Part VII: King Arthur to the last battle

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

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Arthur’s noblemen gather at Caerleon

Arthur sent messengers through all the land,

He bade the earls and the barons gather,

He bade the kings and the chieftains come,

He bade the bishops, and he bade the knights,

He bade the realm’s freemen, upon their lives,

To be there at Caerleon, on Whitsunday.

So, knights everywhere, began their ride,

Towards Caerleon, from many a kingdom.

On Whitsunday, there appeared King Angel,

The king of Scotland, with his fine people,

Many a fine Scotsman following that king;

Urien, from Moray, with his son Yvain;

Stater, of South Wales, Cadwal of the North;

Cador of Cornwall, whom Arthur held dear;

Maurin of Winchester, Morvith of Gloucester;

Gurguint of Hereford, and Beof of Oxford.

Cursalein the bold, out of Bath, came riding;

Jonathas of Dorchester, Urgein of Chester;

Kinmare of Canterbury, Arnald of Salisbury;

Balien of Silchester, and Wigein of Leicester;

Argal of Warwick, with many a companion;

Dunwale, Apries’ son, Elauth’s son Kegein;

Coit’s son Kineus, and Cradoc, Catel’s son;

Adlein, Cledauk’s son, Grimark, Kinmark’s son;

Run, Margoit, Netan; Clofard, Kincar, Aican;

Kerin, Neton, Peredur; Madoc, Trahern, Elidur;

These were Arthur’s earls, the noblest of thanes,

To add to the nobles of Arthur’s Round Table,

Whose count none knew, nor could all name.

There were three archbishops, then, in this land,

York, London, and Saint Dubric, in Caerleon,

A holy man, and most excellent in all things.

The archbishop’s seat that was then at London,

Was later moved to be the see of Canterbury

When the English, afterwards, won this land.

None might count the folk there at Caerleon.

There was King Gillemaur, darling of the Irish,

Malverus of Iceland, and Doldanim of Jutland,

Kinkalin of Frisland, and Aescil King of Demark;

There was Loth the Keen, the King of Lothian,

And Gonwais of Orkney, darling of the outlaws.

Thither that fierce man, the Earl of Boulogne,

That was named Leir, came with his people,

And from Flanders marched the Earl Howeldin;

This earl brought with him all the French lords,

Twelve earls most noble, that ruled all of France,

With Guitard, Earl of Poitiers, Kay, of Angers,

Bedivere, of Normandy, then called Neustrie,

Borel of Le Mans, and Earl Howel of Brittany,

He that was a free man, fair were his garments,

And all the French folk were clothed right fair,

With fine arms and armour, and sleek horses;

And, besides all these, came fifteen bishops.

Ne’er a knight was there living, nor a swain,

Nor a good man that was rightfully a thane,

From the Spanish ports, to the German lands,

That would not have been present, if invited.

In their fear of, and respect for, noble Arthur.

When all were there, the kings and their folk,

There were full many men to view besides.

Many a foreigner had come to the burgh,

And many a novelty was before the king;

Many a bold knight, wondrously dressed.

And there were lodgings nobly prepared,

There were inns, neatly and strongly built,

And many a thousand tents upon the field.

There too meat, wheat, oats beyond measure;

None can tell the tale of the wine and ale.

There was fodder too, and all that was good.

The crowning of King Arthur

When the king had gathered all these folk,

On that Whitsunday, sacred to the Lord,

All the bishops appeared before their king.

The three archbishops stood before Arthur,

And took up the crown that was his by right.

Then, with great joy, they set it on his head,

And with God’s counsel went in procession.

Saint Dubric, Christ’s chosen, walked before,

He had London’s archbishop on his right,

While York accompanied him, upon his left.

Fifteen bishops, of many countries, followed,

And they were clothed in garments most fine,

That were embroidered with gleaming gold.

Four kings walked next, leading the monarch,

Who bore in their hands four golden swords.

He who went first was that steadfast knight,

Cador of Cornwall, he King Arthur’s darling.

The second, sword in hand, was Scotland’s king,

Then the kings of North Wales and South Wales.

And, thus, they led the monarch toward church.

The bishops chanted, leading forth their king;

The trumpets blew, and all the bells were rung;

Many a knight did ride, the ladies forth did glide.

Of a certainty tis said, and true indeed it was,

That no man e’er saw, in this mortal world,

Half so great a pomp, or so fine a gathering,

As advanced with Arthur, born of noble line.

Into the church went Arthur, that high king.

Archbishop Dubric, one blessed by the Lord,

Legate of Rome, and prelate of the people,

Then chanted the holy mass before the king.

The queen was there, with many a fair lady,

The wives of the wealthiest men in the land,

And noble daughters chosen by the queen,

As the queen commanded, on pain of penalty.

On the south side of the church sat Arthur,

On the north side sat Guinevere, his queen.

Came before her four queens she had chosen,

Each bore a golden wand in her left hand,

And three white doves sat on each shoulder.

These were the wives of the four great kings

That each bore in their hand a sword of gold,

And had preceded Arthur, that great monarch.

Many a maid attended there upon the queen,

And many a rich garment clad those fair folk.

And many from foreign realms felt jealousy,

Each thinking themselves finer than another.

Many the knights that gathered to the church;

Some in hopes of gain, others for the king,

And some to behold the many noble ladies.

Cheerful hymns were sung, that lasted long.

Yet I deem, if they had lasted full seven years,

Those therein would yet have wished for more.

The feast at Caerleon

When the mass was done, they left the church,

And the king and his nobles went forth to feast,

And joy there was amongst that host of people,

While the queen for her part sought her rooms,

With that wondrous crowd of ladies about her.

Ere the king sat down to table, with his folk,

Saint Dubric, that good man, came to the king,

And took from off his head the golden crown,

Whose weight of gold Arthur might not bear,

And he placed a lighter crown upon his head,

Then went to find the queen, and did the same.

This was the custom in olden times, in Troy,

Among those fair folk of whom Brutus came.

The men, when feasting, set themselves apart

From the women, and thought that it was well.

Once the king was seated with the menfolk,

His earls and barons all at table for the feast,

Then came forth his steward, and he was Kay,

The noblest knight in the land, next the king.

Kay had at his command many a chosen man,

There were a hundred knights there all told,

To serve the king, his barons, and his earls,

And each wore garments adorned with gold,

And upon their fingers many a golden ring.

They bore all from the kitchen to the king.

By Kay’s side was Bedivere, the cup-bearer,

And with him were earls’ sons of noble line,

And the sons of noble knights, come hither,

And seven king’s sons followed after him.

Bedivere led them, bearing a golden bowl.

And after these a hundred stepped forward

With all the kinds of drink men might seek,

While fairest ladies waited on the queen,

A hundred chosen noblewomen before her,

To serve her, for her part, and those with her.

And ne’er was there a man born of woman,

No layman or clerk ever, in any country,

That could tell, in whate’er tongue might be,

Of a half of the wealth that was in Caerleon,

Of the silver and gold, of the fine garments,

Of the noble lords there amid that gathering,

Of the deer-hounds, the hawks, and the horses,

All the rich display of that crowd of people.

Of all that fair folk, that dwelt in this land.

For this land’s folk were deemed the fairest,

And its women were thought the most charming,

The best dressed, most learned, and the wisest.

Lively of mind, they’d agreed that each lady

Would wear fine garments each of one colour,

Some wore red, some white, and some green;

Wondrous vile to them was the mixing of hues,

And those that did so they thought unworthy.

This country then was more famous than any,

And the folk of this land most dear to the king.

The noble women that dwelt in this country

Had, as one, declared, demanded, in truth,

That none should take to herself a husband,

No matter how handsome might be the man,

Except he’d been three times tried in combat,

His courage known, and he thus approved.

Then he might boldly go seek for to wed her.

Because of that custom, the knights were brave,

And the ladies nobler, with the best of manners.

In Britain was bliss enough, in Arthur’s day.

The games at the feast

When the king and all his folk had eaten,

Out of the burgh went the boldest knights,

All of the kings there, and all the chieftains,

All of the clerks, and all of the bishops,

All of the earls, and of the noble barons,

All of the thanes, and all of the swains,

In their fair garments, and took the field.

Some raced on horseback, and some on foot,

Some began leaping, and some fired bows,

And other folk wrestled, in noble contest.

Some in the field fought with lance and shield,

And some drove balls all across the meadow.

Many a manner of game they played there,

And whoever, in all their play, won honour,

Was lead, with song, before his monarch,

And Arthur would grant a gift rich and fine.

The queens and ladies watched from the walls,

To see all the thanes and the swains at play,

And such games and play lasted three full days.

The embassy of twelve Roman knights

On the fourth day the king made a speech,

And gave rewards to all of his fair knights.

Silver and gold, land and horses, he gave,

Castles, and clothes to please his companions;

Many the bold Briton that stood before Arthur.

Now, many a fine novelty viewed the king,

As Arthur the noble graced the festive board,

And before him sat many a king or chieftain,

Bishop, or clerk, or brave knight and bold.

Into the hall came a wondrous procession,

There came twelve knights most finely clad,

Most noble warriors, noble was their armour.

Each had on his finger a great ring of gold,

And encircling his head was a golden band.

Two by two these knights entered together,

Each holding the hand of a brave companion,

And glided over the floor, towards Arthur,

Until they all stood before Arthur the king.

They greeted him boldly, with noble words:

‘Hail to you, Arthur, darling of the Britons,

Hail to your people, all of your lordly folk!

We come here, twelve rich and noble knights,

Sent hither, from Rome by our emperor Luces,

He who now rules all the Roman people.

He bade us come to greet Arthur the king,

And to speak in words of utmost severity,

Saying he is astonished, wondrously much,

That given your place and role in middle-earth,

You dare thus to oppose the will of Rome,

And set your sights on what our ancestors held.

And that you are counselled, and are so bold

As to threaten Luces, commander over all,

Our emperor, and the noblest of men alive.

You hold all this kingdom in your sole hand,

And will not serve its one and only emperor,

The land that Julius held, and won in battle,

You hold all power, and deny Rome its rights.

Send word, now, to Rome, by us, King Arthur,

And we shall bear it to our emperor, Luces,

Saying you concede that he’s your overlord.

And you’ll become his man, and hold him so,

And so right the wrong done our emperor

In slaying Frolle the king of France, at Paris,

Whose land you wrongly hold, thus, in your hand.

If within twelve weeks you choose the right,

And suffer the punishment approved by Rome,

Then you may live still among your people.

And if you will not, so much the worse for you,

For the emperor will come to his own land here,

As a true king should, and display his strength,

And lead you, bound before him, back to Rome;

Then will you suffer what you now put to scorn.’

At these words the Britons leapt to their feet,

Then did all Arthur’s knights show their anger,   

And swore a mighty oath, by the Lord on high,

That those who bore this word to them must die,

And be drawn apart by horses, such their doom.

