Forty-Third Chapter: The Bargain of Hubert (526 AD)

Arthur’s forces invaded France and commenced their advance through the land. Some lords capitulated instantly; others put up more of a fight. As Sir Michel was battling a local champion and  Sir Aden and Sir Rhun were collecting tribute, the lustful Sir Hubert was turning his attention to other conquests. The temptation represented by a beautiful knight arriving unexpectedly claiming to represent the famed King Arthur was one which many lonely noblewomen (and some local knights) were all too pleased to be presented with.

Disaster struck, however, when Sir Hubert happened to be making love to the lady of one manor when her lord returned unexpectedly. Fighting Hubert, he did the seducer a grevious wound, and when Hubert swooned further mutilated him to, as the Chronicle delicately puts it, “destroy a threat to the virtue of France”. Hubert was saved by his retainers, but at a grevious cost.

As he was recovering, the other three knights were dispatched with Sir Gawain to a parley with the Emperor. Intemperate words were spoken on both sides; Gawain showed his awful temper yet again, and slew one of the Emperor’s favorite knights and made to flee. Only the quick thinking of the knights present prevailed upon him to come back and be ransomed, so as to force the Emperor to retract his threat to give no mercy to British knights on the battlefield.

Hubert, meanwhile, was having a curious dream. Morgan le Fay appeared to him, dressed as a priestess of the Magna Mater by way of a cruel joke. She gloated at his misfortune, but offered to heal him and restore his manhood at a dreadful cost – namely, that one of the twin children that Hubert sired with the Princess of the Glass City be surrendered to her. The girl Hirmos was promised to her; the deal was struck. When Hubert awoke, he was whole again.

The cost weighed on him; right as the British forces were massing to fight the assembled hordes of Rome, Hubert was struck by a terrible vision of Morgan disguised as a kindly old lady coming upon Hirmos and her playmates playing in the forest… slipping past the guards… offering Hirmos an apple… seizing her triumphantly and revealing her true self as she did so… the vision was too awful, and Hubert was driven mad and fled.

(Arthur would dispatch Mordred, who had come along as his squire, to try and track Hubert down; he eventually found Hubert wandering in the Massif Central, and brought him to a monastery where the monks were able to take care of him until he came to his senses. Strangely, Mordred reported that whilst he was mad Hubert reacted to Mordred with a curious fear, but Hubert remembered little of his madness and ascribed little importance to it.

The forces of Arthur met the Romans with full force; as Rhun, Michel and Aden won glory keeping the elite Byzantine reinforcements bogged down, Arthur met and slew the Emperor, sending him and the other slain notables of the Empire back to Rome with a letter to the Senate warning that he would be coming just as soon as the mountain passes through the Alps permitted to claim his Empire, and that there had best not be another pretender-Emperor waiting when he got there.

Little did Arthur realise that the loss of one scared little girl would eventually lose him more than he ever gained by conquering Rome.

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Forty-Second Chapter: The Demands of Rome (525 AD)

One day, whilst King Arthur and the Papal Legate were presiding over the investiture of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, a delegation from the Roman Emperor arrived and demanded entrance. Sir Hubert and Sir Rhun, who along with the other pagan knights present were stood outside the Chapel of Camelot as an honour guard so that the Christian knights could pray therein, warned the delegation that the ceremony was ongoing, and let them in once it was finished.

The delegates haughtily demanded that Arthur pay the tribute due to Rome which had not been paid since Vortigern’s time – an incredible request, given that the Emperor of those days had conceded that the Empire could offer nothing more to Britain and suggested that the Britons look to their own defences. The assembled knights were outraged, with some on the point of drawing sword on the curs, but Arthur commanded that the ambassadors be treated peacefully despite their unwelcome message, and had them provided with chambers in Camelot so that he and his trusted advisors could consider the matter.

Behind closed doors, with the major Knights of the Round Table along with his old friends Sir Hubert, Sir Rhun, and Sir Michel, Arthur stated that he had no intention of obeying the request, and that he was minded to declare war to assert Britain’s independence and his own claim to the Empire – for he counted Constantine amongst his ancestors. Aware of the importance of making sure the Papacy was not put in danger by this, he had sought the opinions of the Papal Legate, who repeated what the Salisbury Knights’ own conversations with him and with the Romans had revealed: that the secular authorities in Rome were a worldly, irreligious lot who held the Pope in contempt, and that the Pope was far more well-disposed towards Arthur than to them.

Arthur revealed that he had been doing his own researches in the Pendragon family archives, to ensure that his claim to the Empire was lawful, and had come across a curious document. From the way the Chronicle describes it, this seems to be a version of Donation of Constantine, a legal instrument penned by Emperor Constantine I professing his Christianity, recounting how the Pope had cured him of leprosy, and declaring that, since the intervention of God had allowed him to win the Empire, he was donating the entire Western Empire to the Bishop of Rome (at the time Pope Sylvester I), as well as recognising the Pope’s authority as “first among equals” amongst the Church Patriarchs. The agreement said that Constantine would hold the role of Emperor in trust for the Church, and that the Church, as well as being empowered to appoint its own bishops and other officials, also had the authority to crown the Emperor, implicitly suggesting that an Emperor is Emperor only by the assent of the Church.

