Arthurian Chronicles: Roman de Brut - Part 6

Part 6

In the flight King Evander and Catellus were taken, and of their fellowship six hundred and more were destroyed. Of these divers were slain, and others made captive. The Britons took spoil of prisoners according to their desire, and retained of these as they might. Then they returned by the road, to the place where the combat was won. The Britons went about the field searching amongst the dead for Borel, the stout Earl of Le Mans. They found him among the fallen, bebled with blood, and gashed with many a grisly wound. Afterwards they carried the hurt to the surgeons, and the dead they laid in their graves. As for Peredur and his companions they committed them afresh to those whom Arthur had charged with their keeping, and sent them on their way to Paris. The rest of the prisoners they bound straitly, and carrying them before Arthur, delivered them to his hand. They rehea.r.s.ed to the king the tale of this adventure, and not a man of them all but pledged his word that so the Romans made offer of battle, without doubt they should be utterly destroyed.

The tidings of this heavy discomfiture were brought to the emperor Lucius learned of the capture of Evander, and of the others who were slain. He saw his men had no more spirit in them, and that the beginning of the war went very ill. Lucius considered the failure of his hopes, that in nothing was he conqueror. He was pa.s.sing heavy, being altogether cast down and dismayed. He thought and thought and feared. He knew not whether to give Arthur battle without delay, or to await the coming of the rearward of his host. He doubted sorely that which he should do, for wondrously affrighted was he of this battle, by reason of the losses he had known. Lucius took counsel with his captains, and devised to bring his company to Autun, pa.s.sing by way of Langres. He set forth with the host, and moving towards Langres, entered the city when the day was far spent. Now Langres is builded on the summit of a mount, and the plain lies all about the city. So Lucius and part of his people lodged within the town, and for the rest they sought shelter in the valley. Arthur knew well where the emperor would draw, and of his aim and purpose. He was persuaded that the Roman would not fight till the last man was with him. He cared neither to tarry in the city, nor to pacify the realm. Arthur sounded his trumpets, and bade his men to their harness. As speedily as he might he marched out from camp. He left Langres on the left hand, and pa.s.sed beyond it bearing to the right. He had in mind to outstrip the emperor, and seize the road to Autun. All the night through, without halt or stay, Arthur fared by wood and plain, till he came to the valley of Soissons. There Arthur armed his host, and made him ready for battle.

The highway from Autun to Langres led through this valley, and Arthur would welcome the Romans immediately they were come. The king put the gear and the camp followers from the host. He set them on a hill near by, arrayed in such fashion as to seem men-at-arms. He deemed that the Romans would be the more fearful, when they marked this mult.i.tude of spears. Arthur took six thousand six hundred and sixty six men, and ranged them by troops in a strong company. This company he hid within a wood upon a high place. Mordup, Earl of Gloucester, was the constable of the meinie. "Your part in the battle," said Arthur, "is to be still. Let nothing induce you to break from your post should evil befall, and the battle roll back to the wood, charge boldly on your adversaries, that you comrades may find rest if it chance that the Romans turn their backs in the battle, then hurtle upon them without delay, sparing none in the flight". So these answered, promising to do after his word Arthur straightway ordered another legion. It Was formed of mighty men, chosen from amongst his va.s.sals, with laced helmets, riding on their destriers. This fair company he arrayed in open ground, and it owned no other captain save the king.

With this legion rode those of his privy household, whom he had cherished and nourished at his own table. In their midst was guarded the royal Dragon, that was the king's own gonfalon. From the rest of his host the king made six companies, each company having ten captains. Half of these companies were hors.e.m.e.n, and the others went on foot. On each and all Arthur laid prayer and commandment, that rider and sergeant alike should bear them as men, and contend earnestly against the Romans. Not one of these legions but was numbered of five thousand five hundred and fifty-five hors.e.m.e.n, chosen soldiers, mighty men of valour, and mightily armed for war. Of the eight legions, four companies were set over against their enemy, supported by four behind. Every man was armed and clad according to the custom of his land. Aguisel of Scotland had the forefront of the first legion in his keeping, Cador of Cornwall being charged with the rear. Boso and Earl Guerin of Chartres were the constables of another company. The third company, formed of outland folk, and armed in divers manners, was delivered to Echil, King of the Danes, and to Lot, the King of Norway. The fourth had Hoel for constable, and with him Gawain, who, certes, was no faintheart. Behind these four legions were arrayed and ordered yet four other companies. Of one, Kay the sewer and Bedevere the cupbearer were the captains. With Kay were the men of Chinon and the Angevins; whilst under Bedevere were the levies of Paris and of Beauce. To Holdin of Flanders and Guitard the Poitivin were committed another company--right glad were they of their trust.