The Britons leapt towards them, in their wrath,

Caught their hair and dragged them to the ground.

Then the Romans would have been ill-treated,

Had Arthur not leapt, like a lion, to their aid,

And spoke these words, that noblest of Britons:

‘Leave them alone, and swiftly; they shall live;

Nor shall they suffer harm in this my realm.

They are come hither as their lord commanded,

And that is their emperor, that men call Luces.

Every man must go where his lord bids him go,

And none should condemn a messenger to death,

Unless he should prove a traitor to his master.

So, sit you still, all you, knights within the hall,

I will take counsel as to what should be done,

And what word they shall bear to their emperor.’

Then the folk retired again to their benches,

And the clamour died down before the king.

Arthur takes counsel as to his response

Then up rose Arthur, the noble monarch,

And summoned to him the seven princes,

The earls, and barons, and the boldest knights,

And the wisest heads amongst the people,

And he went into a chamber fast enclosed,

Of ancient stonework, fair built by craftsmen,

And therein he and his counsellors communed,

As to what answer to grant the emperor, Luces.

When all the noblemen were seated there,

In awe of the king, the counsellors fell silent,

For none dared speak in fear of reprimand.

Then up stood Cador, noblest of the earls,

And spoke these words before the high king:

‘I thank the Lord, who granted us the light,

That I am alive to hear the present tidings,

This message, brought to us and our king.

For, now, we may no longer lie here idle,

And tis idleness does harm to every land.

In idleness a man will lose his manhood;

Idleness turns a knight from what is right;

Idleness conjures a deal of wickedness;

Idleness has ruined many a thousand men.

Through scant deeds idle folk ne’er speed.

Long have we lain still; our honour the less,

But now, thank the Lord that grants us light,

The Roman folk, it seems, are so emboldened

That they threaten to attack us in our burghs,

And bind our king, and bear him off to Rome.

Yet if all is true that these messengers say,

And their masters have become so daring

As to invade our land, we should prepare

A tale for them to tell, of pain and woe.

Let their boldness bring upon them sorrow.

Ne’er have I loved peace, at home, overlong;

Peace binds us fast, and well-nigh in a swoon.’

Walwain, that was Arthur’s kin, heard all this,

And he was much angered by Cador’s speech,

And this answer gave him Walwain the Good:

‘Cador, you’re a man above such ill counsel,

For peace is good, and amity good likewise,

When freely kept as the Lord has wrought it.

For peace leads good men to do good works,

All folk are better, and the land knows bliss.’

Arthur listened to the dispute of these knights,

And thus spoke the monarch to his fierce folk:

‘Come, be seated, swiftly now, one and all.

And each man, upon his life, hark now to me.’

Then all were still, and most silent in the hall,

And the noble king spoke thus to his bold folk:

‘My earls, my barons, my courageous knights,

My steadfast warriors, my own dear friends,

With you have I conquered, beneath the sun,

And am powerful, and fierce against all foes.

Gold and treasure have I, and rule o’er many.

Nor was this won alone; we all wrought so.

To many a battle I’ve led you, and your skill

Has, thus, set many a realm in my two hands.

You are good knights, and bold men in a fight;

Tis a thing I’ve well-proven in many a land.’

Then again spoke Arthur, noblest of all kings:

‘Now, my noble thanes, Rome’s proclamation

You have heard, all the message that they send

To us, in words and writ, and of their wrath.

Now we must think how we may rightly defend

Our realm, and our honour, against these folk,

These powerful Romans, and give them answer,

And send a reply, in prudent terms, to Rome,

And learn of this emperor why he so hates us,

And why he greets us threateningly, with scorn.

For greatly it shames, and greatly it angers me,

That he reproaches us for Rome’s past conquest.

Julius Caesar won this land, they say, in battle.

By showing power through conflict men do harm,

So, Caesar sought, by strength, to quell the Britons,

Who failed to defend their realm, and their land,

Bur delivered all this country into his hands.

Thereafter all those Britons became his men.

Some of our kin were slain, some he executed,

Drawn apart with horses, some he led captive.

Thus, this land he conquered, though wrongly so,

And now Rome asks for tribute from our realm.

Yet we might ask such of them, if we so wished,

By right of King Belin, and Brenne his brother,

Duke of Burgundy, for from them we descend.

They besieged Rome, conquering all that realm,

And hung her hostages before Rome the strong,

And after took the land, and set it in their hand.

Thus, by rights, we should besiege Rome too,

Besides Belin and Brenne, what of Constantine,

He was Helen’s son, who came of British line.

He won Rome, and was emperor o’er that realm,

And, besides Constantine, who ruled that land,

We might speak too of Maximian the strong,

That was King of Britian, and conquered France;

For Maximian the strong took all Rome in hand,

And Germany, with wondrous deeds, he gained,

And held the lands from Rome to Normandy.

All these warriors were my noble ancestors,

And owned the realms to which Rome laid claim,

Thus, by precedent, Rome should be mine too.

She wishes, it seems, for tribute from our land,

Which, rather, I’ll have of Rome if you so will.

In my thoughts I desire to possess all Rome,

While Rome desires in Britain to bind me fast,

And slay my Britons, in some wicked action,

But if the Lord grants, who made day and night,

Then Rome shall surely pay for her bold threats,

And tis her own Roman people that shall perish,

While I shall rule where her emperor does now.

Now, sit you all still, and I will speak my will.

And none shall do otherwise than hold to it.

The emperor and I want all that both now hold,

And let him that has his wish hold all forever,

For we shall prove to whom the Lord grants it.’

The Sibyl’s prophecy

So spoke the noble king who ruled the Britons,

And that was Arthur, who was Britain’s darling.

His warriors sat there listening to his speech.

Some sat still the while, some spoke together;

To some it seemed good, others were troubled.

When they had listened at length to the king,

Then spoke Howel the fair, lord of Brittany.

These were the words he uttered to the king:

‘Lord, hearken to me, as I have done to you,

True are the words you say, fortune to you;

Of old it was prophesied what we shall see.

Long years ago, before the times we know,

The Sibyl spoke it, and her words were true,

And wrote it within a book for folk to learn,

That three kings would go forth from Britain,

And would conquer Rome, and all her realm,

And all the countries that do lie towards her.

The first was Belin, that was Britain’s king,

The second Constantine, that was emperor,

And you shall be the third to conquer Rome.

If you choose to begin this, then you will win,

And I will aid your cause with all my strength.

I’ll send messages o’er the sea to my thanes,

To my bold Britons, that we might prosper.

All the knights of Brittany I will command,

Throughout my realm, that upon their lives

They must be ready soon to march on Rome.

My lands I’ll set in pledge for gold and silver,

All the goods that I possess for silver and gold;

To Rome we’ll go, and slay the emperor, Luces.

Ten thousand knights I’ll lend, to gain your rights.’

Thus spoke the noble Howel, king of Brittany.

Angel adds his support to that of Howel

When Howel had spoken, as he thought fit,

Up spoke King Angel, Scotland’s darling.

He stood upon a bench, between his brothers,

Loth and Urien, that is, two most noble men.

Thus spoke King Angel to the monarch, Arthur:

‘Lord Arthur, I speak now words of truth to you,

In concord with all that Lord Howel has said.

No man shall fail you, but all shall undertake

This same campaign of yours, upon our lives.

And hark awhile, Lord Arthur, to my speech.

Amidst your Council, demand of your earls,

And of all the highest nobles in your lands,

To say in truth what they will do to aid you,

In slaying your foes, and gaining your rights.

I shall lend you three thousand champions,

And ten thousand foot-soldiers, brave in battle,

And we shall go to Rome, and conquer there.

For greatly it shames us, and greatly it angers,

That they should seek for tribute from our land.

But with the Lord’s help, who grants us light,

They shall all pay for doing so with their lives.

When we have conquered Rome, and her realm,

We shall win all the lands that lie towards her,

Apulia, Germany, Lombardy, and Neustrie,

(So, Normandy was known), and hold France,

And Brittany, and tame Rome’s swollen pride.’

When Angel ceased, then all there answered:

‘Shamed be the man that fails to help thereto,

 With goods and weapons, and with all his might.’

Thus were all Arthur’s folk right truly angered,

The knights so wrathful they leapt up and down.

Arthur sends his reply to Rome

King Arthur, on hearing the mighty clamour,

Called aloud for silence, filled yet with anger:

‘Sit still, knights in the hall, that I may speak,

And I’ll tell you all what message I shall send,

My writ I shall send, and a writ well-indited,

To fill the emperor there with woe and care,

Saying that I will soon fare forth to Rome,

Not to bear tribute there, but to bind him fast,

For I will hang him, and lay waste his realm,

And slay every knight that faces me in fight.’

Arthur composed his writ, full of hostile words,

And it was handed to the messengers to bear,

Though he granted them fine garments to wear,

And bade them go swiftly to Luces in Rome.

And he would follow as swiftly as he might.

The messengers return to Rome and deliver Arthur’s reply

The twelve knights departed for their land,

None were so burdened with silver and gold.

Thus, Arthur treated them, despite their words.

The twelve fared forth till they reached Rome

And greeted their emperor, their overlord:

‘Hail to you, Luces, that are highest o’er us!

We were with Arthur, fiercest of monarchs,

And his proud message we bring to you.

This Arthur is every inch the warrior-king,

Wondrous powerful he, and his knights full bold.

There, every thane bears himself like a knight,

Every swain bears himself like some rich thane,

While the knights carry themselves like kings.

Meat is abundant there, and the men are bold,

And the women like to the fairest now alive,

And Arthur, the bold king, is the finest of all.

He sends this message, by us, to give to you;

This word he sends, that he will come to Rome,

No tribute he’ll bring, yourself he will bind,

And then he will hang you, and hold this realm,

Germany, Lombardy, Burgundy, Normandy,

France too, for Frollo he slew, thus will he do

Likewise, to us, and will seize our realm entire.

Here will he bring his kings, earls, chieftains.

We have here, to hand, the writ that he sends,

That says what he’ll do when he comes here.’

Having heard the writ, the emperor felt ire.

And the nobles of Rome were full of anger.

They met oft in counsel, and there communed,

Ere they could agree on what they should do.

And the senators, who advised in that realm,   

Counselled the emperor to issue his writ,

And send his messengers o’er many lands,

And bid those warriors who were allied

To their true cause, and sought land and wealth,

To come, if they ever loved them, to their aid.

Many came, swiftly, to the Roman burgh,

A far greater host than men had e’er seen.

They said they would march by Mont Aiguille,

And fight Arthur’s troops where’er they were,

Behead or hang Arthur, destroy his army,

And seize his whole realm, for the emperor.

