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Stories from Le Morte D'Arthur and the Mabinogion online

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sword from the stone. In great joy he sought his father, and
showing it to him, said: "Then must I be King of Britain." But Sir
Ector bade him say how he came by the sword, and when Sir Kay told
how Arthur had brought it to him, Sir Ector bent his knee to the
boy, and said: "Sir, I perceive that ye are my King, and here I
tender you my homage"; and Kay did as his father. Then the three
sought the Archbishop, to whom they related all that had happened;
and he, much marvelling, called the people together to the great
stone, and bade Arthur thrust back the sword and draw it forth
again in the presence of all, which he did with ease. But an angry
murmur arose from the barons, who cried that what a boy could do, a
man could do; so, at the Archbishop's word, the sword was put back,
and each man, whether baron or knight, tried in his turn to draw it
forth, and failed. Then, for the third time, Arthur drew forth the
sword. Immediately there arose from the people a great shout:
"Arthur is King! Arthur is King! We will have no King but Arthur";
and, though the great barons scowled and threatened, they fell on
their knees before him while the Archbishop placed the crown upon
his head, and swore to obey him faithfully as their lord and

Thus Arthur was made King; and to all he did justice, righting
wrongs and giving to all their dues. Nor was he forgetful of those
that had been his friends; for Kay, whom he loved as a brother, he
made Seneschal and chief of his household, and to Sir Ector, his
foster-father, he gave broad lands.



Thus Arthur was made King, but he had to fight for his own; for
eleven great kings drew together and refused to acknowledge him as
their lord, and chief amongst the rebels was King Lot of Orkney who
had married Arthur's sister, Bellicent.

By Merlin's advice, Arthur sent for help overseas, to Ban and Bors,
the two great Kings who ruled in Gaul. With their aid, he overthrew
his foes in a great battle near the river Trent; and then he passed
with them into their own lands and helped them drive out their
enemies. So there was ever great friendship between Arthur and the
Kings Ban and Bors, and all their kindred; and afterwards some of
the most famous Knights of the Round Table were of that kin.

Then King Arthur set himself to restore order throughout his
kingdom. To all who would submit and amend their evil ways, he
showed kindness; but those who persisted in oppression and wrong he
removed, putting in their places others who would deal justly with
the people. And because the land had become overrun with forest
during the days of misrule, he cut roads through the thickets, that
no longer wild beasts and men, fiercer than the beasts, should lurk
in their gloom, to the harm of the weak and defenceless. Thus it
came to pass that soon the peasant ploughed his fields in safety,
and where had been wastes, men dwelt again in peace and prosperity.

Amongst the lesser kings whom Arthur helped to rebuild their towns
and restore order, was King Leodegrance of Cameliard. Now
Leodegrance had one fair child, his daughter Guenevere; and from
the time that first he saw her, Arthur gave her all his love. So he
sought counsel of Merlin, his chief adviser. Merlin heard the King
sorrowfully, and he said: "Sir King, when a man's heart is set, he
may not change. Yet had it been well if ye had loved another."

So the King sent his knights to Leodegrance, to ask of him his
daughter; and Leodegrance consented, rejoicing to wed her to so
good and knightly a King. With great pomp, the princess was
conducted to Canterbury, and there the King met her, and they two
were wed by the Archbishop in the great Cathedral, amid the
rejoicings of the people.

On that same day did Arthur found his Order of the Round Table, the
fame of which was to spread throughout Christendom and endure
through all time. Now the Round Table had been made for King Uther
Pendragon by Merlin, who had meant thereby to set forth plainly to
all men the roundness of the earth. After Uther died, King
Leodegrance had possessed it; but when Arthur was wed, he sent it
to him as a gift, and great was the King's joy at receiving it. One
hundred and fifty knights might take their places about it, and for
them Merlin made sieges or seats. One hundred and twenty-eight did
Arthur knight at that great feast; thereafter, if any sieges were
empty, at the high festival of Pentecost new knights were ordained
to fill them, and by magic was the name of each knight found
inscribed, in letters of gold, in his proper siege. One seat only
long remained unoccupied, and that was the Siege Perilous. No
knight might occupy it until the coming of Sir Galahad; for,
without danger to his life, none might sit there who was not free
from all stain of sin.