Earls Jugein of Leicester and Jonathan of Dorchester were lords and constables of the seventh legion. Earl Curfalain of Chester and Earl Urgain of Bath held the eighth legion as their bailly; for these were lords by whom Arthur set great store. As for the spearmen, the archers, and the stout arbalestriers Arthur separated them from the press. He divided them into two portions--one for either wing of his army. All these were about the king's person, and embattled near his body.

When Arthur had arrayed his legions, and set his battle in order, hearken now that which he spake to his lords, his household, and his va.s.sals "Lords," said Arthur, "I take wondrous comfort when I remember your manhood and virtues, seeing you always so valiant and praiseworthy. In the past you have accomplished great things, but day by day your prowess grows to the full, abating the pride of all who set themselves against you. When I call to mind and consider that Britain, in our day, is the lady of so many and so far lands by reason of you and your fellows, I rejoice mightily, mightily I boast thereof, and in my G.o.d and you right humbly do I put my trust. G.o.d grant that you may do more marvellous works than ever you have wrought, and that your orb has not yet reached its round. Lords, your valiance and manhood have conquered these Romans twice already. My heart divines the decree of fate that you will overthrow them once again. Three times then have we discomfited these Romans. You have smitten down the Danes; you have abated Norway, and vanquished the French. France we hold as our fief in the teeth of the Roman power. Right easily should you deal with the varlet, who have overborne so many and such perilous knights. The Romans desire to make Britain their province, to grow fat with our tribute, and to bring France once more to their allegiance For this cause they have ransacked the east, and carried hither these strange, outland people, who amaze Christendom, to fight in their quarrel. Be not fearful of their numbers. Ten christened men are worth a hundred of such paynims. The battle will be less a battle, than a tournament of dames. Have therefore good trust in G.o.d, and be confident of the issue. We shall deal with them lightly, so only we show a little courage. Well I am a.s.sured what each of you will do this day, and how he will bear him in the melley. For my part I shall be in the four quarters of the field, and with every one of my legions.

Where the press is thickest, where the need most dire, my Dragon shall raise his crest"

When the proud words were ended which Arthur rehea.r.s.ed in the ears of his people, the host made answer with one loud voice. Not a man of them all, who hearkened to his speech, but replied that he loved better to be stark upon the field, than to know himself vanquished at the end. The whole host was mightily moved together. They defied the foe, they promised with oaths to bear them like men, and there were those who wept. Such tears were not shed by reason of fearfulness. It was the weeping of men who were utterly purposed never to fail their king.

Now Lucius, the emperor, was born in Spain, of a valiant and n.o.ble stock. He was in the most comely flower of his age, having more than thirty years, but less than forty. He was a proven knight, of high courage, who had done great deeds already. For such feats of arms the Roman senate had chosen him to be their emperor. Lucius rose early in the morning, purposing to set forth from Langres to Autun His host was now a great way upon the road, when tidings were brought of the stratagem Arthur had practised against him. The emperor knew well that either he must fight or retreat. Go back he would not, lest any deemed him fearful. Moreover, should the Britons follow after, their triumph was a.s.sured, for how may soldiers bear them with a stout heart, who flee already from the field! Lucius called about him his kings, his princes, and his dukes. He drew together his wisest counsellors, and the most crafty captains of his host. To these he spake, and to the bravest of his legions, numbering one hundred thousand men and more besides. "Hearken, gentle lords," cried Lucius, "give ear, ye liege men, fair conquerors, honest sons of worthy sires, who bequeathed you so goodly an inheritance. By reason of your fathers' glorious deeds, Rome became the empery of the world. That she will remain whilst one only Roman breathes. Great as is the glory of your fathers who subdued this empire, so great will be the shame of their sons in whose day it is destroyed. But a valiant father begets a valiant son. Your ancestors were gentle knights, and you do them no wrong. Not one of you but comes of hardy stock, and the sap rises in your blood like wine. Let every man strive valiantly this day to be what his father was in his. Remember the grief that will be his lot who loses his heritage, and whose cowardice gives to another what he holds of his father's courage. But I know, and am persuaded, that you will maintain your portions. Bold as were the dead, so bold are the living, and I speak to knights who are mighty men of valour. Lords, the road is shut which would lead us to Autun. We cannot wend our way till we have forced the gate. I know not what silent thief, or picker, or st.u.r.dy knave, has closed the road by which we fared. He deems that I shall flee, and abandon the realm like a dropped pouch. He is wrong. If I went back it was but to lure him on. Now that he has arrayed his battle against you, brace your harness and loosen your swords. If the Briton awaits us, he shall not be disappointed of his hope. Should he flee he shall find us on his track. The time is come to put bit and bridle in the jaws of this perilous beast, and to hinder him from further mischief."

