continuing Book II
Soon the three kings came to the castle of Bedegraine, where there was great celebration and rejoicing at the meeting of the hosts, and they feasted together in fellowship, looking forward to victory.
But on the other side, the six kings expanded their armies and called in their alliances, swearing that, come weal or woe, they would stand by each other until the threat of Arthur was no more. King Lot swore to bring five thousand men at arms, then King Urien to bring six thousand; King Yder, King Caradoc, and King Anguish swore also to bring five thousand men each. Then the King of a Hundred Knights swore to bring four thousand, as did Eustathius the Duke of Cambenet. King Budic, King Cradelmas of Norgales, King Clariance of Northumberland, and King Brandegor of Vagor each sent five thousand, as well. Having massed their host, they purposed to lay siege to Castle Bedegraine. They too were merry in their hearts, for they deemed that they had all but one against Arthur, whom they held to be an upstart usurper. But the King of a Hundred Knights, two nights before battle, had a dream in which a great wind blew down all their castles and towns, and was followed by a great flood bearing all away.
Merlin, however, had advised the three kings to send scouts around skimming the country, and therefore the three kings had forewarning of the coming of the host. Then King Ban and King Bors had their men set fire to all the land in the path of the coming armies. Because of Merlin, the three kings knew the places of encampments of the eleven kings before they had even arrived there, and the army of the three kings set upon them in secret at midnight. The weather was very cold, for it was shortly before Candlemas, and the knights were all in their pavilions when the watch on the camp began to cry, "Lords! To Arms! The foe is upon you! At Arms!"
There was a great stirring of the camp, but Merlin sent upon it a mighty wind, which blew down their tents upon their heads and threw around a dust that made it difficult for them to see, so that it was as much a matter of chance as skill whether a knight could take up his arms and ready his horse swiftly enough. Nonetheless, the eleven kings, not one of whom was unskilled in command, blew a high, clear trumpet, and were able to gather and set in order a great part of their hosts even as King Arthur and King Ban and King Bors set upon them. They were still held by the disadvantage of surprise, and the three kings and their knights slew left and right, but even after a morning's fierce battle, the eleven kings still held a great advantage of numbers.
Then, when the three kings had withdrawn, Merlin said to them, "Let King Ban and King Bors, with their ten thousand men, withdraw into the woods in an ambush. Then King Arthur shall set upon them again, but in such a way that he displays his full host. Then the eleven kings will see that their numbers are much greater and take false hope, so that they may be drawn into the narrow passage between the hills. Give to Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias three thousand men and have them set upon those in the passage. King Ban and King Bors and their host shall rest in ready vigilance until the fighting has gone long, that they may come against the eleven kings with great force."
And so it was decided.
Seeing that their numbers were so much greater than King Arthur's host, the army of the north took heart and fought over-fiercely, letting themselves be drawn into the passage between the hills. Then Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias with three thousand men came against them in the passage, slaying them on the right and on the left, until in wonder that so few were able to inflict so much damage, the men of the north were ashamed and redoubled their efforts.
Then Sir Ulfius's horse was killed from under him and he was forced to fight on foot as the Duke of Cambenet and the King of Northumberland bore down on him. Seeing this, Sir Brastias seized a spear and gave a blow against the duke so great that not only was the duke knocked off his horse, but his horse itself stumbled and fell. King Clariance diverted his attention from Sir Ulfius to Sir Brastias, who fought vehemently with each other until they had both knocked each other off their horses and they both lay stunned from the severity of the fall. Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias were then supported by Sir Kay the Seneschal and six men, who at first beat back the knights of the eleven kings, but then were beaten back again by them. Elsewhere, Sir Lucan the Butler and Sir Griflet fought King Brandegor, King Anguish, and King Yder, and were both knocked to the ground. Seeing Sir Griflet on foot, Sir Kay rode against King Caradoc, knocking him off his horse, and then seizing King Caradoc's horse brought it to him and helped him horse himself again. Then Sir Kay smote down King Lot, wounding him severely, but the King of a Hundred Knights knocked Sir Kay off his horse and gave it to King Lot. Sir Griflet, seeing Sir Lucan and Sir Kay both on foot, unhorsed a nearby knight and gave the horse to Sir Kay; while at the same time, King Lot unhorsed Sir Melot and gave his horse to King Caradoc. So it continued, in a great confusion of horses, and neither side seemed to gain the upper hand. But when all eleven kings were finally rehorsed, they drew together and sought to take vengeance for their losses that day. Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias, in the meantime, continued to be on foot, in grave peril and danger from the hooves of horses, which were already beginning to drip with blood.
