Part IV: From Gratian to Aurelius Ambrosius

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2023, All Rights Reserved.

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Ethelbald and Elfwald; the death of Gratian

Now, there were two churls in East Anglia,

Nobly-born were they, and twin brothers,

The one named Ethelbald, the other Elfwald.

They saw how ruin came to many a place,

And so bethought themselves what they might do.

And they conspired in secret to kill the king.

They sent through East Anglia, everywhere,

And gathered from there seven hundred churls,

Saying that they would go seek out the king,

And ask that, through his grace and God’s,

He, in his power and might, uphold the right.

Yet Elfwald and his brother planned otherwise,

But wrought most warily, with pleasant seeming,

Though each bore a good thick staff in his hand,

And at his side there hung a long steel knife,

Beneath his clothing, to defend from harm.

So, well-armed, they and their force fared forth,

And, a mile from court, they rested for a while.

They greeted every courtier, that passed by,

And asked them mildly where the king might be,

And the courtiers told them where to find him,

Deep in the woodlands, deep in the wilderness,

Hunting wild boar, that he would find, full sore.

The churls hid themselves warily in the wood,

All but that pair, that went towards the king,

And found the king there, where he was hunting,

And so, in loud voices, they called out to him:

‘Come hither, lord king, behold a wondrous thing!

Tis a mighty boar that lurks here in this place,

For here has he made his lair, beneath the mount;

Ne’er have we e’er heard tell of such a beast.

Ride hither if you will, where he awaits you.’

The king was pleased, and to that place he rode,

Where the churls were waiting, both together.

They leapt forth, as they saw the king approach,

And cast him down, and hewed him all to pieces.

Thus, Gratian the king, and such his hunting!

The news spread everywhere; the king was dead,

And then were the Britons in sufficient bliss,

Yet soon thereafter came upon them sorrow,

For every churl was bold now as an earl,

And all the rascals made like sons of kings.

The tidings spread of how the king had fared.

Seafarers passed to Ireland and, once there,

They brought the word to Melga and Wanis

And told them of the happenings in this land,

All the realm in the hands of heedless churls.

Melga and Wanis re-invade from Ireland

Then Melga and Wanis were both gladdened,

 And said they would sail forth to this land.

With a great host they came into this country;

From Gothland there came a band of outlaws,

From Norway and Demark, men most bold,

And from Ireland came Gillemaur the strong,

And from Scotland all the noblest warriors,

And from Galloway many a man most keen.

They made their way towards Northumberland.

Spoils they took, and the people there they slew,

Fortresses they built, and possessed the land,

Burghs they seized, and all that came nigh them.

When the Britons knew woe came to the realm,

They lacked all counsel, thinking all was lost.

So, messengers they sent, at once, to Rome,

Asking the Romans’, then and evermore,

If they would aid them in their hour of need,

And they’d obey their rule, all their lives long,

As loving friends, if they would help them now.

These words were sent in a secret missive,

And the letter read to the noblemen of Rome.

Then up and spoke the wisest of the Romans:

‘Most unwilling should we all be to aid them,

For Gratian they slew, and they felled his men.

Nonetheless, we should send knights of this land,

A modest band of men from out the empire.’

The Romans send a force to Britain

The Romans sent a band of noble knights,

Five-and-twenty hundred entered London.

Then they summoned a host from Britain’s realm,

And marched forth to seek Melga and Wanis,

And fought with them, and slew their forces,

While that pair fled to the woods, to safety,

Leaving all of their host behind to be slain.

They fled then to the north, and to Scotland,

With Febus and his Roman troops pursuing;

But he failed to find Wanis there, or Melga.

Then he had a ditch dug, both wide and deep.

And above it he had built a strong stone wall,

From coast to coast, on either side of Scotland,

Where the outlaws were wont to seek this land,

And, after that, he set a brave force to guard it.

Once the ditch and the wall were completed,

The Britons, aided by the Romans, felt secure,

And back they went to the burgh of London.

Febus of Rome now held a husting there.

And many a rich man came to that gathering,

Many an earl and thane, and many a churl,

And many a rich burgher, thinking to be blithe,

Who would be sad at heart ere day was done.

Febus that fine knight, summoned the folk,

That they might show at the hustings, in full force,  

And told them their swains must tend the horses,

And make all ready, as if they were to march.

And all the folk did as Febus had commanded.

And then they wended their way to the hustings.

Once all the folk were there, and in their place,

Silence was ordered, and the hall fell quiet.

Then Febus, the noble knight, stood and spoke:

‘Now hearken to me, you Britons, gathered here,

For I bring you the true words spoken in Rome,

You sent your messengers to us, to our land,

To tell of the woe Melga and Wanis caused.

And I and my men have come to this country,

And we have felled your enemies to the ground.

And have driven forth Melga and his company;

Thus, we have no fear of that host, now dead.

But you’ve oft angered us, and are loathed in Rome,

Through withholding the tribute from your realm,

And evil you did, through slaying King Gratian,

And oft you swear an oath, and break your word.

Through aiding you we have lost, of our people,

A hundred thousand knights in this sorry land,

Since Julius Caesar touched land on these shores;

But, as we pray for grace, we’ll do so no more.

Soon we shall fare forth, and return to Rome,

And leave you this same kingdom in your hands.

Hold it with joy ever, for we come here no more.

We’ve had of this land many a weight of gold,

That we have acquired here, but dearly bought,

For oft have we met here with trouble and woe.

Now you’d do well to find yourselves weapons,

And defend yourselves against your foreign foes.

And were not your ancestors all noble fellows,

With the land from here to Rome in their hands,

For all the land they saw, that they conquered,

With their own weapons winning all they sought?

Now build you, within your realm, strong castles,

And defend you yourselves against foreign folk,

And dwell here safe and sound; and so goodbye!’

The Romans finally withdraw from Britain (c410AD)

What evil chance, when those words were said!

Never was there a man born, in any burgh,

That might tell all the tale of the depth of woe,

That was come upon the folk of this our land.

Then were there, in London, dreadful cries,

There was weeping and lament, endless sorrow,

The knights of Rome rode towards their ships,

And left this island to the Britons themselves,

Who, in their grief and sorrow, knew no counsel.

The battle at Hadrian’s Wall

Melga and Wanis heard these certain tidings,

And, with their army of innumerable folk,

They made their way into Northumberland.

They overran the land, and slew and burnt,

And so proceeded till they reached the wall,

That the Romans had raised there, long before.

The Britons still manned the wall, within,

While Melga was without, and now about

How he might win out, and so pass within.

They rushed to the wall, his noble thanes,

His forces gathered there from many a land,

The ditch, both wide and deep, they now did leap,

While the Britons, prepared, strongly defended.

These shot arrows inwards, those shot outwards;

Many fell, as arrows showered upon the wall.

So dense was their fall, so much like to hail

That the Britons failed to maintain the fight.

Down from the wall they went, and they fled,

And their flight, indeed, was exceeding swift.

Their foes broke down the wall, and were over,

And fiercely they pursued, and there were slain,

A wondrous many, five thousand two hundred

Of the Britons, not counting the enemy dead,

The Scots and Danes, that died there in the ditch.

So fared this kingdom now in British hands!

Where the Britons were famed knights before,

Now were they lessened from their former state,

And like never to rise but that they had help

From others, for they could not of themselves.

So fared Melga and Wanis, truly, in the fight.

The Britons in London swiftly sent to Rome,

And bade the Romans come quickly as before,

And rule the land, and take it all in their hands,

For they’d rather grant it them than strangers.

But the Romans answered: ‘Ne’er will we so,

To face hard toil, and war against the heathens,

For the one they name Wanis is God’s enemy,

And Melga likewise. Ne’er will we come there.

Of all, this is the end: ne’er will we thither wend,

Tis more than enough to counter ills elsewhere.’

That was the sole reply, and the envoys returned.

When these messengers to Rome disembarked,

They told their tidings, and the Romans’ answer.

Then were the folk in London filled with woe.

Archbishop Guencelin seeks aid from Brittany

There was an archbishop, a good and holy man,

Much favoured by God, his name was Guencelin.

And he sent his messengers all over Britain,

To the clerics that upheld the Christian creed,

All the hooded men, to come to him speedily.

Full soon, in London, gathered all the clerks.

Thus spoke Guencelin: ‘God’s grace be with us!’

And as men say, in Latin tongue: ‘Pax vobis!’

And ‘Et cum spiritu tuo’ the clerks replied.

And then he began to speak concerning God.

The archbishop’s seat was then at St Paul’s,

And many a year were the archbishops there,

Though, since Augustine, it is in Canterbury.

Now, Guencelin said, that was a holy man:

‘List to our tidings, lordlings, of the ill Melga

And Wanis have brought, thus, upon this land;

For Christianity here may be lost and fore-done.

Therefore, shall I depart, and cross o’er the sea,

To some high king, and of that king will pray,

That he will aid us, as needed, in all things.

And if I thus find and speak with such a king,

I shall return, or ne’er come here for evermore.

Pray for me, upon bare knees, as is your wont,

Now farewell to you; I’ll return yet, if I may.’

Then were all folk sad, and sorrowful at heart;

The Britons ne’er, in their lives, felt such care.

Forth then went Guencelin, and clerics with him,  

Forth to the coast, to the port they thought best.

Vessels they found, and the ships they boarded,

And were pleased soon to reach that Brittany

That King Maximian had granted Earl Conan,

Though Maximian and Conan were now dead.

Aldroein was the son that Conan had begotten,

And the land of Brittany he held in his hands,

Once called Armorica, ere that name was lost.

Aldroein was king, under him many a thane.

Came Guencelin to the king, who greeted him.

He fell at the king’s feet, bade him think on God,

Saying: ‘Aldroein, may God be gracious to you!

You are Conan’s son, of Britons thus descended,

I come to speak with you, and seek your favour.

Two heathen warriors are rampant in our land,

Melga and Wanis, and wreak on us much evil.

And they now hold the north of our country,

And we are all afraid that they may win more.

For that pair yet think much greater ill to do,

To harm Christendom, and further heathendom.

For your father took the finest British knights,

And Maximian led thousands of them to Rome,

And those they left behind for us now are slain.

