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That night King Uther met in battle the Duke of Tintagil, who had protected Igraine in her castle, and overcame him. Then Igraine welcomed Uther as her true lover, for Merlin had given him the appearance of one dear to her, and, the barons being all well accorded, the two were married on a morning with great mirth and joy. When the time came that Igraine should bear a son, Merlin came again unto the King to claim his promise, and he said: "I know a lord of yours in this land, a passing true man and a faithful, named Sir Ector, and he shall have the nourishing of your child.
Let the young Prince be delivered to me at yonder privy postern, when I come for him. So the babe, Arthur Pendragon, bound in a cloth of gold, was taken by two knights and two ladies to the postern gate of the castle and delivered unto Merlin, disguised as a poor man, and by him was carried forth to Sir Ector, whose wife nourished him as her own child. Then within two years King Uther fell sick of a great malady.
Wherefore all the barons made great sorrow, and asked Merlin what counsel were best, for few of them had ever seen or heard of the young child, Arthur. On the morn all by Merlin's counsel came before the King, and Merlin said: "Sir, shall your son Arthur be king, after your days, of this realm with all the appurtenance? Then Uther Pendragon turned him and said in hearing of them all, "I give him God's blessing and mine, and bid him righteously and honourably to claim the crown upon forfeiture of my blessing. Therewith he died, and he was buried as befitted a king, and the Queen, fair Igraine, and all the barons made great sorrow.
Then stood the kingdom in great jeopardy a long while, for every lord strengthened himself, and many a one thought to be king rather than be ruled by a child that they had never known. All this confusion Merlin had foreseen, and he had taken the young prince away, to keep him safe from the jealous barons until he should be old enough to rule wisely for himself. Even Sir Ector did not know that the boy growing up with his own son Kay was the King's child, and heir to the realm. When now young Arthur had grown into a tall youth, well trained in all the exercises of honourable knighthood, Merlin went to the Archbishop of Canterbury and counselled him to send to all the lords of the realm and all the gentlemen of arms, that they should come to London at Christmas time, since God of His great mercy would at that time show by miracle who should be rightwise king of the realm.
The Archbishop did as Merlin advised, and all the great knights made them clean of their life so that their prayer might be the more acceptable unto God, and when Christmas came they went unto London, each one thinking that perchance his wish to be made king should be granted. So in the greatest church of the city whether it was St Paul's or not the old chronicle maketh no mention all were at their prayers long ere day. When matins were done and they came out of the church, there was seen in the churchyard a great square stone, in the midst of which was an anvil of steel, a foot high, with a fair sword naked at the point sticking through it.
Written in gold about the sword were letters that read thus: "Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of all England. All the people marvelled at the stone and the inscription, and some assayed—such as would be king—to draw out the sword. But none might stir it, and the Archbishop said: "He is not here that shall achieve this sword, but doubt not God will make him known. This now is my counsel, that we cause to be chosen ten knights, men of good fame, to guard this sword until the rightful possessor shall appear.
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So it was ordained, and it was proclaimed that every man should assay that would, to win the sword. And upon New Year's Day the barons held jousts and a tournament for all knights that would engage. All this was ordained for to keep the lords and the commons together, for the Archbishop trusted that God would soon make him known that should win the sword.
So upon New Year's Day the barons rode to the field, some to joust and some to tourney; and it happened that Sir Ector rode also, and with him Sir Kay, his son, that had just been made knight, and young Arthur that was his foster-brother. As they rode to the joust-ward Sir Kay suddenly missed his sword, which he had left at his father's lodging, and he begged young Arthur to ride and fetch it. But the lady and all the household were out to see the jousting, and he found nobody at home to deliver him the sword. Then was Arthur troubled, and said to himself, "I will ride to the churchyard and take the sword that sticketh in the stone, for my brother Sir Kay shall not be without a sword this day.
So when he came to the great stone Arthur alighted, and tied his horse to the stile. He then went straight to the tent of the guards, but found no knights there, for they were at the jousting. So he took the sword by the handles, and lightly and fiercely pulled it out of the anvil; then he mounted his horse and rode his way till he came to his brother Sir Kay, and delivered him the sword.
As soon as Sir Kay saw the sword, he knew well it was that one of the stone, and so he rode away to his father, Sir Ector, and said: "Sir, lo here is the sword of the stone; wherefore I must be king of this land. When Sir Ector beheld the sword, all three returned to the church and entered it. Anon Sir Ector made Sir Kay to swear upon a book how he came by that sword.
And Sir Kay answered that Arthur had brought it to him. Now let me see whether ye can put the sword there as it was, and pull it out again. Therewith Sir Ector assayed to pull out the sword, and failed. Then Sir Kay pulled at it with all his might, but it would not yield. Now was Sir Ector sure that Arthur was of higher blood than had been thought, and that the rightful king had been made known.
