Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Logres IV

 Book I continued

Chapter 10

Having defeated the Saxons at Sorbiodunum, Uther and his army recollected themselves, and occasionally sent out parties to various nearby settlements in need of aid from straggling bands of Saxons, and dealt with laggard reinforcements of Saxons that, not having yet heard of the outcome of the battle had begun to arrive in the area. In this way, Uther acquired a servant, a boy whose name was Mabon. He had been stolen from his parents as a baby by the Saxons and enslaved; Uther freed him, and he was loyal to Uther ever after. He was a bright child, and afterward he would become one of the greatest hunters of the realm; but that is another tale.

The wounded and sick received tending, the dead received their funeral rites, and armor and weapons were repaired or replaced. At this time, too, at Merlin's advising, Uther had women stitch banners that bore the image of a dragon, in commemoration of his victory. When the banners were first unfurled, a great cheer went up among the army. "Pendragon! Pendragon! Duke of Britain!" they shouted. "Pendragon", that is to say, "head dragon", was a title used among some of the British tribes for a warleader. And from that moment on, Uther was known as Uther Pendragon, Duke of Britain, throughout the realm.

The child Merlin came and went as he willed. Many were in awe of him and his foresight, but many too were afraid of him, for it was somehow unsettling to be in his presence for a long period of time. An inexperienced lamb wishes itself away from a wolf, even if it does not know why; so too there were those who found themselves growing anxious in his presence, as though faced with an unknown danger beyond all strength and competence. Then too, rumors passed throughout the host that he was the Devil's son, and they doubted his good intentions and crossed themselves after he had passed. Further, Uther Pendragon gave regard to his word in all things, and there were those who were envious.

One day one of the barons came to Uther Pendragon, saying, "My lord, how is it that you can believe the words of this slip of a child? Everything he has said can be attributed to the work of the devil. Let me put him to test."

Then Uther Pendragon replied, "If you think necessary, but you had better do it in a way that will not anger him."

The baron then went to find Merlin and greeted him with false cheer, saying, "Our lord requires your counsel." He brought him to the court, and said, "Behold, my lord, the great Merlin, wise beyond the the wise of the world, who, as we all know, foretold the burning of Vortigern. Let it now be known that I suffer from a sickness, and, no doubt, this child wise beyond the wisest of men can tell you how I will die."

Merlin laughed, and said, "I will tell you, although you will not believe it. You shall fall from a horse and break your neck."

"May God defend me from it," said the baron. But later he feigned sickness and sent a message to the Duke, asking him to bring Merlin.

Uther Pendragon went to Merlin, saying, "This man is sick; we should go to him."

Merlin replied, "Very well, but it is not fitting for a king to go privately; call your guard." This Uther did, and they went to the baron.

On seeing them, the baron cried out, "My duke, I pray you to ask of your diviner if I will die of this sickness!"

Merlin replied, "You will not die of sickness."

"Of what, then," said the baron, "shall I die?"

Merlin laughed, and said, "I will tell you, although you will not believe it. You will be hanged, and die of the hanging." The he left the tent, laughing as if at some joke.

After the child had gone, the baron said to the Duke, "See, my lord, this child is but a fool, and cannot keep his stories straight. Before he claimed I would die of falling; now he claims I will die of hanging. But I will try him again, and that should suffice to uncover his deceits."

The baron then went to a nearby abbey, where he disguised himself as a diseased monk. He then sent a message to the Duke, asking him to come to the abbey and bring the wise child Merlin. The Duke asked if Merlin would come.

"I will," said Merlin, "though it is foolish for you to test me in this manner. Do you think I cannot see these things? Like fish in a clear pool are the thoughts of men to me, and by the insight within me and by the grace of God which I have from the faith of my mother and my teacher Blaise, I see the death of this man, and I smell it upon him as heavy as smoke. If I am wrong, never believe me again. But by my patience you have my promise that you will see a marvel."

They went then with Uther's men to the abbey, and the abbot led them to where the baron feigned illness. The abbot then said, "My lord, please ask your diviner if this man will be healed of his illness."