Messengers we sent to Rome, seeking their aid,

And they have replied to us, by those same men,

And answered that we must do the best we may,

For they will come no more; help we must seek.

Not long ago, the Britons were best in battle,

And every fight they fought, that fight they won.

Now they are overcome, swift slain or captured,

Or were lost with Maximian and your father,

Till there is not one left that seems of any worth.

But you are of our kin, ne’er harm had from us;

Help us as you may, for we are beset by danger.’

So Guencelin spoke, that Aldroein might know.

The king began to sigh, and his tears ran down,

They fell from his eyes, for all the court to see.

Then the king gave answer, saying to Guencelin:

‘All my strength I shall exert to aid you now,

For I will send to Britain two thousand knights;

They shall be the finest there are in Brittany.

And Constantin, my brother, he shall lead them,

For I know not such another under the sun;

In all the world, there is none to equal him.

Make him your king, lord over all of Britain.’

Then Aldroein called his dear brother to him,

And at once delivered to him all those knights.

Aldroein of Brittany sends his brother Constantin to Britain

Forth went Constantin, and Guencelin with him.

The king would have gone, but feared the French.

Hither came Constantin, and his host, in safety,

And it was at Totnes that the army came ashore.

Hither came the bold leader; he was full brave.

With two thousand knights no king possessed.

Then he began to march forth towards London,

Summoning all the knights from out the land,

And all brave men, to swiftly come to join him.

The Britons heard him where they were hiding,

In caverns, and holes, and earths like badgers,  

In wood and wilderness, midst heath and fern,

Such that no man could find a Briton there,

Except they were fast in some burgh or castle.

When they all heard that Constantin was here,

Many a thousand men came from the hills,

Leaping forth from the woodlands like to deer.

Many a hundred-thousand marched to London,

By road and weald, forth those thousands pressed,

And the bravest women went dressed as men,

And forth they all wended towards the army.

When Earl Constantin saw these folk approaching,

Then was he blithe, as ne’er before in his life.

Forth the warriors went, two nights and a day,

And came, in strength, where Melga and Wanis lay.

Together the two sides met, and that head on,

Fiercely they fought, and there the ill-fated fell.

Constantin slays Melga and Wanis, and is made king

Ere the day was o’er, Melga and Wanis were slain,

Many a Pict, and the Scots in countless number.

Those of Galloway, Denmark, Ireland, Norway,

While it was light, were slaughtered in the fight.

When came evening time, then Earl Constantine

Bade that men should ride to the lakes and rivers,

And others to the sea, to seek their enemies there.

And what a game there was for a man to witness!

How the women went forth o’er field, hill, and dale,

And wherever they found one of Melga’s men,

That had sought to flee with that heathen king,

They mocked aloud and tore him all to pieces,

And prayed his soul might, after, know but ill.

So, the British women killed many a thousand.

And the realm was cleansed of Melga and Wanis.

And Constantin the brave marched to Cirencester,

And held there a husting of all his British thanes,

All the nobles of Britian came to that gathering,

And made noble Constantin the king of Britain.

Much then was the mirth that was among men,

And they gave him to wife one wondrous fair,

Born of the noblest in Britain, highest of all.

By this noble wife, Constantin had three sons.

The eldest well-nigh took his father’s name,

For Constantin it was that the king was called,

While Constance was the name of the first-born.

And when the child was old enough to ride,

The king made him a monk, through ill counsel,

And the lad was a hooded monk in Winchester.

Now, after Constance, there was born another,

Of the three, he would be the middle brother,

And the child was named Aurelius Ambrosius.

The last-born was a child that was well-disposed,

And he, named Uther, was one strong in virtue.

The archbishop Guencelin, devout before God,

Took charge of these latter for love of the king.

Yet, alas that their father had not lived longer!

He wrought good laws, the while he was alive.

Yet he was the king here but a brief twelve years,

And then he died; hark how that chanced to be!

The death of Constantin and the succession

He had a Pict in his household, fine and brave,

That was treated by the king, and all his thanes,

In no otherwise but as if he were his brother.

And thus, he grew powerful beyond all others,

And he thought to betray Constantin the king.

He went before the king, and fell to his knees,

And the traitor lied before his lord and master:

‘Lord King, speak now with Cadal your knight,

And I will tell you a tale of things most strange,

Such a tale as ne’er was heard on earth before.’

Then Constantine rose, and with him went forth,

Alas, of this Constantin’s knights knew naught.

They walked a while, and came to an orchard,

Then said the traitor: ‘Lord, now are we here.’

And then they sat, as if he would, there, discourse,

And so leaned close to the king, as if to whisper,

But drew a knife, and pierced him to the heart.

And next he fled, and there the king lay dead.

Soon tidings came to court of the dire event.

Then was a weight of sorrow on the people,

And then were the Britons troubled in thought,

Knowing not who they should have for king,

For both of the king’s sons were young indeed.

Aurelius was scarcely old enough to ride,

And Uther, his brother, suckled by his mother.

While Constance the elder was in Winchester,

Wearing a cleric’s clothes with his brethren.

So, in London, gathered the nobles of the land,

At a husting there, to choose them a monarch,

There, take counsel what to think on, and to do,

As to which of the princes should be their king.

They thought Aurelius Ambrosius should rule.

On hearing this, one Vortigern, subtle and wary,

Stood forward amidst the earls, and opposed it.

And this he said, though it was mere deception:

‘I will give you all good counsel with the best,

Let us wait a seven-night, and come here again,

And I shall speak true words to you once more,

So, you hear, and bestow your time right well.

Meanwhile abide; to our homes we shall ride.

And have amity and peace, freely, in this land.

Then, all the folk did as Vortigern requested,

And he himself feigned to go to his own lands,

But rode straightway, to where Winchester lay.

Now Vortigern held half of Wales in his hands,

And forty fine knights he had in his following.

He went to Winchester, found Constance there,

And he spoke there with the abbot of that place

Where Constance was, the son of Britain’s king.

He went to meet the abbot, and spoke mildly,

Saying he wished to converse with Constance.

The abbot then led him to the chapter house,

And then spoke Vortigern with Constance there:

‘Hark to my counsel; for your father is dead.

Here’s Aurelius your brother, Uther the other,

And the elders, that are the noblest in the land

Think to choose Aurelius Ambrosius as king.

Your mother yet suckling Uther your brother.

But I have opposed them, as tis not my wish.

For have I not been the steward of all Britain,

And am a wealthier earl than all my peers?

For I hold half of Wales in my own two hands,

And am richer than all the others put together.

So, I come to you, for you are most dear to me.

If you’ll swear an oath to grant to me more land,

And make me your steward over all of Britain,

And so, take counsel of me, in all that you do,

And pledge me your hand that I shall govern all,

Then I’ll remove these cleric’s clothes from you,

And I’ll make you, in every way, Britain’s king.’

Constance sat still, and listened most willingly,

Then he rendered his answer with much delight.

‘Well, it is, Vortigern, that you are come here,

And if the day e’er shall come when I am king,

My counsel and my land shall be in your hand,

And all that you may command my men shall do.

And I will swear, on my oath, to perform all this.

So said Constance for it had grieved him greatly

To be a cleric, for the cloth was hateful to him.

Now Vortigern was cunning, and most wary,

And that he showed now, in doing as he did.

He took a cloak from a knight of his nearby,

Clad Constance, and led him from that place.

Then he dressed a swain in cleric’s clothing,

And held speech with him as if were Constance.

Monks passed to and fro, and viewed the swain,

And thought him Constance, dressed as he was,

Seated in the chapter-house among the knights.

They went to the abbot, greeted him humbly,

Saying: ‘Benedicite, lord, we come before you,

Because it seems strange to see Vortigern here,

Conversing all the day in the chapter-house.

And none other can enter there but Constance,

We dread these knights are mis-counselling him.’

The abbot replied: ‘Nay they give good counsel,

They bid him remain a monk, with his father dead.

Vortigern there abode, while away Constance rode,

Then Vortigern arose, and swiftly took his leave,

And forth he rode outright, with his band of knights.

And the monks ran to and fro, seeking Constance,

And found but his robes there, lying by the wall.

Then each to the other lamented o’er their brother.

The abbot leapt astride, and rode after Vortigern.

And to Vortigern he called out: ‘Say, mad knight,

Why do you do here what seems far from right?

You take our brother; leave him, have this other.

Take Aurelius who’s yours, and make him king

Come, anger not the saints, nor do Constance wrong!’

Vortigern, the cunning and wary, heard all this,

And he turned back, and gripped the abbot hard,

And swore, on his life, that he would see him hang,

Unless he pledged to let Constance depart freely,

That was a prince, and should be king of this land.

The abbot dared do no other, and set the lad free,

And Constance pledged the abbot a wealth of land,

And afterwards they fared forth towards London.

Vortigern the noble, forbade all those about him

To speak to any man of the plans they had in hand.

Vortigern lay in London, until the appointed day,

When the nobles of the land came to the husting.

On that day they gathered, full many in number,

They communed and counselled, those stern lords,

And declared they’d have Aurelius as their king,

Uther being but a child, and Constance a cleric,

And, though eldest, they’d not make a cleric king.

Now, Vortigern, the cunning and wary, heard this,

And he leapt to his feet, as he were a fierce lion.

None of the Britons, as yet, knew what he had done.

He had Constance nearby, waiting him in a chamber,

Bathed, well-dressed, and hidden with twelve knights.

Up then spoke the most subtle and crafty Vortigern:

‘Listen, my lordings, while I speak, now, of kings.

I was a while in Winchester, where I sped swiftly,

I spoke with the abbot there, a holy man of God,

And I told him of the need that this nation has,

And how all were uneasy, with Constantin dead,

And spoke of Constance that he now had by him.

And I bade him for love of God to set free the lad,

For he was needed to be king of all this country.

The abbot took counsel, and did as I bade him,

And I have his monks here who’ll vouch tis true.

Behold, that lad, whom I shall here make king,

And I hold the crown, tis befitting that he wears,

And whoso dare withsay this, shall pay dearly!

Vortigern was strong, the noblest earl in Britain,

Nor were any so bold as would his words deny.

The Archbishop of London was now deceased,

And there was nary a bishop but rode on his way,

Nor a priest that did not flee, in fear of God,

Lest they must bless the lad, and crown him king.