AND HIS KNIGHTS
And he told his foster-son all, how he was not his father, but had taken him to nourish at Merlin's request. Arthur was grieved indeed when he understood that Sir Ector was not his father, and that the good lady that had fostered and kept him as her own son was not his true mother, and he said to Sir Ector, "If ever it be God's will that I be king, as ye say, ye shall desire of me what I may do, and I shall not fail you.
Therewithal they went unto the Archbishop and told him how the sword was achieved, and by whom. And all the barons came thither, that whoever would might assay to take the sword. But there before them all none might take it out but Arthur. Now many lords became wroth, and said it was great shame unto them all and to the realm to be governed by a boy.
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They contended so at that time that the matter was put off till Candlemas, when all the barons should meet there again. A pavilion was set over the stone and the sword, and the ten knights were ordained to watch there day and night, five being always on guard.
So at Candlemas many more great lords came thither to win the sword, but none might prevail except Arthur. The barons were sore aggrieved at this, and again put it off in delay till the high feast of Easter. And as Arthur sped afore, so did he at Easter; yet there were some of the great lords that had indignation that Arthur should be their king, and put it off in a delay till the feast of Pentecost. At the feast of Pentecost all manner of men assayed to pull at the sword, yet none might prevail but Arthur; and he pulled it out afore all the lords and commons that were there.
Wherefore all the commons cried at once, "We will have Arthur unto our king; we will put him no more in delay, for we all see that it is God's will that he shall be our king, and who that holdeth against it we will slay as traitor. And Arthur forgave them, and took the sword between both his hands, and offered it upon the altar where the Archbishop was, and so was he made knight of the best man that was there. And anon was the coronation made, and there Arthur swore unto his lords and the commons to be a true king, to stand for justice all the days of his life.
Then he made all the lords that were subject to the crown to come in, and to do service as they ought to do. And many great wrongs that had been done since the death of King Uther were righted, and to lords, knights, ladies, and gentlemen were given back the lands of which they had been unjustly deprived.
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When the king had thus established justice in all the countries about London, he made Sir Kay seneschal of England, and other officers he appointed also that should aid in keeping back his enemies and holding his realm in peace and orderliness. On a day there came into the court of the young King a squire on horseback, bringing a knight, his master, mortally wounded, and seeking justice against the murderer.
Then came up Griflet, that was but a squire, a young man of the age of King Arthur, and asked to be given the order of knighthood, that he might ride out against the knight that had done the evil deed, who dwelt by a well in the forest. Arthur was loath to bring this passing brave youth into peril by giving him so high an adventure; but at the desire of Griflet the King at the last gave him the order of knighthood, and he rode away till he came to the fountain.
There he saw the pavilion of the knight, and his horse all saddled and bridled, and his shield of divers colours, and a great spear hanging on a tree hard by. Griflet struck the shield with the butt of his spear, so that it fell clattering down to the ground.
With that the knight came out of the pavilion and said, "Fair knight, why smote ye down my shield? But Griflet would have it so, and the two ran together with such force that Griflet's spear was all shattered, and horse and rider fell down sore wounded. When the knight saw the youth lying on the ground, he was heavy of heart; and he unlaced his helm to give him air, and finally setting him on his horse, sent him with cheering words back to the court. Here great dole was made for him because of his wounds, and Arthur was passing wroth for the hurt of Sir Griflet.
The next morning ere day the King ordered his best horse, and in full armour rode out alone to encounter the knight of the fountain. It was a strong battle they had. Arthur's spear was all shattered, and his horse fell to the ground. Then they fought with swords with many great strokes and much blood-shed on both sides. Finally by a mighty blow from his enemy,—a passing big man of might,—Arthur's sword was smitten in two pieces, and he was called upon to yield himself as overcome and recreant, or die. Therewithal came Merlin, and made known who Arthur was.
Then by enchantment he caused the knight to fall into a deep sleep, and bore Arthur away to a hermit to be cured of his wounds.
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When, after three days of rest and healing, he was riding with Merlin through the forest, King Arthur said, "I have no sword. So they rode on till it chanced that they passed a fair and broad lake. In the midst of the water Arthur became aware of an arm clothed in white samite holding aloft a beautiful sword. Anon came the damsel unto Arthur and saluted him, and he her again. I would it were mine, for I have no sword. So Sir Arthur and Merlin alighted and tied their horses to a tree, and then they went into the magic boat.
Soon they were beside the sword that the hand held up. Arthur took it by the handle, the arm and the hand went down beneath the water, and the two travellers rowed back to the land and went forth. As they rode along Arthur looked on the sword, which had the name Excalibur, that is as much as to say Cut-steel, and he liked it passing well, for the handle was all set with precious stones.
In this way Arthur came by Excalibur, and many an adventure he was to have with it, and was to suffer great danger when by evil interference it was, as we shall see, for a time stolen from him.