The Saxons set out across the water, until their sails were lost to sight. I know not what was their hope, nor the name of him who put it in their mind, but they turned their boats, and pa.s.sed through the channel between England and Normandy. With sail and oar they came to the land of Devon, casting anchor in the haven of Totnes. The heathen breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the folk of the country. They poured forth from their ships, and scattered themselves abroad amongst the people, searching out arms and raiment, firing homesteads and slaying Christian men. They pa.s.sed to and fro about the country, carrying off all they found beneath their hands. Not only did they rob the hind of his weapon, but they slew him on his hearth with his own knife. Thus throughout Somerset and a great part of Dorset, these pirates spoiled and ravaged at their pleasure, finding none to hinder them at their task. For the barons who might have made head against them were in Scotland with the king. So by road and country, laden with raiment and all manner of spoil, the Saxons came from their ships to Bath. But the citizens of the town shut fast their gates, and defended the walls against them.
Arthur was in Scotland, punishing the folk of that realm, because of the war they had made upon him, and of the aid they had afforded Cheldric. When the king learned what mischief the pagans had done to his land, and of the siege they laid to Bath, he hanged his hostages straightway. He dared tarry no longer in Scotland, but hastened south, leaving Hoel of Brittany lying sick at Dumbarton, I know not of what infirmity. With what men he might, Arthur came to Bath as swiftly as he was able, since he was resolved to chase the Saxons from before the gates, and succour the burgesses of his city. Now, near this town a wood stands within a wide country, and there Arthur arranged his men and ordered the battle. He saw to the arming of his meinie, and for himself got him into his harness. Arthur donned thigh pieces of steel, wrought strong and fairly by some cunning smith. His hauberk was stout and richly chased, even such a vesture as became so puissant a king.
He girt him with his sword, Excalibur. Mighty was the glaive, and long in the blade. It was forged in the Isle of Avalon, and he who brandished it naked in his hand deemed himself a happy man. His helmet gleamed upon his head. The nasal was of gold; circlets of gold adorned the headpiece, with many a clear stone, and a dragon was fashioned for its crest. This helm had once been worn by Uther, his sire. The king was mounted on a destrier, pa.s.sing fair, strong, and speedy, loving well the battle. He had set his shield about his neck, and, certes, showed a stout champion, and a right crafty captain. On the buckler was painted in sweet colours the image of Our Lady St. Mary. In her honour and for remembrance, Arthur bore her semblance on his shield.
In his hand the king carried his lance, named Ron. Sharp it was at the head, tough and great, and very welcome at need in the press of battle. Arthur gave his commands to his captains, and ordained the order of the combat. He caused his host to march in rank and company at a slow pace towards the foe, so that when the battle was joined none might flinch but that he was sustained of his comrades. The host drew near to a certain mountain of those parts, and began to climb the hill. The Saxons held this mountain strongly, and defended the height, as though they were shut fast and safely behind walls. Small cause had the heathen for such a.s.surance of safety, for a mighty captain was upon them, who would not endure their presence in his realm. Arthur led his spearmen upon the slope, and there admonished his men.
"Behold," said he, "and see before you those false and scornful heathen, who have destroyed and ravished your kith and kin, your near ones and neighbours, and on your own goods and bodies have done so much mischief. Avenge now your friends and your kinsfolk; avenge the great ruin and burnings; avenge all the loss and the travail that for so long a s.p.a.ce we have suffered at their hands. For myself this day I will avenge me for all these bitter wrongs. I will avenge the oaths these perjurers have broken. I will silence the crying of my fathers'
blood. This day I will exact the price for all they have cost me in loss and in sorrows, and avenge the bad faith which led them to return to Totnes. If but this day we bear us in the battle like men, and smite the heathen in their fastness, never again will they array themselves proudly against us, but will be for ever before us as naked men without a shield." With these words Arthur set his buckler before him, and hastened to the playing of the swords. I know not the name of the Saxon who ran upon him in the stour, but the king smote him so fiercely that he died. Before Arthur pa.s.sed across the body he cried aloud, "G.o.d aid, Saint Mary succour. He gives twice," said he, gaily, "who gives quickly. Here lies one whose lodging for the night I have paid." When the Britons saw this deed they aided the king mightily, beating down and slaying the Saxons very grievously. They pressed upon them from every side, thrusting shrewdly with the spear, and striking l.u.s.tily with the sword. Arthur was of marvellous hardihood. Strong beyond the common strength and of great prowess, with lifted shield and terrible sword he hewed a path towards the summit of the mount. He struck to right and to left, slaying many, so that the press gave back before so stout a champion. To himself alone he slew four hundred heathen that day, working them more mischief than was done by all his men. To an evil end came the captains of these Saxons. Baldulph lay dead upon the mount, and dead also was Colgrin. Cheldric and some others fled from the field, and would have got them to their ships that they might enter therein and garnish for their needs.
When Arthur heard tidings of Cheldric's flight, and that he sought again his ships, he bade Cador of Cornwall to follow swiftly after the fugitives, giving ten thousand hors.e.m.e.n to his keeping chosen from his best and closest friends. For his part, Arthur himself turned his face to Scotland; for a messenger came who told that the wild Scots held Hoel close within his city, and for a little would take him where he lay. Cheldric made in all haste to his ships, but Cador was a crafty captain, and by a way that he knew well he rode swiftly to Totnes, before Cheldric might come to the town. He seized the galleys, manning them with archers and country folk, and then hastened hotly on the track of the fugitives. Two by two, and three by three, these drew near the sh.o.r.e, as best they might hide them from the pursuers. To go the more lightly, to run the more nimbly, they had thrown away their harness, and carried nothing save their swords. They pained themselves to get to the ships, deeming that if they might enter therein their troubles would be at an end. As they strove to ford the river Teign, Cador, the huntsman, came winding upon their slot. The Saxons were dismayed beyond measure, and without stay or delay fled from their foe. Cador lighted upon Cheldric in the steep mountain, called Tenedic, and slew him in that place. As Cador came on Cheldric's companions he killed them with the sword, in sore sorrow. For those who escaped from Cador they made their way from every part to the ships. There they were slain by the archers, or perished miserably in the sea. The Britons took no captives, he who cried for mercy perished alike with him who strove with his sword. The rest of the Saxons fled to the coverts of the woods and the mountains, by large companies. In such desolate and waste places they lurked and hid from their enemies until hunger and thirst put a term to their miseries.
