Tales of King Arthur - Andrew Lang - ebook

Tales of King Arthur ebook

Andrew Lang

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King Arthur, accompanied by Merlin the magician, had left the comfort of the court to seek adventures. He had fought a hard battle with the tallest Knight in all the land, and though he struck hard and well, he would have been slain had not Merlin enchanted the Knight and cast him into a deep sleep, and brought the King to a hermit who had studied the art of healing, and cured all his wounds in three days. Then Arthur and Merlin waited no longer, but gave the hermit thanks and departed.

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* An idb eBook *

Tales of King Arthur

Andrew Lang

ISBN 9783964841230

TALES OF KING ARTHURANDTHE ROUND TABLE

ADAPTED FROM THE BOOK OF ROMANCEBYANDREW LANG

WITH INTRODUCTION, NOTES, ETC., BYJ. C. ALLENAND TWENTY ILLUSTRATIONS BYH. J. FORD

NEW IMPRESSION

LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDONFOURTH AVENUE & 30TH STREET, NEW YORK BOMBAY, CALCUTTA, AND MADRAS1918

INTRODUCTION

The tales of King Arthur and his Knights are of Celtic origin. The Celts were the people who occupied Britain at the time when the history of the country opens, and a few words are necessary to explain why the characters in the stories act and speak as though they belonged to a later age.

It is believed that King Arthur lived in the sixth century, just after the Romans withdrew from Britain, and when the Britons, left to defend themselves against the attacks of the marauding Saxons, rose and defeated them at Mount Badon, securing to themselves peace for many years. It was probably about this time that King Arthur and his company of Knights performed the deeds which were to become the themes of stories and lays for generations afterwards.

In olden times, it was the custom of minstrels and story-tellers to travel through the land from court to court, telling of tales of chivalry and heroism, and for many centuries the tales of King Arthur formed the stock from which the story-teller drew.

In this way the stories came to be handed down from father to son, in Brittany (whose people are of the same family as the Welsh) as well as in Wales and England, and by this means alone were they prevented from being lost. But in the reigns of Henry II. and Richard I., they were set down on paper, and so became literature. Before this, however, a British writer had written out some of the tales, and from him as well as from the lips of the bards and story-tellers of their own generation, the writers in the time of Henry II. were able to collect their information.

vi

Now, it will be remembered that the second and third crusades were being carried on during the reigns of Henry II. and Richard I., and many English and French Knights were therefore fighting in the fields of Palestine.

The story-teller, whose living depended on the welcome his stories met with, instead of telling them according to tradition, altered them to suit the tastes of his hearers. Thus, the old heroes of tradition were placed upon prancing horses, clothed in coats of mail, and armed with lances as if they had been vassals of King Henry or King Richard. And in this way the story-teller called up before the minds of the listeners pictures of deeds of chivalry, such as husbands and brothers were performing for the Christian faith in far-off Palestine. The writers of the time, both English and French, set them down as they heard and knew them, and so in their altered and historically inaccurate form they have reached us at the present day.

One of the most famous of the books compiled by old English writers was the “Historia Britonum,” which was written (in Latin) by Geoffrey, Bishop of Asaph. It contained an account of a war which King Arthur waged in Western Europe, but made no mention of the Holy Grail.

From this and other books of romances compiled in England, and very largely, too, from books of French romances, Sir Thomas Malory obtained the material for his “Morte d’Arthur,” which was written in 1470. This is the most famous of the early books of Arthurian legend, and it is from the “Morte d’Arthur” that most of the stories in this book are taken. Some, however, are taken from the “High History of the Holy Graal,” translated from the French by Dr. Sebastian Evans. The language throughout has been modified with a view to making the legends more easy of study.

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CONTENTS

PART I.

PAGE

Introduction

v, vi

The Drawing of the Sword

1

The Sword Excalibur

6

How the Round Table began

7

The Story of Sir Balin

11

What Beaumains asked of the King

18

How Morgan Le Fay tried to kill King Arthur

42

The Passing of Merlin

45

PART II.

The Quest of the Holy Graal (Parts I. to XI.)

48

PART III.

The Fight for the Queen

78

The Fair Maid of Astolat

88

PART IV.