Vortigern saw this, knowing that it was wrong,

And up he did stand, and took the crown in hand,

And then made Constance king, as it pleased him.

There was never a man in Christendom that might

As Vortigern did, so bless and crown the king,

But Vortigern did that thing, once and for all!

This beginning was not well, nor was the end,

For in deserting God’s rite, he brought sorrow.

The reign of Constance

Now Constance was king, Vortigern his steward,

And Constance set his land in Vortigern’s hand,

Who did all that he sought himself in the realm.

Then Vortigern saw, for of ills he was aware,

That Constance the king knew naught of this land,

For despite all his learning he’d learnt nothing

Except those things that a monk might perform.

Vortigern saw all this, the Fiend was nigh him,

And often he bethought him what he might do,

And how he might, by deception, please the king.

So now shall you hear just how this traitor fared.

The finest noblemen of Britain were all dead,

And this king’s brothers were both but children,

And Guencelin, the archbishop, he was dead,

While this land’s king knew nothing of the law.

Vortigern saw this, and went before the king,

And with mild speech his lord began to greet,

‘Hail be to you, King Constance, Britain’s ruler,

In great need it is, that I now come before you.

To tell you of tidings come to this our land,

News of great danger; now it comes to might,

And weapons, you need to defend our country.

Here are merchants arrived from other lands,

And they have told me, and swear all is true,

That Norway’s king will shortly fare hither,

And the Danish king these shores will seek,

And the King of Russia, sternest of knights,

The King of Sweden with a host most strong,

And the King of Frisia too, which alarms me.

These tidings are all ill that come to my ears,

And I am adread, for I know no good counsel.

Unless we use our might, and send for knights,

Men good and strong, and skilled, of this land,

And fill all your fortresses with loyal men,

And so, defend your kingdom against strangers,

And maintain your honour with all your strength.

For there is no realm, however long and wide,

Will not soon be won, if there are too few men.’

Then said the king, that knew naught of ruling,

Vortigern you are steward o’er all Britain’s land,

And now you must govern it after your will.

Send now for knights, that are good in a fight,

And take all in your hand, my castles and land,

And do as you will, for I shall be silent still,

Except for this thing, that I’ll remain as king.’

Then Vortigern laughed, that was bent on evil,

And ne’er was he so blithe in his life before.

Vortigern recruits knights from among the Picts

Vortigern took his leave, and forth he went,

And took the land of Britain into his hands,

And demanded fealty, where’er he ventured.

He took messengers, and sent into Scotland,

Summoning three hundred of the finest knights

Among the Picts, and welcoming them warmly,

For they gathered to him swiftly, at his call.

The treacherous earl said: ‘Greetings, knights,

I hold all of the royal lands in my own hands.

With me shall you go, and I’ll hold you dear,

And I will bring you before Britain’s king,

And you’ll have fine horses, silver, and gold,

Clothes and fair wives, as meet your wishes.

You will be dear to me, the Britons hateful,

Openly, and privately, I will do your will,

If you will hold me as lord o’er all this land.’

And answered all the knights: ‘That, we will.’

Then he led them before Constance, the king.

To the king came Vortigern, bent on evil,

And told him of all the deed he had done.

Here are Picts, to be our household knights,

And I have provisioned all your fortresses;

Those foreigners must now contend with us.’

The king commended all Vortigern had done,

But, alas, knew naught of the earl’s thoughts,

Nor of the treachery, that was soon revealed.

The knights were much honoured by the king,

And dwelt at the court for two whole years,

And Vortigern the steward was lord of all.

Ever he said the Britons were of little use,

While the Picts were fine and skilful knights.

Ever were the Britons deprived of wealth,

While the Picts garnered all that they would.

They had fine meat and drink and were in bliss,

Vortigern granted them their heart’s desire,

And was as dear to them as their own lives.

Such that they said, as they wined and dined,

That Vortigern was worthy of ruling all,

More so than were any three such kings,

While he granted these men much treasure.

He draws them into his plot

It befell one day that he was in his chambers,

And he sent two knights to gather these Picts,

And bade them come to him in the great hall,

For they would dine there; forthwith they came.

He tested them then, as they all sat at board,

For he caused much ale and wine to be brought,

And they all revelled, and drank the day away.

When they were drunk, and therefore pliable,

Then spoke Vortigern of what he had planned.

‘Hark to me knights, for I shall be forthright,  

And speak of the woe I have, on your account.

The king has made me steward o’er this land,

And to me, you are the dearest friends alive,

Yet I have not the wealth I’d share with you.

Tis the king’s land, and he young and strong,

And I must yield him all I win from this land,

And if I take aught of his I must face the law.

Yet my own wealth I have spent to please you.

I must fare from here, and serve some king,

Be his man in peace, and gain more treasure.

For shame I may not dwell here in this place,

But forth I must fare, to a foreign kingdom.

Yet if the day come when I win more wealth,

And I so thrive, come to me in that country,

And there I will both reward and honour you.

Now fare you well, for tonight I must depart,

Tis most doubtful if I’ll ever see you more.’

Now, the knights knew not his evil thoughts;

Vortigern, the traitor, would betray his lord,

And what the earl had spoken they thought true.

Earl Vortigern had his swains saddle his steed,

And he named twelve men to ride beside him,

And to horse they went, as if to quit that land.

The Picts set out to slay the king

The drunken knights, the Picts, witnessed this,

And were full of care at Vortigern’s departure.

They gathered around, and took their counsel,

Railing at life, for he was dear to them, this lord,

And thus said the Picts, those drunken knights:

‘Who shall advise now; where is our counsel?

Who’ll feed and clothe us; be our lord at court?

Now Vortigern is gone, we must likewise leave;

For we may not dwell here with a monk as king.

Yet we might do well to go straight to the court,

And quietly and privately, do what we may,

Enter the king’s great hall, and drink of his ale,

And, when we have drunk, seem to revel there.

And some shall go to his chamber, hold the door,

While others seize the king, and his other knights,

And smite off their heads, and secure the court,

And cause our lord Vortigern to be recalled,

And after all’s done, raise him up, to be our king.

Then we may live, as is most pleasant of all.

The knights went forth to seek the king outright,

And some passed through the hall to his chamber,

Where he was sitting, quietly, beside the fire.

None there spoke a word, but for Gille Callaet.

He said to the king, whom he thought to betray:

‘Now, monarch, come list to me, for I tell no lie.

We have met with honour in this same court,

Through your steward that governs all the land,

And he has clothed us, and he has fed us well,

And, indeed, we dined with him this very day.

Now sorely it grieves us we have naught to drink,

And, now we are in your chamber, give us ale.’

The king said: ‘That, be the least of your cares!

For you shall have, to drink, all that you will.’

Men brought drink and they began to revel,

Then cried Gille Callaet, that stood by the door:

‘Where be you knights? Stir yourselves, forthright!

And they seized the king, and smote off his head.

And then, forthright, beheaded his other knights.

Vortigern feigns grief at the king’s death

A messenger they chose to speed toward London,

Telling him to ride, swiftly, after Earl Vortigern,

So, he might come quickly, and win the kingdom,

And bear him the news that Constance was slain.

This Vortigern, the cunning traitor, soon learned,

And soon sent the messenger back to them to say

That, on their honour, none should leave that place,

But should abide him till he could be with them,

And then he would divide the land among them.

Forth went the messenger; and then Vortigern

Summoned the burghers from all about London,

And commanded them to gather for a husting.

And when the bold burghers had all assembled,

Then spoke Earl Vortigern, the secret traitor,

While he feigned to weep, and to sigh sorely,

His tears but from his eyes, and not his heart.

Then said the bold burghers: ‘Lord Vortigern,

Why do you weep, and mourn, like a woman?’

Then answered Vortigern, that secret traitor:

‘I will speak to you of woe come to this land.

I have been the king’s steward in this realm,

And counselled him, and loved him as my life.

But, in the end, he approved my counsel not.

He favoured the Picts, those foreign knights,

And he did us good no more, received us not,

But ever was gracious to them, in this life.

Of the king had I naught, but spent my wealth,

While it lasted, then I left to seek my lands,

And, when I had garnered riches, then return.

When the Picts saw all his true knights depart,

They made their way into the king’s chamber,

I tell you the last of it; they’ve slain the king.

And think to usurp the kingdom, and us all,

And will make a Pict the king of all, outright!

Yet I, as his steward, will avenge my lord,

And every brave man must help me so to do.

Now shall I don my gear, and ride forthwith.’

He tricks the Britons into slaying the Picts

Three thousand knights went forth from London,

They rode and marched, and ran, with Vortigern,

Until they approached where the Picts yet lay.

And the Earl then sent a messenger to the Picts,

And said he would come to them, if they willed,

And the Picts were blithe, at all they had done,

And met him finely clad, without shield or spear.

But Vortigern had his knights there fully-armed,

When the Picts brought forth the head of the king.

On seeing this, Earl Vortigern fell to the ground,

As if he were grieved, and more than any alive.

His true feelings he hid, though his heart was blithe.

Then said Earl Vortigern, that secret traitor:

‘Let every brave man now lay on with his sword,

And avenge, in blood, the slaying of our lord!’

Not one Pict they made captive, all they slew,

And passed on to their lodgings in Winchester,

And slew their swains, and their house-servants;

The cooks, and their lads, all were put to death.

Vortigern usurps the throne

Now spread the ill news of Constance the king,

And wise men took charge then of his brothers,

For fear of Vortigern; and Aurelius and Uther

They carried o’er the sea to ‘Britain the Less’,

And delivered them, there, to Biduz the king,

Who granted them fair welcome, being his kin,

And was more than glad to raise the children.

And so, they dwelt with him for many a year,

While Vortigern was crowned king of this land,

And all of the strong burghs were in his hands.

For five and twenty years he ruled as king,

And he was mad, and wild, and cruel, and bold,

He had his way in all things, but that the Picts

Were never quiet, and they overran the north,

And brought much dread and harm to his realm,

Avenging their kin, whom Vortigern had slain.

Meanwhile, there came tidings to this land,

Of Aurelius Ambrosius, become a knight,

And of Uther, now a knight, good and wary,

Saying they would come, with a mighty army.

