Masterpieces of

World Literature










James Knowles




(Part I)

Illustrations by Lancelot Speed


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

"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

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

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

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'


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

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

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

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

"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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"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

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

That day King Arthur by himself alone slew with his word Excalibur four
hundred and seventy heathens. Colgrin also, and his brother Baldulph, were

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

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

"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

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

"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

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

"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

"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

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

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

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

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

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.

"Thou needest not strive so hard, Lord," said the damsel, "for whoever may
be able to pull it forth shall do so very easily." "Thou sayest well,"
replied the king, remembering how he had himself drawn forth the sword
from the stone before St. Paul's. "Now try ye, all my barons; but beware
ye be not stained with shame, or any treachery, or guile." And turning
away his face from them, King Arthur mused full heavily of sins within his
breast he knew of, and which his failure brought to mind right sadly.

Then all the barons present tried each after other, but could none of them
succeed; whereat the damsel greatly wept, and said, "Alas, alas! I thought
in this court to have found the best knight, without shame or treachery or

Now by chance there was at that time a poor knight with King Arthur, who
had been prisoner at his court for half a year and more, charged with
slaying unawares a knight who was a cousin of the king's. He was named
Balin le Savage, and had been by the good offices of the barons delivered
from prison, for he was of good and valiant address and gentle blood. He
being secretly present at the court saw this adventure, and felt his heart
rise high within him, and longed to try the sword as did the others; but
being poor and poorly clad, he was ashamed to come forward in the press of
knights and nobles. But in his heart he felt assured that he could do
better--if Heaven willed--than any knight among them all.

So as the damsel left the king, he called to her and said, "Damsel, I pray
thee of thy courtesy, suffer me to try the sword as well as all these
lords; for though I be but poorly clad, I feel assurance in my heart."

The damsel looking at him, saw in him a likely an honest man, but because
of his poor garments could not think him to be any knight of worship, and
said, "Sir, there is no need to put me to any more pain or labour; why
shouldst thou succeed where so many worthy ones have failed?"

"Ah, fair lady," answered Balin, "worthiness and brave deeds are not shown
by fair raiment, but manhood and truth lie hid within the heart. There be
many worshipful knights unknown to all the people."

"By my faith, thou sayest truth," replied the damsel; "try therefore, if
thou wilt, what thou canst do."

So Balin took the sword by the girdle and hilt, and drew it lightly out,
and looking on its workmanship and brightness, it pleased him greatly.

But the king and all the barons marvelled at Sir Balin's fortune, and many
knights were envious of him, for, "Truly," said the damsel, "this is a
passing good knight, and the best man I have ever found, and the most
worshipfully free from treason, treachery, or villainy, and many wonders
shall he achieve."

"Now, gentle and courteous knight," continued she, turning to Balin, "give
me the sword again."

"Nay," said Sir Balin, "save it be taken from me by force, I shall
preserve this sword for evermore."

"Thou art not wise," replied the damsel, "to keep it from me; for if thou
wilt do so, thou shalt slay with it the best friend thou hast, and the
sword shall be thine destruction also."

"I will take whatever adventure God may send," said Balin; "but the sword
will I keep, by the faith of my body."

"Thou will repent it shortly," said the damsel; "I would take the sword
for thy sake rather than for mine for I am passing grieved and heavy for
thy sake, who wilt not believe the peril I foretell thee." With that she
departed, making great lamentation.

Then Balin sent for his horse and armour, and took his leave of King
Arthur, who urged him to stay at his court. "For," said he, "I believe
that thou art displeased that I showed thee unkindness; blame me not
overmuch, for I was misinformed against thee, and knew not truly what a
knight of worship thou art. Abide in this court with my good knights, and
I will so advance thee that thou shalt be well pleased."

"God thank thee, Lord," said Balin, "for no man can reward thy bounty and
thy nobleness; but at this time I must needs depart, praying thee ever to
hold me in thy favour."

"Truly," said King Arthur, "I am grieved for thy departure; but tarry not
long, and thou shalt be right welcome to me and all my knights when thou
returnest, and I will repair my neglect and all that I have done amiss
against thee."

"God thank thee, Lord," again said Balin, and made ready to depart.

But meanwhile came into the court a lady upon horseback, full richly
dressed, and saluted King Arthur, and asked him for the gift that he had
promised her when she gave him his sword Excalibur, "for," said she, "I am
the lady of the lake."

"Ask what thou wilt," said the king, "and thou shalt have it, if I have
power to give."

"I ask," said she, "the head of that knight who hath just achieved the

sword, or else the damsel's head who brought it, or else both; for the
knight slew my brother, and the lady caused my father's death."

"Truly," said King Arthur, "I cannot grant thee this desire; it were
against my nature and against my name; but ask whatever else thou wilt,
and I will do it."

"I will demand no other thing," said she.

And as she spake came Balin, on his way to leave the court, and saw her
where she stood, and knew her straightway for his mother's murderess, whom
he had sought in vain three years. And when they told him that she had
asked King Arthur for his head, he went up straight to her and said, "May
evil have thee! Thou desirest my head, therefore shalt thou lose thine;"
and with his sword he lightly smote her head off, in the presence of the
king and all the court.

"Alas, for shame!" cried out King Arthur, rising up in wrath; "why hast
thou done this, shaming both me and my court? I am beholden greatly to
this lady, and under my safe conduct came she here; thy deed is passing
shameful; never shall I forgive thy villainy."

"Lord," cried Sir Balin, "hear me; this lady was the falsest living, and
by her witchcraft hath destroyed many, and caused my mother also to be
burnt to death by her false arts and treachery."

"What cause soever thou mightest have had," said the king, "thou shouldst
have forborne her in my presence. Deceive not thyself, thou shalt repent
this sin, for such a shame was never brought upon my court; depart now
from my face with all the haste thou mayest."

Then Balin took up the head of the lady and carried it to his lodgings,
and rode forth with his squire from out the town. Then said he, "Now must
we part; take ye this head and bear it to my friends in Northumberland,
and tell them how I speed, and that our worst foe is dead; also tell them
that I am free from prison, and of the adventure of my sword."

"Alas!" said the squire, "ye are greatly to blame to have so displeased
King Arthur."

"As for that," said Sir Balin, "I go now to find King Ryence, and destroy
him or lose my life; for should I take him prisoner, and lead him to the
court, perchance King Arthur would forgive me, and become my good and
gracious lord."

"Where shall I meet thee again?" said the squire.

"In King Arthur's court," said Balin.


Sir Balin Smites the Dolorous Stroke, and Fights with his Brother, Sir

Now there was a knight at the court more envious than the others of Sir
Balin, for he counted himself one of the best knights in Britain. His name
was Lancear; and going to the king, he begged leave to follow after Sir
Balin and avenge the insult he had put upon the court. "Do thy best,"
replied the king, "for I am passing wroth with Balin."

In the meantime came Merlin, and was told of this adventure of the sword
and lady of the lake.

"Now hear me," said he, "when I tell ye that this lady who hath brought
the sword is the falsest damsel living."

"Say not so," they answered, "for she hath a brother a good knight, who
slew another knight this damsel loved; so she, to be revenged upon her
brother, went to the Lady Lile, of Avilion, and besought her help. Then
Lady Lile gave her the sword, and told her that no man should draw it
forth but one, a valiant knight and strong, who should avenge her on her
brother. This, therefore, was the reason why the damsel came here." "I
know it all as well as ye do," answered Merlin; "and would to God she had
never come hither, for never came she into any company but to do harm; and
that good knight who hath achieved the sword shall be himself slain by it,
which shall be great harm and loss, for a better knight there liveth not;
and he shall do unto my lord the king great honour and service."

Then Sir Lancear, having armed himself at all points, mounted, and rode
after Sir Balin, as fast as he could go, and overtaking him, he cried
aloud, "Abide, Sir knight! wait yet awhile, or I shall make thee do so."

Hearing him cry, Sir Balin fiercely turned his horse, and said, "Fair
knight, what wilt thou with me? wilt thou joust?"

"Yea," said Sir Lancear, "it is for that I have pursued thee."

"Peradventure," answered Balin, "thou hadst best have staid at home, for
many a man who thinketh himself already victor, endeth by his own
downfall. Of what court art thou?"

"Of King Arthur's court," cried Lancear, "and I am come to revenge the
insult thou hast put on it this day."

"Well," said Sir Balin, "I see that I must fight thee, and I repent to be
obliged to grieve King Arthur or his knights; and thy quarrel seemeth full
foolish to me, for the damsel that is dead worked endless evils through
the land, or else I had been loath as any knight that liveth to have slain
a lady."

"Make thee ready," shouted Lancear, "for one of us shall rest for ever in
this field."