With pomp and ceremony did each knight take upon him the vows of
true knighthood: to obey the King; to show mercy to all who asked
it; to defend the weak; and for no worldly gain to fight in a
wrongful cause: and all the knights rejoiced together, doing honour
to Arthur and to his Queen. Then they rode forth to right the wrong
and help the oppressed, and by their aid, the King held his realm
in peace, doing justice to all.



Now when Arthur was first made King, as young knights will, he
courted peril for its own sake, and often would he ride unattended
by lonely forest ways, seeking the adventure that chance might send
him. All unmindful was he of the ruin to his realm if mischief
befell him; and even his trusty counsellors, though they grieved
that he should thus imperil him, yet could not but love him the
more for his hardihood.

So, on a day, he rode through the Forest Perilous where dwelt the
Lady Annoure, a sorceress of great might, who used her magic powers
but for the furtherance of her own desires. And as she looked from
a turret window, she descried King Arthur come riding down a forest
glade, and the sunbeams falling upon him made one glory of his
armour and of his yellow hair. Then, as Annoure gazed upon the
King, her heart grew hot within her, and she resolved that, come
what might, she would have him for her own, to dwell with her
always and fulfil all her behests. And so she bade lower the
drawbridge and raise the portcullis, and sallying forth accompanied
by her maidens, she gave King Arthur courteous salutation, and
prayed him that he would rest within her castle that day, for that
she had a petition to make to him; and Arthur, doubting nothing of
her good faith, suffered himself to be led within.

Then was a great feast spread, and Annoure caused the King to be
seated in a chair of state at her right hand, while squires and
pages served him on bended knee. So when they had feasted, the King
turned to the Lady Annoure and said courteously: "Lady, somewhat ye
said of a request that ye would make. If there be aught in which I
may pleasure you, I pray you let me know it, and I will serve you
as knightly as I may." "In truth," said the lady, "there is that
which I would fain entreat of you, most noble knight; yet suffer, I
beseech you, that first I may show you somewhat of my castle and my
estate, and then will I crave a boon of your chivalry." Then the
sorceress led King Arthur from room to room of her castle, and ever
each displayed greater store of beauty than the last. In some the
walls were hung with rich tapestries, in others they gleamed with
precious stones; and the King marvelled what might be the petition
of one that was mistress of such wealth. Lastly, Annoure brought
the King out upon the battlements, and as he gazed around him, he
saw that, since he had entered the castle, there had sprung up
about it triple walls of defence that shut out wholly the forest
from view. Then turned he to Annoure, and gravely he said: "Lady,
greatly I marvel in what a simple knight may pleasure one that is
mistress of so wondrous a castle as ye have shown me here; yet if
there be aught in which I may render you knightly service, right
gladly would I hear it now, for I must forth upon my way to render
service to those whose knight I am sworn." "Nay, now, King
Arthur," answered the sorceress mockingly, "ye may not think to
deceive me; for well I know you, and that all Britain bows to your
behest." "The more reason then that I should ride forth to right
wrong and succour them that, of their loyalty, render true
obedience to their lord." "Ye speak as a fool," said the sorceress;
"why should one that may command be at the beck and call of every
hind and slave within his realm? Nay, rest thee here with me, and I
will make thee ruler of a richer land than Britain, and give thee
to satisfy thy every desire." "Lady," said the King sternly, "I
will hear and judge of your petition at this time, and then will I
forth upon my way." "Nay," said Annoure, "there needs not this
harshness. I did but speak for thine advantage. Only vow thee to my
service, and there is naught that thou canst desire that thou shalt
not possess. Thou shalt be lord of this fair castle and of the
mighty powers that obey me. Why waste thy youth in hardship and in
the service of such as shall render thee little enough again?"

Thereupon, without ever a word, the King turned him about and made
for the turret stair by which he had ascended, but nowhere could he
find it. Then said the sorceress, mocking him: "Fair sir, how think
ye to escape without my good-will? See ye not the walls that guard
my stronghold? And think ye that I have not servants enow to do my
bidding?" She clapped her hands and forthwith there appeared a
company of squires who, at her command, seized the King and bore
him away to a strong chamber where they locked him in.

