Sunday, October 09, 2022

Logres X

 Book II: The Swords of Destiny

Chapter 1

The years after the death of King Uther Pendragon were dark ones for all the realms of Britain, for by the death of the king all things were put out of balance. Kingdom was set against kingdom and lordship against lordship, each seeking to seize some portion of the power that had been held by the king of Logres. In addition, the death of King Uther left many kings and lords weaker than they had been in alliance with him, so that the consequent strife of house against house gave opportunity to the Saxons to increase their raids on the shores, and, particularly in the north, to increase their numbers. Yet by good providence, the fighting, though common, fell short of open war. In the north, alliance between the kingdoms of Rheged and Lothian limited the warlikeness of smaller Cambrian and Alban chieftainships, as well as provided some protection from the Saxons. In the south, King Uther had fortified many cities well, and these cities provided stability. It therefore was common for wealthier lords and barons to maintain houses in these cities, to which they might send their families in times of difficulty, and everyone in common accord recognized that the safety of the cities must be maintained. The greatest of these cities, and the best defended, was Londinium in the region of Trinovant.

There came a time when two knights took the road to Londinium. The eldest was named Sir Lucan, and he traveled with his younger brother, whose name was Sir Bedivere. Sir Lucan was already renowned as a knight. Sir Bedivere had been much more newly minted, but he was famously handsome, looking in every respect a valiant knight, and was held by all to have great promise. They were the sons of Duke Corneus and were traveling to Londinium to meet their uncle, Sir Don. As they journeyed, other travelers joined their group for protection from bandits, for otherwise there was no safety on the road. 

Among these travelers was one who traveled alone, a young man of handsome mien but a wild look. On seeing the two knights, he said, "Hail, Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere! How fare your father and your uncle?"

Then Sir Lucan, looking closely at him, said, "Sir, do you know our father and our uncle?"

The traveler replied, "Indeed, I knew them well in the days of King Uther Pendragon."

Sir Lucan laughed and said, "Good sir, for a man as young as you are to know them in the days of King Uther, you would have to have known them when you were but a boy."

"And so I was," said the traveler, "yet I knew them well."

The two brothers wondered at this, but before they could ask further, a madman came rushing into the midst of all the travelers, filling the air with extraordinary noise. The madman foamed at the mouth like a furious wild boar and some of the travelers were afraid for their life. But the young man, raising his voice above the din, said, "Do not hurt him. Capture him and calm him with jesting."

They all followed this instruction, and telling the madman jokes did indeed calm him, so that he soon was sitting peaceably on the grass. Then the young man said, "Poor man; he has seen happier days. He was once a good knight of valor and honor, named Sir Maeldinus, but he had the misfortune of being loved by a woman whom he did not love. Spurned, she plotted to kill him, and smeared poison on an apple that she knew he would eat. But the poison did not kill him; it deranged his mind, and he fled howling. Still he may be cured." Then he addressed himself to Sir Bedivere. "Sir knight, just beyond yonder hill is a small spring, easily missed in the thicket. If you will find it and collect enough water from it to fill a drinking bowl, you will save a good knight from living like a beast."

Sir Bedivere marveled at this, but went away and soon found the spring, hidden in the thicket, from which he collected water. When he returned, the young man gave the water to the madman, making him drink all of it. Then, as if slowly waking from a dream, the madman left aside his madness and thanked them all for their help, confirming all of the young man's story about him.

Then Sir Lucan said to the young man, "Are you not the one called Merlin?"

"I am Merlin," said Merlin.

Then Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere begged him to come with them to their uncle's house in the city, but he shook his head. "I have other things for which I must prepare. But take the sign of Sir Maeldinus to heart; as he was cured of madness, so Logres shall be."

Chapter 2

In Londinium, Merlin took his leave of Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere and went to the house of the bishop, whose name was Bedwin. Bedwin had been a priest in the household of Bishop Fastidius and therefore knew Merlin, and invited him to stay a while; for Bishop Bedwin took the bishop's responsibility for hospitality seriously.