Lancelot and Guenevere

107

The End of it All

136

viii

ILLUSTRATIONS

FULL-PAGE PLATES.

PAGE

How Arthur drew the Sword

4

The Death of Balin and Balan

17

Gareth and Linet

24

Linet and the Black Knight

27

The Lady of Lyonesse sees Sir Gareth

34

Morgan Le Fay casts away the Scabbard

44

Merlin and Vivien

47

Sir Galahad opens the Tomb

56

Sir Percivale slays the Serpent

63

Arthur and Guenevere kiss before all the People

86

Elaine ties her Sleeve round Sir Lancelot’s Helmet

92

The Black Barget

104

The Archers threaten Lancelot

113

Sir Mordred

141

Excalibur returns to the Mere

144

IN TEXT.

The Damsel warns Sir Balin

14

How Sir Bors was saved from killing his Brother

68

Sir Mador accuses Guenevere

81

Guenevere sends her Page to Lancelot for help

111

Lancelot comes out of Guenevere’s Room

123

1

TALES OF KING ARTHURANDTHE ROUND TABLE

PART I.

THE DRAWING OF THE SWORD.

Long, long ago, after Uther Pendragon died, no king reigned in Britain, and every Knight hoped to seize the crown for himself. The country was like to fare ill when laws were broken on every side, and the corn which was to give bread to the poor was trodden underfoot, and there was none to bring the evildoer to justice. Then, when things were at their worst, came forth Merlin the magician, and fast he rode to the place where the Archbishop of Canterbury had his dwelling. They took counsel together, and agreed that all the lords and gentlemen of Britain should ride to London and meet on Christmas Day, now at hand, in the Great Church. So this was done. And on Christmas morning, as they left the church, they saw in the churchyard a large stone, and on it a bar of steel, and in the steel a naked sword was held, and about it was written in letters of gold, “Whoso pulleth out this sword is by right of birth King of England.” They marvelled at these words, and called for the Archbishop, and brought him into the place where the stone stood. Then those Knights who fain would be King took 2 firm hold of the hilt, and they tugged at the sword with all their might; but it never stirred. The Archbishop watched them in silence, but when they were faint from pulling he spoke: “The man is not here who shall lift out that sword, nor do I know where to find him. But this is my counsel—that two Knights be chosen, good and true men, to keep guard over the sword.”

Thus it was done. But the lords and gentlemen-at-arms cried out that every man had a right to try to win the sword, and they decided that on New Year’s Day a tournament should be held, and any Knight who would, might enter the lists.

So on New Year’s Day, the Knights, according to custom, went to hear service in the Great Church, and after it was over they met in the field to make ready for the tourney. Among them was a brave Knight called Sir Ector, who brought with him Sir Kay, his son, and Arthur, Kay’s foster-brother. Now Kay had unbuckled his sword the evening before, and in his haste to be at the tourney had forgotten to put it on again, and he begged Arthur to ride back and fetch it for him. But when Arthur reached the house the door was locked, for the women had gone out to see the tourney, and, though Arthur tried his best to get in, he could not. Then he rode away in great anger, and said to himself, “Kay shall not be without a sword this day. I will take that sword in the churchyard, and give it to him;” and he galloped fast till he reached the gate of the churchyard. He jumped down, tied his horse tightly to a tree, and, running up to the sword, seized the handle, and lightly and fiercely drew it out; then he mounted his horse again, and delivered the sword to Sir Kay. The moment Sir Kay saw the sword he knew it was not his own, but the sword of the stone, and he sought out his father Sir Ector, and 3 said to him, “Sir, this is the sword of the stone, therefore I am the rightful King.” Sir Ector made no answer, but signed to Kay and Arthur to follow him, and they all three went back to the church. Leaving their horses outside, they entered the choir, and here Sir Ector took a holy book and bade Sir Kay swear how he came by that sword. “My brother Arthur gave it to me,” replied Sir Kay. “How did you come by it?” asked Sir Ector, turning to Arthur. “Sir,” said Arthur, “when I rode home for my brother’s sword, I found no one to deliver it to me, and as I resolved he should not be swordless, I thought of the sword in this stone, and I pulled it out.” “Were any Knights present when you did this?” asked Sir Ector. “No, none,” said Arthur. “Then you are the rightful King of this land,” said Sir Ector. “But why am I the King?” inquired Arthur. “Because,” answered Sir Ector, “this is an enchanted sword, and no man could draw it but he who was born a King. Therefore put the sword back into the stone, and let me see you take it out.” “That is soon done,” said Arthur, replacing the sword, and Sir Ector himself tried to draw it, but he could not. “Now it is your turn,” he said to Sir Kay, but Sir Kay fared no better than his father, though he tugged with all his might and main. “Now you, Arthur,” and Arthur pulled it out as easily as if it had been lying in its sheath, and as he did so Sir Ector and Sir Kay sank on their knees before him. “Why do you, my father and brother, kneel to me?” asked Arthur in surprise. “Nay, nay, my lord,” answered Sir Ector, “I am not your father, though till to-day I could not tell you who your father really was. You are the son of Uther Pendragon, and you were brought to me when you were born by Merlin himself, who promised that when the time came you should know from whom you sprang.” When Arthur heard that Sir Ector was not his father, he wept bitterly. “If I am King,” he said at last, “ask what you will, and I shall not fail you. For to you, and to my lady and mother, I owe more than to any one in the world, for she loved me and treated me as her son.” “Sir,” replied Sir Ector, “I only ask that you will make your foster-brother, Sir Kay, Seneschal of all your lands.” “That I will readily,” answered Arthur, “and while he and I live no other shall fill that office.”

