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Lucius Hiberius, when he learnt that such answer had been decreed, by command of the Senate called forth the Kings of the Orient to make ready their armies and come with him, to the conquest of Britain. In haste accordingly came Epistrophius, King of the Greeks; Mustensar, King of the Africans; Alifantinas, King of Spain; Hirtacius, King of the Parthians; Bocchus of the Medes; Sertorius of Libya; Teucer, King of Phrygia; Serses, King of the Ituraeans; Pandrasus, King of Egypt; Micipsa, King of Babylon; Polytetes, Duke of Bithynia; Evander of Syria; Aethion of; Hippolytus of Crete, with the dukes and barons of their allegiance. Of the senatorial order, moreover, Lucius Catellus, Marius Lepidus, Caius Metellus Cotta, Quintus Milvius Catulus, Quintus Carutius, and so many others as were reckoned to make up a total of four hundred thousand one hundred and sixty.
All needful ordinance made, they started on their expedition Britainwards at the beginning of the Kalends of August. When Arthur learned that they were upon the march, he made over the charge of defending Britain unto his nephew Mordred and his Queen Guenevere, he himself with his army making for Hamo’s port, where he embarked with a fair breeze of wind. And whilst that he was thronged about with his numberless ships, and was cleaving the deep with a prosperous course and much rejoicing, a passing deep sleep as about the middle of the night did overtake him, and in his sleep he saw in dream a certain bear flying in the air, at the growling whereof all the shores did tremble. He saw, moreover, a dreadful dragon come flying from the West that did enlumine the whole country with the flashing of his eyes. And when the one did meet the other there was a marvellous fight betwixt them, and presently the dragon leaping again and again upon the bear, did scorch him up with his fiery breath and cast down his shrivelled carcass to the earth. And thereby awakened, Arthur did relate his dream unto them that stood by, who expounded the same unto him saying that the dragon did betoken himself, but the bear some giant with whom he should encounter; that the fight did foretoken a battle that should be betwixt them, and that the dragon’s victory should be his own. Natheless, Arthur did conjecture otherwise thereof, weening that such vision as had befallen him was more like to have to do with himself and the Emperor. At last, when the night had finished her course and the dawn waxed red, they came to in the haven of Barfleur, and pitching their tents thereby, did await the coming of the Kings of the islands and the Dukes of the neighbour provinces.
Meanwhile tidings are brought unto that Arthur a certain giant of marvellous bigness hath arrived out of the parts of Spain, and moreover, that he hath seized Helena, niece of Duke Hoel, out of the hands of them that hath charge of her, and hath fled with her unto the top of the mount that is now called of Michael, whither the knights of the country had pursued him. Howbeit, nought might they prevail against him, neither by sea nor by land, for when they would attack him, either he would sink their ships with hugeous rocks, or slay the men with javelins or other weapons, and, moreover, devour many half-alive. Accordingly, in the following night at the second hour, he took with him Kay the Seneschal and Bedevere the Butler, and issuing forth of the tents, unknown to the others, started on his way towards the mount. For of such puissance was his own valour that he deigned not lead an army against such monsters, as holding himself singly enow for their destruction, and being minded to spirit up his men to follow his ensample. Now, when they came anigh the mount, they espied a great fire of wood a-blazing thereupon, and another smaller fire upon a smaller mount not far away from the first. So, being in doubt which were the one whereupon the giant had his wone, they sent Bedevere to spy out the certainty of the matter. He, therefore, finding a little boat, oared him first unto the smaller mount, for none otherwise might he attain thereunto, seeing that it was set in the sea. And when he began to climb up towards the top he heard above him the ullaloo of a woman wailing above him, and at first shuddered, for he misdoubted him the monster might be there. But quickly recovering his hardihood, he drew his sword from the scabbard and mounted to the very top, whereon nought found he save the fire of wood they had espied. But close thereby he saw a newly-made grave-mound, and beside it an old woman weeping and lamenting, who, so soon as she beheld him, stinted her tears forthwith and spake unto him on this wise: ‘O, unhappy man, what evil doom hath brought thee unto this place? O, thou that must endure the pangs unspeakable of