History of the Kings of Britain: Historia Regum Britanniae By Geoffrey of Monmouth Book VIII

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When Merlin had delivered these and many other prophecies, all they that stood by were stricken with amazement at his words, albeit that they could not apprehend the full meaning thereof. Vortigern himself, marvelling above all other, did applaud the young man’s wit no less than the predictions themselves. For none had the then present age produced that had on any such wise opened his lips in his presence. Accordingly, being fain to learn what should be the ending of his own life, he besought the youth to tell him what he knew thereof. Unto this saith Merlin:


‘Flee thou from the fire of the sons of Constantine, if flee it thou mayst! Even now are they fitting forth their ships—even now are they leaving the coasts of Armorica behind and spreading their sails upon the deep. They will make for the island of Britain and invade the Saxon race. That accursed people will they subdue, but first will they shut up thyself in a tower and burn thee! Unto thine own bane didst thou betray—Their it father and invite the Saxons into the island. Thou didst invite them as thy bodyguard, they have come over as thy headsmen. Two deaths await thee, nor is it clear which one of the twain thou mayst first escape. For upon the one side, the Saxons will lay waste thy kingdom and will seek to compass thy death. Upon the other, the two brethren Aurelius and Uther Pendragon will enter into thy land seeking to revenge their father’s death upon thee. Seek out refuge if thou mayst. To-morrow will they make haven in Totnes. The faces of the Saxons shall be red with blood: Hengist shall be slain, and thereafter shall Aurelius Ambrosius be crowned King. He shall give peace unto the nations: he shall restore the churches, yet shall he die of poison. Unto him shall succeed his brother Uther Pendragon. whose days shall likewise be cut short by poison. At this so black betrayal shall thine own descendants be present, whom the Boar of Cornwall shall thereafter devour!’


Straightway, when the morrow dawned, came Aurelius Ambrosius with his brother unto land with ten thousand warriors in their company.




When the tidings of their coming were bruited abroad, the Britons who had been scattered with such slaughter gathered them together again, and strengthened by the comradeship of their fellow-countrymen, are fuller of cheer than of late they have been wont. They called the clergy together, anointed Aurelius as King, and did homage to him according to custom. But when they counselled falling upon the Saxons, the King dissuaded them, being minded first of all to follow up Vortigern, for so grievously did he take to heart the treachery that had been wrought against his father, that nought him seemed to do save first of all he might avenge him. Accordingly, desirous of fulfilling his purpose, he marcheth his army into Cambria and maketh toward the castle of Genoreu whither Vortigern had fled for refuge. This castle was in the country of Hergin, upon the river Gania on the mountain that is called Cloar. When Ambrosius had come thereunto, remembering the treason wrought against his father and brother, he speaketh unto Eldol, Duke of Gloucester, saying: ‘See now, noble Duke, the walls of this city, whether they be strong enow to protect Vortigern, that I sheathe not the point of my sword in his bowels. For violent death hath he deserved, nor deem I that thou knowest not how well he hath deserved it. O, most impious of men, worthy to die in torment unspeakable! First, he betrayed my father Constantine, who had delivered him and his country from the ravages of the Picts; then Constans, my brother, whom he raised to be King, only to destroy him; then, when he had branded himself by his own treacheries, he thrust his heathens in amongst the freemen of the land that he might exterminate all them that loyally abided by their fealty unto me. Yet by God’s permission hath he now fallen unawares into the snare that he had laid for His faithful. For when the Saxons found him out in his iniquities they thrust him forth of the kingdom, for the which ought none to be sorry. Yet, methinketh, all men may well be sore grieved that this accursed people whom this accursed man hath invited hither have slaughtered my noble freemen, have laid waste my fruitful country, have destroyed the holy churches and well-nigh done away all Christianity from sea to sea. Now, therefore, my fellow-countrymen, quit ye like men, and wreak your vengeance first of all upon him that hath wrought all these evil deeds! Then let us turn our arms against the enemies that compass us around, and save the country from being swallowed up in their insatiable maw!’


Forthwith they brought their engines of all kinds into play and strove their best to breach the walls, but when all else failed, they set the place on fire, and the fire, finding fuel, spread blazing up till it had burned up the tower and Vortigern therein.




When the report of this reached Hengist and his Saxons he was smitten with dread, for he was afeard of the prowess of Aurelius. For such valour and hardihood was in the man, that when he was in the parts of Gaul was none other that durst meet him in combat man to man. For when he ran a tilt at any, either he would thrust down his enemy from his horse or frush his spear to flinders. Moreover he was free-handed of his bounties, diligent in observances of religion, moderate in all things, and above all things did he eschew a lie. Valiant afoot, more valiant yet a-horseback, and right well-skilled in conduct of an army. These prowesses of his whilst he was still sojourning in Armorican Britain, had fame, in her busy flights abroad, brought report of into the island, insomuch as that the Saxons were adread thereof and drew them unto the further side of Humber, where they garrisoned the cities and castles in those parts, for that the country had ever been open unto them as a land of refuge. For the nighness thereof unto Scotland gave them protection, seeing that Scotland had ever been wont to watch for occasion to do hurt unto the people of the country. Wherefore this tract of land, fearsome to dwell in, and void of native folk, had ever offered safe resort unto strangers, insomuch as on account of the nature no less than the situation of the land it had ever lain open unto the Picts and Scots, Danskers and Norwegians and others that landed therein with intent to lay waste the island. Knowing, therefore, that in that part of the country they were safe from their next neighbours, they fled thitherward, so that should need be they could take refuge as readily as in their own castles. So when this was told unto Aurelius, he took fresh hardihood and had good hope of a victory. Wherefore, calling the men of the country together as swiftly as might be, he reinforced his own army and started on his march towards the North. As he passed through the divers countries sore grieved was he to behold the desolation thereof, but most of all to see the churches all thrown down even to the ground, and the restoration thereof did he vow, so he might obtain the victory.