The section where Arthur reads out the document is rather long and dull, though those who have studied the Chronicle have penned innumerable academic papers on it, not least because (to my knowledge) there are not any other Arthurian sources which incorporate the Donation. The text is similar enough to that purported to be the genuine Donation of Constantine to suggest that the author was reasonably familiar with the text, but deviates enough to suggest that either the author is making alterations for the sake of the plot or poetic licence or was working from an imperfect copy. Perhaps significantly, the author seems to treat the Donation as genuine, and as providing a third major justification for Arthur to go to war with the Emperor. Some writers treat the order in which the arguments for war are given in the Chronicle as being significant. First, there is a slightly self-serving explanation (which Arthur himself doesn’t actually enunciate but some of the more worldly knights are shown to be thinking when the demand is made) that the tribute demanded is of an absurd scale, since it includes generations’ worth of back-payments, and the Kingdom simply wouldn’t be able to pay in the first place. Secondly, there is an argument based on feudal obligation – which is the first argument that Arthur himself actually puts forward – which is that the tribute to Rome was paid by Britain, like all Rome’s provinces, in return for the benefit of Roman protection, and that by denying the protection of the Legions to the Britons the Emperor Honorius had broken the link of fealty between Rome and Britain and the tribute was no longer lawfully expected. Thirdly, there is an argument based on birthright, with Arthur’s descent from Constantine I cited as giving him a claim. Lastly, there is the argument based on the primacy of spiritual authorities, with the Donation illustrating that the proper authority of the Church had been entirely ignored by the Emperors of Rome, who as a result not even legitimate Emperors. The arguments for war thus become less about pragmatic necessity and more about the demands of higher ideals as they progress.

Other scholars have tried to argue that, since the Chronicle asserts that the Donation is genuine, that means that the Chronicle – or at least the segment this appears in – must have been composed at some point between the 8th Century, when the infamous forgery is generally accepted to have been prepared, and the 15th Century, when the forgery was comprehensively debunked. Others have argued against this, pointing out that the author of the Chronicle may have simply worked from an earlier source, now lost to us, which included the Donation section, and the Chronicle‘s compiler might simply not have been aware that the Donation had been shown to be a forgery. Alternatively, of course, the author may have been well aware that the Donation was a forgery, but incorporated it anyway (either through their own inspiration or by working from the hypothetical lost source) for their own reasons. Some have tried to assert on the basis of it that the Chronicle is the work of some sort of arch-Catholic reactionary, though the prominence of pagan heroes and the sympathetic treatment of characters like Roland rather undermines this point; others have tried to find some mystical significance in this, arguing that the Roman Church in the Chronicle is not supposed to be the actual political entity in real life so much as it is a metaphorical representation of spiritual concepts surrounding the hierarchy of creation and submission to the authority of God.

Either way, the revelation of the Donation is an important part of the scene. The Papal Legate responds to Arthur’s long speech with a longer speech, making it clear that the Vatican has no knowledge of the Donation, but also making it clear that he believes the document provided by Arthur is a genuine copy, and theorising that during the reign of Emperor Justin the Apostate, who had tried unsuccessfully to turn the clock back and suppress Christianity after Constantine had legalised it, all the copies of the Donation kept in Rome had been destroyed in order to deny the Church its rights, so that the only surviving copy remained in Constantine’s family papers in Britain and was eventually passed down the family line to the Pendragons.

With the council resolved to support Arthur and enforce the Donation, Arthur summoned the Roman delegation back to him, rejected their demands, and ordered that they be escorted safely away to take the declaration of war back to Rome. He also declared that, since he expected to be gone for a while leading the armies, he was giving the High Queen the title of First Lady of the Treasury, giving her full authority to rule in his absence even to the extent of raising the levies and commanding the knights that had stayed behind to go to war if necessary for the defence of the realm. (This means that, at least according to the Chronicle, Guinevere was the first Prime Minister of Britain.)

Forty-First Chapter: Justice for Pellinore and the Making of Lancelot (524 AD)

Aden, Michel, and Hubert set themselves to the task of uncovering the truth behind King Pellinore’s death. The scene of the crime was found and there were signs that Pellinore had been stabbed from behind whilst sat before a campfire, in an encampment which showed signs of having been richly appointed. The knights began to suspect that the Orkney clan – Sir Gawaine, Sir Agravaine, Sir Gaheris, and Sir Gareth, the adult sons of Queen Mawgawse – may have been involved, for Pellinore had slain their father Lot in battle and the sad memories of that would have come flooding back with the return of Mordred, for whose sake Lot had ridden into that doomed battle in the first place.

As luck would have it, the sons of Pellinore – Sir Lamorak de Gales and Sir Melodiam de Gales – had also arrived at the same suspicion, and Sir Melodiam was determined to accuse Sir Gawaine of the murder and challenging him to trial by combat. The knights warned Sir Melodiam that the endorsement of God (or the Gods) does not fall on trials by combat arising from false accusations, and that it would perhaps be better to simply accuse Gawaine of knowing something about the murder that he has kept from Arthur. Melodiam, though his temper did not allow him to deliver the challenge civilly, nonetheless saw the wisdom of this and made that accusation, and agreed with Gawaine that they would fight until one or the other surrendered. Gawaine put up an incredible defence, but Melodiam’s offence could not be resisted forever; eventually, Agravaine and Gareth both stepped out of the crowd watching the combat and begged Gawaine to surrender to Melodiam for their sake.

The three brothers thereafter confessed to Arthur that they had slain Pellinore on the spur of the moment, after he had stumbled across their encampment to their surprise. Arthur made his displeasure in them known, and informed them that he had been considering allowing one of them to take up Lot’s title of King of Lothian, now that the dispute during which Arthur had seized the kingdom from Lot had been resolved, but that for the time being he would instead keep the title until he was fully assured that the Orkney clan could measure up to the standards required of kingship. He banished Gawaine, Gareth and Agravaine from court until such time as they could redeem themselves through knightly deeds, and also had them pay a substantial sum of blood money to Pellinore’s family. The curse on Pellinore’s daughters was thus broken by the bravery of Melodiam, the wisdom of the Salisbury knights, and the justice of Arthur.

