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The Story of King Arthur
and his Knights
IN ancient days there lived a very noble King, named Uther-Pendragon,and he became Overlord of all of Britain. This King was very greatly aided unto the achievement of the Pendragonship of the realm by thehelp of two men, who rendered him great assistance in all that he did. The one of these men was a certain very powerful enchanter andsometime prophet known to men as Merlin the Wise; and he gave very good counsel unto Uther-Pendragon. The other man was an excellentnoble and renowned knight, bight Ulfius (who was thought by many to be the greatest leader in war of any man then alive); and he gaveUther-Pendragon aid and advice in battle. So, with the help of Merlin and Sir Ulfius, Uther-Pendragon was able to overcome all of hisenemies and to become King of the entire realm.
Alter Uther-Pendragon had ruled his kingdom for a number of years he tookto wife a certain beautiful and gentle lady, hight Igraine. This noble dame was the widow of Gerlois, the Duke of Tintegal; by whichprince she had two daughters — one of whom was named Margaise and the other Morgana le Fay. And Morgana le Fay was a famous sorceress.These daughters the
Queen brought with her to the Court of Uther-Pendragon after she hadmarried that puissant King, and there Margaise was wedded to King Urien of Gore, and Morgana le Fay was wedded to King Lot of Orkney.
Now after awhile Uther-Pendragon and Queen Igraine had a son born untothem, and he was very beautiful and of great size and strength of bone. And whilst the child still lay wrapped in his swaddling clothesand lying in a cradle of gold and ultramarine, Merlin came to Uther-Pendragon with a spirit of prophecy strong upon him (for suchwas often the case with him), and, speaking in that spirit of prophecy, he said, "Lord, it is given unto me to foresee thatthou shalt shortly fall sick of a fever and that thou shalt maybe die of a violent sweat that will follow thereon. Now, should such adolorous thing befall us all, this young child (who is, certes, the hope of all this realm) will be in very great danger of his life; formany enemies will assuredly rise up with design to seize upon him for the sake of his inheritance, and either he will be slain or else hewill be held in captivity from which he shall hardly hope to escape. Wherefore, I do beseech thee, Lord, that thou wilt permit Sir Ulfiusand myself to presently convey the child away unto some place of safe refuge, where he may be hidden in secret until he groweth to manhoodand is able to guard himself from such dangers as may threaten him."
When Merlin had made an end of speaking thus, Uther-Pendragon made replywith a very steadfast countenance in this wise: "Merlin, so far as my death is concerned — when my time cometh to die I believe Godwill give sue grace to meet my end with entire cheerfulness; for, certes, my lot is in that wise no different from that of any otherman who hath been born of woman. But touching the matter of this young child, if thy prophecy be true, then his danger is very great,and it would be well that he should be conveyed hence to some place of safe harborage as thou dost advise. Wherefore, I pray thee toperform thy will in this affair, bearing in thy heart the consideration that the child is the most precious inheritance which Ishall leave unto this land."
All this, as was said, Uther-Pendragon spake with great calmness andequanimity of spirit. And Merlin did as he had advised, and he and Sir Ulfius conveyed the child away by night, and no one but they wistwhither the babe had been taken. And shortly afterward Uther-Pendragon was seized with the sickness as Merlin had foretold,and he died exactly as Merlin had feared that he would die; wherefore it was very well that the child had been taken to a place of safety.
And after Uther-Pendragon had departed from this life, it was likewise asMerlin had feared, for all the realm fell into great disorder. For each lesser king contended against his fellow for overlordship, andwicked knights and barons harried the highways as they listed and there levied toll with great cruelty upon helpless wayfarers. Forsome such travellers they took prisoners and held for ransom, whiles others they slew because they had no ransom to pay. So it was a verycommon sight to see a dead man lying by the roadside, if you should venture to make a journey upon some business or other. Thus it befellthat, after awhile, all that dolorous land groaned with the trouble that lay upon it.
Thus there passed nearly eighteen years in such great affliction, and thenone day the Archbishop of Canterbury summoned Merlin to him and bespake him in this wise: "Merlin, men say that thou art thewisest man in all the world. Canst thou not find some means to heal the distractions of this woeful realm? Bend thou thy wisdom to thismatter and choose thou a king who shall be a fit overlord for us, so that we may enjoy happiness of life once more as we did in the daysof Uther-Pendragon."
