Part 2 out of 6
girdle. With this he bound the dragon fast, and gave the end of the
girdle into her hand, and the subdued monster crawled after them
like a dog.
Walking in this way they approached the city. All the onlooking
people were stricken with terror, but George called out to them
saying, "Fear nothing. Only believe in Christ, through whose help I
have conquered this adversary, and live in accord with His
teachings, and I will destroy him before your eyes."
So the King and the people believed and such a life they endeavoured
Then St. George slew the dragon and cut off his head, and the King
gave great treasure to the knight. But all the rewards George
distributed among the sick and necessitous and kept nothing for
himself, and then he went further on his way of helpfulness.
About this time the Emperor Diocletian issued an edict which was
published the length and breadth of his empire. This edict was
nailed to the doors of temples, upon the walls of public markets, in
all places people frequented, and those who read it read it with
terror and hid their faces in despair. For it condemned all
Christians. But St. George when he saw the writing was filled with
indignation. That spirit and courage which comes to all of us from
communion with the eternal powers heartened and strengthened him,
and he tore down the unhappy utterance and trampled it under foot.
Thus prepared for death George approached the Emperor. "What wouldst
thou?" cried Diocletian angrily, having heard from his proconsul
Dacian that this young man deserved torture. "Liberty, sir, for the
innocent Christians," answered the martyr. "At the least liberty,
since their liberty can hurt no one."
"Young man," returned Diocletian with threatening looks, "think of
thine own liberty and thy future."
Before George could make answer the ill-will of the tyrant waxed to
ardent hatred and he summoned guards to take the martyr to prison.
Once within the dungeon the keepers threw him to the ground, put his
feet in stocks and placed a stone of great weight upon his chest.
But even so, in the midst of torture, the blessed one ceased not to
give thanks to God for this opportunity to bear witness to Christ's
The next day they stretched the martyr on a wheel full of sharp
spokes. But a voice from heaven came to comfort him and said,
"George, fear not; so it is with those who witness to the truth."
And there appeared to him an angel brighter than the sun, clothed in
a white robe, who stretched out a hand to embrace and encourage him
in his pain. Two of the officers of the prison who saw this
beautiful vision became Christians and from that day endeavoured to
live after the teachings of Christ.
There is still another tale that after George had been comforted by
the angel who descended from heaven, his tormentors flung him into a
cauldron of boiling lead, and when they believed they had subdued
him by the force of his agonies, they brought him to a temple to
assist in their worship, and the people ran in crowds to behold his
humiliation, and the priests mocked him.
The Emperor, seeing the constancy of George, once more sought to
move him by entreaties. But the great soldier refused to be judged
by words, only by deeds. He even demanded to go to see the gods
Diocletian himself worshipped.
The Emperor, believing that at length George was coming to his right
mind, and was about to yield, ordered the Roman Senate and people to
assemble in order that all might be witnesses of George's
acknowledgement of his own, Diocletian's, gods.
When they were thus gathered together in the Emperor's temple, and
the eyes of all the people were fixed upon the weak and tortured
saint to see what he would do, he drew near a statue of the sun-god
Apollo, and stretching out his hand toward the image he said slowly,
"Wouldst thou that I should offer thee sacrifices as to a god?" The
demon who was in the statue made answer, "I am not God. There is but
one God and Christ is his greatest prophet." At that very hour were
heard horrible wailing sounds coming from the mouths of idols the
world over, and the statues of the old gods either all fell over or
crumbled to dust. One account says that St. George knelt down and
prayed, and thunder and lightning from heaven fell upon the idols
and destroyed them.
Angry at the breaking of their power, the priests of the gods cried
to the Emperor that he must rid himself of so potent a magician and
cut off his head. The priests also incited the people to lay hands
on the martyr.
So it was commanded that George, the Christian knight, should be
beheaded. He was dragged to the place of execution, and there,
bending his neck to the sword of the executioner and absorbed in
prayer, he received bravely and thankfully the stroke of death in
So stands St. George ever before the youth of the world, one of the
champions of Christendom, a model of courage, a brave interceder for
the oppressed, an example of pure, firm and enduring doing for
others, a true soldier of Christ.
Long years ago, there ruled over Britain a King called Uther
Pendragon. A mighty prince was he, and feared by all men; yet, when
he sought the love of the fair Igraine of Cornwall, she would have
naught to do with him, so that, from grief and disappointment, Uther
fell sick, and at last seemed like to die.
Now in those days, there lived a famous magician named Merlin, so
powerful that he could change his form at will, or even make himself
invisible; nor was there any place so remote but that he could reach
it at once, merely by wishing himself there. One day, suddenly he
stood at Uther's bedside, and said: "Sir King, I know thy grief, and
am ready to help thee. Only promise to give me, at his birth, the
son that shall be born to thee, and thou shalt have thy heart's
desire." To this the King agreed joyfully, and Merlin kept his word:
for he gave Uther the form of one whom Igraine had loved dearly, and
so she took him willingly for her husband.
When the time had come that a child should be born to the King and
Queen, Merlin appeared before Uther to remind him of his promise;
and Uther swore it should be as he had said. Three days later, a
prince was born and, with pomp and ceremony, was christened by the
name of Arthur; but immediately thereafter, the King commanded that
the child should be carried to the postern-gate, there to be given
to the old man who would be found waiting without.
Not long after, Uther fell sick, and he knew that his end was come;
so, by Merlin's advice; he called together his knights and barons,
and said to them: "My death draws near. I charge you, therefore,
that ye obey my son even as ye have obeyed me; and my curse upon him
if he claim not the crown when he is a man grown." Then the King
turned his face to the wall and died.
Scarcely was Uther laid in his grave before disputes arose. Few of
the nobles had seen Arthur or even heard of him, and not one of them
would have been willing to be ruled by a child; rather, each thought
himself fitted to be King, and, strengthening his own castle, made
war on his neighbours until confusion alone was supreme and the poor
groaned because there was none to help them.
Now when Merlin carried away Arthur--for Merlin was the old man who
had stood at the postern-gate--he had known all that would happen,
and had taken the child to keep him safe from the fierce barons
until he should be of age to rule wisely and well, and perform all
the wonders prophesied of him. He gave the child to the care of the
good knight Sir Ector to bring up with his son Kay, but revealed not
to him that it was the son of Uther Pendragon that was given into
At last, when years had passed and Arthur was grown a tall youth
well skilled in knightly exercises, Merlin went to the Archbishop of
Canterbury and advised him that he should call together at
Christmas-time all the chief men of the realm to the great cathedral
in London; "For," said Merlin, "there shall be seen a great marvel
by which it shall be made clear to all men who is the lawful King of
this land." The Archbishop did as Merlin counselled. Under pain of a
fearful curse, he bade barons and knights come to London to keep the
feast, and to pray heaven to send peace to the realm.
The people hastened to obey the Archbishop's commands, and, from all
sides, barons and knights came riding in to keep the birth-feast of
our Lord. And when they had prayed, and were coming forth from the
cathedral, they saw a strange sight. There, in the open space before
the church, stood, on a great stone, an anvil thrust through with a
sword; and on the stone were written these words: "Whoso can draw
forth this sword, is rightful King of Britain born."
At once there were fierce quarrels, each man clamouring to be the
first to try his fortune, none doubting his own success. Then the
Archbishop decreed that each should make the venture in turn, from
the greatest baron to the least knight, and each in turn, having put
forth his utmost strength, failed to move the sword one inch, and
drew back ashamed. So the Archbishop dismissed the company, and
having appointed guards to watch over the stone, sent messengers
through all the land to give word of great jousts to be held in
London at Easter, when each knight could give proof of his skill and
courage, and try whether the adventure of the sword was for him.
Among those who rode to London at Easter was the good Sir Ector, and
with him his son, Sir Kay, newly made a knight, and the young
Arthur. When the morning came that the jousts should begin, Sir Kay
and Arthur mounted their horses and set out for the lists; but
before they reached the field, Kay looked and saw that he had left
his sword behind. Immediately Arthur turned back to fetch it for
him, only to find the house fast shut, for all were gone to view the
tournament. Sore vexed was Arthur, fearing lest his brother Kay
should lose his chance of gaining glory, till, of a sudden, he
bethought him of the sword in the great anvil before the cathedral.
Thither he rode with all speed, and the guards having deserted their
post to view the tournament, there was none to forbid him the
adventure. He leapt from his horse, seized the hilt, and instantly
drew forth the sword as easily as from a scabbard; then, mounting
his horse and thinking no marvel of what he had done, he rode after
his brother and handed him the weapon.
When Kay looked at it, he saw at once that it was the wondrous sword
from the stone. In great joy he sought his father, and showing it to
him, said: "Then must I be King of Britain." But Sir Ector bade him
say how he came by the sword, and when Sir Kay told how Arthur had
brought it to him, Sir Ector bent his knee to the boy, and said:
"Sir, I perceive that ye are my King, and here I tender you my
homage"; and Kay did as his father. Then the three sought the
Archbishop, to whom they related all that had happened; and he, much
marvelling, called the people together to the great stone, and bade
Arthur thrust back the sword and draw it forth again in the presence
of all, which he did with ease. But an angry murmur arose from the
barons, who cried that what a boy could do, a man could do; so, at
the Archbishop's word, the sword was put back, and each man, whether
baron or knight, tried in his turn to draw it forth, and failed.