death, woe is me for thee! Woe is me that a monster so accurst must this night consume the flower of thine youth! For that most foul and impious giant of execrable name shall presently be here, that did carry hither unto this mount the niece of our Duke, whom I have but just now sithence buried in this grave, and me, her nurse, along with her. On what unheard of wise will he slay thee and tarry not? Alas for the sorrow and the doom! is most queenly foster-child of mine own, swooning with terror when this abhorred monster would fain have embraced her, breathed forth the life that now can never know the longer day that it deserved! Ochone for mine other soul—mine other life—mine other sweetness of gladness! Flee thou, my beloved, flee, lest he find thee here, and rend thee limb from limb by a pitiable death!’ But Bedevere, moved to the heart deeply as heart of man may be moved, soothed her with words of comfort, and promising her such cheer as speedy succour might bring, returned unto Arthur and told him the story of what he had found. Howbeit, Arthur, grieving over the damsel’s hapless fate, bade them that they should allow him to attack the monster singly, but if need were should come unto his rescue and fall upon the giant like men. They made their way from thence unto the greater mount, and giving their horses in charge to their squires, began to climb the mount, Arthur going first. Just then that unnatural monster was by the fire, his chops all besmeared with the clotted blood of half-eaten swine, the residue whereof he was toasting on spits over the live embers. The moment he espied them, when nought was less in his thought, he hastened him to get hold of his club, which two young men could scarce have lifted from the ground. The King forthwith unsheathed his sword, and covering him with his shield, hurried as swiftly as hurry he might to be beforehand with him, and prevent his getting hold of the club. But the giant, not unaware of his intention, had already clutched it and smote the King upon the cover of his shield with such a buffet as that the sound of the stroke filled the whole shore, and did utterly deafen his ears. But Arthur, thereupon blazing out into bitter wrath, lifted his sword and dealt him a wound upon his forehead, from whence the blood gushed forth over his face and eyes in such sort as well-nigh blinded his sight. Howbeit, the blow was not deadly, for he had warded his forehead with his club in such wise as to scape being killed outright. Natheless, blinded as he was with the blood welling forth, again he cometh on more fiercely than ever, and as a wild boar rusheth from his lay upon a huntsman, so thrust he in within the sweep of Arthur’s sword, gripped him by the loins, and forced him to his knees upon the ground. Howbeit, Arthur, nothing daunted, soon slipped from out his clutches, and swiftly bestirring him with his sword, hacked the accursed monster first in one place and then in another, and gave him no f respite until at last he smote him a deadly buffet on the head, and buried the whole breadth of his sword in his brain-pan. The abhorred beast roared aloud and dropped with a mighty crash like an oak torn up by the roots in the fury of the winds. Thereupon the King brake out on laughing, bidding Bedevere strike off his head and give it to one of the squires to carry to the camp as a raree show for sightseers. Natheless, he bade that they who came to look upon it should keep their tongues quiet, inasmuch as never had he forgathered with none other of so puissant hardihood since he slew the giant Ritho upon Mount Eryri, that had challenged him to fight with him. For this Ritho had fashioned him a furred cloak of the beards of the kings he had slain, and he had bidden Arthur heedfully to flay off his beard and send it unto him with the skin, in which case, seeing that Arthur did excel other kings, he would sew it in his honour above the other beards on his cloak. Howbeit, in case he refused, he challenged him to fight upon such covenant, that he which should prove the better man of the twain should have the other’s beard as well as the furred cloak. So when it came to the scratch Arthur had the best of it and carried off Ritho’s beard and his cloak, and sithence that time had never had to do with none so strong until he lighted upon this one, as he is above reported as asserting. After he had won this victory as I have said, they returned just after daybreak to their tents with the head; crowds coming running up to look upon it and praising the valour of the man that had delivered the country from so insatiable a man. But Hoel, grieving over the loss of his niece, bade build a church above her body upon the mount where she lay, the which was named after the damsel’s grave, and is called the Tomb of Helena unto this day.
