true man's son at all, for thou art he in all the world to whom I owe the most; and my good lady and mother, thy wife, hath ever kept and fostered me as though I were her own; so if it be God's will that I be king hereafter as thou sayest, desire of me whatever thing thou wilt and I will do it; and God forbid that I should fail thee in it."
"I will but pray," replied Sir Ector, "that thou wilt make my son Sir Key, thy foster-brother, seneschal of all the lands."
"That shall he be," said Arthur; "and never shall another hold that office, save thy son, while he and I do live."
Anon, they left the church and went to the archbishop to tell him that the sword had been achieved. And when he saw the sword in Arthur's hand he set a day and summoned all the princes, knights, and barons to meet again at St. Paul's Church and see the will of Heaven signified. So when they came together, the sword was put back in the stone, and all tried, from the greatest to the least, to move it; but there before them all not one could take it out save Arthur only.
But then befell a great confusion and dispute, for some cried out it was the will of Heaven, and, "Long live King Arthur," but many more were full of wrath and said, "What! would ye give the ancient sceptre of this land unto a boy born none know how?" And the contention growing greatly, till nothing could be done to pacify their rage, the meeting was at length broken up by the archbishop and adjourned till Candlemas, when all should meet again.
But when Candlemas was come, Arthur alone again pulled forth the sword, though more than ever came to win it; and the barons, sorely vexed and angry, put it in delay till Easter. But as he had sped before so he did at Easter, and the barons yet once more contrived delays till Pentecost.
But now the archbishop, fully seeing God's will, called together, by Merlin's counsel, a band of knights and gentlemen-at-arms, and set them about Arthur to keep him safely till the feast of Pentecost. And when at the feast Arthur still again alone prevailed to move the sword, the people all with one accord cried out, "Long live King Arthur! we will have no more delay, nor any other king, for so it is God's will; and we will slay whoso resisteth Him and Arthur;" and wherewithal they kneeled down all at once, and cried for Arthur's grace and pardon that they had so long delayed him from his crown. Then he full sweetly and majestically pardoned them; and taking in his hand the sword, he offered it upon the high altar of the church.
Anon was he solemnly knighted with great pomp by the most famous knight there present, and the crown was placed upon his head; and, having taken oath to all the people, lords and commons, to be true king and deal in justice only unto his life's end, he received homage and service from all the barons who held lands and castles from the crown. Then he made Sir Key, High Steward of England, and Sir Badewaine of Britain, Constable, and Sir Ulfius, Chamberlain: and after this, with all his court and a great retinue of knights and armed men, he journeyed into Wales, and was crowned again in the old city of Caerleon-upon-Usk.
Meanwhile those knights and barons who had so long delayed him from the crown, met together and went up to the coronation feast at Caerleon, as if to do him homage; and there they ate and drank such things as were set before them at the royal banquet, sitting with the others in the great hall.
But when after the banquet Arthur began, according to the ancient royal custom, to bestow great boons and fiefs on whom he would, they all with one accord rose up, and scornfully refused his gifts, crying that they would take nothing from a beardless boy come of low or unknown birth, but would instead give him good gifts of hard sword-strokes between neck and shoulders.
Whereat arose a deadly tumult in the hall, and every man there made him ready to fight. But Arthur leaped up as a flame of fire against them, and all his knights and barons drawing their swords, rushed after him upon them and began a full sore battle; and presently the king's party prevailed, and drave the rebels from the hall and from the city, closing the gates behind them; and King Arthur brake his sword upon them in his eagerness and rage.
But amongst them were six kings of great renown and might, who more than all raged against Arthur and determined to destroy him, namely, King Lot, King Nanters, King Urien, King Carados, King Yder, and King Anguisant. These six, therefore, joining their armies together, laid close siege to the city of Caerleon, wherefrom King Arthur had so shamefully driven them.
And after fifteen days Merlin came suddenly into their camp and asked them what this treason meant. Then he declared to them that Arthur was no base adventurer, but King Uther's son, whom they were bound to serve and honour even though Heaven had not vouchsafed the wondrous miracle of the sword. Some of the kings, when they heard Merlin speak thus, marvelled and believed him; but others, as King Lot, laughed him and his words to scorn, and mocked him for a conjurer and wizard. But it was agreed with Merlin that Arthur should come forth and speak with the kings.
So he went forth to them to the city gate, and with him the archbishop and Merlin, and Sir Key, Sir Brastias, and a great company of others. And he spared them not in his speech, but spoke to them as king and chieftain telling them plainly he would make them all bow to him if he lived, unless they choose to do him homage there and then; and so they parted in great wrath, and each side armed in haste.
"What will ye do?" said Merlin to the kings; "ye had best hold your hands, for were ye ten times as many ye should not prevail."
"Shall we be afraid of a dream-reader?" quoth King Lot in scorn.
With that Merlin vanished away and came to King Arthur.
Then Arthur said to Merlin, "I have need now of a sword that shall chastise these rebels terribly."
"Come then with me," said Merlin, "for hard by there is a sword that I can gain for thee."
So they rode out that night till they came to a fair and broad lake, and in the midst of it King Arthur saw an arm thrust up, clothed in white samite, and holding a great sword in the hand.
"Lo! yonder is the sword I spoke of," said Merlin.
Then saw they a damsel floating on the lake in the Moonlight. "What damsel is that?" said the king.
"The lady of the lake," said Merlin; "for upon this lake there is a rock, and on the rock a noble palace, where she abideth, and she will come towards thee presently, thou shalt ask her courteously for the sword."
Therewith the damsel came to King Arthur, and saluted him, and he saluted her, and said, "Lady, what sword is that the arm holdeth above the water? I would that it were mine, for I have no sword."
"Sir King," said the lady of the lake, "that sword is mine, and if thou wilt give me in return a gift whenever I shall ask it of thee, thou shalt have it."
"By my faith," said he, "I will give thee any gift that thou shalt ask."
"Well," said the damsel, "go into yonder barge, and row thyself unto the sword, and take it and the scabbard with thee, and I will ask my gift of thee when I see my time."
