THE GREAT FEAST AND WHAT FOLLOWED
LTHOUGH Arthur had been crowned king, he was by no
means sure that all the nobles of the land would accept
him as ruler. In accordance with the custom of the
time, he gave a feast in order to find out who were his
friends and who his enemies. All who came to the feast
would, he supposed, consent to be his followers.
He chose the largest hall in London, and had the walls
hung with rich cloths. Upon the floor, strewn with
rushes, were placed trestles, and across these, boards
were laid. Upon them fine white linen was spread, and
golden saltcellars, wine-bowls, and water-jugs set
When the guests assembled there were
 so many that Arthur was delighted, for he thought they
were all his friends. He sat at the head of one table,
and Sir Hector sat at the head of the other. Arthur
wore a cold crown on his head, but it was no brighter
than his hair, and the blue turquoises with which it
was set were no bluer than his eyes. From his shoulders
to the ground hung a magnificent red robe with gold
dragons embroidered upon it.
The cooks and squires came in from the kitchen carrying
food, their ruddy faces beaming from the heat of the
fires. First of all, sixty boars' heads were borne in
on silver platters. Then followed, on golden dishes,
peacocks and plovers which had been so skillfully
cooked that their bright colors were preserved. After
the guests had eaten all they cared for of this food,
tiny roasted pigs were brought in, and set on all fours
upon the tables. By this time, all the gold and silver
goblets which had been filled with wine needed
refilling. Then the squires carried in beautiful white
swans on silver platters, and roasted cranes and
curlews on plates that glowed like the sun. After
 that came rabbits stewed in sweet sauce, and hams and
curries. The last course consisted of tarts and
preserves, dates and figs and pomegranates.
The supper began about five o'clock, and the guests ate
and drank far into the night. Although it was past
Easter time, the weather was a little cold, and so upon
the stone flagging between the two long tables the king
ordered fires to be lighted. The bright flames darted
up flashing on the gold threads woven in the hangings
of the walls, and on the steel armor of the lords, and
gleaming on the jewels set in the gold and silver
goblets which the squires were carrying about. At one
side sat a band of musicians singing of the glories of
King Arthur and his ancestors, and accompanying
themselves on their harps.
After the guests had risen from the tables and gone to
their camps, Arthur sent messengers to them with rich
gifts of horses and furs and gold. But most of the
lords received the messengers scornfully.
"Take back these gifts to the beardless
 boy who has come of low blood," they said; "we do not
want them. We have come here to give him gifts of hard
blows with our hard swords."
The messengers were astonished to hear these things
spoken of their good king. Nevertheless, they told
Arthur all that had been said to them. He sent no
answer back, but he called together all the lords who
he was sure were loyal to him, and asked their advice.
They said to him:
"We cannot give you advice, but we can fight."
"You speak well, my lords," answered Arthur, "and I
thank you for your courage. Will you take the advice
of Merlin? You know that he has done much for me, and
he is very wise."
The lords and barons answered that they would do
whatever Merlin advised. When Merlin came to the
council hall he said:
"I warn you that your enemies are very strong. They
have added to their numbers so that now you have
against you eleven mighty kings."
 At this the lords looked dismayed.
"Unless our lord Arthur has more men than he can find
in his own realm," said Merlin, "he will be overcome
and slain. Therefore I give you this counsel. There
are two brothers across the sea; both are monarchs and
both very strong. One is King Ban of Benwick, and the
other is King Bors of Gaul. Now these two have an
enemy, also a powerful ruler. Therefore, send to the
brothers, King Bors and King Ban who are now both in
Benwick, and say to them that if they will help Arthur
in his war against the eleven kings, Arthur will help
them against their common enemy."
"That is very good counsel," said the king and the
So they chose Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias as
messengers, and these two hurried away, hopeful of
success. When they reached the town in Benwick where
King Bors and King Ban were, knights came forth to hear
their message. As soon as it was learned from whom
they had come they were led into the presence of the
 were very large men. King Bors was dark, and was
dressed in black armor. King Ban was dark, too; the
colors that he wore on his shield were green and gold.
He was the father of Sir Lancelot, the knight who
afterwards became the most powerful of the followers of
The two kings received Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias with
"Tell King Arthur," they said, "that we will come to
him as quickly as we can."
Then they gave splendid gifts to Sir Ulfius and Sir
Brastias, who hurried back to Arthur with the message.
In a short time King Bors and King Ban arrived with ten
thousand of their soldiers, and as Arthur had ten
thousand, they felt certain of victory. They went into
Wales, a country which Arthur's followers knew well,
and waited confidently for the enemy.