Then, for the third time, Arthur drew forth the sword. Immediately
there arose from the people a great shout: "Arthur is King! Arthur
is King! We will have no King but Arthur"; and, though the great
barons scowled and threatened, they fell on their knees before him
while the Archbishop placed the crown upon his head, and swore to
obey him faithfully as their lord and sovereign.
Thus Arthur was made King; and to all he did justice, righting
wrongs and giving to all their dues. Nor was he forgetful of those
that had been his friends; for Kay, whom he loved as a brother, he
made Seneschal and chief of his household, and to Sir Ector, his
foster father, he gave broad lands.
Thus Arthur was made King, but he had to fight for his own; for
eleven great kings drew together and refused to acknowledge him as
their lord, and chief amongst the rebels was King Lot of Orknev who
had married Arthur's sister, Bellicent.
By Merlin's advice, Arthur sent for help overseas, to Ban and Bors,
the two great Kings who ruled in Gaul. With their aid, he overthrew
his foes in a great battle near the river Trent; and then he passed
with them into their own lands and helped them drive out their
enemies. So there was ever great friendship between Arthur and the
Kings Ban and Bors, and all their kindred; and afterward some of the
most famous Knights of the Round Table were of that kin.
Then King Arthur set himself to restore order throughout his
kingdom. To all who would submit and amend their evil ways, he
showed kindness; but those who persisted in oppression and wrong he
removed, putting in their places others who would deal justly with
the people. And because the land had become overrun with forest
during the days of misrule, he cut roads through the thickets, that
no longer wild beasts and men, fiercer than the beasts, should lurk
in their gloom, to the harm of the weak and defenceless. Thus it
came to pass that soon the peasant ploughed his fields in safety,
and where had been wastes, men dwelt again in peace and prosperity.
Amongst the lesser Kings whom Arthur helped to rebuild their towns
and restore order, was King Leodegrance of Cameliard. Now
Leodegrance had one fair child, his daughter Guenevere; and from the
time that first he saw her, Arthur gave her all his love. So he
sought counsel of Merlin, his chief adviser. Merlin heard the King
sorrowfully, and he said: "Sir King, when a man's heart is set, he
may not change. Yet had it been well if ye had loved another."
So the King sent his knights to Leodegrance, to ask of him his
daughter; and Leodegrance consented, rejoicing to wed her to so good
and knightly a King. With great pomp, the princess was conducted to
Canterbury, and there the King met her, and they two were wed by the
Archbishop in the great Cathedral, amid the rejoicings of the
On that same day did Arthur found his Order of the Round Table, the
fame of which was to spread throughout Christendom and endure
through all time. Now the Round Table had been made for King Uther
Pendragon by Merlin, who had meant thereby to set forth plainly to
all men the roundness of the earth. After Uther died, King
Leodegrance had possessed it; but when Arthur was wed, he sent it to
him as a gift, and great was the King's joy at receiving it. One
hundred and fifty knights might take their places about it, and for
them Merlin made sieges, or seats. One hundred and twenty-eight did
Arthur knight at that great feast; thereafter, if any sieges were
empty, at the high festival of Pentecost new knights were ordained
to fill them, and by magic was the name of each knight found
inscribed, in letters of gold, in his proper siege. One seat only
long remained unoccupied, and that was the Siege Perilous. No knight
might occupy it until the coming of Sir Galahad; for, without danger
to his life, none might sit there who was not free from all stain of
With pomp and ceremony did each knight take upon him the vows of
true knighthood: to obey the King; to show mercy to all who asked
it; to defend the weak; and for no worldly gain to fight in a
wrongful cause: and all the knights rejoiced together, doing honour
to Arthur and to his Queen. Then they rode forth to right the wrong
and help the oppressed, and by their aid the King held his realm in
peace, doing justice to all.
Now, as time passed, King Arthur gathered into his Order of the
Round Table knights whose peers shall never be found in any age; and
foremost amongst them all was Sir Launcelot du Lac. Such was his
strength that none against whom he laid lance in rest could keep the
saddle, and no shield was proof against his sword dint; but for his
courtesy even more than for his courage and strength, Sir Launcelot
was famed far and near. Gentle he was and ever the first to rejoice
in the renown of another; and in the jousts, he would avoid
encounter with the young and untried knight, letting him pass to
gain glory if he might.
It would take a great book to record all the famous deeds of Sir
Launcelot, and all his adventures. He was of Gaul, for his father,
King Ban, ruled over Benwick; he was named Launcelot du Lac by the
Lady of the Lake who reared him when his mother died. Early he won
renown; then, when there was peace in his own land, he passed into
Britain, to Arthur's Court, where the King received him gladly, and
made him Knight of the Round Table and took him for his trustiest
friend. And so it was that, when Guenevere was to be brought to
Canterbury, to be married to the King, Launcelot was chief of the
knights sent to wait upon her, and of this came the sorrow of later
days. For, from the moment he saw her, Sir Launcelot loved
Guenevere, for her sake remaining wifeless all his days, and in all
things being her faithful knight. But busy-bodies and mischief-
makers spoke evil of Sir Launcelot and the Queen, and from their
talk came the undoing of the King and the downfall of his great
work. But that was after long years, and after many true knights had
lived their lives, honouring the King and Queen, and doing great
Before Merlin passed from the world of men, he had uttered many
marvellous prophesies, and one that boded ill to King Arthur; for he
foretold that, in the days to come, a son of Arthur's sister should
stir up bitter war against the King, and at last a great battle
should be fought, when many a brave knight should find his doom.
Now, among the nephews of Arthur, was one most dishonourable; his
name was Mordred. No knightly deed had he ever done, and he hated to
hear the good report of others because he himself was a coward and
envious. But of all the Round Table there was none that Mordred
hated more than Sir Launcelot du Lac, whom all true knights held in
most honour; and not the less did Mordred hate Launcelot that he was
the knight whom Queen Guenevere had in most esteem. So, at last, his
jealous rage passing all bounds, he spoke evil of the Queen and of
Launcelot, saying that they were traitors to the King. Now Sir
Gawain and Sir Gareth, Mordred's brothers, refused to give ear to
these slanders, holding that Sir Launcelot, in his knightly service
of the Queen, did honour to King Arthur also; but by ill-fortune
another brother, Sir Agravaine, had ill-will to the Queen, and
professed to believe Mordred's evil tales. So the two went to King
Arthur with their ill stories.
Now when Arthur had heard them, he was wroth; for never would he
lightly believe evil of any, and Sir Launcelot was the knight whom
he loved above all others. Sternly then he bade them begone and come
no more to him with unproven tales against any, and, least of all,
against Sir Launcelot and their lady, the Queen.
The two departed, but in their hearts was hatred against Launcelot
and the Queen, more bitter than ever for the rebuke they had called
down upon themselves.
Great was the King's grief. Despite all that Mordred could say, he
was slow to doubt Sir Launcelot, whom he loved, but his mind was
filled with forebodings; and well he knew that their kin would seek
vengeance on Sir Launcelot, and the noble fellowship of the Round
Table be utterly destroyed.
All too soon it proved even as the King had feared. Many were found
to hold with Sir Mordred; some from envy of the honour and worship
of the noble Sir Launcelot; and among them even were those who dared
to raise their voice against the Queen herself, calling for judgment
upon her as leagued with a traitor against the King, and as having
caused the death of so many good knights. Now in those days the law
was that if any one were accused of treason by witnesses, or taken
in the act, that one should die the death by burning, be it man or
woman, knight or churl. So then the murmurs grew to a loud clamour
that the law should have its course, and that King Arthur should
pass sentence on the Queen. Then was the King's woe doubled; "For,"
said he, "I sit as King to be a rightful judge and keep all the law;
wherefore I may not do battle for my own Queen, and now there is
none other to help her." So a decree was issued that Queen Guenevere
should be burnt at the stake outside the walls of Carlisle.
Forthwith, King Arthur sent for his nephew, Sir Gawain, and said to
him: "Fair nephew, I give it in charge to you to see that all is
done as has been decreed." But Sir Gawain answered boldly: "Sir
King, never will I be present to see my lady the Queen die. It is of
ill counsel that ye have consented to her death." Then the King bade
Gawain send his two young brothers, Sir Gareth and Sir Gaheris, to
receive his commands, and these he desired to attend the Queen to
the place of execution. So Gareth made answer for both: "My Lord the
King, we owe you obedience in all things, but know that it is sore
against our wills that we obey you in this; nor will we appear in
arms in the place where that noble lady shall die"; then sorrowfully
they mounted their horses and rode to Carlisle.