So King Arthur and Merlin alighted, and tied their horses to two trees, and went into the barge; and when they came to the sword that the hand held, King Arthur took it by the handle and bore it with him, and the arm and hand went down under the water; and so they came back to land, and rode again to Caerleon.
On the morrow Merlin bade King Arthur to set fiercely on the enemy; and in the meanwhile three hundred good knights went over to King Arthur from the rebels' side. Then at the spring of day, when they had scarce left their tents, he fell on them with might and main, and Sir Badewaine, Sir Key, and Sir Brastias slew on the right hand and on the left marvellously; and ever in the thickest of the fight King Arthur raged like a young lion, and laid on with his sword, and did wondrous deeds of arms, to the joy and admiration of the knights and barons who beheld him.
Then King Lot, King Carados, and the King of the Hundred Knights—who also rode with them—going round to the rear, set on King Arthur fiercely from behind; but Arthur, turning to his knights, fought ever in the foremost press until his horse was slain beneath him. At that, King Lot rode furiously at him, and smote him down; but rising straightway, and being set again on horseback, he drew his sword Excalibur that he had gained by Merlin from the lady of the lake, which, shining brightly as the light of thirty torches, dazzled the eyes of his enemies. And therewith falling on them afresh with all his knights, he drove them back and slew them in great numbers, and Merlin by his arts scattered among them fire and pitchy smoke, so that they broke and fled. Then all the common people of Caerleon, seeing them give way, rose up with one accord, and rushed at them with clubs and staves, and chased them far and wide, and slew many great knights and lords, and the remainder of them fled and were seen no more. Thus won King Arthur his first battle and put his enemies to shame.
But the six kings, though sorely routed, prepared for a new war, and joining to themselves five others swore together that, whether for weal or woe, they would keep steadfast alliance till they had destroyed King Arthur. Then, with a host of 50,000 men-at-arms on horseback, and 10,000 foot, they were soon ready, and sent forth their fore-riders, and drew from the northern country towards King Arthur, to the castle of Bedgraine.
But he by Merlin's counsel had sent over sea to King Ban of Benwick and King Bors of Gaul, praying them to come and help him in his wars, and promising to help in return against King Claudas, their foe. To which those kings made answer that they would joyfully fulfil his wish, and shortly after came to London with 300 knights, well arrayed for both peace and war, leaving behind them a great army on the other side of the sea till they had consulted with King Arthur and his ministers how they might best dispose of it.
And Merlin being asked for his advice and help, agreed to go himself and fetch it over sea to England, which in one night he did; and brought with him 10,000 horsemen and led them northward privately to the forest of Bedgraine, and there lodged them in a valley secretly.
Then, by the counsel of Merlin, when they knew which way the eleven kings would ride and sleep, King Arthur with Kings Ban and Bors made themselves ready with their army for the fight, having yet but 30,000 men, counting the 10,000 who had come from Gaul.
"Now shall ye do my advice," said Merlin; "I would that King Ban and King Bors, with all their fellowship of 10,000 men, were led to ambush in this wood ere daylight, and stir not therefrom until the battle hath been long waged. And thou, Lord Arthur, at the spring of day draw forth thine army before the enemy, and dress the battle so that they may at once see all thy host, for they will be the more rash and hardy when they see you have but 20,000 men."
To this the three knights and the barons heartily consented, and it was done as Merlin had devised. So on the morrow when the hosts beheld each other, the host of the north was greatly cheered to find so few led out against them.
Then gave King Arthur the command to Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias to take 3000 men-at-arms, and to open battle. They therefore setting fiercely on the enemy slew them on the right hand and the left till it was wonderful to see their slaughter.
When the eleven kings beheld so small a band doing such mighty deeds of arms they were ashamed, and charged them fiercely in return. Then was Sir Ulfius' horse slain under him; but he fought well and marvellously on foot against Duke Eustace and King Clarience, who set upon him grievously, till Sir Brastias, seeing his great peril, pricked towards them swiftly, and so smote the duke through with his spear that horse and man fell down and rolled over. Whereat King Clarience turned upon Sir Brastias, and rushing furiously together they each unhorsed the other and fell both to the ground, and there lay a long time stunned, their horses' knees being cut to the bone. Then came Sir Key the seneschal with six companions, and did wondrous well, till the eleven kings went out against them and overthrew Sir Griflet and Sir Lucas the butler. And when Sir Key saw Sir Griflet unhorsed and on foot, he rode against King Nanters hotly and smote him down, and led his horse to Griflet and horsed him again; with the same spear did Sir Key smite down King Lot and wounded him full sore.
But seeing that, the King of the Hundred Knights rushed at Sir Key and overthrew him in return, and took his horse and gave it to King Lot. And when Sir Griflet saw Sir Key's mischance, he set his spear in rest, and riding at a mighty man-at-arms, he cast him down headlong and caught his horse and led it straightway to Sir Key.
By now the battle was growing perilous and hard, and both sides fought with rage and fury. And Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias were both afoot and in great danger of their death, and foully stained and trampled under horses' feet. Then King Arthur, putting spurs to his horse, rushed forward like a lion into the midst of all the melee, and singling out King Cradlemont of North Wales, smote him through the left side and overthrew him, and taking his horse by the rein he brought it to Sir Ulfius in haste and said, "Take this horse, mine old friend, for thou hast great need of one, and charge by side of me." And even as he spoke he saw Sir Ector, Sir Key's father, smitten to the earth by the King of the Hundred Knights, and his horse taken to King Cradlemont.
But when King Arthur saw him ride upon Sir Ector's horse his wrath was very great, and with his sword he smote King Cradlemont upon the helm, and shore off the fourth part thereof and of the shield, and drave the sword onward to the horse's neck and slew the horse, and hurled the king upon the ground.
And now the battle waxed so great and furious that all the noise and sound thereof rang out by water and by wood, so that Kings Ban and Bors, with all their knights and men-at-arms in ambush, hearing the tumult and the cries, trembled and shook for eagerness, and scarce could stay in secret, but made them ready for the fray and dressed their shields and harness.