When all were come together that Arthur had expected, he marched from thence to Autun, where he thought the Emperor was. But when he had come as far as the river Aube, tidings were brought him that he had pitched his camp not far away, and was marching with an army so huge, that it was impossible, so they said, to withstand him. Howbeit, so little was Arthur affrighted thereat, that no change made he in his plans, but pitched his camp upon the river bank, from whence he could freely lead forth his army, and whither in case of need he could as easily repair. He then sent two of his earls, Boso of Oxford and Guerin of Chartres, together with his nephew Gawain, unto Lucius Hiberius, to intimate unto him that either he must retire forthwith beyond the frontier of Gaul or come next day to try conclusions with him as to which of the twain had the better right to the country. Thereupon the young men of the court, rejoicing exceedingly at the prospect, began to egg on Gawain to start the quarrel before leaving the Emperor’s camp, so that they might have occasion to come to blows with the Romans forthwith. Away went the envoys accordingly to Lucius, and bade him retreat from Gaul at once or come out next day to fight. And when he made them answer that he had not come thither to retreat, but on the contrary to command, a nephew of his that was there, one Caius Quintilianus, took occasion to say that the Britons were better men at bragging and threatening than in deeds of hardihood and prowess. Gawain thereat waxing wroth, drew the sword wherewith he was girt, and running upon him smote off his head, coming swiftly away with his companions to their horses. The Romans, some on foot and some on horse, start in hot pursuit, straining their utmost to wreak revenge for their fellow-countryman upon the fleeing legates. But Guerin of Chartres, when one of them was almost nigh enow to touch hint, wheeled round of a sudden and couching his spear thrust him through the armour and right through the middle of the body, and stretched him out as flat as he might upon the ground. Boso of Oxford, waxing jealous at seeing Guerin do so daring a deed, turned back his own destrier and thrust his spear into the gullet of the first man he met, and forced him, mortally wounded, to part company with the hackney whereon he was pursuing him. Meanwhile, Marcellus Mutius, burning to be first to avenge Quintilianus, was hard upon the back of Gawain and had begun to lay hold upon him, when Gawain suddenly turning round, clove him with the sword he still held in his hand sheer through helmet and skull down to the breast. Gawain, moreover, bade him when he should meet Quintilianus, whom he had slain in the camp, in hell, Ito tell him that in such manner of bragging and threatening were none better men than the Britons.
Gawain then, reassembling his comrades, counselled that all should turn back, and that in charging all together each should do his best to slay his man. All agreed accordingly; all turned back, and each killed his man. Howbeit, the Romans kept on pursuing them and now and again with spear or sword made shift to wound some few of them, but were unable either to hold or to unhorse any. But whilst they were following up the pursuit nigh a certain wood, straightway forth issue therefrom about six thousand Britons who having intelligence of the flight of the earls, had hidden them therein for the purpose of bringing them succour. Sallying forth, they set spur to their horses, and rending the air with their shouts and covering them with their shields, attack the Romans on the sudden, and presently drive them in flight before them, Pursuing them with one accord, they smite some from their horses with their spears, some they take prisoner, some they slay. When word of this was brought to the senator Petreius, he took with him a company of ten thousand men, and hastened to succour his comrades, and compelled the Britons to hasten back to the wood from whence they had made the sally, not without some loss of his own men. For in their flight the Britons turned back, and knowing the ground well, did inflict passing heavy slaughter upon their pursuers. Whilst the Britons were thus giving ground, Hider, with five thousand men, hurried to their assistance. They now make a stand, and whereas they had afore shown their back to the Romans, they now show their front and set to work to lay about them like men as stoutly as they might. The Romans also stand up to them stiffly, and one while it is Briton that gets stricken down and another while Roman. But the Britons were yearning with all their soul for a fight, and cared not greatly whether they won or lost in the first bout so long as the fighting were really begun, whereas the Romans went to work more heedfully, and Petreius Cotta, like a good captain as he was, skilfully instructed them how and when to advance or retreat, and thus did the greater damage to the Britons. Now, when Boso took note of this, he called a number of them that he knew to be the hardiest aside from the others, and spake unto them on this wise: Seeing that we began this battle without Arthur’s knowledge, we must take right good heed that we get not the worst of it in our adventure. For and if it be that we come to grief herein, we shall not only do heavy damage to our men, but we shall have the King cursing us for our foolhardiness. Wherefore, pluck up your courage, and follow me into the Roman ranks, and if that we have any luck we will either slay Petreius or take him prisoner.’ So they all set spur to their horses, and charging with one accord into the enemies’ ranks, came to where Petreius was giving orders to his men. Boso rushed in upon him as swiftly as he might, grasped him round the neck, and, as he had made up his mind to do aforehand, dropped down with him to the ground. Thereupon the Romans come running up to rescue him from the enemy, and the Britons as quickly run up to succour Boso. A mighty slaughter is made betwixt them, with mighty shouting and uproar as the Romans struggle to deliver the Duke and the Britons to hold him. On both sides were wounders and wounded, strikers and stricken to the ground. There, moreover, could it be seen which was the better man at thrust of spear and stroke of swords and fling of javelin. At last the Britons falling upon them in close rank, unbroken by the Roman charge, move off into the safety of their own lines along with Petreius. From thence forthwith they again charge upon the Romans, now bereft of their captain and for the most part enfeebled and dispirited and beginning to turn tail. They press forward and strike at them in the rear, cut down them they strike, plunder them they cut down, and pass by them they have plundered to pursue the rest. Howbeit, a number of them they take prisoner whom they are minded to present unto the King. In the end, when they had inflicted mischief enow upon them, they made their way back to the camp with their spoil and their captives, and, relating all that had befallen them resented Petreius Cotta and the rest of the prisoners unto Arthur and wished him joy of the victory. He, in return, did bid them joy, and promised them honours and increase of honours seeing that they had done deeds of such prowess in his absence. Being minded, moreover, to thrust the captives into prison, he called unto him certain of his serjeants to bring them on the morrow unto Paris, and deliver them unto the charge of the reeves of the city until further ordinance should be made on their behalf. He further commanded Duke Cador, Bedevere the Butler and the two Earls Borel and Richer, with their retinues, to convoy them so far on their way as that they need be under no fear of molestation by the Romans.