When the day appointed had come, the Queen was led forth to a place
without the walls of Carlisle, and there she was bound to the stake
to be burnt to death. Loud were her ladies' lamentations, and many a
lord was found to weep at that grievous sight of a Queen brought so
low; yet was there none who dared come forward as her champion, lest
he should be suspected of treason. As for Gareth and Gaheris, they
could not bear the sight and stood with their faces covered in their
mantles. Then, just as the torch was to be applied to the faggots,
there was a sound as of many horses galloping, and the next instant
a band of knights rushed upon the astonished throng, their leader
cutting down all who crossed his path until he had reached the
Queen, whom he lifted to his saddle and bore from the press. Then
all men knew that it was Sir Launcelot, come knightly to rescue the
Queen, and in their hearts they rejoiced. So with little hindrance
they rode away, Sir Launcelot and all his kin with the Queen in
their midst, till they came to the castle of the Joyous Garde where
they held the Queen in safety and all reverence.
At last Sir Launcelot desired of King Arthur assurance of liberty
for the Queen, as also safe conduct for himself and his knights,
that he might bring Dame Guenevere, with due honour, to the King at
Carlisle; and thereto the King pledged his word.
So Launcelot set forth with the Queen, and behind them rode a
hundred knights arrayed in green velvet, the housings of the horses
of the same all studded with precious stones; thus they passed
through the city of Carlisle, openly, in the sight of all, and there
were many who rejoiced that the Queen was come again and Sir
Launcelot with her, though they of Gawain's party scowled upon him.
When they were come into the great hall where Arthur sat, with Sir
Gawain and other great lords about him, Sir Launcelot led Guenevere
to the throne and both knelt before the King; then, rising, Sir
Launcelot lifted the Queen to her feet, and thus he spoke to King
Arthur, boldly and well before the whole court: "My lord, Sir
Arthur, I bring you here your Queen, than whom no truer nor nobler
lady ever lived; and here stand I, Sir Launcelot du Lac, ready to do
battle with any that dare gainsay it"; and with these words Sir
Launcelot turned and looked upon the lords and knights present in
their places, but none would challenge him in that cause, not even
Sir Gawain, for he had ever affirmed that Dame Guenevere was a true
and honourable lady.
Then Sir Launcelot spoke again; "Now, my Lord Arthur, in my own
defence it behooves me to say that never in aught have I been false
"Peace," said the King to Sir Launcelot: "We give you fifteen days
in which to leave this kingdom." Then Sir Launcelot sighed heavily
and said: "Full well I see that nothing availeth me." Then he went
to the Queen where she sat, and said: "Madam, the time is come when
I must leave this fair realm that I have loved. Think well of me, I
pray you, and send for me if ever there be aught in which a true
knight may serve lady." Therewith he turned him about and, without
greeting to any, passed through the hall, and with his faithful
knights rode to the Joyous Garde, though ever thereafter, in memory
of that sad day, he called it the Dolorous Garde.
In after times when the King had passed overseas to France, leaving
Sir Mordred to rule Britain in his stead, there came messengers from
Britain bearing letters for King Arthur; and more evil news than
they brought might not well be, for they told how Sir Mordred had
usurped his uncle's realm. First, he had caused it to be noised
abroad that King Arthur was slain in battle with Sir Launcelot, and,
since there be many ever ready to believe any idle rumour and eager
for any change, it had been no hard task for Sir Mordred to call the
lords to a Parliament and persuade them to make him King. But the
Queen could not be brought to believe that her lord was dead, so she
took refuge in the Tower of London from Sir Mordred's violence, nor
was she to be induced to leave her strong refuge for aught that
Mordred could promise or threaten.
Forthwith, King Arthur bade his host make ready to move, and when
they had reached the coast, they embarked and made sail to reach
Britain with all possible speed.
Sir Mordred, on his part, had heard of their sailing, and hasted to
get together a great army. It was grievous to see how many a stout
knight held by Mordred, ay, even many whom Arthur himself had raised
to honour and fortune; for it is the nature of men to be fickle.
Thus is was that, when Arthur drew near to Dover, he found Mordred
with a mighty host, waiting to oppose his landing. Then there was a
great sea-fight, those of Mordred's party going out in boats, to
board King Arthur's ships and slay him and his men or ever they
should come to land. Right valiantly did King Arthur bear him, as
was his wont, and boldly his followers fought in his cause, so that
at last they drove off their enemies and landed at Dover in spite of
Mordred and his array.
Now, by this time, many that Mordred had cheated by his lying
reports, had drawn unto King Arthur, to whom at heart they had ever
been loyal, knowing him for a true and noble King and hating
themselves for having been deceived by such a false usurper as Sir
One night, as King Arthur slept, he thought that Sir Gawain stood
before him, looking just as he did in life, and said to him: "My
uncle and my King, God in his great love has suffered me to come
unto you, to warn you that in no wise ye fight on the morrow; for if
ye do, ye shall be slain, and with you the most part of the people
on both sides. Make ye, therefore, a treaty." Immediately, the King
awoke and called to him the best and wisest of his knights. Then all
were agreed that, on any terms whatsoever, a treaty should be made
with Sir Mordred, even as Sir Gawain had said; and, with the dawn,
messengers went to the camp of the enemy, to call Sir Mordred to a
conference. So it was determined that the meeting should take place
in the sight of both armies, in an open space between the two camps,
and that King Arthur and Mordred should each be accompanied by
fourteen knights. Little enough faith had either in the other, so
when they set forth to the meeting, they bade their hosts join
battle if ever they saw a sword drawn.
Now as they talked, it befell that an adder, coming out of a bush
hard by, stung a knight in the foot; and he, seeing the snake, drew
his sword to kill it and thought no harm thereby. But on the instant
that the sword flashed, the trumpets blared on both sides and the
two hosts rushed to battle. Never was there fought a fight of such
enmity; for brother fought with brother, and comrade with comrade,
and fiercely they cut and thrust, with many a bitter word between;
while King Arthur himself, his heart hot within him, rode through
and through the battle, seeking the traitor Mordred. So they fought
all day, till at last the evening fell. Then Arthur, looking round
him, saw of his valiant knights but two left, Sir Lucan and Sir
Bedivere, and these sore wounded; and there, over against him, by a
great heap of the dead, stood Sir Mordred, the cause of all this
ruin. Thereupon the King, his heart nigh broken with grief for the
loss of his true knights, cried with a loud voice, "Traitor! now is
thy doom upon thee!" and with his spear gripped in both hands, he
rushed upon Sir Mordred and smote him that the weapon stood out a
fathom behind. And Sir Mordred knew that he had his death wound.
With all the might that he had, he thrust him up the spear to the
haft and, with his sword, struck King Arthur upon the head, that the
steel pierced the helmet and bit into the head; then Mordred fell
back, stark and dead.
Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere went to the King where he lay, swooning
from the blow, and bore him to a little chapel on the seashore. As
they laid him on the ground, Sir Lucan fell dead beside the King,
and Arthur, coming to himself, found but Sir Bedivere alive beside
So King Arthur lay wounded to the death, grieving, not that his end
was come, but for the desolation of his kingdom and the loss of his
good knights. And looking upon the body of Sir Lucan, he sighed and
said: "Alas! true knight, dead for my sake! If I lived, I should
ever grieve for thy death, but now mine own end draws nigh." Then,
turning to Sir Bedivere, who stood sorrowing beside him, he said:
"Leave weeping now, for the time is short and much to do. Hereafter
shalt thou weep if thou wilt. But take now my sword Excalibur,
hasten to the water side, and fling it into the deep. Then, watch
what happens and bring me word thereof." "My Lord," said Sir
Bedivere, "your command shall be obeyed"; and, taking the sword, he
departed. But as he went on his way, he looked on the sword, how
wondrously it was formed and the hilt all studded with precious
stones; and, as he looked, he called to mind the marvel by which it
had come into the King's keeping. For on a certain day, as Arthur
walked on the shore of a great lake, there had appeared above the
surface of the water a hand brandishing a sword. On the instant, the
King had leaped into a boat, and, rowing into the lake, had got the
sword and brought it back to land. Then he had seen how, on one side
the blade, was written, "Keep me," but on the other, "Throw me
away," and, sore perplexed, he had shown it to Merlin, the great
wizard, who said: "Keep it now. The time for casting away has not
yet come." Thinking on this, it seemed to Bedivere that no good, but
harm, must come of obeying the King's word; so hiding the sword
under a tree, he hastened back to the little chapel. Then said the
King: "What saw'st thou?" "Sir," answered Bedivere, "I saw naught
but the waves, heard naught but the wind." "That is untrue," said
King Arthur; "I charge thee, as thou art true knight, go again and
spare not to throw away the sword."
Sir Bedivere departed a second time, and his mind was to obey his
lord; but when he took the sword in his hand, he thought: "Sin it is
and shameful, to throw away so glorious a sword" Then, hiding it
again, he hastened back to the King. "What saw'st thou?" said Sir
Arthur. "Sir, I saw the water lap on the crags." Then spoke the King
in great wrath: "Traitor and unkind! Twice hast thou betrayed me!
Art dazzled by the splendour of the jewels, thou that, till now,
hast ever been dear and true to me? Go yet again, but if thou fail
me this time, I will arise and, with mine own hands, slay thee."
Then Sir Bedivere left the King and, that time, he took the sword
quickly from the place where he had hidden it and, forbearing even
to look upon it, he twisted the belt about it and flung it with all
his force into the water. A wondrous sight he saw for, as the sword
touched the water, a hand rose from out the deep, caught it,
brandished it thrice, and drew it beneath the surface.