But when King Arthur saw the fury of the enemy, he raged like a mad lion, and stirred and drove his horse now here, now there, to the right hand and to the left, and stayed not in his wrath till he had slain full twenty knights. He wounded also King Lot so sorely in the shoulder that he left the field, and in great pain and dolour cried out to the other kings, "Do ye as I devise, or we shall be destroyed. I, with the King of the Hundred Knights, King Anguisant, King Yder, and the Duke of Cambinet, will take fifteen thousand men and make a circuit, meanwhile that ye do hold the battle with twelve thousand. Then coming suddenly we will fall fiercely on them from behind and put them to the rout, but else shall we never stand against them."
So Lot and four kings departed with their party to one side, and the six other kings dressed their ranks against King Arthur and fought long and stoutly.
But now Kings Ban and Bors, with all their army fresh and eager, broke from their ambush and met face to face the five kings and their host as they came round behind, and then began a frantic struggle with breaking of spears and clashing of swords and slaying of men and horses. Anon King Lot, espying in the midst King Bors, cried out in great dismay, "Our Lady now defend us from our death and fearful wounds; our peril groweth great, for yonder cometh one of the worshipfullest kings and best knights in all the world."
"Who is he?" said the King of the Hundred Knights.
"It is King Bors of Gaul," replied King Lot, "and much I marvel how he may have come with all his host into this land without our knowledge."
"Aha!" cried King Carados, "I will encounter with this king if ye will rescue me when there is need."
"Ride on," said they.
So King Carados and all his host rode softly till they came within a bow-shot of King Bors, and then both hosts, spurring their horses to their greatest swiftness, rushed at each other. And King Bors encountered in the onset with a knight, and struck him through with a spear, so that he fell dead upon the earth; then drawing his sword, he did such mighty feats of arms that all who saw him gazed with wonder. Anon King Ban came also forth upon the field with all his knights, and added yet more fury, sound, and slaughter, till at length both hosts of the eleven kings began to quake, and drawing all together into one body, they prepared to meet the worst, while a great multitude already fled.
Then said King Lot, "Lords, we must take yet other means, or worse loss still awaits us. See ye not what people we have lost in waiting on the footmen, and that it costs ten horsemen to save one of them? Therefore it is my counsel to put away our footmen from us, for it is almost night, and King Arthur will not stay to slaughter them. So they can save their lives in this great wood hard by. Then let us gather into one band all the horsemen that remain, and whoso breaketh rank or leaveth us, let him be straightway slain by him that seeth him, for it is better that we slay a coward than through a coward be all slain. How say ye?" said King Lot; "answer me, all ye kings."
"It is well said," replied they all.
And swearing they would never fail each other, they mended and set right their armour and their shields, and took new spears and set them steadfastly against their thighs, waiting, and so stood still as a clump of trees stands on the plain; and no assaults could shake them, they held so hard together; which when King Arthur saw he marvelled greatly, and was very wroth. "Yet," cried he, "I may not blame them, by my faith, for they do as brave men ought to do, and are the best fighting men and knights of most prowess that I ever saw or heard tell of." And so said also Kings Ban and Bors, and praised them greatly for their noble chivalry.
But now came forty noble knights out of King Arthur's host, and prayed that he would suffer them to break the enemy. And when they were allowed, they rode forth with their spears upon their thighs, and spurred their horses to their hottest. Then the eleven kings, with a party of their knights, rushed with set spears as fast and mightily to meet them; and when they were encountered, all the crash and splinter of their spears and armour rang with a mighty din, and so fierce and bloody was their onset that in all that day there had been no such cruel press, and rage, and smiting. At that same moment rode fiercely into the thickest of the struggle King Arthur and Kings Ban and Bors, and slew downright on both hands right and left, until their horses went in blood up to the fetlocks.
And while the slaughter and the noise and shouting were at their greatest, suddenly there came down through the battle Merlin the Wizard, upon a great black horse, and riding to King Arthur, he cried out, "Alas, my Lord! will ye have never done? Of sixty thousand have ye left but fifteen thousand men alive. Is it not time to stay this slaying? for God is ill pleased with ye that ye have never ended, and yonder kings shall not be altogether overthrown this time. But if ye fall upon them any more, the fortune of this day will turn, and go to them. Withdraw, Lord, therefore, to thy lodging, and there now take thy rest, for to-day thou hast won a great victory, and overcome the noblest chivalry of all the world. And now for many years those kings shall not disturb thee. Therefore, I tell thee, fear them no more, for now they are sore beaten, and have nothing left them but their honour; and why shouldest thou slay them to take that?"
Then said King Arthur, "Thou sayest well, and I will take thy counsel." With that he cried out, "Ho!" for the battle to cease, and sent forth heralds through the field to stay more fighting. And gathering all the spoil, he gave it not amongst his own host, but to Kings Ban and Bors and all their knights and men-at-arms, that he might treat them with the greater courtesy as strangers.
Then Merlin took his leave of Arthur and the two other kings, and went to see his master, Blaise, a holy hermit, dwelling in Northumberland, who had nourished him through all his youth. And Blaise was passing glad to see him, for there was a great love ever between them; and Merlin told him how King Arthur had sped in the battle, and how it had ended; and told him the names of every king and knight of worship who was there. So Blaise wrote down the battle, word for word, as Merlin told him; and in the same way ever after, all the battles of King Arthur's days Merlin caused Blaise, his master, to record.
The Adventure of the Questing Beast—King Arthur drives the Saxons from the Realm—The Battles of Celidon Forest and Badon Hill
Anon, thereafter, came word to King Arthur that Ryence, King of North Wales, was making war upon King Leodegrance of Camelgard; whereat he was passing wroth, for he loved Leodegrance well, and hated Ryence. So he departed with Kings Ban and Bors and twenty thousand men, and came to Camelgard, and rescued Leodegrance, and slew ten thousand of Ryence's men and put him to flight. Then Leodegrance made a great festival to the three kings, and treated them with every manner of mirth and pleasure which could be devised. And there had King Arthur the first sight of Guinevere, daughter of Leodegrance, whom in the end he married, as shall be told hereafter.