4
5

Sir Ector then bade them seek out the Archbishop with him, and they told him all that had happened concerning the sword, which Arthur had left standing in the stone. And on Twelfth Day the Knights and Barons came again, but none could draw it out but Arthur. When they saw this, many of the Barons became angry and cried out that they would never own a boy for King whose blood was no better than their own. So it was agreed to wait till Candlemas, when more Knights might be there, and meanwhile the same two men who had been chosen before watched the sword night and day; but at Candlemas it was the same thing, and at Easter. And when Pentecost came, the common people who were present, and saw Arthur pull out the sword, cried with one voice that he was their King, and they would kill any man who said differently.

Then rich and poor fell on their knees before him, and Arthur took the sword and offered it upon the altar where the Archbishop stood, and the best man who was there made him Knight. After that the crown was put on his head, and he swore to his lords and commons that he would be a true King, and would do them justice all the days of his life.

6

THE SWORD EXCALIBUR.

King Arthur, accompanied by Merlin the magician, had left the comfort of the court to seek adventures. He had fought a hard battle with the tallest Knight in all the land, and though he struck hard and well, he would have been slain had not Merlin enchanted the Knight and cast him into a deep sleep, and brought the King to a hermit who had studied the art of healing, and cured all his wounds in three days. Then Arthur and Merlin waited no longer, but gave the hermit thanks and departed.

As they rode together Arthur said, “I have no sword,” but Merlin bade him be patient and he would soon give him one. In a little while they came to a large lake, and in the midst of the lake Arthur beheld an arm rising out of the water, holding up a sword. “Look!” said Merlin, “that is the sword I spoke of.” And the King looked again, and a maiden stood upon the water. “That is the Lady of the Lake,” said Merlin, “and she is coming to you, and if you ask her courteously she will give you the sword.” So when the maiden drew near, Arthur saluted her and said, “Maiden, I pray you tell me whose sword is that which an arm is holding out of the water? I wish it were mine, for I have lost my sword.”

“That sword is mine, King Arthur,” answered she, “and I will give it to you, if you in return will give me a gift when I ask you.”

“By my faith,” said the King, “I will give you whatever gift you ask.” “Well,” said the maiden, “get into the barge yonder, and row yourself to the sword, and take it and the scabbard with you.” For this was the sword 7 Excalibur. “As for my gift, I will ask it in my own time.” Then King Arthur and Merlin dismounted from their horses and tied them up safely, and went into the barge, and when they came to the place where the arm was holding the sword Arthur took it by the handle, and the arm disappeared. And they brought the sword back to land. As they rode the King looked lovingly on his sword, which Merlin saw, and, smiling, said, “Which do you like best, the sword or the scabbard?” “I like the sword,” answered Arthur. “You are not wise to say that,” replied Merlin, “for the scabbard is worth ten of the sword, and as long as it is buckled on you you will lose no blood, however sorely you may be wounded.” So they rode into the town of Carlion, and Arthur’s Knights gave them a glad welcome, and said it was a joy to serve under a King who risked his life as much as any common man.