Meanwhile, a wounded knight had been brought to Camelot, with no less than three weapons run through his body. He claimed to Arthur that only if a knight pulled the weapons from his wounds could his suffering alleviated – but the knight who did so must swear to avenge him on all those who loved his enemy more than him. Arthur and the Salisbury knights asked for more details but the knight demurred; Arthur ordered that the knight be made comfortable, and there was a consensus between him and the Salisbury knights that it would be foolhardy to attempt to draw the weapons and sign up to what could be an utterly endless quest.

A little later, the Lady of the Lake arrived at Camelot, bringing along a youth known only as the Squire of the Lake, who had been brought up on the fringe of the Forest Sauvage and had been taken from there by Vivienne, Nimue’s predecessor as Lady of the Lake, to serve as the Squire of two knights of Ganis who had been ousted from there along with the rest of the Cymric peoples of that land by a Frankish invasion. When Hubert asked the youth about himself, the Squire of the Lake declared that he had come to Camelot because it is the greatest court in the world and no lesser court would do for one such as he – “a man who has mastered all the arts of knighthood and chivalry”. Guinevere, who was present, laughed that he had clearly not mastered the art of modesty.

The next day the Squire was knighted by Arthur, along with a hundred other squires, but was noted by Michel as slipping away during Mass afterwards. Michel followed to find the freshly-minded Knight of the Lake talking to the wounded knight, withdrawing the weapons from his wounds, and swearing to avenge the knight; the knight introduced himself as a “knight of Overthere”, whose enemies were the so-called “King of Northumberland” and his bandits who had raised a false kingdom in opposition to Arthur. The Knight of the Lake decided to set forth to defeat Northumberland, and went accompanied by the Salisbury knights; in their company he defeated Saxon raiders, goblins answering to Red Tom, and the King of Northumberland and his men themselves.

Along the way, the Knight of the Lake had heard of the legend of Dolorous Garde, a castle that had become overcome by ghosts and could only be reclaimed by a knight able to overturn a certain stone in its graveyard, and proposed that the rightful owner of the castle must surely be one of the Salisbury knights, who came of such legendary stock and had already accomplished so much in their lives. However, when they made their bid it was to the Knight’s great surprise that he himself was able to overturn the stone, revealing a great crucifix which drove the ghosts away and an inscription stating that the rightful ruler of the castle – now known as Joyous Garde – was the son of the slain King Ban of Benoit, Sir Lancelot. The Knight of the Lake had found his true identity at last.

Fortieth Chapter: Mordred’s Rescue and the Exile of Merlin (522 AD-523 AD)

In the winter of 521-522 AD Morgan le Fay worked curses on Lord Michel’s lands, and was seen lurking in lonely parts of the countryside around Camelot accompanied by her knights. Thus, when the thaws came Michel, Hubert and Rhun were patrolling the forests seeking the outlaw Queen.

Suddenly, a small peasant child wearing a little cap jumped out at them, nearly ending up underneath Hubert’s horse, and told them a piteous tale. Introducing himself as “Chapeau”, he claimed to be the son of Gaston, a French merchant who was visiting Britain with his children and had intended to visit the court of the High King. A noble lady with a retinue of knights appeared before them on the road and claimed that she would lead them to Camelot, but this proved to be Morgan le Fay and her knights, who soon took Chapeau’s father and siblings captive; Chapeau had only just managed to escape to find help.

Chapeau begged the knights to save his family; Lord Michel suspected a trap, but nonetheless the party could not pass up their best lead against the wicked Queen yet. Hubert sent his squire to circle the clearing where the Queen and her retinue had stopped to search for the missing Chapeau, with orders to free the remaining captives at the first opportunity.

Springing this plan into action, the party made short work of the knights and even captured Morgan. Increasingly suspicious, Michel suggested that Morgan should be subjected to all manner of rough searches, but was overruled by Hubert; she had, after all, surrendered, and despite being a traitor was still a noblewoman and the King’s sister.

Returning to Camelot with Morgan, the knights were honoured by Arthur, who regretfully declared the death penalty for Morgan; Morgan, for her part, did not invoke her right to have a champion fight for her in a trial by combat. Morgan was beheaded by Lord Michel with Excalibur, and taken out to unhallowed ground by Merlin and the Lady of the Lake to make sure she did not return from death.

Arthur then turned his attention to Gaston and family. Gaston admitted that his large collection of children were not, in fact, his own, but instead had been rescued by him from a shipwreck off the coast of France. Apparently, Chapeau’s cot had had a letter inside, but Gaston did not know his letters and could not read it; this he produced now. Arthur was surprised to see that the letter was addressed to the Pope, and handed it to the Papal legate in order to read; the legate in turn said that he had no objection to Arthur reading it out. The letter identified “Chapeau” as none other than the long-lost wee baby Mordred, and the other children as the rest of the kidnapped bairns of Northern Britain, and explained that the writer was sending them to the Pope to look after and warning against letting them fall into the clutches of the “necromancer Merlin”. Even as Arthur joyously celebrated the return of his nephew and ordered that messengers be sent North to summon Mawgawse and the rest of the bereaved mothers, there was an enormous blast heard outside.