But at their first encounter Sir Lancear's spear flew into splinters from
Sir Balin's shield, and Sir Balin's lance pierced with such might through
Sir Lancear's shield that it rove the hauberk also, and passed through the
knight's body and the horse's crupper. And Sir Balin turning fiercely
round again, drew out his sword, and knew not that he had already slain
him; and then he saw him lie a corpse upon the ground.

At that same moment came a damsel riding towards him as fast as her horse
could gallop, who, when she saw Sir Lancear dead, wept and sorrowed out of
measure, crying, "O, Sir Balin, two bodies hast thou slain, and one heart;
and two hearts in one body; and two souls also hast thou lost."

Therewith she took the sword from her dead lover's side--for she was Sir
Lancear's lady-love--and setting the pommel of it on the ground, ran
herself through the body with the blade.

When Sir Balin saw her dead he was sorely hurt and grieved in spirit, and
repented the death of Lancear, which had also caused so fair a lady's
death. And being unable to look on their bodies for sorrow, he turned
aside into a forest, where presently as he rode, he saw the arms of his
brother, Sir Balan. And when they were met they put off their helms, and
embraced each other, kissing, and weeping for joy and pity. Then Sir Balin
told Sir Balan all his late adventures, and that he was on his way to King
Ryence, who at that time was besieging Castle Terrabil. "I will be with
thee," answered Sir Balan, "and we will help each other, as brethren ought
to do."

Anon by chance, as they were talking, came King Mark, of Cornwall, by that
way, and when he saw the two dead bodies of Sir Lancear and his lady lying
there, and heard the story of their death, he vowed to build a tomb to
them before he left that place. So pitching his pavilion there, he sought
through all the country round to find a monument, and found at last a rich
and fair one in a church, which he took and raised above the dead knight
and his damsel, writing on it--"Here lieth Lancear, son of the King of
Ireland, who, at his own request, was slain by Balin; and here beside him
also lieth his lady Colombe, who slew herself with her lover's sword for
grief and sorrow."

Then as Sir Balin and Sir Balan rode away, Merlin met with them, and said
to Balin, "Thou hast done thyself great harm not to have saved that lady's
life who slew herself; and because of it, thou shalt strike the most
Dolorous Stroke that ever man struck, save he that smote our Lord. For
thou shalt smite the truest and most worshipful of living knights, who
shall not be recovered from his wounds for many years, and through that
stroke three kingdoms shall be overwhelmed in poverty and misery."

"If I believed," said Balin, "what thou sayest, I would slay myself to
make thee a liar."

At that Merlin vanished suddenly away; but afterwards he met them in
disguise towards night, and told them he could lead them to King Ryence,
whom they sought. "For this night he is to ride with sixty lances only
through a wood hard by."

So Sir Balin and Sir Balan hid themselves within the wood, and at midnight
came out from their ambush among the leaves by the highway, and waited for
the king, whom presently they heard approaching with his company. Then did
they suddenly leap forth and smote at him and overthrew him and laid him
on the ground, and turning on his company wounded and slew forty of them,
and put the rest to flight. And returning to King Ryence they would have
slain him there, but he craved mercy, and yielded to their grace, crying,
"Knights full of prowess, slay me not; for by my life ye may win
something--but my death can avail ye nought."

"Ye say truth," said the two knights, and put him in a horse-litter, and
went swiftly through all the night, till at cock-crow they came to King
Arthur's palace. There they delivered him to the warders and porters, to
be brought before the king, with this message--"That he was sent to King
Arthur by the knight of the two swords (for so was Balin known by name,
since his adventure with the damsel) and by his brother." And so they rode
away again ere sunrise.

Within a month or two thereafter, King Arthur being somewhat sick, went
forth outside the town, and had his pavilion pitched in a meadow, and
there abode, and laid him down on a pallet to sleep, but could get no
rest. And as he lay he heard the sound of a great horse, and looking out
of the tent door, saw a knight ride by, making great lamentation.

"Abide, fair sir," said King Arthur, "and tell me wherefore thou makest
this sorrow."

"Ye may little amend it," said the knight, and so passed on.

Presently after Sir Balin, rode, by chance, past that meadow, and when he
saw the king he alighted and came to him on foot, and kneeled and saluted

"By my head," said King Arthur, "ye be welcome, Sir Balin;" and then he
thanked him heartily for revenging him upon King Ryence, and for sending
him so speedily a prisoner to his castle, and told him how King Nero,
Ryence's brother, had attacked him afterwards to deliver Ryence from
prison; and how he had defeated him and slain him, and also King Lot, of
Orkney who was joined with Nero, and whom King Pellinore had killed in the
battle. Then when they had thus talked, King Arthur told Sir Balin of the
sullen knight that had just passed his tent, and desired him to pursue him
and to bring him back.

So Sir Balin rode and overtook the knight in a forest with a damsel, and
said, "Sir knight, thou must come back with me unto my lord, King Arthur,
to tell him the cause of thy sorrow, which thou hast refused even now to

"That will I not," replied the knight, "for it would harm me much, and do
him no advantage."

"Sir," said Sir Balin, "I pray thee make ready, for thou must needs go
with me--or else I must fight with thee and take thee by force."

"Wilt thou be warrant for safe conduct, if I go with thee?" inquired the

"Yea, surely," answered Balin, "I will die else."

So the knight made ready to go with Sir Balin, and left the damsel in the

But as they went, there came one invisible, and smote the knight through
the body with a spear. "Alas," cried Sir Herleus (for so was he named), "I
am slain under thy guard and conduct, by that traitor knight called
Garlon, who through magic and witchcraft rideth invisibly. Take,
therefore, my horse, which is better than thine, and ride to the damsel
whom we left, and the quest I had in hand, as she will lead thee--and
revenge my death when thou best mayest."

"That will I do," said Sir Balin, "by my knighthood, and so I swear to

Then went Sir Balin to the damsel, and rode forth with her; she carrying
ever with her the truncheon of the spear wherewith Sir Herleus had been
slain. And as they went, a good knight, Perin de Mountbelgard, joined
their company, and vowed to take adventure with them wheresoever they
might go. But presently as they passed a hermitage fast by a churchyard,
came the knight Garlon, again invisible, and smote Sir Perin through the
body with a spear, and slew him as he had slain Sir Herleus. Whereat, Sir
Balin greatly raged, and swore to have Sir Garlon's life, whenever next he
might encounter and behold him in his bodily shape. Anon, he and the
hermit buried the good knight Sir Perin, and rode on with the damsel till
they came to a great castle, whereinto they were about to enter. But when
Sir Balin had passed through the gateway, the portcullis fell behind him
suddenly, leaving the damsel on the outer side, with men around her,
drawing their swords as if to slay her.

When he saw that, Sir Balin climbed with eager haste by wall and tower,
and leaped into the castle moat, and rushed towards the damsel and her
enemies, with his sword drawn, to fight and slay them. But they cried out,
"Put up thy sword, Sir knight, we will not fight thee in this quarrel, for
we do nothing but an ancient custom of this castle."

Then they told him that the lady of the castle was sick, and had lain ill
for many years, and might never more be cured, unless she had a silver
dish full of the blood of a pure maid and a king's daughter. Wherefore the
custom of the castle was, that never should a damsel pass that way but she
must give a dish full of her blood. Then Sir Balin suffered them to bleed
the damsel with her own consent, but her blood helped not the lady of the
castle. So on the morrow they departed, after right good cheer and rest.

Then they rode three or four days without adventure and came at last to
the abode of a rich man, who sumptuously lodged and fed them. And while
they sat at supper Sir Balin heard a voice of some one groaning
grievously. "What noise is this?" said he.

"Forsooth," said the host, "I will tell you. I was lately at a tournament,
and there I fought a knight who is brother to King Pelles, and overthrew
him twice, for which he swore to be revenged on me through my best friend,
and so he wounded my son, who cannot be recovered till I have that
knight's blood, but he rideth through witchcraft always invisibly, and I
know not his name."

"Ah," said Sir Balin, "but I know him; his name is Garlon, and he hath
slain two knights, companions of mine own, in the same fashion, and I
would rather than all the riches in this realm that I might meet him face
to face."

"Well," said his host, "let me now tell thee that King Pelles hath
proclaimed in all the country a great festival, to be held at Listeniss,
in twenty days from now, whereto no knight may come without a lady. At
that great feast we might perchance find out this Garlon, for many will be
there; and if it please thee we will set forth together."

So on the morrow they rode all three towards Listeniss, and travelled
fifteen days, and reached it on the day the feast began. Then they
alighted and stabled their horses, and went up to the castle, and Sir
Balin's host was denied entrance, having no lady with him. But Sir Balin
was right heartily received, and taken to a chamber, where they unarmed
him, and dressed him in rich robes, of any colour that he chose, and told
him he must lay aside his sword. This, however, he refused, and said, "It
is the custom of my country for a knight to keep his sword ever with him;
and if I may not keep it here, I will forthwith depart." Then they gave
him leave to wear his sword. So he went to the great hall, and was set
among knights of rank and worship, and his lady before him.