HOW THE ROUND TABLE BEGAN.

After King Arthur had fought and conquered many enemies, he said one day to Merlin, whose counsel he took all the days of his life, “My Barons will let me have no rest, but bid me take a wife, and I have answered them that I shall take none, except you advise me.”

“It is well,” replied Merlin, “that you should take a wife, but is there any woman that you love better than another?” “Yes,” said Arthur, “I love Guenevere, daughter of Leodegrance, King of Cameliard, in whose house is the Round Table that my father gave him. This maiden is the fairest that I have ever seen, or ever shall 8 see.” “Sir,” answered Merlin, “what you say as to her beauty is true, but, if your heart was not set on her, I could find you another as fair, and of more goodness, than she. But if a man’s heart is once set it is idle to try to turn him.” Then Merlin asked the King to give him a company of knights and esquires, that he might go to the Court of King Leodegrance and tell him that King Arthur desired to wed his daughter, which Arthur did gladly. Therefore Merlin rode forth and made all the haste he could till he came to the Castle of Cameliard, and told King Leodegrance who had sent him and why.

“That is the best news I have ever had,” replied Leodegrance, “for little did I think that so great and noble a King should seek to marry my daughter. As for lands to endow her with, I would give whatever he chose; but he has lands enough of his own, so I will give him instead something that will please him much more, the Round Table which Uther Pendragon gave me, where a hundred and fifty Knights can sit at one time. I myself can call to my side a hundred good Knights, but I lack fifty, for the wars have slain many, and some are absent.” And without more words King Leodegrance gave his consent that his daughter should wed King Arthur. And Merlin returned with his Knights and esquires, journeying partly by water and partly by land, till they drew near to London.

When King Arthur heard of the coming of Merlin and of the Knights with the Round Table he was filled with joy, and said to those that stood about him, “This news that Merlin has brought me is welcome indeed, for I have long loved this fair lady, and the Round Table is dearer to me than great riches.” Then he ordered that Sir Lancelot should ride to fetch the Queen, and that preparations for the marriage and her coronation should be made, which 9 was done. “Now, Merlin,” said the King, “go and look about my kingdom and bring fifty of the bravest and most famous Knights that can be found throughout the land.” But no more than eight and twenty Knights could Merlin find. With these Arthur had to be content, and the Bishop of Canterbury was fetched, and he blessed the seats that were placed by the Round Table, and the Knights sat in them. “Fair Sirs,” said Merlin, when the Bishop had ended his blessing, “arise all of you, and pay your homage to the King.” So the Knights arose to do his bidding, and in every seat was the name of the Knight who had sat on it, written in letters of gold, but two seats were empty. After that young Gawaine came to the King, and prayed him to make him a Knight on the day that he should wed Guenevere. “That I will gladly,” replied the King, “for you are my sister’s son.”

As the King was speaking, a poor man entered the Court, bringing with him a youth about eighteen years old, riding on a lean mare, though it was not the custom for gentlemen to ride on mares. “Where is King Arthur?” asked the man. “Yonder,” answered the Knights. “Have you business with him?” “Yes,” said the man, and he went and bowed low before the King: “I have heard, O King Arthur, flower of Knights and Kings, that at the time of your marriage you would give any man the gift he should ask for.”

“That is truth,” answered the King, “as long as I do no wrong to other men or to my kingdom.”

“I thank you for your gracious words,” said the poor man; “the boon I would ask is that you would make my son a Knight.” “It is a great boon to ask,” answered the King. “What is your name?”

“Sir, my name is Aries the cowherd.”

“Is it you or your son that has thought of this honour?”

10

“It is my son who desires it, and not I,” replied the man. “I have thirteen sons who tend cattle, and work in the fields if I bid them; but this boy will do nothing but shoot and cast darts, or go to watch battles and look on Knights, and all day long he beseeches me to bring him to you, that he may be knighted also.”

“What is your name?” said Arthur, turning to the young man.

“Sir, my name is Tor.”