KING BORS AND KING BAN
The eleven kings collected a great host of sixty
thousand men, fifty thousand on horseback and ten
thousand on foot. They marched towards the place where
Arthur was, and set up their camp near a wood about a
mile distant. When
 Merlin knew this, he said to Arthur and the two kings:
"This is my advice: Set upon your enemies at midnight
when they are unprepared, and then you will have the
So Arthur and the two royal brothers and the twenty
thousand soldiers crept up to where the eleven kings
and their men lay. They took a road circling round the
wood. Moving with great caution, they drew nearer and
nearer until they could see first the campfires in a
circle around the white tents; and then, against the
flashing flames, the dark figures of the men who were
keeping guard. Sometimes they were afraid that the
noise they made would alarm their enemies, but on
account of a heavy windstorm, they were unheard. When
his men were quite near, Arthur gave the word of
command. The whole army uttered a great shout, and ran
forward in companies upon their enemies. In a few
minutes they had knocked down most of the tents, and
killed many soldiers.
It was a dreadful thing to be attacked in
 the dark without warning. But the eleven kings were
brave men, even though they were so unjust to Arthur in
trying to take his kingdom from him, and made a good
fight. Perhaps they would have made a better one if
they had known how few the men were under Arthur.
Before day dawned, Merlin told Arthur to draw back his
troops. This he did, leaving about ten thousand of the
enemy dead behind him. He, however, had not lost very
At daybreak Arthur and his followers saw that the lay
of the land could be used to their advantage. Between
them and the enemy was a narrow road, bounded on one
side by a lake, and on the other side by a dense wood.
One part of this wood, however, was thin enough to
allow men to hide in it.
"Now," said Merlin, "let King Bors and King Ban take
their soldiers and hide in the wood for a long time.
Then, my lord Arthur, stand up before the enemy with
"Why shall we do this?" asked Arthur.
"Because," said the wise old man,
 "when the eleven kings see how few in number your
troops are, they will let you proceed down the passage.
They will think that if you march close to them they
can overcome you. But you can fill up this narrow road
with more and more men from the wood. Then the enemy
cannot surround you."
"That seems very good," said Arthur.
"And at last," continued Merlin, "when the eleven kings
are weary, let King Bors and King Ban come forth. Then
surely the courage of our enemies will fail."
The plan was carried out. Arthur's men marched down the
passage. The green wood was on one side, and on the
other was the lake, the water of which was so clear
that it reflected the bodies of the soldiers with their
shields and helmets. The sun shone on their armor. The
little birds in the woods sang as they passed. But the
men were thinking of nothing but the expected battle.
When they had come close to the enemy, they saw the
eleven kings all in a row, mounted on big handsome
 Their fifty thousand men were behind them. Suddenly
these rode forward and the battle began.
It was a fierce fight. In a very short time the field
was covered with overthrown men and horses. Broken
shields and helmets lay on the ground, and many of the
knights who had been fighting on horseback were
unhorsed, and were fighting on foot. Arthur galloped
here and there among his enemies, conquering with his
trusty sword all with whom he fought. The woods and the
water rang with his sword strokes. The noise drowned
the sweet songs of the birds, but still they sang, and
flew about gaily, all unaware of the grim
death-struggle going on beneath them.
Finally the time arrived for bringing forward King Bors
and his men. The great dark king went thundering down
upon his enemies. When the King of Orkney saw him
coming, he cried:
"Oh, we are in great danger! I see King Bors, one of
the best and bravest kings in the world, and he is
helping our enemy."
 Then the other kings were astonished, for they did not
know that Arthur had sent outside his country for help.
"But we will fight on," they said, "no matter how
powerful he is."
While they were still fighting, but with great loss of
courage, they heard the loud sounds made by the hoofs
of other tramping horses, and King Ban rode down on
them, followed by his men. His black brows were
frowning, and his green and gold colors glittered in
"Alas, alas!" cried the King of Orkney, "now in truth
are we lost, for here is another king, no less great
than his brother Bors. But we must neither flee nor
The eleven kings, being agreed to this, continued the
battle, though so many of their men were killed that
the King of Orkney wept. When he saw some of his men
running away, he wept still more, for he thought it was
better to die than to be a coward.
Though they did not intend to run away, the eleven
kings thought it would be wise to retreat to a little
copse near by.
 It was late and they were tired and wished to rest
before fighting again. King Bors and King Ban could not
help admiring these rulers.
"In truth," said King Ban, "they are the bravest men I
ever saw. I would they were your friends."
"Indeed, so would I," replied Arthur; "but I have no
hope of that, for they are determined to destroy me,
and so we must fight on."
At this moment Merlin rode up on his great black horse.
"Have you not done enough?" he cried to Arthur. "Of
their sixty thousand men there are left but fifteen
thousand. It is time to stop, I say. If you fight on,
they will win the day. The tide will turn against you."
Arthur hesitated and Merlin said:
"The eleven kings have a great trouble coming of which
they are ignorant. The Saracens have landed in their
countries to the number of over forty thousand. So your
enemies will have so much fighting to do that they will
not attack you again for three years."
 Then Arthur was glad, for it had grieved him deeply to
fight so long and to lose his good soldiers.
"We will fight no more," he said.
"That is well," replied Merlin. "Now give presents to
your soldiers, for to-day they have proved themselves
equal to the best fighters in the world."
"True indeed!" exclaimed King Bors and King Ban.
So Arthur gave gifts to his own men; and a great deal
of gold to the brother kings, both for themselves and
for their soldiers. And the two kings went home