| King Arthur and His Knights|
|by Maude Radford Warren|
|Twenty-one stories from the Arthurian legends specially selected and adapted for children and told in simple well-written prose. The stirring tales of these chivalrous knights awaken the readerís admiration for courage and gentleness and high sense of honor essential in all ages. Ages 9-12 |
HOW ARTHUR BECAME KING
 ONCE upon a time, a thousand years before Columbus
discovered America, and when Rome was still the
greatest city in the world, there lived a brave and
beautiful youth whose name was Arthur. His home was in
England, near London; and he lived with the good knight
Sir Hector, whom he always called father.
They dwelt in a great square castle of gray stone, with
a round tower at each corner. It was built about a
courtyard, and was surrounded by a moat, across which
was a drawbridge that could be raised or lowered. When
it was raised the castle was practically a little
island and very hard for enemies to attack.
 On one side of the moat was a large wood, and here
Arthur spent a great deal of his time. He liked to lie
under the trees and gaze up at the blue of the sky. All
about him old oaks stood like giant guardians watching
sturdily over the soil where they had grown for
centuries. Arthur could look between the trunks and see
rabbits and squirrels whisking about. Sometimes a herd
of brown deer with shy dark eyes would pass, holding
their graceful heads high in the air; sometimes a flock
of pheasants with brilliant plumage rose from the
bushes. Again there was no sound except the tapping of
a bright-crested woodpecker, and no motion but the
fluttering of leaves and the trembling of violets half
buried in green moss.
ABOUT HIM OLD OAKS STOOD LIKE GIANT GUARDIANS
At times, when it was dim and silent in the wood,
Arthur would hear bursts of merry laughter, the
tinkling of bells, and the jingling of spurs. Then he
would know that knights and ladies were riding down the
road which ran beside the trees. Soon the knights would
appear on horses, brown, black, and white, with gaily
 ornamented saddles, and bridles from which hung silver
bells. Often the saddles were made of ivory or ebony,
set with rubies or emeralds. The knights wore helmets
laced with slender gold chains, and coats of mail made
of tiny links of steel, so fine and light that all
together hardly weighed more than a coat of cloth.
Usually the legs of the knights were sheathed in steel
armor; and their spurs were steel, or even gold. The
ladies sat on horses with long trappings of silk,
purple, white, or scarlet, with ornamented saddles and
swinging bells. The robes of the ladies were very
beautiful, being made of velvet or silk trimmed with
ermine. Arthur liked to watch them, flashing by;
crimson, and gold, and blue, and rose-colored. Better
still, he liked to see the pretty happy faces of the
ladies, and hear their gay voices. In those troublous
times, however, the roads were so insecure that such
companies did not often pass.
Sometimes the knights and ladies came to visit Sir
Hector. Then Arthur would hurry from the forest to the
castle. Sir Hector would stand on the lowered
 drawbridge to greet his guests, and would lead them,
with many expressions of pleasure, into the courtyard.
Then he would take a huge hammer hanging from a post,
and beat with it on a table which stood in a corner of
the courtyard. Immediately from all parts of the castle
the squires and servants would come running to take the
horses of the knights and ladies. Sir Hector's wife and
daughters would then appear, and with their own hands
remove the armor of the knights. They would offer them
golden basis of water, and towels for washing, and
after that put velvet mantles upon their shoulders.
Then the guests would be brought to the supper table.
But Arthur did not spend all his time dreaming in the
woods or gazing at knights and ladies. For many hours
of the day he practiced feats of arms in the courtyard.
It was the custom in England to train boys of noble
birth to be knights. As soon as they were old enough
they were taught to ride. Later on, they lived much
among the ladies and maidens, learning gentle manners.
 care of the knights, they learned to hunt, to carry a
lance properly, and to use the sword; and having gained
this skill, they were made squires if they had shown
themselves to be of good character.
The, day by day, the squires practiced at the quintain.
This was an upright post, on the top of which turned a
crosspiece, having on one end a broad board, and on the
other a bag of sand. The object was to ride up at a
full gallop, strike the board with a long lance, and
get away without being hit by the sand bag.
Besides this, the squires had services to do for the
knights, in order that they might learn to be useful in
as many ways as possible, and to be always humble. For
instance, they took care of the armor of the knights,
carried letters and messages for them, accompanied them
at joustings and tournaments, being ready with extra
weapons or assistance; and in the castle they helped to
serve the guests at table. After months of such
service, they went through a beautiful ceremony and
were made knights. In the country round about, Arthur,
of all the squires,
 was the most famous for his skill in the use of the
lance and the sword, for his keenness in the hunt, and
for his courtesy to all people.
Now, at this time there was no ruler in England. The
powerful Uther of Wales, who had governed England, was
dead, and all the strong lords of the country were
struggling to be king in his place. This gave rise to a
great deal of quarreling and bloodshed.