And so the King abode that night, the prisoner of that evil
sorceress, with little hope that day, when it dawned, should bring
him better cheer. Yet lost he not courage, but kept watch and vigil
the night through lest the powers of evil should assail him
unawares. And with the early morning light, Annoure came to visit
him. More stately she seemed than the night before, more tall and
more terrible; and her dress was one blaze of flashing gems, so
that scarce could the eye look upon her. As a queen might address a
vassal, so greeted she the King, and as condescending to one of low
estate, asked how he had fared that night. And the King made
answer: "I have kept vigil as behoves a knight who, knowing him to
be in the midst of danger, would bear himself meetly in any peril
that should offer." And the Lady Annoure, admiring his knightly
courage, desired more earnestly even than before to win him to her
will, and she said: "Sir Arthur, I know well your courage and
knightly fame, and greatly do I desire to keep you with me. Stay
with me and I promise you that ye shall bear sway over a wider
realm than any that ever ye heard of, and I, even I, its mistress,
will be at your command. And what lose ye if ye accept my offer?
Little enough, I ween, for never think that ye shall win the world
from evil and men to loyalty and truth." Then answered the King in
anger: "Full well I see that thou art in league with evil and that
thou but seekest to turn me from my purpose. I defy thee, foul
sorceress. Do thy worst; though thou slay me, thou shalt never sway
me to thy will"; and therewith the King raised his cross-hilted
sword before her. Then the lady quailed at that sight. Her heart
was filled with hate, but she said: "Go your way, proud King of a
petty realm. Rule well your race of miserable mortals, since more
it pleasures you than to bear sway over the powers of the air. I
keep you not against your will." With these words, she passed from
the chamber, and the King heard her give command to her squires to
set him without her gates, give him his horse, and suffer him to go
on his way.

And so it came to pass that the King found himself once more at
large, and marvelled to have won so lightly to liberty. Yet knew he
not the depths of treachery in the heart of Annoure; for when she
found she might not prevail with the King, she bethought her how,
by mortal means, she might bring the King to dishonour and death.
And so, by her magic art, she caused the King to follow a path that
brought him to a fountain, whereby a knight had his tent, and, for
love of adventure, held the way against all comers. Now this knight
was Sir Pellinore, and at that time he had not his equal for
strength and knightly skill, nor had any been found that might
stand against him. So, as the King drew nigh, Pellinore cried:
"Stay, knight, for none passes this way except he joust with me."
"That is no good custom," said the King; "it were well that ye
followed it no more." "It is my custom, and I will follow it
still," answered Pellinore; "if ye like it not, amend it if ye
may." "I will do my endeavour," said Arthur, "but, as ye see, I
have no spear." "Nay, I seek not to have you at advantage,"
replied Pellinore, and bade his squire give Arthur a spear. Then
they dressed their shields, laid their lances in rest, and rushed
upon each other. Now the King was wearied by his night's vigil, and
the strength of Pellinore was as the strength of three men; so, at
the first encounter, Arthur was unhorsed. Then said he: "I have
lost the honour on horseback, but now will I encounter thee with my
sword and on foot." "I, too, will alight," said Pellinore; "small
honour to me were it if I slew thee on foot, I being horsed the
while." So they encountered each other on foot, and so fiercely
they fought that they hewed off great pieces of each other's armour
and the ground was dyed with their blood. But at the last, Arthur's
sword broke off short at the hilt, and so he stood all defenceless
before his foe. "I have thee now," cried Pellinore; "yield thee as
recreant or I will slay thee." "That will I never," said the King,
"slay me if thou canst." Then he sprang on Pellinore, caught him by
the middle, and flung him to the ground, himself falling with him.
And Sir Pellinore marvelled, for never before had he encountered so
bold and resolute a foe; but exerting his great strength, he rolled
himself over, and so brought Arthur beneath him. Then had Arthur
perished, but at that moment Merlin stood beside him, and when Sir
Pellinore would have struck off the King's head, stayed his blow,
crying: "Pellinore, if thou slayest this knight, thou puttest the
whole realm in peril; for this is none other than King Arthur
himself." Then was Pellinore filled with dread, and cried: "Better
make an end of him at once; for if I suffer him to live, what hope
have I of his grace, that have dealt with him so sorely?" But
before Pellinore could strike, Merlin caused a deep sleep to come
upon him; and raising King Arthur from the ground, he staunched his
wounds and recovered him of his swoon.