The Romans hastened to get to their arms, for they were pa.s.sing eager to fight. They arrayed and embattled the host, setting the sergeants in rank and company, and forming the columns in due order. The Romans were a mingled fellowship. Divers outland kings, and many paynim and Saracens, were mixed with the Christian folk, for all these people owned fealty to Rome, and were in the service of the emperor. By thirties and forties, by fifties, by sixties, by hundreds and by legions, the captains apparelled the battle. In troops and in thousands the hors.e.m.e.n p.r.i.c.ked to their appointed place. Mult.i.tudes of spearmen, mult.i.tudes of riders, were ranged in close order, and by hill and valley were despatched against Arthur's host. One mighty company, owning fealty to Rome and employed in the service of the emperor, descended within the valley. Another great company a.s.saulted the Britons where they lay. Thereat broke forth a loud shrilling of clarions and sounding of trumpets, whilst the hosts drew together. As they approached, the archers shot so deftly, the spearmen launched their darts so briskly, that not a man dared to blink his eye or to show his face. The arrows flew like hail, and very quickly the melley became yet more contentious. There where the battle was set you might mark the lowered lance, the rent and pierced buckler. The ash staves knapped with a shriek, and flew in splinters about the field. When the spear was broken they turned to the sword, and plucked the brand from its sheath. Right marvellous was the melley, and wondrously hideous and grim. Never did men hew more mightily with the glaive. Not a man who failed at need; not a man of them all who flinched in the press; not one who took thought for his life. The sword smote upon the buckler as on an anvil. The earth shuddered beneath the weight of the fighting men, and the valley rang and clanged like a smithy with the tumult. Here a host rushed furiously against a legion which met it with unbroken front. There a great company of hors.e.m.e.n crashed with spears upon a company as valiant as itself. Horse and rider went down before the adversary, arrows flew and darts were hurled; lances were splintered and the sword shattered upon the covering shield. The strong prevailed against the weak, and the living brought sorrow to the dead. Horses ran madly about the field, with voided saddles, broken girths, and streaming mane. The wounded pitied their grievous hurts, choosing death before life; but the prayer of their anguish was lost in the tumult and the cries. Thus for a great while the two hosts contended mightily together, doing marvellous damage, one to the other. Neither Roman nor Briton could gain ground, so that no man knew who would triumph in the end. Bedevere and Kay considered the battle.

They saw that the Romans held themselves closely. They were filled with anger at the malice of the Romans, and led their company to that place where the press was the most perilous. Ah, G.o.d, but Arthur had men for his seneschal and cupbearer. Knights of a truth were these who sat at his table. Kay and Bedevere smote like paladins with their brands of steel. Many fair deeds had they done, but none so fair as they did that day. They divided the forefront of the battle, and cleaving a pa.s.sage with the sword, opened a road for their fellows.

The Britons followed after, taking and rendering many strokes, so that divers were wounded and many slain. Blood ran in that place like water, and the dead they lay in heaps. Bedevere adventured deeper into the melley, giving himself neither pause nor rest. Kay came but a stride behind, beating down and laying low, that it was marvellous to see. The two companions halted for a breathing s.p.a.ce, turning them about to encourage their men. Great was the praise and worship they had won, but they were yet desirous of honour. They were over anxious for fame, and their courage led them to rashness. In their hope of destroying the Romans, they took no heed to their own safety. They trusted beyond measure in their strength, and in the strength of their company. There was a certain pagan, named Bocus, King of the Medes.

He was a rich lord in his land, and captain of a strong legion. Bocus hastened his men to the battle, for he was fearful of none, however perilous the knight. When the two hosts clashed together the contention was very courteous, and the melley pa.s.sing well sustained.

Pagan and Saracen were set to prove their manhood against Angevins and the folk of Beauce. King Bocus took a sword, and discomfited the two paladins. May his body rot for his pains. He thrust Bedevere through the breast, so fiercely that the steel stood out beyond his back.

Bedevere fell, for his heart was cloven. His soul went its way. May Jesus take it in His keeping! Kay lighted upon Bedevere lying dead.