Howbeit Hengist, when he learnt of his arrival, took courage again, and made choice among his fellow-soldiers of them that did most need encouragement, and gave them heart, exhorting each of them to stand their ground like men and to be nowise in dread in fighting against Aurelius. For he told them that he had but a few Armorican Britons with him, whose number was at most not more than ten thousand men. But as for the island Britons, he held them as nought, for that he had so often defeated them in battle. Hence, therefore, he promised his men victory, and safety withal by reason of their greater numbers, for there were then some two hundred thousand men in arms. And when he had thus spirited up all of them and put them in stomach to fight, he advanced towards Aurelius as far as a field that was called Maesbeli, through the which Aurelius would have to pass, for he was minded to make a sudden and stealthy onslaught and to fall upon the Britons at unawares. Howbeit Aurelius got wind of the design, but so far from delaying on that account to approach the field, he rather marched forward with the greater speed. When he came in sight of the enemy, he formed his troops in order. Three thousand Armoricans he told off to attend upon the knights, and the rest he set in line mixed-medley-wise along with the islanders. The Demetians he stationed on the hills, the Venedotians in the forest hard by, to the end that in case the Saxons should flee thither they should find those there that would stop them.




Meanwhile Eldol, Duke of Gloucester, came unto the King, saying:


‘This one day would be enow for all the days of my life, so God would grant me to do battle with Hengist man to man. For one of us twain should die or ever our swords should be still. For well do I mind me of the day that we came together as if we were to have peace. And when we were talking over the agreement, he did betray all of us that were there, and slew them all with knives save me alone, who found a stake and did thereby escape. Upon that same day fell four hundred and sixty barons and earls that had come thither all unarmed. It was in this sore jeopardy that God did convey unto me that stake, whereby I did defend me and made shift to get me away.’ Thus spake Eldol, and Aurelius did exhort all his comrades to set their hopes only in the Son of God, and then to fall right hardily upon the enemy and fight with one mind for their country. Upon the other part, Hengist set his troops in fighting order, and as he set them, instructed them how they should bear them in the battle, walking to and fro betwixt the battalions and giving orders unto each so as to inspirit them all with hardihood to fight. Then, when all the companies on both sides were drawn forth in battle-array, the foremost ranks engage, dealing blow upon blow and shedding no little blood. On the one side the Britons, on the other the Saxons, drop down to die of their wounds. Aurelius cheereth on his Christians, Hengist giveth the word unto his Paynims; and as the conflict thus was raging, ever among did Eldol seek occasion to get at hand-grips with Hengist, but none such offered; for Hengist, when he saw his own men fall, and that the Britons by God’s grace were gaining ground, straightway fled away and made for the Castle of Kaerconan, that is now called Knaresborough. Aurelius pursueth him, and whomsoever he overtook upon his way he either slew or made captive as bondsman. When, therefore, Hengist perceived that he was being hunted down of Aurelius, he was not minded to enter into the castle, but commanding his troops again to form in rank, decided to renew the battle, for he knew that the castle could in no wise withstand Aurelius, and that all his defence lay in his own sword and spear. At last, when Aurelius had overtaken him, he also ranked his comrades in companies, and charged right hardily upon him. Natheless, the Saxons hold their ground as one man, and many on both sides are wounded to the death. Blood floweth everywhere, and the cries of the dying rouse the living to a fiercer wrath. At last the Saxons would have prevailed, had not a company of knights of the Armorican Britons come down upon them. For Aurelius had stationed them apart as he had done in the first battle. When these charged down upon them, the Saxons were forced to give ground, and after being broken, albeit in nowise cut to pieces, were scarce able to form in rank again. Then the Britons advance more hardily and harass the enemy with one accord. Nor did Aurelius stint to cheer on his men to smite down them that came in his way, to give chase to them that fled, and do all that man might do to comfort his comrades. In like manner did Eldol; hurrying to and fro in all parts of the field, and dealing deadly wounds upon the foe, yet ever, whatsoever he did, was his heart set upon having but one chance of forgathering with Hengist man to man.




And whilst the divers companies were thus charging and cutting and thrusting in divers parts, it so fell out that the twain did encounter one another at an even advantage, and began to smite and smite yet again either upon other, stroke upon stroke. O, but those champions thirsted for the fight, and when one let drive at other and their swords clashed together the sparks flew at ach blow as though they made lightning flash midst thunder. Long time was it doubtful which of the twain had the more stalwart thews, for at one time would Eldol prevail and Hengist give ground; at another would Hengist prevail and Eldol give ground. And whilst they were still battling on this wise came up Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, with the battalion he commanded and began to harass the enemy’s companies. Thereupon, when Eldol espied him, he took fresh hardihood, and gripping Hengist by the nose-piece of his helmet, put forth all his force and dragged him forth into the midst of his own people. Rejoicing thereat with exceeding great gladness, he cried aloud: ‘God hath fulfilled my desire! Up, men! and down with these Ambrons before ye! In your hands is the victory, for in conquering Hengist we have conquered them!’ In the midst of all this the Britons failed not to bear down upon the Paynims, charging again and again, and when they fell back, advancing with redoubled hardihood, giving not a moment’s respite until the victory was won. At last the Saxons fled, whithersoever each man’s sudden thought might lead. Some betook them to the cities; others to the forest mountains, others to their ships. But Octa, Hengist’s son, with the greater part of the residue, made his way to York, while Eosa his kinsman made for the city of Alclud, and garrisoned him there with a numberless host of armed men.