“Where is your sword that I may knight you?” said the King.

“It is here, my lord.”

“Take it out of its sheath,” said the King, “and require me to make you a Knight.” Then Tor jumped off his mare and pulled out his sword, and knelt before the King, praying that he might be made a Knight and a Knight of the Round Table.

“As for a Knight, that I will make you,” said Arthur, smiting him in the neck with the sword, “and if you are worthy of it you shall be a Knight of the Round Table.” Then was the high feast made ready, and the King was wedded to fair Guenevere at Camelot in the Church of St. Stephen with all due observance. And the next day Gawaine was made a Knight also.

Sir Tor proved before long by his gallant deeds that he was well worthy to sit in one of the empty seats at the Round Table.

11

THE STORY OF SIR BALIN.

In those days many Kings reigned in the Islands of the Sea, and they constantly waged war upon each other, and on their liege lord, and news came to Arthur that Ryons, King of North Wales, had collected a large host and had ravaged his lands and slain some of his people. When he heard this, Arthur rose in anger, and commanded that all lords, Knights, and gentlemen of arms should meet him at Camelot, where he would call a council, and hold a tourney.

From every part the Knights flocked to Camelot, and the town was full to overflowing of armed men and their horses. And when they were all assembled, there rode in a damsel, who said she had come with a message from the great Lady Lile of Avelion, and begged that they would bring her before King Arthur. When she was led into his presence she let her mantle of fur slip off her shoulders, and they saw that by her side a richly wrought sword was buckled. The King was silent with wonder at the strange sight, but at last he said, “Damsel, why do you wear this sword? for swords are not the ornaments of women.” “Oh, my lord,” answered she, “I would I could find some Knight to rid me of this sword, which weighs me down and causes me much sorrow. But the man who will deliver me of it must be one who is mighty of his hands, and pure in his deeds, without villainy, or treason. If I find a Knight such as this, he will draw this sword out of its sheath, and he only. For I have been at the Court of King Ryons, and he and his Knights tried with all their strength to draw the sword and they could not.”

“Let me see if I can draw it,” said Arthur, “not 12 because I think myself the best Knight, for well I know how far I am outdone by others, but to set them an example that they may follow me.” With that the King took the sword by the sheath and by the girdle, and pulled at it with all his force, but the sword stuck fast. “Sir,” said the damsel, “you need not pull half so hard, for he that shall pull it out shall do it with little strength.” “It is not for me,” answered Arthur, “and now, my Barons, let each man try his fortune.” So most of the Knights of the Round Table there present pulled, one after another, at the sword, but none could stir it from its sheath. “Alas! alas!” cried the damsel in great grief, “I thought to find in this Court Knights that were blameless and true of heart, and now I know not where to look for them.” “By my faith,” said Arthur, “there are no better Knights in the world than these of mine, but I am sore displeased that they cannot help me in this matter.”

Now at that time there was a poor Knight at Arthur’s Court who had been kept prisoner for a year and a half because he had slain the King’s cousin. He was of high birth and his name was Balin, and after he had suffered eighteen months the punishment of his misdeed the Barons prayed the King to set him free, which Arthur did willingly. When Balin, standing apart beheld the Knights one by one try the sword, and fail to draw it, his heart beat fast, yet he shrank from taking his turn, for he was meanly dressed, and could not compare with the other Barons. But after the damsel had bid farewell to Arthur and his Court, and was setting out on her journey homewards, he called to her and said, “Damsel, I pray you to suffer me to try your sword, as well as these lords, for though I am so poorly clothed, my heart is as high as theirs.” The damsel stopped and looked at him, and answered, “Sir, it is not needful to put you to such trouble, 13 for where so many have failed it is hardly likely that you will succeed.” “Ah! fair damsel,” said Balin, “it is not fine clothes that make good deeds.” “You speak truly,” replied the damsel, “therefore do what you can.” Then Balin took the sword by the girdle and sheath, and pulled it out easily, and when he looked at the sword he was greatly pleased with it. The King and the Knights were dumb with surprise that it was Balin who had triumphed over them, and many of them envied him and felt anger towards him. “In truth,” said the damsel, “this is the best Knight that I ever found, but, Sir, I pray you give me the sword again.”