"He will be healed of no illness," said Merlin, "because he is in no way ill, and he will die before he ever becomes ill. Hear now this, all you liars, for I am the only one who has spoken truth in this matter. On the day this man will die, he will die from a broken neck from falling from his horse, and he will die of hanging, and I tell you now that he will also be drowned. And let this fool get up and cease his feigning, since I can easily see every strand in the deceits of simpleton."

Then the baron rose and said angrily to the Duke, "You see now, my lord, that he is touched in the head, because he says I will die of falling, and of hanging, and of drowning, but no one can die in three different ways. No one should give credence to such a fool."

The rumor of Merlin's prophecy spread throughout the camp, so that everyone knew of it. It was not long after that the baron was riding with a number of others and came to a river that could be crossed by a wooden bridge. As he crossed, however, his horse stumbled suddenly and violently, throwing him off. He fell headfirst into the water, but his legs caught in the reins of his horse, which in turn caught in a plank of the bridge, so that he was hanging from the bridge by his legs; but his head was beneath the water. In a hurry, they pulled him back up, but he was dead; his neck had broken from the force of hitting the water. Then everyone there said, "Only a fool will disbelieve Merlin."

As these things happened, Merlin was with the Duke, and suddenly said, "I must leave."

"What is the reason?" asked the Duke, for they had been in discussion of important matters.

Merlin replied, "The fool has met his end, and messengers are coming to tell you of it. If I am here when they come, they will pester me with such a pestering of questions as no man can bear, and I am not here to satisfy idle curiosity but to stop the advent of the Antichrist." Then he left, and Uther Pendragon worried that he was angry and would not return.

Shortly afterward, people came to Uther Pendragon with the tidings. The Duke decreed that all that Merlin had ever said or would say in the future should be written down in a book of prophecies, and they all did their best to remember every word he had spoken.

As for Merlin, he returned to his teacher Blaise, and told him everything that had happened, including the writing of the book of his prophecies.

"Should I obtain a copy of this book?" asked Blaise.

"No," said Merlin, "for these are just children's games, even if the men who are enthusiastic about such things are too simple to understand them. You and I must devote ourselves to the substance and not the shine."

Chapter 11

After these things, Urien returned home and Uther Pendragon went down to Londinium. There Merlin came to the Duke and said, "You must be crowned and hallowed by the Church as King of Logres, and ordained with holy oil."

Uther Pendragon did not understand, because in those days rulers were not anointed among the people of Britain and Armorica, but as St. Gildas says, were made king by their eminence in cruelty or bloodshed. But he was reluctant to question Merlin's advice, and therefore sent for the bishop, whose name was Fastidius. Bishop Fastidius was delighted at the idea, for no king had requested such a thing before. Then all the people were gathered together and readings were read from Leviticus and the Gospel of Matthew, then a Te invocamus was sung. Uther Pendragon was anointed in the sight of all by Bishop Fastidius, who laid his hands on Uther Pendragon and blessed him. Then the Psalm Domine in virtute tua was sung, as well as further benedictions. Then Merlin had a crown brought to the bishop, who set it on his head. The people began to shout, "Long live the King!" and the nobles of Logres came to pledge their loyalty. Then they had Mass, and afterward a great celebration.

"This was a strange ceremony," said King Uther Pendragon, "but I am pleased with it, and no king has been acclaimed king with such splendor before."

Merlin replied, "I did not do it to add to your splendor, but to secure your succession and set a precedent for your successor." But he would say nothing more about it.

The celebrations went long, and King Uther Pendragon at one point withdrew a bit in silence. He was joined by Merlin again, who asked him to speak his thought.

"I would wish to build a monument for my brother and others who fell at the Battle of Sorbiodunum," said Uther.

"It is well thought," said the boy. "What would you like to do?"

"I do not know," said the King. "Advise me, if you will."

"Send to Hibernia for great stones that they have there," said Merlin, "and have them brought over by ship. I will go myself to bring suitable stones."

