Chapter 22:

How King Avrian asked King Arthur to give him his sister Morgaina to wife, and Arthur gave her by the advice of the lettered men of his court

The day that Arthur returned with the sword of the lake, Avrian asked for Morgaina, Arthur's sister, to wife. King Arthur answered him that he would take counsel on the matter, and then had all his learned men and the grandees of his court called, and had them assemble in a room, in which there was a sculptured image that had this virtue: that if they entered the room in some cases of importance, and God permitted it to do so, it would stretch out its arm in a sign of what God wanted them to do, and once they saw this, what they entered to accomplish was then agreed upon; and so that marriage was agreed upon, since Arthur then gave her very willingly, saying to himself that she could not marry a better man in his kingdom, and gave her a castle whose name was Taruque, which was near the sea, and was the strongest man had ever seen. And King Avrian of Garlote had a marvelously great wedding, and he was very happy to be married so sumptuously; and the first night he slept with her, he begot a son whose name was Yvan. And the festival lasted fifteen days, and when it was over, King Arthur left the wedding and went to Carlion. And one day while he was eating, a knight who was very well arrayed came to him, and he was a stranger, and he said to him, "King Arthur, King Rion, Lord of Mortales, sends me to tell you that he has conquered twelve kings, and that all are at his service, and in remembrance of this victory he took the beard from each one and edged a mantle with them; but because he prizes you more than the others, he sends to say that you must go to him if you wish to hold land from him and do homage to him; but first send him your beard and he will have it put on the edges of his mantle, because he prizes you more than the others; and do what he tells you, for you cannot keep him from taking away your land in other guise, for you cannot endure long against his power."

And King Arthur began to laugh when he heard this, and said to him, "I am not the man your king sent you to, for I have never had a beard, since I am still a boy; and if I had one, I would not hide it from him, but give him my head first; and tell him for my part that if he enters my land he will never return to his own."

The knight said that he would tell his master so. The king spoke much of this and said that he had never heard a message with such arrogance in it, and said, "Does any one of you know this King Rion?"

A knight whose name was Narran said, "I knew him a long time ago, and believe, lord, that he is one of the best knights errant of the world in the deeds he attempts, for all praise his honor to the skies, and therefore I am afraid that you will bring an evil war upon yourself."

And the king said that he would not deny a war to whomever came to him to take his land. They spoke much about this business, and some said one thing, and some another.

The king said to Merlin one day, "Merlin, will the time you spoke of come soon, which will cause this kingdom to be destroyed?"

"Yes," said Merlin, "in the time I will tell you, a child will be born who will be the cause of the destruction of this kingdom. And he will be born very shortly, in the month of May which will soon come."

"Certes," said the king, "no child will be born that month in all the kingdom whom I will not take and put in a tower, and I will have them raised until I can take counsel on what you tell me."

Merlin said, "King, you try this in vain, for know that the evil will not fail to occur, but will happen as I told you."

The king said that he would still try. And so the king took thought, and then asked that however many baby boys were born from that day on should all be taken, and so it was done, for all thought it was for a good cause, not for what Merlin had said was to happen to the land because of the boy who was born in that time. And so many were taken before Mordred was born, so that fifteen hundred baby boys were put in a tower, and they were younger than three weeks old.

King Lot, who knew that his wife was pregnant, and that she was about to have his child, asked the king many times what he was going to do with those children, and the king hid it from him very well. And when King Lot found out that his wife had had a son, he had him baptized, for all had done so before sending their sons, and his baptismal name was Mordred. And King Lot said, "Let us send our son to the king your brother, for all are doing so."

And she said, "Lord, it pleases me, since it pleases you, even though it grieves me infinitely to have him parted from me."

And the king had the boy put in a very rich and lovely crib covered with rich cloths, and when the mother put her son in the crib, the child hurt himself on a pole of the covering, so that he had a wound on his forehead which always showed later.

And the king thought a great deal about the wound, but he did not want not to send him because of it, and then he put him in a ship with a great company of knights and ladies, and commanded them to carry him and give him to his uncle, and they said that they would do so if God brought them to port.