Sir Bedivere hastened back to the King and told him what he had
seen. "It is well," said Arthur; "now, bear me to the water's edge;
and hasten, I pray thee, for I have tarried overlong and my wound
has taken cold." So Sir Bedivere raised the King on. his back and
bore him tenderly to the lonely shore, where the lapping waves
floated many an empty helmet and the fitful moonlight fell on the
upturned faces of the dead. Scarce had they reached the shore when
there hove in sight a barge, and on its deck stood three tall women,
robed all in black and wearing crowns on their heads. "Place me in
the barge," said the King, and softly Sir Bedivere lifted the King
into it. And these three Queens wept sore over Arthur, and one took
his head in her lap and chafed his hands, crying: "Alas! my brother,
thou hast been overlong in coming and, I fear me, thy wound has
taken cold." Then the barge began to move slowly from the land. When
Sir Bedivere saw this, he lifted up his voice and cried with a
bitter cry: "Ah! my Lord Arthur, thou art taken from me! And I,
whither shall I go?" "Comfort thyself," said the King, "for in me is
no comfort more. I pass to the Valley of Avilion, to heal me of my
grievous wound. If thou seest me never again, pray for me."
So the barge floated away out of sight, and Sir Bedivere stood
straining his eyes after it till it had vanished utterly. Then he
turned him about and journeyed through the forest until, at
daybreak, he reached a hermitage. Entering it, he prayed the holy
hermit that he might abide with him, and there he spent the rest of
his life in prayer and holy exercise.
But of King Arthur is no more known. Some men, indeed, say that he
is not dead, but abides in the happy Valley of Avilion until such
time as his country's need is sorest, when he shall come again and
deliver it. Others say that, of a truth, he is dead, and that, in
the far West, his tomb may be seen, and written on it these words:
"Here lies Arthur, once King
and King to be"
Many times had the Feast of Pentecost come round, and many were the
knights that Arthur had made after he founded the Order of the Round
Table; yet no knight had appeared who dared claim the seat named by
Merlin the Siege Perilous. At last, one vigil of the great feast, a
lady came to Arthur's court at Camelot and asked Sir Launcelot to
ride with her into the forest hard by, for a purpose not then to be
revealed. Launcelot consenting, they rode together until they came
to a nunnery hidden deep in the forest; and there the lady bade
Launcelot dismount, and led him into a great and stately room.
Presently there entered twelve nuns and with them a youth, the
fairest that Launcelot had ever seen. "Sir," said the nuns, "we have
brought up this child in our midst, and now that he is grown to
manhood, we pray you make him knight, for of none worthier could he
receive the honour." "Is this thy own desire?" asked Launcelot of
the young squire; and when he said that so it was, Launcelot
promised to make him knight after the great festival had been
celebrated in the church next day.
So on the morrow, after they had worshipped, Launcelot knighted
Galahad--for that was the youth's name--and asked him if he would
ride at once with him to the King's court; but the young knight
excusing himself, Sir Launcelot rode back alone to Camelot, where
all rejoiced that he was returned in time to keep the feast with the
whole Order of the Round Table.
Now, according to his custom, King Arthur was waiting for some
marvel to befall before he and his knights sat down to the banquet.
Presently a squire entered the hall and said: "Sir King, a great
wonder has appeared. There floats on the river a mighty stone, as it
were a block of red marble, and it is thrust through by a sword, the
hilt of which is set thick with precious stones." On hearing this,
the King and all his knights went forth to view the stone and found
it as the squire had said; moreover, looking closer, they read these
words: "None shall draw me hence, but only he by whose side I must
hang; and he shall be the best knight in all the world."
Immediately, all bade Launcelot draw forth the sword, but he
refused, saying that the sword was not for him. Then, at the King's
command, Sir Gawain made the attempt and failed, as did Sir
Percivale after him. So the knights knew the adventure was not for
them, and returning to the hall, took their places about the Round
No sooner were they seated than an aged man, clothed all in white,
entered the hall, followed by a young knight in red armour, by whose
side hung an empty scabbard. The old man approached King Arthur and
bowing low before him, said: "Sir, I bring you a young knight of the
house and lineage of Joseph of Arimathea, and through him shall
great glory be won for all the land of Britain." Greatly did King
Arthur rejoice to hear this, and welcomed the two right royally.
Then when the young knight had saluted the King, the old man led him
to the Siege Perilous and drew off its silken cover; and all the
knights were amazed, for they saw that where had been engraved the
words, "The Siege Perilous," was written now in shining gold: "This
is the Siege of the noble prince, Sir Galahad." Straightway the
young man seated himself there where none other had ever sat without
danger to his life; and all who saw it said, one to another: "Surely
this is he that shall achieve the Holy Grail." Now the Holy Grail
was the blessed dish from which our Lord had eaten the Last Supper,
and it had been brought to the land of Britain by Joseph of
Arimathea; but because of men's sinfulness, it had been withdrawn
from human sight, only that, from time to to time, it appeared to
the pure in heart.
When all had partaken of the royal banquet, King Arthur bade Sir
Galahad come with him to the river's brink; and showing him the
floating stone with the sword thrust through it, told him how his
knights had failed to draw forth the sword. "Sir," said Galahad, "it
is no marvel that they failed, for the adventure was meant for me,
as my empty scabbard shows." So saying, lightly he drew the sword
from the heart of the stone, and lightly he slid it into the
scabbard at his side. While all yet wondered at this adventure of
the sword, there came riding to them a lady on a white palfrey who,
saluting King Arthur, said: "Sir King, Nacien the hermit sends thee
word that this day shall great honour be shown to thee and all thine
house; for the Holy Grail shall appear in thy hall, and thou and all
thy fellowship shall be fed therefrom." And so to Launcelot she
said: "Sir Knight, thou hast ever been the best knight of all the
world; but another has come to whom thou must yield precedence."
Then Launcelot answered humbly: "I know well I was never the best."
"Ay, of a truth thou wast and art still, of sinful men," said she,
and rode away before any could question her further.
So, that evening, when all were gathered about the Round Table, each
knight in his own siege, suddenly there was heard a crash of
thunder, so mighty that the hall trembled, and there flashed into
the hall a sunbeam, brighter far than any that had ever before been
seen; and then, draped all in white samite, there glided through the
air what none might see, yet what all knew to be the Holy Grail. And
all the air was filled with sweet odours, and on every one was shed
a light in which he looked fairer and nobler than ever before. So
they sat in an amazed silence, till presently King Arthur rose and
gave thanks to God for the grace given to him and to his court. Then
up sprang Sir Gawain and made his avow to follow for a year and a
day the Quest of the Holy Grail, if perchance he might be granted
the vision of it. Immediately other of the knights followed his
example, binding themselves to the Quest of the Holy Grail until, in
all, one hundred and fifty had vowed themselves to the adventure.
Then was King Arthur grieved, for he foresaw the ruin of his noble
Order. And turning to Sir Gawain, he said: "Nephew, ye have done
ill, for through you I am bereft of the noblest company of knights
that ever brought honour to any realm in Christendom. Well I know
that never again shall all of you gather in this hall, and it
grieves me to lose men I have loved as my life and through whom I
have won peace and righteousness for all my realm." So the King
mourned and his knights with him, but their oaths they could not
Great woe was there in Camelot next day when, after worship in the
cathedral, the knights who had vowed themselves to the Quest of the
Holy Grail got to horse and rode away. A goodly company it was that
passed through the streets, the townfolk weeping to see them go; Sir
Launcelot du Lac and his kin, Sir Galahad of whom all expected great
deeds, Sir Bors and Sir Percivale, and many another scarcely less
famed than they. So they rode together that day to the Castle of
Vagon, where they were entertained right hospitably, and the next
day they separated, each to ride his own way and see what adventures
should befall him.
So it came to pass that, after four days' ride, Sir Galahad reached
an abbey. Now Sir Galahad was still clothed in red armour as when he
came to the King's court, and by his side hung the wondrous sword;
but he was without a shield. They of the abbey received him right
heartily, as also did the brave King Bagdemagus, Knight of the Round
Table, who was resting there. When they greeted each other, Sir
Galahad asked King Bagdemagus what adventure had brought him there.
"Sir," said Bagdemagus, "I was told that in this abbey was preserved
a wondrous shield which none but the best knight in the world might
bear without grievous harm to himself. And though I know well that
there are better knights than I, to-morrow I purpose to make the
attempt. But, I pray you, bide at this monastery a while until you
hear from me; and if I fail, do ye take the adventure upon you." "So
be it," said Sir Galahad.
The next day, at their request, Sir Galahad and King Bagdemagus were
led into the church by a monk and shown where, behind the altar,
hung the wondrous shield, whiter than snow save for the blood-red
cross in its midst. Then the monk warned them of the danger to any
who, being unworthy, should dare to bear the shield. But King
Bagdemagus made answer: "I know well that I am not the best knight
in the world, yet will I try if I may bear it." So he hung it about
his neck, and, bidding farewell, rode away with his squire.
