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   Chapter 3 OF THE FINDING OF EXCALIBUR

Stories from Le Morte D'Arthur and the Mabinogion By Beatrice E. Clay Characters: 13171

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Now when Arthur was first made King, as young knights will, he courted peril for its own sake, and often would he ride unattended by lonely forest ways, seeking the adventure that chance might send him. All unmindful was he of the ruin to his realm if mischief befell him; and even his trusty counsellors, though they grieved that he should thus imperil him, yet could not but love him the more for his hardihood.

So, on a day, he rode through the Forest Perilous where dwelt the Lady Annoure, a sorceress of great might, who used her magic powers but for the furtherance of her own desires. And as she looked from a turret window, she descried King Arthur come riding down a forest glade, and the sunbeams falling upon him made one glory of his armour and of his yellow hair. Then, as Annoure gazed upon the King, her heart grew hot within her, and she resolved that, come what might, she would have him for her own, to dwell with her always and fulfil all her behests. And so she bade lower the drawbridge and raise the portcullis, and sallying forth accompanied by her maidens, she gave King Arthur courteous salutation, and prayed him that he would rest within her castle that day, for that she had a petition to make to him; and Arthur, doubting nothing of her good faith, suffered himself to be led within.

Then was a great feast spread, and Annoure caused the King to be seated in a chair of state at her right hand, while squires and pages served him on bended knee. So when they had feasted, the King turned to the Lady Annoure and said courteously: "Lady, somewhat ye said of a request that ye would make. If there be aught in which I may pleasure you, I pray you let me know it, and I will serve you as knightly as I may." "In truth," said the lady, "there is that which I would fain entreat of you, most noble knight; yet suffer, I beseech you, that first I may show you somewhat of my castle and my estate, and then will I crave a boon of your chivalry." Then the sorceress led King Arthur from room to room of her castle, and ever each displayed greater store of beauty than the last. In some the walls were hung with rich tapestries, in others they gleamed with precious stones; and the King marvelled what might be the petition of one that was mistress of such wealth. Lastly, Annoure brought the King out upon the battlements, and as he gazed around him, he saw that, since he had entered the castle, there had sprung up about it triple walls of defence that shut out wholly the forest from view. Then turned he to Annoure, and gravely he said: "Lady, greatly I marvel in what a simple knight may pleasure one that is mistress of so wondrous a castle as ye have shown me here; yet if there be aught in which I may render you knightly service, right gladly would I hear it now, for I must forth upon my way to render service to those whose knight I am sworn." "Nay, now, King Arthur," answered the sorceress mockingly, "ye may not think to deceive me; for well I know you, and that all Britain bows to your behest." "The more reason then that I should ride forth to right wrong and succour them that, of their loyalty, render true obedience to their lord." "Ye speak as a fool," said the sorceress; "why should one that may command be at the beck and call of every hind and slave within his realm? Nay, rest thee here with me, and I will make thee ruler of a richer land than Britain, and give thee to satisfy thy every desire." "Lady," said the King sternly, "I will hear and judge of your petition at this time, and then will I forth upon my way." "Nay," said Annoure, "there needs not this harshness. I did but speak for thine advantage. Only vow thee to my service, and there is naught that thou canst desire that thou shalt not possess. Thou shalt be lord of this fair castle and of the mighty powers that obey me. Why waste thy youth in hardship and in the service of such as shall render thee little enough again?"

Thereupon, without ever a word, the King turned him about and made for the turret stair by which he had ascended, but nowhere could he find it. Then said the sorceress, mocking him: "Fair sir, how think ye to escape without my good-will? See ye not the walls that guard my stronghold? And think ye that I have not servants enow to do my bidding?" She clapped her hands and forthwith there appeared a company of squires who, at her command, seized the King and bore him away to a strong chamber where they locked him in.

And so the King abode that night, the prisoner of that evil sorceress, with little hope that day, when it dawned, should bring him better cheer. Yet lost he not courage, but kept watch and vigil the night through lest the powers of evil should assail him unawares. And with the early morning light, Annoure came to visit him. More stately she seemed than the night before, more tall and more terrible; and her dress was one blaze of flashing gems, so that scarce could the eye look upon her. As a queen might address a vassal, so greeted she the King, and as condescending to one of low estate, asked how he had fared that night. And the King made answer: "I have kept vigil as behoves a knight who, knowing him to be in the midst of danger, would bear himself meetly in any peril that should offer." And the Lady Annoure, admiring his knightly courage, desired more earnestly even than before to win him to her will, and she said: "Sir Arthur, I know well your courage and knightly fame, and greatly do I desire to keep you with me. Stay with me and I promise you that ye shall bear sway over a wider realm than any that ever ye heard of, and I, even I, its mistress, will be at your command. And what lose ye if ye accept my offer? Little enough, I ween, for never think that ye shall win the world from evil and men to loyalty and truth." Then answered the King in anger: "Full well I see that thou art in league with evil and that thou but seekest to turn me from my purpose. I defy thee, foul sorceress. Do thy worst; though thou slay me, thou shalt never sway me to thy will"; and therewith the King raised his cross-hilted sword before her. Then the lady quailed at that sight. Her heart was filled with hate, but she said: "Go your way, proud King of a petty realm. Rule well your race of miserable mortals, since more it pleasures you than to bear sway over the powers of the air. I keep you not against your will." With these words, she passed from the chamber, and the King heard her give command to her squires to set him without her gates, give him his horse, and suffer him to go on his way.