"It will be done," said Uther Pendragon, and so it was the next day.

When Merlin had sailed to the Hibernian shores, Uther Pendragon asked Ector again if he would be the Count of the Saxon Shore. But Ector replied that he would rather be named seneschal of the royal household.

"It seems a much lesser office," said Uther Pendragon.

"And so it might be, were the royal household the household of a lesser man," said Ector. So Uther Pendragon made Ector his seneschal, and he did well in the office, doing much to bring all things to order in the affairs of the new king.

Meanwhile, arrived in Hibernia with many ships, and he went out to the wilderness and said, "These are the stones that shall be used."

Then all the men marveled, because they were of a great size, and they did not know how the stones might be carried to the ships. "What you ask is impossible," they said.

"It is less impossible than it seems," said Merlin, and he directed them all to return to the ships. They then sailed home, again at Merlin's instructions. When they had returned, Merlin said to King Uther Pendragon, "Why do you dally here? Surely you would like to see your monument."

Then the King and all the court went out to an area a few hours from Sorbiodunum, near Cunetio, and to their astonishment there were many great stones lying there that had not been there before.

"They should be set upright," said Merlin.

"They are surely too large for this to be done," said the King.

The child laughed. "It is not so difficult," he said. "Let everyone camp here, and we will see what unfolds." So they did as Merlin said, and in the morning when they rose, they were astonished to find the stones had been erected in great circles. Then on a great mound nearby, Merlin had a church built in memory of the dead.

The people in those parts came in time to call the stones, 'Merlin's Bones', although in later days that term was applied to the mound, and so the name remained long after the church once built upon it had vanished.

Merlin afterward visited Blaise and told him all that had happened.

Chapter 12

Because of the chaos caused by Vortigern and the Saxons, as well as the vacuum of power after their removal, many of the borders of Logres were in a state of uncertainty, with other chieftains and lords encroaching on its traditional lands. King Uther Pendragon had many endless problems; like the hydra, when one problem was resolved, two more arose. 

Merlin returned from visiting Blaise one day, and said to the King, "The clamor of your enemies is louder to my ears than the noise of the Baying Beast. Without reorganizing your armies, you will never have done."

"What do you recommend?" asked the King.

The child replied, "It is a difficult problem, but more difficult problems have been solved. You have heard the tales of the man named Alexander, a prince of Macedon, who conquered many lands?"

"I have," said the King. "Who has not?"

Merlin said, "Such things are not done by happenstance. There rode with Alexander a great chivalry of men. But they were more than single knights; they rode as one, and worked as one, for common goal, each contributing to victory as they were best able to contribute. They were called the Companions, for they were trusted as friends; Alexander's father, Philip, had gathered them together and trained them, and by them he accomplished great things. You should raise out of your men a company of knights, the noblest among those who serve you, and give to them the noblest horses, the noblest arms, and the noblest training."

"I agree," said the King, "but I assume that you have some plan for how this may be done."

"You know," said Merlin, "that God came to earth to save mankind, and in so doing He joined with His own companions in a supper at the house of Simon the Leper, preparing them for His death, and predicting that one of them would betray him. He then suffered died for the sins of all. There was a Jewish knight, whose name was St. Joseph of Arimathea, who begged of Pilate to be given the Lord's body, which he then laid in his own tomb.

"He was later put in prison due to the jealousy and hatred of his enemies, but there the Lord appeared to him in a dream, and gave him the cup that He Himself had used at the supper. There came a time after this, however, when the knight found himself in a wilderness, in hunger and thirst; and his sons and friends were in such straits as well. He prayed to our Lord for mercy, and the Lord appeared to him.

"'Make a table, Joseph,' said the Lord, 'one which will be like the table of Simon the Leper, and set it with the cup that I have given you. Then take a white linen, of the purest white, and draped it over the cup on three sides.'

