History of Literature







James Knowles


"THE LEGENDS OF KING ARTHUR


AND HIS KNIGHTS"


Illustrations by Lancelot Speed


 


James Knowles


James Knowles

Sir James Knowles (1831 – 13 February 1908) was an English architect and editor.

Life
He was born in London, the son of architect James Thomas Knowles and himself trained in architecture at University College and in Italy. He designed amongst other buildings, three churches in Clapham, Lord Tennyson's house at Aldworth, the Thatched House Club, the Leicester Square garden (as restored at the expense of Baron Albert Grant), and Albert Mansions, Victoria Street, Westminster. However, his preferences led him simultaneously into a literary career.
In 1860 he published The Story of King Arthur. In 1866 he was introduced to Alfred Lord Tennyson, and later agreed to design his new house, Aldworth on condition there was no fee; this led to a close friendship, Knowles assisting Tennyson in business matters, and among other things helping to design scenery for The Cup, when Henry Irving produced that play in 1880.

Knowles became intimate with a number of the most interesting men of the day, and in 1869, with Tennyson's cooperation, he founded the Metaphysical Society, the object of which was to attempt some intellectual rapprochement between religion and science by getting the leading representatives of faith and unfaith to meet and exchange views. Members included Tennyson, Gladstone, W.K.Clifford, W. G. Ward, John Morley, Cardinal Manning, Archbishop Thomson, T. H. Huxley, Arthur Balfour, Leslie Stephen, and Sir William Gull. The society formed the nucleus of the distinguished list of contributors who supported Knowles in his capacity as an editor.

In 1870 he succeeded Dean Alford as editor of the Contemporary Review, but left it in 1877 owing to the objection of the proprietors to the insertion of articles (by W.K.Clifford notably) attacking Theism and founded the Nineteenth Century (to the title of which, in 1901, were added the words And After). Both periodicals became very influential under him, and formed the type of the new sort of monthly review which came to occupy the place formerly held by the quarterlies. Inter alia it was prominent in checking the Channel Tunnel project, by publishing a protest signed by many distinguished men in 1882. In 1904 he received the honour of knighthood. He was a considerable collector of works of art. He was married twice, (1) in 1860 to Jane Borradaile, (2) in 1865 to Isabel Hewlett. He died at Brighton and was buried with his father at West Norwood Cemetery.

 


"THE LEGENDS OF KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS"  (Part I)


Illustrations by Lancelot Speed




CHAPTER I

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."



CHAPTER II

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.



CHAPTER III

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.

 
 
 
 
 

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