Enveloped in the mists of the forgotten
past are the legends/history of the
fabled King Arthur and the Knights of
the Round Table. How much is factual
and how much myth we may never know for sure.
But that doesn't take away from the magic of Authurian Legends.
The Rise and Fall of
The Birth of Arthur:
Uther Pendragon (pendragon=Chief of Warriors, in Welsh) ruled most of Britain, a country torn apart by internal wars among the many rulers of petty fiefdoms and besieged from without by Saxon enemies. Uther lusted after Igraine, wife of the Duke of Gorlois, an underling of the king, who wisely kept his wife in a castle far from Uther. But the king would not be denied his lust and so he turned to Merlin the Enchanter, a magician born of a mortal women and a male member of an ancient faerie race. Merlin struck a bargain with the king and when the Duke was away fighting in one of those many internal wars, changed Uther's appearance so that he took the form and figure of the Duke. Under this guise Uther visited Igraine and had his way with her. The baby conceived that night was Arthur. Arthur's Ascent to the Throne:
The promise Merlin had extracted from Uther, before he practiced the wizardry that allowed the king to possess Igraine, was that any child born of that union would be given to him. The king had agreed and so, even though Uther was able to make Igraine his Queen when the Duke was killed in battle, the baby was given over to the magician. Merlin spirited away the baby and placed him in the care of a lord named Ector, who raised Arthur as his son along with Kay, his true son. About two years after the birth of Arthur his real father, Uther, passed away. In the ensuing years, the under-kings and other assorted lords and petty rulers waged many battles and made many alliances, broken and remade time after time, as they tried to become the top dog, King of all Britain. When Arthur was about fifteen years old, Merlin sent messages to all concerned to come to London for the crowning of a king who would unite them and rule over them. All of them assembled armies and came as summoned. While these armies were traveling to London, Merlin practiced more of his magic. He caused to appear in the courtyard of an ancient chapel, a mystical stone that had buried to the hilt in it, a gleaming broadsword. On the stone, in letters that glowed from within, were these words: Whoso pulleth this sword from this stone is the rightfully born King of all England.
The leaders of all the contentious factions tried vainly to wrest the sword from the stone. They all failed. Ector, Kay and Arthur arrived from Wales and camped in the field outside of London with the others, and then rode into London. Kay and Ector became embroiled in an argument when they realized Kay had come into town without his sword. To neutralize the bitter argument, Arthur volunteered to go get Kay's sword. On his way back to camp Arthur passed the chapel and saw the sword protruding from the stone. He dismounted, pulled the sword free, and returned to the quarreling pair where he handed the sword to Kay. When Ector heard Arthur's story about retrieving the sword from the stone, he prevailed in his insistence that they return to the courtyard where he replaced the sword from whence it came. Ector then tried to remove it , but to no avail. Kay then tried, again without success. Arthur then took his turn and withdrew the sword with ease. And that is how Arthur became King of all Britain. (This, of course, was followed by many battles with those who would not accept the verdict of the stone.)
Arthur Gets to Know His Sister:
Arthur's mother, Igraine, bore three daughters by her husband, Gorlois. Before Arthur's birth and her marriage to his father, Uther, Igraine had married off her daughters to three kings of outlying fiefdoms. Morgause, the eldest of the three, was married to King Lot of Lothian and Orkney, who was arch-enemy of the king. Due to the circumstances of his birth and subsequent raising by Ector, as told above, Arthur was unaware that he had three half-sisters tied to him by blood through his mother. In a time after his ascent to the throne, Morgause, attended by her four sons and a small retinue of soldiers, arrived at Arthur's castle carrying a flag of truce. When granted audience with the king, Morgause begged forgiveness for her husband's rebellion and promised future loyalty. She also asked the king to take her sons, Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris and Gareth, under his protection and to train them for knighthood. Arthur granted her request with the kiss of peace upon her brow. At the kiss there passed between them an unspoken understanding. She was offering herself to him. Arthur took her for his mistress that evening and for the following month. During that time Arthur was haunted by evil dreams each night as they slept side by side. She seemed to thrive and glow healthily during this period while Arthur grew pale and shrunken. Kay, who had become Arthur's right-hand man, noticed what was going on and sent for Merlin. On his arrival he was told by Arthur of the evil dreams. Arthur asked for an interpretation. Merlin told Arthur the awful truth, that the woman he was bedding was his half-sister, daughter of his mother by Gorlois, and that the son she was now bearing within her from their liaison was fated to destroy Arthur and all his knights. Arthur immediately sent his soldiers to slay Morgause, but she, her sons and their retinue had disappeared.