Since he loved him more than any living man, he was determined the pagans should not triumph over his body. He called around him as many men as he might, and did such deeds that the Medians fled before him, leaving the Britons on the field. Sertorius, King of Libya, beheld this adventure, and was pa.s.sing wroth. He had with him a great company of pagans whom he had carried from his realm. Sertorius, hot with anger, drew near, and dealt much mischief to his adversaries. He wounded Kay to the death, and slew the best of his men. Mauled as he was with many grim strokes, Kay guarded his comrade's body. He set it amidst his men, and carried the burthen from the press, fighting as they went. With him, also, he bore Arthur's banner, the golden Dragon, let the Romans rage as they would. Now Hiresgas, the nephew of Bedevere, loved his uncle pa.s.sing well. He sought his kinsfolk and friends, and gathered to his fellowship some three hundred men. This company wore helmet and hauberk and brand, and rode fair destriers, fierce and right speedy. Hiresgas ordered his house for the battle.

"Come now with me," said he to his friends, "and crave the price of blood." Hiresgas drew near that place where Bocus, King of the Medians, displayed his banner. When Hiresgas beheld his enemy he became as a man possessed. He cried the battle cry of Arthur, and together with his company charged terribly upon Bocus. He had but one only thought, to avenge his uncle's death. Hiresgas and his fellows burst amongst the Medians with lowered lances and covering shields.

They slew many, and flung many others from their saddles. They rode over the fallen, trampling them beneath the hoofs of the horses, till they reached the very cohort of that king who had slain Sir Bedevere.

Mounted on strong destriers the bold va.s.sals followed after Hiresgas, wheeling to right or left, as he led, till they pierced to the gonfalon, showing the arms of the king. Hiresgas spied his foe. He turned his horse, and pushing through the press, drew near, and smote Bocus full on the helm. The baron was a mighty man; the stroke was fierce, and his blade was keen and strong. He struck well and craftily. The blow sheared through helmet and coif. It divided the head to the shoulders, so that the soul of King Bocus sped away to the Adversary. Hiresgas stretched out his arm, seizing the body ere it might fall to the ground. He set his enemy before him on his horse, and held him fast, the limbs hanging on either side. Then he made his way from the stour, the dead man uttering neither lamentation nor cry.

The knight was grim, and his war-horse mighty. His kinsfolk gathered behind him, that the Medians should do him no mischief. By the aid of his fellows he won out of the battle, and carried his burthen to the very place where his uncle lay. There, joint by joint, he hacked King Bocus asunder. When his task was ended, Sir Hiresgas called his comrades about him. "Come," said he, "come, true men's sons, to the slaying of these Romans. Romans! nay, cutpurses, rather, wh.o.r.esons, paynims who have neither trust in G.o.d, nor faith in our true religion.

Rome has brought them from the east for the destruction of our lives and our kin. On then, friends, let us wipe out these pagans, the pagans, and such renegade Christians as have joined them to slay Christendom more surely. Forward, to sharpen your manhood upon them."

Hiresgas led his household back to the battle. Tumult and shouting filled the plain. Helmet and brand glittered in the sun, but the steel often was dulled with blood, or was shattered on the shield. The fair duke, Guitard of Poitiers, bore him as a valiant man. He held his own stoutly against the King of Afric. The two lords contended together, hand to hand, but it was the King of Afric died that day. Guitard pa.s.sed across his body, smiting down many Africans and Moors. Holdin, Duke of the Flemings, was a wise prince, circ.u.mspect and sober in counsel. He strove with the legion of Aliphatma, a King of Spain.

The two princes fought one with the other, in so great anger, that Aliphatma was wounded to the death, and Holdin was in no better case.

Ligier, Earl of Boulogne, ran a course with the King of Babylon. I know not who was the fairer knight, for both were shocked from their seats. Dead upon the field lay earl and king alike. With Ligier were slain three other earls, masters of many carles in their own lands.

Urgent, Lord of Bath, Balluc, Earl of Guitsire, and Earl Cursa of Chester, warden of the marches of Wales, perished in a little s.p.a.ce, so that their men were sorely grieved. The company which followed after their pennons flinched in the press. It gave back before the Romans, and fled for shelter to the legion which had Gawain for its captain, and with him Hoel, his fair friend and companion. Two such champions you would not find, search the whole world through. Never had knighthood seen their peers for courtesy and kindliness, as for Wisdom and chivalry.