Then they left the city of Orkney, and the wind was so prosperous that, when their anchors were raised and their sails set, in a little time they could not see land. And they had good weather that day and that night, and in the morning the weather changed and a great tempest blew up so that all felt terror of death, and called upon God and the saints to succor them and have pity on them and on that child still so tiny. But the wind was so powerful that the ship crashed into a cliff and broke up completely, save for Mordred alone, who lay in the crib, and the crib floated close to shore. Then a fisherman came with his boat who wanted to fish, for the wind was mild, and he found the crib and the baby and was very happy with them and took them into his boat. When he saw the child so richly adorned and arrayed, who floated wrapped in cloth of silk and other rich things, he then understood that the child was of great birth, and he was happier than before, and he took the crib with the child, and returned to the village where he dwelt and went to an out-of-the-way place to take him out of the crib, so that none would know of it, and took him to his house and showed him to his wife.

"Certes," she said, "God has chosen to do us good, for we can live off the rich crib for twenty years, and God did this because He knew we needed it, and now we will have no more troubles."

"Lady," said the fisherman, "we must raise this child as best we can, and if God wills that someone find out whence he comes, much good could come to us of it."

"I would do something else," she said. "It cannot be that this child will not soon be found; let us carry him to the lord of this land just as we found him; for if he finds out afterwards that we found him and did not take him there, he will kill us."

The fisherman said, "God help me, that is the best counsel."

Then they carried the child to the lord of the land, whose name was Nabor el Derranchador, and he had a little son five years old whose name was Sagramor. And this Sagramor was later a knight of the Round Table, and a marvelous knight who did many good chivalrous deeds, and he was a friend of Tristan the good knight, and he was called Sagramor el Derranchador, just as the book of the Holy Grail recounts it. And the baby Sagramor was very happy when he saw the other baby, and he seemed to Nabor to be of good birth because of the rich adornments he saw, and Nabor gave a great gift to the fisherman who brought him, so that he thought himself well paid, and had the child raised as one with his own son. And he said that if God allowed them to arrive at the age of knighthood, he would make both of them knights. And so Mordred escaped peril, and all the others who came with him were lost, since that was their fate. And Duke Nabor had the child healed of the wound that he had on his face, and he found a writing in the crib which had the name Mordred, but found no other which should tell of his life.

In this interval King Arthur had all the baby boys assembled in the tower, those who were born in Londres, as will be told henceforth, and when the time passed which Merlin had said, the king thought that he would kill them, for he believed that he from whom the great ill was to come was in that company. And one night, as the king lay thinking this, he fell asleep, and it seemed to him that a man came to him, the greatest he had ever seen, and that he brought four beasts with him, but he could not decide what sort of beasts they were, and the man said to the king, "Why do you prepare to do such great evil, and kill these sacred children, who have never sinned, and are still clean of all the evils of the world? It would have been better if the Lord of Heaven and Earth had never given you this land He gave you. And He put you there as a shepherd for these his sheep, and you are become a wolf. And what wrong did these children do to you that you want to kill them? Certes, if you do it, God will take such vengeance upon you that it will be spoken of forever."And the king looked at the good man and marveled at what he said. And he began to think and the good man said to him, "I will tell you what to do, and you will think yourself well repaid. Have them put in a boat without oars, guidance, or shipmaster, and have the sail set, and then let them go on the sea wherever the wind shall take them, and if they escape that peril, God will demonstrate that He loves them and does not wish their deaths. And this ought to please you, if you are not the worst and most disloyal king who ever was in this land."

And the king said, "Marvelous vengeance you show me, and I will do nothing else but what you say."

The good man said, "This is not vengeance you take, for they did not merit this at your hand nor any other; but this is so that you may fulfill your will, for you think that through this you will hinder the destruction of the kingdom of Londres, but you will not do so, for all will come to be just as the son of the devil told you."

Then the king awoke and it still seemed to him that the good man was before him, and when he saw that it had been a dream, he crossed himself and commended himself to God, and said that he would do what the good man had told him with the children. And that day the king had a great ship prepared and no one knew why, and as soon as it was night he commanded that the boys be put inside it and the sail be set on the ship, and the wind blew at its stern so that in a little while it brought the ship into the high seas, and so the boys were in peril of death; but this did not please God, for they did not merit death, and he brought the ship to port near a castle which was called Aemelui, and it was strong and well worked, and a king who had been pagan for a long time was its lord, and he needed only a little to turn Christian, and he loved our Lord greatly, and his name was Tanor, and his wife had borne him a son a short while past. But afterwards this name was changed in the house of King Arthur, and he was afterwards a good and very hardy knight; but, because he was black like his father, all called him the Ugly Hardy Knight. And he is often spoken of in the Quest of the Holy Grail.

