Stories of King Arthur and His Knights - Retold from Malory's "Morte dArthur"
by U. Waldo Cutler
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E-text prepared by Al Haines


Retold from Malory's "Morte dArthur"



[Frontispiece: King Arthur]

The goodliest fellowship of famous knights Whereof this world holds record. TENNYSON

George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd. London —— Bombay —— Sydney

First published January 1905 by GEORGE G. HARRAP & COMPANY 39-41 Parker Street, Kingsway, London, W.C.,

Reprinted: December 1905; July 1906; May 1907; January 1909; September 1909; July 1910; July 1911; October 1912; October 1913; March 1915; February 1917; August 1917; May 1918; October 1919; June 1920; October 1921; October 1922; June 1923; January 1925; April 1936; September 1927; October 1928; January 1930; January 1931; April 1932






KING ARTHUR . . . . . . . . . . . . (W. B. Margetson) Frontispiece

THE DEDICATION . . . . . . . . . . . (J. Pettie, R.A.)

MERLIN AND NIMUE . . . . . . . . . . (Burne-Jones)


SIR GALAHAD . . . . . . . . . . . . (G. F. Watts)

SIR LAUNCELOT AT THE CROSS . . . . . (Stella Langdale)

ELAINE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (J. M. Strudwick)

THE PASSING OF ARTHUR . . . . . . . (Stella Langdale)

"We have from the kind Creator a variety of mental powers, to which we must not neglect giving their proper culture in our earliest years, and which cannot be cultivated either by logic or metaphysics, Latin or Greek. We have an imagination, before which, since it should not seize upon the very first conceptions that chance to present themselves, we ought to place the fittest and most beautiful images, and thus accustom and practise the mind to recognise and love the beautiful everywhere."

Quoted from Wieland by Goethe in his Autobiography


Among the best liked stories of five or six hundred years ago were those which told of chivalrous deeds—of joust and tourney and knightly adventure. To be sure, these stories were not set forth in printed books, for there were no printed books as early as the times of the first three King Edwards, and few people could have read them if there had been any. But children and grown people alike were eager to hear these old-time tales read or recited by the minstrels, and the interest in them has continued in some measure through all the changing years and tastes. We now, in the times of the seventh King Edward, still find them far more worth our while than many modern stories. For us they have a special interest, because of home setting and Christian basis, and they may well share in our attention with the legends of Greece and Rome.

In these early romances of chivalry, Arthur and his knights of the Round Table are by far the most popular heroes, and the finding of the Holy Grail is the highest achievement of knightly valour. The material for the Arthur stories came from many countries and from many different periods of history. Much of it is wholly fanciful, but the writers connected all the incidents directly or indirectly with the old Briton king of the fifth century, who was the model of knighthood, "without fear and without reproach."

Perhaps there was a real King Arthur, who led the Britons against the Saxon invaders of their land, who was killed by his traitor nephew, and who was buried at Glastonbury,—the valley of Avilion of the legends; perhaps there was a slight historical nucleus around which all the romantic material was crystallising through the centuries, but the Arthur of romance came largely from the imagination of the early writers.

And yet, though our "own ideal knight" may never have trod the soil of Britain or Roman or Saxon England, his chivalrous character and the knightly deeds of his followers are real to us, if we read them rightly, for "the poet's ideal was the truest truth." Though the sacred vessel—the Holy Grail—of the Christ's last supper with His disciples has not been borne about the earth in material form, to be seen only by those of stainless life and character, it is eternally true that the "pure in heart" are "blessed," "for they shall see God." This is what the Quest of the Holy Grail means, and there is still many a true Sir Galahad, who can say, as he did,

"My strength is as the strength of ten, Because my heart is pure,"

and who attains the highest glory of knighthood, as before his clear vision

"down dark tides the glory glides, And starlike mingles with the stars."

We call these beautiful stories of long ago Stories of Chivalry, for, in the Middle Ages, chivalry influenced all that people did and said and thought. It began in the times of Charlemagne, a hundred years before our own King Alfred, and only very gradually it made its way through all the social order. Charlemagne was really a very great man, and because he was so, he left Western Europe a far better place to live in than he found it. Into the social life of his time he brought something like order and justice and peace, and so he greatly helped the Christian Church to do its work of teaching the rough and warlike Franks and Saxons and Normans the gentle ways of thrift and helpfulness.

Charlemagne's "heerban," or call to arms, required that certain of his men should attend him on horseback, and this mounted service was the beginning of what is known as chivalry. The lesser nobles of each feudal chief served their overlords on horseback, a cheval, in times of war; they were called knights, which originally meant servants,—German knechte; and the system of knighthood, its rules, customs, and duties, was called chivalry,—French chevalerie.

Chivalry belongs chiefly to the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries,—to about the time between King Richard of the Lion Heart and Prince Hal. There is no trace of ideas peculiar to it in the writings of the old Anglo-Saxons or in the Nibelungen Lied of Germany. Geoffrey of Monmouth, who died, it is said, in the year 1154, is about the earliest writer who mentions customs that belong especially to chivalry. The Crusades, of Geoffrey's century and of the one following, gave much opportunity for its growth and practice; but in the fifteenth century chivalrous fashions and fancies began to seem absurd, and later, perhaps partly through the ridicule of that old-time book "Don Quixote," chivalry was finally laughed quite out of existence.

The order of knighthood was given only after years of training and discipline. From his seventh year to his fourteenth the nobleman's son was a page at the court or in the castle of his patron, learning the principles of religion, obedience, and gallantry. At fourteen, as a squire, the boy began a severer course of training, in order to become skilled in horsemanship, and to gain strength and courage, as well as the refinements and graces necessary in the company of knights and ladies.

Finally, at twenty-one, his training was complete, and with elaborate and solemn formality the squire was made a knight. Then, after a strict oath to be loyal, courteous, and brave, the armour was buckled on, and the proud young chevalier rode out into the world, strong for good or ill in limb, strong in impenetrable armour, strong in a social custom that lifted him above the common people about him.

When rightly exercised chivalry was a great blessing to the people of its time. It offered high ideals of pure-minded, warm-hearted, courtly, courageous Christian manhood. It did much to arouse thought, to quicken sympathy, to purify morals, to make men truly brave and loyal. Of course this ideal of character was not in the days of chivalry—ideals are not often now—very fully realised. The Mediaeval, like the Modern, abused his power of muscle, of sword, of rank. His liberty as a knight-errant sometimes descended into the licence of a highwayman; his pride in the opportunity for helpfulness grew to be the braggadocio of a bully; his freedom of personal choice became the insolence of lawlessness; his pretended purity and justice proved wanton selfishness.

Because of these abuses that crept into the system, it is well for the world that gunpowder at last came, to break through the knight's coat of mail, to teach the nobility respect for common men, roughly to end this age of so much superficial politeness and savage bravery, and to bring in a more democratic social order.

The books of any age are for us a record of how the people of that age thought, how they lived, and what kind of men and women they tried to be. The old romances of chivalry give us clear pictures of the knights and ladies of the Middle Ages, and we shall lose the delight and the profit they may give us, if we think only of the defects of chivalry, and close our eyes to the really worthy motives of those far-off times, and so miss seeing what chivalry was able to do, while it lasted, to make men and women better and happier.

Before reading the Arthur stories themselves it is well to know something about the way they have been built up, as one writer after another has taken the material left by predecessors, and has worked into it fresh conceptions of things brave and true. First there was the old Latin chronicle of Nennius, the earliest trace of Arthurian fact or fancy, with a single paragraph given to Arthur and his twelve great battles. This chronicle itself may have been based on yet earlier Welsh stories, which had been passed on, perhaps for centuries, by oral tradition from father to son, and gradually woven together into some legendary history of Oldest England in the local language of Brittany, across the English Channel. This original book is referred to by later writers, but was long ago lost. Geoffrey of Monmouth says it was the source of his material for his "Historia Britonum." Geoffrey's history, in Latin prose, written some time about the middle of the twelfth century, remains as the earliest definite record of the legends connected with King Arthur.