This was a saying full many times repeated;

Oft came such tidings to Vortigern, the king.

And so, he felt shamed at heart and angered,

For men said everywhere: ‘They will come,

To avenge Constance, king of all this land;

Aurelius, and Uther, will avenge their brother,

And slay Vortigern, and lay him in the dust,

And so, take all this land in their own hands.’

So spoke every day, all that passed this way,

And Vortigern bethought what he might do.

Thus, he sent messengers to foreign lands,

Seeking foreign knights that might defend him,

And he was wary of Aurelius, and Uther.

The arrival of Hengist and Horsa (449AD, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)

Meanwhile tidings came to Vortigern the king

Of unknown strangers arriving from the sea.

Into the Thames they came, and landed there,

For three vessels rode upriver on the tide,

Three hundred knights therein, kingly men,

Besides the seamen that comprised the crew.

They were the fairest men that e’er came here,

Though they were heathens, the more the harm.

Vortigern sent to them to seek their purpose;

If they sought peace, and wished his friendship.

They answered as wisely as they knew how,

Said that they wished to speak with the king,

And would serve him lovingly as their lord,

And so, they went forth to the royal court.

Now Vortigern the king was in Canterbury,

Where and all his court had sought diversion,

And two brothers, their leaders, came before him.

When they met, they greeted the king warmly,

And claimed they would serve him in this land,

If he would welcome, and do right by, them.

Then said Vortigern, ever ready to work evil:

‘In all my life, never have I seen such knights,

And I am blithe at your coming to this realm,

Here shall you stay, and I will grant your wish.

Yet, by your honour, I would swiftly learn

What men you might be, and where you hail from.

And whether you will be true, now and later.’

Then answered he that was the eldest brother:

‘List to me king, and I’ll make known to you

What knights we two are, and whence we come.

I am Hengist, and Horsa here, he is my brother,

We are of Germany, and the noblest land of all,

From the region that is named for the Angles.

Strange tidings are spread about our country,

Every fifteen years the folk there assemble,

From every part and, once gathered, cast lots,

On whom it falls, must seek out other lands.

Five sixths of the nation stay, the sixth departs,

And goes from our country to a foreign realm,

And be he ever so rich, he must yet go forth,

For more children are born than they wish,

The women bear children like the wild deer,

Year after year, they each bear children there.

The lot fell on us, and we were forced to go;

We might not remain there, on pain of death,

Such is the power of the monarch of that land.

So, we fared forth, and therefore are we here,

To seek land under heaven, and a good master.’

Then answered Vortigern, the wise and wary,

I believe you, knight; that all you say is true.

And what is the creed in which you believe?

Which god, most dear to you, do you worship?’

Then answered Hengist, fairest of warriors,

While none was as tall or strong, in this realm:

‘We have true gods, who are dear to our hearts,

Whom we place trust in, and serve with might.

The first is Phoebus, and the second Saturn,

The third is Woden; and he is a mighty god,

The fourth is Jupiter, he who knows all things,

The fifth is Mercury, and noblest over us,

The sixth is Apollo, a god of great power,

The seventh Tervagant, a high god with us.

And we have a lady, both noble and mighty,

She is high and holy, and lovers love her;

She is named Freya, all lovers she loves.

Among all our gods, whom do we serve?

Woden held the highest rule in elder days;

He was as dear to men as their own lives,

He was their lord, and they did him worship.

Naming the fourth weekday in his honour.

Thursday was Thor’s, the mighty Thunderer;

To Freya, the Lady, they then granted Friday,

To Saturn, was Saturday; to Phoebus, Sunday.

Then, to the Moon, our people gave Monday,

While Tuesday was so named as Tiu’s day.’

Thus spoke Hengist, the fairest of all knights.

Vortigern takes them into his service

Then answered Vortigern, learned in evil:

‘Knights, you are dear to me, not your tidings;

Your creeds wicked, knowing naught of Christ;

For you believe in the Devil, whom God cursed.

Your gods are naught, and in Hell below they lie.

Yet, nonetheless, I would have you serve me,

For northward dwell the Picts, knights most brave,

That, full oft, lead mighty hosts into my realm,

And oft they seek my shame, and grant me woe,

If you will avenge me, and bring me their heads,

I will give you much land, and silver and gold.’

Then answered Hengist, the fairest of all knights,

If Saturn wills that same, in whom we believe,

And Woden, who is our lord, so shall it be.’

Then they took leave, and went to their ships,

And their warriors drew up the ships on shore.

Forth went the knights, to Vortigern the king.

Hengist marched before; Horsa beside him.

Then came the Germans, noble in their deeds,

And after them came their brave Saxon knights,

Hengist’s kinsmen, folk of his former people.

All of that great host entered the king’s hall,

And Hengist’s swains, they were better clothed,

And better fed, indeed, than Vortigern’s knights.

Then were Vortigern’s courtiers put to shame;

The Britons were rendered sorry at the sight.

Hengist and Horsa are sent to fight the Picts

It was not long before five knight’s bold sons

Swift messengers, came there before the king,

And brought him fresh tidings from the north.

‘Now are the Picts ranging through the land,

Harrying, and burning all things to the ground.

And this we advise; take action or we die.’

So, the king bethought him what he might do.

He summoned the warriors from their lodgings;

Came Hengist, Horsa, and many a brave man.

There came the Saxons, kinsmen of Hengist,

And all the German warriors, good in a fight.

And Vortigern reviewed them and was blithe.

The Picts, as customary, crossed the Humber,

But Vortigern was ready for their incursion,

Together they met, and many there were slain.

Full fierce was the fighting, and stern the battle.

The Picts had oft overcome Vortigern’s army,

And thought to do so now, but twas otherwise.

For Hengist was there to defend the Britons,

And the strong warriors out of Saxon lands,

And all the brave Germans whom Horsa led.

Many the Picts they slew there in the fight;

Fiercely they fought; and swiftly the fated fell.

When noontide came, the Picts had met defeat,

And quickly they fled away, on every side.

And the king returned to his quarters in camp,

And Hengist and Horsa were ever nigh him.

Hengist seeks to deceive Vortigern

Hengist was dear to the king; he gave him Lindsey,

South of the Humber; and Horsa treasure enough,

And all their knights he treated exceeding-well,

And things stood for some time in that same wise.

The Picts dared not trouble the northern lands,

Nor robbers nor outlaws; all such were soon slain,

And Hengist greatly pleased King Vortigern.

It befell on a time, when the king was blithe,

Upon a high-day it was; he, amidst the people,

And Hengist bethought him what he might do,

Desiring to hold private speech with the king.

He came before the king, greeted him warmly,

And the king rose, and then set him beside him.

They drank, revelled, and all about were blithe.

Then said Hengist to the king: ‘List to my news,

And I will tell you a certain thing in private,

If you’ll list to my counsel, and not be angered.’

The king answered mildly, as Hengist sought.

Then said Hengist, the fairest of all knights:

‘Lord, I’ve many a day enhanced your honour,

And been a most loyal servant at your court,

And in every fight the noblest of your knights,

But I hear murmurings among your courtiers,

That they hate you right fiercely unto death.

And often they speak, privately, in whispers,

Of two most noble youths that dwell far hence,

The one named Uther, Aurelius the other,

And of a third, Constance, king of this land,

Who was slain through treacherous usage.

They say the others will avenge their brother,

Ravage your land, and destroy your people,

And drive your folk, and you from the realm.

And this they say, as they sit there together,

That these two brothers were royally born,

Both noble Britons, sprung of Aldroein’s race,

And so, your people secretly condemn you.’

And I would advise you, in your great need,

To gather you knights, that are good in a fight,

And give me a burgh or a castle to dwell in,

That I may defend me, while I am alive,

For I am hated through you, and like to die,

Fare where’er I fare, I’ll be filled with care,

Except I am fast enclosed in my own fortress.

Were you to do this, I would love you dearly,

And then I would swiftly send for my wife,

That is a Saxon woman, and of rare wisdom,

And for my own daughter, my dear Rowena,

With my wife and kindred settled in this land,

The better I’ll serve you; if you but grant it.’

Then answered Vortigern, that doer of evil.

‘Take knights swiftly, and send for your wife;

She shall bring your children, young and old,

And you kindred, and they shall be welcome.

When they come to you, you shall have riches,

To feed them nobly, and clothe them fittingly.

Yet I’ll not give you a castle nor a burgh,

For all in my kingdom would reproach me.

For you keep the heathen law of elder days,

While we, in our day, hold to Christ’s law ever.’

Then spoke Hengist, fairest of all the knights:

‘Lord, as you wish, I’ll e’er perform your will,

And do all things according to your counsel.

Thus, now shall I send right soon for my wife,

And for my daughter, who is to me most dear,

And for brave men, the best of all my kindred.

Yet grant me as much land, in my own hands,

As a bull’s hide will cover, from side to side,

Right far from any castle, amidst some field.

Then neither the rich nor poor can blame you,

For granting a burgh to some heathen fellow.’

And the king granted him all that he desired.

Hengist took his leave then, and forth he went,

And sent men to seek his wife in his own land.

He himself traversed this realm to find a place

Open land, on which to lay out his bull’s hide,

He came to a spot, in a wide tract of country,

And obtained, at need, a hide wondrous strong.

He had a wise fellow, well versed in the craft,

Who took the hide, spread it out on a board,

And whetting his shears, prepared to shape it.

From the hide he made a thong, thin and long,

Not thick but, as it were, a thread-like string;

When it was stretched out, its length was great,

And with it he enclosed a broad extent of land.

He builds a fortress at Lancaster

He began to dig a ditch and then, above the ditch,

He reared a mighty wall of stone, on every side,

A castle he raised, that was both tall and strong,

And when the burg was done, gave it a name,

He called it Caer-Carrai, in the British tongue,

While twas Thong-chester the English called it,

And then, and thereafter, that name stood firm,

And no other event caused the name to alter,

Until the Danes came, and drove out the Britons,

When it gained its third name, of Lancaster;

Such are the causes of it owning to three names.

To this isle came Hengist’s wife, aboard her ship;

A mighty fleet of vessels, she brought with her,

And fifteen hundred knights, in her company.

On board the fleet, were most of Hengist’s kin,

And Rowena, her and Hengist’s dear daughter.