Then did Kings Ban and Bors take leave, and went to their own country, where King Claudas worked great mischief. And King Arthur would have gone with them, but they refused him, saying, "Nay, ye shall not at this time, for ye have yet much to do in these lands of your own; and we with the riches we have won here by your gifts shall hire many good knights, and, by the grace of God, withstand the malice of King Claudas; and if we have need we will send to ye for succour; and likewise ye, if ye have need, send for us, and we will not tarry, by the faith of our bodies."
When the two kings had left, King Arthur rode to Caerleon, and thither came to him his half-sister Belisent, wife to King Lot, sent as a messenger, but in truth to espy his power; and with her came a noble retinue, and also her four sons—Gawain, Gaheris, Agravaine, and Gareth. But when she saw King Arthur and his nobleness, and all the splendour of his knights and service, she forbore to spy upon him as a foe, and told him of her husband's plots against him and his throne. And the king, not knowing that she was his half-sister, made great court to her; and being full of admiration for her beauty, loved her out of measure, and kept her a long season at Caerleon. Wherefore her husband, King Lot, was more than ever King Arthur's enemy, and hated him till death with a passing great hatred.
At that time King Arthur had a marvellous dream, which gave him great disquietness of heart. He dreamed that the whole land was full of many fiery griffins and serpents, which burnt and slew the people everywhere; and then that he himself fought with them, and that they did him mighty injuries, and wounded him nigh to death, but that at last he overcame and slew them all. When he woke, he sat in great heaviness of spirit and pensiveness, thinking what this dream might signify, but by-and-by, when he could by no means satisfy himself what it might mean, to rid himself of all his thoughts of it, he made ready with a great company to ride out hunting.
As soon as he was in the forest, the king saw a great hart before him, and spurred his horse, and rode long eagerly after it, and chased until his horse lost breath and fell down dead from under him. Then, seeing the hart escaped and his horse dead, he sat down by a fountain, and fell into deep thought again. And as he sat there alone, he thought he heard the noise of hounds, as it were some thirty couple in number, and looking up he saw coming towards him the strangest beast that ever he had seen or heard tell of, which ran towards the fountain and drank of the water. Its head was like a serpent's, with a leopard's body and a lion's tail, and it was footed like a stag; and the noise was in its belly, as it were the baying or questing of thirty couple of hounds. While it drank there was no noise within it; but presently, having finished, it departed with a greater sound than ever.
The king was amazed at all this; but being greatly wearied, he fell asleep, and was before long waked up by a knight on foot, who said, "Knight, full of thought and sleepy, tell me if thou sawest a strange beast pass this way?"
"Such a one I saw," said King Arthur to the knight, "but that is now two miles distant at the least. What would you with that beast?"
"Sir," said the knight, "I have followed it for a long time, and have killed my horse, and would to heaven I had another to pursue my quest withal."
At that moment came a yeoman with another horse for the king, which, when the knight saw, he earnestly prayed to be given him. "For I have followed this quest," said he, "twelve months, and either I shall achieve him or bleed of the best blood of my body."
It was King Pellinore who at that time followed the questing beast, but neither he nor King Arthur knew each other.
"Sir Knight," said King Arthur, "leave that quest and suffer me to have it, and I will follow it other twelve months."
"Ah, fool," said the knight, "thy desire is utterly in vain, for it shall never be achieved but by me, or by my next of kin."
Therewith he started to the king's horse, and mounted to the saddle, crying out, "Grammercy, this horse is mine!"
"Well," said the king, "thou mayest take my horse by force, and I will not say nay; but till we prove whether thou or I be best on horseback, I shall not rest content."
"Seek me here," said the knight, "whenever thou wilt, and here by this fountain thou shalt find me;" and so he passed forth on his way.
Then sat King Arthur in a deep fit of study, and bade his yeomen fetch him yet another horse as quickly as they could. And when they left him all alone came Merlin, disguised as a child of fourteen years of age, and saluted the king, and asked him why he was so pensive and heavy.
"I may well be pensive and heavy," he replied, "for here even now I have seen the strangest sight I ever saw."
"That know I well," said Merlin, "as well as thyself, and also all thy thoughts; but thou art foolish to take thought, for it will not amend thee. Also I know what thou art, and know thy father and thy mother."
"That is false," said King Arthur; "how shouldst thou know? thy years are not enough."
"Yea," said Merlin, "but I know better than thou how thou wast born, and better than any man living."
"I will not believe thee," said King Arthur, and was wroth with the child.
So Merlin departed, and came again in the likeness of an old man of fourscore years of age; and the king was glad at his coming, for he seemed wise and venerable. Then said the old man, "Why art thou so sad?"
"For divers reasons," said King Arthur; "for I have seen strange things to-day, and but this moment there was here a child who told me things beyond his years to know."
"Yea," said the old man, "but he told thee truth, and more he would have told thee hadst thou suffered him. But I will tell thee wherefore thou art sad, for thou hast done a thing of late for which God is displeased with thee, and what it is thou knowest in thy heart, though no man else may know."
"What art thou," said King Arthur, starting up all pale, "that tellest me these tidings?"
"I am Merlin," said he, "and I was he in the child's likeness, also."
"Ah," said King Arthur, "thou art a marvellous and right fearful man, and I would ask and tell thee many things this day."
As they talked came one with the king's horses, and so, King Arthur mounting one, and Merlin another, they rode together to Caerleon; and Merlin prophesied to Arthur of his death, and also foretold his own end.
And now King Arthur, having utterly dispersed and overwhelmed those kings who had so long delayed his coronation, turned all his mind to overthrow the Saxon heathens who yet in many places spoiled the land. Calling together, therefore, his knights and men-at-arms, he rode with all his hosts to York, where Colgrin, the Saxon, lay with a great army; and there he fought a mighty battle, long and bloody, and drove him into the city, and besieged him. Then Baldulph, Colgrin's brother, came secretly with six thousand men to assail King Arthur and to raise the siege. But King Arthur was aware of him, and sent six hundred horsemen and three thousand foot to meet and fall on him instead. This therefore they did, encountering them at midnight, and utterly defeated them, till they fled away for life. But Baldulph, full of grief, resolved to share his brother's peril; wherefore he shaved his head and beard, and disguised himself as a jester, and so passed through King Arthur's camp, singing and playing on a harp, till by degrees he drew near to the city walls, where presently he made himself known, and was drawn up by ropes into the town.