At this point came King Arthur with the rest of the host, leaping into the battle like a lion, and with his spear and pierced King Cradelmas in the left side, knocking him from his horse. Seizing the reins, he led the horse to Sir Ulfius, saying, "Have this horse, old friend, for you have need of one."
"Gramercy," Sir Ulfius replied, rehorsing quickly. Then King Arthur, with Sir Ulfius at his side, did extraordinary feats of valor.
The King of a Hundred Knights, however, seeing that King Cradelmas has been unhorse and was sorely wounded, rode against Sir Ector, who had ridden to the aid of Sir Brastias. The king smote both horse and man down, and took Sir Ector's horse to King Cradelmas. King Arthur, however, seeing his foster-father so endangered and King Cradelmas riding on his horse, became enraged and brought his sword down furiously on King Cradelmas's helm, with such force that the helm split and the sword slipped down into the horse's neck. Both King Cradelmas and his horse fell to the ground. Sir Kay at the same time rode against Sir Morganor, the seneschal of the King of a Hundred Knights, and, knocking him off, brought his horse to Sir Ector and helped him rehorse. Sir Ector then knocked another knight off his horse and brought his horse to Sir Brastias, who was much muddied but, wonder of wonders, only slightly hurt.
Sir Lucan, however, had not fared so well, despite Sir Griflet aiding him, there were always fourteen knights against him, and he was kicked and trampled by the hooves of the horses. Sir Brastias, newly rehorsed, saw this, and rode urgently to his support. One knight he killed by sword, driving his sword through the knight's skull until it hit his teeth; another's arm was sliced off and went flying into the field; another found the sword biting his shoulder deeply and fell from his horse. Sir Griflet then knocked another to the earth so hard that he fell headfirst into it, and, seizing the reins, brought the knight's horse to Sir Lucan, who with difficulty rose and was rehorsed.
Despite having been wounded, Sir Lucan was in a great fury that made him seem invincible. He knocked down King Anguish with a terrible blow and defeated two knights in order to rehorse other knights.
Then King Ban and King Bors came down upon the battle with their men. The battle grew very heated on both sides, with a vast noise echoing across wood and water. Then Arthur, furious at seeing the hosts so equally matched in arms, joined with Sir Kay and Sir Griflet. They went here and there through the battlefield, now right, now left, slaying and wounding knights on every side.
Sir Lionses and Sir Phariance were beset by King Anguish and Duke Eustace and several of their knights, but King Bors rode into the fray so swiftly he seemed almost a blur. When King Lot saw him, he cried out, saying, "We are in great peril of death, for the knight that rides against us is one of the greatest knights now living."
"Who is he?" asked the King of a Hundred Knights.
"He is King Bors of Gannes; I know him by his fighting," said King Lot. "How has he entered the country without our knowing?"
"It is by Merlin's doing," said King Urien.
"As for him," said King Caradoc, "I will engage him, but others must be ready to aid when aid is needed."
As the men of King Caradoc and King Bors came together, Sir Bleoberis of Gannes, who was the godson of King Bors, revealed the standard of the king, and King Bors and Sir Bleoberis and the men with them killed and wounded many until King Caradoc was struck to the ground, and only rescued with great valor by the King of a Hundred Knights and his men.