The roll-call of Rome’s allies

The first who arrived was a fighting king,

And he was the ruler of Greece, Epistrod;

Then came Ethion, the duke of Boeotia,

And he was there with a mighty force,

Then Irtac of Turkey, and Pandras of Egypt,

Crete’s King Ypolite, Syria’s Evander,

Phrygia’s Duke Teucer, Babylon’s Maptisas,

Meodras of Spain, and Media’s King Boccus,

Sextorius of Libya, Bitunia’s Pollidices,

Ituria’s King Xerxes, and Ofustesar of Africa,

There with his Africans, no king his like,

Leading his dark-skinned Ethiopian host.

The Roman knights marched out together,

Joining their allies, the noblest of all Rome,

Marcus, Lucus, Catel, Cocta, Gaius, and Metel;

These were the six men that led the Senate.

Once these folk from many a land were gathered,

The emperor took a count of that martial host,

And of bold knights, assembled ready to fight;

Four hundred thousand men were numbered,

Mounted and fully-armed, as became a knight.

And ne’er was there a man born, in any burgh,

That could count the soldiers that went on foot.

Before harvest-day that host began to march,

All along the road that led past Mont Aiguille.

Arthur’s force goes to meet them

Let us leave them awhile, and speak of Arthur,

Noblest of lords, who’d summoned his kings,

Each of whom had then gone to his own land,

And returned with his knights to the assembly,

Bearing weapons displaying their great might.

They came from Scotland, Ireland, and Jutland,

Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Orkney and Man,

A hundred thousand brave knights fully-armed.

And besides the knights arrayed in this manner,

Came hosts of the boldest men known to any,

With great battle-axes, and long-bladed knives.

And a hundred thousand knights joined the host

From Normandy and Anjou, Brittany and Poitou,

Flanders and Boulogne, Lorraine and Louvain,

The best of men, fine weapons in their hands.

There came the twelve defenders of France,

And twelve thousand men they brought outright,

While Arthur led fifty thousand from this realm,

All bold knights, and courageous folk in battle.

Howel of Brittany had his ten thousand there,

Noble knights, the best that were in that land.

There, were more men on foot, when they set forth

Than any man alive could make full count of.

King Arthur ordered all that host to assemble

On pain of death, on a set day, at Barfleur,

For there he would gather all his good people.

He entrusts the kingdom meanwhile to Mordred

The rule of this land he passed into the hand

Of a well-renowned knight, Walwain’s brother,

Mordred, an evil man; nor had Walwain other.

Thus, Mordred was Arthur’s kin, and of his line.

A wondrous fine knight was he, but full of pride.

Arthur’s sister’s son, his love was for the queen,

Which was ill-done, a treachery to his uncle.

Yet all was kept secret abroad, and in the hall,

For no man dreamed that such a thing was so.

Men thought him, as Walwain’s brother, true;

The truest knight that e’er was amongst them.

Through Walwain, Mordred was loved the more,

And Arthur, the noble, well pleased with him,

Placed his whole kingdom in Mordred’s hands,

And those of Guinevere, the highest woman

That dwelt amongst the people of this land.

He entrusted all to Mordred and the queen,

(Ill that they were born) which pleased the two.

Yet they brought this land to endless sorrow,

And the Devil shamed them both, in the end.

The traitor Mordred lost his life and his soul,

And, thereafter, he was loathed in every land,

So much so that for his soul none would pray,

Due to his treachery towards King Arthur.

All that Arthur possessed he handed Mordred,

His land and his people, and his dear queen,

And then took his army, of folk most fair,

And marched at speed towards Southampton.

Soon many a ship was anchored in the roads,

And the king filled them with his mighty host.

Thousands on thousands boarded those vessels,

While father wept for son, sister for brother,

Mother with daughter, as the fleet departed.

The weather was good, favourable the wind,

Anchors were raised, and the host were joyful.

The fleet now wound its way to the open sea,

The ships surged forth, and the gleemen sang,

The sails they hoisted, hauling on the ropes;

The weather was mild, and the waves were calm.

King Arthur’s dream

So still was the sea, that Arthur fell asleep,

And, as the king slept, he dreamed a dream,

So wondrous a dream it troubled the monarch,

Such that he then awoke, and was much afraid.

And, being so troubled, began to groan aloud.

None of the Christian knights there was so bold

As to ask the king’s state, ere he spoke himself.

Thus, Arthur spoke, to himself, when he awoke:

‘Lord Christ above, that governs each man’s fate

Protector of middle-earth, comforter of all folk

Through your merciful will, and ruler of angels,

Through your grace turn my ill dream to good.’

Up spoke Angel, the king, Scotland’s darling:

‘Lord, come say if your dream bodes well for us.’

‘Willingly;’ said the king, ‘may it promise bliss;

Where I lay, in my slumber, I began to dream,

And thought a wondrous beast rose in the sky,

In the east it rose, most loathsome to the sight,

And with storm and lightning, sternly, advanced;

No huge bear is there in any land so loathsome.

Then from the west, winding o’er the heavens,

Came a burning dragon; burghs he swallowed,

And he with his fiery breath lit all this realm.

In my dream I thought the sea began to burn,

Because of the fiery flames and light it shed.

This dragon and the bear then met together;

They smote each other fiercely in swift assault.

The sparks flew from their eyes like firebrands.

Often the dragon was above, and then beneath,

Nonetheless, in the end, he boldly rose on high,  

And then plunged downwards in fierce attack,

And smote the bear so hard that it fell to earth;

Then it slew the bear, and tore it limb from limb.

When the battle was done, the dragon departed.

Such the dream I dreamt, where I lay and slept.’

The bishops, and the learned men, that listened,

And all the earls and the barons, who had heard,

Uttered words of wisdom according to their wit,

Interpreting the dream, as seemed best to them.

But nary a knight dared do so in evil manner,

Lest he lose the limbs and life so dear to him.

Forth they began to voyage, sailing swiftly;

The wind was with them, and the weather fine;

Both met their needs, and they landed at Barfleur.

To Barfleur, in Cotentin, came a mighty host,

From all of the lands that Arthur had in hand.

As soon as they could each group disembarked,

While the king ordered his men to seek lodging,

So that he might rest till his folk were there.

News of a monster out of Spain

He was there but a night, when a warrior came,

A knight, bringing tidings to Arthur the king.

He said a monster was abroad, out of Spain,

A loathsome fiend that came from the south,

And was e’en now wreaking harm in Brittany.

He was wasting the land hard, by the shore

Where lies Mont Saint-Michel, far and wide.

‘Lord king,’ said the knight, ‘I say outright,

That he has stolen a kinswoman from you,

For a lady, nobly-born, lies in his power,

Howel’s lovely daughter is she, one Helen,

Noblest of maids, the fairest maid of all.

He has borne that noble lady to the Mount,

A full fortnight he has prisoned her there,

And we know not if he’s taken her to wife.

He seizes for his meat, all men he meets,

Cattle and horses, goats, swine and sheep.

Our land he will destroy, unless you aid us,

Both land and folk need you to ease our care.’

Then spoke the knight again to the monarch:

‘Behold that great wood, lord, by the Mount,

Wherein is the fiend that destroys our folk.

We have fought against him many a time,

Yet at sea, and on land, our folk he arms,

The ships he sank, those aboard he drowned,

While those that fought on land, he laid low.

Long we’ve endured, in leaving him alone,

To do as he so pleases, after his own will.

For our knights no longer dare to fight him.’

He sets out with Kay and Bedivere to slay the creature

Hearing all this, Arthur, the noblest of kings,

Called for Kay, his steward, and kinsman;

Bedivere too he called for, his cup-bearer.

He bade them ready themselves, at midnight,

To accompany their monarch, fully-armed.

Not a Christian must know of their going,

None but themselves, and their companions,

For they had six bold swains to serve them,

Their guide the knight who’d brought the news.

When all were asleep, at midnight, they set forth,

Led by the monarch, Arthur, noblest of kings.

Their guide led them on, till it was daylight;

Then they dismounted, and prepared themselves.

They saw the smoke from a fire, not far off,

On an island that rose from the shallow sea,

And there was another hill close to the shore,

Where burned a second fire, large and bright.

They were unsure then which hill to ride to,

Such that the giant might not see their coming.

Arthur chose to advance to the nearer fire,

And slay the giant if they found him there.

Forth rode the king, until they reached it.

But found there only the great fire burning.

Arthur rode about it, his knights by his side,

But found only the fire, and countless bones,

Thirty cart-loads at least it seemed to them.

Arthur, uncertain, called to Earl Bedivere:

‘Bedivere go down swiftly from off this hill,

And ride through the water, and fully-armed

Approach the fire on the island, cautiously,

And look, all about you, there, for the fiend.

If you perceive the monster, in any wise,

Descend again until you reach the water,

And tell me quickly what you have seen.

If you reach the fire, and the fiend sees you,

And advances upon you, here’s my war-horn,

Gold-bedecked, blow it with all your might,

And we shall come to you as fast as we may.

If you find him by the fire, and are not seen,

I forbid you to commence a fight with him.’

Bedivere and the crone

Bedivere listened to all that Arthur said,

Gathered his weapons, and forth he went,

And reached the isle and climbed the steep.

He bore in his hand a spear exceeding strong,

And a shield at his back, glittering with gold.

The helm, high on his head, was all of steel,

His body was clad in a fine suit of armour,

And he carried a sword of steel, at his side.

Forth he now advanced, the powerful earl,

Till he reached the fire, and halted neath a tree,

Where he heard one weeping wondrous much,

Weeping and whining with piteous cries.

The knight, believing that the giant was there,

And waxing in anger, much like a wild boar,

Now forgot all that his king had said to him,

Raised his shield to his chest, gripped his spear,

And swiftly approached the blazing fire,

Thinking to meet the fiend, and prove himself.

Yet he found a woman there, shaking her head,

A grey-haired wife who wept from wretchedness,

Cursing her fate that she still lived on earth.

She was seated by the fire, weeping piteously,

Gazing at a grave, and murmuring, plaintively:

‘Alas, Helen! Alas, poor maid I fed and fostered!

Alas, that the cruel monster has destroyed you!

Alas, that I was born! My limbs he has broken!’

Then she looked about her, fearing the giant,

But, looking all around, saw Bedivere nigh her.

Then said the grey-haired crone, seated by the fire:

‘Who are you, fair thane? Are you a knight-in-arms,

Or are you an angel, your wings decked with gold?

If from heaven, then safely may you go hence,

If an earthly knight, harm shall be yours outright.

For, now, the monster comes, that will tear you

Limb from limb, though you were made of steel.

He fared to Brittany, to the finest of mansions,

To the castle of Howel, the noblest man there,

Broke the gate to pieces, and stormed within.

He pulled the great hall’s walls to the ground,

He cast the doors down, scattered them five ways.

And found, in her chamber, the fairest of maids.

Helen she was named, born of a noble line,

Daughter of Howel, the noblest in Brittany,

Arthur’s kin, and a ruler of noblest lineage.

I was her foster-mother, and raised her tenderly.

The giant led us forth and, full fifteen miles,

Into this same place, to the wild wood here;

Thus, has he treated us, a seven-night today.