Anon, while Arthur closely watched the city, came news that full six hundred ships had landed countless swarms of Saxons, under Cheldric, on the eastern coast. At that he raised the siege, and marched straight to London, and there increased his army, and took counsel with his barons how to drive the Saxons from the land for evermore.
Then with his nephew, Hoel, King of the Armorican Britons, who came with a great force to help him, King Arthur, with a mighty multitude of barons, knights, and fighting men, went swiftly up to Lincoln, which the Saxons lay besieging. And there he fought a passing fierce battle, and made grievous slaughter, killing above six thousand men, till the main body of them turned and fled. But he pursued them hotly into the wood of Celidon, where, sheltering themselves among the trees from his arrows, they made a stand, and for a long season bravely defended themselves. Anon, he ordered all the trees in that part of the forest to be cut down, leaving no shelter or ambush; and with their trunks and branches made a mighty barricade, which shut them in and hindered their escape. After three days, brought nigh to death by famine, they offered to give up their wealth of gold and silver spoils, and to depart forthwith in their empty ships; moreover, to pay tribute to King Arthur when they reached their home, and to leave him hostages till all was paid.
This offer, therefore, he accepted, and suffered them to depart. But when they had been a few hours at sea, they repented of their shameful flight, and turned their ships back again, and landing at Totnes, ravaged all the land as far as the Severn, and, burning and slaying on all sides, bent their steps towards Bath.
When King Arthur heard of their treachery and their return, he burned with anger till his eyes shone like two torches, and then he swore a mighty oath to rest no more until he had utterly destroyed those enemies of God and man, and had rooted them for ever out of the land of Britain. Then marching hotly with his armies on to Bath, he cried aloud to them, "Since these detestable impious heathens disdain to keep their faith with me, to keep faith with God, to whom I sware to cherish and defend this realm, will now this day avenge on them the blood of all that they have slain in Britain!"
In like manner after him spoke the archbishop, standing upon a hill, and crying that to-day they should fight both for their country and for Paradise, "For whoso," he said, "shall in this holy war be slain, the angels shall forthwith receive him; for death in this cause shall be penance and absolution for all sins."
At these words every man in the whole army raged with hatred, and pressed eagerly to rush upon those savages.
Anon King Arthur, dressed in armour shining with gold and jewels, and wearing on his head a helmet with a golden dragon, took a shield painted with the likeness of the blessed Mary. Then girding on Excalibur and taking in his right hand his great lance Ron, he placed his men in order and led them out against the enemy, who stood for battle on the slope of Badon Hill, ranged in the form of a wedge, as their custom was. And they, resisting all the onslaughts of King Arthur and his host, made that day a stout defence, and at night lay down upon the hill.
But on the next day Arthur led his army once again to the attack, and with wounds and slaughter such as no man had ever seen before, he drove the heathen step by step before him, backwards and upwards, till he stood with all his noblest knights upon the summit of the hill.
And then men saw him, "red as the rising sun from spur to plume," lift up his sword, and, kneeling, kiss the cross of it; and after, rising to his feet, set might and main with all his fellowship upon the foe, till, as a troop of lions roaring for their prey, they drove them like a scattered herd along the plains, and cut them down till they could cut no more for weariness.
That day King Arthur by himself alone slew with his word Excalibur four hundred and seventy heathens. Colgrin also, and his brother Baldulph, were slain.
Then the king bade Cador, Duke of Cornwall, follow Cheldric, the chief leader, and the remnant of his hosts, unto the uttermost. He, therefore, when he had first seized their fleet, and filled it with chosen men, to beat them back when they should fly to it at last, chased them and slew them without mercy so long as he could overtake them. And though they crept with trembling hearts for shelter to the coverts of the woods and dens of mountains, yet even so they found no safety, for Cador slew them, even one by one. Last of all he caught and slew Cheldric himself, and slaughtering a great multitude took hostages for the surrender of the rest.
Meanwhile, King Arthur turned from Badon Hill, and freed his nephew Hoel from the Scots and Picts, who besieged him in Alclud. And when he had defeated them in three sore battles, he drove them before him to a lake, which was one of the most wondrous lakes in all the world, for it was fed by sixty rivers, and had sixty islands, and sixty rocks, and on every island sixty eagles' nests. But King Arthur with a great fleet sailed round the rivers and besieged them in the lake for fifteen days, so that many thousands died of hunger.
Anon the King of Ireland came with an army to relieve them; but Arthur, turning on him fiercely, routed him, and compelled him to retreat in terror to his land. Then he pursued his purpose, which was no less to destroy the race of Picts and Scots, who, beyond memory, had been a ceaseless torment to the Britons by their barbarous malice.
So bitterly, therefore, did he treat them, giving quarter to none, that at length the bishops of that miserable country with the clergy met together, and, bearing all the holy relics, came barefooted to the king to pray his mercy for their people. As soon as they were led before him they fell down upon their knees, and piteously besought him to spare the few survivors of their countrymen, and grant them any corner of the land where they might live in peace. When he thus heard them, and knew that he had now fully punished them, he consented to their prayer, and withdrew his hosts from any further slaughter.
Then turned he back to his own realm, and came to York for Christmas, and there with high solemnity observed that holy tide; and being passing grieved to see the ruin of the churches and houses, which the rage or the pagans had destroyed, he rebuilt them, and restored the city to its ancient happy state.
And on a certain day, as the king sat with his barons, there came into the court a squire on horseback, carrying a knight before him wounded to the death, and told the king that hard by in the forest was a knight who had reared up a pavilion by the fountain, "and hath slain my master, a valiant knight, whose name was Nirles; wherefore I beseech thee, Lord, my master may be buried, and that some good knight may avenge his death."
At that stepped forth a squire named Griflet, who was very young, being of the same age with King Arthur, and besought the king, for all the service he had done, to give him knighthood.
"Thou art full young and tender of age," said King Arthur, "to take so high an order upon thee."