Only a little later Geoffrey's Latin history was translated by Wace and others into Norman French, and here the Arthur material first appeared in verse form. Then, still later in the twelfth century, Walter Map worked the same stories over into French prose, and at the same time put so much of his own knowledge and imagination with them, that we may almost say that he was the maker of the Arthur romances.

Soon after the year twelve hundred,—a half century after Geoffrey of Monmouth first set our English ancestors to thinking about the legendary old hero of the times of the Anglo-Saxon conquest—Layamon, parish priest of Ernly, in Worcestershire, gave to the English language (as distinct from the earlier Anglo-Saxon) his poem "Brut." This was a translation and enlargement of Wace's old French poem having Arthur as hero. So these stories of King Arthur, of Welsh or Celtic origin, came through the Latin, and then through French verse and prose, into our own speech, and so began their career down the centuries of our more modern history.

After giving ideas to generation after generation of romance writers of many countries and in many languages, these same romantic stories were, in the fifteenth century, skilfully brought together into one connected prose narrative,—one of the choicest of the older English classics, "Le Morte Darthur," by Sir Thomas Malory. Those were troublous times when Sir Thomas, perhaps after having himself fought and suffered in the Wars of the Roses then in progress, found some quiet spot in Warwickshire in which to put together in lasting form the fine old stories that already in his day were classics.

Malory finished his book in 1470, and its permanence for all time was assured fifteen years later, when Caxton, after the "symple connynge" that God had sent him (to use the quaint forms of expression then common), "under the favour and correctyon of al noble lordes and gentylmen emprysed to emprynte a book of the noble hystoryes of the sayd Kynge Arthur and of certeyn of his knyghtes after a copye unto him delyuerd whyche copye Syr Thomas Malorye dyd take oute of certeyn bookes of Frensche and reduced it in to Englysche." This hard-headed business man,—this fifteenth-century publisher,—was rather doubtful about the Briton king of a thousand years before his day, and to those urging upon him the venture of printing Malory's book he answered: "Dyuers men holde oppynyon that there was no suche Arthur and that alle suche bookes as been maad of hym ben fayned and fables by cause that somme cronycles make of him no mencyon ne remember him noo thynge ne of his knyghtes."

But the arguments of those in favour of the undertaking prevailed, greatly to the advantage of the four centuries that have followed, during which "Le Morte Darthur" has been a constant source of poetic inspiration. Generation after generation of readers and of writers have drawn life from its chapters, and the new delight in Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," almost of our own time, shows that the fountain has not yet been drained dry.

Malory's "Morte Darthur" is a long book, and its really great interest is partly hidden from us by forms of expression that belong only to the time when it was first written. Besides this, the ideas of what was right and proper in conduct and speech—moral standards—were far lower in Malory's day than they are now.

The purpose of this new little volume is to bring the old tales freshly to the attention of young people of the present time. It keeps, as far as may be, the exact language and the spirit of the original, chooses such stories as best represent the whole, and modifies these only in order to remove what could possibly hide the thought, or be so crude in taste and morals as to seem unworthy of the really high-minded author of five hundred years ago. It aims also so to condense the book that, in this age of hurry, readers may not be repelled from the tales merely because of their length.

Chivalry of just King Arthur's kind was given up long ago, but that for which it stood—human fellowship in noble purpose—is far older than the institution of knighthood or than even the traditions of the energetic, brave, true, helpful King Arthur himself. It links us with all the past and all the future. The knights of the twentieth century do not set out in chain-armour to right the wrongs of the oppressed by force of arms, but the best influences of chivalry have been preserved for the quickening of a broader and a nobler world than was ever in the dreams of knight-errant of old. Modern heroes of the genuine type owe more than they know to those of Arthur's court who swore:

"To reverence the King, as if he were Their conscience, and their conscience as their King, To break the heathen and uphold the Christ, To ride abroad redressing human wrongs, To speak no slander, no, nor listen to it, To honour his own word as if his God's, To lead sweet lives in purest chastity, To love one maiden only, cleave to her, And worship her by years of noble deeds, Until they won her."

"Antiquity produced heroes, but not gentlemen," someone has said. In the days of Charlemagne and Alfred began the training which, continued in the days of Chaucer and Sir Thomas Malory and many, many more, has given to this our age that highest type of manhood, the Christian gentleman.

U. W. C.

Stories of King Arthur



It befell in the days of Uther Pendragon, when he was king of all England, that there was a mighty duke in Cornwall that held war against him a long time. And the duke was named the Duke of Tintagil. Ten miles away from his castle, called Terrabil, there was, in the castle Tintagil, Igraine of Cornwall, that King Uther liked and loved well, for she was a good and fair lady, and passing wise. He made her great cheer out of measure, and desired to have her love in return; but she would not assent unto him, and for pure anger and for great love of fair Igraine King Uther fell sick.

At that time there lived a powerful magician named Merlin, who could appear in any place he chose, could change his looks as he liked, and at will could do wonderful things to help or to harm knights and ladies. So to King Uther came Sir Ulfius, a noble knight, and said, "I will seek Merlin, and he shall do you remedy so that your heart shall be pleased." So Ulfius departed, and by adventure met Merlin in beggar's array, and made him promise to be not long behind in riding to Uther's pavilion.

Soon Merlin stood by the king's side and said: "I know all your heart, and promise ye shall have your desire, if ye will be sworn to fulfil my wish." This the king solemnly agreed to do, and then Merlin said: "After ye shall win Igraine as wife, a child shall be born to you that is to be given unto me to be brought up as I will; this shall be for your honour and the child's avail."

That night King Uther met in battle the Duke of Tintagil, who had protected Igraine in her castle, and overcame him. Then Igraine welcomed Uther as her true lover, for Merlin had given him the appearance of one dear to her, and, the barons being all well accorded, the two were married on a morning with great mirth and joy.

When the time came that Igraine should bear a son, Merlin came again unto the King to claim his promise, and he said: "I know a lord of yours in this land, a passing true man and a faithful, named Sir Ector, and he shall have the nourishing of your child. Let the young Prince be delivered to me at yonder privy postern, when I come for him."

So the babe, Arthur Pendragon, bound in a cloth of gold, was taken by two knights and two ladies to the postern gate of the castle and delivered unto Merlin, disguised as a poor man, and by him was carried forth to Sir Ector, whose wife nourished him as her own child.

Then within two years King Uther fell sick of a great malady. Wherefore all the barons made great sorrow, and asked Merlin what counsel were best, for few of them had ever seen or heard of the young child, Arthur. On the morn all by Merlin's counsel came before the King, and Merlin said: "Sir, shall your son Arthur be king, after your days, of this realm with all the appurtenance?"

Then Uther Pendragon turned him and said in hearing of them all, "I give him God's blessing and mine, and bid him righteously and honourably to claim the crown upon forfeiture of my blessing."

Therewith he died, and he was buried as befitted a king, and the Queen, fair Igraine, and all the barons made great sorrow.



Then stood the kingdom in great jeopardy a long while, for every lord strengthened himself, and many a one thought to be king rather than be ruled by a child that they had never known. All this confusion Merlin had foreseen, and he had taken the young prince away, to keep him safe from the jealous barons until he should be old enough to rule wisely for himself. Even Sir Ector did not know that the boy growing up with his own son Kay was the King's child, and heir to the realm.

When now young Arthur had grown into a tall youth, well trained in all the exercises of honourable knighthood, Merlin went to the Archbishop of Canterbury and counselled him to send to all the lords of the realm and all the gentlemen of arms, that they should come to London at Christmas time, since God of His great mercy would at that time show by miracle who should be rightwise king of the realm. The Archbishop did as Merlin advised, and all the great knights made them clean of their life so that their prayer might be the more acceptable unto God, and when Christmas came they went unto London, each one thinking that perchance his wish to be made king should be granted. So in the greatest church of the city (whether it was St Paul's or not the old chronicle maketh no mention) all were at their prayers long ere day.

When matins were done and they came out of the church, there was seen in the churchyard a great square stone, in the midst of which was an anvil of steel, a foot high, with a fair sword naked at the point sticking through it. Written in gold about the sword were letters that read thus: "Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of all England."