After that Aurelius had thus won the day, he took the city of Conan, whereof I have before made mention, and there sojourned three days. Meanwhile he bade the dead be buried, the wounded be attended, and the weary given rest, besides supplying them with comforts of all kinds. After this he called together his Dukes and bade them say what should be done with Hengist. Eldad, Bishop of Gloucester and brother of Eldol, was present, a man of the highest wisdom and piety. He, when he beheld Hengist standing before the King, bade the rest keep silence and spake unto him on this wise: ‘Were all here to try to set this man free, yet would I myself hew him in pieces; for therein should I follow the ensample of Samuel the prophet when he had Agag, King of the Amalekites, in his power; for he hewed him to pieces, saying, “As thy sword hath made mothers childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women.” Wherefore do ye the same unto Hengist, for that he is another Agag.’ Eldol thereupon took his sword, led Hengist without the city and sent him unto hell with his head smitten off. But Aurelius, that was ever sober in all things, bade him be buried, and a mound of earth be heaped above his body after the manner of the Paynims.




Then Aurelius led his army unto York to beleaguer Octa, Hengist’s son. And when he laid siege unto the city, Octa misdoubted whether he might withstand him and hold the city against so huge a host. After taking counsel thereupon, he issued forth along with the more noble of them that were with him, bearing a chain in his hand and with dust upon his head, and presented him before the King with these words: ‘My gods be vanquished, nor do I falter to acknowledge that it is thy God which reigneth and hath compelled so many nobles to come unto thee on this wise. Wherefore do thou accept of us and of this chain, and, save thou have mercy upon us, have us bound and doom us unto any punishment thou wilt.’ Aurelius was thereby moved to pity, and taking counsel, bade declare what should be done unto them. And when divers of them had delivered divers counsel, Eldad the Bishop rose up and spake his mind after this fashion: ‘The Gibeonites of their own will did come unto the children of Israel, and beseeching mercy did obtain mercy. Shall we Christians, therefore, be worse than Jews and deny mercy unto these? Mercy is that they beseech, mercy let them have! Broad is this island of Britain, and in many places void of inhabitants. Let us therefore make covenant with them that, so we suffer them to dwell at least in our desert places, they shall be vassal unto us for ever.’ The King thereupon agreed unto Eldad’s proposal, and had mercy upon them. Moreover, moved thereto by the ensample of Octa, came Eosa and the rest of them that had fled and begged for mercy. He assigned unto them, therefore, the country upon the borders of Scotland, and confirmed a covenant with them.




Having now triumphed over all his enemies, the King called together the earls and princes of the realm to meet him at York, and gave ordinance unto them to restore the churches which the Saxon people had destroyed. Howbeit, he himself began to rebuild the Metropolitan church of that city and the rest of the cathedral churches of the province. After a space of fifteen days, when he had stablished a gang of workmen in the several places, he repaired unto London, which the ravages of the enemy had not spared, and sore grieved at the destruction that had been wrought, recalled the residue of the citizens from all parts and set him to bring about their restoration. There also he made ordinance for the government of the kingdom, renewing the laws that had dropped on sleep, and allotting unto the grandchildren the possessions that their grandsires had lost. Whatsoever estates had lost all heirs he shared amongst his fellow-soldiers. For all his thought and intention was turned upon the restitution of the realm, the reformation of the churches, the renewal of peace and law and the administering of justice. He next went on to Winchester to restore it the same as the other cities, and when he had there stablished all that had to be stablished toward the restoration thereof, by advice of Bishop Eldad, he went unto the monastery nigh Kaercaradoc, that is now called Salisbury, where the earls and princes lay buried whom the accursed Hengist had betrayed. There was there a convent of three hundred brethren upon the Mount of Ambrius, who, as is said, was the founder thereof in days of old. When he looked around upon the place where they lay dead, he was moved to pity and tears began to flow. At last he fell to pondering within himself in what wise he might best make the place memorable, for worthy of remembrance did he deem the green turf that covered so many noble warriors that had died for their country.




Accordingly he called together from all quarters the master craftsmen in stone and wood, and bade them put forth their utmost skill to contrive some new kind of building that should stand for ever in memory of men so worthy. But all of them, mistrusting their own mastery in such a matter, were only able to meet him with a ‘Nay.’ Whereupon Tremounos, Archbishop of Caerleon, came unto the King and saith he: ‘If man there be anywhere strong enow to carry out this ordinance into effect, let Merlin, Vortigern’s prophet, set hand thereunto. For well I wot that never another man in thy kingdom is there that is brighter of wit than he, whether it be in foretelling that which shall be or in devising engines of artifice. Bid him come hither and set his wits to work, and I warrant he shall build thee a memorial to last!’ Accordingly, when Aurelius had asked many questions about him, he sent divers messengers through the divers countries of the kingdom to find and fetch him; and after they had journeyed throughout the provinces they found him in the country of the Gewissi, at the fountain of Galabes that he wont to haunt, and, telling him what it was they wanted, brought him unto the King. The King received him gladly and bade him declare the future, being fain to hear marvellous things. Unto whom Merlin: ‘Mysteries of such kind be in no wise to be revealed save only in sore need. For, and I were to utter them lightly or to make laughter, the spirit that teacheth me would be dumb and would forsake me in the hour of need.’ At last, when he had in like manner denied them all, the King was not minded to ask him further about the future, but spake unto him of the work he did propose to construct. Unto whom Merlin:


‘If thou be fain to grace the burial-place of these men with a work that shall endure for ever, send for the Dance of the Giants that is in Killaraus, a mountain in Ireland. For a structure of stones is there that none of this age could raise save his wit were strong enough to carry his art. For the stones be big, nor is there stone anywhere of more virtue, and, so they be set up round this plot in a circle, even as they be now there set up, here shall they stand for ever.’