And when the boat came to port on the shore near the castle I told you of, the king was outside with a great company of knights and other people, and it chanced that he passed by the port, and when he saw the ship he commanded that people go to it and enter it and see what sailed in it. And many went out there and came back with news, and they said that there were many children inside, and the king sent men to hold the ship and entered it; and when he saw so many children, he marveled and crossed himself and said, "Lord God, who could have assembled so many children? I would have believed that all the world did not hold this many children."

"I will tell you," said a knight who was there, "what this is about. The other day it happened that by chance I went to the kingdom of Londres, and saw that King Arthur had all the children of the kingdom assembled as soon as they were born, and had them guarded in his towers, and no one knew why he did it, and now I believe that he had them put in the sea because of some evil that is to come of them. And since the noblemen did not consent that he kill the children in front of them, they wanted him to throw them into the sea at their peril, and anyone can see that if he had loved his life as much as his death, he would not have put them in the ship without captain and without guidance."

The king said, "In good faith, it seems to me that this ought to be true, and let us consider what we will do with these children, for since God has sent them to us, he wants them to be in a place where few will know of them; for King Arthur wanted them dead, and if he knew I had them he would cease to love me, and I do not want his hatred, for evil would come to me and all my land because of it."

One of his knights, when he heard this, said, "Lord king, if it please you, put good men in this ship who will take the children to one of your secluded islands, and there they will be well hidden, and King Arthur will never find hide nor hair of them."

And when the king heard this, he thought a little about what the knight said. And the king did everything just as the knight had said, and had them taken to an island, and had a very good and strong castle build there, so beautiful that no man had seen better, in which he put the children and gave them all they needed, so that they lacked for nothing. And after the castle was built, it was given the name Castle of the Exiled, so that it never lost that name afterwards.

When the noblemen of the kingdom of Londres found out that the king had sent the children away, they felt great grief that they could not have done better for him, and they came to Merlin because they knew that he loved the king and they said to him, "Merlin, what shall we do? For the king has done us a deed of such great hatred as no man has ever done."

"Ah, lords," said Merlin, "in God's name do not become so angry, for this he does, he does for the good of his kingdom, for truly in this kingdom we are in, a child was born by whose deeds the kingdom of Londres will be destroyed and all its good men killed, and so this land will be without good knights, and because the king did not want this to happen to him nor to you, he did this to the children."

When the noblemen heard this, they said to Merlin, "Is it true that he did it for that reason?"

"So it is, as God may save me," said Merlin. "And I tell you truly yet more about the children, that all of them are alive and well, for our Lord did not want them to be lost in the sea, and before they are ten years old you will see them with you well and happy."

And when they heard this, they were very pleased, for they believed whatever Merlin told them, and they held the king acquitted of what he had done.

So Merlin made peace between the king and his noblemen. And if he had not brought a peaceful end to all that was said, great ill might have come to the land.

One day the king was eating at his table, and the knights were talking at the table. An armed knight entered the door wounded with three lance strokes, and another knight and a damsel came with him, and they came before the king, so that he might undo a grievance which the damsel and the knight with whom he had jousted had done him, since they did not want to fight with swords, and the king was the judge of the land. This knight was a good knight and a great swordsman, and they had come to lance blows over the damsel, so that the swordsman was wounded, and the other did not want to fight him with swords for fear he would be killed. And this wounded knight was a poor man, and had heard it said that the king had a custom that he commanded any knights who came before him to fight with him armed, although the king never commanded anything of the sort from his knights; and the wounded knight felt great grief at discovering this, and he supplicated the king to command the other knight to fight him with swords, since he usually commanded other knights to do so. The king denied it. The knight who had wounded the other, seeing that the king had decided he could go, left him and his company, and when the poor knight saw that he left thus, went out from among the other knights grieved that the king had not commanded him to prove himself with the sword, as he usually commanded others, and he said to the damsel, "In courtesy, wait for me a little until I have been proved with the sword, as is right."

And she, when she heard this, could not stop herself from saying to him, "Certes, knight, I hold your testing light, for I cannot believe so easily that you are such a knight that it will benefit you at all."

He said, "Damsel, do not disdain me for my poverty, for I was once poorer than I am now, and there is no knight in this court to whom I would yield my shield."