But the Romans happening to get wind of this arrangement, by command of the Emperor made choice of fifteen thousand of their men to march that very night so as to be beforehand, and to rescue the prisoners after defeating the convoy. These were to be under the command of the Senators Vulteius Catellus and Quintus Carutius, besides Evander, King of Syria, and Sertorius, King of Libya, who started on the appointed march with the said soldiers at night, and hid them in a position convenient for an ambuscade upon the road they weened that the party would travel by. On the morrow the Britons begin their march with the prisoners, and had well-nigh reached the place, not knowing what snares the crafty enemy had set for them. Howbeit, no sooner had they entered that part of the road than the Romans sallied forth of a sudden and surprised and broke the ranks of the British who were quite unprepared for an attack of the kind. Natheless, albeit they were thus taken aback, they soon drew together again and made a stout defence, setting some to guard the prisoners whilst the rest divided into companies to do battle with the enemy. Richer and Bedevere were in command of the company that kept guard over the prisoners, Cador, Duke of Cornwall, with Borer, taking command of the rest. But the Romans had all burst in upon them disorderly, and took no heed to dispose their men in companies, their one care, indeed, being which should be first to slaughter the Britons before they could form their ranks and marshal them so as to defend themselves. By reason of this the Britons were reduced to so sore straits that they would shamefully have lost the prisoners they were convoying had not good luck swiftly brought them the succour they needed. For Guitard, Duke of the Poitevins, who had discovered the stratagem, had arrived with three thousand men, by whose timely assistance the Britons did at last prevail and pay back the evil turn of the slaughter upon the insolent brigands that had assaulted them. But many of their own men did they lose in the first onset, for among others they lost Borel, the renowned Earl of Maine, who, while battling with Evander, King of Syria, was pierced through the throat with his spear, and poured forth his life with his blood. They lost, moreover, four barons, Hireglas of Periron, Maurice of Cahors, Aliduc of Tintagel, and his son Hider, than whom none hardier were easy to be found. Natheless, the Britons stinted nought of their hardihood nor gave them up to despair, but straining every endeavour determined to keep safe their prisoners and cut down their enemies to the last. In the end the Romans, unable to stand up against them, hastily retreated from the field and began to make for their camp. But the Britons, still pursuing them, slew many and took more prisoners, nor did they rest until Vulteius Catellus and Evander, King of Syria, were slain and the rest utterly scattered. When they had won the victory, they sent the prisoners they were convoying on to Paris, and marching back unto their King with them that they had lately taken, promised him hope of supreme victory, seeing that so few had won the day against so many enemies that had come against them.