But when the King came to himself, he saw his foe lie, still as in
death, on the ground beside him; and he was grieved, and said:
"Merlin, what have ye done to this brave knight? Nay, if ye have
slain him, I shall grieve my life long; for a good knight he is,
bold and a fair fighter, though something wanting in knightly
courtesy." "He is in better case than ye are, Sir King, who so
lightly imperil your person, and thereby your kingdom's welfare;
and, as ye say, Pellinore is a stout knight, and hereafter shall he
serve you well. Have no fear. He shall wake again in three hours
and have suffered naught by the encounter. But for you, it were
well that ye came where ye might be tended for your wounds." "Nay,"
replied the King, smiling, "I may not return to my court thus
weaponless; first will I find means to purvey me of a sword." "That
is easily done," answered Merlin; "follow me, and I will bring you
where ye shall get you a sword, the wonder of the world."

So, though his wounds pained him sore, the King followed Merlin by
many a forest path and glade, until they came upon a mere, bosomed
deep in the forest; and as he looked thereon, the King beheld an
arm, clothed in white samite, shoot above the surface of the lake,
and in the hand was a fair sword that gleamed in the level rays of
the setting sun. "This is a great marvel," said the King, "what may
it mean?" And Merlin made answer: "Deep is this mere, so deep
indeed that no man may fathom it; but in its depths, and built upon
the roots of the mountains, is the palace of the Lady of the Lake.
Powerful is she with a power that works ever for good, and she
shall help thee in thine hour of need. For thee has she wrought
yonder sword. Go now, and take it."

Then was Arthur aware of a little skiff, half hidden among the
bulrushes that fringed the lake; and leaping into the boat, without
aid of oar, he was wafted out into the middle of the lake, to the
place where, out of the water, rose the arm and sword. And leaning
from the skiff, he took the sword from the hand, which forthwith
vanished, and immediately thereafter the skiff bore him back to

Arthur drew from its scabbard the mighty sword, wondering the while
at the marvel of its workmanship, for the hilt shone with the light
of many twinkling gems - diamond and topaz and emerald, and many
another whose names none know. And as he looked on the blade,
Arthur was aware of mystic writings on the one side and the other,
and calling to Merlin, he bade him interpret them. "Sir," said
Merlin, "on the one side is written 'Keep me,' and on the other
'Throw me away.'" "Then," said the King, "which does it behove me
to do?" "Keep it," answered Merlin; "the time to cast it away is
not yet come. This is the good brand Excalibur, or Cut Steel, and
well shall it serve you. But what think ye of the scabbard?" "A
fair cover for so good a sword," answered Arthur. "Nay, it is more
than that," said Merlin, "for, so long as ye keep it, though ye be
wounded never so sore, yet ye shall not bleed to death." And when
he heard that, the King marvelled the more.

Then they journeyed back to Caerleon, where the knights made great
joy of the return of their lord. And presently, thither came Sir
Pellinore, craving pardon of the King, who made but jest of his own
misadventure. And afterwards Sir Pellinore became of the Table
Round, a knight vowed, not only to deeds of hardihood, but also to
gentleness and courtesy; and faithfully he served the King,
fighting ever to maintain justice and put down wrong, and to defend
the weak from the oppressor.



There was a certain Queen whose name was Morgan le Fay, and she was
a powerful sorceress. Little do men know of her save that, in her
youth, she was eager for knowledge and, having learnt all human
lore, turned her to magic, becoming so skilled therein that she was
feared of all. There was a time when great was her enmity towards
King Arthur, so that she plotted his ruin not once only nor twice;
and that is a strange thing, for it is said that she herself was
the kinswoman of the King. And truly, in the end, she repented her
of her malice, for she was, of those that came to bear Arthur to
the Delightful Islands from the field of his last bitter conflict;
but that was long after.

Now when this enchantress learned how the Lady of the Lake had
given the King a sword and scabbard of strange might, she was
filled with ill-will; and all her thought was only how she might
wrest the weapon from him and have it for her own, to bestow as she
would. Even while she pondered thereon, the King himself sent her
the scabbard to keep for him; for Merlin never ceased to warn the
King to have in safe keeping the scabbard that had power to keep
him from mortal hurt; and it seemed to Arthur that none might
better guard it for him, till the hour of need, than Morgan le Fay,
the wise Queen that was of his own kindred. Yet was not the Queen
shamed of her treacherous intent by the trust that Arthur had in
her; but all her mind was set on how she might win to the
possession of the sword itself as well as of the scabbard. At the
last - so had her desire for the sword wrought upon her - she
resolved to compass the destruction of the King that, if she gained
the sword, never might she have need to fear his justice for the
wrong she had done.

