Monday, February 13, 2023

Logres XIV

 continuing Book II

Chapter 13

It was the morning of Candlemas day and King Arthur and his men were viewing matters outside of the castle of Bedegraine when they came to a brook, beside which stood a carl with a bow in his hand and arrows in his girdle. He was dressed in a russet cloak and black sheepskin and had great boots of leather. In the brook were wild geese and ducks, sporting gently in the waters as their kind often do. With one arrow the man shot a goose through the neck and with another immediately afterward shot a mallard as it took flight; both were excellent shooting. Then King Arthur asked the man if he would sell the birds he had taken.

"Yes," said the carl, "and gladly."

"And what do you ask in return?" King Arthur said in reply. 

But the man gave no answer for a moment. Then he said, "Kings are stingy folk and not apt to reward good service. I give you these birds freely, but will you dare to give me a gift in return?"

"What gift do you wish?" asked the king.

"A great measure of treasure," said the man.

"Surely these birds are not worth a great measure of treasure, however one measures it," the king replied.

"You are mistaken," the carl said in return, "because if you give me a great measure of treasure, you will be wealthier for it, and these birds are surely worth becoming richer."

And King Arthur began to be somewhat angry with him. "How can I become richer by giving you much treasure for few birds?"

"It is easy enough, if you pay with a treasure you only have in buying the birds. Will you promise to buy them, in return for a third of such a treasure?"

"I promise to buy them, if you promise I will be wealthier by doing so," said the king.

"So do I promise," said the carl, "and my promises are more sure than the promises of kings. Beneath this very field a large treasure is buried, put there for safekeeping in the days of King Cole by a chieftain long since dead. For the birds, give me a third, and you will be richer for the rest."

The king looked at him narrowly. "How do you know that there is a treasure buried beneath this field?"

The carl said, "A wild man named Merlin told me it was so, and he it was who told me I should be here to meet you at this time." Then the man turned to Sir Ulfius, who was standing by, saying, "Sir Steward, take these birds and cook them in a supper for your pauper lord who is so reluctant to become wealthy."

At this, Sir Ulfius burst out laughing, and Sir Brastias next to him began to smile. And when King Arthur asked him why he laughed so hard, Sir Ulfius only laughed harder.

Then the carl turned to Sir Kay, saying, "Sir Seneschal, perhaps you should take these birds and pluck them for supper, as no one else will, for surely your king must eat if he is not to waste away." And at this Sir Brastias also began to laugh. When the king asked him why he was laughing, he replied that he would tell the king, if the carl would give his consent.

At this, the carl began to laugh himself, and he said to Sir Ulfius, "Tell him so that he will finally take these birds and the treasure."

And Sir Ulfius said to King Arthur, "Sir, this man who speaks to you is Merlin."

Then King Arthur blessed himself in abashed wonder, for when he looked again at the carl, incredulous of Sir Ulfius's claim, he saw that it was indeed Merlin. Then all who were there had great merriment. 

The treasure was dug up and taken to Castle Bedegraine, where they feasted, including in the feast Merlin's birds. But Merlin sent part of his third to Blaise and, needing no money for himself, the rest distributed to the poor.

Chapter 14

In those days, many chieftains and nobles were pledging faith to King Arthur, and among them came a count named Savin, who arrived to pay his respects and swear his allegiance with his daughter Lysianor. She was surpassingly fair. King Arthur loved her swiftly, and she him, and they had much ado, and he begat a child on her. This child she named Amhar, and when he was old enough, he served as squire and guard to King Arthur's chambers. He became a good knight of the Round Table, and he was noble, and handsome, and skilled in spear and sword. His deed of greatest renown was the slaying of a giant, named Logrin, who had destroyed a hundred valiant knights before him. But in the battle, Sir Amhar was greatly wounded, and was never wholly right in the head again. He went about doing good for some time in various disguises and under various names, such as Sir Loholt, Sir Borre Stronghearted, and Sir Smervie, and when he took such names he seemed to forget that he was Sir Amhar for a while. He grew more and more unstable until one day he attacked King Arthur and Sir Kay with the violent force of a madman, and in protecting Sir Kay, King Arthur slew Sir Amhar, although he had tried to avoid it. Sir Amhar was buried in Ariconium, in Ergyng, in a place that the locals called Licat Amir, where the spring and head of the Gamber River is found. It was said in later days that when men would measure the cairn, it never had the same measurement twice.