When Cador had made an end of his slaying, and given quiet to the land, he followed after Arthur, and took the road towards Scotland. He came upon the king at Dumbarton, where he had brought succour to his nephew, Hoel of Brittany. Arthur found Hoel safe in body and in wealth, and altogether whole of his infirmity. The Scots had departed from before the city when they heard that Arthur drew near, and hastening to Murray, made strong the towers, and set barriers at the gates. This they did because they were resolved to await Arthur in the city, thinking to hold themselves against him behind the walls. Arthur knew well that the Scots were gathered together to make head against him in that place. He came therefore to Murray with all his power, but they dared not abide his coming, and for dread fled to Lake Lomond, scattering themselves abroad amongst the isles thereof. Pa.s.sing wide and deep is this fair mere. From the hills and valleys round about sixty rivers fall therein, and making together one sweet water, pa.s.s swiftly by a single river to the sea. Sixty islands lie upon this water, the haunt and home of innumerable birds. Each island holds an eyrie, where none but eagles repair to build their nests, to cry and fight together, and take their solace from the world. When evil folk arrive to raven and devour the realm, then all these eagles gather themselves together, making great coil and clamour, and arraying themselves proudly one against another. One day, or two days, three or four, the mighty birds will strive together; and the interpretation thereof portends horror and grim destruction amongst men.
On this fair lake the Scots sought hiding, going and coming upon its waters Arthur followed swiftly after. He caused to be made shallops, barges, and light, speedy boats, and hara.s.sed them grievously in their refuge. By reason of famine and the sword, they died by twenties, by hundreds, and by thousands in those secret ways.
Now Guillomer, a certain king from Ireland, wishful to aid the Scots in this quarrel, drew towards Arthur with his host. Arthur went his way to give him battle. When the battle was joined the Irish king was discomfited anon. He and his men fled to their ships, getting them back to Ireland, and Arthur came again to the mere, where he had left his harrying of the Scots.
Then the bishops and abbots of the realm, with divers monks and other orders, carrying in their hands bodies of the saints and many holy relics, came before the king beseeching him to show mercy on the Scots. With these went a pitiful company of ladies of that country, naked of foot, spoiled of visage, with streaming hair and rent raiment, bearing their babes in their bosoms. These with tears and shrill lamentations fell at Arthur's knees right humbly, weeping, clamouring, and imploring his grace. "Sire, gentle king, have mercy and pity," cried these lamentable women, "on this wasted land, and on those wretched men who are dying of hunger and misery. If thou hast no bowels of pity for the fathers, look, sire, and behold these babes and these mothers; regard their sons and their daughters, and all the distressful folk thou art bringing down to death. Give again the fathers to the little children, restore to the ladies their husbands, and to this sad company of damsels return their brothers and their lords. Have we not paid enough by reason of the Saxon pa.s.sing this way? It was not for our pleasure they sojourned awhile in the land. We went the more heavily for their presence, for much pain and sorrow we suffered because of the heathen, and pa.s.sing weary were we of their speech. If we sheltered them in our houses, the greater sorrow is ours, since we have endured the more at their hands. Our beasts they have slain and eaten; and for our goods, these they have taken, and sent the gear into their own realm. There was none to help us, nor was any man so strong as to deliver us from their power. Sire, if we prepared them a feast, it was because we feared to drink their wine cup to the dregs. Might was theirs, and we were as the captive who sees no succour on the road. These Saxons were pagan men. Thy servants are Christians. Therefore the heathen oppressed us the more mightily, and laid the heavier burdens upon us. But great as was the mischief these Saxons wrought us, thou hast done us the sorer harm. Theirs were the whips, but thine are the stinging scorpions. It should prove little honour to the Christian king that he slay by hunger amongst these rocks those folk who cry his pardon for their trespa.s.s. We die, sire, of famine and of all misease. Nothing is left us save cold and wretchedness. Thou hast overcome us, every one; destroy us not from the land, but suffer us to live of thy bounty. Grant that we and all our race--so it be thy pleasure--may find peace in the king's service.
Have mercy on thy poor Christians. We hold the faith that you, too, count dear. How foully then should Christianity be wronged, if you destroy the whole realm. Alas, has not mischief enough been wrought already!" Arthur was tender of heart and marvellously pitiful. He took compa.s.sion on this doleful company of ladies, and by reason of those holy bodies of the saints and those fair prelates, he granted life and member to his captives, and forgave them their debts.
The Scots, having done homage to the king and owned themselves his men, departed, and went their way. Hoel gazed long upon the mere, calling to him the folk of his house. He wondered exceedingly because of the grandeur of the lake, and because of the greatness of the water. He marvelled altogether to behold so many islands therein, and at the rocks thereof. He was astonied beyond measure at the number of the eagles and their eyries, at the clamour and the shrilling of their cries. He deemed in his heart that never had he gazed upon so beautiful a sight. "Hoel, fair nephew," said Arthur, "very marvellous this water seems in your eyes. Your astonishment will be the more when you look upon yet another mere that I know. Near this lake, in this very country, lies a water held in a cup, not round but square. This pond is twenty feet in length, twenty in breadth, and the water thereof is five feet deep. In the four corners of this pond are many fish of divers fashions. These fish pa.s.s never from their corner to another. Yet none can certify by touch or sight whether craft keeps these fish each in his place, or what is that hindrance they may not overcome. Yea, I cannot tell whether the pond was digged by the wit of man, or if Nature shaped it to her will. Moreover I know of another mere, whereof you would be more amazed than of both these marvels.
This lake is close by the Severn in the land of Wales. The sea pours its tide into this lake; yet empty itself as it may, the waters of the lake remain ever at the same height, never more and never less. The ocean itself may not suffice to heap its waters above the lake, neither to cover its sh.o.r.es. Yet at the ebbing of the tide, when the sea turns to flee, then the lake spues forth the water it has taken to its belly, so that the banks are swallowed up, the great waves rise tall in their wrath, and the wide fields round about are hid, and all is sodden with the foam. The folk of that country tell that should a man stare upon the wave in its anger, so that his vesture and body be wetted of the spray, then, whatever be his strength, the water will draw him to itself, for it is mightier than he. Many a man has struggled and fallen on the brink, and been drowned in its clutch. But if a man turn his back upon the water, then he may stand safely upon the bank, taking his pleasure as long as he will. The wave will pa.s.s by him, doing him no mischief; he will not be wetted even of the flying foam." So Hoel marvelled greatly at these wonders told him by the king. Then Arthur bade sound his horns, his clarions and trumpets to call his meinie to himself. He granted leave to all but the folk of his privy household to return to their homes. The host went therefore each to his own place, loudly praising the king. Even in Brittany men told that there was no more valiant captain than he.