Lucius Hiberius, meanwhile, taking these disasters sorely to heart, was mightily perplexed and distressed to make resolve whether it were better for him to hazard a general engagement with Arthur, or to throw himself into Autun and there await assistance from the Emperor Leo. In the end he took counsel of his fears, and on the night following marched his armies into Langres on his way to Autun. As soon as Arthur discovered this scheme, he determined to be beforehand with him on the march, and that same night, leaving the city on his left, he took up a position in a certain valley called Soissie, through the which Lucius would have to pass. Disposing his men in companies as he thought best, he posted one legion close by under the command of Morvid, Earl of Gloucester, so that, if need were, he would know whither to betake him to rally his broken companies and again give battle to the enemy. The rest of his force he divided into seven battalions, and in each battalion placed five thousand five hundred and fifty-five men, all fully armed. One division of each consisted of horse and the remainder of foot, and order was passed amongst them that when the infantry advanced to the attack, the cavalry advancing in close line slantwise on their flanks should do their best to scatter the enemy. The infantry divisions, British fashion, were drawn up in a square with a right and left wing. One of these was commanded by Angusel, King of Albany, and Cador, Duke of Cornwall, the one in the right wing and the other in the left. Another was in command of two earls of renown, to wit, Guerin of Chartres, and Boso of Rhedicen, which in the tongue of the Saxons is called Oxford. A third was commanded by Aschil, King of the Danskers, and Lot, King of the Norwegians. The fourth by Hoel, Duke of Armorica, and Gawain, the King’s nephew. After these four were four others stationed in the rear, one of which was in the command of Kay the Seneschal and Bedevere the Butler. Holdin, Duke of the Ruteni, and Guitard, Duke of the Poitevins, commanded the second; Vigenis of Leicester, Jonathal of Dorchester, and Carsalem of Caistor the third, and Urbgenius of Bath the fourth. To the rear of all these he made. choice of a position for himself and one legion that he designed to be his bodyguard, and here he set up the golden dragon he had for standard, whereunto, if need should be, the wounded and weary might repair as unto a camp. In that legion which was in attendance upon himself were six thousand six hundred and sixty-six men.
When all these dispositions were made, Arthur spake unto his fellow-soldiers on this wise:—
‘Lieges mine, ye that have made Britain Lady of thirty realms, I do bid ye joy of your prowess, that meseemeth hath in nowise failed ye, but rather hath waxed the stronger albeit that for five years no occasion have ye had to put it to the proof; and hitherto have given more thought unto the disports of an easy life than unto the practice of arms. Natheless, in no wise have ye degenerated from the inborn valour of your race, but staunch as ever, have scattered in flight before ye these Romans that pricked by the spur of their own pride would fain curtail ye of your freedom. Already, marching with a host larger than your own, have they ventured to begin the attack, and failing to withstand your advance, have taken refuge with shame in yonder city. At this moment they are ready to issue forth from thence upon their march towards Autun. Through this valley must they pass, and here falling upon them when they least expect it, may you meet and slaughter them like sheep. Surely they deemed that the cowardize of the nations of the East was in ye when they were minded to make your country tributary and yourselves bond-slaves! What! have they heard not of the battles ye fought with the Danskers and Norwegians and the Dukes of the Gauls, when ye delivered them from their shameful yoke and gave them into my allegiance? We, therefore, that were strong enow to subdue the mightier, shall doubtless prove stronger yet against this feebler foe, so we only take the same pains in the same spirit to crush these emasculate cravens. Only obey my will and command as loyal comrades of mine own, and what honours, what treasures await each one of ye! For so soon as we have put these to the rout, forthwith we start for Rome. For us to march upon Rome is to take it and possess. Yours shall be the gold and silver, the palaces and castles, the towns and cities and all the riches of the vanquished!’
Whilst he yet spake thus all unite in a mighty cheer, ready to meet death rather than flee from the field leaving him there alive.
Now Lucius Hiberius, who had been warned of their design and the trap that was laid for him, was not minded to flee as he had at first proposed, but plucking up his courage to march to the valley and meet them. With this design he called his Dukes together and spake unto them thus:—
‘Venerable Fathers, unto whose empire the realms of the East and of the West do owe their allegiance, call ye now your fathers unto remembrance, how they shrank not from shedding their blood to vanquish the enemies of the Commonweal, but leaving unto their children an ensample of prowess and knightly hardihood, did so bear them in the field as though God had decreed that none of them should die in battle. Wherefore full oft did they achieve the triumph, I and in the triumph avoidance of death, for that unto none might aught else befall than was ordained by the providence of God. Hence sprang the increase of the Commonweal; hence the increase of their own prowess; hence, moreover, came it that the uprightness, the honour and the bounty that are wont to be in them of gentle blood, ever flourishing amongst them from age to age, have exalted them and their descendants unto the dominion of the whole world. This is the spirit I would fain arouse within ye. I do appeal unto ye that ye be mindful of your ancient valour, and be staunch thereunto. Let us seek out our foemen in the valley wherein they now lurk in ambush for us, and fight to win from them that which is our own of right! Nor deem ye that I have made repair unto this city for refuge as though I would shrink from them or their invasions. On the contrary, I reckoned upon their foolishly pursuing us, and believed that we might surprise them by suddenly falling upon them when they were scattered in pursuit so as to put them to the rout with a decisive slaughter. But now that they have done otherwise than we expected, let us also do otherwise. Let us seek them out and fall upon them hardily, or, if so be that they are strong enow to fall upon us first, let us stand our ground with one accord and abide their first onset. On this wise, without doubt, we shall win the day, for in most battles he that hath been able to withstand the first charge hath most often come off the conqueror.’