But none of this was yet to come to pass. And Merlin a few days after Lysianor and King Arthur had sported said to King Arthur, "Desire is like the Baying Beast for the commotion it causes. For a king to have children out of wedlock is dangerous to a kingdom, and any bastard child you beget will be dangerous to you. Temperance is your wisest course." But King Arthur was a young man and gave this little heed.

One of the kings who paid homage to King Arthur, although through an envoy, was Leodegrance of Cameliard. This King Leodegrance when younger had been a friend of King Uther and a knight of Uther's Round Table. In retaliation for his alliance with Arthur, he was invaded by King Rience of North Wales. Then Merlin said to King Arthur, King Ban, and King Bors, "This man is an ally worth having, and your position among the kingdoms depends on aiding those allied with you."

King Arthur said, "You have no need to encourage me to this; I intended to give him aid as soon as I heard of this." Then the three kings rode forth with twenty thousand men. The forty days were at that time drawing toward their end and the paschal season was approaching, so that they came to the palace of King Leodegrance on the eve of Easter. As the kings entered the presence of King Leodegrance with their immediate guard, King Ban saluted him, saying, "We would not have presumed to enter your realm, good sir, except that we wished to serve you in the defense of your realm, on one condition alone, that you do not yet ask us our names."

King Leodegrance in turn welcomed them all, for he did have the numbers of men to fight the invading forces of King Rience; for King Ban and King Bors were clearly men capable of war, and all of the men that King Leodegrance saw with them were strong bachelors richly arrayed. Afterward, Merlin led them to the lands of a vavasor, named Sir Blaires, who with his wife Dame Lionell ran a thriving estate; both were noble and fair and were good to God and to the world, much given to hospitality. There they prepared as King Leodegrance summoned has friends and followers to meet at Toraise by the feast of the Ascension to begin a major offensive campaign against King Rience. The main host of King Leodegrance was led by Sir Hervi, or Herveus, known as the Rivell, and Sir Cleodalis, the steward of King Leodegrance; Sir Hervi the Rivell had been a renowned knight of the Old Round Table of King Uther, and was now of considerable age, not having been young even in Uther's day, although still hale and clear of mind. But King Rience struck swiftly, and, having spies in the court of King Leodegrance, by a cunning trap seized King Leodegrance himself before the forces had fully assembled. Then he struck at the remaining army led by Sir Hervi and Sir Cleodalis with the fullness of his forces before they could otherwise respond. The army of King Leodegrance was hard-pressed, but as they fought, the host of the three kings, led by Merlin, came to the battlefield.

For a while the battle equalized and the upper hand went back and forth between the two armies; but after there had been much fighting, Merlin cried out in a great voice to the three kings to follow him. This shout they all heard clearly, but no one else on the battlefield could. Then the three kings withdrew with their immediate guard, leaving Sir Kay and Sir Ulfius in charge of their troops who remained, and followed after Merlin at full gallop. Soon they came to a deep valley and overtook the men who had seized King Leodegrance. 

Then Merlin cried, "Upon them in defense of the king, and let not a single one escape to bring reinforcements!" Then like a thunderstorm the knights drove into the midst of them, lance clashing on shield and armor, and they killed and slew all the foe, rescuing King Leodegrance, despite being outnumbered many to one. King Leodegrance marveled at these strange allies who, though so few, could destroy a host so much larger, and he thanked God for the help that had been sent him. Merlin and Sir Brastias unbound him, and aided him into his armor, and brought him a strong, swift steed.