Soon he found means to ask one who sat near him, "Is there not here a
knight whose name is Garlon?"

"Yonder he goeth," said his neighbour, "he with that black face; he is the
most marvellous knight alive, for he rideth invisibly, and destroyeth whom
he will."

"Ah, well," said Balin, drawing a long breath, "is that indeed the man? I
have aforetime heard of him."

Then he mused long within himself, and thought, "If I shall slay him here
and now, I shall not escape myself; but if I leave him, peradventure I
shall never meet with him again at such advantage; and if he live, how
much more harm and mischief will he do!"

But while he deeply thought, and cast his eyes from time to time upon Sir
Garlon, that false knight saw that he watched him, and thinking that he
could at such a time escape revenge, he came and smote Sir Balin on the
face with the back of his hand, and said, "Knight, why dost thou so watch
me? be ashamed, and eat thy meat, and do that which thou camest for."

"Thou sayest well," cried Sir Balin, rising fiercely; "now will I
straightway do that which I came to do, as thou shalt find." With that he
whirled his sword aloft and struck him downright on the head, and clove
his skull asunder to the shoulder.

"Give me the truncheon," cried out Sir Balin to his lady, "wherewith he
slew thy knight." And when she gave it him--for she had always carried it
about with her, wherever she had gone--he smote him through the body with
it, and said, "With that truncheon didst thou treacherously murder a good
knight, and now it sticketh in thy felon body."

Then he called to the father of the wounded son, who had come with him to
Listeniss, and said, "Now take as much blood as thou wilt, to heal thy son

But now arose a terrible confusion, and all the knights leaped from the
table to slay Balin, King Pelles himself the foremost, who cried out,
"Knight, thou hast slain my brother at my board; die, therefore, die, for
thou shalt never leave this castle."

"Slay me, thyself, then," shouted Balin.

"Yea," said the king, "that will I! for no other man shall touch thee, for
the love I bear my brother."

Then King Pelles caught in his hand a grim weapon and smote eagerly at
Balin, but Balin put his sword between his head and the king's stroke, and
saved himself but lost his sword, which fell down smashed and shivered
into pieces by the blow. So being weaponless he ran to the next room to
find a sword, and so from room to room, with King Pelles after him, he in
vain ever eagerly casting his eyes round every place to find some weapon.

At last he ran into a chamber wondrous richly decked, where was a bed all
dressed with cloth of gold, the richest that could be thought of, and one
who lay quite still within the bed; and by the bedside stood a table of
pure gold borne on four silver pillars, and on the table stood a
marvellous spear, strangely wrought.

When Sir Balin saw the spear he seized it in his hand, and turned upon
King Pelles, and smote at him so fiercely and so sore that he dropped
swooning to the ground.

But at that Dolorous and awful Stroke the castle rocked and rove
throughout, and all the walls fell crashed and breaking to the earth, and
Balin himself fell also in their midst, struck as it were to stone, and
powerless to move a hand or foot. And so three days he lay amidst the
ruins, until Merlin came and raised him up and brought him a good horse,
and bade him ride out of that land as swiftly as he could.

"May I not take the damsel with me I brought hither?" said Sir Balin.

"Lo! where she lieth dead," said Merlin. "Ah, little knowest thou, Sir
Balin, what thou hast done; for in this castle and that chamber which thou
didst defile, was the blood of our Lord Christ! and also that most holy
cup--the Sangreal--wherefrom the wine was drunk at the last supper of our
Lord. Joseph of Arimathea brought it to this land, when first he came here
to convert and save it. And on that bed of gold it was himself who lay,
and the strange spear beside him was the spear wherewith the soldier
Longus smote our Lord, which evermore had dripped with blood. King Pelles
is the nearest kin to Joseph in direct descent, wherefore he held these
holy things in trust; but now have they all gone at thy dolorous stroke,
no man knoweth whither; and great is the damage to this land, which until
now hath been the happiest of all lands, for by that stroke thou hast
slain thousands, and by the loss and parting of the Sangreal the safety of
this realm is put in peril, and its great happiness is gone for evermore."

Then Balin departed from Merlin, struck to his soul with grief and sorrow,
and said, "In this world shall we meet never more."

So he rode forth through the fair cities and the country, and found the
people lying dead on every side. And all the living cried out on him as he
passed, "O Balin, all this misery hast thou done! For the dolorous stroke
thou gavest King Pelles, three countries are destroyed, and doubt not but
revenge will fall on thee at last!"

When he had passed the boundary of those countries, he was somewhat
comforted, and rode eight days without adventure. Anon he came to a cross,
whereon was written in letters of gold, "It is not for a knight alone to
ride towards this castle." Looking up, he saw a hoary ancient man come
towards him, who said, "Sir Balin le Savage, thou passest thy bounds this
way; therefore turn back again, it will be best for thee;" and with these
words he vanished.

Then did he hear a horn blow as it were the deathnote of some hunted
beast. "That blast," said Balin, "is blown for me, for I am the prey;
though yet I be not dead." But as he spoke he saw a hundred ladies with a
great troop of knights come forth to meet him, with bright faces and
great welcome, who led him to the castle and made a great feast, with
dancing and minstrelsy and all manner of joy.

Then the chief lady of the castle said, "Knight with the two swords, thou
must encounter and fight with a knight hard by, who dwelleth on an island,
for no man may pass this way without encountering him."

"It is a grievous custom," answered Sir Balin.

"There is but one knight to defeat," replied the lady.

"Well," said Sir Balin, "be it as thou wilt. I am ready and quite willing,
and though my horse and my body be full weary, yet is my heart not weary,
save of life. And truly I were glad if I might meet my death."

"Sir," said one standing by, "methinketh your shield is not good; I will
lend you a bigger."

"I thank thee, sir," said Balin, and took the unknown shield and left his
own, and so rode forth, and put himself and horse into a boat and came to
the island.

As soon as he had landed, he saw come riding towards him, a knight dressed
all in red, upon a horse trapped in the same colour. When the red knight
saw Sir Balin, and the two swords he wore, he thought it must have been
his brother (for the red knight was Sir Balan), but when he saw the
strange arms on his shield, he forgot the thought, and came against him
fiercely. At the first course they overthrew each other, and both lay
swooning on the ground; but Sir Balin was the most hurt and bruised, for
he was weary and spent with travelling. So Sir Balan rose up first to his
feet and drew his sword, and Sir Balin painfully rose against him and
raised his shield.

Then Sir Balan smote him through the shield and brake his helmet; and Sir
Balin, in return, smote at him with his fated sword, and had wellnigh
slain his brother. So they fought till their breaths failed.

Then Sir Balin, looking up, saw all the castle towers stand full of
ladies. So they went again to battle, and wounded each other full sore,
and paused, and breathed again, and then again began the fight; and this
for many times they did, till all the ground was red with blood. And by
now, each had full grievously wounded the other with seven great wounds,
the least of which might have destroyed the mightiest giant in the world.
But still they rose against each other, although their hauberks now were
all unnailed, and they smiting at each other's naked bodies with their
sharp swords. At the last, Sir Balan, the younger brother, withdrew a
little space and laid him down.

Then said Sir Balin le Savage, "What knight art thou? for never before
have I found a knight to match me thus."

"My name," said he, all faintly, "is Balan, brother to the good knight Sir

"Ah, God!" cried Balin, "that ever I should see this day!" and therewith
fell down backwards in a swoon.

Then Sir Balan crept with pain upon his feet and hands, and put his
brother's helmet off his head, but could not know him by his face, it was
so hewed and bloody. But presently, when Sir Balin came to, he said, "Oh!
Balan, mine own brother, thou hast slain me, and I thee! All the wide
world saw never greater grief!"

"Alas!" said Sir Balan, "that I ever saw this day; and through mishap
alone I knew thee not, for when I saw thy two swords, if it had not been
for thy strange shield, I should have known thee for my brother."

"Alas!" said Balin, "all this sorrow lieth at the door of one unhappy
knight within the castle, who made me change my shield. If I might live, I
would destroy that castle and its evil customs."

"It were well done," said Balan, "for since I first came hither I have
never been able to depart, for here they made me fight with one who kept
this island, whom I slew, and by enchantment I might never quit it more;
nor couldst thou, brother, hadst thou slain me, and escaped with thine own

Anon came the lady of the castle, and when she heard their talk, and saw
their evil case, she wrung her hands and wept bitterly. So Sir Balan
prayed the lady of her gentleness that, for his true service, she would
bury them both together in that place. This she granted, weeping full
sore, and said it should be done right solemnly and richly, and in the
noblest manner possible. Then did they send for a priest, and received the
holy sacrament at his hands. And Balin said, "Write over us upon our tomb,
that here two brethren slew each other; then shall never good knight or
pilgrim pass this way but he will pray for both our souls." And anon Sir
Balan died, but Sir Balin died not till the midnight after; and then they
both were buried.

