Arthur then decided to make his capital at Camelot, the city marking the high tide mark where the Saxon expansion was turned back. He and Lord Jacques determined to build a cathedral there, and funded it, and even as it was half built Arthur and Guenevere were married in it, and it is said that on her wedding day Guenevere was so beautiful that all but the chastest of hearts declared its loyalty to her.
Then was a grand gift-giving, when all saw the love the subjects had for their King reflected in the gifts he received and his love for them in the gifts he gave in return.
Sir Iphis did give the King a wolf tamed by the Knight of the Wolf, and asked only that the wolf guard Guenevere against harm. Arthur agreed and further made Iphis Master of the Royal Hounds.
Sir Michel gave Arthur an account of witnessing from afar the majesty of the Grail Castle. Merlin warned that each must seek their own path to the Grail Castle, but noted that those who could rightly interpret Michel’s account would give thanks for it in the twilight of this court. Michel asked for no gift but wished that one day he would marry as well as Arthur had, and Arthur promised on that day he would gift Michel with a suitable dowry.
Deceitful Hubert did imply that he had given one of the various anonymous gifts received that day, and wove his lies so skilfully that whilst he received no gift from Arthur, he received the approval that should have been the anonymous givers’.
Sir Aden gave Arthur a fine set of falconry gear, and for this was made Master of the Royal Aviary.
Sir Edward gave Arthur a letter-opener in the shape of Excalibur, which Arthur gave to Guenevere for her use and protection. Arthur granted manors to the dowry of Caroline, Edward’s eldest daughter, who was married too that day.
Sir Pubert gave Arthur a hair shirt, as a warning that pride is the downfall of a true knight and king. Merlin noted that sometimes the humblest of gifts carries with it the greatest wisdom. Pubert asked only that when he died that Arthur would inter him personally, so that the dark forces claiming his soul could be thwarted. Arthur said that, whilst he was not too proud to serve in the funeral of a knight, at the same time he was conscious that Pubert had served the land magnificently in the late reign of Uther and during the Anarchy and yet had been rewarded the least, and so made Pubert Duke of the Heartlands, with authority over the Earls of Salisbury, Oxfordshire and Tribuit. Pubert accepted on the condition that he be allowed to expand the kingdom’s borders through conquest; Arthur noted that this would almost certainly mean attacking the Saxons of Wessex under King Port, but had no problem with this.
Lord Jacques gave a massive crucifix for the roof of Camelot Cathedral, blessed by the Pope, and asked that the Cathedral be graced by the light of the Grail. Merlin noted that none can command when the Grail Quest would be called or completed, so Arthur arranged that a place be set aside in the Cathedral to receive the Grail.
Sir Roland revealed the creation of a new knightly order – the Brotherhood of Excalibur, made up of pagan knights loyal to Arthur. As well as recruiting knights to this order, Sir Roland prepared a headquarters for it in Camelot – the Library of Worthy Deeds, where the acts of the Brotherhood would be recorded and worship given to its patron gods. Sir Edward, who had joined this order, had also endowed an annual prize to be given to the Brother who accomplished the greatest adventure for the King that year. Roland asked only that Arthur swear to bring up Callisto, bastard daughter of Sir Sisyphus that had been given over to Roland and Cora to raise, should Roland not live to see her reach adulthood. Arthur agreed, and further in honour of Roland ruling one order of knights and founding another made her the Earl of Cambenet, a county next to Gorre that had defaulted to the High King after the previous year’s slaughter.
Then Arthur revealed his gift from his father-in-law, King Leodegrance – a magnificent Round Table, suitable to seat 150 knights. But only 28 knights did Arthur appoint that day to it, for it was his will that the Knights of the Round Table be an exemplary order of chivalry, senior to all other such orders in the land. And among the 28 were Duke Pubert, Earl Roland, Lord Jacques and Sir Edward.
No sooner had the wedding feast begun than a riotous hunt ran through the great hall; a white hart, pursued by one white dog and sixty black hounds. The horde caused uproar in the hall, the hart departing after being bitten on the haunches by the white hound, and the white hound abducted by one of the men in attendance. A woman on horseback arrived decrying the theft of her hound, only to be kidnapped by a stranger knight for her troubles. Knowing adventure when they saw it, the worthies of Salisbury leaped into action, Jacques and Edward after the hart, Aden after the hound and its captor, and Iphis and Hubert after the damsel and her kidnapper.
Jacques and Edward encountered several delays along the way; two knights fighting on horseback by the side of the road as they squabbled over which should give pursuit of the white hart, and Sir Allardin of the Isles, who was demanding jousts of whoever should ford a river. In each case these challengers were convinced to wait for the duo’s return with the white hart, so that they could have a chance to contest for it and win greater glory.
They soon traced the hart to the castle of Sir Ablamar of the Marsh, where Sir Edward cornered the beast whilst Lord Jacques tried to sooth it with his gentle lute-playing. The music roused Ablamar and his lady, who asked what had brought such a lord to their castle; on learning that the white hart had gotten out (apparently it was a gift Ablamar had received from his lady to symbolise their love, and he had negligently left its pen open), they were horrified to learn of the disruption it had caused at the wedding feast, and agreed to come to Camelot to present their apologies to the King and Queen themselves.
After overnighting at Sir Ablamar’s castle, the party began their return to Camelot. Facing Sir Allardin, Sir Ablamar lost his duel, forcing Sir Edward to face and defeat Sir Allardin to regain custody of the White Hart. The duo of knights, who turned out to be brothers (Sarlouse of the Forest and Brian of the Forest), were swiftly dispatched in the joust by Sir Edward and Lord Jacques, who were thus able to return the White Hart to Camelot.
