Monday, August 29, 2022

Logres IX

 Book I continued

Chapter 23

In the last years of King Uther Pendragon, troubles arose on every side, as Saxons and Danes, hearing of good land in the British isles, multiplied on every side. The king, too, began to endure ill health, suffering gout in his hands and feet, as well as other illnesses; but the task of a king does not grow less. Seeing that the Danes were committing outrages in every place, he called together his barons, who were eager for vengeance against the interlopers. Therefore, at the king's behest, they gathered together their forces for the fighting of the foe. But the king was unable to lead due to his health, and those who led in his place were not his match, with the result that the host was scattered, with men fleeing on every side.

At this time, Merlin counseled Blaise to leave the lands north of the Humber and take residence for a time near Ineswitrin, or, as the Cambrians call it, Ynys Witrin, the Isle of Glass, for it was at that time better protected from the raids of the Saxons and the Danes. Thence Merlin came to Cardoel at a time when the king was particularly incapacitated from his illness; but the boy met the king with good cheer.

"You are greatly sick," he commented, "and greatly afraid."

"Indeed," said the king, who thought now that Merlin had come that there might at last be comforting news. "You know well that I am beset by foes, and many of my men have been slain by them."

"This is because the arms of your people will avail nothing without a good lord at their head," said Merlin.

"For the love of God, Merlin" said the king, "give me advice as to what should be done."

"My king," said Merlin, "I will tell you, but it is for your secret ears alone. Gather your host again, and when they have answered the summons, cause yourself to be borne out to them in a litter, and prepare yourself to fight your enemies. I tell you truly that you will vanquish them, and by your victory, the whole land will see the value of a king. But when you are done, your time begins to come to an end. Make a division of your treasure, showing yourself to be to the end a king who is considerate of his people. Your wealth will do you know further good. Treasures and honors only weigh down the soul, and as your life comes toward its final day, you must show yourself aware of what is beyond the grave, beyond the point at which all earthly joys fall aside, in the life perdurable. God has given you much, and now you must give in return."

"Alas," said the king, "as I look over them, it seems that our years together have been too few."

"Your calling and my calling are very different," said the boy to the king, "but I am glad that they have brought us together on the same road this little way. I have loved you much. But all the good deeds of a life are as nothing compared to a good end. Now we part, for you must do the work of a king. For king you are Uther Pendragon, and may you never be forgotten for it."

"This I will do in any case," said King Uther Pendragon, "although it seems strange to fight in a litter."

"You have achieved greater things by stranger means, my king," said Merlin. "And now I must take my leave."

"Before you go," said the king, "tell me how things go with the child."

"Of what is beyond the bounds of our lives, it is pointless to inquire," the boy replied. "But I will let you know that your son is kept well and taught well."

"Will I see you again?" asked the king.

"Once only. But tell Sir Ulfius to pay particular attention to any instructions that I might give." And with that, Merlin left.

The king summoned again his host, and this time he went to battle with them, carried in a litter. The host of Logres clashed with that of the Saxons and the Danes on the field at St. Albans. The Saxons and the Danes were routed in a humiliating defeat, with many slain before the British swords. Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias did great deeds upon the field. Octa surrendered, and all his sons. Thus the land was at peace. Then, reflecting on the advice of Merlin, the king went down to Trinovant, which is also known as Londinium, and there he brought with him his great treasury, giving his goods to good men and women, and to the needy of his realm, and to the doing of fair almsdeeds. What was left he gave to the holy Church. He kept back nothing for himself.

Then he was a long time sick, growing ever more so, and at the end had grown so feeble that he could not speak or move, but only stare at the ceiling. Then Merlin returned and the barons told him that the king was dead.

"The king is not yet dead," said Merlin. 

"He has neither spoken nor moved for three days," replied the barons.

"You shall hear him speak once more," the boy replied. Then Merlin and the barons came to the bedchamber of the king, and opened all the windows; Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias, as well as Mabon, the king's valet, were there, as well. And Mabon said to the king, 'Lo, Merlin is here."

And at the name, the king turned toward Merlin and recognition flashed in his eyes. Then Merlin said to all who were in attendance, "Still yourselves and hear now the last words of the king."

Merlin bent down and whispered in the king's ear. "You have done well, and made a good end, if your conscience has been cleaned by pardon. I tell you that your son Arthur will be the next king of your realm after you, and by the grace of Jesus Christ, he shall complete in its full glory the Round Table that you have begun."

Then he said aloud to the king, "My king, do you ordain that your son shall be king after your days of this realm, with all of its appurtenances?"

And King Uther Pendragon spoke in a clear voice, saying, "I give him God's blessing and mine. For the love of God, let him pray for my soul, and if my blessing means anything, let him claim the crown and take the throne righteously and in a worthy manner."

"You have heard the last words of the king," said Merlin to those gathered round. 

Thus passed Sir Uther Pendragon, King of Logres, Duke of Britain. The barons and knights did him great honor and the fairest service that they might, interring him as befit a king. Many mourned him, and not least Queen Igraine, and there was great sorrow.

But the realm grew violent after his death, as baron after baron reached out his hand for the prize of the crown, and the shadows grew with malice throughout the land.

Chapter 24

For some time after the death of King Uther Pendragon, Merlin went from place to place throughout the land, setting in place things whose design he alone knew. But there came a day when Merlin knew by his special sight that his mother had died, and he fled weeping to the north and its forests, and lurked there like a wild thing. He lived and slept in the open air, alone except for a wolf, to whom he gave the name Bleiz, which is a Breton word for 'wolf'. Those who lived in the nearest villages called him Lailoken, and they whispered of strange things happening in the woods wherever he was found.

