Monday, July 04, 2022

Logres V

Book I continued

 Chapter 13

Even in this first year of its existence, the company of the Round Table accomplished things of great valor, and too many to count. Hardly could a book hold all the adventures of Sir Ulfius, or of Sir Ector, or of the brothers, Sir Breunor the Knight Without Fear and Sir Branor the Brown, or of Sir Segurant the Knight of the Dragon, the son of Sir Branor, or of Sir Abiron, or of Sir Caradoc Short-Arm, or of Sir Caradoc the Thirteenth, the Knight of Great Size, or of Sir Meliodas, Sir Guiron the Knight Courteous, and Sir Danyn the Red, in keeping the peace and fighting the enemies of King Uther Pendragon. Their fame spread to all the lands thereabout, and as their feats grew more renowned, the kings of neighboring nations began to imitate them, creating their own companies of knighthood.

Within the court of King Uther were more than a few who had no love for Merlin, however, and, conspiring together, some of the barons came to the king and asked about the vacant seat at the Round Table. "Surely," they said, "it should be given to some worthy knight, so that the Table might be completed."

The king explained that, according to Merlin, it would not be filled in his own time. "No name appears on the table for this seat," said the king. But the barons laughed. 

"Cannot anyone sit at a table? Can it really be the case that no one in the kingdom is worthy?" they asked. "Surely there could not be better men than exist now. We cannot know until it has been tried."

Then King Uther Pendragon said, "I will not try it, lest it anger Merlin."

"At least let us try it," they said.

"I would be interested to see it," the king admitted, "if it did not seem against the spirit of Merlin's instructions."

The barons, however, replied, "They say he knows everything that happens in the kingdom. If we try it, and he knows about it, and there is some problem with doing it, he would no doubt come and stop us. Let us try this next Pentecost feast."

This seemed a reasonable argument to the king, so he granted his permission, although he still had some doubt in his heart about how Merlin might see it.

At Pentecost the king, the knights, and the people came together. Rumors had already spread about the trial of the seat, as well as many rumors about Merlin himself -- that he was dead, that he had gone mad in the wilderness, that he had been exorcised and sent to hell.

The fifty sat at their seats. Then the king asked who there would volunteer to try the seat, saying that such a man should be a stouthearted knight of good service. And one of the barons who had originally proposed the trial spoke up immediately and volunteered. Coming to the fifty, he said, "Good brothers, I will join you at your Table."

Then he sat at the place at the Table that had no name. All of those there watched to see what would happen, and in the next moment they arose to a man with a distressed cry. Like lead into a lake, the baron who sat at the vacant seat sank into the ground and disappeared before their eyes. Everyone was in a great confusion about what to do, and so they remained until the quinzieme of Pentecost. And on that fifteenth day, Merlin came. 

King Uther went out with joy to meet him in person, but when Merlin saw him, the child put his hands upon his hips and said to him, "Must I give instructions on every little thing? You did badly in letting anyone sit at the vacant seat."

"I was misled through bad advice," said the king.

Merlin replied, "When men are misled, they have usually first misled themselves." And the king conceded that this was perhaps true.

Then the king asked, "What has become of the man who sat in the seat?"

But Merlin replied, "It is pointless to inquire. Spend your attention on those who sit licitly and gather them together for the great feasts."

"Can I be forgiven for this failing?" asked the king.

"When cherry trees give fruit in winter, we can believe no harm was done except to the fool who sat in the empty seat," said Merlin. And the king, taking this to be the same as saying nay, was saddened.

Then King Uther Pendragon had built a great hall to hold the Round Table, and decreed formally and by law that the knights of the Table should meet every Pascha, Pentecost, Hallowmas, and Christmas, and that to the next Christmas feast the knights and barons should bring their their wives and sons and daughters. 

Chapter 14

The next Christmas was a great gathering, for, receiving the king's invitation and command, the knights and barons brought their wives and children to Cardoel. Among them were Gorlois, Duke of Trevena, which is also called Tintagel, in Kernow. He had aided Uther and his brother in the fight against Hengist, and he came with his son, Cador, and his wife, Igraine, who was sister of Gerrens, the King of Dumnonia in the westernmost parts of Kernow. When the king saw Igraine, he was astounded, and fell in love with her at once, but kept his countenance. Over the course of the feasts, however, she became aware that he often was looking at her, and she blushed. She was, however, a good woman, and therefore she avoided his presence as much as she could.

King Uther, however, was a man who was not without a sense of strategy, and, taking thought of what he might do to win her, he sent jewels to every woman at the feast. Great was the cheering of the king's name afterward among the ladies of the court, and, knowing that he had sent jewels to every lady, she did not dare refuse the gift. But she could not help but think, and she knew rightly, that the jewels that were sent to all the ladies were sent precisely so that she could not refuse hers.

At the end of the feast, the king begged all of the knights and barons to return with their wives and children at the Paschal feast, and so great had been their enjoyment at the Christmas feast that they were happy to give their assent. When Duke Gorlois left the feast, the king accompanied him a short way, showering honors upon him. He was greatly flattered by the king's attention.