Arthur turned south to York, abiding there till Christmas was past. He kept the Feast of the Nativity within its walls. He marked clearly the weakness and impoverishment of the city, and how deeply it was fallen from its former state. The churches were empty and silent; whilst for the houses they were either breached or fallen to the ground. The king appointed Pyramus, a learned clerk who had been diligent in his service, to the vacant see, so that the chapels might be maintained, and those convents built anew which the heathen had destroyed. Arthur commanded that the criers should proclaim that all honest folk must return to their toil. He sent messages to every place, bidding those who were dispossessed of their lands to repair to his court. There he gave them again their heritage, and confirmed them in their fiefs and rents. Now there were three brethren of right good birth and high peerage, kin to many a fair family, having to name Lot, Aguisel, and Urian. The forefather of these lords was the earl of that great country beyond the Humber; and these in their turn held justly their father's lands, doing wrong to none. Arthur rendered these brothers their own, and restored them their heritage. On Urian, as head of his house, Arthur bestowed the province of Murray, and without fee or recompense proclaimed him king of that realm. Scotland was given to Aguisel, who claimed it as his fief. As for Lot, who had the king's sister to wife, Arthur confirmed him in that kingdom of Lyones, which he had held for a great while, and gave him many another earldom besides. This Lot was the father of Gawain, who as yet was a damoiseau, young and debonair.
When Arthur had settled his realm in peace, righted all wrongs, and restored the kingdom to its ancient borders, he took to wife a certain fresh and n.o.ble maiden, named Guenevere, making her his queen. This damsel was pa.s.sing fair of face and courteous, very gracious of manner, and come of a n.o.ble Roman house. Cador had nourished this lady long and richly in his earldom of Cornwall. The maiden was the earl's near cousin, for by his mother he, too, was of Roman blood.
Marvellously dainty was the maiden in person and vesture; right queenly of bearing, pa.s.sing sweet and ready of tongue. Arthur cherished her dearly, for his love was wonderfully set upon the damsel, yet never had they a child together, nor betwixt them might get an heir.
As soon as winter was gone, and the warm days were come when it was good to wend upon the sea, Arthur made ready his ships to cross the straits to Ireland and conquer the land. Arthur made no long tarrying.
He brought together the most l.u.s.ty warriors of his realm, both poor and rich, all of the people who were most vigorous and apt in war.
With these he pa.s.sed into Ireland, and sent about the country seeking provand for his host. So the sergeants took seisin of cows and oxen, and brought to the camp in droves all that was desirable for meat.
Guillomer, the king of that realm, heard that Arthur had fastened this quarrel upon him. He hearkened to the cries and the tidings, the plaints and the burdens, raised by those villeins whose granges and bields were pillaged for the sustenance of his foes. Guillomer went forth to give battle to Arthur, but in an ill hour he drew to the field. His men were naked to their adversaries, having neither helmets nor coats of leather nor shields. They knew nothing of archery, and were ignorant of catapults and slings. The Britons were mighty bowmen.
They shot their shafts thickly amongst their enemies, so that the Irish dared not show their bodies, and might find no shelter. The Irish could endure the arrows no longer. They fled from the fight, taking refuge where they were able. They hid in woods and thickets, in towns and in houses, seeking refuge from the stour. Right grievous was their discomfiture. Guillomer, their king, sought shelter within a forest, but his fate was upon him, and he might not conceal him from his foes. Arthur searched him out so diligently, following so hotly on his track, that at the last he was taken captive. Guillomer did very wisely. He paid fealty and homage to Arthur, and owned that of him he held his heritage. Moreover he put hostages within Arthur's power, for surety that he would render a yearly tribute to the king. When Arthur had subdued Ireland, he went further and came even so far as Iceland.
He brought the land in subjection to himself, so that the folk thereof owned themselves his men, and granted him the lordship. Now three princes, by name Gonfal, King of the Orkneys, Doldamer, King of Gothland, and Romarec, King of Finland, heard the rumour of these deeds. They sent spies to Iceland, and learned from their messengers that Arthur was making ready his host to pa.s.s the sea, and despoil them of their realms. In all the world--said these messengers--there was no such champion, nor so crafty a captain in the ordering of war.
These three kings feared mightily in case Arthur should descend upon them, and waste their land. Lest a worse thing should befall them, with no compulsion and of their own free wills, they set forth for Iceland and came humbly before the king. They gave of their substance rich gifts and offerings, and kneeling before Arthur did him fealty, putting their countries between his hands, and proclaiming themselves his men. They owned that of grace they held their inheritance, they swore to render tribute to his treasury, and gave hostages for a.s.surance of their covenant. So they departed in peace to their own place. For his part Arthur came again to his ships. He returned to England, where he was welcomed of his people with marvellous joy.
Twelve years he abode in his realm in peace and content, since none was so bold as to do him a mischief, and he did mischief to none.
Arthur held high state in a very splendid fashion. He ordained the courtesies of courts, and bore himself with so rich and n.o.ble a bearing, that neither the emperor's court at Rome, nor any other bragged of by man, was accounted as aught besides that of the king.
Arthur never heard speak of a knight in praise, but he caused him to be numbered of his household. So that he might he took him to himself, for help in time of need. Because of these n.o.ble lords about his hall, of whom each knight pained himself to be the hardiest champion, and none would count him the least praiseworthy, Arthur made the Round Table, so reputed of the Britons. This Round Table was ordained of Arthur that when his fair fellowship sat to meat their chairs should be high alike, their service equal, and none before or after his comrade. Thus no man could boast that he was exalted above his fellow, for all alike were gathered round the board, and none was alien at the breaking of Arthur's bread. At this table sat Britons, Frenchmen, Normans, Angevins, Flemings, Burgundians, and Loherins. Knights had their plate who held land of the king, from the furthest marches of the west even unto the Hill of St. Bernard. A most discourteous lord would he be deemed who sojourned not awhile in the king's hall, who came not with the countenance, the harness, and the vesture that were the garb and usage of those who served Arthur about his court. From all the lands there voyaged to this court such knights as were in quest either of gain or worship. Of these lords some drew near to hear tell of Arthur's courtesies; others to marvel at the pride of his state; these to have speech with the knights of his chivalry; and some to receive of his largeness costly gifts. For this Arthur in his day was loved right well of the poor, and honoured meetly by the rich.
Only the kings of the world bore him malice and envy, since they doubted and feared exceedingly lest he should set his foot upon them every one, and spoil them of their heritage.
