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Chapter 18

CHAPTER XVIII.
MORTE D'ARTHUR.

"And now the whole ROUND TABLE is dissolved,
Which was an image of the mighty world,
And I, the last, go forth companionless;
And the days darken round me, and the years
Among new men, strange faces, other minds."- TENNYSON.

SIR MODRED was left ruler of all England, and he caused letters to
be written, as if from beyond sea, that King Arthur was slain in
battle. So he called a Parliament, and made himself be crowned king;
and he took the queen, Guenever, and said plainly that he would wed
her, but she escaped from him, and took refuge in the Tower of London.
And Sir Modred went and laid siege about the Tower of London, and made
great assaults thereat, but all might not avail him. Then came word to
Sir Modred that King Arthur had raised the siege of Sir Launcelot, and
was coming home. Then Sir Modred summoned all the barony of the
land; and much people drew unto Sir Modred, and said they would
abide with him for better and for worse; and he drew a great host to
Dover, for there he heard say that King Arthur would arrive.
And as Sir Modred was at Dover with his host, came King Arthur, with
a great number of ships and galleys, and there was Sir Modred awaiting
upon the landing. Then was there launching of great boats and small,
full of noble men of arms, and there was much slaughter, of gentle
knights on both parts. But King Arthur was so courageous, there
might no manner of knights prevent him to land, and his knights
fiercely followed him; and so they landed, and put Sir Modred aback so
that he fled, and all his people. And when the battle was done, King
Arthur commanded to bury his people that were dead. And then was noble
Sir Gawain found, in a great boat, lying more than half dead. And King
Arthur went to him, and made sorrow out of measure. "Mine uncle," said
Sir Gawain, "know thou well my death-day is come, and all is through
mine own hastiness and wilfulness, for I am smitten upon the old wound
which Sir Launcelot gave me, of the which I feel I must die. And had
Sir Launcelot been with you as of old, this war had never begun, and
of all this I am the cause." Then Sir Gawain prayed the king to send
for Sir Launcelot, and to cherish him above all other knights. And so,
at the hour of noon, Sir Gawain yielded up his spirit, and then the
king bade inter him in a chapel within Dover Castle; and there all men
may see the skull of him, and the same wound is seen that Sir
Launcelot gave him in battle.
Then was it told the king that Sir Modred had pitched his camp
upon Barrendown; and the king rode thither, and there was a great
battle betwixt them, and King Arthur's party stood best, and Sir
Modred and his party fled unto Canterbury.
And there was a day assigned betwixt King Arthur and Sir Modred that
they should meet upon a down beside Salisbury, and not far from the
seaside, to do battle yet again. And at night, as the king slept, he
dreamed a wonderful dream. It seemed him verily that there came Sir
Gawain unto him, with a number of fair ladies with him. And when
King Arthur saw him, he said, "Welcome, my sister's son; I weened thou
hadst been dead; and now I see thee alive, great is my joy. But, O
fair nephew, what be these ladies that hither be come with you?"
"Sir," said Sir Gawain, "all these be ladies for whom I have fought
when I was a living man; and because I did battle for them in
righteous quarrel, they have given me grace to bring me hither unto
you, to warn you of your death, if ye fight to-morrow with Sir Modred.
Therefore take ye treaty, and proffer you largely for a month's delay;
for within a month shall come Sir Launcelot and all his noble knights,
and rescue you worshipfully, and slay Sir Modred and all that hold
with him." And then Sir Gawain and all the ladies vanished. And anon
the king called to fetch his noble lords and wise bishops unto him.
And when they were come, the king told them his vision, and what Sir
Gawain had told him. Then the king sent Sir Lucan the butler, and
Sir Bedivere, with two bishops, and charged them in any wise to take a
treaty for a month and a day with Sir Modred. So they departed, and
came to Sir Modred; and so, at the last, Sir Modred was agreed to have
Cornwall and Kent, during Arthur's life, and all England after his
death.
Then was it agreed that King Arthur and Sir Modred should meet
betwixt both their hosts, and each of them should bring fourteen
persons, and then and there they should sign the treaty. And when King
Arthur and his knights were prepared to go forth, he warned all his
host, "If so be ye see any sword drawn, look ye come on fiercely,
and slay whomsoever withstandeth, for I in no wise trust that traitor,
Sir Modred." In likewise Sir Modred warned his host. So they met,
and were agreed and accorded thoroughly. And wine was brought, and
they drank. Right then came an adder out of a little heath-bush, and
stung a knight on the foot. And when the knight felt him sting, he