As soon as he came hither, he raped the maid,

For fleshly relations he would have with her,

While she was scarcely fifteen years of age,

And could not withstand a giant’s forcefulness,

So that he lay with her, and she wasted away.

Here then is buried Helen, fairest of maids,

My own foster-child, and Howel’s daughter.

Once he had done with her, twas me he took,

He pushed me to the ground, and lay with me.

Now my bones the loathsome fiend has broken,

My limbs are shattered, life is hateful to me.

Now have I told you how he has dealt with us,

Flee swiftly from here, lest he should find you,

If he comes, his dire attack will prove fatal,

Ne’er was a man born that can withstand him.’

On hearing this speech that the woman uttered,

Bedivere sought to solace her with fair words:

‘I am a man, dear mother, a brave knight am I,

And I will speak truth to you upon this matter,

That there was ne’er a combatant of any kind

A knight might not send sprawling to the ground,

To serve you, an old woman of little strength.

Yet good day for now, for I must take my way.’

Bedivere and Arthur confer as the giant returns

Down went Bedivere to find his sovereign,

And told him of how he had fared above,

And what the old crone had said of the maid,

And how the giant lay with the crone each day.

Then they conferred as to what they might do

So that the monstrous fiend might be destroyed.

Meanwhile the giant arrived back at his fire,

Bearing, upon his back, a mighty burden,

Consisting of twelve swine bound together,

Wreathed and tied with withies all about.

He threw down the carcases, and sat nearby,

Then he laid great branches upon the fire,

And cut up six of the swine, smiling the while,

For he knew not of the visit she’d received,

And afterwards he lay with the old woman.

Then he raked the coals, and roasted his meat,

And began to make a meal of the six swine.

Next, he rose from his feast, smeared with ashes,

For the ashes of the fire had coated the meat.

Then he began to grumble and roar aloud,

And then he stretched his limbs, and lay down.

Let us leave the fiend, and return to the king.

Arthur challenges the giant

Arthur, by the water, took up his weapons,

As did Bedivere that wise and wary knight;

And Kay was there, Arthur’s steward and kin.

Over the water they went, armed with the best,

And climbed the hill swiftly, in full strength,

Till they reached the fire where the giant lay.

He slept, while the woman sat there and wept.

Arthur then went aside with his companions,

And forbade them, on pain of life and limb,

To tread near unless they perceived the need.

Bedivere thus waited apart, with Sir Kay.

Arthur stepped forth, a stern-minded knight,

Till he reached the fire where the giant slept.

Now Arthur was e’er a warrior free of fear,

As was then manifest; wondrous it seemed,

That though he might have hewed the fiend,

Slain the monstrous creature where it slept,

Yet Arthur would not touch him, sleeping,

Lest he might be reproached for it thereafter.

Then Arthur, that noblest of kings, cried out:

‘Arise, monstrous fiend, and meet destruction,

For, now, will I avenge the death of my kin!’

The giant is conquered

Before the king had ended his challenge,

The giant arose, and grasped his great club,

Thinking to shatter Arthur, at first blow,

But the latter raised his shield up on high,

And the giant’s cudgel sent it shivering.

Arthur struck him swiftly with his blade,

And sliced away the chin, and the beard,

Then leapt behind the tree that rose nearby.

The giant pursued him, but struck him not;

He smote the tree, so shattering his cudgel.

Arthur then ran three times round the tree,

With the monster e’er running at his back,

But the giant was slow, King Arthur faster,

Thus, he overtook the giant, raised his sword,

Dealt a stroke, and smote him in the thigh.

The giant fell, Arthur halted, the fiend spoke:

‘Grant me peace, lord; who are you that fight?

I thought there was none in this world’s realm

That might defeat me lightly thus in battle,

Unless he were Arthur, noblest of monarchs;

Yet of Arthur, nonetheless, I was ne’er afraid.’

Then said Arthur the king, Britain’s darling:

‘I am Arthur; speak of your line and dwelling;

Who is declared your father, who your mother,

From what land have you now come hither,

And why have you murdered my close kin?’

The fiend answered, as he lay on the ground:

‘If you will let me live, and my limbs to heal,

All this will I answer, and do so faithfully.’

Then Arthur was angered, wondrous much.

And called to Bedivere, his brave champion:

‘Go to him, Bedivere, and strike off his head,

And bear it down with you from this high hill.’

Bedivere approached and beheaded the fiend,

And they went down to rejoin their companion.

Then the king sat down, to regain his breath.

And these were the words of Arthur the Good:

‘Ne’er fought I such a fight, in this country,

Except in slaying King Riun on Mount Ravin.’

Then they went forth, and came to the host,

Where the knights, viewing that severed head,

Wondered greatly where such giants were born.

Then, Howel of Brittany came to the king,

And the king told him of his daughter’s fate.

Then was King Howel much saddened at heart,

And he and his company fared forth to the hill,

Where Helen the maid lay buried in the earth.

He caused there to be raised a church most fair,

To the Lord’s own mother, the sacred Mary,

And then he named the hill, ere he departed,

Helen’s tomb, that is now Mont Saint-Michel.

Arthur advances to Burgundy

Now was Arthur’s host gathered all together,  

From Ireland, and Scotland, and many a land.

So, the king caused the trumpets to be blown,

And the king of the bold Britons marched forth.

Through Normandy, known then as Neustrie,

Through France he went, leading on his host,

And out of France, and marched into Burgundy.

His scouts returned and the army halted there.

For they made known to the king, in that place,

That Luces the emperor, and his Roman host,

Came marching thither, from out their realm,

Seeking to conquer France, and all that land,

And then come hither and slay all the Britons,

And lead Arthur the bold, bound, back to France.

Then Arthur was angered, and pitched camp there,

There to abide till he knew where Luces was.

The river where the king lay was named the Albe.

There came a warlike knight to the king’s host.

He was sore wounded; his folk had been slain,

And the Romans had then seized all his lands.

He brought tidings of where the emperor lay,

And would be found, if Arthur sought a fight

Or to forge a peace with the Roman people.

‘For my lord Arthur,’ said he, ‘I say aright,

Better to seek their friendship than to fight,

For their force is as twelve against your one.

So many the kings and the chieftains has he,

Nowhere is there a man could number them,

All the men that follow him, and his Romans,

All those that attend on him for his favours.’

He sends an embassy to the Roman emperor

When the tale was told, and he’d heard all,

Arthur then summoned his dearest knights

And they met in counsel in a fort to the rear,

Beside the river that was named the Albe.

The fort, in a most fine and pleasant place,

Had been swiftly built, by many a soldier,

For Arthur thought, if the battle went astray,

And his soldiers were slain, or put to flight,

That he might take refuge in that same fort.

Then he summoned two wise nobles of his,

Both earls, and both to the king most dear,

The one the Earl of Chartres, named Gerin,

And much wisdom and experience had he;

And the other man was Beof, Earl of Oxford,

And far and wide was that warrior famed.

Then the king called for Walwain, his kin,

For he knew the Roman and British tongues,

Being nurtured in Rome for many a winter.

King Arthur sent these three to the emperor,

And bade him return to Rome with his host,

And ne’er lead his army forth to France again:

‘For, if you march there leading your soldiers,

You will, indeed, receive a ruinous welcome,

Since France is my own realm, won in battle.

And if you agree not, but advance against us,

Then we will fight, and may the best man win,

And leave the poor folk to live on in peace.

Though the Romans conquered all this land,

Thereafter, they lost that same in the field,

While I won it in fair fight; that land will I hold.’

Forth went the knights, the goodly champions,

Gerin, Beof the fair, and Walwain the bold,

Armoured and helmeted, on their noble steeds.

Each bore at his shoulder a fine strong shield,

While a stout spear he grasped in his right hand.

Forth went many a noble youth from the host,

And rode to Walwain and begged him, earnestly,

To raise a quarrel with these people of Rome:

‘So that we may fight and so prove ourselves,

For they have menaced us for many a year,

And threatened to behead us, many a time.

Shameful it would be if we now made peace

And there was no battle, ere we reconciled,

No lances broken, nor breastplates shattered,

Shield shivered, men hewn, blades bathed in blood!’

Forth went the three earls, through a mighty wood,

And took a path that led o’er the mountains,

Such that they came at last to the folk of Rome,

Riding, richly armed, upon their war-horses.

The embassy reaches the Roman encampment

There, a man might have viewed a vast host,

Thronging from their tents to see the knights,

And gaze upon their garments, and their steeds,

These men bringing word of Arthur the king.

For many questioned the three earls outright,

Asking if they had been sent to the emperor,

To speak before him, and to arrange a peace.

But never a word would the three earls say,

Until they reached the entrance to that tent

In which the emperor himself was dwelling.

They alighted, and relinquished their mounts,  

And, still fully-armed, entered the pavilion,

And stood calmly before the emperor Luces.

He was seated on a bed, they spoke the message

Each earl speaking in turn, as he thought fit,

And bade the emperor return to his own realm,

Nor seek again to bring an army into France.

While they spoke, the emperor said not a word,

He made ne’er a reply to those three brave earls.

But listened closely, evil thoughts in his mind.

Then Walwain was angered, wrathful that thane,

And these were the words of Walwain the bold:

‘Luces, the mighty, great emperor of all Rome,

We are Arthur’s men, and he the noblest of kings!

He sent us on embassy with this harsh greeting:

He bids you march back to Rome, your realm,

And leave, to his rule, France he gained in fight,

And go remain in Rome, with your Roman folk.

Your ancestors invaded France, and won here,

Occupied the land awhile, then lost it thereafter.

Arthur gained it in battle, and he holds it now.

He is our lord and, we three, his brave warriors.

He has ordered us to say, clearly, to yourself,

That if you will not turn back, your bane he’ll be.

For if you will not so do, but follow your will,

And would win his realm, tomorrow is the day

That you may have it so, if you can obtain it.’

Then the emperor answered him, in his anger:

‘I’ll not retreat, but rather this France I’ll win.

My ancestors held the same, and I shall have it.

But if he accepts me as his lord, to be my man,

And will serve me truly, holding me his master,

I will make peace with him and all his knights.

And allow him Britain, that Julius once held,

And many another land he held in his hand,

Which, though he rules, he lacks all right to,

And which he will lose unless he makes peace.’

Then answered Walwain, that was Arthur’s kin:

‘Two brothers, Belin and Brenne, held Britain,

Conquered France, and then marched on Rome.

And dwelt there, afterwards, for many a year.

And Brenne he became emperor in that place,

And he had Rome; he ruled over all its people.

So, we have a right to the city you command,

And we, if we live, will hold that realm again,

Unless you acknowledge Arthur as your king,

And send him each year a tribute of your land.’

Now, beside the emperor, one of his kindred sat,

A great nobleman of Rome, named Quencelin;

This knight who was evil, answered his words.