All the people marvelled at the stone and the inscription, and some assayed—such as would be king—to draw out the sword. But none might stir it, and the Archbishop said: "He is not here that shall achieve this sword, but doubt not God will make him known. This now is my counsel, that we cause to be chosen ten knights, men of good fame, to guard this sword until the rightful possessor shall appear."

So it was ordained, and it was proclaimed that every man should assay that would, to win the sword. And upon New Year's Day the barons held jousts and a tournament for all knights that would engage. All this was ordained for to keep the lords and the commons together, for the Archbishop trusted that God would soon make him known that should win the sword. So upon New Year's Day the barons rode to the field, some to joust and some to tourney; and it happened that Sir Ector rode also, and with him Sir Kay, his son, that had just been made knight, and young Arthur that was his foster-brother.

As they rode to the joust-ward Sir Kay suddenly missed his sword, which he had left at his father's lodging, and he begged young Arthur to ride and fetch it. "I will gladly," said Arthur, and he hastened off home. But the lady and all the household were out to see the jousting, and he found nobody at home to deliver him the sword. Then was Arthur troubled, and said to himself, "I will ride to the churchyard and take the sword that sticketh in the stone, for my brother Sir Kay shall not be without a sword this day."

So when he came to the great stone Arthur alighted, and tied his horse to the stile. He then went straight to the tent of the guards, but found no knights there, for they were at the jousting. So he took the sword by the handles, and lightly and fiercely pulled it out of the anvil; then he mounted his horse and rode his way till he came to his brother Sir Kay, and delivered him the sword.

As soon as Sir Kay saw the sword, he knew well it was that one of the stone, and so he rode away to his father, Sir Ector, and said: "Sir, lo here is the sword of the stone; wherefore I must be king of this land."

When Sir Ector beheld the sword, all three returned to the church and entered it. Anon Sir Ector made Sir Kay to swear upon a book how he came by that sword. And Sir Kay answered that Arthur had brought it to him. "And how gat ye the sword?" said he to Arthur; and when Sir Ector heard how it had been pulled from the anvil, he said to Arthur: "Now I understand ye must be king of this land."

"Wherefore I?" said Arthur, "and for what cause?"

"Sir," said Ector, "for God will have it so; for there should never man have drawn out this sword but he that shall be rightwise king. Now let me see whether ye can put the sword there as it was, and pull it out again."

"That is no mastery," said Arthur, and so he put it into the stone. Therewith Sir Ector assayed to pull out the sword, and failed. Then Sir Kay pulled at it with all his might, but it would not yield.

"Now shall ye assay again," said Sir Ector to Arthur.

"I will well," said Arthur, and pulled it out easily a second time.

Now was Sir Ector sure that Arthur was of higher blood than had been thought, and that the rightful king had been made known. And he told his foster-son all, how he was not his father, but had taken him to nourish at Merlin's request. Arthur was grieved indeed when he understood that Sir Ector was not his father, and that the good lady that had fostered and kept him as her own son was not his true mother, and he said to Sir Ector, "If ever it be God's will that I be king, as ye say, ye shall desire of me what I may do, and I shall not fail you."

Therewithal they went unto the Archbishop and told him how the sword was achieved, and by whom. And all the barons came thither, that whoever would might assay to take the sword. But there before them all none might take it out but Arthur. Now many lords became wroth, and said it was great shame unto them all and to the realm to be governed by a boy. They contended so at that time that the matter was put off till Candlemas, when all the barons should meet there again. A pavilion was set over the stone and the sword, and the ten knights were ordained to watch there day and night, five being always on guard.

So at Candlemas many more great lords came thither to win the sword, but none might prevail except Arthur. The barons were sore aggrieved at this, and again put it off in delay till the high feast of Easter. And as Arthur sped afore, so did he at Easter; yet there were some of the great lords that had indignation that Arthur should be their king, and put it off in a delay till the feast of Pentecost.

At the feast of Pentecost all manner of men assayed to pull at the sword, yet none might prevail but Arthur; and he pulled it out afore all the lords and commons that were there. Wherefore all the commons cried at once, "We will have Arthur unto our king; we will put him no more in delay, for we all see that it is God's will that he shall be our king, and who that holdeth against it we will slay as traitor." And they kneeled down all at once, both rich and poor, and begged mercy of Arthur, because they had delayed so long. And Arthur forgave them, and took the sword between both his hands, and offered it upon the altar where the Archbishop was, and so was he made knight of the best man that was there.

And anon was the coronation made, and there Arthur swore unto his lords and the commons to be a true king, to stand for justice all the days of his life. Then he made all the lords that were subject to the crown to come in, and to do service as they ought to do. And many great wrongs that had been done since the death of King Uther were righted, and to lords, knights, ladies, and gentlemen were given back the lands of which they had been unjustly deprived. When the king had thus established justice in all the countries about London, he made Sir Kay seneschal of England, and other officers he appointed also that should aid in keeping back his enemies and holding his realm in peace and orderliness.



On a day there came into the court of the young King a squire on horseback, bringing a knight, his master, mortally wounded, and seeking justice against the murderer. Then came up Griflet, that was but a squire, a young man of the age of King Arthur, and asked to be given the order of knighthood, that he might ride out against the knight that had done the evil deed, who dwelt by a well in the forest.

Arthur was loath to bring this passing brave youth into peril by giving him so high an adventure; but at the desire of Griflet the King at the last gave him the order of knighthood, and he rode away till he came to the fountain.

There he saw the pavilion of the knight, and his horse all saddled and bridled, and his shield of divers colours, and a great spear hanging on a tree hard by. Griflet struck the shield with the butt of his spear, so that it fell clattering down to the ground. With that the knight came out of the pavilion and said, "Fair knight, why smote ye down my shield?"

"For I will joust with you," said Griflet.

"It is better ye do not," said the knight, "for ye are but a young and late-made knight, and your might is nothing to mine."

But Griflet would have it so, and the two ran together with such force that Griflet's spear was all shattered, and horse and rider fell down sore wounded. When the knight saw the youth lying on the ground, he was heavy of heart; and he unlaced his helm to give him air, and finally setting him on his horse, sent him with cheering words back to the court. Here great dole was made for him because of his wounds, and Arthur was passing wroth for the hurt of Sir Griflet.

The next morning ere day the King ordered his best horse, and in full armour rode out alone to encounter the knight of the fountain. It was a strong battle they had. Arthur's spear was all shattered, and his horse fell to the ground. Then they fought with swords with many great strokes and much blood-shed on both sides. Finally by a mighty blow from his enemy,—a passing big man of might,—Arthur's sword was smitten in two pieces, and he was called upon to yield himself as overcome and recreant, or die.

"As for death," said King Arthur, "welcome be it when it cometh; but to yield me unto thee as recreant, I had rather die than to be so shamed."

Therewithal came Merlin, and made known who Arthur was. Then by enchantment he caused the knight to fall into a deep sleep, and bore Arthur away to a hermit to be cured of his wounds.

When, after three days of rest and healing, he was riding with Merlin through the forest, King Arthur said, "I have no sword."

"No matter," said Merlin; "there is one near by that I can perhaps get for you."

So they rode on till it chanced that they passed a fair and broad lake. In the midst of the water Arthur became aware of an arm clothed in white samite[1] holding aloft a beautiful sword.

"Lo! there is the sword of which I spake," said Merlin, "and yonder is the Lady of the Lake ready to help you to it, if ye speak fair to her."

Anon came the damsel unto Arthur and saluted him, and he her again. "Damsel," said Arthur, "what sword is it that the arm holdeth above the water yonder? I would it were mine, for I have no sword."

"Sir Arthur King," said the damsel, "that sword is mine, and if ye will give me a gift when I ask it you, go ye into yonder barge and row yourself to the sword, and take it and the scabbard with you."

So Sir Arthur and Merlin alighted and tied their horses to a tree, and then they went into the magic boat. Soon they were beside the sword that the hand held up. Arthur took it by the handle, the arm and the hand went down beneath the water, and the two travellers rowed back to the land and went forth.

As they rode along Arthur looked on the sword, which had the name Excalibur, that is as much as to say Cut-steel, and he liked it passing well, for the handle was all set with precious stones.