The two had not journeyed far before they saw a knight approach,
armed all in white mail and mounted upon a white horse. Immediately
he laid his spear in rest and, charging King Bagdemagus, pierced him
through the shoulder and bore him from his horse; and standing over
the wounded knight, he said: "Knight, thou hast shown great folly,
for none shall bear this shield save the peerless knight, Sir
Galahad." Then, taking the shield, he gave it to the squire and
said: "Bear this shield to the good Knight Galahad and greet him
well from me." "What is your name?" asked the squire. "That is not
for thee or any other to know." "One thing, I pray you," said the
squire; "why may this shield be borne by none but Sir Galahad
without danger?" "Because it belongs to him only," answered the
stranger knight, and vanished.
Then the squire took the shield and setting King Bagdemagus on his
horse, bore him back to the abbey where he lay long, sick unto
death. To Galahad the squire gave the shield and told him all that
had befallen. So Galahad hung the shield about his neck and rode the
way that Bagdemagus had gone the day before; and presently he met
the White Knight, whom he greeted courteously, begging that he would
make known to him the marvels of the red-cross shield. "That will I
gladly," answered the White Knight. "Ye must know, Sir Knight, that
this shield was made and given by Joseph of Arimathea to the good
King Evelake of Sarras, that, in the might of the holy symbol, he
should overthrow the heathen who threatened his kingdom. But
afterwards, King Evelake followed Joseph to this land of Britain
where they taught the true faith unto the people who before were
heathen. Then when Joseph lay dying, he bade King Evelake set the
shield in the monastery where ye lay last night, and foretold that
none should wear it without loss until that day when it should be
taken by the knight, ninth and last in descent from him, who should
come to that place the fifteenth day after receiving the degree of
knighthood. Even so has it been with you, Sir Knight." So saying,
the unknown knight disappeared and Sir Galahad rode on his way.
After Sir Launcelot had parted from his fellows at the Castle of
Vagon, he rode many days through the forest without adventure, till
he chanced upon a knight close by a little hermitage in the wood.
Immediately, as was the wont of errant knights, they prepared to
joust, and Launcelot, whom none before had overthrown, was borne
down, man and horse, by the stranger knight. Thereupon a nun, who
dwelt in the hermitage, cried: "God be with thee, best knight in all
this world," for she knew the victor for Sir Galahad. But Galahad,
not wishing to be known, rode swiftly away; and presently Sir
Launcelot got to horse again and rode slowly on his way, shamed and
doubting sorely in his heart whether this quest were meant for him.
Afterward Sir Galahad rescued Sir Percivale from twenty knights who
beset him, and rode on his way till night-fall, when he sought
shelter at a little hermitage. Thither there came in the night a
damsel who desired to speak with Sir Galahad; so he arose and went
to her. "Galahad," said she, "arm you and mount your horse and
follow me, for I am come to guide you in your quest." So they rode
together until they had come to the seashore and there the damsel
showed Galahad a great ship into which he must enter. Then she bade
him farewell, and he, going on to the ship, found there already the
good knights Sir Bors and Sir Percivale, who made much joy of the
meeting. They abode in that ship until they had come to the castle
of King Pelles, who welcomed them right gladly. Then, as they all
sat at supper that night, suddenly the hall was filled with a great
light, and the holy vessel appeared in their midst, covered all in
white samite. While they all rejoiced, there came a voice, saying:
"My Knights whom I have chosen, ye have seen the holy vessel dimly.
Continue your journey to the city of Sarras and there the perfect
vision shall be yours."
Now in the city of Sarras had dwelt a long time Joseph of Arimathea,
teaching its people the true faith, before ever he came into the
land of Britain; but when Sir Galahad and his fellows came there
after long voyage, they found it ruled by a heathen King named
Estorause, who cast them into a deep dungeon. There they were kept a
year, but at the end of that time, the tyrant died. Then the great
men of the land gathered together to consider who should be their
King; and, while they were in council, came a voice bidding them
take as their King the youngest of the three knights whom Estorause
had thrown into prison. So in fear and wonder they hastened to the
prison, and, releasing the three knights, made Galahad King as the
voice had bidden them.
Thus Sir Galahad became King of the famous city of Sarras, in far
Babylon. He had reigned a year when, one morning early, he and the
other two knights, his fellows, went into the chapel, and there they
saw, kneeling in prayer, an aged man, robed as a bishop, and round
him hovered many angels. The knights fell on their knees in awe and
reverence, whereupon he that seemed a bishop turned to them and
said: "I am Joseph of Arimathea, and I am come to show you the
perfect vision of the Holy Grail." On the instant there appeared
before them, without veil or cover, the holy vessel, in a radiance
of light such as almost blinded them. Sir Bors and Sir Percivale,
when at length they were recovered from the brightness of that
glory, looked up to find that the holy Joseph and the wondrous
vessel had passed from their sight. Then they went to Sir Galahad
where he still knelt as in prayer, and behold, he was dead; for it
had been with him even as he had prayed; in the moment when he had
seen the vision, his soul had gone back to God.
So the two knights buried him in that far city, themselves mourning
and all the people with them. And immediately after, Sir Percivale
put off his arms and took the habit of a monk, living a devout and
holy life until, a year and two months later, he also died and was
buried near Sir Galahad. Then Sir Bors armed him, and bidding
farewell to the city, sailed away until, after many weeks, he came
again to the land of Britain. There he took horse, and stayed not
till he had come to Camelot. Great was the rejoicing of Arthur and
all his knights when Sir Bors was once more among them. When he had
told all the adventures which had befallen him and the good knights,
his companions, all who heard were filled with amaze. But the King
he caused the wisest clerks in the land to write in great books of
the Holy Grail, that the fame of it should endure unto all time.
BY ALFRED LORD TENNYSON
My good blade carves the casques of men,
My tough lance thrusteth sure,
My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.
The shattering trumpet shrilleth high,
The hard brands shiver on the steel,
The splinter'd spear-shafts crack and fly,
The horse and rider reel:
They reel, they roll in clanging lists,
And when the tide of combat stands,
Perfume and flowers fall in showers
That lightly rain from ladies' hands.
How sweet are looks that ladies bend
On whom their favours fall!
For them I battle till the end,
To save from shame and thrall:
But all my heart is drawn above,
My knees are bow'd in crypt and shrine:
I never felt the kiss of love,
Nor maiden's hand in mine.
More bounteous aspects on me beam,
Me mightier transports move and thrill;
So keep I fair thro' faith and prayer
A virgin heart in work and will.
When down the stormy crescent goes,
A light before me swims,
Between dark stems the forest glows,
I hear a noise of hymns:
Then by some secret shrine I ride;
I hear a voice, but none are there;
The stalls are void, the doors are wide,
The tapers burning fair.
Fair gleams the snowy altar-cloth,
The silver vessels sparkle clean,
The shrill bell rings, the censer swings,
And solemn chaunts resound between.
Sometimes on lonely mountain-meres
I find a magic bark;
I leap on board: no helmsman steers
I float till all is dark.
A gentle sound, an awful light!
Three angels bear the Holy Grail:
With folded feet, in stoles of white,
On sleeping wings they sail.
Ah, blessed vision! blood of God!
My spirit beats her mortal bars,
As down dark tides the glory slides,
And star-like mingles with the stars.
When on my goodly charger borne
Thro' dreaming towns I go,
The cock crows ere the Christmas morn,
The streets are dumb with snow.
The tempest crackles on the leads,
And, ringing, spins from brand and mail;
But o'er the dark a glory spreads,
And gilds the driving hail.
I leave the plain, I climb the height;
No branchy thicket shelter yields;
But blessed forms in whistling storms
Fly o'er waste fens and windy fields.
A maiden knight--to me is given
Such hope, I know not fear,
I yearn to breathe the airs of heaven
That often meet me here.
I muse on joy that will not cease,
Pure spaces clothed in living beams,
Pure lilies of eternal peace,
Whose odours haunt my dreams;
And, stricken by an angel's hand,
This mortal armour that I wear,
This weight and size, this heart and eyes,
Are touch'd, are turn'd to finest air.
The clouds are broken in the sky,
And thro' the mountain-walls
A rolling organ-harmony
Swells up, and shakes and falls.
Then move the trees, the copses nod,
Wings flutter, voices hover clear:
"O just and faithful knight of God!
Ride on! the prize is near."
So pass I hostel, hall, and grange;
By bridge and ford, by park and pale,
All-arm'd I ride, whate'er betide,
Until I find the Holy Grail.
Now there dwelt in a castle in the Netherland a certain King,
Siegmund by name, who had to wife a fair lady Sieglind. These two
had a son whom they called Siegfried, a very gallant prince. Very
carefully did they train and teach him, but the root of the matter
was in the lad himself, for he had an honest and good heart, and was
in all things a very perfect knight. This Siegfried being come to
man's estate, and being well practised in arms, and having also as
much of wealth as he needed, turned his thoughts to marriage,
desiring to win a fair bride for himself.
It came to Prince Siegfried's ears that there was a very fair maiden
in the Rhineland, and that many noble knights had come from far and
wide to make their suits to her, but that she would have none of
them. Never yet had she seen the man whom she would take for her
husband. All this the Prince heard, and he said, "This Kriemhild
will I have for my wife." But King Siegmund, when he heard of his
son's purpose, was not a little troubled thereat; and Queen Sieglind
wept, for she knew the brother of Kriemhild, and she was aware of
the strength and valour of his warriors. So they said to the Prince,
"Son, this is not a wise wooing." But Siegfried made answer, "My
father, I will have none of wedlock, if I may not marry where I
love." Thereupon the King said. "If thou canst not forego this
maiden, then thou shalt have all the help that I can give."