At these words of Merlin, Aurelius burst out laughing, and quoth he: ‘But how may this be, that stones of such bigness and in a country so far away may be brought hither, as if Britain were lacking in stones enow for the job?’ Whereunto Merlin made answer: ‘Laugh not so lightly, King, for not lightly are these words spoken. For in these stones is a mystery, and a healing virtue against many ailments. Giants of old did carry them from the furthest ends of Africa and did set them up in Ireland what time they did inhabit therein. And unto this end they did it, that they might make them baths therein whensoever they ailed of any malady, for they did wash the stones and pour forth the water into the baths, whereby they that were sick were made whole. Moreover, they did mix confections of herbs with the water, whereby they that were wounded had healing, for not a stone is there that lacketh in virtue of leechcraft.’ When the Britons heard these things, they bethought them that it were well to send for the stones, and to harry the Irish folk by force of arms if they should be minded to withhold them. At last they made choice of Uther Pendragon, the King’s brother, with fifteen thousand men, to attend to this business. They made choice also of Merlin, so that whatsoever might have to be done should be dealt with according his wit and counsel. Then, as soon as the ships are ready, they put to sea and make for Ireland with a prosperous gale.




At that time was Gilloman King in Ireland, a youth of marvellous prowess, who, so soon as ever he heard of the Britons having landed in Ireland, got together a huge army and started forth to meet them. And when he had learned the reason wherefore they had come, he laughed, and saith he unto them that stood by:


‘No wonder the craven Saxon folk were strong enough to lay waste the island of Britain when the Britons themselves are such gross-witted wiseacres. Who hath ever heard of such folly? Are the stones of Ireland any better than those of Britain that our kingdom should thus be challenged to fight for them? Arm yourselves, men, and defend your country, for never while life is in me shall they carry off from us the very smallest stone of the Dance.’


Uther accordingly, seeing that they were ready fight, fell upon them straightway at the double-quick. Forthwith the Britons prevailed, and, his Irishmen all cut up and slain, forced Gilloman to flee for his life. When they had won the day they pressed forward to Mount Killaraus, and when they reached the structure of stones rejoiced and marvelled greatly. Whilst they were all standing around, Merlin came unto them and said: ‘Now, my men, try what ye can do to fetch me down these stones! Then may ye know whether strength avail more than skill, or skill than strength.’ Thereupon at his bidding they all with one accord set to work with all manner devices, and did their utmost to fetch down the Dance. Some rigged up huge hawsers, some set to with ropes, some planted scaling ladders, all eager to get done with the work, yet natheless was none of them never a whit the forwarder. And when they were all weary and spent, Merlin burst out on laughing and put together his own engines. At last, when he had set in place everything whatsoever that was needed, he laid the stones down so lightly as none would believe, and when he had laid them down, bade carry them to the ships and place them inboard, and on this wise did they again set sail and returned unto Britain with joy, presently with a fair wind making land, and fetching the stones to the ir burial-place ready to set up. When this was reported unto Aurelius, he sent messengers throughout the countries of Britain, bidding summon clergy and laity, and enjoining them when summoned to assemble at the Mount of Ambrius with rejoicing and honour to set up the stones again round the foresaid burial-place. Accordingly, in obedience to the edict, came pontiffs and abbots and folk of every single order or condition that were his subjects, and when all were met together on the day appointed, Ambrosius set the crown upon his own head and celebrated the ‘Whitsuntide festival right royally, giving up the three following days running to the holiday. Meanwhile such honours as lacked a holder he distributed as bounties unto them of his household as rewards for their toil in his service. At that time two of the Metropolitan Sees, York, to wit, and the City of the Legions, were vacant without their shepherds. Wherefore, being minded to consult the common wish of his peoples, he gave York unto Samson, a man of high dignity and illustrious by the depth of his piety; and Caerleon unto Dubricius, whom the providence of God had before singled out as like to be right serviceable in that same place. And when he had settled these and other matters in his realm, he bade Merlin set up the stones that he had brought from Ireland around the burial-place. Merlin accordingly obeyed his ordinance, and set them up about the compass of the burial-ground in such wise as they had stood upon Mount Killaraus in Ireland, and proved yet once again how skill surpasseth strength.




At that same time Pascentius, Vortigern’s son, who had fled away to Germany, called out every knight in arms of that kingdom against Aurelius Ambrosius, being minded to avenge his father, and promised them exceeding plenty of gold and silver so he were able to subdue Britain unto himself with their assistance. And when he had bribed the whole youth of the country by his promises, he fitted out a passing great fleet, and, landing in the Northern parts of the island, began to lay them waste. And when message of this was brought unto the King, he assembled his host and marched forth to meet them, challenging his cruel foemen to do battle with him. They as willingly accepted the challenge, but coming into conflict with the Britons, were by the grace of God defeated and forced to take to flight.