looked down and saw the adder, and then he drew his sword to slay
the adder, and thought of no other harm. And when the host on both
sides saw that sword drawn, they blew trumpets and horns, and
shouted greatly. And King Arthur took his horse, and rode to his
party, saying, "Alas, this unhappy day!" And Sir Modred did in like
wise. And never was there a more doleful battle in Christian land. And
ever King Arthur rode throughout the battle, and did full nobly, as
a worthy king should, and Sir Modred that day did his devoir, and
put himself in great peril. And thus they fought all the long day,
till the most of all the noble knights lay dead upon the ground.
Then the king looked about him, and saw of all his host were left
alive but two knights, Sir Lucan the butler, and Sir Bedivere his
brother, and they were full sore wounded.
Then King Arthur saw where Sir Modred leaned upon his sword among
a great heap of dead men. "Now give me my spear," said Arthur unto Sir
Lucan, "for yonder I espy the traitor that hath wrought all this woe."
"Sir, let him be," said Sir Lucan; "for if ye pass this unhappy day ye
shall be right well revenged upon him. Remember what the sprite of Sir
Gawain told you, and leave off now, for ye have won the field; and
if ye leave off now this evil day of destiny is past." "Betide me
life, betide me death," said King Arthur, "he shall not now escape
my hands." Then the king took his spear in both hands, and ran
toward Sir Modred, crying, "Traitor, now is thy death-day come." And
there King Arthur smote Sir Modred under the shield, with a thrust
of his spear through the body. And when Sir Modred felt that he had
his death-wound, with the might that he had he smote King Arthur, with
his sword holden in both his hands, on the side of the head, that
the sword pierced the helmet and the brain-pan; and then Sir Modred
fell stark dead upon the earth. And the noble Arthur fell in a swoon
to the earth. And Sir Lucan the butler and Sir Bedivere raised him up,
and gently led him betwixt them both to a little chapel not far from
the seaside. And when the king was there he thought him well eased.
Then heard they people cry in the field. And Sir Lucan went to see
what that cry betokened; and he saw by the moonlight that pillers* and
robbers were come to rob the dead. And he returned, and said to the
king, "By my rede, it is best that we bring you to some town." "I
would it were so," said the king. And when the king tried to go he
fainted. Then Sir Lucan took up the king on the one part, and Sir
Bedivere on the other part; and in the lifting Sir Lucan fell in a
swoon to the earth, for he was grievously wounded. And then the
noble knight's heart burst. And when the king awoke he beheld Sir
Lucan, how he lay foaming at the mouth, and speechless. "Alas!" said
the king, "this is to me a full heavy sight, to see this noble duke so
die for my sake; for he would have holpen me that had more need of
help than I, and he would not complain, his heart was so set to help
me." Then Sir Bedivere wept for his brother. "Leave this mourning
and weeping," said the king, "for wit thou well, if I might live
myself, the death of Sir Lucan would grieve me evermore; but my time
hieth fast. Therefore," said Arthur unto Sir Bedivere, "take thou
Excalibar, my good sword, and go with it to yonder waterside; and when
thou comest there I charge thee throw my sword in that water, and come
again and tell me what thou there seest." "My lord," said Sir
Bedivere, "your commandment shall be done." So Sir Bedivere
departed, and by the way he beheld that noble sword, that the pommel
and the haft were all of precious stones; and then he said to himself,
"If I throw this rich sword into the water no good shall come thereof,
but only harm and loss." And then Sir Bedivere hid Excalibar under a
tree. And so, as soon as he might, he came again unto the king.
"What sawest thou there?" said the king. "Sir," he said, "I saw
nothing." "Alas! thou hast deceived me," said the king. "Go thou
lightly again, and as thou love me, spare not to throw it in." Then
Sir Bedivere went again, and took the sword in his hand to throw it;
but again it beseemed him but sin and shame to throw away that noble
sword, and he hid it away again, and returned, and told the king he
had done his commandment. "What sawest thou there?" said the king.
"Sir," he said, "I saw nothing but waters deep and waves wan." "Ah,
traitor untrue!" said King Arthur, "now hast thou betrayed me twice.
And yet thou art named a noble knight, and hast been lief and dear
to me. But now go again, and do as I bid thee, for thy long tarrying
putteth me in jeopardy of my life." Then Sir Bedivere went to the
sword, and lightly took it up, and went to the waterside, and he bound
the girdle about the hilt, and then he threw the sword as far into the
water as he might. And there came an arm and a hand out of the water
and met it, and caught it, and shook it thrice and brandished it,
and then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water.