Now Hoel was captain of the men of Brittany. His fellowship were proud and debonair. They were reckless of danger to such a degree that they neither cared nor feared to whom they were opposed. As one man they charged, and as one man they pierced through the foe. The men of Brittany swept down on the Romans, who were pursuing their comrades, and trampling them under in thousands. They put them speedily to the rightabout, and rode over many in their turn. Ah!, for the griding of their swords, and, ah!, for the captives who were taken. The company hurtled on, till they drew to the golden eagle which was the gonfalon of the emperor. Lucius, himself, was very near his pennon, and with him the flower of his meinie, the gentle men and gallant knights of Rome. Then angels and men witnessed so mortal an encounter, as never I deem was beheld of any, since time began. Chinmark, Earl of Tigel, rode in Hoel's cohort. He was a great baron, and wrought much mischief to his adversaries. His day was come, for a Roman, mean of his station, and fighting on his feet, flung a javelin at his body, so that he died. With the earl perished two thousand of the Britons, every man hardier than his fellows. There, too, were slain three other earls. Jagus, to his loss, had come from Boloan. The second was hight Cecorma.n.u.s, the third, Earl Boclonius. Few indeed of Arthur's barons might compare with these lords in valour and worth. Had they been sons of kings, who were but earls, the story of their gestes would be sung by the minstrels, as I deem, about the world, so marvellous were their feats. These three fair lords raged wondrously amongst the Romans.

Not one who came to their hands but gasped out his life, whether by lance-thrust or sword. They forced a path to the eagle of the emperor, but the bearers arrayed themselves against them, and cutting them off from their companions, slew them amidst their foes. Hoel and Gawain, his cousin, were distraught with anger when they regarded the mischief dealt them by the Romans. To avenge their comrades, to wreak damage upon their adversaries, they entered amongst them as lions in the field. They smote down and did much havoc to their adversaries, cleaving a way with many terrible blows of their swords. The Romans defended their bodies to the death. If strokes they received, strokes they rendered again. They opposed themselves stoutly to those who were over against them, and were as heroes contending with champions.

Gawain was a pa.s.sing perilous knight. His force and manhood never failed, so that his strength was unabated, and his hand unwearied in battle. He showed his prowess so grimly that the Romans quailed before him. Gawain sought the emperor in every place, because of his desire to prove his valour. He went to and fro, seeking so tirelessly and diligently, that at the last he found. The captains looked on the other's face. The emperor knew again the knight, and Gawain remembered Lucius. The two hurtled together, but each was so mighty that he fell not from his horse. Lucius, the emperor, was a good knight, strong and very valiant. He was skilled in all martial exercises and of much prowess. He rejoiced greatly to adventure himself against Gawain, whose praise was so often in the mouths of men. Should he return living from the battle, sweetly could he boast before the ladies of Rome. The paladins strove with lifted arm and raised buckler.

Marvellous blows they dealt with the sword. They pained themselves greatly, doing all that craft might devise to bring the combat to an end. Neither of them flinched, nor gave back before the other. Pieces were hewn from the buckler, and sparks flew from the brands. They joined together, smiting above and thrusting under, two perfect knights, two gentle paladins, so fierce and so terrible, that had they been left to themselves very quickly must one have come to a fair end.

The Roman legions recovered from the panic into which they had fallen.

They ranged themselves beneath the golden eagle, and brought succour to the emperor at the moment of his utmost need. The legions swept the Britons before them, and won again the field from which they were driven. Arthur watched the fortunes of the day. He marked the discomfiture of his host, and hearkened to the triumphant shouts of the legionaries. He could not, and dared not, wait longer. Arthur hastened with his chosen company to the battle. He rallied the rout, crying to the fleeing sergeants, "Whom seek you? Turn about, for it were better to be slain of the Romans than by your king. I am Arthur, your captain, and mortal man shall not drive me from the field. Follow me, for I will open a road, and beware lest the maidens of Britain hold you as recreant. Call to mind your ancient courage, by which you have overcome so many proud kings. For my part I will never go from this field alive, till I have avenged me on my adversaries." Arthur did wondrously in the eyes of all the people. He struck many a Roman to the ground. Shield, and hauberk, and helmet he hewed asunder, heads, arms, and gauntlets were divided by his sword. Excalibur waxed red that day, for whom Arthur smote he slew. I cannot number the count of his blows, and every blow a death. For as the ravenous lion deals with his prey, so likewise did the fair king raven amongst his enemies. Not one he spared, he turned aside from none. That man he wounded required no surgeon for his hurt. All the press gave back before so stark a champion, till in his path stood neither great nor small. The King of Libya--Sertorius to name--was a lord exceeding rich. Arthur struck the head from his shoulders. "In an ill hour you drew from the east to bear arms in this quarrel, and to furnish drink for Excalibur". But the dead man answered never a word. Polybetes, King of Bithyma, fought upon his feet. This was a pagan lord, and pa.s.sing rich. Arthur found the paynim before him. He smote but one marvellous blow, and divided his head to the shoulders. Polybetes crashed to the earth. His soul rushed from his body, and his brains were spattered about the field. "Roman, speed to your doom," cried Arthur loudly, in the hearing of all. When the Britons beheld Arthur's deeds, and hearkened to his high words, they took courage and charged upon the Romans. The Romans met them boldly with sword and spear, doing them many and great mischiefs. When Arthur saw that the battle was stayed, he increased in valour, and did yet more dreadfully with Excalibur. He slew and cast down divers, so that the ground was c.u.mbered with the fallen. Lucius, the emperor, for his part, was not backward in the melley, and avenged himself grievously on the Britons.