Queen Sieglind said: "If you are still minded to go, then I will
prepare for you and your companions the best raiment that ever
Siegfried bowed low to his mother, saying: "So be it; only remember
that twelve comrades only will I take with me."
So the Queen and her ladies sat stitching night and day, taking no
rest till the raiment was ready. King Siegmund the while commanded
that the men should polish their war-gear, coats of mail, and
helmets, and shields.
The thirteen comrades departed and, on the seventh day, they rode
into the town of Worms in Rhineland, a gallant company, bravely
arrayed, for their garments flashed with gold, and their war-gear,
over their coats of mail and their helmets, were newly polished.
Their long swords hung down by their sides, even to their spurs, and
sharp were the javelins which they held in their hands. The javelin
of Siegfried was two spans broad in the blade, and had a double
edge. Terrible were the wounds that it made. Their bridles were
gilded, and their horse-girths of silk. A comely sight they were to
see, and the people came from all round to gaze upon them.
Tidings had been brought to King Gunther that certain warriors were
come, very gallant to look upon and richly clad, but that no one
knew who they were, and whence they came. "Now," said the King,
"this troubles me much that no one can tell whence these warriors
come." To him Ortwein, the High Server, made answer, "Seeing, sire,
that no man knows aught about these strangers, let some one fetch
Hagen, my uncle; he knows all the kingdoms of the world, and the
So Hagen went to the window and looked at the men. Well pleased was
he with their clothing and their gear of war; but he had never seen
their like in the Rhineland. So he said: "Whencesoever these men
have come, my lord, that they are princes or of a prince's company
is clear. But stay; Siegfried, the famous hero, I have never seen
with my eyes, but I verily believe that is he. If it indeed be,
there is no warrior in this land, that is his match for strength and
"Once upon a time riding alone, with none to help him, he came upon
the treasure of the Nibelungs. It had been newly taken out of the
hollow of a mountain, and the Nibelungs were making ready to share
it. And when they saw him, one cried aloud, 'Here comes Siegfried,
the great champion from the Motherland!' So the two princes of the
Nibelungs bade him welcome, and would have him divide the treasure
among them. A mighty store it was, of jewels such plenty that scarce
five-score wagons could carry them away, and of red gold yet more.
All this they would have Siegfried divide among them. And for his
wages they gave him the Nibelungs' sword. But little did they know
what should befall at his hand. For lo! ere he had ended his
dividing, they stirred up strife against him. Twelve stout comrades
had the princes, and with these the princes thought to have slain
Siegfried. But they availed nought; with the very sword which they
had given him for his reward--Balmung was its name--he slew them
all. The giants he slew, and the Kings also, and when Albrich the
dwarf would have avenged his lords--for he was the keeper of the
treasure--Siegfried overcame him also, and wrested from him the Hood
of Darkness, which whoso dons, straightway he vanishes from the
sight of all men.
"But the treasure he would not take for himself. 'Carry it back,'
said he to Albrich the dwarf, 'to the hole whence it was taken, and
keep if for me. And you shall swear a great oath to do me any
service that I shall ask of you, whensoever and wheresoever may seem
good to me.'
"Another story have I heard tell of Siegfried, how he slew a dragon
with his own hand and sword, and how he bathed him in the dragon's
blood, and made his skin so hard and horny that no sword may pierce
it. Let us. therefore receive him with all courtesy; for verily he
is a right strong and valiant knight, and 'tis better, I ween, to be
his friend than his enemy."
"Methinks thou art right," said King Gunther. "Let us go down and
greet him courteously."
Never were guests more honoured as, of a surety, never guests had
bolder mien. And as the days went by the Kings and their guests gave
themselves to sport and pastime; but whatever they did, Siegfried
was ever the first; none could put the stone so far, or cast the
spear with so sure an aim. Sometimes the fair ladies of the court
looked on, and not a few looked on the young Prince from the
Netherland with favour. But he had ever one only in his heart, ever
the fair Kriemhild.
King Gunther purposed in his heart to marry a wife. No daughter of
his own land would he woo, though there were many fair maidens in
the Rhineland. But there came to him tidings of a Queen that dwelt
beyond the sea; not to be matched was she for beauty, nor had she
any peer for strength. Her love she proffered to any warrior who
could vanquish her at three games, hurling of the spear, and putting
the stone, and leaping. But if the suitor himself should be
vanquished, then must he lose his head. Such were the conditions of
her wooing, and many brave warriors had died for her.
On a certain day King Gunther and his chiefs sat in council, and the
matter was this--where shall the King seek a wife who shall both be
for a comfort to him and for a glory to the land? Then spake the
King, "I will seek Queen Brunhild and no other. For her will I
hazard my life; nor do I care to live if I may not win her for my
wife." To him spake Siegfried, "I would have you give up this
purpose. He who woos Brunhild plays for too high a stake. Take my
counsel, sire, and go not on such a journey." "I should think it
scorn," said he, "to fear a woman, were she ever so bold and
strong." "Ah, sire," Siegfried made answer, "you know not how strong
she is. Were you four men and not one only, you could not prevail
But King Gunther would not yield. "How strong soever she be, and
whatever the chances that befall me, I will woo this fair Brunhild,"
he said. Then said Hagen, the King's uncle, "Since you are resolved
to take in hand this enterprise, ask Prince Siegfried to help you."
Then said King Gunther to Siegfried, "Will you help me to win this
Brunhild for my wife? Do this, and ask of me what you will."
Siegfried made answer, "Give me your sister: I ask no other reward
but that I may have the fair Kriemhild to wife." "That I promise,"
said the King. "Of a surety, so soon as I shall have brought the
fair Brunhild to this realm, then will I give you my sister to wife;
and I pray from my heart that you may live long and happily
together." Then the two sware to each other.
"Tell me now," said Gunther, "how shall we travel to this land where
Brunhild dwells? Shall we go in such state as befits a King? If you
think fit, I could well bring together thirty thousand warriors."
"Thirty thousand would avail nothing." answered Siegfried, "so
strong she is and savage. We will take no army, but go as simple
knights, taking two companions with us, and the two shall be Sir
Hagen and Sir Dankwart." "And wherewithal shall we be clothed?" said
King Gunther. "As richly as maybe," answered Siegfried. "My mother
has a great store of goodly raiment," said the King. Then spake
Hagen, "Nay, sire, go not to the Queen, but rather to your sister.
She will provide all things that you need."
So they went to the Lady Kriemhild and told her all their purpose,
and how they should need goodly raiment, three changes for the day,
and that for four days. With good will did the fair Kriemhild
receive them, and promised that she would give them what they
needed. As she promised, so she did; for she and her ladies, thirty
maids skilful in the work of the needle, laboured night and day to
furnish a rich store of apparel. The fair Kriemhild planned them and
cut them to just measure with her own hand and her ladies sewed
them. Silks there were, some from Arabia, white as snow, and from
the Lesser Asia others, green as grass, and strange skins of fishes
from distant seas, and fur of the ermine, with black spots on snowy
white, and precious stones and gold of Arabia. In seven weeks all
was prepared, both apparel and also arms and armour; and there was
nothing that was either over-long or over-short, or that could be
surpassed for comeliness. Great thanks did the warriors give to each
fair seamstress, and to Kriemhild the beautiful the greatest thanks
So the four companions embarked on their ship, with Siegfried for
their helmsman, for he knew all the tides and currents of Rhine.
Well furnished were they with food and wine and all things that they
needed; and prosperous was their voyage, both while they sailed down
the river and while they crossed the sea.
On the twelfth morning they came to the land of Queen Brunhild. And
when King Gunther saw how the coast stretched far away, and how on
every height there stood a fair castle, he said to Siegfried, "Tell
me, Siegfried, if you can, whose are those castles, and this fair
land. Never in all my life, I assure you, have I seen castles so
fairly planned and built so well." Siegfried made answer, "These
castles and this fair land are Queen Brunhild's and this strong
fortress that you see is Isenstein. And now, my comrades, I have a
counsel for your ears. To-day we shall stand in Queen Brunhild's
court, and we must be wise and wary when we stand before her. Let
therefore one and the same story be found in the mouth of all--that
Gunther is my master, and that I am Gunther's man. If we would win
our purpose there is no surer plan than this." So spake Siegfried to
his comrades. And to the King he said, "Mark, I pray you, what I do
for the love of your fair sister."
While they talked one to the other the bark drifted so near to the
shore that they could see the maidens standing at the castle
windows. "Who are these?" said King Gunther to Siegfried. Said
Siegfried, "Look with all your eyes at these fair ladies, and tell
me which of them pleases you best, and which, could you win her, you
would choose for your wife." Gunther made answer, "One that I see at
yonder window in a snow-white vest is surely the loveliest of all.
She, if I can win her, shall surely be my wife." "You have chosen
well," said Siegfried; "that maiden in the snow-white vest is
Brunhild, the fairest and fiercest of women."
