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THE DEATH OF ARTHUR
ING ARTHUR'S Round Table had lasted many years, and the
knights had done much to help the people of the
country; yet there were traitors to the king among his
own subjects. One of these traitors made war in a
distant part of the kingdom, and Arthur went with most
of his knights to punish him. His nephew, Sir Modred,
the brother of Sir Gawain and Sir Gareth, ruled in his
stead at Camelot.
Now Sir Modred was a wicked knight. He hated the king
and the queen, and Sir Lancelot. Since King Arthur was
absent a long time, Sir Modred had the opportunity of
doing much harm. He let evil go unpunished; he allowed
bad customs to come into the country; and at
 last he raised a rebellion against the good king.
When Arthur returned to Camelot to quell this
rebellion, he had lost many of his faithful knights.
Sir Hector was dead, and Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias;
Sir Kay was dead, and Sir Bors, and Sir Gawain. Sir
Lancelot was far away. Sir Bedivere alone remained of
those who had been with Arthur since he had first ruled
in Wales and Britain.
The king and Sir Bedivere, with the help of such
knights as still were faithful, tried to put down those
rebels. They drove the traitors back until they came at
length to Lyonnesse by the sea. Here the last great
battle took place.
The night before the battle, Sir Bedivere heard the
king praying. Then Arthur slept, and when he awakened
he called to his friend:
"Sir Bedivere," he said, "I have had a dream. I thought
that Sir Gawain came to me and told me that to-morrow I
"My lord, it is but a dream," answered Sir Bedivere.
"You are great; you have
 done much good which will last forever, and you will
live many years yet to perform many gracious acts. The
day will soon dawn, and you will win the battle."
Arthur shook his head.
"This is not like my other battles. I have no heart for
it. It is hard to slay my own people, even if they are
Day came, but no sun. A cold white mist lay over land
and sea. It chilled the knights to the bone. And when
the battle began, the mist was so thick that no one
could see with whom he was fighting. Friends slew each
other, not knowing whom they killed. Some could not
fight at all, for it seemed to them that those moving
on the battle-field were ghosts of warriors long since
slain. There was many a noble deed and many a base one
done in that mist.
The fighting went on with clashing of lances and
shields throughout the afternoon, and then the sounds
grew fainter, till there was silence. At last, towards
sunset, a wind from the west blew the mist away. Then
Arthur, with Sir Bedivere by his side, looked over the
 battle. He saw but one man standing; all the rest were
dead on the seashore. And the tide had risen, and was
swaying the helpless hands, and tumbling up and down
the hollow helmets and the broken spears that once had
fought with Rome. The king's face was white, and his
voice was low as he said to Sir Bedivere:
"There lie my slain, who have died for me. I am king
only of the dead."
"Nay, lord," said Bedivere. "You are king everywhere
still. Now strike a kingly stroke against the one
traitor who still stands."
Sir Bedivere pointed at the one other living man, and
the king saw that it was Sir Modred. Arthur threw down
his scabbard and lifted his good Excalibur. Then he
sprang upon the traitor. Sir Modred struck the king on
the helmet, which had been worn thin in many battles.
The stroke cut through the steel, and wounded Arthur
mortally, but he used his ebbing strength for one last
blow with Excalibur, and killed Sir Modred.
The king sank to the ground, but Sir Bedivere lifted
him, and bore him to a
 ruined chapel near the seashore. When he had laid him
down by the broken cross in the chancel, Arthur said:
"You know well that my Excalibur was given to me by the
Lady of the Lake. I have used it like a king. And now
the time has come to obey the writing on the blade. So
take my sword Excalibur, and throw it far out into the
Sir Bedivere took the sword and went out from the
ruined chapel. He walked amid the graves of ancient
knights over which the sea wind was singing. He passed
the barren cliffs and chasms, and reached the lake at
He lifted Excalibur, and as he did so the moon came
from behind the clouds. The light fell on the hilt of
the sword, and all the jewels shone. Sir Bedivere
looked until his eyes were dazzled; he could not throw
the beautiful weapon away. So he hid it in the weeds
upon the shore of the lake, and returned to the king."
"What did you see or hear?" asked Arthur.
Sir Bedivere replied:
 "I heard the ripple washing in the reeds, and the wild
water lapping on the crags."
King Arthur, faint and pale, said:
"You have betrayed me. You have acted a lie. Had you
thrown the sword, something would have happened, some
sign would have been given. Go back now, and throw it
into the lake."
Sir Bedivere went back and again picked up Excalibur.
As he looked at it he said aloud:
"Surely it is not right to throw away such a precious
thing. It would please the eyes of people forever. I
know it is wrong to disobey the king. Yet he is sick;
perhaps he does not know what he is doing. If I keep
Excalibur and store it in a great treasure-house,
people will look at it throughout all the coming years,
and feel great reverence for the king who fought with
So again Sir Bedivere hid the sword and returned to the
king, who asked:
"What have you seen or heard?"
And Sir Bedivere replied:
"I heard the water lapping on the
 crag, and the long
ripple washing in the reeds."
Then the king was very angry.
"Ah, unkind!" he cried. "You, too, are a traitor.
Because I am dying, I have no authority. You refuse to
obey me, you who are the last of my knights! Yet it is
possible for a man to fail in his duty twice, and
succeed the third time. Go now, and throw Excalibur."
Sir Bedivere ran quickly and seized the sword, shutting
his eyes that he might not see its beauty. He whirled
it round his head and threw it far out over the lake.
It flashed in the moonlight and fell. But before it
reached the surface of the water, an arm, clothed in
pure white, rose and caught it, brandished it three
times, and then drew it under the water.
When Sir Bedivere went back to Arthur, the king knew
that he had been obeyed.
"I am dying," he said. "Lift me on your back and carry
me to the lake."
Then Sir Bedivere carried the helpless king, walking
quickly through the place
 of tombs, and over the crags, and past the chasms, till
he came to the smooth shining lake. There beside the
bank was a barge, all black. The deck was covered with
stately figures of people clad in mourning. Among them
were three fair queens with crowns of gold—the
three queens who were to help Arthur at his need.
They had come to take him away, Sir Bedivere did not
know where. When they saw the wounded king, they gave a
cry of grief that seemed to rise to the stars. Then
they lifted him into the barge. The tallest put his
head on her knees, and took off his broken helmet. She
called him by name, weeping bitterly.
Poor Sir Bedivere cried:
"Oh, my lord Arthur, you are leaving me. Where shall I
go? The great Round Table is broken up forever. What
shall I do?"
Then Arthur answered:
"Old customs pass and new ones come. God makes his
world better in many ways. The Round Table did its work
and now has disappeared; but
some-  thing else will surely come to advance the cause of truth and
justice. Pray for me and for yourself. More things are
done by prayer than this world dreams of. And now,
farewell! You shall never see me again, my Bedivere. My
work is done; yours, too, is nearly over[should have
then the barge moved slowly away, while those on board
lamented. Sir Bedivere watched it till it disappeared
amid the shadows over the lake. Then he rose slowly and
wandered back to Lyonnesse.
After a time he went to Camelot. There was a new king
there, who was good, and new customs, also good. But
Sir Bedivere was too old to change his way of life. He
spent the rest of his days in Camelot, but he lived
only in the past, dreaming of the time when King Arthur
and his knights of the Round Table ruled in the land.