* Plunderers: the word is not now used.

Then Sir Bedivere came again to the king, and told him what he
saw. "Help me hence," said the king, "for I fear I have tarried too
long." Then Sir Bedivere took the king on his back, and so went with
him to that water-side; and when they came there, even fast by the
bank there rode a little barge with many fair ladies in it, and
among them was a queen; and all had black hoods, and they wept and
shrieked when they saw King Arthur.
"Now put me in the barge," said the king. And there received him
three queens with great mourning, and in one of their laps King Arthur
laid his head. And the queen said, "Ah, dear brother, why have ye
tarried so long? Alas! this wound on your head hath caught overmuch
cold." And then they rowed from the land, and Sir Bedivere beheld them
go from him. Then he cried: "Ah, my lord Arthur, will ye leave me here
alone among mine enemies?" "Comfort thyself," said the king, "for in
me is no further help; for I will to the Isle of Avalon, to heal me of
my grievous wound." And as soon as Sir Bedivere had lost sight of
the barge he wept and wailed; then he took the forest, and went all
that night, and in the morning he was ware of a chapel and a
hermitage.
Then went Sir Bedivere thither; and when he came into the chapel
he saw where lay an hermit on the ground, near a tomb that was newly
graven. "Sir," said Sir Bedivere, "what man is there buried that ye
pray so near unto?" "Fair son," said the hermit, "I know not verily.
But this night there came a number of ladies, and brought hither one
dead, and prayed me to bury him." "Alas!" said Sir Bedivere, "that was
my lord, King Arthur." Then Sir Bedivere swooned; and when he awoke he
prayed the hermit he might abide with him, to live with fasting and
prayers. "Ye are welcome," said the hermit. So there bode Sir Bedivere
with the hermit; and he put on poor clothes, and served the hermit
full lowly in fasting and in prayers.
Thus of Arthur I find never more written in books that he
authorized, nor more of the very certainty of his death; but thus
was he led away in a ship, wherein were three queens; the one was King
Arthur's sister, Queen Morgane le Fay; the other was Viviane, the Lady
of the Lake and the third was the queen of North Galis. And this
tale Sir Bedivere, knight of the Table Round, made to be written.
Yet some men say that King Arthur is not dead, but hid away into
another place, and men say that he shall come again and reign over
England. But many say that there is written on his tomb this verse:-

"Hic jacet Arthurus, Rex quondam, Rexque futurus."
Here Arthur lies, King once and King to be.