"Which like you better," said Merlin, "the sword or the scabbard?"

"The sword," replied Arthur.

"Ye are unwise," said Merlin; "the scabbard is worth ten of the sword, for while ye have the scabbard upon you, ye shall lose no blood; therefore keep well the scabbard always with you."

In this way Arthur came by Excalibur, and many an adventure he was to have with it, and was to suffer great danger when by evil interference it was, as we shall see, for a time stolen from him. With it in hand the hardest fight went well in the end, for the scabbard kept him from weakness, and a mysterious power lay in the strong, true blade that none could withstand, until the time came for King Arthur to give back the sword to the Lady of the Lake and to die of the wounds of a traitor.

So King Arthur and Merlin rode on, and when they came back safe to Carlion and the court the knights were passing glad. Some wondered that the king would risk himself abroad so alone, but all men of valour said it was merry to be under such a chief that would put his person in adventure as other poor knights did.

[1] Samite: silk stuff



On a day there came a messenger to King Arthur saying that King Ryons of North Wales, a strong man in body, and passing proud, had discomfited and overcome eleven kings, and each of these to do him homage had cut his beard clean off as trimming for King Ryons' royal mantle. One place of the mantle still lacked trimming; wherefore he sent for Arthur's beard, and if he did not receive it he would enter England to burn and slay, and never would he leave till he had Arthur, head and all.

"Well," said Arthur to the messenger, "thou hast said thy message, the most insolent ever sent unto a king. Thou seest my beard is full young yet to make a trimming of it. Tell thou thy king I owe him no homage, but ere long he shall do me homage on both his knees." So the messenger departed.

Among those who, at Arthur's call, gathered at Camelot to withstand King Ryons' invasion of the land was a knight that had been Arthur's prisoner half a year and more for some wrong done to one of the court. The name of this knight was Balin, a strong, courageous man, but poor and so poorly clothed that he was thought to be of no honour. But worthiness and good deeds are not all only in arrayment. Manhood and honour is hid within man's person, and many an honourable knight is not known unto all people through his clothing. This Balin felt deeply the insult of King Ryons, and anon armed himself to ride forth to meet with him and mayhap to destroy him, in the hope that then King Arthur would again be his good and gracious lord.

The meanwhile that this knight was making ready to depart on this adventure, there came to Arthur's court the Lady of the Lake, and she now asked of him the gift that he promised her when she gave him his sword Excalibur.

"Ask what ye will," said the King, "and ye shall have it, if it lie in my power to give."

Thereupon she demanded Balin's head, and would take none other thing.

"Truly," said King Arthur, "I may not grant this with my honour," and Balin was allowed to make ready for the adventure with King Ryons.

But ere he had left the court he saw the Lady of the Lake. He went straight to her, and with his sword lightly smote off her head before King Arthur, for he knew her as the untruest lady living, one that by enchantment and sorcery had been the destroyer of many good knights.

"Alas! for shame," said Arthur. "Why have ye done so? Ye have shamed me and all my court, for this was a lady that I was beholden to, and hither she came under my safe conduct. I shall never forgive you that trespass. What cause soever ye had, ye should have spared her in my presence; therefore withdraw you out of my court in all haste that ye may."

So Balin,—called Balin the Wild for his savage and reckless nature,—departed with his squire, and King Arthur and all the court made great mourning, and had shame at the death of the Lady of the Lake. Then the King buried her richly.

In sorrow over the evil he had wrought and the disfavour of his king, Balin turned his horse towards a great forest, and there by the armour he was ware of his brother Balan. And when they were met, they put off their helms and kissed together, and wept for joy.

Anon the knight Balin told his brother of the death of the Lady of the Lake, and said: "Truly I am right heavy of heart that my lord Arthur is displeased with me, for he is the most honourable knight that reigneth on earth, and his love I will get or else I will put my life in adventure with King Ryons, that lieth now at the castle Terrabil. Thither will we ride together in all haste, to prove our honour and prowess upon him."

"I will gladly do that," said Balan; "we will help each other as brothers ought to do."

So they took their way to find King Ryons, and as they rode along together they encountered him in a straight way with threescore knights. Anon Balin and Balan smote him down from his horse, and slew on the right hand and the left hand more than forty of his men. The remnant fled, and King Ryons yielded him unto their grace as prisoner. So they laid him on a horse-litter, for he was fiercely wounded, and brought him to Camelot. There they delivered him to the porters and charged them with him; and then they two returned to further adventure.

And Balin rode towards the castle of King Pellam to revenge the wrongs of knights and ladies on a treacherous knight named Garlon. He had a fifteen days' journey thither, and the day he came unto the castle there began a great feast. Balin was well received, and led to a chamber, where he laid off his armour. They also brought him robes to his pleasure, and would have had him leave his sword behind him.

"Nay," said Balin, "that do I not, for it is the custom of my country for a knight always to have his weapon with him, and that custom will I keep, or else I will depart as I came."

Then they gave him leave to wear his sword, and so he went unto the hall and was set among the knights of honour.

Soon he saw the false knight Garlon, and thought to himself: "If I slay him here I shall not escape, and if I leave him now, peradventure I shall never meet with him again at such a good time, and much harm will he do if he live."

Then this Garlon espied that Balin watched him, and he came and smote Balin on the face, and said: "Knight, why watchest thou me so? Eat thy meat, and do that thou camest for."

Then Balin said, "I will do that I came for," and rose up fiercely and clove his head to the shoulders.

Anon all the knights arose from the table to set on Balin, and King Pellam himself caught in his hand a grim weapon and smote eagerly at Balin, but Balin put his sword betwixt his head and the stroke. With that his sword was broken in sunder, and he, now weaponless, ran into the chamber to seek some weapon, and so, from chamber to chamber, but no weapon could he find, and alway King Pellam came after him.

At last Balin entered into a chamber that was marvellously well furnished and richly, wherein was a bed arrayed with cloth of gold, the richest that might be thought, and thereby a table of clean gold, and upon the table a marvellous spear, strangely wrought. And when Balin saw that spear he took it in his hand, and turned to King Pellam and smote him passing hard with it so that he fell down in a swoon. Therewith the castle roof and walls brake and fell to the earth, and Balin also, so that he might not stir foot nor hand, for through that dolorous stroke the most part of the castle that was fallen down lay upon him and Pellam.

After three days Merlin came thither, and he took up Balin and gat him a good horse, for his was dead, and bade him ride out of the country. Merlin also told him that his stroke had turned to great dole, trouble, and grief, for the marvellous spear was the same with which Longius, the Roman soldier, smote our Lord Jesus Christ to the heart at the crucifixion.

Then departed Balin from Merlin, never to meet him again, and rode forth through the fair countries and cities about Pellam Castle, and found people dead, slain on every side. And all that were left alive cried: "O Balin, thou hast caused great damage in these countries, for by the dolorous stroke thou gavest unto King Pellam three countries are destroyed, and doubt not but the vengeance will fall on thee at the last."

When Balin was out of those countries he was passing glad, and after many days he came by a cross, whereon were letters of gold written that said, "It is not for any knight alone to ride towards this castle." Then saw he an old hoary gentleman coming towards him that said, "Balin the Wild, thou passest thy bounds to come this way; therefore turn again and it will avail thee." The old gentleman vanished away, and then Balin heard a horn blow, as if for the death of a beast in the chase. "That blast," said he, "is blown for me, for I am the prize, yet am I not dead." Anon he saw a hundred ladies and many knights, that welcomed him with fair semblance, and made him passing good cheer seemingly, and led him into the castle, where there were dancing and minstrelsy, and all manner of joy.

Then the chief lady of the castle said, "Knight, you must have ado with a knight close by that keepeth an island, for there may no man pass this way but he must joust, ere he go farther."

"That is an unhappy custom," said Balin, "that a knight may not pass this way unless he joust, but since that is my duty, thereto am I ready. Travelling men are oft weary, and their horses also; but though my horse be weary my heart is not weary."

"Sir," said the knight then to Balin, "me thinketh your shield is not good; I will lend you a better."