On the morrow of their death came Merlin, and took Sir Balin's sword and
fixed on it a new pommel, and set it in a mighty stone, which then, by
magic, he made float upon the water. And so, for many years, it floated to
and fro around the island, till it swam down the river to Camelot, where
young Sir Galahad achieved it, as shall be told hereafter.


The Marriage of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, and the Founding of the
Round Table--The Adventure of the Hart and Hound

It befell upon a certain day, that King Arthur said to Merlin, "My lords
and knights do daily pray me now to take a wife; but I will have none
without thy counsel, for thou hast ever helped me since I came first to
this crown."

"It is well," said Merlin, "that thou shouldst take a wife, for no man of
bounteous and noble nature should live without one; but is there any lady
whom thou lovest better than another?"

"Yea," said King Arthur, "I love Guinevere, the daughter of King
Leodegrance, of Camelgard, who also holdeth in his house the Round Table
that he had from my father Uther; and as I think, that damsel is the
gentlest and the fairest lady living."

"Sir," answered Merlin, "as for her beauty, she is one of the fairest that
do live; but if ye had not loved her as ye do, I would fain have had ye
choose some other who was both fair and good. But where a man's heart is
set, he will be loath to leave." This Merlin said, knowing the misery
that should hereafter happen from this marriage.

Then King Arthur sent word to King Leodegrance that he mightily desired to
wed his daughter, and how that he had loved her since he saw her first,
when with Kings Ban and Bors he rescued Leodegrance from King Ryence of
North Wales.

When King Leodegrance heard the message, he cried out "These be the best
tidings I have heard in all my life--so great and worshipful a prince to
seek my daughter for his wife! I would fain give him half my lands with
her straightway, but that he needeth none--and better will it please him
that I send him the Round Table of King Uther, his father, with a hundred
good knights towards the furnishing of it with guests, for he will soon
find means to gather more, and make the table full."

Then King Leodegrance delivered his daughter Guinevere to the messengers
of King Arthur, and also the Round Table with the hundred knights.

So they rode royally and freshly, sometimes by water and sometimes by
land, towards Camelot. And as they rode along in the spring weather, they
made full many sports and pastimes. And, in all those sports and games, a
young knight lately come to Arthur's court, Sir Lancelot by name, was
passing strong, and won praise from all, being full of grace and
hardihood; and Guinevere also ever looked on him with joy. And always in
the eventide, when the tents were set beside some stream or forest, many
minstrels came and sang before the knights and ladies as they sat in the
tent-doors, and many knights would tell adventures; and still Sir Lancelot
was foremost, and told the knightliest tales, and sang the goodliest
songs, of all the company.

And when they came to Camelot, King Arthur made great joy, and all the
city with him; and riding forth with a great retinue he met Guinevere and
her company, and led her through the streets all filled with people, and
in the midst of all their shoutings and the ringing of church bells, to a
palace hard by his own.

Then, in all haste, the king commanded to prepare the marriage and the
coronation with the stateliest and most honourable pomp that could be
made. And when the day was come, the archbishops led the king to the
cathedral, whereto he walked, clad in his royal robes, and having four
kings, bearing four golden swords, before him; a choir of passing sweet
music going also with him.

In another part, was the queen dressed in her richest ornaments, and led
by archbishops and bishops to the Chapel of the Virgins, the four queens
also of the four kings last mentioned walked before her, bearing four
white doves, according to ancient custom; and after her there followed
many damsels, singing and making every sign of joy.

And when the two processions were come to the churches, so wondrous was
the music and the singing, that all the knights and barons who were there
pressed on each other, as in the crowd of battle, to hear and see the most
they might.

When the king was crowned, he called together all the knights that came
with the Round Table from Camelgard, and twenty-eight others, great and
valiant men, chosen by Merlin out of all the realm, towards making up the
full number of the table. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury blessed the
seats of all the knights, and when they rose again therefrom to pay their
homage to King Arthur there was found upon the back of each knight's seat
his name, written in letters of gold. But upon one seat was found written,
"This is the Siege Perilous, wherein if any man shall sit save him whom
Heaven hath chosen, he shall be devoured by fire."

Anon came young Gawain, the king's nephew, praying to be made a knight,
whom the king knighted then and there. Soon after came a poor man, leading
with him a tall fair lad of eighteen years of age, riding on a lean mare.
And falling at the king's feet, the poor man said, "Lord, it was told me,
that at this time of thy marriage thou wouldst give to any man the gift he
asked for, so it were not unreasonable."

"That is the truth," replied King Arthur, "and I will make it good."

"Thou sayest graciously and nobly," said the poor man. "Lord, I ask
nothing else but that thou wilt make my son here a knight."

"It is a great thing that thou askest," said the king. "What is thy name?"

"Aries, the cowherd," answered he.

"Cometh this prayer from thee or from thy son?" inquired King Arthur.

"Nay, lord, not from myself," said he, "but from him only, for I have
thirteen other sons, and all of them will fall to any labour that I put
them to. But this one will do no such work for anything that I or my wife
may do, but is for ever shooting or fighting, and running to see knights
and joustings, and torments me both night and day that he be made a

"What is thy name?" said the king to the young man.

"My name is Tor," said he.

Then the king, looking at him steadfastly, was well pleased with his face
and figure, and with his look of nobleness and strength.

"Fetch all thy other sons before me," said the king to Aries. But when he
brought them, none of them resembled Tor in size or shape or feature.

Then the king knighted Tor, saying, "Be thou to thy life's end a good
knight and a true, as I pray God thou mayest be; and if thou provest
worthy, and of prowess, one day thou shall be counted in the Round Table."
Then turning to Merlin, Arthur said, "Prophesy now, O Merlin, shall Sir
Tor become a worthy knight, or not?"

"Yea, lord," said Merlin, "so he ought to be, for he is the son of that
King Pellinore whom thou hast met, and proved to be one of the best
knights living. He is no cowherd's son."

Presently after came in King Pellinore, and when he saw Sir Tor he knew
him for his son, and was more pleased than words can tell to find him
knighted by the king. And Pellinore did homage to King Arthur, and was
gladly and graciously accepted of the king; and then was led by Merlin to
a high seat at the Table Round, near to the Perilous Seat.

But Sir Gawain was full of anger at the honour done King Pellinore, and
said to his brother Gaheris, "He slew our father, King Lot, therefore will
I slay him."

"Do it not yet," said he; "wait till I also be a knight, then will I help
ye in it: it is best ye suffer him to go at this time, and not trouble
this high feast with bloodshed."

"As ye will, be it," said Sir Gawain.

Then rose the king and spake to all the Table Round, and charged them to
be ever true and noble knights, to do neither outrage nor murder, nor any
unjust violence, and always to flee treason; also by no means ever to be
cruel, but give mercy unto him that asked for mercy, upon pain of
forfeiting the liberty of his court for evermore. Moreover, at all times,
on pain of death, to give all succour unto ladies and young damsels; and
lastly, never to take part in any wrongful quarrel, for reward or payment.
And to all this he swore them knight by knight.

Then he ordained that, every year at Pentecost, they should all come
before him, wheresoever he might appoint a place, and give account of all
their doings and adventures of the past twelvemonth. And so, with prayer
and blessing, and high words of cheer, he instituted the most noble order
of the Round Table, whereto the best and bravest knights in all the world
sought afterwards to find admission.

Then was the high feast made ready, and the king and queen sat side by
side, before the whole assembly; and great and royal was the banquet and
the pomp.

And as they sat, each man in his place, Merlin went round and said, "Sit
still awhile, for ye shall see a strange and marvellous adventure."

So as they sat, there suddenly came running through the hall, a white
hart, with a white hound next after him, and thirty couple of black
running hounds, making full cry; and the hart made circuit of the Table
Round, and past the other tables; and suddenly the white hound flew upon
him and bit him fiercely, and tore out a piece from his haunch. Whereat
the hart sprang suddenly with a great leap, and overthrew a knight sitting
at the table, who rose forthwith, and, taking up the hound, mounted, and
rode fast away.

But no sooner had he left, than there came in a lady, mounted on a white
palfrey, who cried out to the king, "Lord, suffer me not to have this
injury!--the hound is mine which that knight taketh." And as she spake, a
knight rode in all armed, on a great horse, and suddenly took up the lady
and rode away with her by force, although she greatly cried and moaned.

Then the king desired Sir Gawain, Sir Tor, and King Pellinore to mount and
follow this adventure to the uttermost; and told Sir Gawain to bring back
the hart, Sir Tor the hound and knight, and King Pellinore the knight and
the lady.