I know not if you have heard tell the marvellous gestes and errant deeds related so often of King Arthur. They have been noised about this mighty realm for so great a s.p.a.ce that the truth has turned to fable and an idle song. Such rhymes are neither sheer bare lies, nor gospel truths. They should not be considered either an idiot's tale, or given by inspiration. The minstrel has sung his ballad, the storyteller told over his story so frequently, little by little he has decked and painted, till by reason of his embellishment the truth stands hid in the trappings of a tale. Thus to make a delectable tune to your ear, history goes masking as fable. Hear then how, because of his valour, the counsel of his barons, and in the strength of that mighty chivalry he had cherished and made splendid, Arthur purposed to cross the sea and conquer the land of France. But first he deemed to sail to Norway, since he would make Lot, his sister's lord, its king.
Sichelm, the King of Norway, was newly dead, leaving neither son nor daughter of his body. In the days of his health, as alike when he fell on death, Sichelm had appointed Lot to succeed him in his realm and fief. The crown was Lot's by right, even as Sichelm proclaimed, since Lot was the king's nephew, and there was no other heir. When the folk of Norway learned that Sichelm had bequeathed his realm to Lot, they held his command and ordinance in derision. They would have no alien for their lord, nor suffer a stranger to meddle in their business, lest he should deem them an ancient and feeble people, and give to outland folk what was due to the dwellers in the realm. The Norwegians resolved to make king one of their own house, that he might cherish them and their children, and for this reason they chose from amongst them a certain lord named Ridulph to be their king.
When Lot perceived that his right was despised, save that he took his heritage by force, he sought help of Arthur, his lord. Arthur agreed to aid him in his quarrel, promising to render him his own, and to avenge him bitterly on Ridulph. Arthur gathered together many ships and a mighty host. He entered into Norway with this great company, wasting the land, seizing on the manors, and spoiling the towns.
Ridulph was no trembler, and had no thought to leave the country to its fate. He a.s.sembled his people, and prepared to give battle to the king. Since however his carles were not many, and his friends but few, Ridulph was defeated in the fight and slain. The greater part of his fellowship perished with him, so that no large number remained. In this manner Lot the King of Lyones destroyed the Norwegians from the land. Having delivered Norway from itself Arthur granted the kingdom to Lot, so only that he did Arthur homage as his lord. Amongst the barons who rode in this adventure was Gawain, the hardy and famous knight, who had freshly come from St. Sulpicius the Apostle, whose soul may G.o.d give rest and glory. The knight wore harness bestowed on him by the Apostle, and wondrously was he praised. This Gawain was a courteous champion, circ.u.mspect in word and deed, having no pride nor blemish in him. He did more than his boast, and gave more largely than he promised. His father had sent him to Rome, that he might be schooled the more meetly. Gawain was dubbed knight in the same day as Wavain, and counted himself of Arthur's household. Mightily he strove to do his devoir in the field, for the fairer service and honour of his lord.
After Arthur had conquered Norway, and firmly established his justice in the land, he chose of his host those men who were the most valiant and ready in battle, and a.s.sembled them by the sea. He brought to the same haven many ships and barges, together with such mariners as were needful for his purpose. When a quiet time was come, with a fortunate wind, Arthur crossed the sea into Denmark; for the realm was very greatly to his desire. Acil, the Danish king, considered the Britons and the folk from Norway. He considered Arthur, who had prevailed against so many kings. Acil knew and was persuaded that Arthur was mightier than he. He had no mind to suffer hurt himself, or to see his goodly heritage spoiled in a useless quarrel. What did it profit to waste wealth and honour alike, to behold slain friends and ruined towers? Acil wrought well and speedily. He sought peace, and ensued it. He gave costly gifts, and made promises which were larger still, till by reason of his words, his prayers, and supplications, concord was established between Arthur and the king. Acil paid fealty and homage, he became Arthur's man, and owned that of Arthur's grace he held his fief. King Arthur rejoiced greatly at this adventure, and of the conquest he had made. He desired honour the more greedily because of the worship he had gained. From out of Denmark he chose, by hundreds and by thousands, the stoutest knights and archers he could find. These he joined to his host, purposing to lead this fair company into France. Without any long tarrying the king acted on his purpose.
Towns, cities, and castles fell before him, so that Flanders and the country about Boulogne were speedily in his power. Arthur was a prudent captain. He perceived no profit in wasting his own realm, burning his towns, and stealing from his very purse. His eyes were in every place, and much was forbidden by his commandment. No soldier might rob nor pill. If there was need of raiment, meat, or provand, then must he buy with good minted coin in the market. Nothing he dared to destroy or steal.
Now in Arthur's day the land of France was known as Gaul. The realm had neither king nor master, for the Romans held it strongly as a province. This province was committed to the charge of Frollo, and the tribune had governed the country for a great s.p.a.ce. He took rent and tribute of the people, and in due season caused the treasure to be delivered to the emperor at Rome. Thus had it been since the time of Caesar, that mighty emperor, who brought into subjection France and Germany, and all the land of Britain. Frollo was a very worthy lord, come of a n.o.ble Roman race, fearful of none, however hardy. He knew well, by divers letters, the loss and the mischief done by Arthur and his host. Frollo had no mind tamely to watch the Romans lose their heritage. The tribune summoned to his aid all the men abiding in the province who carried arms and owned fealty to Rome. He a.s.sembled these together, ordaining a great company, clad in harness and plenteously supplied with stores. With these he went out to battle against Arthur, but he prospered less than his merit deserved. The Roman tribune was discomfited so grievously that he sought safety in flight. Of his fellowship he had lost a great number. Many were slain outright in battle, others were sorely wounded, or made captive, or returned sorrowing to their own homes. Out of the meinie Frollo had gathered from so many cities, more than two thousand were destroyed. This was no great marvel, since the count of Arthur's host was more than Frollo might endure. From every land he had subdued to himself, from every city that was taken, Arthur saw to it that not a spearman nor knight of fitting years and strength of body, but was numbered in the host, and commanded to serve Arthur as his lord Of these outland folk, Arthur chose a fair company of the hardiest knights and most proven champions to be of his private household. The very French began to regard him as their king, so only that they had the courage of their minds. This man loved him for his wise and comely speech this by reason of his liberal hand: this because of his n.o.ble and upright spirit Whether men were driven to his presence by fear, or considered him a refuge in the storm, all found cause enough to seek his court, to make their peace, and to acknowledge him as their suzerain. Now Frollo, after his discomfiture by the king, fled to Paris with all the speed he might, making no stop upon the road. The tribune feared Arthur and his power very sorely, and since he sought a fortress to defend his person, he would not trust his fortune to any other city.