And when Queen Guenever understood that King Arthur was slain, and
all the noble knights with him, she stole away, and five ladies with
her; and so she went to Almesbury, and made herself a nun, and ware
white clothes and black, and took great penance as ever did sinful
lady, and lived in fasting, prayers, and alms-deeds. And there she was
abbess and ruler of the nuns. Now turn we from her, and speak of Sir
Launcelot of the Lake.
When Sir Launcelot heard in his country that Sir Modred was
crowned king of England and made war against his own uncle, King
Arthur, then was Sir Launcelot wroth out of measure, and said to his
kinsmen: "Alas, that double traitor, Sir Modred! now it repenteth me
that ever he escaped out of my hands." Then Sir Launcelot and his
fellows made ready in all haste, with ships and galleys, to pass
into England; and so he passed over till he came to Dover, and there
he landed with a great army. Then Sir Launcelot was told that King
Arthur was slain. "Alas!" said Sir Launcelot, "this is the heaviest
tidings that ever came to me." Then he called the kings, dukes,
barons, and knights, and said thus: "My fair lords, I thank you all
for coming into this country with me, but we came too late, and that
shall repent me while I live. But since it is so," said Sir Launcelot,
"I will myself ride and seek my lady, Queen Guenever, for I have heard
say she hath fled into the west; therefore ye shall abide me here
fifteen days, and if I come not within that time, then take your ships
and your host and depart into your country."
So Sir Launcelot departed and rode westerly, and there he sought
many days; and at last he came to a nunnery, and was seen of Queen
Guenever as he walked in the cloister; and when she saw him, she
swooned away. And when she might speak, she bade him to be called to
her. And when Sir Launcelot was brought to her, she said: "Sir
Launcelot, I require thee and beseech thee, for all the love that ever
was betwixt us, that thou never see me more, but return to thy kingdom
and take thee a wife, and live with her with joy and bliss; and pray
for me to my Lord, that I may get my soul's health." "Nay, madam,"
said Sir Launcelot, "wit you well that I shall never do; but the
same destiny that ye have taken you to will I take me unto, for to
please and serve God." And so they parted, with tears and much
lamentation; and the ladies bare the queen to her chamber, and Sir
Launcelot took his horse and rode away, weeping.
And at last Sir Launcelot was ware of a hermitage and a chapel,
and then he heard a little bell ring to mass; and thither he rode
and alighted, and tied his horse to the gate, and heard mass. And he
that sang the mass was the hermit with whom Sir Bedivere had taken
up his abode; and Sir Bedivere knew Sir Launcelot, and they spake
together after mass. But when Sir Bedivere had told his tale, Sir
Launcelot's heart almost burst for sorrow. Then he kneeled down, and
prayed the hermit to shrive him, and besought that he might be his
brother. Then the hermit said, "I will gladly"; and then he put a
habit upon Sir Launcelot, and there he served God day and night,
with prayers and fastings.
And the great host abode at Dover till the end of the fifteen days
set by Sir Launcelot, and then Sir Bohort made them to go home again
to their own country; and Sir Bohort, Sir Hector de Marys, Sir Blanor,
and many others, took on them to ride through all England to seek
Sir Launcelot. So Sir Bohort by fortune rode until he came to the same
chapel where Sir Launcelot was; and when he saw Sir Launcelot in
that manner of clothing, he prayed the hermit that he might be in that
same. And so there was a habit put upon him, and there he lived in
prayers and fasting. And within half a year came others of the
knights, their fellows, and took such a habit as Sir Launcelot and Sir
Bohort had. Thus they endured in great penance six years.
And upon a night there came a vision to Sir Launcelot, and charged
him to haste him toward Almesbury, and "by the time thou come there,
thou shalt find Queen Guenever dead." Then Sir Launcelot rose up
early, and told the hermit thereof. Then said the hermit, "It were
well that ye disobey not this vision." And Sir Launcelot took his
seven companions with him, and on foot they went from Glastonbury to
Almesbury, which is more than thirty miles. And when they were come to
Almesbury, they found that Queen Guenever died but half an hour