After some little while the burgh was complete,

And Hengist asked the king to banquet there,

With fair chambers prepared against his visit,

And bade him come, and be warmly welcomed.

And Vortigern granted all that Hengist wished.

Hengist’s daughter, Rowena, meets the king

The day appointed came, and the king set forth,

With the men of his household held most dear,

And he journeyed till he came to the fortress,

He gazed all up and down the mighty walls,

And all that he looked on there he liked well.

He entered the great hall, his knights with him,

Trumpets were blown, and games were played,

Then the board was spread, and all were seated.

They ate and drank, and bliss was in the burgh.

When the folk had eaten, all was of the best.

Hengist betook him to Rowena’s chambers,

And he caused her to be dressed most richly,

Every garment she had on was of the finest,

And the cloth embroidered all about, in gold.

She now took a golden bowl in her two hands,

Filled with fine wine of a wondrous vintage.

High-born knights led her straight to the hall,

And she the fairest of things, before the king.

Rowena knelt, and she welcomed Vortigern,

And spoke these words in the English tongue:

‘Lord king, wassail; I am glad you are come!’

The king heard her, yet he understood her not,

And he asked his knights what the maid had said,

Then answered Keredic, a most worthy warrior,

And, of those who came here, the best interpreter:

‘List to me, my lord king, and I will tell you,

What this Rowena, the fairest of women, said.

It is the custom in the realms of the Saxons,

Whenever people drink, and so make merry,

That friend says to friend, with pleasant gaze,

“Wassail, dear friend!” the other cries “Drinkhail!”

The same that holds the cup, he then drinks deep,

The cup is filled, and handed to his comrade,

And when tis empty, then the friends kiss thrice.

Such then is the pleasant custom in Saxon lands,

And in Germany all such is considered noble.’

Vortigern heard, that knew the ways of evil,

And replied to her in British, not in English:

‘Fair maid, Rowena, drink then, and blithely!’

The maiden drank, and the cup was filled again,

Then the king drank, and she kissed him thrice.

Through this same, the custom came to this land,

Of ‘wassail and drinkhail’, that makes men glad.

Vortigern weds Rowena

Now, Rowena the fair sat there beside the king,

He longed for her, and desired her in his heart,

And full often he kissed her, and embraced her,

For his whole mind inclined towards the maid.

The Devil was nigh, that when at play is cruel;

The Fiend that ne’er does good, troubled his mood,

For the monarch wished to make the maid his wife.

That was a loathsome thing, for a Christian king

To love a heathen maid to his people’s harm.

The maid was as dear to the king as his own life,

He asked that Hengist grant him the maid-child,

And Hengist thought it good counsel so to do.

He gave to him Rowena, the maid most fair,

As it pleased the king to make her his queen,

All according to the custom of heathen days.

For there was never a priest in Christendom

When the king wed the maid, bishop nor clerk,

Nor was the Holy Book in any man’s hand,

But in the old heathen manner he married her,

And so brought her to his bed, in that fashion.

The maid he wed, and many a gift he gave her,

Once he had her, he gave her London and Kent.

Hengist seeks to increase his influence

Now, the king had sired earlier three fine sons,

Vortimer, the eldest, then Pascent, and Catiger;

While Garengan, an earl, had long held Kent,

His father before him, and he through his kin.

He had thought of himself to hold the land,

Yet Vortigern’s queen held it in her hands.

He thought it strange what the king had done:

To befriend the heathens, to Christian harm.

The king ruled the land, held it in his hands,

And the king’s three sons oft felt woe and care.

Their mother died, and they had scant counsel,

For, a good wife, she had led a Christian life,

While their stepmother, Rowena, was a heathen.

It was not long ere the king arranged a feast,

Exceeding great, and the heathens were invited.

A thing which Vortigern thought most wise to do.

Thither came the thanes, the knights and swains,

But the Christians of the Book shunned the feast,

For the heathens were held highest at the court,

While the Christian folk were thought to be base;

The heathens blithe that the king so loved them.

Now, Hengist bethought him what he might do.

He gave greeting, hailed, and drank to the king.

Then spoke Hengist, finest of knights in his day:

‘Harken to me, my lord king, whom I do love,

You have my daughter who to me is very dear,

And I am, among the folk, as a father to you,

Hark to my counsel; it will be pleasing to you

For I mainly wish to aid you with my advice.

The court hate you through me, and I through you.

And there are kings, earls, and thanes, that hate you,

And roam the land with a host exceeding strong.

If you would avenge yourself, and gain honour,

And sadden your foes, send for my son Octa,

Send also for his brother-in-law, Ebissa,

They are the finest men that e’er led a host,

And grant to them tracts of land in the north.

Warriors are they, and good men in a fight,

They will defend your kingdom with the best,

And then you may spend all your life in bliss.

With hawks and hounds, enjoying courtly play,

And need give not a thought to foreign armies.’

Then answered Vortigern, wise in all evil,

‘Send your messengers to the Saxon lands,

To Octa, and a host more of your friends.

Ask him to summon all of those knights,

In all those lands, that are useful in a fight,

And let him gather them against my need,

Even unto ten thousand shall be welcomed.

Hengist, fairest of all knights, heard the king,

And he was blithe as ne’er in his life before.

He summons the Saxons to Britain, at Vortigern’s request

Hengist sent messengers to the Saxon lands,

Summoning Octa and his brother-in-law,

Ebissa, and all their kin, and all the knights

They could gather, so that all might profit.

Octa in turn sent throughout three kingdoms,

And bade all warriors that wished for land,

Or silver and gold, to come to him swiftly.

They gathered to his side like falling hail,

Three hundred vessels they filled with men.

Forth sailed Octa, thirty thousand and more,

Brave and eager, in those ships, while Ebissa,

He too landed on these shores with his host,

A hundred and fifty ships he commanded;

And after these, in fives or tens they came.

Thus, the heathen warriors came to this land,

And travelled to seek the court of Vortigern.

Then this land was so full of foreign people

There was none so wise or so quick-witted

Might separate the Christians and heathens,

For the heathens were many, and came swiftly.

When the Britons saw the land so afflicted,

They were woeful and most dreary at heart.

They went to the king, the highest in the land,

And said to him, in most sorrowful voices:

‘List to us, lord king, and hear our counsel;

Through us, you are now the King of Britain,

Yet you have brought upon us ill and woe.

You bring heathens here that might harm you,

And forsake God’s law for that of heathen folk,

Nor do what is right, on account of these knights.

In the name of God’s peace, we now pray you

To shun them, and to drive them from the land.

If you will not, we must bring them to battle,

Drive them forth, or fell them to the ground;

Or we shall be slain, and so let the heathens

Have this isle, if they win it, to hold in joy.

Yet, they being heathens and not Christians,

Will not suffer you to be their king for long,

Unless you follow the heathen laws, for life,

Desert our high God, and worship their idols.

Then, when you perish from this earthly realm,

Your wretched soul will sink down to Hell.

And you will have bought your bride full dearly.’

Then answered Vortigern, the learned in evil:

‘By this life of mine, I shall not shun them,

For Hengist, who in friendship came hither,

Is my father-in-law and I, in law, his son,

And Rowena his daughter I have for wife,

For I married her, and took her to my bed.

Then, I sent for Octa, and his companions,

How should I forsake their kin so soon,

Or drive forth my dear friends from my realm?’

Then answered the Britons, in their sorrow:

‘We shall harken to your commands no more,

Nor visit court, nor hold you to be our king,

But we shall oppose you with all our strength,

And greet all your heathen friends with harm.

May Christ, that is God’s son, be now our aid!’

The Christianised Britons seek to overthrow Vortigern

Forth went the earls, forth went the noblemen,

Forth went the bishops, and the men of learning,

Forth went the thanes, and forth their swains,

All of the Britons, till they came to London.

And there was many a Briton at the husting;

And the king’s three sons, they came thither,

The eldest Vortimer, Pascent and Catiger,

And many another followed those brothers,

And all the folk that stood for Christendom.

All the noblemen gathered there, in council,

And they took the eldest son, this Vortimer,

And with songs of praise, they crowned him king.

Vortimer and Vortigern contest the crown

Then was Vortimer the Christian king here,

While Vortigern his father ruled the heathens.

All this was done as the council had agreed.

Vortimer, the young king, was soon active.

He sent Hengist word, and Horsa his brother,

That unless they quit the kingdom speedily,

He would do them evil, blind them and hang them,

And his own father he would, in truth, destroy,

And all the heathens with them, in his might.

Then answered Hengist, the finest of knights:

‘Here shall we dwell, all winter and summer,

And march and ride beside King Vortigern,

While all that choose to follow Vortimer,

They shall find but trouble, here, and care!’

Vortimer, wise and wary, hearkened to this reply,

And he summoned to him a host from all the land,

Asking the Christian folk to gather to his court.

Then Vortimer, the young king, held a husting;

He commanded all that honoured Christendom,

To oppose the heathens dwelling in their land,

And bring their heads to Vortimer the king,

And have twelve pence to reward their deed.

Vortimer, the young king, marched from London,

With Pascent his brother, and Catiger the other.

The battles at Epiford on the Derwent, and in Kent

Word came that Hengist lay at Epiford,

Upon the river that men name the Derwent.

There met together sixty thousand men.

On one side Vortimer, Pascent and Catiger,

And all the Christian folk that loved our Lord.

And on the other side was Vortigern the king,

Hengist and his brother, and many another.

Together they came, and with might they fought,

Three thousand two hundred of Hengist’s men,

Were slain there, and Horsa was sore wounded.

Catiger came there and he speared him through,

While Horsa wounded Catiger, there, outright.

Then Hengist fled, with all of his followers,

And Vortigern too, as swiftly as the wind.

They fled to Kent, but Vortimer followed after,

And upon the sea-shore Hengist met with pain.

There they halted; there they fought long while.

Five thousand men at least, there, lost their lives,

Of Vortigern’s troops, and of the heathen host.  

Hengist retreats to the Isle of Thanet, then departs Britain

Hengist now bethought him what he might do.

He had many large vessels moored in a haven,

Riding the flood in that wide space of water.

On his right hand was an isle; exceeding fair;

Called the Isle of Thanet, swiftly he sped there.