He resolved, therefore, to await Arthur within Paris, and to fight the king beneath the walls Frollo called to himself such legions as were yet in towns near by. Because of the number of the fugitives who were come to that place, together with the burgesses abiding therein, a great concourse of people filled the city. All these folk toiled diligently to furnish the city with corn and meat, and to make sure the walls and gates against their foes.
Arthur learned that Frollo was making strong his towers, and filling the barns with victuals. He drew to Paris, and sat down without the city. He lodged his men in the suburbs beyond the walls, holding the town so close that food might not enter whether by the river or the gates. Arthur shut the city fast for more than a month, since the French defended them well and manfully. A mighty mult.i.tude was crowded within the walls, and there was a plentiful lack of meat. All the provand bought and gathered together in so short a s.p.a.ce was quickly eaten and consumed, and the folk were afterwards a-hungered. There was little flesh, but many bellies; so that the women and children made much sorrow Had the counsel of the poor been taken, right soon would the keys of the city have been rendered. "Diva," clamoured the famished citizens, "what doest thou, Frollo? Why requirest thou not peace at Arthur's hand?" Frollo regarded the common people who failed for famine. He looked upon the folk dying by reason of their hunger, and knew that they would have him yield the city. Frollo perceived that of a surety the end of all was come. The tribune chose to put his own body in peril--yea, rather to taste of death, than to abandon Paris to her leaguers. Frollo had full a.s.surance of Arthur's rect.i.tude In the simplicity of his heart he sent urgent messages to the king, praying him to enter in the Island, that body to body they might bring their quarrel to an end. He who prevailed over his fellow, and came living from the battle, should take the whole realm as his own and receive all France for his guerdon. Thus the land would not perish, nor the folk be utterly destroyed. Arthur hearkened willingly to the heralds, for very greatly was their message to his mind. He accorded that the battle should be between the two captains, even as Frollo desired. Gauntlets were taken from one and the other, and hostages given on behalf of Paris and on the part of the besiegers for better a.s.surance of the covenant that was made.
On the morrow the two champions arrayed them in harness, and coming to the Island, entered boldly in the lists. The banks were filled with a mighty concourse of people, making great tumult. Not a man or woman remained that day in his chamber. They climbed upon the walls, and thronged the roofs of the houses, crying upon G.o.d, and adjuring Him by His holy Name to give victory to him who would guard the realm in peace, and preserve the poor from war Arthur's meinie, for their part, awaited the judgment of G.o.d, in praying the King of Glory to bestow the prize and honour on their lord. The two champions were set over against the other, laced each in his mail, and seated on his warhorse.
The strong destriers were held with bit and bridle, so eager were they for the battle. The riders bestrode the steeds with lifted shields, brandishing great lances in their hands. It was no easy matter to perceive--however curiously men looked--which was the stouter knight, or to judge who would be victor in the joust. Certainly each was a very worthy lord and a right courageous champion. When all was made ready the knights struck spurs to their steeds, and loosing the rein upon the horses' necks, hurtled together with raised buckler and lance in rest. They smote together with marvellous fierceness. Whether by reason of the swerving of his destrier, I cannot tell, but Frollo failed of his stroke Arthur, on his side, smote the boss of his adversary's shield so fairly, that he bore him over his horse's b.u.t.tock, as long as the ash staff held Arthur drew forth his sword, and hastened to Frollo to bring the battle to an end. Frollo climbed stoutly on his feet. He held his lance before him like a rod, and the king's steed ran upon the spear, so that it pierced deeply in his body. Of this thrust the destrier and his rider alike came tumbling to the ground. When the Britons saw this thing, they might not contain themselves for grief. They cried aloud, and seizing their weapons, for a little would have violated the love-day. They made ready to cross the river to the Island, and to avenge their lord upon the Gauls.
Arthur cried loudly to his Britons to observe their covenant, commanding that not a man should move to his help that day. He gripped Excalibur sternly in his hand, resolving that Frollo should pay dearly for his triumph. Arthur dressed his shield above his head, and handselling his sword, rushed upon Frollo. Frollo was a pa.s.sing good knight, hardy and strong, in no whit dismayed by the anger of his adversary. He raised his own glaive on high, striking fiercely at Arthur's brow. Frollo was strong beyond the strength of man. His brand was great and sharp, and the buffet was struck with all his power. The blade sheared through helm and coif alike, so that King Arthur was wounded in his forehead, and the blood ran down his face.
When Arthur felt the dolour of his hurt, and looked upon his blood, he desired nothing, save to wreak evil on the man who had wrought this mischief. He pressed the more closely upon Frollo. Lifting Excalibur, his good sword, in both hands, he smote so l.u.s.tily that Frollo's head was cloven down to his very shoulders. No helmet nor hauberk, whatever the armourer's craft, could have given surety from so mighty a blow.
Blood and brains gushed from the wound. Frollo fell upon the ground, and beating the earth a little with his chausses of steel, presently died, and was still.
When men saw this bitter stroke the burgesses and sergeants raised a loud cry. Arthur's household rejoiced beyond measure; but those of the city wept, making great sorrow for Frollo, their champion.
Nevertheless, the citizens of Paris ran to their gates. They set the doors wide, and welcomed Arthur, his meinie, and company within their walls. When Arthur perceived the French were desirous to offer him their fealty, he suffered them so to do, taking hostages that they would abide in peace. He lodged within the city certain days, and appointed governors, for the a.s.surance of his power. After quiet was established, Arthur divided the host into two parts. The one of these companies he delivered into the charge of Hoel, the king's nephew.