"This St. Joseph did, and, following the instructions of the Lord, he and his sons were seated at the table, but a space was left in imitation of the original table. For at the original table there had been a deceiver, a traitor, whose name was Judas Iscariot, and his seat was vacated, and only filled by St. Matthias later under the direction of St. Peter. So too a vacant seat was set for one who would come later. But all those who sat at the table had great grace and were fed of angels; and they all went forth strengthened with grace, less than that of the Holy Apostles, but great nonetheless."

"This story I have heard, although not in all details," said King Uther Pendragon. "But I do not understand why you re-tell it."

"My counsel to you is to have made a third table, in imitation of the Table of Simon the Leper and the Table of Joseph of Arimathea, around which you may gather knights as a true company, who may recall the noble achievements of those tables that came before. And I tell you true, that as the first table was blessed by the cup of Christ, which later generations called the Grail, and the second table in its imitation was blessed by it as well, so one day this third table will be blessed by it, and the table and is company will be spoken of through many lands to the ends of the earth and through many ages to the end of the world."

The King was pleased with this, and said to him, "I give it to you to order it. But where shall this table be set?"

"There is a city in the part of Cambria that you hold, named Cardoel. Assemble your people there for Pentecost for a great feast, with many gifts. I will have made the table, and I will tell you who is suited to sit at it."

The King's criers gave the news throughout the realm, and the King and a great host of people descended upon Cardoel in the week before Pentecost. There was much feasting and the King gave gifts freely. Then on Pentecost day Merlin had all the knights gathered together before the table. It was a large table, curved around like circle that is almost but not quite complete. It was marvelously wrought, of a beautiful wood, and it was pieced together in such a way that there was no need of iron nails. In later days it was seen to have this wonderful property, that whether few or many were seated at it, the table was proportionate to them. But more marvelous still, it always chose those who deserved to sit at it, for when they were in the same room as the table, their names appeared upon it in golden letters, at the place they were to sit. On this Pentecost, the name of the King appeared, and fifty names from those in attendance also, and at the invitation of the King and of Merlin, the fifty sat with great cheer at their places. When they had done so, however, there was one place at the table for which no name appeared.

"Note well this empty seat," said Merlin, and then told the King to sit at his table where his name appeared, and then the servants brought out the meats and wine.

Feasting went on for the entire Octave of Pentecost, and at the end King Uther Pendragon sent away the many feasters laden with many gifts. He then came to the fifty, and asked for their thoughts. They replied to him that they had no desire to leave him, seeing that they had been enrolled, by what means they knew not, in a true brotherhood of knights. For in that suspicious day, knights had often been mercenary, loyal only to their commanders or a few of their friends, if even that, but that Pentecost they had seen a fraternity of knighthood of which they had not conceived. Then the King was glad at heart.

Afterward, he went to Merlin and asked him how the vacant seat might be filled. But Merlin said, "The one who shall sit in that seat shall be the completion of knighthood, but he has not yet been born. He shall be a cairn of witness in this world, and a sign of the nearness of the Grail, and he alone of all the knights in the world now living will be worthy to sit not only in the vacant seat of this table, but will come to be worthy to sit at the vacant seat at the Table of Joseph of Arimathea, as well. That just and faithful knight of God will achieve the Holy Grail. Until that day, great and glorious deeds will be done by which the fellowship of this table shall turn back the shadows that creep into the world. For as long as you reign, for every great feast bring this company again to this table, and good things will be done."

"Then I shall do that," said King Uther.

"See that you do," said Merlin. "For I leave it in your hands for now, and I will be gone for a while."

"Will you not return for the next great feast?" asked the King.

"No," said the child, and he went out. He left the city and returned to his teacher Blaise. He told him all the story of the Table of Simon the Leper, and then the whole history of the Table of Joseph of Arimathea, and then spoke at great length of all that would yet be done by the knights who sat at this third table, and all that would be done because of it that would push back the coming of Antichrist. Blaise wrote it all down in his book. But when all this was done, Merlin did not return to court. Instead, he stayed a year with Blaise, and each day they had good and cheerful conversation over simple bread and fruit and plain water.