Pascentius, therefore, being thus compelled to flee away, durst not return into Germany, but backing sail, betook him unto Gilloman in Ireland, and was received by him. And when he had made known the disaster that had befallen him, Gilloman had compassion upon him and made complaint of the injury that Uther, the brother of Aurelius, had done him when he came in quest of the Giants’ Dance. At last they confirmed a covenant of alliance betwixt them, and fitting out their ships, embarked therein and made for the city of Menevia. This being bruited abroad, Uther Pendragon levied an army and marched into Wales to do battle with them, for his brother Aurelius lay sick at Winchester and could not go himself, greatly to the joy of Pascentius, Gilloman and the Saxons that were with them when they heard it, for they deemed that by reason of his malady they would easily be able to subdue the kingdom of Britain. And whilst all the folk were talking thereupon, came one of the Saxons, named Eopa, unto Pascentius, saying: ‘What boon wilt thou bestow upon the man that shall slay Aurelius for thee?’ Saith Pascentius: ‘O, might I but find the man that durst go through with such a resolve, I would give him a thousand pounds of silver, and my good-will as long as I live, and if that it be my luck to wear the crown of the kingdom, I will make him a general of mine army; and so much am I ready to confirm by oath.’ Saith Eopa: ‘The British tongue have I learnt, and the manners of the men I know well. Some cunning, moreover, have I in leechcraft. So, therefore, that thou fulfil unto me this that thou dost promise, I will feign me to be a Christian and a Briton, and when I shall have obtained access unto the King as a leech, such a draught will I compound for him as that he shall die thereof. And that I may the more readily come unto him, I will feign me to be a monk right passing devout and right learned in all doctrine withal.’ And when Eopa thus promised what he would do, Pascentius struck the bargain with him and confirmed by oath the conditions of the pledge. Eopa accordingly shaved his beard, tonsured his head, took upon him the habit of a monk, and, laden with his gallipots of drugs, started on his way towards Winchester. As soon as he arrived in that city he proffered his services unto them of the King’s household and found favour in their eyes, for none at that time could have been more welcome unto them than a leech. They therefore received him gladly, and when he was led into the King’s presence he promised to restore him his health, so he were treated with his potions. Forthwith, accordingly, he was bidden to prepare a drink, and privily mixing a poison therewithal, he offered the same unto the King. When Aurelius had taken and drunk it, the accursed Ambron straightway bade him cover him up under the coverlid and go to sleep, to the end that his detestable potion might work the more strongly. The King at once obeyed the traitor’s bidding and went to sleep as if upon the way to a speedy recovery. Presently, when the poison had crept into the pores and veins of his body, death, that wont to spare no man, ensued upon his sleep. Meanwhile that accursed traitor made shift betwixt one and another to slip forth and took heed never to show him in court again. Whilst these things were being enacted at Winchester, there appeared a star of marvellous bigness and brightness, stretching forth one ray whereon was a ball of fire spreading forth in the likeness of a dragon, and from the mouth of the dragon issued forth two rays, whereof the one was of such length as that it did seem to reach beyond the regions of Gaul, and the other, verging toward the Irish sea, did end in seven lesser rays.




At the appearance of this star all that did behold it were stricken with wonder and fear. Uther, also, the King’s brother, who was leading a hostile army into Cambria, was smitten with no small dread, insomuch as that he betook him unto sundry wizards to make known unto him what the star might portend. Amongst the rest, he bade call Merlin, for he also had come along with the army so that the business of the fighting might be dealt with according to his counsel. And when he was brought unto the King and stood before him, he was bidden declare what the star did betoken. Whereupon, bursting into tears and drawing a long breath, he cried aloud, saying:


‘O, loss irreparable! O, orphaned people of Britain! O, departure of a most noble King! Dead is the renowned King of the Britons, Aurelius Ambrosius, in whose death shall we all also be dead, save God deign to be our helper! Wherefore hasten, most noble Duke Uther, hasten and tarry not to do battle upon thine enemies! The victory shall be thine, and King thou shalt be of the whole of Britain! For this is what yon star doth betoken, and the fiery dragon that is under the star! The ray, moreover, that stretcheth forth toward the regions of Gaul, Both portend that a son shall be born unto thee that shall be of surpassing mighty dominion, whose power shall extend over all the realms that lie beneath the ray; and the other ray signifieth a daughter whose sons and grandsons shall hold the kingdom of Britain in succession.’




But Uther, albeit misdoubting whether Merlin spake true, continued the advance against the enemy that he had already begun, for he was so nigh unto Menevia as that not more than half a day’s march had to be covered. And when his advance was reported unto Gilloman, Pascentius and the Saxons that were with them, they issued forth to meet him and do battle with him. So soon as the armies came in sight of one another, they both set them in fighting array, and coming to close quarters, began a hand to hand engagement, soldiers being slain on the one side and the other as is wont in such cases. At last, when the day was far spent, Uther in the end prevailed and obtained the victory after Gilloman and Pascentius had been slain. The barbarians thereupon took to flight, and scampered off to their ships, pursued by the Britons who slew a number of them in their flight. The Duke’s victory being thus by Christ’s favour complete, he returned the swiftest he might after so sore travail unto Winchester. For messengers had arrived announcing the death of the King and bringing word that he was presently to be buried by the bishops of the land within the Giants’ Dance, nigh the convent of Ambrius, according to the instructions he had given when alive. When they heard of his departure, the pontiffs and abbots and all the clergy of the province assembled in the city of Winchester, and honoured him with a funeral such as was befitting a King so mighty. And, for that in his lifetime he had commanded he should be buried in the graveyard he had enclosed, thither they bare his body and laid it in the ground with right royal ceremony.