So Sir Gawain rode forth at a swift pace, and with him Gaheris, his
brother, for a squire. And as they went, they saw two knights fighting on
horseback, and when they reached them they divided them and asked the
reason of their quarrel. "We fight for a foolish matter," one replied,
"for we be brethren; but there came by a white hart this way, chased by
many hounds, and thinking it was an adventure for the high feast of King
Arthur, I would have followed it to have gained worship; whereat my
younger brother here declared he was the better knight and would go after
it instead, and so we fight to prove which of us be the better knight."

"This is a foolish thing," said Sir Gawain. "Fight with all strangers, if
ye will, but not brother with brother. Take my advice, set on against me,
and if ye yield to me, as I shall do my best to make ye, ye shall go to
King Arthur and yield ye to his grace."

"Sir knight," replied the brothers, "we are weary, and will do thy wish
without encountering thee; but by whom shall we tell the king that we were

"By the knight that followeth the quest of the white hart," said Sir
Gawain. "And now tell me your names, and let us part."

"Sorlous and Brian of the Forest," they replied; and so they went their
way to the king's court.

Then Sir Gawain, still following his quest by the distant baying of the
hounds, came to a great river, and saw the hart swimming over and near to
the further bank. And as he was about to plunge in and swim after, he saw
a knight upon the other side, who cried, "Come not over here, Sir knight,
after that hart, save thou wilt joust with me."

"I will not fail for that," said Sir Gawain; and swam his horse across the

Anon they got their spears, and ran against each other fiercely; and Sir
Gawain smote the stranger off his horse, and turning, bade him yield.

"Nay," replied he, "not so; for though ye have the better of me on
horseback, I pray thee, valiant knight, alight, and let us match together
with our swords on foot."

"What is thy name?" quoth Gawain.

"Allardin of the Isles," replied the stranger.

Then they fell on each other; but soon Sir Gawain struck him through the
helm, so deeply and so hard, that all his brains were scattered, and Sir
Allardin fell dead. "Ah," said Gaheris, "that was a mighty stroke for a
young knight!"

Then did they turn again to follow the white hart, and let slip three
couple of greyhounds after him; and at the last they chased him to a
castle, and there they overtook and slew him, in the chief courtyard.

At that there rushed a knight forth from a chamber, with a drawn sword in
his hand, and slew two of the hounds before their eyes, and chased the
others from the castle, crying, "Oh, my white hart! alas, that thou art
dead! for thee my sovereign lady gave to me, and evil have I kept thee;
but if I live, thy death shall be dear bought." Anon he went within and
armed, and came out fiercely, and met Sir Gawain face to face.

"Why have ye slain my hounds?" said Sir Gawain; "they did but after their
nature: and ye had better have taken vengeance on me than on the poor dumb

"I will avenge me on thee, also," said the other, "ere thou depart this

Then did they fight with each other savagely and madly, till the blood ran
down to their feet. But at last Sir Gawain had the better, and felled the
knight of the castle to the ground. Then he cried out for mercy, and
yielded to Sir Gawain, and besought him as he was a knight and gentleman
to save his life. "Thou shalt die," said Sir Gawain, "for slaying my

"I will make thee all amends within my power," replied the knight.

But Sir Gawain would have no mercy, and unlaced his helm to strike his
head off; and so blind was he with rage, that he saw not where a lady ran
out from her chamber and fell down upon his enemy. And making a fierce
blow at him, he smote off by mischance the lady's head.

"Alas!" cried Gaheris, "foully and shamefully have ye done--the shame
shall never leave ye! Why give ye not your mercy unto them that ask it? a
knight without mercy is without worship also."

Then Sir Gawain was sore amazed at that fair lady's death, and knew not
what to do, and said to the fallen knight, "Arise, for I will give thee

"Nay, nay," said he, "I care not for thy mercy now, for thou hast slain my
lady and my love--that of all earthly things I loved the best."

"I repent me sorely of it," said Sir Gawain, "for I meant to have struck
thee: but now shalt thou go to King Arthur and tell him this adventure,
and how thou hast been overcome by the knight that followeth the quest of
the white hart."

"I care not whether I live or die, or where I go," replied the knight.

So Sir Gawain sent him to the court to Camelot, making him bear one dead
greyhound before and one behind him on his horse. "Tell me thy name before
we part," said he.

"My name is Athmore of the Marsh," he answered.

Then went Sir Gawain into the castle, and prepared to sleep there and
began to unarm; but Gaheris upbraided him, saying, "Will ye disarm in this
strange country? bethink ye, ye must needs have many enemies about."

No sooner had he spoken than there came out suddenly four knights, well
armed, and assailed them hard, saying to Sir Gawain, "Thou new-made
knight, how hast thou shamed thy knighthood! a knight without mercy is
dishonoured! Slayer of fair ladies, shame to thee evermore! Doubt not thou
shalt thyself have need of mercy ere we leave thee."

Then were the brothers in great jeopardy, and feared for their lives, for
they were but two to four, and weary with travelling; and one of the four
knights shot Sir Gawain with a bolt, and hit him through the arm, so that
he could fight no more. But when there was nothing left for them but
death, there came four ladies forth and prayed the four knights' mercy for
the strangers. So they gave Sir Gawain and Gaheris their lives, and made
them yield themselves prisoners.

On the morrow, came one of the ladies to Sir Gawain, and talked with him,
saying, "Sir knight, what cheer?"

"Not good," said he.

"It is your own default, sir," said the lady, "for ye have done a passing
foul deed in slaying that fair damsel yesterday--and ever shall it be
great shame to you. But ye be not of King Arthur's kin."

"Yea, truly am I," said he; "my name is Gawain, son of King Lot of Orkney,
whom King Pellinore slew--and my mother, Belisent, is half-sister to the

When the lady heard that, she went and presently got leave for him to quit
the castle; and they gave him the head of the white hart to take with him,
because it was in his quest; but made him also carry the dead lady with
him--her head hung round his neck and her body lay before him on his
horse's neck.

So in that fashion he rode back to Camelot; and when the king and queen
saw him, and heard tell of his adventures, they were heavily displeased,
and, by the order of the queen, he was put upon his trial before a court
of ladies--who judged him to be evermore, for all his life, the knight of
ladies' quarrels, and to fight always on their side, and never against
any, except he fought for one lady and his adversary for another; also
they charged him never to refuse mercy to him that asked it, and swore him
to it on the Holy Gospels. Thus ended the adventure of the white hart.

Meanwhile, Sir Tor had made him ready, and followed the knight who rode
away with the hound. And as he went, there suddenly met him in the road a
dwarf, who struck his horse so viciously upon the head with a great staff,
that he leaped backwards a spear's length.

"Wherefore so smitest thou my horse, foul dwarf?" shouted Sir Tor.

"Because thou shall not pass this way," replied the dwarf, "unless thou
fight for it with yonder knights in those pavilions," pointing to two
tents, where two great spears stood out, and two shields hung upon two
trees hard by.

"I may not tarry, for I am on a quest I needs must follow," said Sir Tor.

"Thou shalt not pass," replied the dwarf, and therewith blew his horn.
Then rode out quickly at Sir Tor one armed on horseback, but Sir Tor was
quick as he, and riding at him bore him from his horse, and made him
yield. Directly after came another still more fiercely, but with a few
great strokes and buffets Sir Tor unhorsed him also, and sent them both to
Camelot to King Arthur. Then came the dwarf and begged Sir Tor to take
him in his service, "for," said he, "I will serve no more recreant

"Take then a horse, and come with me," said Tor.

"Ride ye after the knight with the white hound?" said the dwarf; "I can
soon bring ye where he is."

So they rode through the forest till they came to two more tents. And Sir
Tor alighting, went into the first, and saw three damsels lie there,
sleeping. Then went he to the other, and found another lady also sleeping,
and at her feet the white hound he sought for, which instantly began to
bay and bark so loudly, that the lady woke. But Sir Tor had seized the
hound and given it to the dwarfs charge.

"What will ye do, Sir knight?" cried out the lady; "will ye take away my
hound from me by force?"

"Yea, lady," said Sir Tor; "for so I must, having the king's command; and
I have followed it from King Arthur's court, at Camelot, to this place."

"Well" said the lady, "ye will not go far before ye be ill handled, and
will repent ye of the quest."

"I shall cheerfully abide whatsoever adventure cometh, by the grace of
God," said Sir Tor; and so mounted his horse and began to ride back on his
way. But night coming on, he turned aside to a hermitage that was in the
forest, and there abode till the next day, making but sorrowful cheer of
such poor food as the hermit had to give him, and hearing a Mass devoutly
before he left on the morrow.