"Times have grown dark," said Bedwin to Merlin. "Every strong man reaches his hand for more, and the poor must scatter before them."

"The land requires a king," said Merlin.

Bedwin looked sharply at the young man. "Do you intend to make someone king?"

But Merlin shook his head. "It is more difficult than that," said Merlin. "Many things must come together before anyone can be king, and it is the Church, not I, whom most people will believe."

"The Church cannot take sides in the conflicts that now rage," said Bishop Bedwin; "there are too many, and we cannot foresee to whom God will give the victory."

Then Merlin said, "Therefore this is is what you must do. Send messengers to all the lords and knights of the realm, telling them that they must come to Londinium by Christmas, on pain of curse and excommunication, because Jesus, born king of all mankind on that night, shall from his great mercy give a miracle to show who shall be king of Britain."

"Will they even come?" asked Bishop Bedwin.

"If they do not come to avoid curse, they will come for the chance to be king. But that they may have yet more reason, declare that there will be a great tournament of arms on New Year's Day, that men may see who are the greatest knights in the realm."

The Bishop Bedwin did as Merlin advised. As Christmas approached, the city of Londinium grew full of people, for almost all of the great men of the lands around had come, whether they were members of the lay orders of knight and king, or of the holy orders of priest and bishop. And the latter were particularly needful, for many of the former sought confession for their sins, some out of true contrition, and some out of hope that it might better their chances for being chosen king, and some because others sought the sacrament. Among those who came were Sir Ector and his two sons, Sir Kay and Arthur. Sir Kay was then but newly a knight, having been made a knight at Hallowmas, and Arthur was his squire.

At Christmas Eve, all the clergy and barony of the realm came together in the greatest church of the city for Mass at midnight, to lift their prayers to God for a good and righteous king. There were many, however, who thought it foolish to think that God would choose a king for them. 

There was a man at the time who had been chosen to sing matins and the Mass; some people say it was Saint Cadoc, others that it was Saint Padarn, and others that it was someone else entirely. Before he began, however, he addressed them all, saying, "You are all assembled here for three things, each of which may profit your soul if you seek them with right orison. First, you are here for the salvation of your souls; second, for the worship of God; and third, for the miracle we pray he will give us, by which we may know who shall be our king and chieftain, bringing peace and maintaining the holy Church. Let us then pray to the king of all kings, Jesus Christ our Savior, every one of us in the best way that we can." Then the mass was sung.

After mass, the people came out of the church, and some coming out were able to see the wall against the high altar, and there they saw a wondrous sight. At the wall there was a great stone, apparently of marble, although others said that it was like no other stone that they had seen. Upon this stone in the middle was an iron anvil, more than half a foot in height, and a fair sword fixed into the stone through this anvil, its hilt sticking above it. There were letters written in gold on the stone, and they said:


Seeing this, some people ran again into the church to tell Bishop Bedwin of the marvel, and he took holy water and threw it on the anvil and the stone. Then he read the words to all the people there, and led them in the singing of Te Deum Laudamus

Then Bishop Bedwin said to the people, "I command that all who are able remain at church and pray to God for wisdom, letting no man touch the sword until high mass for Christmas Day is done." 

Thus they returned to prayer, but when the mass for Christmas was done, they came again before the sword in the stone. Then the holy man who had previously spoken to them said, "My lords, may it be that some of you are just men, as indeed it seems, given that God has shown forth such a miracle as this. Therefore I beg you that none of you be against our Lord's election of the king from among you."

Then at Bishop Bedwin's indication, the lords and knights of the land began to try themselves against the stone-held sword, in an order assigned by the ministers of the Church. First one tried and then another, but none could move the sword. And when all had tried and failed, the bishop reproved them, saying, "My lords, it seems that none of you are so worthy as some have deemed you. But do not doubt that God will make known the king by this means. I advise this, that we pick ten knights of good reputation to guard the stone, and that they keep it until New Year's Day, when again we will attempt this matter. And until then I say to you, that neither noble blood nor wealth are of any avail in the coming of a king when weighed against the will of the Lord."