But his brother Uther, calling together the clergy of the country, took upon him the crown of the island, and with universal assent was raised to be King. And, remembering in what wise Merlin had interpreted the meaning of the star aforementioned, bade two dragons be wrought in gold in the likeness of the dragon he had seen upon the ray of the star. And when that they had been wrought in marvellous cunning craftsmanship, he made offering of the one unto the chief church of the See of Winton, but the other did he keep himself to carry about with him in the wars. From that day forth was he called Uther Pendragon, for thus do we call a dragon’s head in the British tongue. And the reason wherefore this name was given unto him was that Merlin had prophesied he should be King by means of the dragon.




In the meantime Octa, Hengist’s son, and Eosa, his kinsman, now that they were quit of the covenant they had made with Aurelius Ambrosius, set them to work to harass the King and ravage his minions. For they were now taking into their the Saxons that Pascentius had brought with him, and were sending their messengers into Germany for the rest. Octa, accordingly, having surrounded him with a passing great army, did invade the Northern provinces, nor did he stint to give his cruelty free course until he had destroyed all the cities and strong places from Albany as far as York. At last, when he had begun to beleaguer that city, Uther Pendragon came upon him with the whole force of the kingdom and gave him battle. The Saxons stood their ground like men, remaining unbroken by the assaults of the Britons, who were forced at last to flee. The Saxons followed up the victory they had won, and pursued the Britons as far as Mount Damen, when the daylight failed them. Now this hill was steep, and at the top was a hazel coppice, but half-way up were tall broken rocks amongst which wild beasts might well make their lairs. Howbeit, the Britons took possession thereof and abode all that night amongst the rocks and hazel bushes. But when the Bear began to turn her chariot as it drew toward dawn, Uther bade call the earls and princes to treat with him in counsel how they might best fall upon the enemy. All accordingly came as quickly as might be into the King’s presence, who bade them declare their counsel thereupon. They accordingly enjoined Gorlois Duke of Cornwall, to speak his opinion first, for that he was a man of much counsel and ripe of age. ‘No need,’ saith he, ‘of beating about the bush and making long speeches, for we must make the best use of what remains of the night. What is most wanted just now is valour and hardihood if ye would fain enjoy your lives and liberties. The multitude of Paynims is huge and hungry for fight, while we are but a handful. If we wait until daylight overtaketh us, better, I ween, not fight them at all. Up, then, while the darkness lasteth, and coming down upon them in close order, let us rush their camp by a sudden surprise. For, whilst they have no suspicion and never dream of our falling upon them in such wise, if we make the rush with one accord and put forth our hardihood, I doubt not but we shall win the day.’


This counsel pleased the King and all his men, and all obeyed his injunctions. Doing on their armour, they ranked them in companies and made towards the enemy’s camp, intending to make a general onset upon them all at once. But when they drew nigh the scouts became aware of their approach, and woke up their sleepy comrades with the braying of their trumpets. In sore disorder and amazement the enemy leap up, some to arm them, some overcome with terror to flee whithersoever chance might lead them. But the Britons, marching in close rank, quickly approaching and reaching the camp, and, finding an entrance, rush in upon the enemy with drawn swords. The enemy thus surprised of a sudden could make no effectual resistance, while the Britons took courage to from knowing all about what they were doing, rushing in hardily with a will and laying about them in deadly fashion. The Paynims were slain by thousands; Octa and Eosa were taken prisoners, and the Saxons utterly put to the rout.




After this victory Uther marched unto the city of Alclud, and made ordinance for settling that province, as well as for restoring peace everywhere. He also went round all the nations of the Scots, and made that rebellious people lay aside their savage ways, for such justice did he execute throughout the lands as never another of his predecessors had ever done before him. In his days did misdoers tremble, for they were dealt punishment without mercy. At last, when he had stablished his peace in the parts of the North, he went to London and bade that Octa and Eosa should be kept in prison there. And when the Easter festival drew nigh, he bade the barons of the realm assemble in that city that he might celebrate so high holiday with honour by assuming the crown thereon. All obeyed accordingly, and repairing thither from the several cities, assembled together on the eve of the festival. The King, accordingly, celebrated the ceremony as he had proposed, and made merry along with his barons, all of whom did make great cheer for that the King had received them in such joyful wise. For all the nobles that were there had come with their wives and daughters as was meet on so glad a festival. Among the rest, Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, was there, with his wife Igerne, that in beauty did surpass all the other dames of the whole of Britain. And when the King espied her amidst the others, he did suddenly wax so fain of her love that, paying no heed unto none of the others, he turned all his attention only upon her. Only unto her did he send dainty tit-bits from his own dish; only unto her did he send the golden cups with messages through his familiars. Many a time did he smile upon her and spake merrily unto her withal. But when her husband did perceive all this, straightway he waxed wroth and retired from the court without leave taken. Nor was any that might recall him thither, for that he feared to lose the one thing that he loved better than all other. Uther, waxing wroth hereat, commanded him to return and appear in his court that he might take lawful satisfaction for the affront he had put upon him. And when Gorlois was not minded to obey the summons, the King was enraged beyond all measure and sware with an oath that he would ravage his demesnes so he hastened not to make him satisfaction. Forthwith, the quarrel betwixt the two abiding unsettled, the King gathered a mighty army together and went his way into the province of Cornwall and set fire to the cities and castles therein. But Gorlois, not daring to meet him in the field for that he had not so many armed men, chose rather to garrison his own strong places until such time as he obtained the succour he had besought from Ireland. And, for that he was more troubled upon his wife’s account than upon his own, he placed her in the Castle of Tintagel on the seacoast, as holding it to be the safer refuge. Howbeit, he himself betook him into the Castle of Dimilioc, being afeard that in case disaster should befall him both might be caught in one trap. And when message of this was brought unto the King, he went unto the castle wherein Gorlois had ensconced him, and beleaguered him and cut off all access unto him. At length, at the end of a week, mindful of his love for Igerne, he spake unto one of his familiars named Ulfin of Ricaradoc: ‘I am consumed of love for Igerne, nor can I have no joy, nor do I look to escape peril of my body save I may have possession of her. Do thou therefore give me, counsel in what wise I may fulfil my desire, for, and I do not, of mine inward sorrow shall I die.’ Unto whom Ulfin: ‘And who shall give thee any counsel that may avail, seeing that there is no force that may prevail whereby to come unto her in the Castle of Tintagel? For it is situate on the sea, and is on every side encompassed thereby, nor none other entrance is there save such as a narrow rock doth furnish, the which three armed knights could hold against thee, albeit thou wert standing there with the whole realm of Britain beside thee. But, and if Merlin the Prophet would take the matter in hand, I do verily believe that by his counsel thou mightest compass thy heart’s desire.’