Then Merlin lifted up his countenance upon the Archbishop, and spake inthis wise: "My lord, the spirit of prophecy that lieth upon me sometimes moveth me now to say that I do perceive that this countryis soon to have a king who shall be wiser and greater and more worthy of praise than was even Uther-Pendragon. And he shall bring order andpeace where is now disorder and war. Moreover, I may tell you that this King shall be of Uther-Pendragon's own full blood-royal."
To this the Archbishop said: "What thou tellest me, Merlin, is awonderfully strange thing. But in this spirit of prophecy canst thou not foretell when this King is to come? And canst thou tell how weshall know him when he appeareth amongst us? For many lesser kings there are who would fain be overlord of this land, and many suchthere are who deem themselves fit to rule over all the others. How then shall we know the real King from those who may proclaimthemselves to be the rightful king?"
"My lord Archbishop," quoth Merlin, "if I have thy leave for toexert my magic I shall set an adventure which, if any man achieve it, all the world shall straightway know that he is the rightful King andoverlord of this realm." And to this the Archbishop said, "Merlin, I bid thee do whatsoever may seem to thee to be rightin this affair." And Merlin said, "I will do so."
So Merlin caused by magic that a huge marble stone, four square, shouldsuddenly appear in an open place before the cathedral door. And upon this block of marble he caused it to be that there should stand ananvil and into the anvil he caused it that there should be thrust a great naked sword midway deep of the blade. And this sword was themost wonderful that any man had ever seen, for the blade was of blue steel and extraordinarily bright and glistering. And the hilt was ofgold, chased and carved with marvellous cunning, and inlaid with a great number of precious stones, so that it shone with wonderfulbrightness in the sunlight. And about the sword were written these words in letters of gold: —
Whoso Pulleth Out this Sword from the
That same is Rightwise King-Born of England.
So a great many people came and gazed upon that sword and marvelled atit exceedingly, for its like had never before been beheld upon the earth.
Then, when Merlin had accomplished this miracle, he bade the Archbishop tocall together all the chief people of that land upon Christmastide; and he bade the Archbishop to command that every man should makeassay to draw out the sword, for that he who should succeed in drawing it forth out of the anvil should be rightwise King ofBritain.
So the Archbishop did according as Merlin said; and this was the marvelof the marble stone and the anvil, of which same anyone may easily read for himself in that book written a very long while ago by Robertde Boron, which is called Le Roman de Merlin.
Now when the mandate of the Lord Archbishop went forth, summoning all thechief people of the land to the assay of that miracle (for, indeed, it was a miracle to draw forth a sword-blade out of an anvil of solidiron), all the realm became immediately cast into a great ferment, so that each man asked his fellow, "Who shall draw forth thatsword, and who shall be our King?" Some thought it would be King Lot and others thought it would be King Urien of Gore (these beingthe sons-in-law unto Uther-Pendragon); some thought that it would be King Leodegrance of Camiliard, and others that it would be KingRyence of North Wales; some thought it would be this king and others that it would be that king; for all the world was divided intodifferent parties who thought according to their liking.
Then, as Christmastide drew nigh, it presently appeared as though theentire world was wending its way to London Town, for the highways and the by-ways became filled with wayfarers — kings and lords andknights and ladies and esquires and pages and men-at-arms — all betaking their way whither the assay was to be made of that adventureof the sword and the anvil. Every inn and castle was filled so full of travellers that it was a marvel how so many folk could becontained within their compass, and everywhere were tents and pavilions pitched along the wayside for the accommodation of thosewho could not find shelter within doors.
But when the Archbishop beheld the multitudes that were assembling, hesaid to Merlin, "Indeed, Merlin, it would be a very singular thing if among all these great kings and noble, honorable lords weshould not find some one worthy of being the King of this realm."
Unto which the Merlin smiled and said, "Marvel not, my lord, if amongall those who appear to be so extraordinarily worthy there shall not be found one who is worthy; and marvel not if, among all those whoare unknown, there shall arise one who shall approve himself to be entirely worthy."
And the Archbishop pondered Merlin's words, and so beginneth this story.