There, Merlin and Vivienne, Lady of the Lake, had tried once too often to confound destiny with magic by binding Morgan in the grave. This hubris allowed Morgan to challenge and defeat them in a magical duel. Morgan, looking none the worse for wear and with her injuries healed, floated in midair above her open grave, holding two crystal balls; Merlin could be seen trapped in one, and Vivienne in the other. “Marvel and Fear!” Morgan cried, as she declared that Merlin and Vivienne would be banished until the end of this age of the world and vowed that she would have power over Mordred one day before disappearing.

Though Morgan had spoken as though this were all a done deal, it did not sit right with Arthur to leave Merlin in the lurch, and so the next year found Michel, Hubert and Rhun searching for any sign of Merlin. They discovered a mysterious isle on which a tomb had been constructed, and emaciated women in tattered mourning clothes wept eternally over the grave. This was the Isle of Fees, and the women were the daughters of King Pellinore, who had laughed at and mocked his hunt for the Questing Beast whilst he was alive and were now cursed for their lack of family loyalty by being trapped at his graveside until his murderers were exposed – for this was indeed the grave of Pellinore, and he had indeed been cruelly murdered. The knights swore to take up the quest and expose the killers.

That night, the knights had a curious dream that they were deep within the Earth, in a strange throne room crafted from the roots of a vast tree. On two thrones growing out of the roots themselves sat Merlin and Vivienne, aged and frail. Merlin spoke to the knights and asked them to tell Arthur of this fate, and confirmed Morgan’s story. He also confessed that he and Vivienne had kidnapped the May Babies, in a bid to avert destiny, and gave each of the knights a chance to ask a single question of him.

Hubert asked how he could claim his true love’s heart, careful not to name her as Guinevere; Merlin sadly warned Hubert that nobody would ever fully claim her heart.

Rhun asked about Arthur’s destiny; Merlin said that Arthur would die on a battlefield littered with the bodies of his enemies, having dealt the death-blow to his last and greatest foe, and Rhun was consoled by this.

Michel asked where Morgan le Fay could be found. Merlin became animated, shaking as he issued forth a strange proclamation:

Morgan? Why, she is…

…in the Fortress of the Mound, where bitter songs are sung.
…in the Fortress of Mead-Drunkenness, where lamps burn before the doors of Hell.
…in the Fortress of Hardness, where flowing water and jet mingle.
…in the Fortress of Guts, with six thousand men standing on the wall.
…in the Fortress of God’s Peak, where an ox is brindled with seven score links on its collar.
…in the Fortress of Enclosedness, where an animal with a silver head is kept.
…where monks howl like a choir of dogs!!!

He closed by telling Michel that Arthur must not go to “the Castle of Bones”, whatever that was.

Arthur was saddened to learn that Merlin was lost to the world, but comforted to have some final advice from his old mentor. Guinevere, meanwhile, had decided that Hubert had become a true model of the romantic knight…

Thirty-Ninth Chapter: Morgan’s Betrayal (521 AD)

Sir Iphis at last returned to Britain, but was sorely wounded after her travels. Nimue, being an apprentice of the Lady of the Lake, was able to save Sir Iphis’ life, but only by placing her “beneath the Lake” – suspended unaging in the strange otherworld the Ladies of the Lake communed with through their sacred pools, to be brought back as and when Britain needed her. Arthur was glad to have his foster sister returned but saddened to see her in such a state; since Sir Iphis could hardly administer Cambenet, he asked Iphis’s younger sister Sir Antimony to accept the titles previously bestowed on Earl Roland. She accepted, but did not take up the Grand Mastership of the Order of the Pomegranate, choosing instead to act as a caretaker to allow Sir Iphis to be a symbol of what the Order aspires to.

Arthur announced a great celebration to pay tribute to Iphis’ return, Antimony being made Earl, and the knighting of Sir Ywaine, Arthur’s nephew and the son of King Uriens of Gorre and Queen Morgan le Fay. On the first evening of the feast, Duke Hubert played a mournful tune inspired both by the death of his wife over the winter and by his secret love for Guinevere. The Queen, for her part, was moved by the song, and idly mentioned that she thought that if Hubert’s heart ever healed to the point where he felt able to sing as passionately as he played, he would be the very prototype of a romantic knight. Taking the hint, Hubert decided to take singing lessons, with one of Guinevere’s own ladies in waiting more than happy to help him.

Meanwhile, Lord Michel had noticed that the crucifix he had inherited from Lord Jacques was warm to the touch, warning of the presence of spiritual evil. It seemed the most intense whenever the Gorre royal family – King Uriens, Queen Morgan, and Sir Ywaine – were nearby. Michel asked if they intended to come to Mass the following day, and Morgan said she would, once the King had returned from the hunt he proposed to go on the next day, somewhat to Uriens and Ywaine’s surprise.

As it turned out, the hunting party sallied forth late the next day, due to a spate of drinking contests kicked off by Lord Aden, Sir Rhun, and King Arthur (which Lord Aden won, thanks perhaps to his hardy part-faerie constitution), so Mass was held before it – though Morgan claimed to be unwell and didn’t attend. As it transpires, the best game of the hunt was brought back by Lord Aden and Sir Rhun in the form of a great boar – for Arthur and his party, pursuing a strange white hart, ended up having a curious adventure.

The only riders who could keep up with the hart were Duke Hubert, Sir Accolon of Gaul, King Uriens and King Arthur himself. They rode their horses to death to stay on the trail, in fact – their horses curiously dying at more or less the same time. Finding themselves separated from the rest of the pack, they noticed that they had come to a rest by a broad river flowing through the forest. In the river was a sizable barge, and they thought that if they simply took the barge downstream they should eventually reach the road back to Camelot – and Arthur was not one for passing up the adventure of a mystery boat regardless. Leaving behind a note on the horse’s corpses, he and the others took the barge, from the depths of which emerged a dozen damsels who sought to put them at their ease.