Emperor and king, for all their seeking, might not come together.

This was heavy upon them, for each was a very courteous champion. The battle rolled this way and that, since the contention was pa.s.sing perilous. The Romans did well, nor might the Britons do better. A thousand men came swiftly to their deaths, for the two hosts arrayed themselves proudly one against the other, and strove right scornfully.

Not a judge on earth could declare which host should be vanquished, nor what man of them all would come victor and quick from the tourney.

Now Mordup, Earl of Gloucester, was constable of the bailly Arthur had hidden on a high place within a wood. Mordup remembered Arthur's counsel that should evil befall, and the battle draw back to the wood, he must charge boldly on his adversaries. Mordup rode from his hiding with a company of six thousand six hundred and sixty-six riders, clad in gleaming helmets and coats of mail, and carrying sharp lances and swords. These drew down the hillside, unnoticed of the Romans, and coming out on their rear, charged hotly on the legion. The legion was altogether discomfited. Its ranks were pierced, its order was broken, with the loss of more than one thousand men. The Britons rode amongst the Romans, parting each from his fellow, trampling the fallen beneath the horses' hoofs, and slaying with the sword. The Romans could endure no longer, for the end of all was come. They broke from their companies, and fled fearfully down the broad road, climbing one upon the other in their haste. There Lucius, the emperor, fell on death, being smitten in the body by a spear. I cannot tell who smote him down, nor of whose lance he was stricken. He was overtaken in the press, and amongst the dead he was found slain. Beneath the thickest of the battle he was discovered, dead, and the hurt within his breast was dealt him by a spear.

The Romans and their fellows from the east fled before the pursuers, but the Britons following after did them sore mischief. They waxed weary of slaying, so that they trod the Romans underfoot. Blood ran in runnels, and the slain they lay in heaps. Fair palfreys and destriers ran masterless about the field, for the rider was dead, and had neither joy nor delight in the sun. Arthur rejoiced and made merry over so n.o.ble a triumph, which had brought the pride of Rome to the dust. He gave thanks to the King of Glory, who alone had granted him the victory. Arthur commanded search to be made about the country for the bodies of the slain, whether they were friend or foe. Many he buried in the self-same place, but for the others he carried them to certain fair abbeys, and laid them together to rest. As for the body of Lucius, the emperor, Arthur bade it to be held in all honour, and tended with every high observance. He sealed it in a bier, and sent it worshipfully to Rome. At the same time he wrote letters to the senate that no other truage would he pay them for Britain, which he guarded as his realm. If truage they yet required, then truage they should receive coined in the very mint. Kay, who was wounded to death in the battle, was carried to Chinon, the castle he had builded, and called after his own name. There he was interred in a holy hermitage, standing in a little grove, near by the city. Bedevere was brought to Bayeux in Normandy, a town of his lordship. He was lain in the ground beyond the gate, looking over towards the south. Holdin was borne to Flanders, and buried at Tervanna. Ligier was buried at Boulogne.

Arthur, for his part, sojourned all through the winter in Burgundy, giving peace and a.s.surance to the land. He purposed when summer was come to pa.s.s the mountains, and get him to Rome. He was hindered in his hope by Mordred, of whose shame and vileness you shall now hear.

This Mordred was the king's kin, his sister's very son, and had Britain in his charge. Arthur had given the whole realm to his care, and committed all to his keeping. Mordred did whatever was good in his own eyes, and would have seized the land to his use. He took homage and fealty from Arthur's men, demanding of every castle a hostage. Not content with this great sin he wrought yet fouler villainy. Against the Christian law he took to himself the wife of the king. His uncle's queen, the dame of his lord, he took as wife, and made of her his spouse.

These tidings were carried to Arthur. He was persuaded that Mordred observed no faith towards him, but had betrayed the queen, stolen his wife, and done him no fair service. The king gave half his host to Hoel, committing Burgundy and France to his hand. He prayed him to keep the land shut from its foes till he came again in peace. For himself he would return to Britain, to bring the kingdom back to its allegiance, and to avenge himself on Mordred, who had served his wife and honour so despitefully. Britain, at any cost, must be regained, for if that were lost all the rest would quickly fall a prey. Better to defer for a season the conquest of Rome, than to be spoiled of his own realm. In a little while he would come again, and then would go to Rome. With these words Arthur set forth towards Wissant, making complaint of the falseness of Mordred, who had turned him away from his conquest; for the warships lay at Wissant ready for sea.