And in the early morning, as he rode forth with the dwarf towards Camelot,
he heard a knight call loudly after him, "Turn, turn! Abide, Sir knight,
and yield me up the hound thou tookest from my lady." At which he turned,
and saw a great and strong knight, armed full splendidly, riding down upon
him fiercely through a glade of the forest.

Now Sir Tor was very ill provided, for he had but an old courser, which
was as weak as himself, because of the hermit's scanty fare. He waited,
nevertheless, for the strange knight to come, and at the first onset with
their spears, each unhorsed the other, and then fell to with their swords
like two mad lions. Then did they smite through one another's shields and
helmets till the fragments flew on all sides, and their blood ran out in
streams; but yet they carved and rove through the thick armour of the
hauberks, and gave each other great and ghastly wounds. But in the end,
Sir Tor, finding the strange knight faint, doubled his strokes until he
beat him to the earth. Then did he bid him yield to his mercy.

"That will I not," replied Abellius, "while my life lasteth and my soul is
in my body, unless thou give me first the hound."

"I cannot," said Sir Tor, "and will not, for it was my quest to bring
again that hound and thee unto King Arthur, or otherwise to slay thee."

With that there came a damsel riding on a palfrey, as fast as she could
drive, and cried out to Sir Tor with a loud voice, "I pray thee, for King
Arthur's love, give me a gift."

"Ask," said Sir Tor, "and I will give thee."

"Grammercy," said the lady, "I ask the head of this false knight Abellius,
the most outrageous murderer that liveth."

"I repent me of the gift I promised," said Sir Tor. "Let him make thee
amends for all his trespasses against thee."

"He cannot make amends," replied the damsel, "for he hath slain my
brother, a far better knight than he, and scorned to give him mercy,
though I kneeled for half an hour before him in the mire, to beg it, and
though it was but by a chance they fought, and for no former injury or
quarrel. I require my gift of thee as a true knight, or else will I shame
thee in King Arthur's court; for this Abellius is the falsest knight
alive, and a murderer of many."

When Abellius heard this, he trembled greatly, and was sore afraid, and
yielded to Sir Tor, and prayed his mercy.

"I cannot now, Sir knight," said he, "lest I be false to my promise. Ye
would not take my mercy when I offered it; and now it is too late."

Therewith he unlaced his helmet, and took it off; but Abellius, in dismal
fear, struggled to his feet, and fled, until Sir Tor overtook him, and
smote off his head entirely with one blow.

"Now, sir," said the damsel, "it is near night, I pray ye come and lodge
at my castle hard by."

"I will, with a good will," said he, for both his horse and he had fared
but poorly since they left Camelot.

So he went to the lady's castle and fared sumptuously, and saw her
husband, an old knight, who greatly thanked him for his service, and urged
him oftentimes to come again.

On the morrow he departed, and reached Camelot by noon, where the king and
queen rejoiced to see him, and the king made him Earl; and Merlin
prophesied that these adventures were but little to the things he should
achieve hereafter.

Now while Sir Gawain and Sir Tor had fulfilled their quests, King
Pellinore pursued the lady whom the knight had seized away from the
wedding-feast. And as he rode through the woods, he saw in a valley a fair
young damsel sitting by a well-side, and a wounded knight lying in her
arms, and King Pellinore saluted her as he passed by.

As soon as she perceived him she cried out, "Help, help me, knight, for
our Lord's sake!" But Pellinore was far too eager in his quest to stay or
turn, although she cried a hundred times to him for help; at which she
prayed to heaven he might have such sore need before he died as she had
now. And presently thereafter her knight died in her arms; and she, for
grief and love slew herself with his sword.

But King Pellinore rode on till he met a poor man and asked him had he
seen a knight pass by that way leading by force a lady with him.

"Yea, surely," said the man, "and greatly did she moan and cry; but even
now another knight is fighting with him to deliver the lady; ride on and
thou shalt find them fighting still."

At that King Pellinore rode swiftly on, and came to where he saw the two
knights fighting, hard by where two pavilions stood. And when he looked in
one of them he saw the lady that was his quest, and with her the two
squires of the two knights who fought.

"Fair lady," said he, "ye must come with me unto Arthur's court."

"Sir knight," said the two squires, "yonder be two knights fighting for
this lady; go part them, and get their consent to take her, ere thou touch

"Ye say well," said King Pellinore, and rode between the combatants, and
asked them why they fought.

"Sir knight," said the one, "yon lady is my cousin, mine aunt's daughter,
whom I met borne away against her will, by this knight here, with whom I
therefore fight to free her."

"Sir knight," replied the other, whose name was Hantzlake of Wentland,
"this lady got I, by my arms and prowess, at King Arthur's court to-day."

"That is false," said King Pellinore; "ye stole the lady suddenly, and
fled away with her, before any knight could arm to stay thee. But it is my
service to take her back again. Neither of ye shall therefore have her;
but if ye will fight for her, fight with me now and here."

"Well," said the knights, "make ready, and we will assail thee with all
our might."

Then Sir Hantzlake ran King Pellinore's horse through with his sword, so
that they might be all alike on foot. But King Pellinore at that was
passing wroth, and ran upon Sir Hantzlake, with a cry, "Keep well thy
head!" and gave him such a stroke upon the helm as clove him to the chin,
so that he fell dead to the ground. When he saw that, the other knight
refused to fight, and kneeling down said, "Take my cousin the lady with
thee, as thy quest is; but as thou art a true knight, suffer her to come
to neither shame nor harm."

So the next day King Pellinore departed for Camelot, and took the lady
with him; and as they rode in a valley full of rough stones, the damsel's
horse stumbled and threw her, so that her arms were sorely bruised and
hurt. And as they rested in the forest for the pain to lessen, night came
on, and there they were compelled to make their lodging. A little before
midnight they heard the trotting of a horse. "Be ye still," said King
Pellinore, "for now we may hear of some adventure," and therewith he armed
him. Then he heard two knights meet and salute each other, in the dark;
one riding from Camelot, the other from the north.

"What tidings at Camelot?" said one.

"By my head," said the other, "I have but just left there, and have espied
King Arthur's court, and such a fellowship is there as never may be broke
or overcome; for wellnigh all the chivalry of the world is there, and all
full loyal to the king, and now I ride back homewards to the north to tell
our chiefs, that they waste not their strength in wars against him."

"As for all that," replied the other knight, "I am but now from the north,
and bear with me a remedy, the deadliest poison that ever was heard tell
of, and to Camelot will I with it; for there we have a friend close to the
king, and greatly cherished of him, who hath received gifts from us to
poison him, as he hath promised soon to do."

"Beware," said the first knight, "of Merlin, for he knoweth all things, by
the devil's craft."

"I will not fear for that," replied the other, and so rode on his way.

Anon King Pellinore and the lady passed on again; and when they came to
the well at which the lady with the wounded knight had sat, they found
both knight and Damsel utterly devoured by lions and wild beasts, all save
the lady's head.

When King Pellinore saw that, he wept bitterly, saying, "Alas! I might
have saved her life had I but tarried a few moments in my quest."

"Wherefore make so much sorrow now?" said the lady.

"I know not," answered he, "but my heart grieveth greatly for this poor
lady's death, so fair she was and young."

Then he required a hermit to bury the remains of the bodies, and bare the
lady's head with him to Camelot, to the court.

When he was arrived, he was sworn to tell the truth of his quest before
the King and Queen, and when he had entered the Queen somewhat upbraided
him, saying, "Ye were much to blame that ye saved not that lady's life."

"Madam," said he, "I shall repent it all my life."

"Ay, king," quoth Merlin, who suddenly came in, "and so ye ought to do,
for that lady was your daughter, not seen since infancy by thee. And she
was on her way to court, with a right good young knight, who would have
been her husband, but was slain by treachery of a felon knight, Lorraine
le Savage, as they came; and because thou wouldst not abide and help her,
thy best friend shall fail thee in thine hour of greatest need, for such
is the penance ordained thee for that deed."

Then did King Pellinore tell Merlin secretly of the treason he had heard
in the forest, and Merlin by his craft so ordered that the knight who bare
the poison was himself soon after slain by it, and so King Arthur's life
was saved.


King Arthur and Sir Accolon of Gaul

Being now happily married, King Arthur for a season took his pleasure,
with great tournaments, and jousts, and huntings. So once upon a time the
king and many of his knights rode hunting in a forest, and Arthur, King
Urience, and Sir Accolon of Gaul, followed after a great hart, and being
all three well mounted, they chased so fast that they outsped their
company, and left them many miles behind; but riding still as rapidly as
they could go, at length their horses fell dead under them. Then being all
three on foot, and seeing the stag not far before them, very weary and
nigh spent--"What shall we do," said King Arthur, "for we are hard
bested?" "Let us go on afoot," said King Urience, "till we can find some
lodging." At that they saw the stag lying upon the bank of a great lake,
with a hound springing at his throat, and many other hounds trooping
towards him. So, running forward, Arthur blew the death-note on his horn,
and slew the hart. Then lifting up his eyes he saw before him on the lake
a barge, all draped down to the water's edge, with silken folds and
curtains, which swiftly came towards him, and touched upon the sands; but
when he went up close and looked in, he saw no earthly creature. Then he
cried out to his companions, "Sirs, come ye hither, and let us see what
there is in this ship." So they all three went in, and found it everywhere
throughout furnished, and hung with rich draperies of silk and gold.