When Lord Michel and the other following attendants found the horses, they rode downstream to try and catch up with the King, only to find that they reached the road back to Camelot without finding any sign of them. Re-examining the place where the horses’ corpses were found, Lord Michel examined the opposite bank of the river, and found a strange model boat buried shallowly there and carved with strange runic symbols – a sign of some sort of magic having been woven there…

As the knights retired to their various cabins on the barge, Duke Hubert found none other than Morgan le Fay herself waiting for him. She said that if Arthur were allowed to remain on the throne it would mean disaster in the long term for Britain – the death of the old pagan ways, the resurgence of the Saxons, and worse besides – and that she was intent on taking action now to ensure that didn’t happen. If Hubert collaborated, she promised that she would see to it that Queen Guinevere would be Hubert’s under the new regime.

The next morning, the various knights who had fallen asleep on the boat woke up in different places. Duke Hubert awoke in his chambers in Camelot; likewise, King Uriens woke up back in Camelot, in Morgan le Fay’s arms. Sir Accolon, meanwhile, awoke near a sacred fountain, where he was found by an agent of Morgan le Fay, whose lover he was. The messenger gave Sir Accolon the sword Excalibur and its scabbard, and bade him to offer his services to a certain Sir Ontzlake. Sir Ontzlake was in an ongoing dispute with his elder brother, Sir Damas; whilst it had been the will of their father that his estates be divided evenly between the two, Sir Damas had usurped most of the estates in question, leaving Sir Ontzlake impoverished, and claiming reluctance to spill the blood of kin refused to duel over it unless proxies could be found.

Simultaneously, Arthur had woken up in the dungeons of Sir Damas. For his part, Damas was wealthy, but was of such an unpleasant disposition that no knight would agree to fight for him; he had taken to kidnapping travelling knights who passed through his lands and throwing them into his dungeons to try and make them fight for him. When Arthur learned that there were twenty other knights in there in a piteous condition, and that some eighteen knights before them had starved to death, he reluctantly agreed to be Damas’ champion for the sake of the imprisoned knights. Damas presented him with what appeared to be Excalibur and its scabbard – but were in fact fakes, prepared for this purpose by Morgan le Fay.

Meanwhile, back at Camelot, Morgan le Fay summoned Duke Hubert, Sir Rhun, Lord Michel and Lord Aden. She told them she had performed divinations and had discovered a way that Arthur could be found. She commanded them to go to a certain manor – that of Sir Damas – where they would find two strange knights fighting, and warned them that it was vital that “the bearer of Excalibur” be the only survivor. She knew that the fake Excalibur would not last long in battle against the real one (and indeed it shattered the first time Arthur tried to parry with it), and was counting on these knights to act as insurance just in case Sir Accolon balked at finishing off his opponent. She had not, however, counted on the Lady of the Lake hiding amongst those witnessing the duel, and using her magic to cause Accolon to drop Excalibur, allowing Arthur to reclaim it and regain the advantage.

Thus, when the knights arrived, it was Arthur who held Excalibur, and Sir Accolon at a disadvantage. Neither had recognised the other, for both fought in full face helms and was carrying the colours of the knight they were acting as proxy for, but when the Camelot knights arrived it soon became apparent that the King was fighting in Sir Ontzlake’s corner. Sir Accolon despaired when realising what he had done and begged forgiveness, and Sir Damas for his part claimed that he had believed Arthur to be a lunatic claiming falsely to be the King. Arthur ruled that Sir Ontzlake must take on the estates in question, and had Sir Ontzlake exact the King’s justice on the traitor Damas; he also asked that he and Sir Accolon be taken to a place of healing, under the guard of the Camelot knights, for he had bled profusely in the duel and Sir Accolon, having made grave accusations against Morgan le Fay in his confession, needed to be put on trial before the whole court so the truth of the matter could be put to the test.

Sir Ontzlake recommended a nearby convent, and the knights took the wounded King and his prisoner there. On arrival, Duke Hubert revealed to the others that he had his own reasons to suspect Morgan le Fay, and that so far he had given her no reason to expect he would not collaborate with her coup, and proposed a trap: Duke Hubert would stand guard outside Arthur’s room, in the expectation that Morgan would come visiting when her magics told her that Accolon had failed to slay Arthur, the idea being that the other knights could hide inside the room or nearby in order to seize her if she tried to have Hubert allow her into Arthur’s room. For his part, Arthur rested with Excalibur in his hands, and its precious scabbard laid across his feet.

Sure enough, in the dead of night Morgan le Fay arrived escorted by some of her knights. She approached the room, and asked Hubert if Arthur were within, but her magic told her that he was playing her false and she did not enter. Instead, she withdrew – but within the room, the knights realised that a large bat had slipped through the window and was flying away with Excalibur’s scabbard, taking it straight back to Morgan’s waiting hand. Arthur cried out when he realised what happened and he and the knights gave chase by torchlight, but in the midst of a dense fog they found themselves losing the trail at the edge of a field filled with standing stones of sinister aspect, with Michel’s cross burning with warning against the gross spiritual evil embodied in the stones.

Arthur stopped suddenly and reminded the others of the prophecy of the eagle – “You will almost die, and then find yourself lost among a field of stones”. He commanded a halt to the direct pursuit, realising that the group were facing powerful dark magic that would be their undoing if they ran head-first into the trap; warned against pride, he showed enough humility to realise he was out of his depth. Instead, the knights sent Sir Rhun to take the message north, in the hopes that Morgan and her knights could be intercepted there, or at least put under siege.