So Balin took the shield that was unknown, and left his own, and rode unto the island. He put himself and his horse in a great boat, and when he came on the other side he met with a damsel, and she said, "O Knight Balin, why hast thou left thine own shield? Alas! thou hast put thyself in great danger, for by thine own shield thou shouldst have been known. It is a great pity, for of thy prowess and hardiness thou hast no equal living."

"Me repenteth," said Balin, "that ever I came within this country, but I may not turn now again for shame, and what adventure shall fall to me, be it life or death, I will take the adventure that shall come to me."

Then he looked on his armour, and understood he was well armed, for which he was thankful, and so he mounted upon his horse. Then before him he saw come riding out of a castle a knight in red armour, and his horse was all trapped in the same colour. When this knight in red beheld Balin, he thought he was like his brother; but because he knew not his shield, he deemed it was not he. And so they couched their spears and came marvellously fast together, and they smote each other in the shields; but their spears were so heavy and their course so swift that horse and man were borne down, and both knights lay in a swoon. Balin was bruised sore with the fall of his horse, for he was weary with travel, and Balan (for the knight in red was none other) was the first that rose to his feet. He drew his sword and went towards Balin, who arose and went against him. But Balan smote Balin first, striking through his shield and cleaving his helm. Then Balin smote him in return with that unhappy sword that had already wrought so great harm, and the blow well nigh felled his brother Balan. So they fought there together till their breaths failed.

Then Balin looked up to the castle, and saw the towers stand full of ladies; so they went to battle again and wounded each other dolefully. Then they breathed ofttimes, and yet again went unto battle, until all the place there was blood-red from the great wounds that either had smitten other, and their hauberks became unriveted so that naked they were on every side.

At last Balan, the younger brother, withdrew a little and laid himself down. Then said Balin the Wild, "What knight art thou? for ere now I found never a knight that matched me."

"My name is," said he, "Balan, brother to the good knight Balin."

"Alas!" said Balin, "that ever I should see this day." Thereupon he fell backward in a swoon.

Then Balan crept on all fours to his brother and put oft his helm, but he might not know him, his visage was so disguised by blood and wounds. But when Balin awoke, he said, "O Balan, my brother, thou hast slain me and I thee, wherefore all the wide world shall speak of us both."

"Alas!" said Balan; "that ever I saw this day, that through mishap I might not know thee! Because thou hadst another shield I deemed thou wert another knight."

"Alas!" said Balin, "all this was caused by an unhappy knight in the castle, that made me leave mine own shield, to the destruction of us both."

Then anon Balan died, and at midnight after, Balin; so both were buried together, and the lady of the castle had Balan's name written on the tomb and how he was there slain by his brother's hand, but she knew not Balin's name. In the morn came Merlin and wrote Balin's inscription also in letters of gold: "Here lieth Balin the Wild, that smote the dolorous stroke."

Soon after this was done Merlin came to King Arthur and told him of the dolorous stroke that Balin gave King Pellam, and how Balin and Balan fought together the most marvellous battle that ever was heard of, and how they buried both in one tomb. "Alas!" said King Arthur; "this is the greatest pity that ever I heard tell of two knights, for in the world I know not such two knights."

Thus endeth the tale of Balin and Balan, two brethren born in Northumberland, good knights both.



Arthur was indeed king, but enemies long held out against his just authority. When he went into Wales to be crowned at the city of Carlion, he let cry a great feast to be holden at Pentecost. Unto this feast came the six kings of that region with many of their knights, and Arthur thought it was to do him honour. But when he made joy of their coming and sent them great presents, the kings would none receive, and said they had no joy to receive gifts of a beardless boy that was come of low birth. They sent him word that they were come to give him gifts with hard swords betwixt the neck and the shoulders, for it was great shame to all of them to see such a boy have rule of so noble a realm as this land was.

This answer was told King Arthur, who now betook himself to a strong tower and five hundred good men with him. Here the six kings laid siege to him, but he was well victualled; and soon Merlin came and bade him fear not, but speak boldly to his enemies, "for," said he, "ye shall overcome them all, whether they will or nill."

So the King armed himself and all his knights and came out to do battle with his enemies. Then three hundred good men of the best that were with the kings went straight over unto King Arthur, which comforted him greatly. So he set upon the hosts of the six kings, and he and his men did marvellous deeds of arms. Therewith he put them back, and then the commons of Carlion arose with clubs and staves and slew many of the enemy, and so they fled away.

Since the enemy were still passing strong, Merlin counselled King Arthur to send letters well devised beyond the sea to the two brethren, marvellous good men of their hands, named one King Ban of Benwick and the other King Bors of Gaul, and to say to them that, if they would come and help King Arthur in his wars, he in turn would be sworn unto them to help them in their wars against King Claudas, a mighty man that strove with them for a castle.

So there were made letters in the pleasantest wise, according to King Arthur's desire, and Ulfius and Brastias, the messengers, rode forth well horsed and well armed, and so passed the sea and came to the city of Benwick. Here they had good cheer as long as they tarried, and received the answer that King Ban and King Bors would come unto King Arthur in all the haste they might.

Now those six kings in Wales had by their means gotten unto them five other kings, and all swore together that for weal or woe they would not leave each other till they had destroyed Arthur. So their whole host drew towards Arthur, now strengthened by Ban and Bors with their followers that had crossed from Gaul to his aid. Then followed a great battle, and they did on both sides great deeds of arms until at the last Merlin counselled Arthur to fight no longer, since the eleven kings had more on hand than they were ware of, and would soon depart home; for a messenger would come and tell them that lawless people as well as Saracens, forty thousand in number, had entered their lands and were burning and slaying without mercy. So the great battle was ended, and the eleven kings went to their own country.

Now King Arthur, King Ban, and King Bors came with their following into the country of Cameliard, and there aided King Leodegrance against an enemy of that land. King Leodegrance thanked them for their goodness, and made them great cheer ere King Ban and King Bors departed back towards Benwick.

In Cameliard Arthur had the first sight of Guenever, the King's daughter, and ever afterwards he loved her. So when peace was once more in his land, King Arthur asked counsel of Merlin about seeking her as his wife, for to him she was the most valiant and fairest lady living or to be found.

"Sir," said Merlin, "as for her beauty, she is one of the fairest alive, but if ye loved her not so well as ye do, I could choose better for you. Yet when a man's heart is set, he will be loath to change."

So Merlin was sent forth to King Leodegrance, and he told him of King Arthur's desire. King Leodegrance was glad that so worthy a king of prowess and of nobleness would wed his daughter, and promised him as wedding gift,—not lands, for he had enough and needed none,—but what would please him much more, the Table Round, which Uther Pendragon had given to the King of Cameliard,—a table made by Merlin at which an hundred and fifty knights might be seated.

So Guenever, attended by Merlin and an hundred good knights (all King Leodegrance could spare, so many had been slain in his wars) with the Round Table rode with great pomp by water and by land to London. There King Arthur made great joy of their coming, for he had long loved Guenever. Also the gift pleased him more than right great riches. And the marriage and the coronation were ordained with all speed in the most honourable wise that could be devised.

Merlin was sent to espy out in all the land fifty knights of most prowess and honour, who should make up the full number for the Round Table. Only twenty-eight could he find worthy enough, and these Merlin fetched to Arthur's court. And Merlin made sieges (seats), an hundred and fifty in all, for the knights, and he placed in every knight's siege his name in letters of gold.

On that same day King Arthur founded the great order of the Round Table, the fame of which was to last for all time. An hundred and twenty-eight were then sworn as Knights of the Table Round, and every year at the high feast of Pentecost others were to be added as they showed themselves worthy. Only one siege was long empty, the Siege Perilous, for no man should sit therein but one, and if any one of unworthy life were so hardy as to sit therein, he should be destroyed.

With great ceremony each one took the vows of true knighthood, solemnly promising to do no wicked deed, to be loyal to the King, to give mercy to those asking it, always to be courteous and helpful to ladies, and to fight in no wrongful quarrel for wordly gain, upon pain of death or forfeiture of knighthood and King Arthur's favour. Unto this were all the knights of the Round Table sworn, both old and young. To dishonour knighthood was the greatest disgrace; to prove themselves worthy of knightly honour by strong, brave, courteous, loyal bearing under great difficulties was the highest end of living.