When Easter came, they knights and barons gathered again with their families, and this time King Uther Pendragon gave Duke Gorlois and his family pride of place at the feast. He also gave them gifts, and Igraine dared not refuse the gifts in front of her husband. Her husband did not see it, but Igraine knew Uther's love for her, and she did not know what to do, for she was tempted, but loyal to her husband, and she could think of no one to put off the King of Logres and Duke of Britain.

Afterward, however, King Uther Pendragon was miserable from his love for Igraine, and in private consulted Sir Ector and Sir Ulfius, asking them what he should do.

Then Sir Ector said, "If you keep bringing her to court and showering her with attention, people will notice, to her dishonor and to yours."

"What then shall I do instead?" asked King Uther. "I can neither eat, nor sleep, nor ride, nor hunt, nor in any way divert myself when she is not near. I think I will die for love of her."

"If you will listen to my counsel," said Sir Ulfius, "it would be a strange thing to die for a woman, particularly when there is no need to stand waiting for death. At the next great feast, summon a court, letting everyone know that it will last for fifteen days, and this will give you time finally to speak to her and let your love be known. And, for my part, I have never known a woman who could easily defend herself against gifts of splendid jewelry, given both to herself and to those around her, and you are able more than others to give such gifts."

"You are right," said the king, "and I beg your help in this. Take from the coffers of my Wardrobe whatever you deem appropriate, and speak on my behalf to her."

So the king summoned the court at the next great feast for a fortnight and a day, and every day of the session gave to his supporters, including the Duke of Trevena, some fine jewel. Sir Ulfius for his part made occasion to speak with Igraine, bringing additional presents and sugaring them with fine words, but she would accept none of them, until finally she said, "Why do you keep giving me these things when I will not accept them?"

Then Sir Ulfius said, "How can I give you anything when you own all of Logres?"

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"Do you not have the heart of the King of Logres, whom all obey?"

Then Igraine said, "Lord have mercy! Can any true king have such treachery in him as to shower my husband with favor while shamefully trying to defile me? Sir Ulfius, never speak to me again of these things, or I will tell my husband of it, and he would surely kill you for it."

But Sir Ulfius replied, "It would be an honor to die for my king, but I know you joke in this matter because never was there a lady who could refuse a king's love, against which there is no defense."

"I will defend myself, nonetheless," said Igraine. "I will never again go to a place where I know the king will be." And to back her claim, she left at once.

Sir Ulfius returned to the king and told all that had happened. Then King Uther replied, "A good woman indeed would answer this way, for a true lady is not lightly overcome."

On the feast at the eleventh day, Sir Ulfius brought the king a golden cup decorated with many jewels in a beautiful pattern, saying, "My lord, send this cup to Igraine, asking the Duke of Trevena to bid her to take it and drink it for love of you."

So the king called Gorlois near, giving him the cup, and asked him to send the cup to his wife Igraine so that she could drink for the love him. And Gorlois, recognizing no bad intention, and thinking this another example of the king's favor to them both, called a trusted knight, whose name was Sir Brastias, directing him to give the cup to his wife so that she could drink for the king's love.

Sir Brastias obeyed. On hearing the message, Igraine flushed alternately white and red for shame, but she did not dare disobey her husband in front of the knight, so she took it and drank of it, then attempted to return the cup to Sir Brastias.

"I believe you were intended to keep it," said Sir Brastias. Then Igraine sighed and set it aside, and Sir Brastias returned to the duke and the king, thanking the king on Igraine's behalf, although she had in fact said no word at all. Later Sir Ulfius went to her and found her angry of countenance.

"How is it that I am besieged on every side by everyone?" she said furiously. Then she said, "Your lord may be treacherous enough to send me a cup, but he will get little good of it, for I will tomorrow tell my lord of the treachery that you and your lord have perpetrated on him and on me."

"I cannot prevent you," said Sir Ulfius, "but you have fire in your hands. Such a deed may not have consequences as benign as you hope." But he left her and returned to the king.

Then King Uther Pendragon grew merry and took the duke by the hand, saying, "Let us go see the ladies."

Igraine could do nothing but endure the rest of the day. But later the duke found her in her room weeping. He took her in his arms and asked her of her sorrow.

Igraine replied to him, "The king that is my lord and yours has said that he loves me, and all of his recent favors have been to the end of growing closer to me. I have tried to have nothing to do with him and his gifts, but you have made me to take his cup and drink his love. I will have any rest from him and from Sir Ulfius, his counselor, and therefore I can neither eat, nor sleep, and I beg you to take me back to Tintagel, for I fear that I will die from shame of this."

The duke was at this as wrathful as a man may be, and he sent secretly for his men throughout the town, telling them to prepare to ride and ask him no questions why. Thus Duke Gorlois and his wife Igraine, and all their men, not heeding the command of the king, which had been to stay until the quinzieme of the feast, nor petitioning for any permission to leave, rode home to their own lands.