So when he had made an end of speaking thus, with much more to the same effect, all with one assent agreeing and pledging them by oath with joining of hands, they all hastened to do on their armour, and when they were armed at last, sally forth from Langres and march to the valley where Arthur had stationed his men. They, likewise, had marshalled their men in twelve wedge-shaped battalions, all infantry, and formed, Roman fashion, in the shape of a wedge, so that when the army was in full array each division contained six thousand six hundred and sixty-six soldiers. Unto each, moreover, they appointed captains to give orders when to advance and when to stand their ground against the enemy’s onset. Unto one they appointed Lucius Catellus, the senator, and Alifantinas, King of Spain, commanders. Unto the second, Hirtacius, King of the Parthians, and Marius Lepidus, the senator; unto the third, Bocchus, King of the Medes, and Caius Metellus, the senator; unto the fourth, Sertorius, King of Libya, and Quintus Milvius, senator. These four divisions were placed in the vanguard of the army. In their rear came another four, whereof one was under the command of Serses, King of the Ituraeans; the second under Pandrasus, King of Egypt; the third under Polytetes, Duke of Bithynia; the fourth under Teucer, Duke of Phrygia. Behind these again were other four battalions, one captained by Quintus Carutius, senator; the second by Lælius of Hostia; the third by Sulpicius Subuculus; the fourth by Mauricius Silvanus. Lucius himself was moving hither and thither amongst them giving orders and instructions how they should behave them. In their midst he bade set up firmly the golden eagle that he had brought with him for standard, and warned the men that should any by misadventure be separated from the ranks, he should endeavour to return thereunto.
After that they were arrayed the one against the other, Britons on this side and Romans on that, javelins upright, forthwith upon hearing the blare of the trumpets the battalion under the command of the King of Spain and Lucius Catellus fell hardily upon the division led by the King of Scotland and the Duke of Cornwall, but could in no wise make any breach in the close ranks of them that opposed them. And whilst they were still struggling most fiercely to make head against them, up came the division captained by Guerin and Boso, who, spurring their horses to a gallop, charged against the assailants, and breaking right through and beyond them came face to face with the battalion that the; the King of the Parthians was leading against Anschil, King of the Danes. Straight, the battalions fling them the one upon another, burst through each other’s ranks and batter together in a general melly. Pitiable is the slaughter wrought betwixt them amidst the din as one after another droppeth on both sides, beating the ground with head or heels and retching forth his life with his blood. But the first grave disaster fell upon the Britons, for Bedevere the Butler was slain and Kay the Seneschal wounded unto the death. For Bedevere, when he met Bocchus, King of the Medes, fell dead, smitten through by his spear amidst the ranks of the enemy, and Kay the Seneschal, in attempting to avenge him, was surrounded by the Median troops and received a deadly hurt. Natheless, after the wont of good knight, opening a way with the wing that he led, he slew and scattered the Medes, and would have brought off his company unharmed and returned with them to their own ranks had he not been met by the division of the King of Libya, the assault whereof dispersed all his men. Natheless, still retreating, albeit with but four of his followers, he made shift to flee unto the Golden Dragon, bearing with him the corpse of Bedevere. Alas! what lamentation was there amongst the Neustrians when they beheld the body of their Duke rent by so many wounds! Alas, what wailing was there amongst the Angevins when they searched with all the arts of leechcraft the wounds of Kay their