Meanwhile, Sir Aden in pursuit of the white hound was confronted in the road by a dwarf bearing a staff, who barred his way and said that none could pass save that they faced the knights of the two pavillions set up by the side of the road. These were the Frankish knight, Sir Felot of the Languedoc, and Sir Petipase of Winchelsea. So boldly did Aden defeat Sir Felot that Sir Petipase granted him the victory; on being invited to join his quest the lesser knights demurred, but the dwarf volunteered to join Aden’s service. On being asked why he took to serving questing knights, the dwarf explained that being of mean birth and low stature he might not be expected to accomplish much in this world, but he could still witness great deeds, and he thought that following knights such as Aden represented his best chance of doing so.
Towards the end of the day, Aden came to a ruined priory, next to which were erected two pavilions, one white and one red. In the white pavilion slept three ladies in waiting; in the red their mistress slept with the white hound at its feet. On being woken by Aden, the lady Charlotte explained her plight: kidnapped from her lands in Dorset some five years ago at the height of the Anarchy by the dread Sir Abelleus, who dwelled in the priory that was all that was left of his lands after years of mismanagement. For five years she had refused Sir Abelleus’ insistent pleas that she marry him, despite gifts such as the white hound.
The Lady Charlotte had had little news of the outside world and asked whether a King had come to take the Sword from the Stone; Sir Aden told her the marvellous history of Arthur, and in doing so did not see that the sun was setting. The dwarf gave warning that Sir Abelleus was emerging from the priory, and Sir Aden did emerge from the pavilion and slay him, rescuing the Lady Charlotte to return with him to Camelot and wed him that winter.
Whilst all this was happening, Sir Iphis and Sir Hubert were in pursuit of the kidnapped damsel. In the lead, Sir Iphis rode past a clearing in which there stood an overgrown well, next to which sat Eleine – the bastard daughter of King Pellinore – cradling in her arms her sorely wounded lover, Sir Miles of the Launds. Eleine called for help and Sir Iphis gave Eleine her tabard showing her coat of arms, telling Eleine that she could hail Iphis’ squire to get first aid and help. So it was that as Sir Hubert and the squires rode through the clearing, Iphis’ squire stopped to tend to Sir Miles and get him and Eleine back on the road to Camelot.
A poor labourer dragging a cartload of apples appeared, and gave Sir Iphis intelligence that the kidnapper had become caught up just ahead, having found yet another set of roadside duellists of the sort that had made nuisances of themselves in Aden, Jacques and Edward’s quests. Sure enough, the kidnapper – Sir Hontzlake of Wentland, rumoured to have Saxon blood – was facing one of the duellists, Sir Meliot of Logurs (the other duelist, Sir Brian of the Isles, was napping in his pavilion at the time). Iphis recognised the kidnapped woman as Sir Meliot’s cousin – the Lady Nimue, apprentice to the Lady of the Lake – and took the opportunity to untie her and reassure her as Sir Hubert arrived.
Honourably enough, Sir Iphis was loathe to intervene in an ongoing joust, and so waited until Sir Meliot surrendered before challenging Sir Hontzlake to a duel on foot. (As it happened, this was a wise decision on her part, Sir Hontzlake having a bad habit of attacking the horses of superior knights when duelling on horseback.) Sir Hubert relished the chance to speak to Nimue during the fight, but no sooner had he introduced himself than Sir Iphis had dispatched the villain, and as night fell Nimue made her admiration of Sir Iphis clear.
As Sir Iphis watched for danger in the middle of the night, she overheard a noise from the road, and on investigating she and Sir Hubert saw an eerie sight – a torchlit meeting between two sinister figures on horseback. One of them was Sir Loraine le Savage, the knight who in sneaking away from the wedding celebrations had assaulted Sir Miles; the other was none other than Sir Marick, now distinguishable from his twin Sir Aden by virtue of the enormous pair of antlers growing from his head. Sir Marick provided Sir Loraine with a poison brewed according to the “Grimoire of Sebastian”, which if added to the King’s food would ensure that he and his wedding guests would meet the same fate as King Uther and his court. Sir Loraine started back to Camelot, whilst Sir Marick’s horse took him off into the night sky; pursuing Sir Loraine, Sir Iphis and Sir Hubert were able to dupe him into allowing them to escort him to Camelot, where they were able to expose his duplicity to Merlin and ensure the poisoning did not go ahead. Arthur was greatly pleased to see that the Lady of the Lake’s apprentice was not harmed, and Nimue and Iphis would marry that winter.
Whilst the quests had been ongoing, Arthur and his court enjoyed the wedding tournament. Sir Gawaine and King Pellinore both put in brave showings, but the ultimate winner of the joust was none other than Earl Roland; meanwhile, in the mass combat Arthur was able to demonstrate his blossoming strategic knowledge, outsmarting even Duke Pubert’s tactics.
Over the winter, Lord Jacques had a strange turn whilst saying his Mass for Joseph of Arimathea, during which God bestowed on him a vision of the Grail Castle, within which was found the renegade Sir Balin, striking at shadows as though he were haunted by some imaginary foe. As a regal figure tried to calm Sir Balin, Balin took a spear from a wall and did the King of the Grail Castle a terrible wound. With that Dolorous Stroke, the castle fell into ruin, and the land thereabout became wasteland. Lord Jacques awoke with a Latin phrase resounding in his mind: “Atque acerbissima est mensis Aprilis”. April is the cruellest month…
(As with Morgan le Fay’s prophecy, which is found in no other source, this line is often taken as evidence that T.S. Eliot referred to The Salisbury Chronicle in composing The Waste Land, though sceptics have suggested that instead it is evidence that the Chronicle is a literary forgery by one of Eliot’s admirers, or perhaps a pastiche of Arthurian epics by Eliot himself composed before deciding to radically contract and rearrange it to arrive at the poem we know today).