‘Return to your land, knight, and tell your king

That bold you are, but we account you worthless;

The more you Britons boast the less your honour.’

Walwain slays Quencelin and Marcel

He would say more, but Walwain drew his sword,

And struck him on the head, and split his skull,

Then ran to his horse, leapt to the saddle swiftly,

And grimly then he shouted, Walwain the Good:

‘So help me, Lord, that granted us the daylight,

If any man be eager enough to pursue us now,

I will cut that same to pieces with my sword!’

Even as he spoke so, thus cried the emperor:

‘Arrest them all, for they shall be hung on high,

Or be drawn apart by horses; detain them all!’

While he spoke so, the three earls spurred away,

Each brandishing his long spear in his hand,

While raising his broad shield before his breast.

Swiftly the three rode on, as the emperor cried:

‘Seize them, slay them, they have shamed us all.’

Those that were there might have heard the shouts

From many a Roman calling: ‘To arms, to arms!

Bring me my shield; follow ere they escape us!’

Soon bold warriors were after them, fully armed,

Eight or nine or more, as e’er the earls rode on.

E’er, they looked back, e’er the Romans pursued.

A knight reached them, for he was fastest of all,

He called loudly: ‘Turn again, knights, and fight!

Shameful it is of you, thus, to take to flight.’

Now Walwain, he heard this Roman’s challenge,

Turned his steed about, and charged at the man,

Spitted him on his lance, and speared him through.

The knight died quickly, and Walwain cried out:

‘Better, knight so swift, if you’d stayed in Rome!’

Marcel was the name of that doomed nobleman.

Walwain, when he fell, had unsheathed his sword,

And now smote Marcel’s head from his shoulders.

Then spoke, Walwain the Good, in this manner:

‘Marcel, go tell the shades in Hell, your tale

And dwell there with Quencelin as companion;

Converse there, though better were you in Rome.

For this is how we teach men our British tongue!’

Gerin saw how Walwain had slain the Roman;

He spurred his steed, and charged at another,

And smote him through with his lance, and cried:

‘Ride now, Roman, and seek your place in Hell,

Thus, with God’s aid, we shall serve your like.

Threats are worthless unless the deed follows!’

Beof the Brave watched his comrades triumph,

Turned his horse about and charged at the foe,

Smote a man o’er his shield so his armour burst,

And drove his spear through the neck full soon.

Then the earl called out to his two companions:

‘The Britons will ne’er forgive us if we depart

Without achieving more than we have before!’

As the earl spoke, the three turned back as one,

And each, with his sword, then slew a Roman,

Then turned his steed, and they went their way.

The Roman knights pursued them as they rode,

Oft reproaching them, and flailing their swords,

Crying out: You shall pay now for those deeds!’

But, whate’er they did, could not unhorse them,

Nor do them harm, despite their bold attacks,

For oft the earls would turn their steeds about,

And the Romans fared the worst ere they parted.

Arthur’s troops confront the Roman pursuers

So, they rode, for fifteen miles, till near a wood,

Hard by the fort where King Arthur now lay,

While for three miles, from the fort to the wood,

Stretched a host of nine thousand brave Britons

Who knew the lie of the land, sent by Arthur.

They sought to know if Walwain and his friends

Were yet alive, or if they’d be slain on the way.

The vanguard of this force traversed the wood,

In wondrous silence, till they came to a hilltop,

From which they could view all, and so halted.

They alighted there in the wood, armed and ready,

Except for a hundred men to keep good watch.

These saw three knights speeding o’er the plain,

And after them thirty, followed by three thousand,

And then thirty thousand Romans, in full armour.

Ever the earls rode swiftly on towards the wood,

Where their comrades were gathered, well-hidden.

The earls rode for the wood, and the Romans after.

There the Britons, on rested steeds, attacked them,

Striking them in front, and felling a hundred men.

The Romans saw Arthur advance, and were afraid,

And the Britons pursued, and slew fifteen hundred,

For Arthur sent thither sixteen thousand warriors,

Bold Britons, their breasts all clad in steel armour.

Against them came Petreius, a noble Roman earl,

With sixteen thousand warriors to aid their army,

And his force then attacked the Britons in strength,  

Capturing some few men, and slaughtering many.

The Britons fled to the wood, the others pursued,

There the Britons on foot faced the Roman cavalry,

And the Britons advanced, and slew their horses,

And captured many, then drew back into the wood.

Then Petreius was angered at his faring the worst,

And he retreated, and turned back from the wood,

While the Britons followed, slaying men from behind.

The Britons came from the wood onto the plain,

And withstood the Roman army there, in the field.

There was a great fight; earls fell and many a knight,

Fifteen thousand fine men fell, ere the evening came.

There a knight, that set out to prove his strength,

Would have found many a duel to indulge him;

Might against might, shield on shield, men fell.

O’er the blood-soaked ground, littered with shields,

Both sides maintained the fight while it was day.

Petreius and his warriors now held their ground,

And soon the Britons fared the worst of the two.

Brave Boef, the noble Briton, the Earl of Oxford,

Saw that the Britons must lose, without counsel,

And summoned to him the wisest of his knights,

The best he knew, and the bravest in the field,

And rode to and fro before the host of Britons.

Then, uneasy as yet in mind, he addressed them:

‘Knights, hark to me; may the Lord be with us.

We have come her to undertake this battle,

Without Arthur’s counsel, who is our master.

If we do well, then we will please him greatly,

But if we do ill then he will take against us.

Follow my counsel, to victory we shall ride,

For we are three hundred helmeted knights,

All brave and active fellows, and nobly born,

Show your courage, you who are my kindred,

Follow my counsel, and ride where’er I ride.

Advance towards their host, as I now do,

And halt not to seize their steeds or armour,

But slay every foe that you meet, outright!’

Boef, the Earl of Oxford, defeats Petreius

With these words, the Earl of Oxford rode forth,

Like a hound that seeks to seize the wild hart,

And all his comrades followed him, in force,

Their horses sped swiftly; the foe they slew.

Woe to those who sought to stand before them!

Their mighty steeds trod their enemies down,

And they captured Petreius in that bold attack.

Boef rode to him, and seized him in his arms,

And pulled him from his steed to the ground,

Supported by his brave comrades around him.

The fighting Britons dragged Petreius with them.

While the Romans struggled boldly to free him.

Such that none there knew whom he did strike.

Much blood was shed; mischief was in that fight.

Now Walwain saw clearly what was taking place,

And began a charge of seven hundred knights,

That destroyed nigh every obstacle in their way.

He dragged Petreius onto his galloping steed,

And bore him away, loath though it was to him,

And left him in the wood where he was guarded,

Then returned to the field, and the fierce battle.

There a man might have viewed sorrow enough,

Many a shield shattered; many a knight fallen,

Helms bowing, and many a brave man dying,

Many a face pale, o’er the blood-stained field.

The Britons rushed to attack; the Romans fled.

The Britons slew many, many they took alive.

Woe! Woe, to the Roman folk, as the day ended!

Then men bound the captured Roman knights,

And led them to the wood, before Walwain.

Two thousand warriors guarded them that night.

Arthur orders Petreius to be taken to Paris

On the morrow, at dawn the folk began to stir.

They marched to greet their sovereign, Arthur,

Bringing him the captives, to his delight.

And thus said Arthur: ‘Welcome, Petreius!

Now shall I teach you our British tongue.

You boasted to the emperor you’d slay me,

Capture my castles, and possess my realm.

Much good will that claim of yours do you!

Truly, I will grant you my castle in Paris.

There you shall dwell, though loth to do so,

For ne’er will you be free in this life again.’

Arthur saw all the knights they had captured,

And ordered three hundred of his company,

Knights that were brave and eager in a fight,

To rise the morrow, bind them all with chains,

And lead Petreius, with them, to Paris burgh.

Four earls he instructed to command them,

Cador and Borel, and Bedivere, and Richer.

He bade them act together, for their safety,

And then return full soon to their sovereign.

This was spoken openly, and the foe knew,

For their spies were present amidst the host,

And they heard all that Arthur had commanded,

And of where he would send the captive men.

And these spies travelled, by night, to Rome,

And told their tale there, before the emperor,

How the earls would lead Petreius to Paris,

And of the road they must take to that city,

Where men might take them, in a deep vale,

Rescue Petreius, and bind the Britons fast.

Emperor Luces sends an army to rescue him

Luces the Roman emperor heard their tale,

And, like a lion, prepared to attack his foe.

He ordered ten thousand knights to horse,

And sent them marching to that very place.

He summoned Sextorius, King of Libya

And Duke also of Turkey, Evander too,

From Babylon, who had joined his host,

And the senators Bal, Catel, and Carrius,

That were noblemen, and of the royal line,

And bade them ride to liberate Petreius.

As soon as evening fell, they marched forth,

Guided by twelve knights, of that same land,

Warriors exceeding wary, that knew the way.

The men of Rome rode out, armour clanging,

Helms on their heads, shields at their backs.

They marched swiftly all through that night,

Till they came to the road that ran to Paris.

They were the closer, the Britons still afar.

Alas, that Cador, the keen, knew not that fact,

That the Romans had ridden there before them!

The Romans reached a fine place in a wood,

In a deep valley, the sides of it in shadow,

And they chose to ambush the Britons there.

They rested silently awhile till it was dawn,

And the creatures of the wild began to stir.

Then Arthur’s men approached, on the way,

Who sang as they rode; the men were blithe,

And came to where their enemies now lay.

Nonetheless, Cador was both wise and wary;

He and Borel the Rich, advanced together,

Leading the vanguard of five hundred knights,

Armed like champions, behind their shields.

Richer and Bedivere, rode on behind them,

Leading the knights whom they had captured,

The tightly-bound Petreius and his comrades.

There they soon came upon the Roman folk,

Who rushed towards them fiercely, in strength,

And smote the Britons hard, with bitter blows,

Breaking their ranks; mischief was among them,

The woods resounding there, where warriors fell.

The Britons resisted, making a stout defence.

Richer and Bedivere heard the sound of conflict,

They gathered Petreius, and sent their prisoners,

With three hundred men, deep into the woods,

While they advanced to support their comrades,

And smote the Roman folk with all their strength.

There many a blow fell; many a man was slain.

Then Evander, Syria’s heathen king, perceived

That his fortunes waxed, while the Britons’ waned,

And, gathering his troops, he advanced upon them.

The Britons, weakened, had much the worst of it.

The foe captured and slew all they came nigh.

Woe to the Britons, there, unaided by Arthur,

Thus, lacking all remedy, in their hour of need!

There was Borel caught, there he lost his life,

For Evander the king slew him most wickedly,

And three noble Britons, fighting at his side.

Three hundred of their company were slain;

Many were taken alive, and then tightly bound;

The rest, now bereft of all help, thought to die.

Nonetheless the Britons fought hard and bravely.