earl! But no time was that for sorrowing when the blood-bespattered ranks rushing one upon another scarce allowed space for a sigh ere they were forced to turn to defend their own lives. And now Hireglas, the nephew of Bedevere, wroth beyond measure at his death, took with him a company of three hundred men of his own, and like a wild boar amidst a pack of hounds dashed with a sudden gallop of their steeds right through the ranks of the enemy towards the place where he had espied the standard of the King of the Medes, little reckoning of aught that might befall himself so only he might avenge his uncle. Gaining the place he desired, he slew the King and carried him off to his comrades, and laying the corpse by the side of that of the Butler, hewed it utterly to pieces. Then, with a mighty shout cheering on the troops of his fellow-countrymen, he called upon them to fall upon the enemy and harass them with charge after charge now, whilst their courage was still hot, whilst the hearts of their foes were still quaking with terror; whilst they had the advantage in bearing down upon them hand to hand through their companies being more skilfully ordered than those of the enemy, and being thus able to renew the attack more often and to inflict a deadlier damage. Thus cheered by his counsel, they made a general charge upon the enemy from every quarter, and the slaughter on both sides waxed exceeding heavy. For on the side of the Romans, besides numberless others, fell Alifantinas, King of Spain, and Micipsa of Babylon, as well as the senators Quintus Milvius and Marius Lepidus. On the side of the Britons fell Holdin, King of the Ruteni, and Leodegar of Boulogne, besides three Earls of Britain, Carsalem of Caistor, Galluc of Salisbury, and Urbgen of Bath. The troops they led thus, sore enfeebled, retreated until they came upon the battalion of the Armorican Britons commanded by Hoel and Gawain. But the Armoricans thereupon, like a fire bursting into a blaze, made a charge upon the enemy, and rallying them that had retreated, soon compelled those that but just before had been the pursuers to flee in their turn, and ever followed them up, slaying some and stretching others on the ground, nor ceased from their slaughter until they reached the bodyguard of the Emperor, who, when he saw the disaster that had overtaken his comrades, had hastened to bring them succour.
In the first onset the Britons suffered great loss. For Kinmarcoch, Earl of Treguier, fell, and with him two thousand men. Fell also three barons of renown, Richomarch, Bloccovius, and Lagivius of Bodlaon, who, had they been princes of kingdoms, would have been celebrated by fame to all after-ages for the passing great prowess that was in them. For when they were charging along with Hoel and Gawain, as hath been said, not an enemy escaped that came within their reach, but either with sword or with spear they sent the life out of him. But when they fell in with the bodyguard of Lucius, they were surrounded on all sides by the Romans, and fell along with Kinmarcoch and his followers. But Hoel and Gawain, than whom have no better knights been born in later ages, were only spurred to keener endeavour by the death of their comrades, and rode hither and thither, one in one direction and the other in another searching the companies of the Emperor’s guards for occasion to do them a hurt. And now Gawain, still glowing with the fire kindled by his former exploits, endeavoured to cleave an opening, whereby he might come at the Emperor himself and forgather with him. Like a right hardy knight as he was, he made a dash upon the enemy, bearing some to the ground and slaying them in the fall, while Hoel, in no wise less hardy than he, fell like a thunderbolt upon another company, cheering on his men, and smiting the enemy undaunted by their blows, not a moment passing but either he struck or was stricken. None that beheld them could have said which of the twain was the doughtier knight or quitted him better that day.