By this time eventide had come, when suddenly a hundred torches were set
up on all sides of the barge, and gave a dazzling light, and at the same
time came forth twelve fair damsels, and saluted King Arthur by his name,
kneeling on their knees, and telling him that he was welcome, and should
have their noblest cheer, for which the king thanked them courteously.
Then did they lead him and his fellows to a splendid chamber, where was a
table spread with all the richest furniture, and costliest wines and
viands; and there they served them with all kinds of wines and meats, till
Arthur wondered at the splendour of the feast, declaring he had never in
his life supped better, or more royally. After supper they led him to
another chamber, than which he had never beheld a richer, where he was
left to rest. King Urience, also, and Sir Accolon were each conducted into
rooms of like magnificence. And so they all three fell asleep, and being
very weary slept deeply all that night.

But when the morning broke, King Urience found himself in his own house in
Camelot, he knew not how; and Arthur awaking found himself in a dark
dungeon, and heard around him nothing but the groans of woful knights,
prisoners like himself. Then said King Arthur, "Who are ye, thus groaning
and complaining?" And some one answered him, "Alas, we be all prisoners,
even twenty good knights, and some of us have lain here seven years--some
more--nor seen the light of day for all that time." "For what cause?" said
King Arthur. "Know ye not then yourself?" they answered--"we will soon
tell you. The lord of this strong castle is Sir Damas, and is the falsest
and most traitorous knight that liveth; and he hath a younger brother, a
good and noble knight, whose name is Outzlake. This traitor Damas,
although passing rich, will give his brother nothing of his wealth, and
save what Outzlake keepeth to himself by force, he hath no share of the
inheritance. He owneth, nevertheless, one fair rich manor, whereupon he
liveth, loved of all men far and near. But Damas is as altogether hated as
his brother is beloved, for he is merciless and cowardly: and now for many
years there hath been war between these brothers, and Sir Outzlake
evermore defieth Damas to come forth and fight with him, body to body, for
the inheritance; and if he be too cowardly, to find some champion knight
that will fight for him. And Damas hath agreed to find some champion, but
never yet hath found a knight to take his evil cause in hand, or wager
battle for him. So with a strong band of men-at-arms he lieth ever in
ambush, and taketh captive every passing knight who may unwarily go near,
and bringeth him into this castle, and desireth him either to fight Sir
Outzlake, or to lie for evermore in durance. And thus hath he dealt with
all of us, for we all scorned to take up such a cause for such a false
foul knight--but rather one by one came here, where many a good knight
hath died of hunger and disease. But if one of us would fight, Sir Damas
would deliver all the rest."

"God of his mercy send you deliverance," said King Arthur, and sat
turning in his mind how all these things should end, and how he might
himself gain freedom for so many noble hearts.

Anon there came a damsel to the king, saying, "Sir if thou wilt fight for
my lord thou shalt be delivered out of prison, but else nevermore shalt
thou escape with thy life." "Nay," said King Arthur, "that is but a hard
choice, yet had I rather fight than die in prison, and if I may deliver
not myself alone, but all these others, I will do the battle." "Yea," said
the damsel, "it shall be even so." "Then," said King Arthur, "I am ready
now, if but I had a horse and armour." "Fear not," said she, "that shalt
thou have presently, and shalt lack nothing proper for the fight." "Have I
not seen thee," said the king, "at King Arthur's court? for it seemeth
that thy face is known to me." "Nay," said the damsel, "I was never there;
I am Sir Damas' daughter, and have never been but a day's journey from
this castle." But she spoke falsely, for she was one of the damsels of
Morgan le Fay, the great enchantress, who was King Arthur's half-sister.

When Sir Damas knew that there had been at length a knight found who would
fight for him, he sent for Arthur, and finding him a man so tall and
strong, and straight of limb, he was passingly well pleased, and made a
covenant with him, that he should fight unto the uttermost for his cause,
and that all the other knights should be delivered. And when they were
sworn to each other on the holy gospels, all those imprisoned knights were
straightway led forth and delivered, but abode there one and all to see
the battle.

In the meanwhile there had happened to Sir Accolon of Gaul a strange
adventure; for when he awoke from his deep sleep upon the silken barge, he
found himself upon the edge of a deep well, and in instant peril of
falling thereinto. Whereat, leaping up in great affright, he crossed
himself and cried aloud, "May God preserve my lord King Arthur and King
Urience, for those damsels in the ship have betrayed us, and were
doubtless devils and no women; and if I may escape this misadventure, I
will certainly destroy them wheresoever I may find them." With that there
came to him a dwarf with a great mouth, and a flat nose, and saluted him,
saying that he came from Queen Morgan le Fay. "And she greeteth you well,"
said he, "and biddeth you be strong of heart, for to-morrow you shall do
battle with a strange knight, and therefore she hath sent you here
Excalibur, King Arthur's sword, and the scabbard likewise. And she
desireth you as you do love her to fight this battle to the uttermost, and
without any mercy, as you have promised her you would fight when she
should require it of you; and she will make a rich queen for ever of any
damsel that shall bring her that knight's head with whom you are to

"Well," said Sir Accolon, "tell you my lady Queen Morgan, that I shall
hold to that I promised her, now that I have this sword--and," said he, "I
suppose it was to bring about this battle that she made all these
enchantments by her craft." "You have guessed rightly," said the dwarf,
and therewithal he left him.

Then came a knight and lady, and six squires, to Sir Accolon, and took him
to a manor house hard by, and gave him noble cheer; and the house belonged
to Sir Outzlake, the brother of Sir Damas, for so had Morgan le Fay
contrived with her enchantments. Now Sir Outzlake himself was at that time
sorely wounded and disabled, having been pierced through both his thighs
by a spear-thrust. When, therefore, Sir Damas sent down messengers to his
brother, bidding him make ready by to-morrow morning, and be in the field
to fight with a good knight, for that he had found a champion ready to do
battle at all points, Sir Outzlake was sorely annoyed and distressed, for
he knew he had small chance of victory, while yet he was disabled by his
wounds; notwithstanding, he determined to take the battle in hand,
although he was so weak that he must needs be lifted to his saddle. But
when Sir Accolon of Gaul heard this, he sent a message to Sir Outzlake
offering to take the battle in his stead, which cheered Sir Outzlake
mightily, who thanked Sir Accolon with all his heart, and joyfully
accepted him.

So, on the morrow, King Arthur was armed and well horsed, and asked Sir
Damas, "When shall we go to the field?" "Sir," said Sir Damas, "you shall
first hear mass." And when mass was done, there came a squire on a great
horse, and asked Sir Damas if his knight were ready, "for our knight is
already in the field." Then King Arthur mounted on horseback, and there
around were all the knights, and barons, and people of the country; and
twelve of them were chosen to wait upon the two knights who were about to
fight. And as King Arthur sat on horseback, there came a damsel from
Morgan le Fay, and brought to him a sword, made like Excalibur, and a
scabbard also, and said to him, "Morgan le Fay sendeth you here your sword
for her great love's sake." And the king thanked her, and believed it to
be as she said; but she traitorously deceived him, for both sword and
scabbard were counterfeit, brittle, and false, and the true sword
Excalibur was in the hands of Sir Accolon. Then, at the sound of a
trumpet, the champions set themselves on opposite sides of the field, and
giving rein and spur to their horses urged them to so great a speed that
each smiting the other in the middle of the shield, rolled his opponent to
the ground, both horse and man. Then starting up immediately, both drew
their swords and rushed swiftly together. And so they fell to eagerly, and
gave each other many great and mighty strokes.

And as they were thus fighting, the damsel Vivien, lady of the lake, who
loved King Arthur, came upon the ground, for she knew by her enchantments
how Morgan le Fay had craftily devised to have King Arthur slain by his
own sword that day, and therefore came to save his life. And Arthur and
Sir Accolon were now grown hot against each other, and spared not strength
nor fury in their fierce assaults; but the king's sword gave way
continually before Sir Accolon's, so that at every stroke he was sore
wounded, and his blood ran from him so fast that it was a marvel he could
stand. When King Arthur saw the ground so sore be-blooded, he bethought
him in dismay that there was magic treason worked upon him, and that his
own true sword was changed, for it seemed to him that the sword in Sir
Accolon's hand was Excalibur, for fearfully it drew his blood at every
blow, while what he held himself kept no sharp edge, nor fell with any
force upon his foe.