With the other half he devised to conquer Anjou, Auvergne, Gascony, and Poitou; yea, to overrun Lorraine and Burgundy, if the task did not prove beyond his power. Hoel did his lord's commandment, even as Arthur purposed. He conquered Berri, and afterwards Touraine, Auvergne, Poitou, and Gascony. Guitard, the King of Poitiers, was a valiant captain, having good knights in his service. To uphold his realm and his rights Guitard fought many a hard battle. The luck went this way and that. Sometimes he was the hunter, sometimes the quarry: often he prevailed, and often, again, he lost. At the end Guitard was persuaded Arthur was the stronger lord, and that only by submission could he keep his own. The land was utterly wasted and ravaged. Beyond the walls of town and castle there was nothing left to destroy; and of all the fair vineyards not a vine but was rooted from the ground. Guitard made overtures of peace, and accorded himself with Hoel. He swore Arthur fealty and homage, so that the king came to love him very dearly. The other parcels of France Arthur conquered them every one by his own power. When there was peace over all the country, so that none dared lift a spear against the king, Arthur sought such men as were grown old in his quarrels, and desired greatly to return to their homes. To these feeble sergeants Arthur rendered their wages and gifts, and sent them rejoicing from whence they had come. The knights of his household, and such l.u.s.ty youths as were desirous of honour, having neither dame nor children to their hearths, Arthur held in his service for yet nine years. During these nine years that Arthur abode in France, he wrought divers great wonders, reproving many haughty men and their tyrannies, and chastising many sinners after their deservings. Now it befell that when Easter was come, Arthur held high feast at Paris with his friends. On that day the king recompensed his servants for their losses, and gave to each after his deserts. He bestowed guerdon meetly on all, according to his zeal and the labour he had done. To Kay, the master seneschal of his house, a loyal and chivalrous knight, the king granted all Anjou and Angers. Bedevere, the king's cupbearer and very privy counsellor, received that fief of Normandy, which aforetime was called Neustria. These lords, Kay and Bedevere, were Arthur's faithful friends, knowing the inmost counsel of his mind. Boulogne was given to Holden: Le Mans to Borel, his cousin. On each and all, according to his gentleness of heart and diligence in his lord's service, Arthur bestowed honours and fees, and granted largely of his lands.
After Arthur thus had feoffed his lords, and given riches to his friends, in April, when winter was gone, he pa.s.sed the sea to England, his own realm. Marvellous joy was shown of all good folk at the return of the king. Dames held those husbands close from whom they had been parted so long. Mothers kissed their sons, with happy tears upon their cheeks. Sons and daughters embraced their fathers. Cousin clipped cousin, and neighbour that friend who once was his companion. The aunt made much of her sister's son. Ladies kissed long that lover who returned from France, yea, when the place was meet, clasped him yet more sweetly in their arms. Wondrous was the joy shown of all. In the lanes and crossways, in the highways and by-ways, you might see friends a many staying friend, to know how it fared with him, how the land was settled when it was won, what adventures chanced to the seeker, what profit clave to him thereof, and why he remained so great a while beyond the sea. Then the soldier fought his battles once again. He told over his adventures, he spoke of his hard and weary combats, of the toils he had endured, and the perils from which he was delivered.
Arthur cherished tenderly his servants, granting largely, and promising richly, to the worthy. He took counsel with his barons, and devised that for the louder proclamation of his fame and wealth, he would hold a solemn feast at Pentecost, when summer was come, and that then in the presence of his earls and baronage he would be crowned king. Arthur commanded all his lords on their allegiance to meet him at Caerleon in Glamorgan. He desired to be crowned king in Caerleon, because it was rich beyond other cities, and marvellously pleasant and fair. Pilgrims told in those days that the mansions of Caerleon were more desirable than the palaces of Rome. This rich city, Caerleon, was builded on the Usk, a river which falls within the Severn. He who came to the city from a strange land, might seek his haven by this fair water. On one side of the town flowed this clear river; whilst on the other spread a thick forest. Fish were very plentiful in the river, and of venison the burgesses had no lack. Pa.s.sing fair and deep were the meadows about the city, so that the barns and granges were very rich. Within the walls rose two mighty churches, greatly praised. One of these famed churches was called in remembrance of Saint Julius the Martyr, and held a convent of holy nuns for the fairer service of G.o.d.
The second church was dedicate to Saint Aaron, his companion. The bishop had his seat therein. Moreover, this church was furnished with many wealthy clergy and canons of seemly life. These clerks were students of astronomy, concerning themselves diligently with the courses of the stars. Often enough they prophesied to Arthur what the future would bring forth, and of the deeds that he would do. So goodly was the city, there was none more delectable in all the earth. Now by reason of the lofty palaces, the fair woods and pastures, the ease and content, and all the delights of which you have heard, Arthur desired to hold his court at Caerleon, and to bid his barons to attend him every one. He commanded, therefore, to the feast, kings and earls, dukes and viscounts, knights and barons, bishops and abbots. Nor did Arthur bid Englishmen alone, but Frenchman and Burgundian, Auvergnat and Gascon, Norman and Poitivin, Angevin and Fleming, together with him of Brabant, Hainault, and Lorraine, the king bade to his dinner.
Frisian and Teuton, Dane and Norwegian, Scot, Irish, and Icelander, him of Cathness and of Gothland, the lords of Galway and of the furthest islands of the Hebrides, Arthur summoned them all. When these received the king's messages commanding them to his crowning, they hastened to observe the feast as they were bidden, every one. From Scotland came Aguisel the king, richly vested in his royal robes; there, too, was Unan, King of Murief, together with his son Yvam the courteous; Lot of Lyones also, to take a brave part in the revels, and with him that very frank and gentle knight Gawain, his son. There besides were Stater and Cadual, kings of South Wales and of North, Cador of Cornwall, right near to Arthur's heart; Morud, Earl of Gloucester; and Guerdon, Earl of Winchester. Anavalt came from Salisbury, and Rimarec from Canterbury. Earl Baldulph drew from Silchester, and Vigenin from Leicester. There, too, was Algal of Guivic, a baron much held in honour by the court. Other lords were there a many, in no wise of less reputation than their fellows. The son of Po that was hight Donander; Regian, son of Abauder; Ceilus the son of Coil, that son of Chater named Chatellus, Griffin, the heir of Nagroil, Ron, the son of Neco; Margoil, Clefaut, Ringar, Angan, Rimar and Gorbonian, Kinlint, Neco and that Peredur, whom men deemed to be gotten by Eladur. Besides these princes there drew to Caerleon such knights as were of the king's house, and served him about his court.
These were his chosen friends, who had their seats at the King's Round Table, but more of them I cannot tell. Many other lords were there of only less wealth and worship than those I have named. So numerous was this fair company that I have lost count of their numbers. A n.o.ble array of prelates came also to Arthur's solemn feast. Abbots and mitred bishops walked in their order and degree. The three archbishops of the realm came in his honour, namely, the Archbishop of London, his brother of York, and holy Dubricius, whose chair was in that self same city. Very holy of life was this fair prelate. Very abundantly he laboured, being Archbishop of Caerleon and Legate of Rome. Many wonderful works were wrought by his hands. The sick were brought to him gladly, and by reason of his love and his prayers, oftentimes they were healed of their hurt. In olden days this Dubricius abode in London, but now was Bishop in Wales, by reason of the evil times when kings regarded not G.o.d, and the people forsook the churches of their fathers. These clergy a.s.sembled at Arthur's court, for the king's feast, together with so great a fellowship of barons that I know not even to rehea.r.s.e you their names.