There was in the land a wise magician named Merlin. He
was so old that his beard was as white as snow, but his
eyes were as clear as a little child's. He was very
sorry to see all the fighting that was going on,
because he feared that it would do serious harm to the
In those days the great and good men who ruled in the
church had power almost equal to that of the monarch.
The kings and the great lords listened to their advice,
and gave them much land, and money for themselves and
for the poor. So Merlin went to the Archbishop of
Canterbury, the churchman who in all England was the
most beloved, and said:
 "Sir, it is my advice that you send to all the great
lords of the realm and bid them come to London by
Christmas to choose a king."
The archbishop did as Merlin advised, and at Christmas
all the great lords came to London. The largest church
in the city stood not far from the north bank of the
Thames. A churchyard surrounded it, filled with yew
trees, the trunks of which were knotted with age. The
powerful lords rode up in their clanking armor to the
gate, where they dismounted, and giving their horses
into the care of their squires, reverently entered the
There were so many of them that they quite filled the
nave and side-aisles of the building. The good
archbishop, from where he stood in the chancel, looked
down on them all. Just behind him was the altar covered
with a cloth of crimson and gold, and surmounted by a
golden crucifix and ten burning candles. In front of
him, kneeling under the gray arches which spanned the
church, were the greatest men in the kingdom. He looked
at their stern bronzed faces, their
 heavy beards, their broad shoulders, and their
glittering armor, and prayed God to make the best man
in the land king.
Then began the service. At the close of the first
prayer some of the knights looked out of the window,
and there in the churchyard they saw a great square
stone. In the middle of it was an anvil of steel a foot
high, and fixed therein was a beautiful sword. On the
sword was some writing set in with gold which said:
"Whosoever pulls this sword out of this stone and anvil
is the real king of all England."
The knights who read this told the archbishop, but he
"I command you all to keep within the church and still
pray to God. No man is to touch the sword until all
the prayers are said."
After the service was over, the lords went into the
churchyard. They each pulled at the sword, but none
could stir it.
"The king is not here," said the archbishop, "but God
will make him known. Meantime, let ten good knights
keep watch over this sword."
 The knights were soon chosen, and then the archbishop
said that on a fixed day every man in the kingdom
should try to pull the sword out of the anvil. He
ordered that on New Year's day all the people should be
brought together for a great tournament to be held on
the south bank of the Thames, near London bridge. After
a few days spent in jousting among the knights, each
man should make the trial to find out whether or not he
was to be king.
The brave youth Arthur did not know of the contest that
was to be made for the sword. Sir Hector told him that
he was to go to a tournament, but he did not tell him
the reason for holding the tournament. So Arthur rode
to London with Sir Hector; and Sir Kay, who was Sir
Hector's oldest son, was with them.
Sir Hector and Sir Kay went soberly in front. They were
tall, stalwart men and rode black horses, their dark
figures making shadows on the light snow that had
fallen. Arthur, riding behind them, felt exhilarated by
the crisp winter air which caused the blood to dance in
 veins. Sometimes he stood up in his saddle and flicked
with his sword the dead leaves on the oaks. Again he
made his horse crush the thin crust of ice that had
formed in tiny pools on the road. He was so happy in
the thought of the tournament he was to see, that he
could have sung for joy.
The road was not very wide, for few carts passed upon
it, but it had been well worn by riders. Sometimes it
wound through a bit of thick woods; again it rose up
over a gently rolling hill. From the hilltops the
riders could see London far in the distance. It looked
at first like a gray haze; then, as the three came
nearer, the buildings, large and small, grew plain to
the sight. The castles and huts, barns and sheds,
smithies, shops and mills, stood out in the keen
sunlight. A high wall surrounded them, while on one
side flowed the river Thames.
After they had entered the city, and had passed the
churchyard, and had almost reached London bridge, Sir
Kay discovered that he had left his sword at home.
 "Will you go back for it?" he asked Arthur.
"That I will," said Arthur, glad of the chance to ride
longer in the delightful air.
But when he reached their dwelling, he could not get
in. The drawbridge was raised, and he could not make
the warden hear his calling. Then Arthur was disturbed,
and said to himself:
"I will hasten to the churchyard we passed, and take
the beautiful sword which I saw in the stone. It does
not seem to belong to anyone, and my brother Kay must
have a weapon."
So he rode on till he reached the churchyard,
dismounted, and tied his horse to a sapling. The ten
knights who guarded the sword had gone away to see the
combats in the tournament. Arthur ran up and pulled
lightly but eagerly at the sword. It came at once from
the anvil. He hurried to Sir Kay, who was waiting for
him on London bridge. Sir Kay knew that the weapon was
the one that had been fixed fast in the stone, but he
said nothing to Arthur, and the two soon overtook Sir
Hector, who had ridden
 slowly to the field where the tournament was taking
place. Sir Kay immediately told his father what had
The good knight at once spoke with great respect to
"Sir," he said, "you must be the king of this land."
"What mean you, sir?" asked Arthur.
