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   Chapter 5 HOW THE SCABBARD OF EXCALIBUR WAS LOST

Stories from Le Morte D'Arthur and the Mabinogion By Beatrice E. Clay Characters: 6162

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Now when Queen Morgan le Fay knew that her plot had miscarried and that her treachery was discovered, she feared to abide the return of the King to Camelot; and so she went to Queen Guenevere, and said: "Madam, of your courtesy, grant me leave, I pray you, to depart." "Nay," said the Queen, "that were pity, for I have news of my lord the King, that soon he will return to Camelot. Will ye not then await his return, that ye may see your kinsman before ye depart?" "Alas! madam," said Morgan le Fay, "that may not be, for I have ill news that requires that immediately I get to my own country." "Then shall ye depart when ye will," said the Queen.

So before the next day had dawned, Morgan le Fay arose and, taking her horse, departed unattended from Camelot. All that day and most of the night she rode fast, and ere noon the next day, she was come to a nunnery where, as she knew, King Arthur lay. Entering into the house, she made herself known to the nuns, who received her courteously and gave her of their best to eat and to drink. When she was refreshed, she asked if any other had sought shelter with them that day; and they told her that King Arthur lay in an inner chamber and slept, for he had rested little for three nights. "Ah! my dear lord!" exclaimed the false sorceress; "gladly would I speak with him, but I will not that ye awaken him, and long I may not tarry here; wherefore suffer me at least to look upon him as he sleeps, and then will I continue my journey." And the nuns, suspecting no treachery, showed Queen Morgan le Fay the room where King Arthur slept, and let her enter it alone.

So Morgan le Fay had her will and stood beside the sleeping King; but again it seemed as if she must fail of her purpose, and her heart was filled with rage and despair. For she saw that the King grasped in his hand the hilt of the naked brand, that none might take it without awakening him. While she mused, suddenly she espied the scabbard where it hung at the foot of the bed, and her heart rejoiced to know that something she might gain by her bold venture. She snatched up the empty sheath, and wrapping it in a fold of her garment, left the chamber. Brief were her farewells to the holy nuns, and in haste she got to horse and rode away.

Scarcely had she set forth, when the King awoke, and rising from his couch, saw at once that the scabbard of his sword was gone. Then summoned he the whole household to his presence and inquired who had entered his chamber. "Sir," said the Abbess, "there has none been here save only your kinswoman, the Queen Morgan le Fay. She, indeed, desired to look upon you since she might not abide your awakening." Then the King groaned aloud, saying, "It is my own kinswoman, the wife of my true knight, Sir Uriens, that would betray me." He bade Sir Ontzlake make ready to accompany him, and after courteous salutation to the Abbess and her nuns, together they rode forth by the path that Morgan le Fay had taken.

Fast they rode in pursuit, and presently they came to a cross where was a poor cowherd keeping watch over

his few beasts, and of him they asked whether any had passed that way. "Sirs," said the peasant, "even now there rode past the cross a lady most lovely to look upon, and with her forty knights." Greatly the King marvelled how Queen Morgan le Fay had come by such a cavalcade, but nothing he doubted that it was she the cowherd had seen. So thanking the poor man, the King, with Sir Ontzlake, rode on by the path that had been shown them, and presently, emerging from the forest, they were aware of a glittering company of horsemen winding through a wide plain that lay stretched before them. On the instant, they put spurs to their horses and galloped as fast as they might in pursuit.

But, as it chanced, Queen Morgan le Fay looked back even as Arthur and Sir Ontzlake came forth from the forest, and seeing them, she knew at once that her theft had been discovered, and that she was pursued. Straightway she bade her knights ride on till they should come to a narrow valley where lay many great stones; but as soon as they had left her, she herself rode, with all speed, to a mere hard by. Sullen and still it lay, without even a ripple on its surface. No animal ever drank of its waters nor bird sang by it, and it was so deep that none might ever plumb it. And when the Queen had come to the brink, she dismounted. From the folds of her dress she drew the scabbard, and waving it above her head, she cried, "Whatsoever becometh of me, King Arthur shall not have this scabbard." Then, whirling it with all her might, she flung it far into the mere. The jewels glinted as the scabbard flashed through the air, then it clove the oily waters of the lake and sank, never again to be seen.

When it had vanished, Morgan le Fay mounted her horse again, and rode fast after her knights, for the King and Ontzlake were in hot pursuit, and sore she feared lest they should come up with her before she might reach the shelter of the Valley of Stones. But she had rejoined her company of knights before the King had reached the narrow mouth of the valley. Quickly she bade her men scatter among the boulders, and then, by her magic art, she turned them all, men and horses and herself too, into stones, that none might tell the one from the other.

When King Arthur and Sir Ontzlake reached the valley, they looked about for some sign of the presence of the Queen or her knights, but naught might they see though they rode through the valley and beyond, and returning, searched with all diligence among the rocks and boulders. Never again was Queen Morgan le Fay seen at Camelot, nor did she attempt aught afterwards against the welfare of the King. When she had restored her knights to their proper form, she hastened with them back to her own land, and there she abode for the rest of her days until she came with the other queens to carry Arthur from the field of the Battle in the West.

Nor would the King seek to take vengeance on a woman, though sorely she had wronged him. His life long, he guarded well the sword Excalibur, but the sheath no man ever saw again.

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