Guitard, King of Poitou joins the battle

Now the bold King of Poitou, had left the host;

Guitard was his name, Gascony he possessed.

Steadfast and renowned, he had ridden forth,

With a force of five hundred mounted knights,

And three hundred archers, eager for the fight,

And seven hundred on foot, prepared for war.

They had ridden up-country in search of stores,

Food for the men, and fodder for their steeds.

They heard the clamour from the Roman army,

Quit their mission, and rode towards the noise.

Strong-minded were they, and devoid of sloth,

And Guitard’s forces soon reached the field,

The knights advancing, grasping their shields,

The archers and foot-soldiers pressing forward.

They fought as one, dealing out mighty blows.

Before this first bold attack, the Romans fell.

Full fifteen hundred were hurled to the ground.

And there was slain the noble King Evander,

There Catellus of Rome forgot his stern decrees!

Those who had thought to win now turned to flee;

The Romans turned their backs to the foe and ran,

The Britons pursuing them to work them harm.

Many they captured and many more were slain,

Till there were none left for the Britons to kill.

The Romans that escaped rode to the emperor,

And told him these tidings of Arthur the king,

For they thought it was Arthur that led the fight.

Thus, the emperor and his court were much afraid.

Having slain Evander and his men, he retreats

The Britons were content with that massacre.

Swift, they retreated, boldly, with their spoils,

Having buried the dead scattered o’er the field.

Forth they marched away, following Petreius

And the prisoners with their new captives,

And brought them tightly bound to Paris burgh.

Three castles they filled with their prisoners,

Held fast, as the noble Arthur had commanded.

All the Britons loved Arthur, while the folk

Throughout that whole land lived in fear of him,

And the emperor too was troubled by the king,

For all men went in dread of that noble monarch.

Then was Merlin’s prophecy found to be true;

He had said that all Rome would bow to Arthur,

Ere its walls of stone be tumbled to the ground,

And Luces the emperor, and Rome’s senators,

That came there with him, would be conquered.

All that Merlin had said was now proven true,  

As his prophecies long before, and e’er would be;

For, ere Arthur was born, Merlin foresaw it all.

Arthur sets a trap for the emperor, at Saucy

Now emperor Luces had by then received report

Of how his men had been taken, his soldiers slain.

Then were there many sorrows amidst his army;

Some wept for their friends, some cursed their foes,

Some readied weapons, mischief was among them.

Luces saw evil was befallen upon him, men lost,

And felt the harm of those losses, his noble host.

He was much concerned, for fear of King Arthur,

And spent his time in communing and counsel,

Then chose to march to Autun with his men,

Proceeding forth by Langres, for fear of Arthur.

Now, Arthur had his spies in the enemy ranks,

And so, soon knew whither the emperor went.

The king then caused his forces to assemble,

Gathered his best men, by night, most silently,

And forth the king marched with all his host.

He passed by Langres on his right-hand side,

And advanced to where Luces soon must be.

When he came to a dale below a high down,

There he halted, that most bold of monarchs,

And the name of that dale was, in truth, Saucy.

Arthur alighted and gave orders to his men,

To prepare to fight as noble knights should,

So that when the Romans came riding by

They might attack like true warriors, bravely.

All of the swains and lesser thanes and such,

Many a thousand, the king placed on a hill,

With his many banners, as a wise stratagem,

Of whose success he hoped to boast full soon.

Arthur sent ten thousand of his noble knights,

All armour-clad, to man the right flank there,

Another ten thousand to the left-hand side,

Ten thousand went before him, ten behind,

His central force, some sixteen thousand strong,

While seventeen thousand well-armed soldiers

He sent into a fair-sized wood as his reserve,

All ready to issue forth if they were needed.

There was a nobleman, the Earl of Gloucester,

Morvith he was named, and exceeding keen.

Him he charged with the forces in the wood.

Arthur addressed his knights: ‘If it befalls,

As God wills, that their army is overcome,

Pursue them if they flee, as best you might,

And all that you come upon take and slay,

The fat, the lean, the wealthy and the poor.

For never in any realm, nor any country,

Was there a band of knights as fine as you,

Knights as brave or strong, not in any land.

You are the best of all Christian warriors

As I am the mightiest king, beneath God!

May all here do fine deeds, and God speed!’

Then all, till then silent under the heavens,

Answered: ‘All we shall do, and do all well.

He will be naught that shows not his might.’

They ordered the foot-soldiers to their post,

Then raised the Dragon, the peerless standard,

Delivering it to the king’s own right hand.

Angel, the King of Scotland, led the vanguard,

Cador, the Earl of Cornwall, marched behind,

Beof, the Earl of Oxford, led forth a troop,

Gerin, the Earl of Chartres, had the fourth.

Upon the down, Aescil of Denmark stood,

Lot had one force, he was dear to the king,

And Howel of Brittany ruled o’er another.

Walwain the bold, was at the king’s side.

Kay, Arthur’s steward, led forth his men,

As did Bedivere the monarch’s cupbearer.

Howeldin, Earl of Flanders, led one force,

Guitard, king of Gascony, a mighty band,

Jonathas of Dorchester, Wigein of Leicester,

Commanded two bands that went on foot.

Cursalein of Chester, Urgein, Earl of Bath,

Commanded the forces on their two flanks,

That under those two brave knights advanced.

Arthur knew those two knights to be true.

When all was disposed as he thought good,

The King of Britain summoned his councillors,

Men wise in judgement, and to them he said:

‘Hark now to me, friends, that are dear to me,

Twice you have met the Roman host and won,

Slaying or taking those who covet our land.

My heart tells me these shall be overcome,

With the Lord’s help, and be taken or slain.

You have overcome Danes and Norwegians,

Scotland and Ireland too you have in hand,

France and Normandy you’ve won in battle.

Full thirty kingdoms are now in my power,

That you have gained for me, beneath the sun.

And these are the least of all men yet alive,

Heathen folk, and most loathsome to God,

That desert the Lord, and flock to Mahound.

Luces the emperor cares not for our God,

His host are heathen hounds, and God’s foes.

We shall destroy them, yet prove safe ourselves,

Felling them, by God’s will, who rules our fate.’

Then answered all the earls: ‘We are ready

To live, or die in battle, with our dear King.’

The army then prepared for war by daylight.

Luces marches from Langres

Now Luces had set out, by now, from Langres;

He’d ordered the golden trumpets to be blown,

And readied the host, for forth he would go,

From Langres to Autun, as his road now lay.

Forth they had marched, that host of Romans,

Till they were less than a mile from Arthur.

Then the Romans saw the enemy ranks ahead,

The dales and downs gleaming with their helms,

Sixty thousand banners waving in the breeze,

Bright shields, shining breastplates, gold vests,

Stern warriors, steeds pawing at the ground.

The emperor saw King Arthur by the wood.

Luces, the lord of Rome, called to his knights:

‘Who are these outlaws that would bar the way?

Raise your weapons now, and march upon them.

They shall be flayed alive, and so destroyed;

They must be destroyed with many a torment!’

At his words, the warriors raised their weapons,

And then spoke on, Luces, the Lord of Rome:

‘Advance swiftly upon them, and fight hard!’

There accompanied him five and twenty kings,

Earls, and dukes, the lords of the Eastern world,

All heathen folk, holding their land for Rome.

‘Lordings, may Mahound be gracious to you!’

Luces cried, ‘You are puissant thanks to Rome.

Rome is rightfully mine, the richest of burghs,

I, by rights, should be the greatest lord alive.

Here, in the field, you see our present foes,

Who think to rule on high o’er all our realm,

And hold us as base, and acquire our riches.

Let us attack them in strength, and boldly,

For our race bore the noblest of mortal men

And won every land that they looked upon.

Julius the mighty, ventured into Britain,

He who conquered many a fine kingdom.

Now these underlings would rule o’er us,

Yet shall pay for that boast with their lives.

Ne’er shall they return to Britain’s shores!’

As he spoke, the whole host began to rouse,

Thousand upon thousand they assembled,  

And each of the kings made ready his men.

When all was disposed, and the ranks filled,

Then were there fifteen companies all told,

Twenty kings, in pairs, commanded ten,

Four earls and a duke, ruled o’er the others,

While the emperor led his ten thousand men.

As they stirred, the ground began to echo,

Trumpets blew o’er the host in fine array,

War-horns resounded with strident voice,

As sixty thousand stirred beneath that noise.

The sound from Arthur’s host was greater

Than of the sixty thousand and their tumult.

The sky shook, the earth began to tremble;

They charged as one, twas as if the heavens fell.

The armies engage

First swift darts flew, harsh as the driving hail,

Then sharp stones were hurled through the air.

Shields cracked, as strong spears were shivered,

Helms rolled to the ground, and fine men died.

Armour shattered, as the blood flowed forth

Staining the ground and their fallen banners.

Wounded men now wandered o’er the weald,

Six thousand were trodden beneath the steeds.

There, knights perished and the red blood ran,

Flowing along the roads in crimson streams.

Woe was midst the folk in that boundless fight.

In all the writings that the poets have wrought,

This battle was the third greatest ever fought.

At the last, none knew whom they should smite,

Nor knew whom they should spare, in the fight.

None knew another, so blood-stained were they.

Now, the armies changed position in the field,

Then they rushed together furiously again,

Until that fresh conflict hung in the balance,

Though the Romans were grievously harmed.

There rode forth the three kings of heathen lands,

Of Ethiopia, of North Africa, of Libya,

They came against the Britons, from the east,

And broke the stubborn ranks of their host,

And felled full fifteen hundred valiant men,

While Arthur’s soldiers made a swift retreat.

But then against them rode two brave earls

Bedivere, that was cupbearer to the king,

And Kay that was his steward and his kin.

Seeing their Britons hewn by enemy swords,

Those two brave knights were filled with rage,

And pressed on, with ten thousand, to the fight,

And amidst the densest part of the throng,

They slew those Roman folk, most furiously,

Roaming the field according to their will.

Bedivere is slain, Kay is mortally wounded

Yet, too daring both, they fared most evilly.

Alas, alas that they proved not more wary,

Better guarding themselves against the foe!

For they were too bold, and fought too rashly,

And rode too far midst the widening conflict.

Then came, Boccus, the King of the Medes,  

And that mighty heathen chief wrought harm.

He led his host of twenty thousand horsemen,

And gripping a strong spear in his right hand,

He thrust it forth and smote brave Bedivere,

High on the breast so that his armour burst,

Before and behind, while wounding his chest,

From out of which the warm blood flowed down.

There, Bedivere fell, stone dead to the ground,

There, indeed, was cause for woe and sorrow.

Sir Kay then sought to bear his corpse away,

Advancing swiftly with two thousand knights,

And they fought hard, and felled the Roman foe,

Slaying many a thousand among the Medes,

In a contest that proved both fierce and long.