As all this happened, King Ban of Benewic came into the field, attired in gold and green, and set upon the foe as fiercely as a lion, the sound of his strokes echoing through wood and across water for half a mile. Then King Lot wept for pity for all the knights who were in his path. The King of a Hundred Knights, seeing the danger posed by King Ban, thrust into him with his horse, hitting him on his helm with a resounding stroke. Then King Ban was furious, and they rode against each other with swords. But in the seizure of his fury, King Ban was stronger than a normal man, and his downward blow cut through the cantle of King Maelgwn's shield, down into part of the hauberk and deeply into the other's horse. The Tall King leaped swiftly and lightly from his horse and ran his own sword through King Ban's horse. But King Ban too jumped from his horse, and he delivered a blow to the helm of the King of a Hundred Knights that bent the iron of it and knocked the man to the ground. And King Ban, despite being unhorsed, fought left and right without cease.
It was in this state that King Arthur came upon him, standing in the midst of the press, dead knights and horses around him, his sword in his fist, and men even on horse fleeing from him. No one could recognize Arthur, for his armor was covered with blood and brains of men and horses that hid all distinguishing insignia. Then King Arthur rode against a nearby knight and, knocking him dead to the ground, brought his horse to King Ban.
"Fair brother, leap up lightly, for I repent of the damage you have received," said King Arthur.
"Great thanks," said King Ban, "but I trust God that it shall be avenged."
"I have no doubt of it," said King Arthur, "for I have seen your deeds."
Then King Arthur, King Ban, and King Bors regrouped, and a new battle began, one that was if anything more fierce than the one that had gone before. But the eleven kings, seeing the injury done on every side by the three kings, and by Sir Kay, and Sir Grifflet, and Sir Lucan, and Sir Bleoberis, and others, withdrew to the woods, but the others came so swiftly and fiercely that many knights were slain and defouled in the withdrawal, although they fought so fiercely that many knights on the other side were the same. Thus King Arthur and the two kinds of Brittany chased them until they came to a deep river, and the eleven withdrew their men across a large bridge of plank and timber.
Then Merlin, who was suddenly by, said to King Arthur, "King Arthur, what will you do? Chase them until all your men are dead? Have you not seen that God is wrathful that you will never have done? A battle is but a means, and you must look to the end! The eleven kings will not at this time be overthrown, and if you continue, you will bleed your army until it is in danger of defeat. Therefore return home and rest, and shower reward on your valiant knights. Have you not shown that you and King Ban and King Bors have with you many the greatest of all fighters that live today, and that you can fight the best knights on earth?"
"This is true," said King Bors.
"Moreover, if you withdraw," said Merlin, "they will not be able to act against you for three years. For as yet unbeknownst to them, Saxon armies have landed in the north, burning and slaying and laying siege. Even now the castle Wandesborow is surrounded. Worry about them no more. Instead, take all the goods you have gathered in battle and give freely to King Ban and King Bors, that they may properly reward their valiant knights; for having shown to all that those who oppose you will pay dearly, your task now is to show that all those who support you will be greatly benefited."
"You speak well," said King Arthur. "All shall be done as you have said." Then he and all the host withdrew again to the Castle Bedegraine, and he distributed the loot of the battle to his men, but gave the much greater share of it to King Ban and King Bors, keeping nothing for himself.
Then Merlin took his leave from King Arthur and, having entered the forest, found his teacher, Blaise; and Blaise was greatly glad to see him, because he had long wished for his return.
"You have been away long," said Blaise.
Then Merlin told him all that has been here said, and more, describing each deed and each word and naming every knight who achieved great things.
When he was done, Blaise said, "It seems almost folly to spend so much of your time even in the advising of kings."
"With respect to my calling," said Merlin, "the kings and kingdoms of the world are but a means to an end. But it is worth the time to ensure that they are noble means, so far as human planning may make them." Then he told Blaise how the alliance of the three kings would make possible a kingdom as no other, with a chivalry as no other, and a suitable matrix for the receiving of the cup of Christ. He also told many of the future deeds of the knights he had named, and the good they would do despite having the flaws of men.
Blaise wrote everything Merlin told him, word for word, setting them down in his book, so that others might learn of what had happened, and what would happen, and be wise.
to be continued