For there the Saxon warriors sought the sea,

And so made their way across to the island.

While the Britons followed after, cunningly,

And surrounded them from the land and sea.

From many a vessel there they smote and shot.

Hengist knew woe, but never worse than then;

Slain would he be, unless he did otherwise.

Taking a spear-shaft that was long and sturdy,

He tied a mantle, as a flag, to the spear’s end,

And he called to the Britons, and bade them cease.

He’d speak with them and earn the king’s grace;

By sending Vortigern to them, forge a peace,

If he might sail, free of shame, to his own land.

The Britons turned about, and sought their king,

While Hengist and Vortigern spoke in secret.

Vortigern went, bearing a wand in his hand,

And while he and the Britons spoke of peace,

The Saxons leapt to their ships, and made sail,

And braved the weather, there on the open sea,

Leaving their wives and children in this land,

And Vortigern the king who favoured them yet.

With sorrow in his mind Hengist fared away,

And voyaged till they reached the Saxon lands.

Then were the Britons bold in all of Britain,

Blithe in mood, and did just as they pleased.

Vortimer the young king stood ever firm,

While Vortigern his father wandered Britain,

Ne’er a man so poor as failed to scorn him,

And thus, for five full winters he wandered.

The reign of Vortimer; the mission of Germain and Lupus

His son Vortimer was now the king in power,

And all the people here loved him greatly.

He was mild to all, and he taught God’s law,

To young and old, how to live a Christian life.

And he sent letters to the Pope, Saint Romain,

Who chose two bishops, both were holy men,

Germain of Auxerre, and Lupus of Troyes.

These two journeyed from Rome, and came hither;

Vortimer was blithe as ne’er in his life before.

All his knights went barefoot to meet the bishops,

And, with much joy, their mouths they kissed.

And now shall you hear of how King Vortimer,

Spoke with Saint Germain, glad of his coming:

‘My lords, list to me, I am king of this people,

I am Vortimer, Pascent and Catiger my brothers;

Vortigern is my father; him ill-counsel follows.

He welcomed heathen people into this land,

But, being foes, we have put them all to flight,

And we have slain, of them, many a thousand,

And sent them o’er the sea, to come no more.

Now shall we worship our Lord in this land,

Comfort God’s people, and live in friendship,

Treating mildly all those who till the fields.

The Church we’ll honour, hating heathendom.

And each shall have his rights, if God so grant,

And every thrall and slave shall be set free.

While the Church lands shall be held freely,

And each widow be forgiven her lord’s debts.

Thus, in our day, Hengist’s laws shall be forgot,

And he, and his heathendom he brought hither,

Deceiving my father through his evil craft

Using his daughter Rowena, in treachery.

So, it was, my father turned to evil ways,

Shunned Christendom, loved the heathen law,

Which we shall all oppose the while we live.’

Then answered Germain, glad of these words:

‘I thank the Lord above who shaped the day

That he sends such mercy to this world below.’

This pair of bishops set the land in God’s hand,

Righted Christendom, and taught the people,

And then they made their way again to Rome,

And told the Pope, he that was named Romain,

What they’d done here to restore Christendom,

And so, things stood, in this wise, for many a day.

Rowena poisons Vortimer the king

Turning to Vortigern, of all kings most wretched:

He loved this Rowena, she of the heathen people,

Hengist’s daughter, that seemed to him most fair.

Rowena now bethought her what she might do,

To avenge her father’s death, and her kindred.

She oft sent messages to Vortimer the king,

With many treasures, of finest silver and gold.

She asked his favour that she might dwell here,

With Vortigern his father, and take his counsel.

The king, for his father’s sake, granted her this,

On condition that she embrace Christianity.

Alas, for Vortimer, that knew not her thoughts!

Alas, for the good king that he knew them not,

Unaware of the cunning woman’s treachery.

It befell, on a time, that she sought his counsel,

As to when she should welcome Christianity.

So forth she rode, to meet Vortimer the king,

And when they met, she greeted him warmly:

‘Hail to you, my lord king, Britain’s darling,

I am come to you to receive the Christian faith;

I will do so on a day that to you seems fitting.’

Then was Vortimer the king most blithe indeed,

Thinking that what Rowena spoke was true.

The trumpets blew, there was bliss at court,

Water was brought, they cleansed their hands,

And they sat down to the board with pleasure.

When the king had eaten, the thanes did so,

They drank in the great hall, the harps played.

Then Rowena arose and went to her chamber;

There was placed the king’s favourite wine.

She took in her two hands a bowl of red gold,

And returned, to pour it out at the king’s table.

Choosing her time, she filled her cup with wine,

And she advanced, before all, towards the king,

While thus the treacherous woman hailed him:

‘Wassail, lord king, to you I wish much joy!’

Hark to the treachery of that cunning woman,

How she betrayed the king, Vortimer, there!

The king answered her, to his own destruction.

Vortimer spoke British, and Rowena Saxon;

To the king all seemed fair, and he smiled at her.

Hark now to what she did, in her treachery!

She clasped to her breast a gilded flask of poison,

The while she drank but half the wine in the cup.

As the king smiled, she slid the ampule out,

And hid behind her hand, poured in the poison,

And then she handed the chalice to the king.

The king then drank all of the poisoned wine.

The hours passed away, the court was blissful,

For of her treachery Vortimer knew naught,

For he’d seen Rowena drink half of the wine.

When night fell the courtiers took their leave,

And Rowena, the traitress, went to her rooms,

With all her band of knights escorting her,

And then she ordered her thanes and swains,

To saddle their horses swiftly as they might,

And then slip from the burgh, and ride forthwith,

To Lancaster, by night, and once they were there

To bar the castle gates, and hold the place fast,

And tell Vortigern his son would besiege them.

Vortigern, that foolish fellow, believed the lie.

Once Vortimer realised he had taken poison,

And no aid was forthcoming from leechcraft,

He sent his messengers forth o’er all the land,

And bade his knights gather to him outright.

When the came they saw he was exceeding ill;

He wished them peace, and spoke to them thus:

‘Of knights e’er served a king, you are the finest.

Things are such with me, that I soon must die,

I deliver to you my land, my gold, my silver,

My treasures, that your honour be the greater.

And you must forthwith send for other forces,

Pay them silver and gold, and hold your land,

And avenge me, if you can, on the Saxon men,

For when I am gone, Hengist will invade you.

Take my body then, and lay me in a coffin,

So, bear me to the shore, where they will land;

For, on seeing me, the Saxons will swift depart,

For neither quick nor dead will they abide me.’

After this speech of his, the good king died.

Then was there weeping, woe, and piteous sighs.

They took his body, and bore it to London,

And buried him splendidly by Billingsgate,

Nor did they, one whit, as the king had ordered.

So lived King Vortimer, and so he ended.

Vortigern again assumes the throne

Then the Britons harkened to ill counsel;

They again granted Vortigern the throne.

Then was a sad thing; Vortigern was king!

And he sent messengers to the Saxon lands;

He greeted Hengist, fairest of all knights,

And bade him come in haste to his realm,

And to bring a hundred warriors with him:

‘For, know that the king Vortimer is dead;

Dead is my son, and hither you may come.

There is no need to bring too many men,

Lest our Britons may be angered by you,

And thereby much trouble come between you.

But Hengist gathered there a fleet of vessels,

Seven hundred, each bearing three hundred knights.

In the Thames, by London, he came ashore.

Now, tidings soon came to Vortigern the king,

That Hengist had brought seven hundred ships.

Of the felt woe, but never more so than then,

And the Britons were most sorrowful at heart.

Nor knew good counsel then in all the world.

Hengist was wary of evil, and that he showed.  

He chose messengers and sent them to the king,

And he greeted Vortigern in words most fair:

And said he was come as a father to his son,

And in peace, and friendship, he would dwell.

Right, he would love, and wrong, he would shun,

Peace he would have, and peace he would hold,

And all this people he would respect and love,

And, through all, honour Vortigern the king.

But he had brought here, from the Saxon lands,

Seven hundred shiploads of heathen warriors,

They the bravest men that lived under the sun.

‘I will,’ said Hengist, ‘bring them to the king,

On a certain day, and before all his people.

The king shall arise, and then shall he choose

Two hundred knights, to defend him in a fight,

And guard him, carefully, whate’er occurs.

The rest will then depart, and will return,

In peace and friendship, to the Saxon lands.

And I will stay here with my dearest friend,

With Vortigern the king, whom I ever love.

Word came to the Britons of all he’d promised,

And they were most pleased at his fair words,

And agreed to wait, in peace and amity,

For the day when the king reviewed these folk.

Hengist heard this, the fairest of all knights,

And was blither than e’er in his life before,

Seeking to deceive the king of this realm.

He showed himself the evillest of knights,

As are all who deceive those they befriend.

Who would have thought, for all the world,

That he’d deceive one wed to his daughter,

Yet there is none so wise may not be cheated.

They set a day when all would meet together,

And gather there, in true peace and amity,

On a pleasant plain not far from Amesbury;

The place was Elenge, now called Stonehenge.

There, Hengist the traitor, in word and writ,

Claimed to the king he would bring his forces,

But only, in company, three hundred knights,

They the wisest men, of all that he could find.

And the king should bring as many bold thanes,

The wisest of all that there might be in Britain,

In their finest clothes, and without weapons,

Such that no evil might happen by mischance.

So, Saxons spoke, and oft their word they broke,

For Hengist, the traitor, ordered each comrade

To take a long knife and strap it to his shank,

Hid beneath his hose, where none might see.

When the Saxons and Britons met together,

Then, said Hengist, most treacherous of knights:

‘Hail to you, lord king, each is your underling,

And if any here shows a weapon by his side,

Send him far from us, and from our friendship.

Let us seek amity, and speak of harmony,

And of how we may live our lives in peace.’

So, the traitor spoke to deceive the Britons.

Then answered Vortigern, all too unwary:

If here there is any knight that is so wild

As to show an uncouth weapon at his side,

He shall lose a hand, and by that same brand,

Unless he swiftly sends that weapon away.’

This they all did, and so went empty-handed,

The knights, mingling then, went to and fro,

And spoke together, as brother to brother,

And, as the Britons and the Saxons mingled,

Then said Hengist, that most treacherous man:

‘Draw your knives, now, my trusty warriors,

Bravely bestir yourselves, and spare you none!’