Yet a proud and loathsome king approached,

With sixty thousand men from out his realm;

This was the bold Sextorius, ruler of Libya,

And that mighty king began to fight Sir Kay,

Wounding him nigh to death in that contest,

And grievous indeed was that woeful deed!

His knights bore Kay swiftly from the scene,

Piercing through the ranks with all their might.

Arthur was filled with sorrow at that news.

Now Ridwathlan, son of Bedivere’s sister,

Descended, thus, in turn from that noble line,

Saw Boccus slay Bedivere with his spear,

And a woe it was to him to be still alive,

When his uncle that he most loved was dead.

He called forth the good knights, their kindred,

Those dearest to his uncle while he yet lived,

And five hundred gathered at his summons.

Then cried Ridwathlan, that noble warrior:

‘Knights of my line, come hither now to me,

And we will avenge Bedivere, my uncle,

The best of our race, whom Boccus has slain.

Ride we on together now, and fell our foes!’

Ridwathlan avenges his uncle, Bedivere

So, saying, he charged, his comrades with him,

And found Boccus the king amidst the melee,

Who with his spear had slaughtered full many.

Ridwathlan drew forth his sword, and struck,

Smiting the fierce monarch through his helm,

So that it split in two, and his armour’s collar,

Cleaving his head in two, down to the teeth;

The vile heathen king’s soul sank down to hell.

Ridwathlan, his mood most harsh, cried out:

‘Dearly you pay, Boccus, for Bedivere’s death;

May your soul seek company with the Devil!’

With those words he sped swiftly to the fight.

Much like a whirlwind, raising high the dust,

So did Ridwathlan rush upon his enemies.

While they could wield their heavy weapons

That band of his slew all that they came nigh.

No better knights were active in that battle,

While the true hearts still beat in their breasts.

Boccus the king they slew, with a thousand foes,

Until Sir Bedivere’s death was fitly avenged.

A fierce contest ensues

There was a brave earl there of a noble line,

And that was Leir, the lord of Boulogne,

And he saw an enemy captain now advance,

A prince of Babylon, who felled full many.

Seeing him succeed so, the earl was troubled,

He raised his shield, and grasped hard his spear,

And spurred his charger on with all his might

And struck this prince smartly neath his breast,

So that his armour burst, the lance sank through,

Pierced a fathom deep behind, and so he fell.

This prince’s son, one that was named Gecron,

Saw, grasped his spear, and smote Earl Leir,

Sore on his left side, piercing through the heart,

So deep that the earl fell dead upon the ground.

Walwain saw this, as he fought amidst the press,

And was wrathful, as was Howel of Brittany, too,

Who then advanced, with fifteen hundred men,

Hardy warriors who charged behind their lord.

Walwain went before, a man most stern of mood,

With two thousand five hundred brave comrades.

They fought then, and their Roman foes suffered.

Howel attacked, with Walwain, in swift onslaught,

Up went a wondrous shout, the heavens trembled,

The earth shook, the very stones there shivered.

Streams of blood poured from the Roman folk,

The Britons slaughtering till they were weary.

Kinard, Earl of Striguil, parted from Howel,

With, after him, Labius, Rimarc, and Boclovius.

They were the finest servants of any monarch;

Strong earls, and of the mightiest among men.  

So, out of pride, they refused to follow Howel,

But labouring alone slew all that they came nigh.

Then a powerful knight among the Roman host

Seeing how bold Kinard slaughtered their men,

Dismounted, grasping a steel spear in his hand,

And, bathing it in blood, fought his way onward

Till he came to the spot where Kinard laboured,

Shattered Kinard’s breastplate, and slew the earl.

Then the whole Roman host shouting, advanced,

Felling the standards, striking the Britons down;

There, shields were shattered and warriors fell.

Fifteen thousand Britons died; vile mischief rife.

Long the contest lasted, and fierce was the fight.

Walwain and Howel engage the Roman emperor

Walwain made his way amidst the slaughter,

Gathering his knights where’er they fought,

While to him came riding Howel the mighty.

They massed their fair folk, forth they went,

Charging the Roman warriors in their anger.

Swift, they rode against them, and broke them.

Walwain caught sight of the emperor Luces,

Struck with his sword at the other’s shield,

At which the bold emperor returned the blow.

Shield clashed with shield, sword met sword,

Sparks flew from the steel, the hosts engaged.

Enraged, the bands of knights fought fiercely,

As the emperor sought to destroy Walwain,

That he might boast of the feat in after days.

All the Britons now thronged towards the pair,

While the Romans extricated their emperor,

Then the hosts clashed as if the sky would fall.

Arthur rallies his men; the emperor is slain

All that day the folk pursued their fierce fight,

Till the last moment, ere the bright sun set.

Then Arthur, noblest of kings, he called out:

‘Now we will charge again, my brave knights,

And, with God’s aid, we’ll slay our enemies!’

With this, the trumpets sounded high and loud,

And fifteen thousand men thronged together,

Blowing their war-horns, as the trumpets cried.

And the earth trembled at that mighty clamour.

The Roman ranks turned their backs to the fight.

Standards fell; many a noble knight was slain.

Some there fled swiftly, while the fated died.

Much slaughter was there, and none might tell,

How many hundreds of that army were slain.

The emperor died there in unknown manner,

And none thereafter, of any land, could say

What man it was that had killed the emperor,

But when the fight was done, to the victors’ joy,

Then was he found, pierced through by a spear.

Word came to Arthur, in his tent upon the field,

That the emperor had been thus deprived of life,

And he had a pavilion raised, upon that ground,

Into which the imperial corpse was then borne.

The body was covered o’er with gilded cloth,

And a vigil was held beside it for three days,

While a coffin was made, and clad with gold.

Then Arthur had Luces of Rome laid therein,

That had been a most noble man while he lived.

Then Arthur, that was the noblest of the Britons,

Had the bodies of the powerful, kings and earls,

And the mightiest chieftains, slain in the battle,

Buried on the field, with pomp, and full display.

But to carry Luces’ coffin a rich bier was made,

And three kings tasked with bearing it to Rome.

They were to greet the Romans with this taunt,

That here he sent them the tribute from his land,

And he would send them like tribute thereafter

If they sought to ask again for his realm’s gold:

‘Bring them these tidings from Britain’s king,

And repair Rome’s walls that once were fallen;

Therein, will I rule the fierce people of Rome.’

Yet this boast was idle, for otherwise it befell,

Since he departed his folk, all through Mordred,

Who was his kin, and yet the wickedest of men.

Kay is laid to rest at Kinun (Chinon)

Five and twenty thousand knights were lost;

All hewn in pieces, lay many upon the field,

King Arthur’s brave Britons now bereft of life.

Kay had been sorely wounded; wondrous ill,

To Kinun he was borne, and soon was dead.

He was then buried there in the hermitage,

Beside the castle, the noble knight Sir Kay.

Kay was that earl, and Kinun was the castle.

Arthur had granted him the town, and there

He was entombed; Arthur named the place;

To mark Kay’s death, he called it after him,

And now and for evermore the name stands.

Bedivere is buried at Bayeux

As for Bedivere, who likewise lost his life,

Arthur had him borne to his castle Bayeux,

And there he was buried, outside the burgh.

Beyond the south gate, he was laid in earth.

Leir, Earl of Boulogne was borne to that realm,

While Howeldin was carried into Flanders,

And all of the noble earls to their earldoms

From whence they came, and then all the rest,

Were buried in Touraine, where they yet lie.

Arthur proposes to march to Rome

King Arthur then dwelt awhile in Burgundy,

Which seemed to that monarch best to do.

He ruled the land, and he manned the castles,

Saying that he himself would hold that realm.

Thereafter the king renewed his former threat,

That in the summer he would march to Rome,

Win the realm, and be emperor in Luces’ place.

Many of the Romans thought it would prove so,

Many, afraid, fled the city and their homes,

While others sent messengers to the monarch,

Or spoke with him of their desire for peace.

Some nonetheless sought to stand against him,

Defend the realm, and keep it from his grasp.

Though they were fearful of their own ruin,

And so knew no good counsel under Christ.

Then came to pass what Merlin had prophesied,

That Rome’s ‘walls’ would fall before the king,

For indeed the emperor had fallen in the fight,

With fifty thousand men, its strong defence;

There Rome’s rich people sank to the ground.

Arthur thus deemed that he had won all Rome,

And dwelt in Burgundy, the noblest of kings.

King Arthur’s dream

Then, on a time, a brave man came riding,

And brought news to King Arthur of Mordred,

His sister’s son; and the man was welcomed,

For Arthur deemed the tidings would be good.

Arthur spoke with the young knight till full late,

But the man would not say how matters fared.

On the morrow, when the folk began to stir,

Arthur rose, and stretched his arms out wide,

But then sat down, as it were much troubled.

A guard asked how he had fared, that night,

Arthur answered he was disturbed in mind:

‘This night, as I lay abed in my chamber,  

I dreamt a dream that has brought me woe.

I dreamt that men set me upon a rooftop;

I bestrode that hall as if I were on a steed,

And gazed upon all the lands I now own.

Walwain sat before me, my sword in hand.

Then Mordred advanced, with a mighty host,

And bearing a strong battle-axe in his grip,

And he began to hew the posts of the hall;

All that supported it, he hewed in pieces.

There I saw Guinevere, my lovely queen;

With her hands she dragged the roof down,

The hall fell, and I tumbled to the ground,

So, the bones of my right arm were broken.

Mordred cried: ‘Take that!’ The walls fell,

And Walwain fell to earth, his arms broken.

Grasping my good sword with my left hand,

I severed Mordred’s head, which rolled away.

And the queen I sought to wound with my blade,

And after I set her down in a deep dark pit.

All of my good folk had vanished in flight,

Such that I knew not where they had gone.

Yet I myself stood firm upon the weald,

And wide I wandered then o’er the moors,

And there I saw ravens and grisly fowls.

Next a golden lioness came o’er the down,

A creature most fair, wrought by our Lord,

That leapt at me, seized me by the waist,

And bore me away towards the ocean.

I saw the waves breaking on the shore,

Then the lioness bore me into the flood.

Once amidst the tide she was swept away,

But a great fish came and drew me to land;

Then was I drenched, weary, ill with woe.

When I stirred myself, I began to shiver,

Trembling all over, as if scorched by fire.

So, all night, I have thought on my dream.

For, surely, I deem that my bliss is o’er,

And sorrow in life, now, long I must endure.

Alas that Guinevere my queen is not here!’

Then the knight answered: ‘Lord, you err;

One should ne’er think a dream brings woe.

You are the mightiest monarch on this earth,

And wisest of all who dwell beneath the sky.

Were it to befall, as it will not, my lord,

That Mordred your nephew, had your queen,

And held the royal realm in his own hand,

Entrusted to his care, ere you left for Rome,

You could yet avenge his treachery by force,

And rule your land, and govern your people,

And fell the enemies that worked you evil,

And slay them all, that none might remain.’