"Now, knight, look to thyself, and keep thee well from me," cried out Sir
Accolon. But King Arthur answered not, and gave him such a buffet on the
helm as made him stagger and nigh fall upon the ground. Then Sir Accolon
withdrew a little, and came on with Excalibur on high, and smote King
Arthur in return with such a mighty stroke as almost felled him; and both
being now in hottest wrath, they gave each other grievous and savage
blows. But Arthur all the time was losing so much blood that scarcely
could he keep upon his feet yet so full was he of knighthood, that
knightly he endured the pain, and still sustained himself, though now he
was so feeble that he thought himself about to die. Sir Accolon, as yet,
had lost no drop of blood, and being very bold and confident in Excalibur,
even grew more vigorous and hasty in his assaults. But all men who beheld
them said they never saw a knight fight half so well as did King Arthur;
and all the people were so grieved for him that they besought Sir Damas
and Sir Outzlake to make up their quarrel and so stay the fight; but they
would not.

So still the battle raged, till Arthur drew a little back for breath and a
few moments' rest; but Accolon came on after him, following fiercely and
crying loud, "It is no time for me to suffer thee to rest," and therewith
set upon him. Then Arthur, full of scorn and rage, lifted up his sword and
struck Sir Accolon upon the helm so mightily that he drove him to his
knees; but with the force of that great stroke his brittle, treacherous
sword broke short off at the hilt, and fell down in the grass among the
blood, leaving the pommel only in his hand. At that, King Arthur thought
within himself that all was over, and secretly prepared his mind for
death, yet kept himself so knightly sheltered by his shield that he lost
no ground, and made as though he yet had hope and cheer. Then said Sir
Accolon, "Sir knight, thou now art overcome and canst endure no longer,
seeing thou art weaponless, and hast lost already so much blood. Yet am I
fully loth to slay thee; yield, then, therefore, to me as recreant."
"Nay," said King Arthur, "that may I not, for I have promised to do battle
to the uttermost by the faith of my body while my life lasteth; and I had
rather die with honour than live with shame; and if it were possible for
me to die an hundred times, I had rather die as often than yield me to
thee, for though I lack weapons, I shall lack no worship, and it shall be
to thy shame to slay me weaponless." "Aha," shouted then Sir Accolon, "as
for the shame, I will not spare; look to thyself, sir knight, for thou art
even now but a dead man." Therewith he drove at him with pitiless force,
and struck him nearly down; but Arthur evermore waxing in valour as he
waned in blood, pressed on Sir Accolon with his shield, and hit at him so
fiercely with the pommel in his hand, as hurled him three strides

This, therefore, so confused Sir Accolon, that rushing up, all dizzy, to
deliver once again a furious blow, even as he struck, Excalibur, by
Vivien's magic, fell from out his hands upon the earth. Beholding which,
King Arthur lightly sprang to it, and grasped it, and forthwith felt it
was his own good sword, and said to it, "Thou hast been from me all too
long, and done me too much damage." Then spying the scabbard hanging by
Sir Accolon's side, he sprang and pulled it from him, and cast it away as
far as he could throw it; for so long as he had worn it, Arthur new his
life would have been kept secure. "Oh, knight!" then said the king, "thou
hast this day wrought me much damage by this sword, but now art thou come
to thy death, for I shall not warrant thee but that thou shalt suffer, ere
we part, somewhat of that thou hast made me suffer." And therewithal King
Arthur flew at him with all his might, and pulled him to the earth, and
then struck off his helm, and gave him on the head a fearful buffet, till
the blood leaped forth. "Now will I slay thee!" cried King Arthur; for his
heart was hardened, and his body all on fire with fever, till for a moment
he forgot his knightly mercy. "Slay me thou mayest," said Sir Accolon,
"for thou art the best knight I ever found, and I see well that God is
with thee; and I, as thou hast, have promised to fight this battle to the
uttermost, and never to be recreant while I live; therefore shall I never
yield me with my mouth, and God must do with my body what he will." And as
Sir Accolon spoke, King Arthur thought he knew his voice; and parting all
his blood-stained hair from out his eyes, and leaning down towards him,
saw, indeed, it was his friend and own true knight. Then said he--keeping
his own visor down--"I pray thee tell me of what country art thou, and
what court?" "Sir knight," he answered, "I am of King Arthur's court, and
my name is Sir Accolon of Gaul." Then said the king, "Oh, sir knight! I
pray thee tell me who gave thee this sword? and from whom thou hadst it?"

Then said Sir Accolon, "Woe worth this sword, for by it I have gotten my
death. This sword hath been in my keeping now for almost twelve months,
and yesterday Queen Morgan le Fay, wife of King Urience, sent it to me by
a dwarf, that therewith I might in some way slay her brother, King Arthur;
for thou must understand that King Arthur is the man she hateth most in
all the world, being full of envy and jealousy because he is of greater
worship and renown than any other of her blood. She loveth me also as much
as she doth hate him; and if she might contrive to slay King Arthur by her
craft and magic, then would she straightway kill her husband also, and
make me the king of all this land, and herself my queen, to reign with me;
but now," said he, "all that is over, for this day I am come to my death."

"It would have been sore treason of thee to destroy thy lord," said
Arthur. "Thou sayest truly," answered he; "but now that I have told thee,
and openly confessed to thee all that foul treason whereof I now do
bitterly repent, tell me, I pray thee, whence art thou, and of what
court?" "O, Sir Accolon!" said King Arthur, "learn that I am myself King
Arthur." When Sir Accolon heard this he cried aloud, "Alas, my gracious
lord! have mercy on me, for I knew thee not." "Thou shalt have mercy,"
said he, "for thou knewest not my person at this time; and though by thine
own confession thou art a traitor, yet do I blame thee less, because thou
hast been blinded by the false crafts of my sister Morgan le Fay, whom I
have trusted more than all others of my kin, and whom I now shall know
well how to punish." Then did Sir Accolon cry loudly, "O, lords, and all
good people! this noble knight that I have fought with is the noblest and
most worshipful in all the world; for it is King Arthur, our liege lord
and sovereign king; and full sorely I repent that I have ever lifted lance
against him, though in ignorance I did it."

Then all the people fell down on their knees and prayed the pardon of the
king for suffering him to come to such a strait. But he replied, "Pardon
ye cannot have, for, truly, ye have nothing sinned; but here ye see what
ill adventure may ofttimes befall knights-errant, for to my own hurt, and
his danger also, I have fought with one of my own knights."

Then the king commanded Sir Damas to surrender to his brother the whole
manor, Sir Outzlake only yielding him a palfrey every year; "for," said he
scornfully, "it would become thee better to ride on than a courser;" and
ordered Damas, upon pain of death, never again to touch or to distress
knights-errant riding on their adventures; and also to make full
compensation and satisfaction to the twenty knights whom he had held in
prison. "And if any of them," said the king, "come to my court complaining
that he hath not had full satisfaction of thee for his injuries, by my
head, thou shalt die therefor."

Afterwards, King Arthur asked Sir Outzlake to come with him to his court,
where he should become a knight of his, and, if his deeds were noble, be
advanced to all he might desire.

So then he took his leave of all the people and mounted upon horseback,
and Sir Accolon went with him to an abbey hard by, where both their wounds
were dressed. But Sir Accolon died within four days after. And when he was
dead, the king sent his body to Queen Morgan, to Camelot, saying that he
sent her a present in return for the sword Excalibur which she had sent
him by the damsel.

So, on the morrow, there came a damsel from Queen Morgan to the king, and
brought with her the richest mantle that ever was seen, for it was set as
full of precious stones as they could stand against each other, and they
were the richest stones that ever the king saw. And the damsel said, "Your
sister sendeth you this mantle, and prayeth you to take her gift, and in
whatsoever thing she hath offended you, she will amend it at your
pleasure." To this the king replied not, although the mantle pleased him
much. With that came in the lady of the lake, and said, "Sir, put not on
this mantle till thou hast seen more; and in nowise let it be put upon
thee, or any of thy knights, till ye have made the bringer of it first put
it on her." "It shall be done as thou dost counsel," said the king. Then
said he to the damsel that came from his sister, "Damsel, I would see this
mantle ye have brought me upon yourself." "Sir," said she, "it will not
beseem me to wear a knight's garment." "By my head," said King Arthur,
"thou shall wear it ere it go on any other person's back!" And so they put
it on her by force, and forthwith the garment burst into a flame and
burned the damsel into cinders. When the king saw that, he hated that
false witch Morgan le Fay with all his heart, and evermore was deadly
quarrel between her and Arthur to their lives' end.



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