Yet these must be remembered, whomsoever I forget. Villamus, King of Ireland, and Mahnus, King of Iceland, and Doldamer, lord of that lean and meagre country, known as the land of Goths. Acil, the King of the Danes; Lot, who was King of Norway, and Gonfal, jarl of the lawless Orkneys, from whence sail the pirates in their ships. From the parts beyond the seas came Ligier, holding the dukedom and honour of Burgundy; Holden, Earl of Flanders; and Guerin, Earl of Chartres, having the twelve peers of France in his company, for the richer dignity and splendour of his state. Guitard was there, the Earl of Poitiers; Kay, whom the king had created Earl of Angers; and Bedevere of Neustria, that province which men now call Normandy. From Le Mans drew Earl Borel, and from Brittany Earl Hoel. Pa.s.sing n.o.ble of visage was Hoel, and all those lords who came forth from France. They voyaged to Arthur's court in chased harness and silken raiment, riding on l.u.s.ty horses with rich trappings, and wearing jewels, with many golden ornaments. There was not a prince from here even unto Spain, yea, to the very Rhine in the land of Germany, but hastened to Arthur's solemn feast, so only that he was bidden to that crowning. Of these some came to look on the face of the king, some to receive of his largeness costly gifts, some to have speech with the lords of his council. Some desired to marvel over the abundance of Arthur's wealth, and others to hear tell of the great king's courtesies. This lord was drawn by the cords of love; this by compulsion of his suzerain's ban, this to learn by the witness of his eyes whether Arthur's power and prosperity exceeded that fame of which the whole world bragged.
When this proud company of kings, bishops, and princes was gathered together to observe Arthur's feast, the whole city was moved. The king's servants tolled diligently making ready for so great a concourse of guests. Soldiers ran to and fro, busily seeking hostels for this fair a.s.semblage. Houses were swept and garnished, spread with reeds, and furnished with hangings of rich arras. Halls and chambers were granted to their needs, together with stables for the horses and their provand. Those for whom hostelries might not be found abode in seemly lodgings, decently appointed to their degree. The city was full of stir and tumult. In every place you beheld squires leading horses and destriers by the bridle, setting saddles on hackneys and taking them off, buckling the harness and making the metal work shining and bright. Grooms went about their business. Never was such a cleansing of stables, such taking of horses to the meadows, such a currying and combing, shoeing and loosing of girths, washing and watering, such a bearing of straw and of gra.s.s for the litter, and oats for the manger.
Nor these alone, but in the courtyards and chambers of the hostels you might see the pages and chamberlains go swiftly about their tasks, in divers fashions. The varlets brushed and folded the habiliments and mantles of their lords. They looked to the stuff and the fastenings of their garments. You saw them hurry through the halls carrying furs and furred raiment, both vair and the grey. Caerleon seemed rather a fair than a city, at Arthur's feast.
Now telleth the chronicle of this geste, that when the morning was come of the day of the high feast, a fair procession of archbishops, bishops, and abbots wended to the king's palace, to place the crown upon Arthur's head, and lead him within the church. Two of these archbishops brought him through the streets of the city, one walking on either side of his person. Each bishop sustained the king by his arm, and thus he was earned to his throne. Four kings went before Arthur and the clerks, bearing swords in their hands. Pommel, scabbard, and hilt of these four swords were of wrought gold. This was the office of these kings when Arthur held state at his court. The first of the princes was from Scotland, the second from South Wales, the third was of North Wales, and as to the last it was Cador of Cornwall who earned the fourth sword. All these fair princes were at one in their purpose, being altogether at unity, when Arthur was crowned king. To holy Dubricius it fell, as prelate of Caerleon and Roman legate, to celebrate the office and perform such rites as were seemly to be rendered in the church.
That the queen might not be overshadowed by her husband's state, the crown was set on her head in another fashion. For her part she had bidden to her court the great ladies of the country, and such dames as were the wives of her friends. Together with these had a.s.sembled the ladies of her kindred, such ladies as were most to her mind, and many fair and gentle maidens whom she desired to be about her person at the feast. The presence of this gay company of ladies made the feast yet more rich, when the queen was crowned in her chamber, and brought to that convent of holy nuns for the conclusion of the rite. The press was so great that the queen might hardly make her way through the streets of the city. Four dames preceded their lady, bearing four white doves in their hands. These dames were the wives of those lords who carried the golden swords before the king. A fair company of damsels followed after the queen, making marvellous joy and delight.
This fair fellowship of ladies came from the n.o.blest of the realm.
Pa.s.sing dainty were they to see, wearing rich mantles above their silken raiment. All men gazed gladly upon them, for their beauty was such that none was sweeter than her fellows. These dames and maidens went clothed in their softest garments. Their heads were tired in their fairest hennins, and they walked in their most holiday vesture.
Never were seen so many rich kirtles of divers colours, such costly mantles, such precious jewels and rings. Never were seen such furs and such ornaments, both the vair and the grey. Never was known so gay and n.o.ble a procession of ladies, as this which hastened to the church, lest it should be hindered from the rite.
Now within the church Ma.s.s was commenced with due pomp and observance.
The noise of the organ filled the church, and the clerks sang tunably in the choir. Their voices swelled or failed, according as the chant mounted to the roof, or died away in supplication. The knights pa.s.sed from one church to the other. Now they would be at the convent of St.
Julius, and again at the cathedral church of St. Aaron. This they did to compare the singing of the clerks, and to delight their eyes with the loveliness of the damsels. Although the knights pa.s.sed frequently between the churches, yet no man could answer for certain at which they remained the longer. They could not surfeit the heart by reason of the sweetness of the melody. Yea, had the song endured the whole day through, I doubt those knights would ever have grown weary or content.
When the office drew to its appointed end, and the last words were chanted, the king put off his crown that he had carried to the church.