So King Arthur stablished all his knights, and to them that were not rich he gave lands; and they rode abroad to right the wrongs of men, and to give help to the oppressed. With their aid he secured order and justice throughout his realm, and then the weakest man might do his work in peace, and prosper.



The King was wedded unto Dame Guenever at Camelot with great solemnity. Just as all were sitting at the high feast that followed the marriage, there came running into the hall a white hart, followed by a whole pack of hounds with a great cry, and the hart went about the Table Round. At a fierce bite from one of the dogs the hart made a great leap, and overthrew a knight that sat at the table, and so passed forth out of the hall again, with all the dogs after him. When they were gone the King was glad, for they made such a noise, but Merlin said, "Ye may not leave this adventure so lightly. Let call Sir Gawaine, for he must bring again the white hart."

"I will," said the King, "that all be done by your advice." So Sir Gawaine was called, and he took his charge and armed himself for the adventure. Sir Gawaine was one of King Arthur's nephews, and had just been made a knight, for he had asked of the King the gift of knighthood on the same day that he should wed fair Guenever.

So Sir Gawaine rode quickly forth, and Gaheris his brother rode with him, instead of a squire, to do him service. As they followed the hart by the cry of the hounds, they came to a great river. The hart swam over, and they followed after, and so at length they chased him into a castle, where in the chief courtyard the dogs slew the hart before Sir Gawaine and young Gaheris came up. Right so there came a knight out of a room, with a sword drawn in his hand, and he slew two of the greyhounds even in the sight of Sir Gawaine, and the remnant he chased with his sword out of the castle.

When he came back he said, "O my white hart, me repenteth that thou art dead, for my sovereign lady gave thee to me, and poorly have I kept thee. Thy death shall be dear bought, if I live."

Anon he came fiercely towards Sir Gawaine, and they struck mightily together. They clove their shields and broke their helms and hauberks so that the blood ran down to their feet. At the last Sir Gawaine smote the knight so hard that he fell to the earth; and then he cried for mercy and yielded himself, and besought Sir Gawaine as he was a knight and gentleman to save his life.

"Thou shalt die," said Sir Gawaine, "for slaying of my hounds."

"I will make amends," said the knight, "unto my power."

Sir Gawaine would no mercy have, but unlaced his helm to strike off his head, when at that instant came his lady out of a chamber. She fell upon her husband just as the blow descended, and so Sir Gawaine smote off her head by misadventure, and the knight was saved.

"Alas!" said Gaheris, "that is foul and shamefully done; that shame shall never depart from you. Ye should give mercy unto them that ask mercy, for a knight without mercy is without honour."

Sir Gawaine was so astonished at the death of the fair lady that he knew not what he did, and he said unto the knight, "Arise, I will give thee mercy; and go thou unto King Arthur, and tell him how thou art overcome by the knight that went in the quest of the white hart."

"I care not for mercy now," said the knight, "for thou hast slain my lady that I loved best of all earthly things it matters not whether I live or die."

Then Sir Gawaine went into the castle and made ready to rest there all night.

"What will ye do?" said Gaheris; "will ye unarm you in this country? Ye may believe ye have many enemies here."

He had no sooner said that word than there came four knights well armed, and anon they made Sir Gawaine and Gaheris yield themselves as prisoners, in spite of the brave battle wherein Sir Gawaine was sore wounded in the arm.

Early on the morrow there came to Sir Gawaine in the prison one of the ladies of the castle, and said, "Sir Knight, what cheer?"

"Not good," said he.

"It is your own fault," said the lady, "for ye have done a passing foul deed in the slaying of the lady, which will be great disgrace unto you. Be ye not of King Arthur's kin?"

"Yes, truly," said Sir Gawaine. "My name is Gawaine, and my mother is King Arthur's sister."

"Ah, then are ye nephew unto King Arthur," said the lady, "and I shall so speak for you that ye shall have conduct to King Arthur, for love of him."

Then anon they delivered Sir Gawaine under this promise, that he should bear the dead lady to the court, the severed head hanging about his neck. Right so he rode forth unto Camelot, and Merlin made him tell of his adventure, and how he slew the lady, and how he would give no mercy unto the knight, whereby the lady was slain. Then the King and the Queen were greatly displeased with Sir Gawaine, and by ordinance of the Queen there was set a quest of ladies on Sir Gawaine, and they ordered him for ever while he lived to be with all ladies, and to fight for their quarrels; and that ever he should be courteous, and never refuse mercy to him that asketh mercy. Thus was Gawaine sworn upon the four Evangelists that he should never be against lady nor gentlewoman, except if he fought for a lady and his adversary fought for another.

Thus endeth the adventure of Sir Gawaine, that he did at the marriage of King Arthur.



Arthur was now established as king over all the land. The great council hall at Camelot, that is Winchester, had been built, some say by Merlin's skill; and the most loyal and the bravest knights of the world had been gathered at Arthur's court to do honour to him and his fair Queen Guenever.

Merlin was Arthur's wisest helper and most powerful friend, as he had before been the helper and friend of his father Uther, for whom he had made the Round Table, signifying the roundness of the world. We have seen how he hid the young Arthur away from the jealousy of the wild barons, and how, by his power over men and his knowledge of what would be, he had saved the King's life and guided his wise rule. The old magician Bleise, that dwelt in Northumberland, was Merlin's master, and he it was that wrote down all the battles of Arthur with his enemies word by word as Merlin told him, and all the battles that were done in Arthur's days, until Merlin was lost, as we shall see, through his own foolishness.

On a time Merlin told King Arthur that he should not endure long, but for all his crafts he should be put in the earth alive. Also he told many things that should befall, and how the king would miss him, so that rather than all his lands he would wish to have him again.

"Ah," said King Arthur, "since ye know of this, provide against it, and put away by your crafts that misadventure."

"Nay," said Merlin, "it cannot be done." For Merlin, now grown an old man in his dotage, had fallen under the spell of a damsel of the court named Nimue. With her he soon departed from the King, and evermore went with her wheresoever she went. Ofttimes he wished to break away from her, but he was so held that he could not be out of her presence. Ever she made him good cheer, till she had learned from him all she desired of his secret craft, and had made him swear that he would never do any enchantment upon her.

They went together over the sea unto the land of Benwick, where Ban was king, that had helped Arthur against his enemies. Here Merlin saw young Launcelot, King Ban's son, and he told the queen that this same child should grow to be a man of great honour, so that all Christendom should speak of his prowess. So the queen was comforted of her great sorrow that she made for the mortal war that King Claudas waged on her lord and on her lands.

Then afterwards Nimue and Merlin departed into Cornwall, and by the way he showed her many wonders, and wearied her with his desire for her love. She would fain have been delivered of him, for she was afraid of him, almost believing him a devil's son, and yet she could not put him away by any means.

And so on a time it happened that Merlin showed to her a wonderful cavern in the cliff, closed by an enchanted stone. By her subtle working she soon made Merlin remove the stone and go into the cavern to let her know of the marvels there. Then she so wrought through the magic he had taught her that the stone was placed back again, so that he never came out for all the craft that he could do. And then she departed and left him there.

On a day a certain knight rode to see adventures, and happened to come to the rock where Nimue had put Merlin, and there he heard him make great lamentation. The knight would gladly have helped him, and tried to move the great stone; but it was so heavy that a hundred men might not lift it up. When Merlin knew that the knight sought his deliverance, he bade him leave his labour, for all was in vain. He could never be helped but by her that put him there.

So Merlin's prophecy of his own end was fulfilled, and he passed from the world of men. Arthur truly missed his old friend and marvelled what had become of him. Afterwards, when the last great battle came, he would have given everything to have Merlin with him again, but it could not be.



It befell that Arthur and many of his knights rode on hunting into a deep forest, and King Arthur, King Uriens of Gore that was the husband of Arthur's sister Morgan le Fay, and Sir Accolon of Gaul followed a great hart so fast that within a while they were ten miles from their fellowship. At the last they chased so sore that they slew their horses underneath them. Then were they all three on foot, and ever they saw the hart afore them passing weary and hard bestead[1]. "Let us go on foot," said King Uriens, "till we meet with some lodging."