Meanwhile the Queen had bidden her maidens depart from the windows.
"'Tis a shame," said she, "that you should make yourselves a sight
And now came the four comrades from their bark to the castle.
Siegfried led a noble charger by the bridle, and stood by the
stirrup till King Gunther had mounted, serving him as a vassal
serves his lord. This Brunhild marked from where she stood. "A noble
lord," thought she in her heart, "whom such a vassal serves." Then
Siegfried mounted his own steed, and Hagen and Dankwart did the
like. A fairer company never was seen. The King and Siegfried were
clothed in white, and white were their horses, and their shields
flashed far as they moved. So, in lordly fashion, they rode to the
hall of Queen Brunhild, and the bells of gold that hung from their
saddles tinkled as they went. Hagen and Dankwart, on the other hand,
wore black apparel, and their chargers were black.
Meanwhile the fair Brunhild inquired of her nobles who these
strangers might be that had come across the sea, and on what errand
they had come. One of them answered, "Fair lady, I have never seen
these stout warriors, save one only, who is greatly like to the
noble Siegfried. If this be he, I would have you give him a hearty
welcome. Next to him is a man of right royal mien, a King, I trow,
who rules with his sceptre mighty lands and herd. The third has a
lowering brow, but is a stout warrior withal; the fourth is young
and modest of look, but for all his gentle bearing, we should all
rue it, I trow, if wrong were done to him."
Then spake Queen Brunhild, "Bring me now my royal vesture; if
Siegfried seeks to woo me for his wife, he must risk his life on the
cast; I fear him not so much as to yield to him without a struggle."
So the Queen arrayed her in her royal robes, and went to the hall of
audience, and a hundred maidens and more followed her, fair of face
and in fair array. And after the maidens came five hundred warriors
and more, each bearing his sword in his hand, the very flower of
Said Queen Brunhild to Siegfried, "You are welcome, good Sir
Siegfried. Show me, if you will, for what cause you have come
hither." "I thank you a thousand times," answered Siegfried, "that
you have greeted me so courteously, but know that I must give place
to this noble hero. He is my lord and master; I am his vassal. Let
your favour be for him. His kingdom is by the Rhine side, and we
have sailed all this way from thence that he may woo you for his
bride. That is his fixed intent, nor will he yield whatever may
befall. Gunther is his name; a great King is he, and nothing will
content him but to carry you back with him to the Rhine."
Queen Brunhild answered, "If he is the master and you the man, then
let him know that he must match me in my games and conquer me. If he
prevail, then will I be his wedded wife; but if I prevail, then must
he die, he and you and all his comrades." Then spake Sir Hagen,
"Lady, tell us now the games at which my master must contend; and
know that you must strive full hard, if you would conquer him, for
he has a full trust that he will win you for his bride." The Queen
answered, "He must cast the stone further than I, and also leap
behind it further than I leap; and also he must cast the spear with
me. It seems to me that you are over-hasty; let him count the cost,
ere he lose both fame and life." Then Siegfried whispered to the
King, "Have no fear for what shall be, and cast away all your care.
Let the fair Brunhild do what she will, I will bear you harmless."
So the King spake aloud, "Fairest of the fair, tell me your
pleasure; were it a greater task willingly would I undertake it, for
if I win you not for my bride, willingly will I lose my head."
Then the fair Brunhild called for her battle gear, her arms, and her
breastplate of gold and her mighty shield; and over all she drew a
surcoat of silk, marvellously made. Fierce and angry was her
countenance as she looked at the strangers, and Hagen and Dankwart
were troubled to see her, for they doubted how it might go with
their master. "'Tis a fatal journey," said they, "and will bring us
Meanwhile Siegfried hied him with nimble foot to the bark, and there
he took, from the secret corner where he kept it, the Hood of
Darkness, by which, at his will, he could make himself invisible.
Quickly did he go, and quickly returned, and now no one could see
him, for he wore the hood. Through the crowd he went at his
pleasure, seeing all but seen of none.
Meanwhile men had marked out the ring for the fray, and chiefs had
been chosen as umpires, seven hundred men in armour who should judge
betwixt the combatants. First of the two came the fair Brunhild. So
mighty was her presence, a man had thought her ready to match
herself in battle with all the Kings in the world. And there was
carried before her a mighty shield of ruddy gold, very thick and
broad and heavy, overlaid with studs of steel. Four chamberlains
could scarce bear the weight. Sir Hagen, when he saw it, said, "How
now, my lord King? this fair one whom you would woo must surely be
the devil's wife. "Next came three men who scarce could carry the
Queen's javelin, with its mighty spear-head, heavy and great as
though three had been melted into one. And when King Gunther saw it,
he said to himself, "This is a danger from which the devil himself
can scarce escape. I would that I were once more by the banks of
Rhine; he that would might woo and win this fair maiden for me."
After this there was brought the mighty stone which Brunhild was to
hurl. Twelve knights could scarce support it, so big it was.
And now the Queen addressed her to the contest, rolling her sleeves
about her arms, and fitting her buckler, and poising her mighty
spear in her hand. And the strangers, when they saw it, were sore
afraid for all their courage.
But now came Siegfried to King Gunther's side and touched his hand.
Greatly amazed was the King for he did not understand his champion's
device. "Who was it that touched me?" he said, and looked round, but
saw no one. "'Tis I," answered the Prince, "your trusty friend,
Siegfried. Have no fear of the maiden. Let me carry the buckler; you
shall seem to do each deed, but I will do it in truth. But be
careful to hide the device. Should the maiden discover it, she will
not spare to bring it to nought." Right glad was Gunther to know
that his strong ally was at hand.
And now the Queen threw the spear with all her might against the
shield Siegfried bore upon his arm. New was the shield and stout of
make, but the spearhead passed clean through it, and rang on the
hero's coat of mail, dealing him so sore a blow that the blood
gushed forth from his mouth. Of a truth, but for the Hood of
Darkness, that hour both the champions had died. Then Siegfried
caught the great spear in his hand, and tore it from the shield, and
hurled it back. "She is too fair to slay," said he to himself, and
he turned the spear point behind him, and smote the maiden with the
shaft on the silken vest that she wore. Loud rang the blow, and the
fire-sparks leapt from her armour. Never could Gunther, for all his
strength, have dealt such a blow, for it felled the strong Brunhild
to the ground. Lightly did she leap up again, crying, "King Gunther,
I thank you for the blow; 'twas shrewdly given," for she thought
that the King had dealt it.
But great was the wrath in her heart to find that her spear had sped
in vain. And now she turned to the great stone where it lay, and
poised it in her hand, and hurled it with all her might. And having
hurled it, she herself leapt after it. Twelve full arms' length
hurtled the great stone through the air, so mighty was the maiden,
and she herself overpassed it by a pace. Then came Gunther to the
place, with Siegfried unseen by his side. And Siegfried caught the
stone and poised it--but it seemed to all as if Gunther did it--and
threw it yet another arm's length beyond the cast of the maid, and
passed the stone himself, aye, and carried King Gunther along with
him, so mighty was he!
But when the Queen saw that she was vanquished, she flushed with
shame and wrath, and turning to her lords, she spake aloud, "Come
hither, my kinsmen and lieges. You must now be thralls of King
Gunther of Burgundy."
So the chiefs of Isenland laid their swords at Gunther's feet and
did him homage, for they thought that he had vanquished by his own
strength; and he, for he was a very gentle, courteous knight,
greeted the maid right pleasantly, and she, for her part, took him
by the hand and said, "Henceforth, Sir King, all the rule and power
that I have held is yours."
There is no need to tell how Gunther and Brunhild and all their
company travelled to Rhineland with great joy, and how Queen Ute and
her sons and the fair Kriemhild, and all the people of the land,
gave them a hearty welcome and how in due time King Gunther was
married to the fair Brunhild. Nor is there need of many words to
relate how Siegfried also took to wife the beautiful Kriemhild, as
it had been promised him. Nor were there any to gainsay save
Brunhild only, for she grudged that her husband's sister should be
given to a vassal, for such in truth she deemed him to be. Very ill
content she was, though the King would fain have satisfied her,
saying that he was a very noble knight, and was lord of many
woodlands, and had great store of gold and treasure.
So Siegfried wedded the fair Kriemhild and took her with him to his
own land. A goodly welcome did the Netherlands give her. And
Siegmund gave up his kingdom to his son, and the two lived in much
peace and love together; and when in the tenth year a son was born
to them, they called him by the name of his uncle Gunther.
Also Gunther and Brunhild lived together in much happiness. They
also had a son, and they called him by the name of Siegfried.
But Brunhild was ill content that Siegfried being, far so she
deemed, her husband's vassal, should pay no homage to his lord and
do no service for his fee. And she was very urgent with her husband
that he should suffer this no longer. But the King was fain to put
her off. "Nay," said he, "the journey is too long. Their land is far
from ours; why should we trouble him to come? Also he is a great
prince and a powerful." "Be he as great as he will," she answered,
"'tis a vassal's duty to pay homage to his lord." But Gunther
laughed to himself. Little thought had he of homage from Siegfried.