And so

it came to pass that the King found himself once more at large, and marvelled to have won so lightly to liberty. Yet knew he not the depths of treachery in the heart of Annoure; for when she found she might not prevail with the King, she bethought her how, by mortal means, she might bring the King to dishonour and death. And so, by her magic art, she caused the King to follow a path that brought him to a fountain, whereby a knight had his tent, and, for love of adventure, held the way against all comers. Now this knight was Sir Pellinore, and at that time he had not his equal for strength and knightly skill, nor had any been found that might stand against him. So, as the King drew nigh, Pellinore cried: "Stay, knight, for none passes this way except he joust with me." "That is no good custom," said the King; "it were well that ye followed it no more." "It is my custom, and I will follow it still," answered Pellinore; "if ye like it not, amend it if ye may." "I will do my endeavour," said Arthur, "but, as ye see, I have no spear." "Nay, I seek not to have you at advantage," replied Pellinore, and bade his squire give Arthur a spear. Then they dressed their shields, laid their lances in rest, and rushed upon each other. Now the King was wearied by his night's vigil, and the strength of Pellinore was as the strength of three men; so, at the first encounter, Arthur was unhorsed. Then said he: "I have lost the honour on horseback, but now will I encounter thee with my sword and on foot." "I, too, will alight," said Pellinore; "small honour to me were it if I slew thee on foot, I being horsed the while." So they encountered each other on foot, and so fiercely they fought that they hewed off great pieces of each other's armour and the ground was dyed with their blood. But at the last, Arthur's sword broke off short at the hilt, and so he stood all defenceless before his foe. "I have thee now," cried Pellinore; "yield thee as recreant or I will slay thee." "That will I never," said the King, "slay me if thou canst." Then he sprang on Pellinore, caught him by the middle, and flung him to the ground, himself falling with him. And Sir Pellinore marvelled, for never before had he encountered so bold and resolute a foe; but exerting his great strength, he rolled himself over, and so brought Arthur beneath him. Then had Arthur perished, but at that moment Merlin stood beside him, and when Sir Pellinore would have struck off the King's head, stayed his blow, crying: "Pellinore, if thou slayest this knight, thou puttest the whole realm in peril; for this is none other than King Arthur himself." Then was Pellinore filled with dread, and cried: "Better make an end of him at once; for if I suffer him to live, what hope have I of his grace, that have dealt with him so sorely?" But before Pellinore could strike, Merlin caused a deep sleep to come upon him; and raising King Arthur from the ground, he staunched his wounds and recovered him of his swoon.

But when the King came to himself, he saw his foe lie, still as in death, on the ground beside him; and he was grieved, and said: "Merlin, what have ye done to this brave knight? Nay, if ye have slain him, I shall grieve my life long; for a good knight he is, bold and a fair fighter, though something wanting in knightly courtesy." "He is in better case than ye are, Sir King, who so lightly imperil your person, and thereby your kingdom's welfare; and, as ye say, Pellinore is a stout knight, and hereafter shall he serve you well. Have no fear. He shall wake again in three hours and have suffered naught by the encounter. But for you, it were well that ye came where ye might be tended for your wounds." "Nay," replied the King, smiling, "I may not return to my court thus weaponless; first will I find means to purvey me of a sword." "That is easily done," answered Merlin; "follow me, and I will bring you where ye shall get you a sword, the wonder of the world."

So, though his wounds pained him sore, the King followed Merlin by many a forest path and glade, until they came upon a mere, bosomed deep in the forest; and as he looked thereon, the King beheld an arm, clothed in white samite, shoot above the surface of the lake, and in the hand was a fair sword that gleamed in the level rays of the setting sun. "This is a great marvel," said the King, "what may it mean?" And Merlin made answer: "Deep is this mere, so deep indeed that no man may fathom it; but in its depths, and built upon the roots of the mountains, is the palace of the Lady of the Lake. Powerful is she with a power that works ever for good, and she shall help thee in thine hour of need. For thee has she wrought yonder sword. Go now, and take it."

Then was Arthur aware of a little skiff, half hidden among the bulrushes that fringed the lake; and leaping into the boat, without aid of oar, he was wafted out into the middle of the lake, to the place where, out of the water, rose the arm and sword. And leaning from the skiff, he took the sword from the hand, which forthwith vanished, and immediately thereafter the skiff bore him back to land.

Arthur drew from its scabbard the mighty sword, wondering the while at the marvel of its workmanship, for the hilt shone with the light of many twinkling gems-diamond and topaz and emerald, and many another whose names none know. And as he looked on the blade, Arthur was aware of mystic writings on the one side and the other, and calling to Merlin, he bade him interpret them. "Sir," said Merlin, "on the one side is written 'Keep me,' and on the other 'Throw me away.'" "Then," said the King, "which does it behove me to do?" "Keep it," answered Merlin; "the time to cast it away is not yet come. This is the good brand Excalibur, or Cut Steel, and well shall it serve you. But what think ye of the scabbard?" "A fair cover for so good a sword," answered Arthur. "Nay, it is more than that," said Merlin, "for, so long as ye keep it, though ye be wounded never so sore, yet ye shall not bleed to death." And when he heard that, the King marvelled the more.

Then they journeyed back to Caerleon, where the knights made great joy of the return of their lord. And presently, thither came Sir Pellinore, craving pardon of the King, who made but jest of his own misadventure. And afterwards Sir Pellinore became of the Table Round, a knight vowed, not only to deeds of hardihood, but also to gentleness and courtesy; and faithfully he served the King, fighting ever to maintain justice and put down wrong, and to defend the weak from the oppressor.

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