The noble Britons, ignorant of their tongue,

Knew not what the Saxons said between them,

As the latter drew the knives hid at their sides.

Then, smiting to the right and left, the Saxons

Before, behind, felled Britons to the ground,

And every man they slew, that they came nigh.

Of the king’s folk, fell four hundred and five.

Woe to him then, for Hengist gripped him grimly,

And dragged him by the cloak, till the cord broke,

The Saxons set on him, and would have slain him.

But Hengist defended him, and forbade the deed.

Yet he held him full fast, while the fight did last.

There many noble Britons were deprived of life.

Some of them fled swiftly o’er the broad field,

Wielding stones, for of weapons they had none.

Hard was the fight, and fell there many a knight.

One was a bold churl, out of Salisbury come,

Who bore upon his back a great strong club,

There too was a noble knight named Aldolf,

One of the finest, who ruled all Gloucester,

Who leapt at the churl, as if he were a lion,

And seized the club that he bore upon his back.

Whoever he smote with it, they died outright,

Before, and behind, he laid them on the ground.

Three and fifty he slew, and to his steed he drew

Their corpses, leapt on his steed, and off he rode.

To Gloucester went he, and the gates fast barred,

And then forthwith he called his knights to arms.

They scoured the land, and took what they found,

Cattle, and corn, and all there they found alive,

And blithely they brought all back into the burgh,

And barred fast the gates, and kept them guarded.

Let us leave it there, and speak again of the king.

He yields the south to the Saxons, and flees to Wales

The Saxons had leapt towards him, and would slay,

But Hengist called to them, and he spoke outright:

‘Halt now, my warriors, seek not to destroy him,

He has cared for us, he that wed my daughter fair.

But all his burghs he shall render into our hands,

If he’d save his life, or else sorrow he shall feel.’

Then was King Vortigern bound, and shackled,

Nor had he meat to eat, nor friend to speak with,

Till he swore, upon relics sacred to the Saxons,

That he would render his realm into their hands,

His burghs and his castles, and all his kingdom.

And all this he did, as twas thought he would.

And Hengist took in hand all of this rich realm,

And he shared out the land among his people.

He gave an earl all of Kent, as far as London,

His chamberlain Middlesex, his steward Essex.

His knights received the land, awhile they held it,

And Vortigern the king journeyed o’er the land,

Rendering up to Hengist all his noble burghs.

And Hengist forthwith placed his knights therein,

While many of his lesser folk settled in Sussex,

And many of his nobler Saxons in Middlesex,

And, in his steward’s Essex, the noblest of all.

The foodstuffs they seized, all that they found,

They raped the women, and broke God’s law,

And did whate’er they would, o’er all that land.

Thus, the Britons suffered mischief everywhere,

And saw that the Saxons would rule the realm.

The Britons gave names to the lands they lost,

In order to bring great shame on the Saxon host.

Because with their knives (‘saexes’) they had slain,

They called those wide tracts Essex, and Wessex,

And the third and fourth Middlesex and Sussex.

Vortigern the king, he gave them all those lands,

So that not a turf of them was in his own hands,

Then Vortigern himself fled o’er the Severn,

Far into Wales, and there he chose to dwell,

And all of his landless companions with him.

Now, he had a hoard of treasure; it was large,

And he caused his men to ride forth, far and wide,

And summon to him men of whatever kind,

That would offer him their allegiance for a fee.

This word the Britons heard, and this the Scots,

The riders came to him then, from every side,

Thither, from everywhere, they began to gather,

Many a nobleman’s son, for gold and treasure.

Vortigern seeks to build a castle

When he had sixty thousand men about him,

Then he brought together the wise in counsel:

‘Good men advise me, for of that have I need.

Tell me where I might build, in the wilderness,

Dwell in a castle there, with all my household,

And hold it, in its strength, against this Hengist,

Until I might win back my burghs, and better,

Take vengeance on the foe that felled my friends,

And has wrested all my kingdom from my hands,

For so has my enemy thrust me from my realm.’

Then answered a wise man, learned in counsel:’

‘List my lord king, for I speak a goodly thing,

Upon the mount of Reir, I would advise you,

Build your castle, with thick walls, tall and strong,

And therein you may dwell, and live in bliss.

In your hand, you have yet much silver and gold,

With which to maintain those who will aid you.

And there might you live the best life of all.’

Then the king answered him: ‘Let it be known

Amongst all my mighty host, that I shall go

To the mount of Reir, and there raise a castle.’

Forth went the king, and all his host with him,

And when they came there, a ditch they dug,

Horns were blown, and great machines laboured,

And lime they burnt, laid mortar to the stones,

For, once the ditch was made, and dug full deep,

The built a wall above the ditch, high over all;

Of machines there were five and twenty hundred.

Though by day they laid the wall, at night it fell,

Raised on the morrow, yet it tumbled in the night.

For a seven-night, their labour served them so.

Each day they raised it and still, at night, it fell.

Then was the king sad, at this woeful thing,

While all his army were troubled and afraid,

For ever they looked if Hengist might come.

Sorrowful was the king and he sent for sages,

For those men worldly-wise that knew wisdom,

And bade them cast lots, chant incantations,

And seek for the truth, with their potent skills,

As to why a wall that they had built so strong,

Might not stand for as long as a single night.

These wise men formed two separate parties,

Some went to the woods, some the crossways,

They cast their lots, and chanted incantations,

And full three nights their craft they practised.

Yet could find no cause why the mighty wall

That seemed so strong yet tumbled every night,

And all the labour of the king’s men was lost.

Yet there was one sage; his name was Joram,

He gave the king advice, though he was lying,

Saying that if men could find, in any realm,  

A male-child that had never had a father,

And opened his chest, and took of his blood,

Mingled it with lime, and made their mortar,

The wall would stand till the world’s ending.

These words were relayed to King Vortigern,

And he believed them though they were false.

Swiftly he sent his messengers o’er the land,

As far as they might fare, despite the danger,

And, in each town, they sought for any rumour

Of there being, in that place, any such child.

These knights roamed widely o’er the land,

And two of them took a road towards the west,

That led the way to where Carmarthen lies.

The boy, Merlin

By the burgh, in a wide way, were lads at play,

The knights were weary, sorrowful at heart,

And sat by the lads, and watched them play.

After a while the lads fought as children will,

The one struck the other who felt his blows.

This Dinabuz was angry, he that was struck,

Towards the other lad that was named Merlin.

This said Dinabuz, that the blow encountered:

‘Merlin, you wicked fellow, why did you thus?

You have brought me shame, and shall have woe.

I am a king’s son, and you are born of naught,

In no place should you dwell like a free man.

This be the truth, your mother was a whore,

That knew not the man ever that begot you,

Nor had you ever a true father midst mankind.

And yet on our own land you bring me shame,

As no man’s son have you come here among us,

And so, you deserve to suffer death this day.’

The knights heard this where they were seated,

They rose, and drew near, and asked eagerly,

Concerning this strange tale, told of the lad.

In Carmarthen dwelt a magistrate called Eli,

And these knights came swiftly to the reeve,

And addressed the man, urgently, and said:

‘We are, in truth, knights loyal to Vortigern,

And have seen a young lad here named Merlin,

And not a whit is known of this lad’s father.

Take him in haste, and send him to the king,

If you would wish to keep your life and limbs.

And his mother too, she that bore this same.

Do this, and the king will receive them both;

Refuse, and you’ll be driven forth from here,

This burgh will be burned, and its folk ruined.’

Then answered Eli, the reeve of Carmarthen:

‘I know all this land lies in Vortigern’s hand,

And we are all his folk, more honour to him,

So, we will do it gladly, and fulfil his wish.’

Forth went the reeve and his fellow burghers,

And sought out Merlin, with his playfellows.

Merlin, they took, as his companions mocked.

When Merlin was led away, Dinabuz was glad,

And cried he was led away to lose his limbs,

Yet things went otherwise, ere all was done.

Now Merlin’s mother had erstwhile become

A hooded nun, dwelling by a noble minster.

Thither went Eli, the reeve of Carmarthen,

And led the good lady from where she lay,

And sped forth swiftly to King Vortigern,

Full many escorting Merlin and the nun.

Soon were the tidings come to Vortigern,

That Eli had come there, bringing the lady,

And that Merlin her son had come with her.

Then was Vortigern blithe as ever in life.

And with looks most fair he greeted the lady,

While Merlin he handed to twelve fine knights,

Loyal to the king, who were set to guard him.

Then Vortigern the king, spoke to the nun:

‘Good lady, tell me; it shall go well with you;

Where were you born, and whose is the lad?’

Then the nun answered him as to her father:

‘My father held in his hand a third of this land.

 He was king of this land as is widely known,

And he was named Conan, the lord of knights.’

Then answered the king, treating her as his kin:

‘Now lady, tell me; it shall go well with you;

Here is Merlin your son; who then begat him?

Who was held as his father among the folk?’

Then she hung her head, and bowed it low,

And sat quietly by the king, full silent awhile,

And after a while she spoke, and told the king:

‘My lord king, I’ll tell you a wondrous tale,

My father, King Conan, he loved me ever,

And I grew in time to be marvellously fair.

When I was fifteen, I dwelt in a fair mansion,

And wondrous fair the maids my companions.

One night, when I lay in bed, and soft asleep,

There appeared before me the finest born,

As if he were a tall knight, arrayed in gold.

This I saw, in a dream each night, in sleep.

This vision glided before me, all glistening,

And full often he embraced me and kissed me,

Oft he approached me, oft the came full nigh,

When, at last, I came to glance at my body,

My flesh was strange to me, hateful my form,

And most strange it seemed what this might be!

Yet, finally, I perceived that I was with child.

And when my time came, I bore me this son.

I know not who, in this world, his father was,

Nor who begat the child on me, in this world,

Nor whether it was evil, or on God’s behalf.

Alas, as I seek for mercy, I know no more

That I might say, as to how my son came here.’

And the nun bowed her head, and hid her face.