The King, therefore, believing him, bade Merlin be called, for he, too, had come unto the leaguer. Merlin came forthwith accordingly, and when he stood in presence of the King, was bidden give counsel how the King’s desire might be fulfilled. When he found how sore tribulation of mind the King was suffering, he was moved at beholding the effect of a love so exceeding great, and saith he: ‘The fulfilment of thy desire doth demand the practice of arts new and unheard of in this thy day. Yet know I how to give thee the semblance of Gorlois by my leechcrafts in such sort as that thou shalt seem in all things to be his very self. If, therefore, thou art minded to obey me, I will make thee like unto him utterly, and Ulfin will I make like unto Jordan of Tintagel his familiar. I also will take upon me another figure and will be with ye as a third, and in such wise we may go safely unto the castle and have access unto Igerne.’ The King obeyed accordingly, and gave heed strictly unto that which Merlin enjoined him. At last, committing the siege into charge of his familiars, he did entrust himself unto the arts and medicaments of Merlin, and was transformed into the semblance of Gorlois. Ulfin was changed into Jordan, and Merlin into Bricel in such sort as that none could have told the one from the other. They then went their way toward Tintagel, and at dusk hour arrived at the castle. The porter, weening that the Duke had arrived, swiftly unmade the doors, and the three were admitted. For what other than Gorlois could it be, seeing that in all things it seemed as if Gorlois himself were there? So the King lay that night with Igerne, for as he had beguiled her by the false likeness he had taken upon him, so he beguiled her also by the feigned discourses wherewith he did full artfully entertain her. For he told her he had issued forth of the besieged city for naught save to see to the safety of her dear self and the castle wherein she lay, in such sort that she believed him every word, and had no thought to deny him in aught he might desire. And upon that same night was the most renowned Arthur conceived, that was not only famous in after years, but was well worthy of all the fame he did achieve by his surpassing prowess.




In the meantime, when the beleaguering army found that the King was not amongst them, they did unadvisedly make endeavour to breach the walls and challenge the besieged Duke to battle. Who, himself also acting unadvisedly, did straightway sally forth with his comrades in arms, weening that his handful of men were strong enow to make head against so huge a host of armed warriors. But when they met face to face in battle, Gorlois was amongst the first that were slain, and all his companies were scattered. The castle, moreover, that they had besieged was taken, and the treasure that was found therein divided, albeit not by fair casting of lots, for whatsoever his luck or hardihood might throw in his way did each man greedily clutch in his claws for his own. But by the time that this outrageous plundering had at last come to an end messengers had come unto Igerne to tell her of the Duke’s death and the issue of the siege. But when they beheld the King in the likeness of the Duke sitting beside her, they blushed scarlet, and stared in amazement at finding that he whom they had just left dead at the leaguer had thus arrived hither safe and sound, for little they knew what the medicaments of Merlin had accomplished. The King therefore, smiling at the tidings, and embracing the countess, spake saying: ‘Not slain, verily, am I, for lo, here thou seest me alive, yet, natheless, sore it irketh me of the destruction of my castle and the slaughter of my comrades, for that which next is to dread is lest the King should overtake us here and make us prisoners in this castle. First of all, therefore, will I go meet him and make my peace with him, lest a worst thing befall us.’ Issuing forth accordingly, he made his way unto his own army, and putting off the semblance of Gorlois again became Uther Pendragon. And when he understood how everything had fallen out, albeit that he was sore grieved at the death of Gorlois, yet could he not but be glad that Igerne was released from the bond of matrimony. Returning, therefore, to Tintagel, he took the castle, and not the castle only, but Igerne also therein, and on this wise fulfilled he his desire. Thereafter were they linked together in no little mutual love, and two children were born unto them, a son and a daughter, whereof the son was named Arthur and the daughter Anna.