However, in the long run a strange transformation overcame the land of Gorre, with those lonely castles, out of the way towns and villages, and eerie wildernesses that owed more fealty to Morgan than to King Uriens disappearing, the pathways formerly leading to them doubling back on themselves. Even more disturbingly, along with those knights who gave her their primary loyalty, about a third of the Order of the Pomegranate had defected to her service.

Arthur had the body of Sir Accolon put on a cart and left at a crossroads in Gorre as a “gift” for Morgan; sure enough, the next day it had vanished. Morgan sent a maiden with a magnificent cloak as a gift to Arthur to ask for his forgiveness; at the advice of the Lady of the Lake, Arthur had the maiden try the cloak on first, and when she did so it burst into flames which consumed her, revealing yet another assassination attempt. Sir Ywaine confessed that the day after King Uriens had returned from the boat adventure, he had discovered his mother standing over Uriens’ sleeping form with a sword in hand, ready to strike; she claimed that she had been momentarily possessed by devils as a result of a magical experiment gone wrong, which is why he had kept quiet until now. Arthur judged that King Uriens was innocent of this treason, but expressed his doubts about Sir Ywaine and had him exiled until he could perform such deeds as to prove his character; Sir Gawain objected to this ruling, and declared that he would accompany his cousin Ywaine on his adventures. Arthur regretted his quick temper, but consoled himself with the knowledge that Ywaine and Gawain together would surely accomplish great deeds in the land.

Meanwhile, over in France, an aged merchant hustled a group of ten-year-old boys onto a ship to undertake a journey to Camelot…

Thirty-Eighth Chapter: An Eagle For a Nephew (519-520 AD)

The next book of the Chronicle begins with a cluster of weddings, as the various widowed women and newly ennobled men of Britain seek to construct a stable family life in the wake of the death of so many menfolk. Lord Michel marries Gwendoline of Silchester, daughter of the late Duke Ulfius, and gives his sister Chloe in marriage to Sir Rhun to cement their new friendship. Duke Hubert, meanwhile, married Princess Galeria of Malahaut, who proved to be his match in both beauty and self-regard.

Before marrying, though, Hubert had to see to the burial of his father and watch over him with King Arthur. As they sat and drank and told stories of Pubert on the floor of Oxford Cathedral, Arthur confided a number of private thoughts to Hubert, which told him a number of things: that Arthur was troubled that he and Guinevere had not yet sired an heir, that he believed Guinevere was barren, and that he had good reason to think that he himself was perfectly fertile.

Before Arthur could confide further, the doors of the cathedral burst open and the ghastly form of Sir Urquhart entered, intent on abducting Pubert to Hell. Arthur warned Hubert to stay back, for Merlin had warned Arthur that only Excalibur could prevail against Urquhart, and the battle was joined. For six hours the two put on the most skilled and puissant show of swordsmanship that the world had ever seen, until finally the dawn came and saw Urquhart banished and Pubert taken to Heaven by a host of angels, to Hubert’s wonder and astonishment.

Meanwhile, Sir Rhun had to deal with the travails of his sister, who had given birth to a bastard daughter whose father had disappeared. She confessed to Rhun that she had fallen in love with a handsome outlaw who haunted the local woods, who claimed that “her lord” (it was ambiguous as to whether Rhun’s late father, the late Earl Roland, or King Arthur himself was meant) owed him a debt that he would forgive in return for her love. The knave had even gone so far as to name the child – “Acorn” – before vanishing. And his name? None other than “Red Tom”…

Before Sir Rhun could go hunting for the outlaw, though, there was the matter of Alclud in Strangorre, which was under siege by the King of the Irish realm of Dal Raida and his Pictish allies. Accompanying the armies of Arthur were Saxon mercenaries acting as footmen, for Arthur knew that the usual levy of British peasants was still exhausted after Badon Hill, and was confident that his knights could ensure the loyalty of the Saxon footsoldiers.

For the first time since Vortigern invited them to Britain, the Saxons were true to their word – perhaps because in the last year, at the moment Aelle fell, the voice of Wotan was heard in his temples prophesying that any Saxon raising arms henceforth against Arthur or his line would be destroyed and the Gods would not help them, and that if Aelle’s old dream of England ever came to pass it would spell the end of the Old Gods. Arthur broke the siege and, allowing the Dal Raidans to escape, instead pursued the Picts to their sacred Loch Lomond, intent on punishing them for their years of outrages against the northern kingdoms.

So outmatched were the Picts that they turned tail and dived into the Loch and swam to the islands thereon to escape Arthur’s knights. Setting the Saxon mercenaries to cut off any escape from the Loch, Arthur sent forth his knights to pacify the Picts as they had the Saxons, but the meagre pickings available meant the knights did so with less enthusiasm than the past year. Monks who had been living among the Picts to preach to and civilise them came forth and begged mercy of the King, who relented and accepted the Pictish surrender and fealty, imposing only a nominal tribute due to their poverty. (“A larger one would only prompt them to raid my sisters to pay it,” as he pointed out.)

Touring Pictland in the wake of the victory, the knights learned of a certain rock where the eagles gathered once a year to make prophecy to the Pictish shamen. They had missed that day, but in return for a small donation the Picts agreed to ask the eagles to send an emissary south if they had any prophecy for Arthur. Come 520 AD, and to their great surprise an eagle came! First visiting Sir Rhun, then Duke Hubert, then Lord Michel, it told each of them “Pride is the fault of the Pendragons! Tell King Arthur!”, and when the three knights met on the road to Camelot as they rode to deliver this message they spotted the eagle smiling at them from an oak tree by the side of the road.