Mordred learned of Arthur's purpose. He cared not though he came, for peace was not in his heart. He sent letters to Cheldric of Saxony, praying him to sail to his aid. The Saxon came with seven hundred galleys, furnished with all manner of store, and laden with fighting men. Mordred plighted faith that so Cheldric would help him with all his power, he would grant him the land from beyond Humber to the marches of Scotland, besides all the land in Kent that Hengist held of Vortigern's gift, when the king espoused Rowena. Mordred and Cheldric gathered together a right fair company. Counting Saxon pagans and christened men there a.s.sembled sixty thousand riders on horses, in coats of mail. Mordred numbered his army with a quiet mind. He considered he was so strong as to drive Arthur from any haven. Let come what might he would never abandon his spoil. For him there was no place for repentance, yea, so black was his sin that to proffer peace would be but a jest. Arthur saw to the harness of his men. He got them on the ships, a mult.i.tude whom none could number, and set forth to Romney, where he purposed to cast anchor. Arthur and his people had scarcely issued from the galleys, when Mordred hastened against him with his own men, and those folk from beyond the sea who had sworn to fight in his quarrel. The men in the boats strove to get them to sh.o.r.e; whilst those on the land contended to thrust them deeper in the water. Arrows flew and spears were flung from one to the other, piercing heart and bowels and breast of those to whom they were addressed. The mariners pained themselves mightily to run their boats aground. They could neither defend themselves, nor climb from the ships, so that those were swiftly slain who struggled to land. Often they staggered and fell, crying aloud; and in their rage they taunted those as traitors who hindered them from coming on sh.o.r.e. Ere the ships could be unladen in that port, Arthur suffered wondrous loss.

Many a bold sergeant paid the price with his head. There, too, was Gawain, his nephew, slain, and Arthur made over him marvellous sorrow; for the knight was dearer to his heart than any other man. Aguisel was killed at Gawain's side; a mighty lord, and very helpful at need. Many others also were slain, for whom Arthur, the courteous prince, felt sore dolour. So long as Mordred kept the shipmen from the sand, he wrought them much mischief. But when Arthur's sergeants won forth from the boats, and arrayed them in the open country, Mordred's meinie might not endure against them. Mordred and his men had fared richly and lain softly overlong. They were sickly with peace. They knew not how to order the battle, neither to seek shelter nor to wield arms, as these things were known to Arthur's host, which was cradled and nourished in war. Arthur and his own ravened amongst them, smiting and slaying with the sword. They slew them by scores and by hundreds, killing many and taking captive many more. The slaughter was very grievous, by reason of the greatness of the press. When daylight failed, and night closed on the field, Arthur ceased from slaughter, and called his war hounds off. Mordred's host continued their flight.

They knew not how they went, nor whither; for there was none to lead them, and none took heed to his neighbour. Each thought of himself, and was his own physician. Mordred fled through the night to London, where he hoped to find succour. He leaned on a reed, for the citizens would not suffer him to enter in their gates. He turned from the city, and pa.s.sing the fair water of the Thames, rode to Winchester without stay. Mordred sought refuge at Winchester, and tarrying awhile, summoned his friends to his side. He took hostages and sureties from the citizens, that peace and faith should be observed between them, and that they would maintain his right. Arthur might find no rest by reason of the hatred he bore to Mordred. Great grief was his for Aguisel and Gawain, the friends whom he had lost. He sorrowed heavily above his nephew, and offered him seemly burial, though in what place I cannot tell. The chronicles are silent, and meseems there is not a man who knows where Gawain was laid[1], nor the name of him who slew him with the sword. When Arthur had performed these fitting rites he gave himself over to his wrath, considering only in what way he could destroy Mordred.

[Footnote 1: The grave of Gawain was fabled to be in Pembrokeshire.]

He followed after the traitor to Winchester, calling from every part his va.s.sals as he went. Arthur drew near the city, and lodged his host without the walls. Mordred regarded the host which shut him fast.