Then were they ware of the hart that lay on a great water bank, and a dog biting on his throat, and more other hounds came after. King Arthur now blew the prize[2] and dight[3] the hart.

But the three knights were in sore straits, so far from home, and without horses, and they began to look about the world. Then Arthur saw afore him in a great lake a little ship, all apparelled with silk down to the water, coming right unto them, and it landed on the sands. They went on board, all three, to see what was in the ship. Soon it was dark night, and there suddenly were about them an hundred torches set upon all the sides of the ship boards, and it gave great light.

Therewithal there came out twelve fair damsels, and they set forth for the knights a supper of all meats that they could think. Then they showed them richly beseen[4] chambers for the night, where the three huntsmen slept marvellously. But when they awoke next morning, everything had been changed through the sorcery of Morgan le Fay, that was secretly plotting against her brother, to destroy him. King Uriens awoke in his own bed in Camelot, and Arthur found himself in a dark prison, with many woeful knights complaining about him, and they soon told him for what cause they were there.

The lord of the castle where they were prisoners was the falsest knight alive, a treacherous, cowardly man, named Sir Damas. He had a younger brother, Sir Ontzlake, a good knight of prowess, well beloved of all people, from whom he was keeping back unjustly a full fair manor. Great war had been betwixt these brothers. Ontzlake was a far better fighter than the cowardly Damas, and yet he could not bring the elder to give over the younger brother's inheritance. He offered to fight for it, and wished Sir Damas to find a knight to fight in his stead, if he himself dared not engage. But Sir Damas was so hated that there was never one would fight for him, though he had by force taken all the knights of that whole region and brought them to his prison for to make them willing to take up his cause. Many had died there, and the twenty that were yet alive were lean and spent with hunger, but no one of them would stand against Sir Ontzlake.

Anon there came a damsel unto Arthur and asked him, "What cheer?" "I cannot say," said he. "Sir," said she, "if ye will fight for my lord, ye shall be delivered out of prison, and else ye escape never with life."

"Now," said Arthur, "that is hard, yet had I liefer to fight with a knight than to die in prison," and so it was agreed that he should do the battle on this covenant, that he should be delivered and all the prisoners. With that all the twenty knights were brought out of the dark prison into the hall, and set free, but they all abode to see the battle.

Now turn we unto Accolon of Gaul, that was with King Arthur and King Uriens on the stag-hunt and that fell asleep on the magic ship. When he awoke he found himself beside a deep well, within half a foot of its edge, in great peril of death.

"Heaven save my lord King Arthur and King Uriens," said he, "for these damsels in the ship have betrayed us. They were devils and no women, and if I may escape this misadventure, I shall destroy all false damsels that use enchantments, wherever I may find them."

Right then there came a dwarf with a great mouth and a flat nose, and saluted Sir Accolon and said he came from Queen Morgan le Fay. "She greeteth you well," said he, "and biddeth you be of strong heart, for ye shall fight to-morn with a knight at the hour of prime, and therefore she hath sent you here Excalibur, Arthur's sword, and the scabbard, and she biddeth you as ye love her, that ye do the battle to the uttermost without any mercy, like as ye promised her when ye spake together in private."

Sir Accolon believed he fully understood the message, and he said he should keep his promise now that he had the sword. Just then a knight, who was no other than Sir Ontzlake himself, with a lady and six squires, came up on horseback, saluted Sir Accolon, and begged him to come and rest himself at his manor. So Accolon mounted upon a spare horse and rode to the manor, where he had passing good cheer.

Meantime Sir Damas sent to his brother, Sir Ontzlake, and bade him make ready to fight the next day with a good knight who had agreed to do battle for the disputed heritage; and it happened through Morgan le Fay's trickery that Accolon was lodged with Sir Ontzlake at the very time when this message came. Now Sir Ontzlake was sore troubled at the message, for he had been wounded in both thighs by a spear a short time before, and was suffering much. Still, wounded as he was, he would have taken the battle in hand, had not Sir Accolon offered to fight in his stead, because Morgan le Fay had sent Excalibur and the sheath for the battle with the knight on the morrow. Then Sir Ontzlake was passing glad, and sent word unto his brother, Sir Damas, that he had a knight who would be ready in the field by to-morrow at the hour of prime.

So it was arranged that Sir Arthur and Sir Accolon, unknown to one another, were to fight over the quarrel of the two brothers. Preparations were made accordingly, and all the knights and commons of the country were there to see the encounter. Just as Arthur was ready upon horseback, there came a damsel from Morgan le Fay bringing unto him a sword like unto Excalibur, and the scabbard, and said: "Morgan le Fay sendeth you here your sword for great love." He thanked her, not knowing that the sword and scabbard were counterfeit, and brittle and false.

They went eagerly to the battle, and gave many great strokes. Sir Accolon had all advantage on his side, for he had the real Excalibur, Morgan le Fay having so ordained that King Arthur should have been slain that day. King Arthur's sword never bit like Sir Accolon's, and almost every stroke Sir Accolon gave wounded sore, so that it was a marvel that Arthur stood. Almost from the first it seemed to him that the sword in Accolon's hand must be Excalibur, but he was so full of knighthood that knightly he endured the pain of the many wounds, and held out as well as he might until his sword brake at the cross and fell in the grass among the blood.

Now he expected to die, but he held up his shield, and lost no ground, nor bated any cheer. All men that beheld him said they never saw knight fight so well as Arthur did, considering the blood that he bled, and they were sorry for him. But Accolon was so bold because of Excalibur that he grew passing hardy, and called upon Arthur to yield himself as recreant.

"Nay," said Sir Arthur, "I may not so, for I have promised to do the battle to the uttermost by the faith of my body while my life lasteth, and therefore 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 so oft than yield myself to thee; for, though I lack weapon I shall lack no honour, and if thou slay me weaponless that shall be thy shame."

But Accolon cared not for shame, and would not spare. He gave Arthur such a stroke that he fell nigh to the earth; yet he pressed upon Accolon with his shield, and with the pommel of his sword in his hand gave such a blow that Accolon fell back a little.

Now it chanced that one of the damsels of the court, she that had put Merlin under the stone, had come into the field for love of King Arthur, for she knew how Morgan le Fay had determined that Arthur should be slain; therefore she came to save his life. She saw how full of prowess Arthur was, and grieved that so good a knight should be slain through false treason. So when Accolon gave another blow, the sword Excalibur fell out of his hand to the earth. Arthur lightly leaped to it and got it in his hand, and forthwith knew that it was his own Excalibur. Then he saw the scabbard hanging by Accolon's side, and anon pulling it from him, he threw it off as far as he might throw it. Therewith Sir Arthur rushed upon Accolon with all his might and pulled him to the earth. He then snatched off his helmet for the final blow, and the fierce battle was at an end.

"Slay me ye may well," said Accolon, "if it please you, for ye are the best knight that ever I found, and I see well that God is with you."

But now Sir Arthur thought he must have seen this knight, and asked, "Of what country art thou, and of what court?" And when Sir Accolon told him his name, then he remembered him of his sister, Morgan le Fay, and of the enchantment of the ship. He made Accolon tell how he came by the sword, and then Arthur knew all the plot of his sister and of Accolon to have the King slain and herself made queen.

For the first time Arthur now let Accolon know against whom he had been fighting. The fallen knight cried aloud for mercy, when he learned that he had nearly slain the King, and said to all the knights and men that were then there gathered together, "O lords, this noble knight that I have fought withal, which I sorely repent of, is the best man of prowess, of manhood, and of honour in the world, for it is King Arthur himself, the liege lord of us all, and with mishap and with misadventure have I done this battle with the king and lord in whose power I am." Then all the people fell down on their knees, and called upon King Arthur for mercy, which he forthwith granted.

The King was sorely hurt and Accolon's wounds were even worse. Arthur made haste to settle the quarrel of the brothers Sir Damas and Sir Ontzlake by giving the latter his rights and charging Sir Damas upon pain of death never to distress knights-errant that ride on their adventures, and then was carried off to a near-by abbey, and Sir Accolon with him, to have their wounds searched.

