THE STORY OF KING ARTHUR
"YOU said truly," cried Prince Constantine, when Hoel
had brought his tale to an end, "that you had a sad
story to tell, Let us now, if the hour be not too late,
nor you over weary, hear something of a more cheerful
kind. Tell us about the great King Arthur."
"Most willingly," answered the minstrel; "were the
night altogether spent, and I worn out with weariness,
yet I could not refuse to speak of Arthur the Flower of
"When Ambrosius, son of Constans, was dead, his brother
Uther reigned in his place. When Uther's wife was about
to bear him a child, the wise man Merlin, knowing that
this child would be a son, and would grow to be a great
king that should deliver Britain, prayed the King that
the child might be delivered to him so soon as it was
born. For he
 knew by his art that this was the best thing that could
be done for the child. The babe, therefore, was wrapped
in cloth of gold, and delivered by two ladies, to whom
the King had given this command, into the hands of
Merlin himself, who was standing at the castle-gate in
the disguise of a poor man. Merlin carried the babe to
a priest, who christened him by the name of Arthur.
This done he took him to the house of a certain knight,
Sir Hector. Sir Hector's wife nourished him, and there
he lived many years, being reckoned as one of Sir
Hector's children, for none knew who he was in truth,
save only Merlin and the King.
"Uther, having fought bravely with the Saxons, who all
this time were spreading their power more and more over
Britain, became so sick that he was ready to die. His
knights came to Merlin, and inquired whether there was
any remedy for the King's sickness? Merlin made answer—
" 'Remedy there is none; this sickness is to death.
Nevertheless, be ye present all of you to-morrow, for
the King will speak before he die.'
"So on the morrow all the knights came and stood by the
King's bedside. Then Merlin said with a loud voice, 'My
lord, is it thy will that thy son Arthur shall be King
after thee?' Uther turned him about, and said in the
hearing of them all, 'I will; the
 blessing of God and my blessing be upon him.' And
having said this, he died.
"The nobles and knights, when they had buried the King,
departed each to his own country. Each assembled as
many men as he could, desiring to obtain the kingdom
for himself, for they said, 'Who is this Arthur of whom
the wizard Merlin speaks? Is he indeed son to King
Uther? And even if he be, why should a boy rule over
us?' So they were divided among themselves, and the
Saxons prevailed still more, wasting the land on every
"Seeing this, the chief Bishop in Britain, by Merlin's
counsel, called together all the nobles and knights,
that they might learn who was ordained of God to be
King of Britain. Being gathered together, therefore,
they prayed for a sign, and suddenly there was seen
before the door of the church a great stone with a
sword in the midst of it, and on the sword was written
in letters of gold, 'Whoso pulleth out the sword from
this stone is rightful King of Britain.' Many tried to
pull it out, but none could move it even a little. Then
ten knights were chosen to watch the stone and the
After these things a great tournament was held, to
which among others came Sir Hector with his eldest son
Sir Key, and Arthur also, who passed for Sir Hector's
son. It so chanced that Sir Key found that
 he had come without any sword. Turning, therefore, to
his brother Arthur, for such he thought him to be, he
said, 'I pray thee, fetch me my sword.' So Arthur rode
back with all haste to the house, but found it locked.
Whereupon he said to himself, 'I will take the sword
that is by the church-door, for my brother shall not go
without a sword to-day.' So he came to the church. Now
the knights that had been set to watch the stone and
the sword had gone all of them to the tournament; so
Arthur, knowing nothing of the matter, took the sword
by its handle and lightly pulled it from its place. Not
once or twice only but many times was this trial made,
for the nobles and knights would not believe that this
lad was their rightful King. But the end was always the
same; none but Arthur could put the sword back into its
place, or pull it therefrom. So at last, with consent
of all the people, he was crowned King.
"And now, being established in his kingdom, he set
himself to overthrow the Saxons, who had taken the
occasion of the divisions among the people of Britain
to advance their power more and more. First he rode
with all his hosts to York, where Colgrin the Saxon lay
with a great army. With him he fought a great battle,
in which many were slain on both sides; at the last he
drove Colgrin into the city and there besieged him.
Then came Colgrin's brother Baldulph
 with six thousand men, to help him; but Arthur fell on
him unawares, and scattered his enemies. Nevertheless
Baldulph made his way into the city, for he shaved his
head, and disguised himself as a jester, and so passed
through King Arthur's camp, and on coming to the walls,
was drawn up by ropes into the city.
"After a while there came news to the King, as he
watched the city, that there had come six hundred
ships, and had landed a countless army of Saxons on the
eastern coast of Britain. So the King left besieging
York, and marched to meet them, having with him his
nephew Hoel, King of the Britons that live in Gaul. The
Saxons were now besieging Lincoln.
 There Arthur fell upon them, and after a fierce battle
defeated them, killing more than six thousand men.
Those that remained fled into a wood that was close by,
and there defended themselves bravely. But when the
King, having cut down the trees, had made a barricade
and so shut them in, they asked for peace. And when
they had agreed to give up all the gold and silver that
they had, and to sail away in empty ships, promising
that they would never return, and giving also hostages
for the fulfilment of this promise, the King suffered
them to depart. But when they had been but a few hours
at sea, they repented them of what they had done. They
did not indeed return to the place which they had left,
but sailed southward and westward, landing at last in
Devonshire. Thence they marched inland, ravaging as
they went, till they came to the town of Bath.
"When the King heard of their falsehood he was very
wroth, and swore a great oath that he would not rest
till he had driven these deceivers out of Britain. Then
he marched with all his forces to Bath.
"When he came to the place he dressed himself in his
armour. On his head he put a helmet adorned with a
dragon of gold; he girded himself with his sword
Excalibur, and in his hand he took the great spear that
he called Ron. Having done this he put his men in
order, and led them out against the enemy,
 who had taken up their place on the side of Badon Hill.
All that day the two armies fought, but the Saxons
stood their ground, nor could King Arthur, for all his
fierceness, drive them from their place. That night
both the hosts lay down upon the hill.
"The next day the King led his army again to the
attack, and this time he drove the Saxons before him
till he gained the top of the hill. From that he drove
them again down the other side till they were utterly
scattered. Thus did King Arthur that day deliver
"Of the other things that the King and his knights
accomplished, and how at the last he was overcome by
treachery, I have not now time to tell, for the night
is far spent, and chiefs who have fought as ye fought
to-day must sorely need rest."
So Hoel ended his tale.
We need not ask how far the minstrel's story was true.
Perhaps, like most minstrels' tales, it was half
poetry; but such tales kept alive among the Britons the
recollection of the times of confusion which followed
the departure of the Romans, and the memory of a great
British chief, who stopped for a while the progress of
the Saxons in the West of England.
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