Later in the year Merlin told Arthur that he had received a sign that the son born to Morgause had been birthed on May 1st. Arthur sent his men throughout the kingdom collecting all male babies born on May 1st. When at last they had all been brought before him, he consulted Merlin again, but the magician was unable to discern which baby was the threat to him. So the king had all the babies stripped naked and placed in a boat which, under full sail, was shoved into the raging sea during a storm. Unfortunately for Arthur, one child survived that ordeal and was cast ashore where he was found by a peasant. The surviving baby was the bastard child of Arthur and his half-sister Morgause.
Arthur Meets Guinevere:
Arthur was in his castle, Bedegraine, when messengers from his ally, King Leodegran, arrived bringing urgent news that their kingdom was besieged by enemies who were trying to conquer them. Despite being warned by Merlin of possible dire consequences, Arthur decided to lead his army to the defense of his friend. Using the elf-made sword Caliburn given to him by the Lady-of-the-Lake, Arthur slew many of the enemy in his victorious battle against Leodegran's foes. In the traditional feast after a successful battle, Arthur was served by a beautiful and modest young lady, who he found out was Leodegran's daughter, Guinevere. There were no words exchanged between server and guest as was the custom. As he left to go to his own castle, Arthur felt eyes upon him, and turning in his saddle saw Guinevere at a castle window. He waved as he left, noting to himself that he would return another day to properly meet this young lady. Morgan, Another Sister:
Morgan was the youngest of the three half-sisters linked to Arthur by having the same mother, and was probably the most powerful of all of them. Morgause you read about above. Elaine, the middle sister, disappears from the legends after her marriage to the king of Garlot. Morgan, concealing her hatred of Arthur, became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Guinevere. She, her husband Urien (King of Gorre) and their son Yvain lived in Arthur's castle. Morgan was also known as le Fay, the fairy, because of her magical powers. Although a member of the court, Morgan was aloof and stand-offish, and never became a member of the social circle surrounding the Queen. She was, though, very friendly with a group of the younger knights of the court, joining in many liaisons that were soon noticed by others of the company. One afternoon Guinevere caught Morgan and a young knight named Guiomar, a cousin to the Queen, in a compromising situation. She reported the incident to King Arthur, who sent Guiomar to a distant fortress as punishment. Arthur did nothing to Morgan out of respect for her husband Urien. Morgan's hatred toward Arthur was not mollified by this generosity, and soon she acquired another lover, a man named Accolon of Gaul. When she had Accolon completely under her power, she made her move against the king. One day Arthur, out hunting with a group from the castle, became separated from the party and soon found himself alone in a forested glade beside a river. In the water was a small ship, seemingly made of crystal with sails of silk. Arthur, ever the adventurous one, boarded the boat which immediately moved silently and speedily downriver. The journey was long and Arthur fell asleep. When he awoke he was in a dark, cold prison with a multitude of shackled men. He soon discovered in conversation that some had been imprisoned for as long as twenty years because they had refused to fight for a lord named Damas in a feud with his brother over their inheritance. Very soon after, a woman claiming to be a daughter of Damas entered the cell and relayed a message to Arthur that her father wanted him to champion his cause against the brother. Arthur agreed providing the lord would free the other men before the battle. This was done. The woman returned with a shield and armor, and with Caliburn in its jeweled scabbard, which she gave to Arthur. Arthur asked how she had come into possession of his sword and she replied it had been sent to them by his sister Morgan le Fay. She then led him to a hall where his opponent waited for the battle. When Arthur drew his sword it seemed unaccountably heavy in his hands, but still he did not realize the treachery that had been perpetrated upon him. The battle began. Arthur could not get his sword past the other's shield, while time and again, the other man's gleaming sword sliced through Arthur's armor and inflicted wound upon wound to the king. Finally, weary and weak from loss of blood, Arthur sank to his knees awaiting the death blow. The man raised his sword for the final blow, but it flew from his hand into a corner of the room. In the doorway to the hall stood a tall woman of the Faerie race, who cried out that the sword was Caliburn and while Arthur was alive no other man might use it. Arthur retrieved the sword which felt alive in his hand and slew his opponent with one terrible stroke. With the helmet removed from the body it was revealed that the man was Accolon and then did Arthur realize the fullness of Morgan's betrayal.