And her chance came soon. For, on a day, King Arthur resolved to
chase the hart in the forests near Camelot, wherefore he left
behind him his sword Excalibur, and took but a hunting spear with
him. All day long, he chased a white hart and, when evening fell,
he had far outstripped his attendants, save only two, Sir Accolon
of Gaul and Sir Uriens, King of Gore, the husband of Queen Morgan
le Fay herself. So when the King saw that darkness had come upon
them in the forest, he turned to his companions, saying: "Sirs, we
be far from Camelot and must lodge as we may this night. Let us go
forward until we shall find where we may shelter us a little." So
they rode forward, and presently Arthur espied a little lake
glinting in the beams of the rising moon, and, as they drew nearer,
they descried, full in the moonlight, a little ship, all hung with
silks even to the water's edge. Then said the King to his knights:
"Yonder is promise of shelter or, it may be, of adventure. Let us
tether our horses in the thicket and enter into this little ship."
And when they had so done, presently they found themselves in a
fair cabin all hung with silks and tapestries, and, in its midst, a
table spread with the choicest fare. And being weary and hungered
with the chase, they ate of the feast prepared and, lying down to
rest, were soon sunk in deep slumber.

While they slept, the little ship floated away from the land, and
it came to pass that a great wonder befell; for when they woke in
the morning, King Uriens found himself at home in his own land, and
Sir Accolon was in his own chamber at Camelot; but the King lay a
prisoner, bound and fettered and weaponless, in a noisome dungeon
that echoed to the groans of hapless captives.

When he was come to himself, King Arthur looked about him and saw
that his companions were knights in the same hard case as himself;
and he inquired of them how they came to be in that plight. "Sir,"
said one of them, "we are in duresse in the castle of a certain
recreant knight, Sir Damas by name, a coward false to chivalry.
None love him, and so no champion can he find to maintain his cause
in a certain quarrel that he has in hand. For this reason, he lies
in wait with a great company of soldiers for any knights that may
pass this way, and taking them prisoners, holds them in captivity
unless they will undertake to fight to the death in his cause. And
this I would not, nor any of my companions here; but unless we be
speedily rescued, we are all like to die of hunger in this
loathsome dungeon." "What is his quarrel?" asked the King. "That we
none of us know," answered the knight.

While they yet talked, there entered the prison a damsel. She went
up to the King at once, and said: "Knight, will ye undertake to
fight in the cause of the lord of this castle?" "That I may not
say," replied the King, "unless first I may hear what is his
quarrel." "That ye shall not know," replied the damsel, "but this I
tell you: if ye refuse, ye shall never leave this dungeon alive,
but shall perish here miserably." "This is a hard case," said the
King, "that I must either die or fight for one I know not, and in a
cause that I may not hear. Yet on one condition will I undertake
your lord's quarrel, and that is that he shall give me all the
prisoners bound here in this dungeon." "It shall be as ye say,"
answered the damsel, "and ye shall also be furnished with horse and
armour and sword than which ye never saw better." Therewith the
damsel bade him follow her, and brought him to a great hall where
presently there came to him squires to arm him for the combat; and
when their service was rendered, the damsel said to him: "Sir
Knight, even now there has come one who greets you in the name of
Queen Morgan le Fay, and bids me tell you that the Queen, knowing
your need, has sent you your good sword." Then the King rejoiced
greatly, for it seemed to him that the sword that the damsel gave
him was none other than the good sword Excalibur.

When all was prepared, the damsel led King Arthur into a fair
field, and there he beheld awaiting him a knight, all sheathed in
armour, his vizor down, and bearing a shield on which was no
blazonry. So the two knights saluted each other, and, wheeling
their horses, rode away from each other some little space.

Then turning again, they laid lance in rest, and rushing upon each

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Online LibraryBeatrice ClayStories from Le Morte D'Arthur and the Mabinogion → online text (page 2 of 12)