Then Merlin cried out again, "Gentle knights, why do you tarry? There is yet a battle to be won!" And again he sped away, and they all followed, returning to the battle. There Merlin unfurled the dragon banner of Aurelius and Uther. It shone like gold and gems in the bright sunlight, and great flames of fire came out of the dragon's mouth, so that all who saw were astonished, and the light of it was seen even in sunlight from miles away. And King Ban unsheathed his famous sword Coreuseus, delivering stroke left and right, and it seemed as if the sword were enchanted, because nothing could stand in its way. Not far from him, King Bors did much the same and slew Sir Sarmedon, King Rience's standardbearer. The greatest of all the feats on the field were done by King Arthur, wielding the Sword from the Stone, shining with brilliant light, with Sir Kay at his side, smiting off hands and heads and arms and thighs, casting down knights and horses and men. But many were the knights in the guard of the three kings who achieved things out of the ordinary. So Leodegrance was saved and the army of King Rience was scattered.

King Leodegrance held a great feast in thanks for the three kings, and was thankful to an even greater degree in learning their names. At that feast, the three kings were given the highest hospitality, and instead of a servant serving their cups, they were served by King Leodegrance's own daughter. Her name was Guinevere. She was lively and beautiful, and King Arthur did not fail to notice her; nor did she fail to listen with great interest to the tales told of his valor.

Afterward, wealthy with the spoils of their battles, King Ban and King Bors returned to their own country. King Arthur wished to go with them, but King Bors said to him, "Nay, not at this time, for you still have much to do in these lands. We have received great treasures by your gift and grace, and we return to our lands better equipped to withstand the malice of King Claudas. If we have need of you, we will send for your aid, and if you have need of us, send for us and we will not tarry."

Merlin said to them, "It will not be necessary for you to come again to this island for purposes of war, for these eleven kings shall be dealt a great blow by two valiant brothers. But you will have great need within a year or two, and King Arthur will come to aid you and avenge you, as you have done to him."

Then they returned to their own lands across the channel. The eleven kings were greatly taxed in the north by the coming of the Saxons, who did not come in a single wave but in many. Nonetheless they did not cease to scheme their vengeance for the battle at Bedegraine.

Chapter 15

After the departure of King Ban and King Bors, Merlin went to visit Blaise. King Arthur rode to Caerleon, and there to his surprise was met by an envoy from King Lot of Lothian, which was led by King Lot's queen, Morgause. She came purportedly to consider possible options for peace, but in reality she had been sent to spy, a task for which she was well suited, for she was a woman of great beauty and charm. With her came her four sons, Gawain, Gaheris, Agravain, and Gareth, and many other knights and ladies. She and the king talked long, and he conceived a passion for her, encouraged by her, and he slept with her. She stayed a month, and then returned to Lothian, but she was by then pregnant with a child, who, when born, she named Mordred. Queen Morgause was in fact King Arthur's half-sister, being the daughter of Duke Gorlois and Igraine; but neither of them knew this at the time.

The queen had scarcely left when King Arthur had a dream that chilled him to his inmost core. In the dream, the land was overrun by great serpents and fierce griffins who slew and burned the people of the land. He fought them and slew them, although he was wounded sorely before he had succeeded. When he woke, he was heavy with the burden of the dream, so he called for his horse to go hunting, in the hope of lightening his mind. No sooner had King Arthur and his knights entered the horse than he saw a great hart, which leaped swiftly away. He gave pursuit so intensely and speedily and at such length that his horse lost its breath and fell down dead and a yeoman had to fetch the king another horse. Then King Arthur sat beside a fountain brooding, for he deemed the event a bad omen. As he sat, he heard a great noise like a pack of thirty hounds on the quest, but he saw no hounds. Instead, he saw the strangest creature he had ever seen coming to drink from the fountain. It was pure white, with a head like a snake, and a body like that of a leopard, and haunches like a lion, and feet like that of a hind. All of the noise like the pack of thirty hounds came from a rumbling in its belly, but the noise ceased while it was drinking and only continued again when it stopped. Then it left, moving swiftly through the trees, but not in a straight line. King Arthur marveled at this, but soon afterward a knight came through the undergrowth on foot.