Arthur Meets Lancelot:
Lancelot du Lac was the son of the ally of King Arthur's youth, Ban of Benwic. He was named Galahad at birth! The story of his early years is strange enough to be the subject of a separate book. Suffice it to say that when he was an infant his father suffered a treacherous uprising and died watching his castle, and his family within, being consumed by fire. But the child was spirited away by the old ones before the flames reached him. They gave him to the faerie woman who ruled a kingdom hidden from view of humans to whom it looked like a vast, deep lake (du Lac = of the lake). Here he was called the Fair Foundling, for the old ones had taken away his name of Galahad. From the very beginning the Lady of the Lake, as the faerie ruler was known, had the youth trained in the arts of war. Soon he became reknown throughout that hidden kingdom. When he reached 18 years of age, he was brought by the faerie queen to the land outside her realm. Here, on a road in a forested area, he met Arthur and Gawain who had been hunting. The Lady of the Lake bade Arthur take the youth, whom she called Lancelot, under his stewardship and to knight him at Midsummer. Arthur and Gawain exchanged glances, and at Gawain's nod, Arthur accepted. It happened as promised, and Lancelot was knighted at Midsummer, with Queen Guinevere having the honor of buckling his sword on him. Lancelot trembled at her touch, but he was a young man unused to women, and those who noticed were charmed at his innocence. As was the custom, Lancelot asked if he might serve as the Queen's own knight, to defend her and accept whatever prizes he was accorded in her honor. As he made his request, he raised his head to receive the Queen's assent. That is when it happened. Queen and knight gazed upon each other, eye locked onto eye as if they could see each other's souls. This was for just a fraction of an instant, but in such a time had Uther Pendragon seen Igraine of Cornwall, in such a time had Arthur been caught by Morgause his sister. Lancelot, when granted his wish by Guinevere, left the castle in unseemly haste, and traveled far and wide, battling monsters, rescuing other knights and doing those deeds of valor that all good knights did. He was gone for years. During that time he found out his true parentage, and learned he was son to King Ban, and of royal blood. When he returned it was obvious to him and to the Queen that the attraction between them still existed, but both being honorable people nothing came of it for many years. Eventually, though, they did become lovers, and for many more years kept their affair secret. It came out in the open when Morgan le Fay, still using her magical powers and through them discerning the affair, sent a messenger to Arthur's court with the news of the liaison, and Lancelot's ring as proof that he himself had confessed to the relationship. Lancelot was not at court but Guinevere was, and though she denied she had been unfaithful, and Arthur said he believed her, the seeds of doubt had been planted. Gawain, with Yvain and Lionel, searched many months for Lancelot who was nowhere to be found. Eventually, a pale and weakened Lancelot returned to the court with a tale of being imprisoned by Morgan, drugged in his cell and the ring stolen from his finger. More years passed, in tranquility, though Guinevere and Lancelot were still secret lovers during that time. Then occured the matter of the missing Holy Grail from a cursed kingdom in the north, the rescuing of which only a knight of the purest morals and highest ethics would be able to accomplish. Many knights tried and failed to locate and return the Holy Grail. Lancelot was amongst those that failed, and he knew it was because of the shameful behavior with Guinevere. In his attempt to retake the Holy Grail and remove the curse from the foreign kindom, Lancelot fathered a child with that king's daughter. That child was given the name Galahad. This time in the legends is the time marking the beginning of the end of Arthur's rule, an end that would be brought about by Mordred, the son of Arthur and his sister Morgause. (Note: In some variations of the legends, Mordred is Arthur's nephew.)