Sir Hector told the wondering youth the reason why he
was destined to be king. Then he said:
"Can you put this sword back in its place and pull it
"Easily," replied Arthur.
The three returned to the great stone, and Arthur put
back the sword. Sir Hector tried to take it out, but
"Now, you try," he said to Sir Kay.
But Sir Kay, in spite of great efforts, also failed.
Then Arthur, at Sir Hector's bidding, tried, and at
once pulled forth the sword. At that Sir Hector and Sir
Kay knelt before Arthur.
"Alas," said Arthur, raising them from the ground, "my
own dear father and my brother, why do you kneel to
"Nay, my lord Arthur," said Hector,
 "I am not your father. You are of higher blood than I
am. Long ago, when you were a little baby, Merlin
brought you to me to take care of, telling me that you
were to be the king."
"Then whose son am I?" cried Arthur.
"There are two stories: the one the Merlin tells, and
the one that old Bleys, the master of Merlin, tells.
Merlin brought you to me, saying that you were the son
of King Uther and Yguerne his wife. But because the
king was dead and the lords powerful and jealous, he
told me to guard you in secrecy lest your life be
taken. I did not know whether the story was true or
false then, but you were a helpless child, and Merlin
was a wise sage, and so I took you and brought you up
as my own."
Arthur was so astonished that he did not ask to hear
the tale that Bleys told. He stood gazing at Sir
Hector, who said:
"And now, my gracious lord, will you be good to me and
mine when you are king?"
"I will, indeed," replied Arthur, "for I am more
beholden to you that to any
 one else in the world, and also to my good lady and
foster mother, your wife, who has reared me as if I
were her own child. If it be God's will that I shall
sometime become king, ask of me then what you will."
"Sir," said Sir Hector, "I ask that you make my son Sir
Kay, your foster brother, the steward of all your
"That shall be done," said Arthur, "and more. He shall
have that office as long as I live."
Then the three went to the Archbishop of Canterbury and
related to him the story of Merlin and all that had
occurred. At his request they told no one else.
At the command of the archbishop on Twelfth day, which
is the sixth of January, all the great lords assembled
in the churchyard. Each tried to draw forth the sword,
and each failed. Then the untitled people came and
tried. Everyone failed until at last Arthur stepped
forward. He hardly more than touched the sword when it
came away in his hand.
HE HARDLY MORE
THAN TOUCHED THE SWORD
At this many of the great lords were angry.
 "He is but a boy," they said, "and not of high blood."
They refused to believe the story of his birth told my
Merlin and Sir Hector. And because of all the
quarreling, it was decided to have another trial at
Candlemas, which fell in the month of February. Again
Arthur was victorious. Then the great lords decreed
that there should be another trial at Easter, and again
Arthur succeeded. Next they decided to have a final
trial at the feast of the Pentecost, which fell in May.
Meanwhile, Merlin advised the archbishop to see that
Arthur had a bodyguard. So the archbishop selected
several knights whom the former king, Uther, had
trusted. These were Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias and Sir
Bedivere; Sir Geraint and Sir Hector and Sir Kay were
also chosen. These brave men formed a bodyguard for
Arthur until the feast of the Pentecost.
At this time Arthur again drew out the sword from the
anvil. Then the common people, who had so far let the
lords have their will, cried out:
 "We will have Arthur for our king, and we will have no
more delay, for we see that it is God's will that he
shall be our ruler."
Then all the people knelt down, high and low, rich and
poor, and begged Arthur's pardon for the delay he had
undergone. Arthur forgave them, and taking his sword,
reverently placed it on the great altar beside which
the archbishop stood. This was a sign that he meant to
dedicate himself and his sword to God.
Afterward the crowning was held, and all the brave men
and fair ladies in the land were present. The lords
wore beautiful robes of velvet and ermine, with gold
and jewels on their breast-plates. The ladies' robes
were of purple and white and scarlet and gold and blue,
and they wore many pearls and rubies and diamonds, so
that all the place where they were assembled was
glowing with light and color.
But Arthur, who wore a plain white robe, did not think
of the beauty and richness. He was very grave, knowing
that he was about to take a solemn oath. He bowed his
head, while the archbishop set upon it the golden
crown, which gleamed with jewels. Then he stood up
before his people, and vowed that he would be a good
king and always do justice. All the people uncovered
their heads and vowed to serve and obey him; and when
he smiled kindly on them as he rode slowly through the
throng, they threw up their caps and shouted joyfully:
"Long live King Arthur! Long live the King!"
King Arthur chose worthy men for his officers, making
Sir Kay steward as he had promised; Sir Ulfius he made
chamberlain, and Sir Brastias warden. Arthur gave
offices also to Sir Hector and Sir Bedivere and Sir
After his crowning the king set about righting all the
wrongs that had been done since the death of King
Uther. He gave back the lands and money that had been
taken from widows and orphans, and would permit no
unkindness to any of his subjects. Thus, at the very
beginning of his reign, his people began to call him
"Good King Arthur."
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