Vortigern seeks counsel regarding the lad

The king now bethought him what he might do,

And summoned his counsellors to advise him,

And their best counsel was to send for Magan,

That was a man of wisdom, and many a craft,

Who could counsel well, and foresee the future,

For he had the craft to read the heavens above,

And knew the histories told in many a tongue.

Magan came to court, and stood before the king,

And he greeted Vortigern with goodly words:

‘Hail, and good health to you, King Vortigern,

I am come before you; what do you wish of me?’

Then the king answered and told the wise man

All that the nun had said, and sought his counsel.

From beginning to end, he told this Magan all.

Then said Magan: ‘Of all such things, I know.

There are in the heavens many kinds of being,

That shall remain there till Doomsday comes.

Some are noble and good, and some work evil.

Therein is a numerous sort that haunt mankind,

And they are truly named “incubi daemones”.

They do little harm, but to deceive us mortals,

For many a one in their dreams they will delude.

By their craft, many a woman is got with a child,

Many a good man’s child beguiled with magic.

So was Merlin begot, and born of this mother,

So has all this transpired,’ said Magan the wise.

And then said Merlin himself, to Vortigern:

‘King, your men have brought me; here am I.

I would learn then what might be your will,

And for what cause am I led before the king?’

He tells Merlin of his plight concerning the castle

Then Vortigern answered the boy, full swiftly:

‘Merlin you are come hither as no man’s son.

List, since you long for speech you may loathe;

If you would learn the reason, you shall hear it.

I have applied my strength to a mighty work,

That has well-nigh consumed all my treasure.

Five thousand men labour each day thereon.

I’ve lime and stone, none better in this world,

Nor are there better workmen in any country.

All they build in a day, this the truth I tell you,

By the morrow, has all come tumbling down.

Each stone, from the others, fallen to the ground.

Now my wise, and my learned, counsellors say

That I draw the blood from out your breast,

And add it to my lime, to make the mortar,

These walls will stand to the world’s ending.

Now you know; how sits that then with you?’

Merlin denounces Magan’s counsel

Merlin listened, and he was wrathful in mood,

And yet, though he was angered, he said this:

‘God himself, who is lord over all mankind,

Wills not the castle raised by use of my blood,

Nor ever that your fortress shall stand secure.

All these wise men of yours, are deceivers,

They stand before you and they tell you lies,

And that you shall discover, this very day.

All this was said by Joram who stands my foe.

His counsel false, I am shaped to be his bane.

Let your wise man Joram come before you,

And let all his companions now stand here,

All those who tell such lies to their true king.

And if I tell you the truth now, of the wall,

And why, though it be well-built, it falls again,

And if I prove in truth that their words are lies,

And raise you your wall, grant me their heads!’

Then Vortigern answered the boy full swiftly:

‘By this right hand, I give my word to you.’

So Joram the wise was brought before the king,

And seven of his fellow sages, all ill-fated.

Merlin was wrathful, and he spoke angrily:

Tell me, Joram the traitor, hateful to my heart,

Why does this wall, by night, fall to the ground,

And what is it may be found beneath the ditch?’

Now Joram was silent, since he could not say.

Then said Merlin: ‘King, hold to your word!

And let the ditch be dug seven feet deeper,

And they shall find a stone, wondrous fair,

Both fine and broad, for your folk to behold.’

And so, the ditch was dug seven foot deeper,

And, forthwith, they found that very stone.

Said Merlin again:’ King hold to your word!

Now tell me Joram, one loathsome to me,

What kind of thing dwells beneath this stone?’

The white dragon and the red dragon

Now, Joram was silent since he could not say.

Then Merlin spoke a wonder: ‘Water lies under;

Raise up the stone, for beneath the water lies.’

Before the monarch, they moved away the stone,

And the water they found, and then Merlin said:

‘Come, tell to me now, Joram; my mortal enemy,

What dwells in this water, winter and summer?’

And the king questioned Joram, but he knew not.

Then Merlin said again: ‘King, hold to your word!

Cause all of this water now to be drained away,

For, in its depths, there dwell two great dragons,

The one to the north, and the other to the south.

The one is milk-white, whiter than any creature,

And the other, boldest of worms, is red as blood.

Each night, at midnight, these two begin to fight,

And through their fighting the stonework falls,

The ground begins to sink, and the walls tumble.

Here’s the wondrous cause of your castle falling,

The answer lies in the flood, not in my blood.’

The water was drained away, the men were glad,

Great was the joy they showed before their king,

But soon they were sorry, and filled with woe,

For, ere the day was ended, strange tidings came.

When the water was drained, and the pit empty,

The dragons sallied forth, with a mighty roar,

And fought fiercely there, deep within the ditch,

Ne’er has any man seen a more loathsome battle,  

For blasts of flame flew from the dragons’ jaws.

Vortigern viewed the fight; grim was the sight,

Wondering what in the world this betokened,

And how Merlin had known what no other knew.

First the white worm was above, and then below,

And there the red dragon wounded him to death.

Then both went into the pit, nor were seen again.

So, did all this happen, as Vortigern looked on.

And all that were with him, hailed this Merlin,

While the king shunned Joram, and offed his head,

And those of his seven comrades that were there.

The king went to his hall, and Merlin with him.

And said to him warmly: ‘Merlin, you are welcome,

And I will give you everything that you desire,

Of my land, and of my silver, and of my gold.’

He thought through Merlin to regain the realm,

Yet, ere the day’s end, he saw twas otherwise.

The king then said to Merlin, his dear friend:

‘Tell to me, Merlin, now dearest to me of all,

What did the dragons and their noise betoken,

The stone, the water, and the wondrous fight?

Tell me, if you will, what all this betokens.

And, afterwards, advise me what I should do,

And how I may regain my realm from Hengist,

My wife’s father, he who has harmed me greatly.’

Then answered Merlin, to the monarch’s speech:

‘King, you are unwise, and lacking in thought,

In asking, of the dragons that made such din,

The meaning of their fight and fierce conflict.

For they betoken the kings that are to come,

Their fight, their venture, and their peoples’ fates.

And yet if you were wise, and of prudent mind,

You might have asked me of the many sorrows,

And of the care and woe, that will come to you.

And I would have told you of all such trouble.’

Merlin prophesies the fate of kings

Then said Vortigern: ‘Merlin, my dear friend,

Tell me of all that will happen, then, to me.’

‘Willingly,’ said Merlin, in a voice full bold,

‘I shall tell you, and yet you will rue it ever.

 King, king, see you not woe will come to you,

From Constantin’s kin, whose son you killed,

Causing Constance to be slain, that was king;

You caused the Picts to wickedly betray him.

Thus, you must suffer the worst woes of all.

Afterwards, you drew here a foreign people,

You brought us the Saxons, and shall be ruined.

For now, the noblemen of Britain are arriving,

That is Aurelius and Uther, and now you know,

They will reach this land tomorrow, at Totnes,

I will have you know, with seven hundred ships.

For e’en now they sail full swiftly o’er the sea.

You have done them harm, and harm must feel,

And on both sides your bane shall seem to be,

Since your enemies lie before you and behind.

So, flee, flee far away, and thus save your life!

Yet, flee where you will, your foes will follow.

Aurelius Ambrosius first shall rule the realm,

But he, by means of poison, shall suffer death.

Then Uther Pendragon shall have the kingdom,

Yet your kin, with poison too, will murder him,

Though, ere he dies, he shall raise great conflict.

Uther will have a son; out of Cornwall come,

Much like to a wild boar, bristling with steel,

And that boar shall consume most noble burghs,

And all the traitors he shall destroy with ease.

He will put to death all your wealthy kindred,

He shall be one most noble and brave in mind,

And lands as far as Rome this same shall rule,

For all of his foes he shall fell to the ground.

The truth I tell, nor sweet may it seem to you.

Flee with your host, your foes are come to court!’

Aurelius and Uther land at Totnes; the death of Vortigern

Then Merlin the wise, ceased his prophesy,

And the king had full thirteen trumpets blown,

And then marched forth, swiftly, with his host.

Now, was it within the space of a single night,

That the two brothers came ashore together,

At Totnes, that lies at the mouth of the Dart.

The Britons heard of this and they were blithe;

They emerged from the woods and wilderness,

In sixties, and in sixties, and seven hundreds,

In thirties and in thirties, and so in thousands.

And as they gathered, good to them it seemed.

A mighty host the brothers brought to this land,

And many a bold Briton marched before them,

In countless numbers, and bent upon revenge,

That midst the woods and hills had lain hidden,

Because of the weight of misery, and the harm,

And the dread, that Hengist made them suffer,

That had murdered their leaders with knives,

With those ‘saexes’, cut to pieces their thanes.

The Britons took counsel at a great husting,

And they took Aurelius, the elder brother,

In their noble husting, and made him king.

The tidings swiftly reached King Vortigern

That Aurelius had been chosen as their ruler.

Then was Vortigern woeful, with worse to come.

King Vortigern now proceeded to a fortress,

That was named Genoire, set on a high hill,

The hill called Cloard, and the land Hergin,

Near to the Wye, that flows there, a fair river.

Vortigern’s men gathered in all they found

Of foodstuffs and weapons, of many a kind,

And brought to the fortress all they desired,

Enough for their needs, though of little help,

For Aurelius and Uther were well aware

That Vortigern was on Cloard in a fortress,

The trumpets blew, they roused their army,

A countless host of men, from many a land,

And marched to Genoire, where Vortigern lay.

A king was without, and a king was within;

The knights fought there in fierce encounter,

Every good man girded his loins and fought.

When the besiegers saw their attack had failed,

They went in numbers to the wood nearby,

Felled the trees, and dragged them to the ditch,

And filled all that moat, dug wondrous deep.

Burning brands, they hurled in from all sides,

And called to Vortigern: ‘Now, we’ll warm you,

For slaying Constantin, king of all this land,

And afterwards our Constance, his eldest son.

Here now is Aurelius, with his brother Uther,

To bring you ill!’ And the wind fanned the flames,

The fortress burned, the dwellings were consumed,

And all that stronghold was razed to the ground.

None there could fight against that fierce blaze,

The fire went over all, burning roof and wall,

And King Vortigern within was burnt to death,

For all were consumed that had been therein.

So ended, amidst much harm, King Vortigern,

And Aurelius held this land in his two hands.

The End of Part IV of Layamon’s ‘Brut’