Within four days Sir Accolon died from loss of blood during the fight, but King Arthur was well recovered. When Accolon was dead the King let send him on a horse-bier with six knights unto Camelot and said, "Bear him to my sister Morgan le Fay, and say that I send him to her as a present, and tell her that I have my sword Excalibur again and the scabbard."

So they departed with the body.

[1] Hard bestead: in a bad plight.

[2] Prize: death note.

[3] Dight: dressed.

[4] Beseen: of good appearance.



The meanwhile Morgan le Fay thought that King Arthur was slain, and that she might now be queen of the land, with Sir Accolon as King. Then came tidings unto her that Accolon was dead and King Arthur had his sword again. When Queen Morgan wist all this she was so sorrowful that near her heart brake, but because she would not it were known, outward she kept her countenance, and made no semblance of sorrow. But well she wist, if she remained till her brother Arthur came thither, there should no gold go for her life. Then she went unto Queen Guenever, and asked her leave to ride into the country.

"Ye may abide," said Queen Guenever, "till your brother the King come home."

"I may not," said Morgan le Fay, "for I have such hasty tidings that I may not tarry."

"Well," said Guenever, "ye may depart when ye will."

So early on the morn, ere it was day, she took her horse and rode all that day and most part of the night, and on the morn by noon she came to the abbey of nuns where lay King Arthur. Knowing he was there, she asked where he was at that time; and they answered how he had laid him in his bed to sleep, for he had had but little rest these three nights.

Then she alighted off her horse, and thought for to steal away Excalibur his sword. So she went straight unto his chamber, and no man durst disobey her commandment. There she found Arthur asleep in his bed, and Excalibur in his right hand naked. When she saw that, she was passing heavy that she might not come by the sword without awaking him, and that she wist well would be her death. Then she took the scabbard, and went her way on horseback.

When the King a woke and missed his scabbard, he was wroth, and he asked who had been there. They said his sister Queen Morgan had been there, and had put the scabbard under her mantle, and was gone.

"Alas," said Arthur, "falsely have ye watched me."

"Sir," said they all, "we durst not disobey your sister's commandment."

"Ah," said the King, "let fetch the best horse that may be found, and bid Sir Ontzlake arm him in all haste, and take another good horse and ride with me."

So anon the King and Ontzlake were well armed, and rode after this lady; and so they came by a cross, and asked a cowherd if there came any lady late riding that way.

"Sir," said the poor man, "right late came a lady riding with forty horses, and to yonder forest she rode."

Then they spurred their horses and followed fast. Within a while Arthur had a sight of Morgan le Fay, and he chased as fast as he might. When she espied him following her, she rode a greater pace through the forest till she came to a plain. She saw she might not escape, wherefore she rode unto a lake thereby, and said, "Whatsoever becometh of me, my brother shall not have this scabbard." And then she let throw the scabbard in the deepest of the water, where it sank anon, for it was heavy of gold and precious stones.

Thereupon Queen Morgan rode into a valley where many great stones were, and when she saw that she must be overtaken, she shaped herself, horse and man, by enchantment, unto great marble stones. Anon came Sir Arthur and Sir Ontzlake, but they might not know the lady from her men, nor one knight from another.

"Ah," said the King, "here may ye see the vengeance of God, and now I am sorry that this misadventure is befallen."

And then he looked for the scabbard, but it could not be found, so he returned to the abbey where he came from. When Arthur was gone, Queen Morgan turned all into the likeness as she and they were before, and said, "Sirs, now may we go where we will."

So she departed into the country of Gore, and there was she richly received, and made her castles and towns passing strong, for always she feared much King Arthur.

When the King had well rested him at the abbey, he rode unto Camelot, and found his Queen and his barons right glad of his coming. And when they heard of his strange adventures as is afore rehearsed, they all had marvel of the falsehood of Morgan le Fay, and many knights wished her burned because of her wicked enchantments. "Well," said the King, "I shall so be avenged on her, if I live, that all Christendom shall speak of it."

On the morn there came a damsel from Morgan to the King, and she brought with her the richest mantle that ever was seen in that court, for it was set as full of precious stones as one might stand by another, and there were the richest stones that ever the King saw. And the damsel said, "Your sister sendeth you this mantle, and desireth that ye should take this gift of her, and in what thing she hath offended you, she will amend it at your own pleasure."

When the King beheld this mantle it pleased him much, but he said little. With that came one of the Damsels of the Lake unto the King and said, "Sir, I must speak with you in private."

"Say on," said the King, "what ye will."

"Sir," said the damsel, "put not on you this mantle till ye have seen more, and in no wise let it come on you or any knight of yours, till ye command the bringer thereof to put it upon her."

"Well," said King Arthur, "it shall be done as ye counsel me." And then he said unto the damsel that came from his sister, "Damsel, this mantle that ye have brought me I will see upon you."

"Sir," said she, "it will not beseem me to wear a king's garment."

"By my head," said Arthur, "ye shall wear it ere it come on my back, or any man's that here is."

And so the King made it to be put upon her, and forthwithal she fell down dead, and nevermore spake word after, but burned to coals.

Then was the King wonderfully wroth, more than he was beforehand, and said unto King Uriens, "My sister, your wife, is alway about to betray me, and well I wot either ye or your son Sir Uwaine is of counsel with her to have me destroyed; but as for you," said the King to King Uriens, "I deem not greatly that ye be of her counsel, for she plotted with Accolon to destroy you as well as me. Therefore I hold you excused; but as for your son, Sir Uwaine, I hold him suspected, and therefore I charge you put him out of my court."

So Sir Uwaine was discharged. And when Sir Gawaine wist that, he made himself ready to go with his cousin. So they two departed, and rode into a great forest, and came to an abbey of monks, where they were well lodged. But when the King wist that Sir Gawaine was departed from the court, there was made great sorrow among all the estates.

"Now," said Gaheris, Gawaine's brother, "we have lost two good knights for the sake of one."



When King Arthur, after long wars, rested and held a royal feast with his allies and noble knights of the Round Table, there came into his hall, he sitting on his throne royal, twelve ambassadors from Rome, and said to him: "The high and mighty emperor Lucius sendeth to the king of Britain greeting, commanding thee to acknowledge him for thy lord and to send the tribute due from this realm unto the empire according to the statutes and decrees made by the noble and worthy Julius Caesar, conqueror of this realm and first emperor of Rome. And if thou refuse his demand and commandment, know thou for certain that he shall make strong war against thee, thy realms and lands, and shall chastise thee and thy subjects, so that it shall be warning perpetual unto all kings and princes not to deny their tribute unto the noble empire which dominateth the universal world."

Some of the young knights hearing this message would have run on the ambassadors to slay them, saying that it was a rebuke unto all the knights there present to suffer them to say so to the King. But King Arthur commanded that none should do them any harm, and anon let call all his lords and knights of the Round Table to council upon the matter. And all agreed to make sharp war on the Romans, and to aid after their power.

So the messengers were allowed to depart, and they took ship at Sandwich and passed forth by Flanders, Almaine, the mountains and all Italy until they came unto Rome. There they said to Lucius, "Certainly he is a lord to be feared, for his estate is the royalest that ever we saw, and in his person he is the most manly man that liveth, and is likely to conquer all the world, for unto his courage it is too little; wherefore we advise you to keep well your marches and straits[1] in the mountains."

Then Lucius made ready a great host and marched into Gaul, and Arthur met him there with his army. The old chronicles tell of the great battles that were fought and the brave deeds of knights and lords, how Arthur himself with Excalibur cleft the head of Lucius, and at length passed over the mountains into Lombardy and Tuscany, and so came into Rome. On a day appointed, as the romance telleth, he was crowned emperor by the Pope's hand with all the royalty that could be made.

After he had established all his lands from Rome unto France, and had given lands and realms unto his servants and knights, to each after his desert in such wise that none complained, rich nor poor, all his lords and all the great men of estate assembled before him and said: "Blessed be God, your war is finished and your conquest achieved, insomuch that we know none so great nor mighty that dare make war against you; wherefore we beseech you to return homeward and give us licence to go home to our wives, from whom we have been long, and to rest us, for your journey is finished with honour."

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