"Sir," said Griflet, "I beseech thee make me a knight;" and Merlin also advising the king to grant his request, "Well," said Arthur, "be it then so," and knighted him forthwith. Then said he to him, "Since I have granted thee this favour, thou must in turn grant me a gift."
"Whatsoever thou wilt, my lord," replied Sir Griflet.
"Promise me," said King Arthur, "by the faith of thy body, that when thou hast jousted with this knight at the fountain, thou wilt return to me straightway, unless he slay thee."
"I promise," said Sir Griflet; and taking his horse in haste, he dressed his shield, and took a spear in his hand and rode full gallop till he came to the fountain, by the side of which he saw a rich pavilion, and a great horse standing well saddled and bridled, and on a tree close by there hung a shield of many colours and a long lance.
Then Sir Griflet smote upon the shield with the butt of his spear until he cast it to the ground. At that a knight came out of the pavilion and said, "Fair knight, why smote ye down my shield?"
"Because," said Griflet, "I would joust with thee."
"It were better not," replied the knight; "for thou art young and but lately made a knight, and thy strength is small compared to mine."
"For all that," said Sir Griflet, "I will joust with ye."
"I am full loath," replied the knight; "but if I must I must."
Then did they wheel their horses far apart, and running them together, the strange knight shivered Sir Griflet's spear to fragments, and smote him through the shield and the left side, and broke his own spear into Sir Griflet's body, so that the truncheon stuck there, and Sir Griflet and his horse fell down. But when the strange knight saw him overthrown, he was sore grieved, and hastily alighted, for he thought that he had slain him. Then he unlaced his helm and gave him air, and tended him carefully till he came out of his swoon, and leaving the truncheon of his spear in his body, he set him upon horse, and commended him to God, and said he had a mighty heart, and if he lived would prove a passing good knight. And so Sir Griflet rode to the court, where, by aid of good physicians, he was healed in time and his life saved.
At that same time there came before the king twelve old men, ambassadors from Lucius Tiberius, Emperor of Rome, and demanded of Arthur tribute unto Caesar for his realm, or else, said they, the emperor would destroy both him and his land. To whom King Arthur answered that he owed the emperor no tribute, nor would send him any; but said he, "On a fair field I will pay him his proper tribute—with a sharp spear and sword; and by my father's soul that tribute shall he take from me, whether he will or not." So the ambassadors departed passing wroth, and King Arthur was as wroth as they.
But on the morrow of Sir Griflet's hurt, the king commanded to take his horse and armour secretly outside the city walls before sunrise of the next morning, and, rising a long while before dawn, he mounted up and took his shield and spear, and bade his chamberlain tarry till he came again; but he forbore to take Excalibur, for he had given it for safety into charge of his sister, Queen Morgan le Fay. And as the king rode at a soft pace he saw suddenly three villains chasing Merlin and making to attack and slay him. Clapping spurs to his horse, he rushed towards them, and cried out in a terrible voice, "Flee, churls, or take your deaths;" but they, as soon as they perceived a knight, fled away with the haste of hares.
"O Merlin," said the king; "here hadst thou been killed, despite thy many crafts, had I not chanced to pass."
"Not so," said Merlin, "for when I would, I could have saved myself; but thou art nearer to thy death than I, for without special help from heaven thou ridest now towards thy grave."
And as they were thus talking, they came to the fountain and the rich pavilion pitched beside it, and saw a knight sitting all armed on a chair in the opening of the tent. "Sir knight," said King Arthur, "for what cause abidest thou here? to joust with any knight that passeth by? If so, I caution thee to quit that custom."
"That custom," said the knight, "have I followed and will follow, let whosoever will say nay, and if any is aggrieved at it, let him who will amend it."
"I will amend it," said King Arthur.
"And I will defend it," answered the knight.
Then the knight mounted his horse and made himself ready, and charging at each other they met so hard that both their lances splintered into pieces. Then King Arthur drew his sword, but the knight cried out, "Not so; but let us run another tilt together with sharp spears."
"I would with a good will," said King Arthur; "but I have no more spears."
"I have enough of spears," replied the knight, and called a squire, who brought two good new lances.
Then spurring their horses, they rushed together with all their might, and broke each one his own spear short off in his hand. Then the king again put his hand to his sword, but the knight once more cried out, "Nay, yet abide awhile; ye are the best jouster that I ever met with; for the love of knighthood, let us joust yet once again."
So once again they tilted with their fullest force, and this time King Arthur's spear was shivered, but the knight's held whole, and drove so furiously against the king that both his horse and he were hurled to the ground.
At that, King Arthur was enraged and drew his sword and said, "I will attack thee now, Sir knight, on foot, for on horseback I have lost the honour."
"I will be on horseback," said the knight. But when he saw him come on foot, he lighted from his horse, thinking it shame to have so great advantage.
And then began they a strong battle, with many great strokes and grievous blows, and so hewed with their swords that the fragments of their armour flew about the fields, and both so bled that all the ground around was like a marsh of blood. Thus they fought long and mightily, and anon, after brief rest fell to again, and so hurtled together like two wild boars that they both rolled to the ground. At last their swords clashed furiously together, and the knight's sword shivered the king's in two.
Then said the knight, "Now art thou in my power, to save thee or to slay. Yield therefore as defeated, and a recreant knight, or thou shall surely die."
"As for death," replied King Arthur, "welcome be it when it cometh; but as for yielding me to thee as a recreant because of this poor accident upon my sword, I had far liefer die than be so shamed."
So saying, he sprang on the knight, and took him by the middle and threw him down, and tore off his helm. But the knight, being a huge man, wrestled and struggled in a frenzy with the king until he brought him under, and tore off his helm in turn, and would have smitten off his head.
At that came Merlin and said, "Knight, hold thy hand, for if thou slayest yonder knight, thou puttest all this realm to greater loss and damage than ever realm was in; for he is a man of greater worship than thou dreamest of."
"Who then is he?" cried the knight.
"Arthur Pendragon!" answered Merlin.
Then would he have slain him for dread of his wrath, but Merlin cast a spell upon the knight, so that he fell suddenly to the earth in a deep sleep. Then raising up the king, he took the knight's horse for himself and rode away.