He took another crown which sat more lightly on his head; and in such fashion did the queen. They laid aside their heavy robes and ornaments of state, and vested them in less tiring raiment. The king parted from St. Aaron's church, and returned to his palace for meat. The queen, for her part, came again to her own house, carrying with her that fair fellowship of ladies, yet making marvellous joy. For the Britons held still to the custom brought by their sires from Troy, that when the feast was spread, man ate with man alone, bringing no lady with him to the board. The ladies and damsels ate apart. No men were in their hall, save only the servitors, who served them with every observance, for the feast was pa.s.sing rich, as became a monarch's court. When Arthur was seated in his chair upon the dais, the lords and princes sat around the board, according to the usage of the country, each in his order and degree. The king's seneschal, hight Sir Kay, served Arthur's table, clad in a fair dalmatic of vermeil silk. With Sir Kay were a thousand damoiseaux, clothed in ermine, who bore the dishes from the b.u.t.tery. These pages moved briskly about the tables, carrying the meats in platters to the guests. Together with these were yet another thousand damoiseaux, gentle and goodly to see, clothed likewise in coats of ermine. These fair varlets poured the wine from golden beakers into cups and hanaps of fine gold. Not one of these pages but served in a vesture of ermine. Bedevere, the king's cupbearer, himself set Arthur's cup upon the board; and those called him master who saw that Arthur's servants lacked not drink.
The queen had so many servitors at her bidding, that I may not tell you the count. She and all her company of ladies were waited on, richly and reverently. Right worshipfully were they tended. These ladies had to their table many rich meats, and wines and spiced drink of divers curious fashions. The dishes and vessels from which they ate were very precious, and pa.s.sing fair. I know not how to put before you the wealth and the splendour of Arthur's feast. Whether for goodly men or for chivalrous deeds, for wealth as for plenty, for courtesy as for honour, in Arthur's day England bore the flower from all the lands near by, yea, from every other realm whereof we know. The poorest peasant in his smock was a more courteous and valiant gentleman than was a belted knight beyond the sea. And as with the men, so, and no otherwise, was it with the women. There was never a knight whose praise was bruited abroad, but went in harness and raiment and plume of one and the self-same hue. The colour of surcoat and armour in the field was the colour of the gown he wore in hall. The dames and damsels would apparel them likewise in cloth of their own colour. No matter what the birth and riches of a knight might be, never, in all his days, could he gain fair lady to his friend, till he had proved his chivalry and worth. That knight was accounted the most n.o.bly born who bore himself the foremost in the press. Such a knight was indeed cherished of the ladies; for his friend was the more chaste as he was brave.
After the king had risen from the feast, he and his fellowship went without the city to take their delight amongst the fields. The lords sought their pleasure in divers places. Some amongst them jousted together, that their horses might be proven. Others fenced with the sword, or cast the stone, or flung pebbles from a sling. There were those who shot with the bow, like cunning archers, or threw darts at a mark. Every man strove with his fellow, according to the game he loved. That knight who proved the victor in his sport, and bore the prize from his companions, was carried before the king in the sight of all the princes. Arthur gave him of his wealth so goodly a gift, that he departed from the king's presence in great mirth and content. The ladies of the court climbed upon the walls, looking down on the games very gladly. She, whose friend was beneath her in the field, gave him the glance of her eye and her face; so that he strove the more earnestly for her favour. Now to the court had gathered many tumblers, harpers, and makers of music, for Arthur's feast. He who would hear songs sung to the music of the rote, or would solace himself with the newest refrain of the minstrel, might win to his wish. Here stood the viol player, chanting ballads and lays to their appointed tunes.
Everywhere might be heard the voice of viols and harp and flutes.
In every place rose the sound of lyre and drum and shepherd's pipe, bagpipe, psaltery, cymbals, monochord, and all manner of music. Here the tumbler tumbled on his carpet. There the mime and the dancing girl put forth their feats. Of Arthur's guests some hearkened to the teller of tales and fables. Others called for dice and tables, and played games of chance for a wager. Evil befalls to winner and loser alike from such sport as this. For the most part men played at chess or draughts. You might see them, two by two, bending over the board. When one player was beaten by his fellow, he borrowed moneys to pay his wager, giving pledges for the repayment of his debt. Dearly enough he paid for his loan, getting but eleven to the dozen. But the pledge was offered and taken, the money rendered, and the game continued with much swearing and cheating, much drinking and quarrelling, with strife and with anger. Often enough the loser was discontented, and rose murmuring against his fellow. Two by two the dicers sat at table, casting the dice. They threw in turn, each throwing higher than his fellow. You might hear them count, six, five, three, four, two, and one. They staked their raiment on the cast, so there were those who threw half naked. Fair hope had he who held the dice, after his fellow had cried his number. Then the quarrel rose suddenly from the silence.
One called across the table to his companion, "You cheat, and throw not fairly. Grasp not the dice so tightly in your hand, but shake them forth upon the board. My count is yet before yours. If you still have pennies in your pouch bring them out, for I will meet you to your wish." Thus the dicers wrangled, and to many of Arthur's guests it chanced that he who sat to the board in furs, departed from the tables clothed in his skin.
When the fourth day of the week was come, on a certain Wednesday, the king made knights of his bachelors, granting them rents to support their stations. He recompensed those lords of his household who held of him their lands at suit and service. Such clerks as were diligent in their Master's business he made abbots and bishops; and bestowed castles and towns on his counsellors and friends. To those stranger knights who for his love had crossed the sea in his quarrel, the king gave armour and destrier and golden ornaments, to their desire. Arthur divided amongst them freely of his wealth. He granted lordship and delights, greyhound and brachet, furred gown and raiment, beaker and hanap, sendal and signet, bhaut and mantle, lance and sword and quivers of sharp barbed arrows. He bestowed harness and buckler and weapons featly fashioned by the smith. He gave largesse of bears and of leopards, of palfreys and hackneys, of chargers with saddles thereon. He gave the helm as the hauberk, the gold as the silver, yea, he bestowed on his servants the very richest and most precious of his treasure. Never a man of these outland knights, so only he was worthy of Arthur's bounty, but the king granted him such gifts as he might brag of in his own realm. And as with the foreign lords, so to the kings and the princes, the knights, and all his barons, Arthur gave largely many precious gifts.
Now as King Arthur was seated on a dais with these princes and earls before him, there entered in his hall twelve ancient men, white and greyheaded, full richly arrayed in seemly raiment. These came within the palace two by two. With the one hand each clasped his companion, and in the other carried a fair branch of olive. The twelve elders pa.s.sed at a slow pace down the hall, bearing themselves right worshipfully. They drew near to Arthur's throne, and saluted the king very courteously. They were citizens of Rome, said the spokesman of these aged men, and were amba.s.sadors from the emperor, bringing with them letters to the king. Having spoken such words, one amongst them made ready his parchment, and delivered it in Arthur's hands. This was the sum of the writing sent by the Emperor of Rome.