before. Then Sir Launcelot saw her visage, but he wept not greatly,
but sighed. And so he did all the observance of the service himself,
both the "dirige" at night, and at morn he sang mass, And there was
prepared an horse-bier, and Sir Launcelot and his fellows followed the
bier on foot from Almesbury until they came to Glastonbury; and she
was wrapped in cered clothes, and laid in a coffin of marble. And when
she was put in the earth, Sir Launcelot swooned, and lay long as one
dead.
And Sir Launcelot never after ate but little meat, nor drank; but
continually mourned. And within six weeks Sir Launcelot fell sick; and
he sent for the hermit and all his true fellows, and said, "Sir
hermit, I pray you give me all my rights that a Christian man ought to
have." "It shall not need," said the hermit and all his fellows; "it
is but heaviness of your blood, and to-morrow morn you shall be well."
"My fair lords," said Sir Launcelot, "my careful body will into the
earth; I have warning more than now I will say; therefore give me my
rights." So when he was houseled and aneled, and had all that a
Christian man ought to have, he prayed the hermit that his fellows
might bear his body to Joyous Garde. (Some men say it was Alnwick, and
some say it was Bamborough.) "It repenteth me sore," said Sir
Launcelot, "but I made a vow aforetime that in Joyous Garde I would be
buried." Then there was weeping and wringing of hands among his
fellows. And that night Sir Launcelot died; and when Sir Bohort and
his fellows came to his bedside the next morning, they found him stark
dead; and he lay as if he had smiled, and the sweetest savor all about
him that ever they knew.
And they put Sir Launcelot into the same horse-bier that Queen
Guenever was laid in, and the hermit and they all together went with
the body till they came to Joyous Garde. And there they laid his
corpse in the body of the quire, and sang and read many psalms and
prayers over him. And ever his visage was laid open and naked, that
all folks might behold him. And right thus, as they were at their
service, there came Sir Hector de Marys, that had seven years sought
Sir Launcelot his brother, through all England, Scotland and Wales.
And when Sir Hector heard such sounds in the chapel of Joyous Garde,
he alighted and came into the quire. And all they knew Sir Hector.
Then went Sir Bohort, and told him how there lay Sir Launcelot his
brother, dead. Then Sir Hector threw his shield, his sword, and helm
from him. And when he beheld Sir Launcelot's visage, it were hard
for any tongue to tell the doleful complaints he made for his brother.
"Ah, Sir Launcelot!" he said, "there thou liest. And now I dare to say
thou wert never matched of none earthly knight's hand. And thou wert
the courteousest knight that ever bare shield; and thou wert the
truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrode horse; and thou were the
truest lover, of a sinful man, that ever loved woman; and thou wert
the kindest man that ever struck with sword. And thou wert the
goodliest person that ever came among press of knights. And thou
wert the meekest man, and the gentlest, that ever ate in hall among
ladies. And thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that
ever put spear in the rest." Then there was weeping and dolor out of
measure. Thus they kept Sir Launcelot's corpse fifteen days, and
then they buried it with great devotion.
Then they went back with the hermit to his hermitage. And Sir
Bedivere was there ever still hermit to his life's end. And Sir
Bohort, Sir Hector, Sir Blanor and Sir Bleoberis went into the Holy
Land. And these four knights did many battles upon the miscreants, the
Turks; and there they died upon a Good Friday, as it pleased God.

Thus endeth this noble and joyous book, entitled La Morte
d'Arthur; notwithstanding it treateth of the birth, life and acts of
the said King Arthur, and of his noble Knights of the Round Table,
their marvellous enquests and adventures, the achieving of the
Sangreal, and in the end, la Morte d'Arthur, with the dolorous death
and departing out of this world of them all. Which book was reduced
into English by Sir Thomas Mallory, Knight, and divided into
twenty-one books, chaptered and imprinted and finished in the Abbey
Westmestre, the last day of July, the year of our Lord MCCCCLXXXV.

Caxton me fieri fecit.

Thomas Bulfinch