Fight he must, and fight he would, for the army might never rise up till he was taken. Once Arthur had him in his grip well he knew he was but a dead man. Mordred gathered his sergeants together, and bade them get quickly into their armour. He arrayed them in companies, and came out through the gates to give battle to the pursuers. Immediately he issued from the barriers the host ran to meet him. The contention was very grievous, for many were smitten and many overthrown. It proved but an ill adventure to Mordred, since his men were not able to stay against their adversaries. Mordred was persuaded that for him there was only one hope of safety, for his trespa.s.s was beyond forgiveness, and much he feared the king. He a.s.sembled privily the folk of his household, his familiar friends, and those who cherished against Arthur the deepest grudge. With these he fled over by-ways to Southampton, leaving the rest of his people to endure as they could.

At the port he sought pilots and mariners. These he persuaded by gifts and fair promises straightway to put out to sea, that he might escape from his uncle. With a favourable wind the shipmen carried him to Cornwall. Mordred feared exceedingly for his life, and rejoiced greatly to begone.

King Arthur besieged Winchester strictly. At the end he took burgesses and castle. To Yvain, son of Urian, a baron beloved of the court, Arthur granted Scotland as a heritage. Yvain paid homage for the gift.

Of old Aguisel claimed lordship in the realm, but he was dead, leaving neither son nor dame to come before Yvain. This Yvain was a right worshipful knight, worthy, and of pa.s.sing great valour. Very sweetly was he praised of many.

That queen, who was Arthur's wife, knew and heard tell of the war that was waged by Mordred in England. She learned also that Mordred had fled from before the king, because he might not endure against him, and durst not abide him in the field. The queen was lodged at York, in doubt and sadness. She called to mind her sin, and remembered that for Mordred her name was a hissing. Her lord she had shamed, and set her love on her husband's sister's son. Moreover, she had wedded Mordred in defiance of right, since she was wife already, and so must suffer reproach in earth and h.e.l.l. Better were the dead than those who lived, in the eyes of Arthur's queen. Pa.s.sing heavy was the lady in her thought. The queen fled to Caerleon. There she entered in a convent of nuns, and took the veil. All her life's days were hidden in this abbey. Never again was this fair lady heard or seen; never again was she found or known of men. This she did by reason of her exceeding sorrow for her trespa.s.s, and for the sin that she had wrought.

Mordred held Cornwall in his keeping, but for the rest the realm had returned to its allegiance. He compa.s.sed sea and land to gather soldiers to his banner. Saxon and Dane, the folk of Ireland and Norway, Saracen and pagan, each and all of them who hated Arthur and loathed his bondage, Mordred entreated to his aid. He promised everything they would, and gave what he could, like a man whom necessity drives hard. Arthur was sick with wrath that he was not avenged of Mordred. He had neither peace nor rest whilst the traitor abode in his land. Arthur learned of Mordred's strength in Cornwall, and this was grievous to him. His spies brought tidings of the snares that Mordred spread, and the king waxed heavier thereat. Arthur sent after his men to the very Humber. He gathered to himself so mighty a host that it was as the sand for mult.i.tude. With this he sought Mordred where he knew he could be found. He purposed to slay and make an end of the traitor and his perjury alike. Mordred had no desire to shrink from battle. He preferred to stake all on the cast, yea, though the throw meant death--rather than be harried from place to place.

The battle was arrayed on the Camel, over against the entrance to Cornwall. A bitter hatred had drawn the hosts together, so that they strove to do each other sore mischief. Their malice was wondrous great, and the murder pa.s.sing grim. I cannot say who had the better part. I neither know who lost, nor who gained that day. No man wists the name of overthrower or of overthrown. All are alike forgotten, the victor with him who died. Much people were slain on either side, so that the field was strewn with the dead, and crimson with the blood of dying men. There perished the brave and comely youth Arthur had nourished and gathered from so many and far lands. There also the knights of his Table Round, whose praise was bruited about the whole world. There, too, was Mordred slain in the press, together with the greater part of his folk, and in the selfsame day were destroyed the flower of Arthur's host, the best and hardiest of his men. So the chronicle speaks sooth, Arthur himself was wounded in his body to the death. He caused him to be borne to Avalon for the searching of his hurts. He is yet in Avalon, awaited of the Britons; for as they say and deem he will return from whence he went and live again. Master Wace, the writer of this book, cannot add more to this matter of his end than was spoken by Merlin the prophet. Merlin said of Arthur--if I read aright--that his end should be hidden in doubtfulness.

The prophet spoke truly. Men have ever doubted, and--as I am persuaded--will always doubt whether he liveth or is dead. Arthur bade that he should be carried to Avalon in this hope in the year 642 of the Incarnation. The sorer sorrow that he was a childless man. To Constantine, Cador's son, Earl of Cornwall, and his near kin, Arthur committed the realm, commanding him to hold it as king until he returned to his own. The earl took the land to his keeping. He held it as bidden, but nevertheless Arthur came never again.