Hearing of this talking eagle, Arthur rode out with the knights to meet it in his guise as the Knight of the Parrot, accompanied by his pet parrot and dwarf parrot-keeper. When he introduced himself to the eagle, the majestic bird revealed that it was Arthur’s nephew Eliwlod – son of Uther’s bastard Prince Madoc – but did not explain how he had come to be transformed. Eliwlod gave Arthur a series of prophecies, as follows:

You will almost die, and then find yourself lost among a field of stones.

A boatload of children will make you marvel and fear.

A white knight will also be a monk.

You shall sit on a throne in Rome.

Your son will be King of Britain.

Eliwlod further warned Arthur that unless he turned away from pride, all these things would prove evil to him; he then flew away to return to the court of the King of Eagles. Arthur was troubled by the prophecy, and recalled Pubert’s encouragement to him to remain humble; Hubert, for his part, flattered the King, hoping that the prophecy might find him a way to Guinevere’s affections. Arthur did take some comfort from the idea that his son would be King after him and pointed out that, after all, no son inherits his father’s titles unless some evil has come to his father.

That summer, Arthur sent troops to quell the rebellions of the Saxons in Anglia, which the loyalist Saxon Duke Hervis had failed to suppress; Sir Griflet was given command of Arthur’s forces. They caught up with the rebels at Fort Guinnon, and soon a siege began which was only ended when Duke Hervis lobbied Sir Griflet to allow him and his Saxon forces to storm the main gate. Michel, Hubert and Rhun realised that there was a great risk of the Saxon footmen running amok amongst the townsfolk – many of whom were innocent of rebellion – once the rebels were defeated, and so went with the assault in order to maintain discipline, which they barely managed to do so. Arthur was glad that the Fort was taken without a massacre but alarmed by how close it came to one, and set to devising rules of chivalric siege that would both forbid besieging armies from vindictively destroying valuable sites and compel besieged forces to surrender rather than to allow their civilian population to suffer a terrible death by starvation.

Meanwhile, the Gerald family of Escavalon, with Arthur’s blessing, responded to a call for aid from King Anguish of Leinster, who (thanks to the influence of his wife who hailed from Ganis) had been modernising his kingdom – and in doing so created enemies both within and without, including the High King of Ireland. The Geralds succeeded in protecting Leinster from the forces arrayed against it and gained a number of lands there, creating an enclave where British values were promoted.

Thirty-Seventh Chapter: Badon Hill (518 AD)

All winter the Britons were plagued by probing raids and bitter curses from the Saxons. The lands of Lord Edward were blighted with a failed harvest, and when Sir Iphis went to the continent to seek aid from Arthur’s allies in Brittainy and Ganis a storm blew her ship hopelessly off course and she was believed lost. Darkest of all, a giant and foul-tempered boar branded with Saxon runes attacked Arthur whilst he was out hunting; the High King was saved by his foster brother, Sir Sisyphus, who threw himself in the boar’s path in the nick of time.

Earl Roland was so furious she could scarcely speak; for his part, Arthur knew the time had come to answer Aelle Bretwalda’s challenge once and for all.

The decisive battle began outside Silchester, which was besieged by Saxon mercenaries from the continent answering Aelle’s promise of land and status for those who aided his conquest of “Angle-Land”; they slew Duke Ulfius and had him crucified in sight of the city walls. Arthur wisely heeded the word of his scouts, who reported that the personal forces of the Saxon kings were nowhere to be seen in the besieging mob, and held his veterans back – instead, ordering Michel, Hubert, Rhun and Aden to lead a force to assault the mercenaries and try to prompt them to flee westwards. Under Michel’s direction they caught the mercenaries at a river crossing, where the mounted knights were at a great advantage over the Saxon footmen, and although Sir Hubert was gravely injured by being struck in the face by a giant’s spear the mission was a success in breaking the siege.

Sending Hubert to the chirurgeons, the rest of the party pursued the fleeing Saxons west for the rest of the day, keeping a slow and steady pace. Eventually, on the second day of battle the mercenaries were trapped between a force commanded by Duke Pubert and the pursuers led by Michel, Aden and Rhun, and an end was put to them during a miserably wet and muddy battle that took place in pouring rain. Pubert received word on the wind from Merlin that the Britons should hasten west to Badon Hill, where the Saxon forces were converging, and they made all due haste there, rained on all the way.

By keeping the main body of his forces back, Arthur had been able to anticipate the Saxons’ move and take the high ground on Badon Hill – a crucial advantage given that the numbers were against him. In the stone circle at the top of the hill, Merlin, the Lady of the Lake, and the three Queens Elaine, Mawgawse, and Morgan le Fay were working their magic; the eye of the storm remained over the British position on top of the hill, whilst the surrounding area was consumed by the thunderstorm. Occasionally, signs of a battle taking place above the clouds could be perceived; here and there a great red draconic tail or a leathery white wing dipped below the cloud layer, and sometimes the roars from above sounded less like thunder and more like the bellows of vast beasts roaring defiance at each other.

Sir Rhun was asked to stay atop the hill so that he could aid the wizards in keeping track of the battle with his knowledge of heraldry; the other younger knights were all exhausted from having fought and marched continuously for two days. The Saxon kings were taking the field, and so it was time for Arthur to bring out his veterans. Before they rode out, Merlin spoke to Roland, Pubert, Jacques and Edward, and gave the following speech:

“Every change can be a disaster if you see only its dark face, but the world moves from darkness to light and into darkness again, changing always and forever. We live in a time of that change. As the earth turns, a great transformation is taking place. The magic and miracles of the land are growing active. The wonders fo the land will continue to grow.