There was in those days, a saintly man named Kentigern, whose mother was Teneu, the daughter of King Leudonius of Lothian, also known as King Lot, a man of terrible temper. She had had a love affair with a nobleman of Rheged, and they had a child. Furious, the king attempted to throw her, while still pregnant, off a cliff; but, falling into the lake below, she survived, and because of an empty boat nearby she escaped to a place called Cuileann Ros, where she gave birth to Kentigern. The boy she raised with the help of St. Servanus, also known as St. Serf, who was ministering to the Picts, who became as his foster-father. St. Serf called the boy Mungo, which was an expression meaning 'Dear One', and the boy was often called that even in later life. St. Mungo began himself to do missionary work in the kingdom of Alt Clut, along the River Clota, near the villages of Cathures and Mellingdenor, founding a church in the latter place. For some years he worked in his mission. However, a king rose up who was wicked in thought and deed, named Morcant Bulc; he would later be the same King Morcant who assassinated the great King Urien of Rheged, thus destroying the power of the old northern kingdoms to resist the Saxons and Angles. In those days, he was still allied to King Urien, but he was suspicious of all missionaries as possible spies, and expelled them from his kingdom.

Thus it was that St. Kentigern was traveling in the woods where rumor said that Lailoken was to be found, and as he sought water, he came to a spring where Merlin sat, with the wolf Bleiz at his feet, a wild and naked young man with piercing eyes. When Merlin saw him he laughed and said.

"Here is the bird that never flew,
Here is the tree that never grew,
Here is the bell that never rang,
Here is the fish that never swam.

And St. Kentigern, seeing that the young man was dangerous, and not understanding the import of the words, said warily, "Will you let me have a drink of water?"

Merlin said nothing, only looking at him, but St. Kentigern knelt and drank from the spring. Then St. Mungo said to the wild young man, "I do not understand the words you said before."

To this Merlin replied, "Because the bird and the tree have passed, but the bell and the fish are yet to come. But from them will rise a great city."

The saint did not understand this either, but he sat on a stone to rest his feet and looked at the wild man. They were both silent a moment, then Merlin said, "O Ruler of heaven! Why have you not made all seasons the same? The times come, the times go. Though spring provides the leaves and flowers, summer gives the crop and autumn gives the harvest. But for each there is an icy winter, devouring and laying waste to all. After the king comes the Saxons."

Then St. Kentigern said, "Perhaps some king will rise who will defeat the Saxons once and for all."

But Merlin shook his head. "This is not how they will leave."

"There is more to you than meets the eye, I think," the saint said.

"True," replied Merlin, "for although this may be said of anyone, it is especially true of me. I was christened to delay the Antichrist."

"This is a strange place from which to do that," replied St. Kentigern.

"And how would you know such a thing?" replied Merlin. "But it is true that most of what is to be done is to the south, in Logres."

"Then why are you here in Alba instead?" asked the saint.

But Merlin was silent. Then St. Kentigern said, "I adjure you, by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and by the holy Virgin and all the saints, tell me who you are. Who are you, and who are your father and your mother."

Then Merlin said, with a bitter laugh, "My mother was a good woman, whose good name should never be associated with such a man as I. I was conceived in thought by the devil to be the Antichrist, but I was saved from that fate by the piety of my mother and my teacher, who baptized me a Christian and taught me the path of justice; by their prayers the powers with which I was born have been turned to a godly end, to delay the Antichrist's coming, that men may yet have time to repent and that the choirs of the holy Church may be filled as God has planned. My name is Merlin, and I was the prophet who came to Vortigern, and who aided Ambrosius and Uther in their undertakings; I will raise up a great kingdom in preparation for the manifestation of the cup of Christ, and fulfill my task of delaying the Antichrist, entirely alone through the ages until at last I fail, and am killed by the Antichrist three times over."

But St. Kentigern shook his head. "I know nothing at all of any this, but this I know: Whatever your past, whatever your future, this is not your great task, even if your task involves these things by happenstance. Your task is the task every human soul shares, to practice virtue before God and man in faith and hope and love, with the aid of God's holy grace."

Merlin was silent again. Then St. Kentigern rose and said. "I have been overly concerned with my own troubles, having been exiled from my home by a wicked king, and should perhaps take my own advice. May I say the holy mass here?"

Then Merlin received the sacrament of confession from St. Kentigern, and St. Kentigern said mass and gave his blessing to Merlin. When they were done, Merlin said to St. Kentigern, "Do not be troubled; I know you intend to go on pilgrimage to Rome. Go thence, and when you return you will find spiritual strength in Cambria, and before the end of your long life you will return home where the holy dove will come to you with consolation."

All of this came true; St. Mungo went to Rome, then studied with the saints in St. David's in Cambria, and returned to Alba at the invitation of King Rhydderch Hael, where he had a mission between the braes of Glenapp and the Nith, until he returned again to the villages by the Clota, where he was visited by St. Columba. And after he died, a very old man in his bath, he was recognized as saint because of four miracles, involving a bird, a branch, a bell, and a fish.

As for Merlin, he bade farewell to the wolf Bleiz and took himself south. The villages in the area where he had lived as a wild man remember him to this day, although in later times they mixed up his tale with that of other men, and will point out to you the places where the lunatic Lailoken walked and a mound that they say is Merlin's grave. But this was the grave of a different man with a similar name. In truth, Merlin's fate was otherwise. He went down to Ineswitrin, where he was welcomed with open arms by Blaise, and they stayed together for some time, talking of many things.

After he had refreshed his spirit with Blaise, however, Merlin made his way to Londinium, and there he changed the course of Britain and all the world.

End of Book I, "The Devil's Son".

Book II will be called, "The Swords of Destiny".