"Alas," said King Arthur, "what hast thou done, Merlin? hast thou slain this good knight by thy crafts? There never lived a better knight; I had rather lose my kingdom for a year than have him dead."
"Be not afraid," said Merlin; "he is more whole and sound than thou art, and is but in a sleep, wherefrom in three hours' time he will awake. I told thee what a knight he was, and how near thou wast to death. There liveth not a better knight than he in all the world, and hereafter he shall do thee good service. His name is King Pellinore, and he shall have two sons, who shall be passing valiant men, and, save one another, shall have no equal in prowess and in purity of life. The one shall be named Percival, and the other Lamoracke of Wales."
So they rode on to Caerleon, and all the knights grieved greatly when they heard of this adventure, that the king would jeopardise his person thus alone. Yet could they not hide their joy at serving under such a noble chief, who adventured his own life as much as did the poorest knight among them all.
King Arthur Conquers Ireland and Norway, Slays the Giant of St. Michael's Mount, and Conquers Gaul—The Adventures of Sir Balin
The land of Britain being now in peace, and many great and valiant knights therein ready to take part in whatsoever battles or adventures might arise, King Arthur resolved to follow all his enemies to their own coasts. Anon he fitted out a great fleet, and sailing first to Ireland, in one battle he miserably routed the people of the country. The King of Ireland also he took prisoner, and forced all earls and barons to pay him homage.
Having conquered Ireland, he went next to Iceland and subdued it also, and the winter being then arrived, returned to Britain.
In the next year he set forth to Norway, whence many times the heathen had descended on the British coasts; for he was determined to give so terrible a lesson to those savages as should be told through all their tribes both far and near, and make his name fearful to them.
As soon as he was come, Riculf, the king, with all the power of that country, met and gave him battle; but, after mighty slaughter, the Britons had at length the advantage, and slew Riculf and a countless multitude besides.
Having thus defeated them, they set the cities on fire, dispersed the country people, and pursued the victory till they had reduced all Norway, as also Dacia, under the dominion of King Arthur.
Now, therefore, having thus chastised those pagans who so long had harassed Britain, and put his yoke upon them, he voyaged on to Gaul, being steadfastly set upon defeating the Roman governor of that province, and so beginning to make good the threats which he had sent the emperor by his ambassadors.
So soon as he was landed on the shores of Gaul, there came to him a countryman who told him of a fearful giant in the land of Brittany, who had slain, murdered, and devoured many people, and had lived for seven years upon young children only, "insomuch," said the man, "that all the children of the country are destroyed; and but the other day he seized upon our duchess, as she rode out with her men, and took her away to his lodging in a cave of a mountain, and though five hundred people followed her, yet could they give her no help or rescue, but left her shrieking and crying lamentably in the giant's hands; and, Lord, she is thy cousin Hoel's wife, who is of thy near kindred; wherefore, as thou art a rightful king, have pity on this lady; and as thou art a valiant conqueror, avenge us and deliver us."
"Alas!" said King Arthur, "this is a great mischief that ye tell of. I had rather than the best realm I have, that I had rescued that lady ere the giant laid his hand on her; but tell me now, good fellow, canst thou bring me where this giant haunteth?"
"Yea, Lord!" replied the man; "lo, yonder, where thou seest two great fires, there shall thou find him, and more treasure also than is in all Gaul besides."
Then the king returned to his tent, and, calling Sir Key and Sir Bedwin, desired them to get horses ready for himself and them, for that after evensong he would ride a pilgrimage with them alone to St. Michael's Mount. So in the evening they departed, and rode as fast as they could till they came near the mount, and there alighted; and the king commanded the two knights to await him at the hill foot, while he went up alone.
Then he ascended the mountain till he came to a great fire. And there he found a sorrowful widow wringing her hands and weeping miserably, sitting by a new-made grave. And saluting her, King Arthur prayed her wherefore she made such heavy lamentations.
"Sir knight," she said, "speak softly, for yonder is a devil, who, if he hear thy voice, will come and straightway slay thee. Alas! what dost thou here? Fifty such men as thou were powerless to resist him. Here lieth dead my lady, Duchess of Brittany, wife to Sir Hoel, who was the fairest lady in the world, foully and shamefully slaughtered by that fiend! Beware that thou go not too nigh, for he hath overcome and vanquished fifteen kings, and hath made himself a coat of precious stones, embroidered with their beards; but if thou art hardy, and wilt speak with him, at yonder great fire he is at supper."
"Well," said King Arthur, "I will accomplish mine errand, for all thy fearful words;" and so went forth to the crest of the hill, and saw where the giant sat at supper, gnawing on a limb of a man, and baking his huge frame by the fire, while three damsels turned three spits whereon were spitted, like larks, twelve young children lately born.
When King Arthur saw all that, his heart bled for sorrow, and he trembled for rage and indignation; then lifting up his voice he cried aloud—"God, that wieldeth all the world, give thee short life and shameful death, and may the devil have thy soul! Why hast thou slain those children and that fair lady? Wherefore arise, and prepare thee to perish, thou glutton and fiend, for this day thou shalt die by my hands."
Then the giant, mad with fury at these words, started up, and seizing a great club, smote the king, and struck his crown from off his head. But King Arthur smote him with his sword so mightily in return, that all his blood gushed forth in streams.
At that the giant, howling in great anguish, threw away his club of iron, and caught the king in both his arms and strove to crush his ribs together. But King Arthur struggled and writhed, and twisted him about, so that the giant could not hold him tightly; and as they fiercely wrestled, they both fell, and rolling over one another, tumbled—wrestling, and struggling, and fighting frantically—from rock to rock, till they came to the sea.
And as they tore and strove and tumbled, the king ever and anon smote at the giant with his dagger, till his arms stiffened in death around King Arthur's body, and groaning horribly, he died. So presently the two knights came and found the king locked fast in the giant's arms, and very faint and weary, and loosed him from their hold.