And as the days and seasons passed by, the King was overtaken by a malady that did of a long time afflict him. In the meantime, the keepers of the prison wherein Octa and Eosa, of whom I have spoken above, were leading a life full wearisome, fled away with them unto Germany and struck terror throughout the kingdom. For the rumour ran that they had roused the whole of Germany, and had fitted out a passing mighty fleet, intending to return unto the island and destroy it, as, indeed, was the fact, for they did so return with such a fleet and a numberless host of companions, and, entering into the parts of Albany, did visit the cities and the people of the land with fire and sword. Whereupon the army of Britain is given in charge unto Lot of Lodonesia to keep the enemy at a distance. For he was also Earl of Leicester, a right valiant knight and ripe as well in years as in counsel, and, his prowess approving him worthy thereof, the King had given unto him his daughter Anna and the charge of the kingdom whilst his malady lay upon him. He in his campaign against the enemy was oftentimes repulsed by them, and had to betake him into his cities, but yet more often did he put them to flight and scatter them, forcing them to flee at one time unto the forests and at another unto their ships. For the issue of the battles betwixt them was so doubtful that none could tell unto which of the twain the victory should be accorded. That which did most hurt unto the Britons was their own pride, for that they did disdain to obey the Earl’s summons unto arms, whereby coming the fewer into the field, they were unable to overpower the greater numbers of the enemy.




The island being thus well-nigh all laid waste, when the reason thereof was reported unto the King, he waxed wroth beyond what his infirmity was able to bear, and bade all his barons come together before him that he might rebuke them for their pride and lukewarmness. And when he beheld them all in his presence, he chided them with words of chastisement, and sware that he himself would lead them against the enemy. Accordingly he bade make a litter wherein he might be carried, seeing that his malady did hinder him of moving otherwise from place to place. And all of them he bade be ready, so that, should occasion befall, they might march against the enemy. Forthwith the litter is made ready, and all likewise are ready to start when the day and the occasion arrived.




Setting the King within the litter, they started for Verulam, where the Saxons were sore distressing all the people. And when Octa and Eosa learnt how the Britons had arrived and had brought with them the King in a litter, they did disdain to fight him withal for that he had to be carried about and could not even go alone. Such an one, they said, was half-dead already, and it would ill become so great men as were they to fight him. They withdrew them accordingly into the city, leaving the gates open as if to show how little they were afeard. But when this was reported unto Uther, he bade leaguer the city as swiftly as might be, and made assault upon the walls on every side. The Britons obeyed, laid siege to the city and stormed the walls. Carrying slaughter amongst the Saxons, they were just entering by the breaches they had made, when the Saxons began to bethink them of withstanding them in earnest, and seeing the advantage they had already gained, repented them of their former arrogance, and set to work to defend them as best they might, climbing upon the walls and driving back the Britons with all manner weapons of offence. At last, whilst the fight was still raging betwixt them, the night drew on that doth invite all men unto repose. Many thereupon would fain have rested from the toil of arms, but more were of counsel that it were better to keep on fighting until they had made an end of their enemies. Howbeit, the Saxons, when they understood how grievously they had erred in their pride, and that they had thereby given away the victory unto the Britons, made resolve to sally forth at dawn and challenge the Britons to a pitched battle in the field, and this was done accordingly. For so soon as Titan had brought back the light of day, they marched forth in orderly array in pursuance of their design. The Britons perceiving the same, divided their force into companies, and coming to meet them were the first to begin the attack. The Saxons straightway stand their ground; the Britons press forward, and much blood is shed on both sides. Not until the day was far spent did victory declare for the Britons, and the Saxons turned tail, leaving Octa and Eosa dead upon the field. So overjoyed was the King at the issue of the battle, that whereas afore he was too weak to lift him up without help of another, he now raised him with a light effort and sate him upright in the litter as though he were of a sudden restored unto health. Then, with a laugh, he cried out in a merry voice: ‘These Ambrons called me the half-dead King, for that I was lying sick of my malady in the litter, and so in truth I was. Yet would I rather conquer them half-dead, than be conquered by them safe and sound and have to go on living thereafter. For better is death with honour than life with shame.’




Howbeit, although the Saxons were defeated, never a whit the more for that did they abate their malice, but marching off into the provinces of the North did harass the people of those parts without respite. King Uther, as he had proposed, was eager to pursue them, but his princes did dissuade him therefrom for that after the victory his malady lay yet more grievously upon him. Wherefore the enemy did with the greater hardihood press forward against him and put forth all their strength by every means to subdue the kingdom unto themselves. Giving loose, moreover, unto their wonted treachery, they devise plots for making away with the King by secret practices. And, for that they might get at him none other way, they resolved to get rid of him by poison, which they did. For whilst he was still lying in the city of Verulam, they sent messengers in the habit of poor men to spy out the state of the court, and when they had learnt exactly how matters stood, they found out one device, whereof they made choice above all other for carrying out their treachery against him. For nigh the court was a spring of passing bright clear water, whereof the King was wont to drink when by reason of his malady other liquors did go against his stomach. Unto this spring accordingly these accursed traitors did obtain access, and did so infect the same with poison all round about as that the water flowing therefrom was all corrupted. When, therefore, the King did next drink of the water he was seized of a sudden by death, as were also a hundred others after him until such time as the treason was discovered, when the spring was covered over with a mound of earth. And when the King’s death was bruited abroad the bishops assembled with all the clergy of the realm and bare his body unto the convent of Ambrius, and laid it in the ground after kingly wise by the side of Aurelius Ambrosius within the Giants’ Dance.

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