“The world is making itself ready for Arthur’s generation, preparing to reveal unto them the wonders and horrors of the magic that underlies it. These events will continue, even after we five are gone, each bringing a challenge of greater proportions until it reveals the greatest of all quests, after which all the parts of the world will become whole again.”

With these foreboding words ringing in their ears, the Giant-Killers of Salisbury set forth on their final battle, vowing that their fury would shock into silence the war-drums of the Saxons. Saxon witches with the evil eye tried to bar their path, casting a hex that scorched Earl Roland grievously underneath her helm, but she showed no sign of slowing as she and the others bore down on the Saxons. As luck would have it, a chance came to strike at the self-proclaimed “Cerdic II”, a mercenary captain and supposed son of Cerdic who had made little secret of his intention to face down King Port for control of Wessex after the Saxon conquest of Britain was complete. Ordering his bodyguards to engage the ancient enemies of his house in battle, Cerdic II found himself exchanging blows with Lord Edward, and held his own until Lord Jacques was able to join Edward on the attack and bring him down.

In doing so Lord Jacques was almost caught off-guard by one of Cerdic II’s bodyguards, but Earl Roland interposed herself between Cerdic’s lapdog and the others, the bodyguard’s attack shattering her skull and sending her lifeless to the ground. A sudden noise from the sky made everyone on the battlefield look up in astonishment, as a crack in the stormclouds appeared through which emerged bright sunlight and a group of woman warriors riding on horseback across the sky. The Saxons’ hearts were momentarily cheered and they raised their dead and wounded onto their shoulders as the riders approached, for the Saxons thought that these were the legendary valkyries – but in fact, as the British knights realised from the Hellenic style of their armour and heraldry, these were the legendary queens of the Amazons, descendants of Mars himself, come to take their fallen successor to the Elysian fields. As they descended on the Saxons, the barbarians’s cries of joys and wonder became screams of horror and despair, as the Amazons rode them down; mortally wounded Saxons who had stretched out their hands in supplication to the “valkyries” pulled back bloody stumps as the Amazon’s swords and spears hacked down at them. The Amazons rode to where Roland had fell, hauled her across the back of one of their horses, and wordlessly departed.

The morale of the Saxon forces, seeing apparent proof that their gods has abandoned them, was shaken to the core by this and Aelle was unable to maintain discipline amongst his forces – giving the surviving Giant-Killers a chance to attack the position of Aescwine of Essex. Lord Jacques this time fought the king, whilst Lord Edward and Duke Pubert battled his bodyguards; one bodyguard’s enormous axe came down on in a terrible stroke, that split Lord Edward from neck to groin and left the axe embedded halfway into Edward’s horse. Seeing that if he did not engage both remaining bodyguards at once, Lord Jacques would almost certainly be prevented from killing Aescwine, Duke Pubert ran through the bodyguard who had slain Edward, but was brought low by the other bodyguard’s axe embedding itself in his back. Aescwine, meanwhile, had traded vicious blows with Lord Jacques, who was able to finally finish him off.

Bleeding profusely and kept conscious only by his pain and fury at seeing his brothers (and sister) in arms dying before him, Lord Jacques became dimly conscious that Aelle Bretwalda himself was watching with his bodyguards. Aelle ordered that his bodyguards (and Aescwine’s remaining guard) should engage Lord Jacques one at a time in honour of Lord Jacques’ capabilities; Lord Jacques responded with insults to Aelle’s pagan religion and dared him to face him one on one, holding his crucifix aloft. Just then, a dove flew down and took the crucifix, delivering it safely to Michel’s tent; Lord Jacques felt at peace, whilst Aelle – not knowing the symbolism of the dove – took this as an omen against Lord Jacques. The two traded blow after blow until Lord Jacques’ final thrust cleaved King Aelle’s head from his shoulders; as his enraged bodyguards rushed Jacques, he fought and resisted to the very end, momentarily sensing the presence of the Archangel Michael and his angels fighting alongside him before he at last fell.

On the fourth day, the younger knights were woken up by Arthur, bringing them the news of their fathers’ demise and the victory. The hill was a mass of twisted, broken bodies; the British bodies were given a burial in a mass grave, whilst the Saxons were piled high and set alight according to their own custom. In the coming weeks, Arthur sent his knights into the Saxon realms of the southeast with a simple ultimatum: with their kings and nobility dead atop Badon Hill, the remaining Saxons must choose to either swear fealty and acknowledge Arthur as their overlord, or be killed as outlaws and rebels. The harrowing of Anglia, Wessex, Sussex and Essex both imposed Arthur’s will on these parts of Britain and left the Saxons too terrified to act against Britain again during Arthur’s lifetime; whilst some knights did give the Saxons every opportunity to surrender, others such as Sir Hubert and Sir Aden became known as great scourges of the Saxon people. Village priests claimed that their carved idols of Odin and Thor had come to life and told them that Arthur’s victory over Aelle was recognised by the Aesir, and that the rampage of Hubert, Aden and others was a divine punishment for the Saxons’ generations of abuse of British hospitality.

By the end of the year, the peace Arthur had won was already disturbed by an alliance of Irish and Pictish forces threatening the northern kingdom of Strangorre. But whereas a mere 8 years ago many questioned the ability of the young Arthur to rule, by now he had proved himself in battle both on the front lines and as a strategist. Moreover, he had finally had his revenge for the murder of his father – a revenge so complete that it ended the threat of the Saxons for a generation. Arthur was still a young man and had accomplished everything that Uther dared dream of; what, the world asked, would he do next?

The end of the third book of the Salisbury Chronicle, called the Book of the Boy King.