Seeing Arthur, the knight said, "Good knight, pensive and sleepy, have you seen a strange beast pass this way?"

"I have," said King Arthur. "It is not two miles hence. Why do you seek this beast?"

"Sir," said the knight, "I have followed it long, for the past twelvemonth, so that my horse died in the pursuit."

At that moment, the yeoman returned with King Arthur's fresh horse, and the knight begged the king to have it.

"Sir," said King Arthur, "let me have this quest and follow it for twelvemonth."

"Your desire is in vain," said the knight, "for none but I or my kin shall catch it." And at this the knight mounted King Arthur's horse and said, "I will take this."

"You may take my horse by force," said the king, "but I would test whether you or I were better in the saddle."

"Well," said the knight, "I will be near here if you ever have the mind and means to do it." And he went his way.

King Arthur commanded his men to bring him a new horse, and as he waited he was deep in thought. Soon a youth, fourteen years of age, came by and saluted him, asking why he was so thoughtful.

"I have good reason to be thoughtful," said King Arthur, "for I have seen the strangest sight that one can imagine."

"I know this well," said the youth, "for I know the Baying Beast."

"And what can you know of the Baying Beast?" the king asked the boy with some surprise.

"All things that are to be known about it," said the boy. "The mother of the beast was a princess who conceived an unnatural desire for her brother. The devil then took his form, and she satisfied her lust with him, but he treated her in such a fashion that she accused him of rape to her father. In a rage, their father had the brother torn apart by a pack of thirty hounds, but before his death he prophesied that she would bear a strange and abominable beast with a voice like a pack of dogs. Such is the end of all disordered love. So you see that I know the Baying Beast, and I also know you, and all your thoughts, but you are fool, for thinking will make no amends."

"You know nothing about me," said King Arthur.

"I know that you are the son of King Uther Pendragon," said the youth, "who begot you on the Duchess Igraine."

"This is false," said King Arthur, "and in any case, how could a boy such as you know these things?"

"I know these things better than anyone," said the youth, "for people like you are blind to what is clear and see only in a fog."

Then King Arthur was angry with the child, but the child passed on. Soon there came by an old man, of about eighty years of age.

"Why are you so sorrowful?" asked the old man of the king.

"I have many things for which to be sad," said the king. "But most recently, because a boy told me terrible things he should not be able to know."

"And yet the boy was right," said the old man, "and he would have told you many more things if you had had the patience of a king and endured his telling of it. But you do have reason to sorrow, for God is displeased with you and you have lain with your sister; a child will be born of her come May Day, and there is in him the destiny to destroy you and all the knights of your kingdom."

"What are you," asked the king, "that you tell me these things?"

"I am Merlin," said the old man, and he was no longer an old man but Merlin as the king had known him, "and I was Merlin when I walked by a little while ago as a boy."

"You are a man of marvels," said King Arthur, "but the greatest marvel is your prophecy of my destruction."

"It is not so great a thing to predict that men will die," replied Merlin. "But it is indeed God's will that you be punished in body for the transgression of sacred bounds. But you may yet have honor in these things. I will be denied such, and have first a living death and then at the end be slain in a terrible way by the Antichrist."

As they were talking, the new horse arrived. King Arthur mounted the horse and rode back to Caerleon, where he found Merlin already there. The king summoned both Sir Ector and Sir Ulfius and asked if it was true that he was the son of King Uther Pendragon, and they told him all they knew. 

Then the king said to Merlin, "I wish to speak with my mother, and if she says the same, I will believe it."

"If that is what is required," said Merlin.

The queen was sent for in great haste, and she came, bringing her daughter with her. Her daughter's name was Morgan, who was later called the Fay, and she was a beautiful young woman with cleverness and savvy beyond the normal lot. The king welcomed them both in the fairest way.