Then Arthur, noblest of monarchs, replied:

‘I ne’er have thought that Mordred, my kin,

Dearest of men to me, could e’er betray me,

Not for my realm, nor Guinevere prove untrue;

No, not for all the world, would they do so!’

Then the knight dared to utter this outright:

‘My lord, I am your man; I must speak true,

So, Mordred has done, and ta’en your queen,

And set all your fair realm in his own hand.

He is the king, and she is now his queen,

And they expect no sign of your coming,

For they deem you’ll not return from Rome.

I am your servant, and I beheld this treason,

And am come here myself to swear it true.

I pledge my life that all this is as I say,

I speak no lies of your beloved queen,

Nor of Mordred that is your sister’s son,

For he has stolen your realm from you.’

Then all was silence, in Arthur’s halls,

For a mighty sorrow fell upon the king,

And the Britons were diminished in spirit.

He vows to avenge Mordred’s treachery

After a while they stirred, and voices rose;

Widely, the Britons’ clamour might be heard.

And they began to speak how in sundry ways

They would destroy Mordred, and the queen,

And slay all the folk that followed Mordred.

Then cried Arthur, fairest of all the Britons:

‘Be seated, and sit you still, knights in the hall,

And I will speak the strangest of words to you:

On the morrow, when the Lord sends us light,

I will go forth from here, and go into Britain,

Mordred I will slay; the queen I shall burn,

And destroy all those that like their treachery.

Here, will I leave the dearest of men to me,

King Howel, the fair, the noblest of all my kin,

And he shall rule half my army in this land,

To maintain for me the kingdom that I hold.

And, when all these various things are done,

Then back shall I come, to march upon Rome,

Handing Walwain, my kin, my land to guard.

For, upon my life, I shall perform my threat,

Every one of my enemies shall be destroyed!’

Then Walwain rose, that was Arthur’s kinsman,

And, wrathful as he was, he uttered these words:

‘Almighty God, that rules o’er each man’s fate,

The guardian of middle earth, why is this so,

That my brother Mordred commits this sin?

Today I cast him off, before this gathering,

And, if the Lord wills it, I will destroy him.

I will hang him high, higher than any wretch,

And draw the queen apart, with mighty steeds.

For may I ne’er have bliss while yet I live,

Till I have avenged my uncle, with the best!’

Then answered the bold Britons with one voice:

‘Our weapons are ready, and tomorrow we go!’

Arthur returns to Britain

On the morrow, when the Lord sent the light,

King Arthur rode out, with his host of knights.

Half his army remained; and half he led forth,

Sailed for this kingdom, and came to Whitsand,

For ships he manned, both many and excellent,

Though a full fortnight they then lay becalmed,

Awaiting the weather, deprived of any wind.

Now there was an evil knight in Arthur’s army,

Who, on hearing that Mordred would be slain,

Had sent a squire of his swiftly into this land,

Bringing word to Guinivere of what had passed,

And how Arthur would march with a great host,

And what he would undertake, and sought to do.

The queen went to Mordred, now dear to her,

And brought him tidings of Arthur the king,

And all that he had said, and what he might do.

Mordred sent envoys forth, to the Saxon lands;

He sent to Childric, that great and powerful king,

Bidding him come to England, and own a part;

Bidding him send out messengers, far and wide,

To all the four corners of the Saxon realm,

And summon all the knights that he could,

That would undertake to sail to this kingdom,

For he would grant Childric a vast tract of land,

Half of Northumberland, beyond the Humber,

If he would help him counter Arthur, his uncle.

Childric swiftly made his way to England 

And joined Mordred, with his heathen host. 

Full sixty thousand hardy warriors all told, 

Were there assembled to do Arthur harm, 

All to aid this Mordred, wickedest of men.  

And once the host had gathered to Mordred, 

His army was a hundred thousand strong, 

Heathens and Christians, answering to him. 

The hosts meet in fight; Walwain is slain

Now King Arthur was delayed, at Whitsand, 

A fortnight, which seemed full long to him. 

And Mordred knew all that King Arthur did,

For he had spies there, midst the king’s army.

Then it befell that much rain down did rain,

And the wind then turned, and blew offshore,

And Arthur set sail again, with all his knights,

Ordering the captains to make for Romney,

Where he thought to disembark on the shore.

On his coming there, Mordred opposed him,

They fought all that day from dawn to dusk;

Many a man fell, and died, upon that field.

They warred on dry land, and by the sea-strand,

While some from the ships let fly their spears.

Walwain went before and cleared the way,

He slew eleven thanes, one Childric’s son,

Who had taken to the field with his father.

The sun sank to rest; woe to Arthur’s men,

For Walwain had been slain by a Saxon earl.

Then was Arthur sorrowful in heart and soul,

And that mightiest of the Britons spoke so:

‘Now have I lost my beloved swain, Walwain.

My dream foretold that this woe would be!

Slain is Angel, the king, my own darling,

He is lost with Walwain, my sister’s son,

And sorrow is mine that I was ever born.

Up from the shore now my brave knights!’

Then sixty thousand Britons fought as one,

Broke Mordred’s ranks, and nigh slew him.

Mordred fled, and his folk followed after,

They fled so swiftly that the ground shook,

The stones turned under blood-drenched feet.

There might all have ended, but night fell;

Had it not, Mordred’s host had been slain.

The night parted them, midst vales and downs,

And Mordred fled so fast he came to London.

The citizens heard how his host had fared,

And denied him entry, him and his people.

So, then Mordred marched to Winchester,

And there he was received, with all his men.

Arthur pursues Mordred to Winchester

King Arthur pursued him with all his might,

Till he came to Winchester, amidst his host,

And besieged the burgh, Mordred there within.

When Mordred saw King Arthur draw near,

He set himself to think what he now might do.

That night he chose to order all his warriors

To march forth, for he sought to make a stand.

He promised the burghers free rule evermore,

If they would help him in this hour of need.

When daylight came, they readied for the fight.

Arthur saw their host, and was filled with rage.

He had the trumpets blown, the men assembled,

He ordered all his thanes, all his noble knights,

To take the field together, and fell his enemies,

And then destroy the town, and hang the citizens.

They advanced as one, and sternly they fought.

Mordred took thought as to what he might do,

And there, as elsewhere, wrought his treachery.

E’er, he did wickedness, betraying his comrades.

There before Winchester, summoning his knights,

Those that were dearest to him, of all his host.

He stole from the fight, as the Devil taught him,

And left his men behind, to fight on and perish.

They fought all day, still thinking he was there,

That he was with them, in their hour of need.

Yet he made his way to where Southampton lay,

And wickedest of men, hastened to the haven,

And commandeered all the ships and the sailors,

All that were needed, and set sail for Cornwall.

Arthur laid fast siege to Winchester the burgh,

Then he slew its people; woe enough was there;

The young, the old, all that dwelt there he slew.

When the folk were dead, then the burgh he burned,

And he caused the walls to be razed to the ground.

So, was it come to pass, as Merlin had prophesied,

‘Woe to Winchester, that the earth shall swallow!’

For thus spoke Merlin that was wisest in his day.

Guinevere departs

Now the queen lay at York, ne’er felt she such woe.

That was Queen Guinevere, the sorriest of women.

She heard Mordred had fled, whom Arthur pursued,

Woe was to her the while, that she was yet alive.

She quit York by night, and journeyed to Caerleon,

Nor might see the king again in this world’s realm.

In the darkness, she went with two of her knights,

Head veiled, like a nun; a woman most wretched.

And none else knew of where the queen had gone,

Nor thereafter did men know whether she was dead,

Nor if she perchance had sunk herself in the water,

Nor does any book tell the manner of her death,

And how, hence, from middle-earth, she departed.

The last battle

Now Mordred in Cornwall gathered many men,

And had his messengers sail swiftly to Ireland,

To the Saxon lands he soon sent his messengers,

And to Scotland, ordering all to come to him,

That wished for land, gold, silver, and spoils,

As a prudent man should that might be in need.

This news heard Arthur, most wrathful of kings,

That Mordred was in Cornwall with a vast host,

And there would be yet, as Arthur approached.

Arthur sent messengers throughout his realm,

Bade all men come to him, that dwelt therein,

Bearing their weapons, to fight for the right,

And whoso refused would be robbed of his life.

Countless folk came, on both horseback and foot,

As countless as raindrops that fall from the sky.

To Cornwall went Arthur, with that great army.

Mordred had news of his coming, and marched,

With a mighty number, with full many ill-fated.

Near to the Tamar the two hosts met together,

By Camelford, that field’s name thereafter.

There Mordred led sixty thousand and more,

And thither rode Arthur, his soldiers countless,

Near to the Tamar was that fateful encounter.

They raised their standards, and clashed together,

Drew their long-swords, and smote upon helms,

Sparks flew, shields shivered, lances splintered,

Their shafts broke in pieces, the strokes bitter.

There they fought together the numberless folk.

The Tamar’s streams flowed o’er with dark blood,

And no warrior knew who fared worse or better,

So great was the conflict in which they mingled,

Slaying men outright, were they swain or knight.

There Mordred was slain, and all of his knights,

There were slain the brave warriors, high or low,

All of Arthur’s brave knights of the Round Table,

And all of his allies of full many a kingdom.

And there Arthur was wounded by a broad-spear.

Fifteen dreadful wounds did the monarch receive;

Two hands might be thrust deep into the least.

Then it seemed that naught was left of the fight,

But two hundred thousand men hewn into pieces,

Except Arthur alone, and but two of his knights.

King Arthur’s departure; Merlin’s prophecy

Now, while Arthur lay wondrously wounded,

There came to him a young lad of his kindred,

And he was the son of Earl Cador of Cornwall.

Constantine was the lad; he was dear to the king.

Arthur looked up, from the ground where he lay,

And uttered these words with a sorrowful heart:

‘Constantine, Cador’s son, you are welcome now.

For here I bestow upon you my whole kingdom,

Defend my brave Britons for as long as you live,

Maintain the laws that have stood in my days,

And all the good laws of King Uther before me.

I fare now to Avalon, to the loveliest of maids,

To Argante the queen, that elf-lady most fair,

For she will render my body all sound again,

And with healing draughts render me all whole.

And afterwards I shall come to my kingdom,

And dwell with great joy among my Britons.’

E’en as he spoke, there came, from seawards,

A little boat, o’er the waves it came floating,

And two women therein, wondrously formed.

And they took up Arthur, and bore him swiftly,

Laid him therein softly, and began to depart.

Then was accomplished what Merlin had said:

There would be much woe after Arthur’s going.

Yet the Britons believe that Arthur still lives,

Dwelling in Avalon, with that fair elf-lady,

And the Britons still evermore wait his return.

There is ne’er a man born, not of any woman,

That knows, in truth, aught further of Arthur.

But the sage that lived ere now, named Merlin,

Uttered these words, and his sayings were true:

An Arthur would yet come, to the Britons’ aid.

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