Then the barons consulted, and agreed to the decision of the bishop. Bishop Bedwin then wept, saying, "Your humility has surely been given to you by God, and for the profit of all. For when our Lord set justice on the earth, to defend the weak and to maintain the holy Church, he set it in that anvil and stone, and none is fit to rule over the lay people save the one who can draw forth that justice."

Chapter 3

Then the rumor of the sword in the stone sped like fire throughout the land, and on New Year's Day a great crowd had gathered in the city for the tournament. After the early mass, the barons rode to the tourney field, on a level plain that had been prepared for it, including Sir Ector and his two sons, Sir Kay and Arthur. As they rode to the jousts, Sir Kay found that he did not have his sword, having left it at his father's house, and he bade Arthur to run quickly and retrieve it. Arthur rode swiftly to the house, but when he arrived, it was all locked up, because everyone had gone to the tournament, and he could not find a way in. Then Arthur was angry with himself, for he deemed that he should have had greater foresight, and began to return. But as he did so, he saw in the snowy churchyard the sword plunged through the anvil into the stone. So he alighted and tied his horse to a post, and went to the sword, over which a large tent had been placed. There were no knights guarding it, because they had all been summoned to the tournament. Arthur seized the sword by the handles and swiftly and easily pulled it out of the stone.

Arthur, carrying the sword under his surcoat, rode back to Sir Kay and presented him with the sword. Sir Kay was surprised, for he saw at once that it was not his sword, and looking closely at it, he knew it to be the sword from the churchyard. Then Sir Kay went directly to his father and said, "Sir, I have in my hand the sword of the stone; I shall be king."

Sir Ector marveled, and asked Sir Kay how he had come by it. When Sir Kay replied that he had pulled it from the stone, however, Sir Ector, who knew Sir Kay as a father knows his son, did not believe him, and he rode with Sir Kay and Arthur back to the church. When he saw the stone swordless, he was astounded. Then he said to Sir Kay, "My son, tell me how you got this sword, and do not, for love of me and love of God, tell even the slightest hint of a lie."

And Sir Kay, faced with this appeal, was ashamed, and said, "I shall lie you no lying, my lord. My brother Arthur brought it to me when I sent him to fetch my sword, and I do not know how he had it."

Sir Ector said, "Give me the sword, son, for it is not yours." And Sir Kay did so contritely.

Then Sir Ector looked behind himself to see Arthur, and called him forward. "Come, my fair son," he said. "Take this sword and return it whence you took it."

So Arthur did, and when he had done so, it was if it had never been removed. Sir Ector tried it and found that it would not be moved. Then Sir Ector indicated for Sir Kay to try to take it out, and Sir Kay tried but could not, although he tried with all his might. Sir Ector said to him, "My son, you are, I have no doubt, destined for great things, but I knew you had not taken the sword from the stone, because you are no king."

"Now take the sword again, my dear fair son," said Sir Ector to Arthur. And Arthur pulled the sword out easily.

Then Sir Ector and Sir Kay knelt down before him.

"Alas," said Arthur, much distressed, "how is it that my own dear father kneels before me?"

"No, my lord Arthur," said Sir Ector, "I am not your father, although I have raised you as my son."

Arthur began to weep when Sir Ector denied being his father, and begged him not to do so. Then Sir Ector told him all that he knew of his birth, and said, "And I know from today's feat that you are none other than the son of my lord, King Uther Pendragon. Will you be a good and merciful lord to me when you are king?"

Arthur, still weeping, said, "There is no man in the world to whom I am more beholden. If I am ever king, as you say, then you have but to ask of me and I will do it. God forbid that I should fail you in anything."

"My lord," said Sir Ector, "I ask only this, that you make my son, your foster brother Kay, steward and seneschal of all your lands, and that you do well toward him in that office."

"That I shall do," said Arthur, "by my faith and the faith of my body, and I swear that none shall hold that office except for him for as long as he and I both live."

Then all three went to Bishop Bedwin and told him everything that had happened. And Bishop Bedwin made known to all that when the tournament had finished on Twelfthday of the Christmas season, the day before Epiphany, there would be a new trial of the sword.

to be continued