Then the king bade Sir Key to "smite off the giant's head and set it on the truncheon of a spear, and bear it to Sir Hoel, and tell him that his enemy is slain; and afterwards let it be fastened to the castle gate, that all the people may behold it. And go ye two up on the mountain and fetch me my shield and sword, and also the great club of iron ye will see there; and as for the treasure, ye shall find there wealth beyond counting, but take as much as ye will, for if I have his kirtle and the club, I desire no more."
Then the knights fetched the club and kirtle, as the king had ordered, and took the treasure to themselves, as much as they could carry, and returned to the army. But when this deed was noised abroad, all the people came in multitudes to thank the king, who told them "to give thanks to God, and to divide the giant's spoils amongst them equally." And King Arthur desired Sir Hoel to build a church upon the mount, and dedicate it to the Archangel Michael.
On the morrow, all the host moved onwards into the country of Champagne, and Flollo, the Roman tribune, retired before them into Paris. But while he was preparing to collect more forces from the neighbouring countries, King Arthur came upon him unawares, and besieged him in the town.
And when a month had passed, Flollo—full of grief at the starvation of his people, who died in hundreds day by day—sent to King Arthur, and desired that they two might fight together; for he was a man of mighty stature and courage, and thought himself sure of the victory. This challenge, King Arthur, full weary the siege, accepted with great joy, and sent back word to Flollo that he would meet him whensoever he appointed.
And a truce being made on both sides, they met together the next day on the island without the city, where all the people also were gathered to see the issue. And as the king and Flollo rode up to the lists, each was so nobly armed and horsed, and sat so mightily upon his saddle, that no man could tell which way the battle would end.
When they had saluted one another, and presented themselves against each other with their lances aloft, they put spurs to their horses and began a fierce encounter. But King Arthur, carrying his spear more warily, struck it on the upper part of Flollo's breast, and flung him from his saddle to the earth. Then drawing his sword, he cried to him to rise, and rushed upon him; but Flollo, starting up, met him with his spear couched, and pierced the breast of King Arthur's horse, and overthrew both horse and man.
The Britons, when they saw their king upon the ground, could scarcely keep themselves from breaking up the truce and falling on the Gauls. But as they were about to burst the barriers, and rush upon the lists, King Arthur hastily arose, and, guarding himself with his shield, ran with speed on Flollo. And now they renewed the assault with great rage, being sorely bent upon each other's death.
At length, Flollo, seizing his advantage, gave King Arthur a huge stroke upon the helm, which nigh overthrew him, and drew forth his blood in streams.
But when King Arthur saw his armour and shield red with blood, he was inflamed with fury, and lifting up Excalibur on high, with all his might, he struck straight through the helmet into Flollo's head, and smote it into halves; and Flollo falling backwards, and tearing up the ground with his spurs, expired.
As soon as this news spread, the citizens all ran together, and, opening the gates, surrendered the city to the conqueror.
And when he had overrun the whole province with his arms, and reduced it everywhere to subjection, he returned again to Britain, and held his court at Caerleon, with greater state than ever.
Anon he invited thereto all the kings, dukes, earls, and barons, who owed him homage, that he might treat them royally, and reconcile them to each other, and to his rule.
And never was there a city more fit and pleasant for such festivals. For on one side it was washed by a noble river, so that the kings and princes from the countries beyond sea might conveniently sail up to it; and on the other side, the beauty of the groves and meadows, and the stateliness and magnificence of the royal palaces, with lofty gilded roofs, made it even rival the grandeur of Rome. It was famous also for two great and noble churches, whereof one was built in honour of the martyr Julius, and adorned with a choir of virgins who had devoted themselves wholly to the service of God; and the other, founded in memory of St. Aaron, his companion, maintained a convent of canons, and was the third metropolitan church of Britain. Besides, there was a college of two hundred philosophers, learned in astronomy, and all the other sciences and arts.
In this place, therefore, full of such delights, King Arthur held his court, with many jousts and tournaments, and royal huntings, and rested for a season after all his wars.
And on a certain day there came into the court a messenger from Ryence, King of North Wales, bearing this message from his master: That King Ryence had discomfited eleven kings, and had compelled each one of them to cut off his beard; that he had trimmed a mantle with these beards, and lacked but one more beard to finish it; and that he therefore now sent for King Arthur's beard, which he required of him forthwith, or else he would enter his lands and burn and slay, and never leave them till he had taken by force not his beard only, but his head also.
When King Arthur heard these words he flushed all scarlet, and rising in great anger said, "Well is it for thee that thou speakest another man's words with thy lips, and not thine own. Thou hast said thy message, which is the most insolent and villainous that ever man heard sent to any king: now hear my reply. My beard is yet too young to trim that mantle of thy master's with; yet, young although I be, I owe no homage either to him or any man—nor will ever owe. But, young although I be, I will have thy master's homage upon both his knees before this year be past, or else he shall lose his head, by the faith of my body, for this message is the shamefullest I ever heard speak of. I see well thy king hath never yet met with a worshipful man; but tell that King Arthur will have his head or his worship right soon."
Then the messenger departed, and Arthur, looking round upon his knights, demanded of them if any there knew this King Ryence. "Yea," answered Sir Noran, "I know him well, and there be few better or stronger knights upon a field than he; and he is passing proud and haughty in his heart; wherefore I doubt not, Lord, he will make war on thee with mighty power."
"Well," said King Arthur, "I shall be ready for him, and that shall he find."
While the king thus spoke, there came into the hall a damsel having on a mantle richly furred, which she let fall and showed herself to be girded with a noble sword. The king being surprised at this, said, "Damsel, wherefore art thou girt with that sword, for it beseemeth thee not?" "Sir," said she, "I will tell thee. This sword wherewith I am thus girt gives me great sorrow and encumbrance, for I may not be delivered from it till I find a knight faithful and pure and true, strong of body and of valiant deeds, without guile or treachery, who shall be able to draw it from its scabbard, which no man else can do. And I have but just now come from the court of King Ryence, for there they told me many great and good knights were to be ever found; but he and all his knights have tried to draw it forth in vain—for none of them can move it."
"This is a great marvel," said King Arthur; "I will myself try to draw forth this sword, not thinking in my heart that I am the best knight, but rather to begin and give example that all may try after me." Saying this, he took the sword and pulled at it with all his might, but could not shake or move it.