Howbeit, Gawain thus dashing amidst the companies, found at last the opening he longed for, and rushing upon the Emperor forgathered with him man to man. Lucius, then in the flower and prime of youth, had plenty of hardihood, plenty of strength and plenty of prowess, nor was there nought he did more desire than to encounter such a knight as would compel him to prove what he was worth in feats of arms. Wherefore, standing up to Gawain, he rejoiceth to begin the encounter and prideth him therein for that he hath heard such renown of him. Long while did the battle last betwixt them, and mighty were the blows they dealt one upon other or warded with the shields that covered them as each strove for vantage to strike the death-blow on the other. But whilst that they were thus in the very hottest of the fight, behold the Romans, suddenly recovering their vigour, make a charge upon the Armoricans and come to their Emperor’s rescue. Hoel and Gawain and their companies are driven off and sore cut up, until all of a sudden they came up over against Arthur and his company. For Arthur, hearing of the slaughter just inflicted upon his men, had hurried forward with his guard, and drawing forth Caliburn, best of swords, had cheered on his comrades, crying out in a loud voice and hot words: ‘What be ye men doing? Will ye let these womanish knaves slip forth of your hands unharmed? Let not a soul of them escape alive! Remember your own right hands that have fought in so many battles and subdued thirty realms to my dominion! Remember your grandsires whom the Romans stronger than themselves made tributaries! Remember your freedom that these half men feebler than yourselves would fain reave away from ye! Let not a single one escape alive—not a single one escape! What be ye doing?’ Shouting out these reproaches and many more besides, he dashed forward upon the enemy, flung them down, smote them—never a one did he meet but he slew either him or his horse at a single buffet. They fled from him like sheep from a fierce lion madly famishing to devour aught that chance may throw in his way. Nought might armour avail them but that Caliburn would carve their souls from out them with their blood. Two Kings, Sertorius of Libya, and Polytetes of Bithynia did their evil hap bring in front of him, whom he despatched to hell with their heads hewn off. And when the Britons beheld in what wise their King did battle, they took heart and hardihood again, and fell with one accord upon the Romans, pressing forward in close rank, so that whilst they afoot cut them down on this wise, they a-horseback did their best to fling them down and thrust them through. Natheless, the Romans made stout resistance, and, urged on by Lucius, strove hard to pay back the Britons for the slaughter inflicted on the guard of their renowned King. On both sides the battle rageth as though it had been but just begun. On this side, as hath been said, Arthur many a time and oft smiting the enemies, exhorted the Britons to stand firm; on the other, Lucius Hiberius exhorted his Romans, and gave them counsel, and led them in many a daring exploit of prowess. Nor did he himself cease to fight with his own hand, but going round from one to another amongst his companies slew every single enemy that chance threw in his way, either with his spear or his sword. Thus a most unconscionable slaughter took place on either side, for at one time the Britons and at another the Romans would have the upper hand. In the end, while the battle was still going on thus, to and behold, Morvid, Earl of Gloucester, with the legion which as I have said above was posted betwixt the hills, came up full speed and fell heavily on the enemy’s rear just at a moment they least expected it, broke through their lines, scattering them in all directions, with exceeding great slaughter. Many thousand Romans fell in this onslaught, and amongst them even the Emperor himself, slain in the midst of his companies by a spear-thrust from a hand unknown. And thus, ever following up their advantage, the Britons, albeit with sore travail, won the victory that day.
The Romans, thus scattered, betook them, some to the waste-lands and forests, some to the cities and towns, each fleeing to the refuge he deemed safest. The Britons pursue them, take them prisoner, plunder them, put them miserably to the sword, insomuch as that the more part of them stretch forth their hands womanish-wise to be bound so only they might have yet a little space longer to live. The which, verily, might seem to have been ordained by providence divine, seeing that whereas in days of yore the Romans had persecuted the grandsires of the Britons with their unjust oppressions, so now did the Britons in defence of the freedom whereof they would have bereft them, and refusing the tribute that they did unrighteously demand, take vengeance on the grandchildren of the Romans.
The victory complete, Arthur bade the bodies of his barons be separated from the carcasses of the enemy, and embalmed in kingly wise, and borne when enbalmed into the abbeys of the province. Bedevere the Butler was carried unto Bayeux, his own city that was builded by Bedevere the first, his great-grandfather, and loud was the lamentation that the Neustrians made over him. There, in a certain churchyard in the southern part of the city, was he worshipfully laid next the wall. But Kay, grievously wounded, was borne in a litter unto Chinon, a town he himself had builded, and dying a brief space after of the same wound, was buried, as became a Duke of Anjou, in a certain forest in a convent of brethren hermit that dwelt there no great way from the city. Holdin, likewise, Duke of the Ruteni, was borne into Flanders and buried in his own city of Terouanne. Howbeit, the rest of the earls and barons were carried, as Arthur had enjoined, unto the abbeys in the neighbourhood. Having pity, moreover, upon his enemies, he bade the folk of the country bury them. But the body of Lucius he bade bear unto the Senate with a message to say that none other tribute was due from Britain. Then he abode in those parts until after the following winter, and busied him with bringing the cities of the Allobroges into his allegiance. But the summer coming on, at which time he designed to march unto Rome, he had begun to climb the passes of the mountains, when message was brought him that his nephew Mordred, unto whom he had committed the charge of Britain, had tyrannously and traitorously set the crown of the kingdom upon his own head, and had linked him in unhallowed union with Guenevere the Queen in despite of her former marriage.