Then he took hold of the sword belt she wore and untied the knots completely, and took the sword and said to the damsel, "Now you may go when you please; but the battle of the sword remains to me, for it seems to me that I won it."

And the damsel said, "Lord God, I give You thanks that You freed me from death, and this knight has earned honor today, for by this deed it should be thought that he is the best knight in this court; but, if God freed me, it was on condition that the sword should vanquish all; therefore I beg you to give it to me as you are a courteous knight."

And the knight said that he would not give it back, even if he knew that all those in the court would take him for a villainous man. And she told him, "I tell you that if you take it, evil will come to you from it, and certes, the first person you kill with it will be the man in the world that you love best and that will be your brother Balan."

He said that, all things considered, he would bear the sword, even if he knew he would die for it.

And she said, "Let it be as you please, then, but believe that before two months are over you will do evil with it. And I will still tell you of another marvel which will happen as I shall tell you: that before this year passes, you will fight a knight and he will kill you with this same sword, and you him. And because I did not want such a great mischance to come to a knight as good as you, I wanted to take the sword back, for if the sword was in a place where the knight could not have it, you would not die by a weapon. And now take it, since it pleases you, and know for certain that you bear your death."

He said that he still would not leave it even if it carried his death with it. Then he said to a squire, "Go quickly and bring me my arms and my horse, for I am he who will never more come to this court, for they have shown me that poverty makes them think little of every man."

So the squire left the palace, and went to the lodgings to do his lord's command. And the king, who saw this, felt great shame at the words he had heard the knight say, and came to him and said to him, "Ah, knight, in God's name do not let it grieve you that he was villainous toward you, and I want to make amends at your will, and this was because I did not know you; but I beg you to stay, and I promise you that you will never be poor, and that you could not demand anything in my power that I would not give you, if you would be ruled by me."

The knight said that he would not stay that time, no matter how the king begged or what he said. And the king said that that grieved him greatly, for he had not in a long time seen a knight he had liked so much and wanted in his company so badly.

Everyone spoke much of that knight, and there were some who said that he knew some enchantment and he was more haughty than the goodness in him merited. And while they talked thus, a damsel came there on a palfrey, and she entered before the king and said to him, "King, you must grant me a boon when I ask it of you."

And the king looked at her and saw that she was the damsel who had given him the sword of the lake, and he said to her, "Certes, damsel, it is true, and I will give it you if it is within my power. But, if it please you, tell me one thing I will ask you. What is the name of the sword you gave me?"

And she said, "Its name is Excalibur."

"So, ask then," said the king, "whatever pleases you."

And she said, "I ask you for the head of this knight who is leaving, or of the damsel who came with him. And do you know why I ask such a great boon of you? Because this knight killed my brother, a good knight, and this damsel had my father killed, and therefore I wish to avenge myself on him or on her."

And when the king heard this, he was very frightened and said, "Ah, damsel, in God's name I ask you to demand something else, for I could not give you such a boon without dishonor, for no man who found it out would not take it for a great evil and outrage to kill someone who had never done me harm."

And when the knight saw that the damsel asked for his head, he went to her and said to her, "Damsel, I have searched for you more than three years, and have never rested, for you killed my father with poison, and because I could not find you, I killed your brother; and since I find you here, I will not go further to look for you."

Then he drew the sword from its scabbard, and when she saw it, she wanted to flee the palace to escape. And the knight said to her, "You need not flee, for I will give the king your head in place of mine which you asked from him."

Then he gave her such a blow that he dashed her head to the earth, and he took it and said to the king, "Lord, know that this is the head of the most perfidious damsel who ever entered your court, and if she lived long with you, great harm would come to you from it. And I tell you that such great happiness will never be felt as will be in the kingdom of Urberlanda when they find out that this damsel is dead."

When the king heard this, he was very angry and said, "Knight, certes, you have done the worst villainy that I ever saw such a knight do as I thought you to be, since it is certain that no strange or familiar knight ever did me such dishonor, for no man could do greater dishonor than to kill a damsel before me or in my court. Although you have done evil, you do not merit receiving evil, since such is the custom of my court; and you were the first to break it through your arrogance, and I tell you that if you were my brother I would punish you criminally for it; and now go from my house and do not appear before me, for, certes, I will not be happy until this arrogance is avenged with all the rigor of justice."