Then the Queen changed her voice. "Dear lord," she said, "how gladly
would I see Siegfried and your dear sister once more. Well do I
remember how fair she was and how kind, how gracious of speech when
we sat together, brides both of us." With such words she persuaded
her husband. "There are no guests that would be more welcome," said
he; "I will find messengers who shall bid them come to the
Great was the joy in Rhineland when the messengers returned and told
how they had been welcomed and royally entertained and loaded with
gifts, and how that Siegfried and his Queen Kriemhild and a company
of gallant knights were coming to the festival. Great was the joy
and manifold the preparations.
No sooner did the King hear the news than he sought out Queen
Brunhild where she sat in her chamber. "Bear you in mind," said he,
"how Kriemhild my sister welcomed you when you came hither from your
own land. Do you, therefore, dear wife, welcome her with the like
affection." "So shall it be," answered the Queen.
And indeed, when the guests came, right royal was the welcome that
they had. For Gunther and Brunhild rode forth from the city to meet
them, and greeted them most heartily. All was mirth and jollity. By
the day there were tilts and tournaments and sports of every kind,
and at night there was feasting in the hall. And so they did for
But Brunhild ever cherished a thought of mischief in her heart.
"Why," she said to herself, "why has Siegfried stayed so long to do
homage for that which he holds of us in fee? I shall not be content
till Kriemhild answer me in this."
It fell out on a certain day, while sundry knights were in the
castle court, that the two Queens sat together. The fair Kriemhild
then began, "My husband is so mighty a man that he should rule these
kingdoms of right." "Nay," answered Brunhild, "that might be were
you and your husband only alive, and all others dead, but so long as
Gunther lives he must needs be King." Then said fair Kriemhild, "See
how he shines among the knights, a very moon among the stars."
Brunhild answered, "However brave and strong he may be, and stately
to look upon, Gunther, your brother, is better than he." "Nay," said
Kriemhild, "better he is not, nay, nor even his peer." "How say
you?" answered Brunhild in wrath; "I spake not without cause. When I
saw the two for the first time, then I heard with my own ears how
Siegfried confessed that he was Gunther's man. Yea, I heard him say
it, and I hold him to be such." "This is folly," said Kriemhild;
"think you that my brothers could have given me to be bride to a
vassal? Away, Brunhild, with such idle talk, if we would still be
friends." "I will not away with it," Brunhild made answer. "Shall I
renounce the service which he and all the vassals are bound to
render to their lord?" "Renounce it you must," cried Kriemhild in
great wrath. "The service of a vassal he will never do; he is of
higher degree than Gunther my brother, though Gunther is a noble
King." "You bear yourself far too proudly," answered Brunhild.
But the deadliest cause of quarrel was yet to come. Said Queen
Kriemhild to Queen Brunhild when next she saw her: "Think you that
when you were vanquished in your own land it was Gunther, my
brother, that vanquished you?" "Yea," answered the Queen, "did I not
see it with my own eyes?" "Nay," said Kriemhild, "it was not so. See
you this ring?" And she took a ring that she had upon her finger and
held it forth. "Do you know it?" And Brunhild looked and knew it for
her own. "That," said Kriemhild, "Siegfried, my husband, took from
you when you were smitten by his spear and knew not what had
befallen you, so sore was the blow. You saw him not, for he had the
Hood of Darkness on him and was invisible. But it was he that smote
you with the spear, and put the stone further than you, and passed
you in the leap. And this ring he gave me for a token, if ever you
should boast yourself against me. Talk, therefore, no more of lords
and vassals. My husband feigned this vassalage that he might deceive
you the more readily."
But Brunhild held her peace, for the ring was a proof which she
could not gainsay. She held her peace, but she cherished her rage,
keeping it in the depths of her heart, and sware that she would be
avenged on the man that had so deceived her.
When Hagen saw that Queen Brunhild was in continual trouble and
sadness he would fain know the cause. "'Tis of Siegfried's doing,"
she answered. "He has wronged me beyond pardon." And she besought
him that he would avenge her and King Gunther upon him.
So Hagan plotted evil, saying enemies were coming against Gunther,
and Siegfried and his knights made them ready to go forth to the
King's defence. And of the chiefs of Rhineland not a few offered
themselves as comrades, knowing nothing of the treachery that Hagen
and his fellows were preparing against him.
But before they departed Hagen went to bid farewell to Queen
Kriemhild. Said she, "I have good comfort in my heart to think how
valiant a husband I have, and how zealous he is to help his friends,
for I have loved my kinsmen always, nor ever wished them ill." "Tell
me, dear lady," said Hagen, "what service I can do to your husband,
for there is no one whom I love better than him." The Queen made
answer, "I have no fear that my lord will fall in battle by any
man's sword, save only that he is too ready to follow even to
rashness his own warlike spirit." "Dear lady," said Hagen, "if there
is any danger which you hold in special fear, tell me that I may
defend him against it." Then Kriemhild, in the simpleness of her
heart, told him the secret. "In years gone by," said she, "my
husband slew a dragon among the mountains, and when he had slain the
monster, he bathed himself in its blood. So mighty was the charm,
that thenceforth no steel had power to wound him. And yet, for all
this, I am ever in fear lest by some mischance a weapon should
pierce him. Hearken now, my cousin, for you are of my kindred,
hearken, and see how I put my trust in your honour. While Siegfried
washed his limbs in the blood of the dragon, there fell a leaf from
a linden tree between his shoulders. There and there only can steel
harm him." "'Tis easy," said the false Hagen, "for me to defend so
small a spot. Only do you sew a little token on his cloak, that I
may the better know the spot that most needs protection when we
stand together in the fight." "I will do so," said the Queen; "I
will sew a little cross with threads of silk on his cloak, and you
will guard him when he fights in the throng of his foes." "That will
I do, dear lady," said the traitor.
Hagen went straightway to King Gunther and said, "I have learnt that
which I needed to know; put off this march; let us go on a hunt. So
that which we would do will be easier done." "I will order that,"
answered the King.
Siegfried, before he set out for the hunting, bade farewell to his
wife: "God grant," said he, "that we may soon meet happily again;
meanwhile be merry among your kinsfolk here." But Kriemhild thought
of how she had discovered the secret to Hagen, and was sore afraid,
yet dared not tell the truth. Only she said to her husband, "I pray
you to leave this hunting. Only this night past I had an evil dream.
I saw two wild boars pursuing you over the heath, and the flowers
were red as with blood. Greatly I fear some treason, my Siegfried."
"Nay," said he, "there is not one in Rhineland here that bears me
ill-will. Whom have I wronged?" "I know not," answered the Queen,
"but yet my heart bodes evil. For I had yet another dream. I seemed
to see two mountains fall with a terrible noise on your head. If you
go, you will break my heart." But he laughed at her fears, and
kissed her, and so departed.
Then Siegfried went on the hunting, and Gunther and Hagen went with
him, and a company of hunters and hounds. When they came to the
forest Siegfried said, "Now who shall begin the hunting?" Hagen made
answer, "Let us divide into two companies ere we begin, and each
shall beat the coverts as he will; so shall we see who is the more
skilful in the chase." "I need no pack," said Siegfried; "give me
one well-trained hound that can track the game through the coverts.
That will suffice for me." So a lime-hound was given to him. All
that the good hound started did Siegfried slay; no beast could
outrun him or escape him. A wild boar first he slew, and next to the
boar a lion; he shot an arrow through the beast from side to side.
After the lion he slew a buffalo and four elks, and a great store of
game besides, so that the huntsmen said, "Leave us something in our
woods, Sir Siegfried."
King Gunther bade blow the horn for breakfast. When Siegfried's
huntsman heard the blast he said: "Our hunting-time is over; we must
back to our comrades." So they went with all speed to the trysting-
The whole company sat down to their meal. There was plenty of every
kind, but wine was wanting. "How is this?" said Siegfried: "the
kitchen is plentiful; but where is the wine?" Said Gunther the King,
"'Tis Hagen's fault, who makes us all go dry." "True, Sir King,"
said Hagen, "my fault it is. But I know of a runnel, cold and clear,
that is hard by. Let us go thither and quench our thirst." Then
Siegfried rose from his place, for his thirst was sore, and would
have sought the place. Said Hagen, when he saw him rise, "I have
heard say that there is no man in all the land so fleet of foot as
Siegfried. Will he deign to let us see his speed?" "With all my
heart," cried the hero. "Let us race from hence to the runnel."
"'Tis agreed," said Hagen the traitor. "Furthermore," said
Siegfried, "I will carry all the equipment that I bare in the
chase." So Gunther and Hagen stripped them to their shirts, but
Siegfried carried sword and spear, all his hunting-gear, and yet was
far before the two at the runnel.
Yet, such was his courtesy, that he would not drink before the King
had quenched his thirst. He was ill repaid, I trow, for his grace.
For when the King had drunk, as Siegfried knelt plunging his head
into the stream, Sir Hagen took his spear and smote him on the
little crosslet mark that was worked on his cloak between his
shoulders. And when he had struck the blow he fled in mortal fear.
When Siegfried felt that he was wounded, he rose with a great bound
from his knees and sought for his weapons. But these the false Hagen
had taken and laid far away. Only the shield was left. This he took
in his hand and hurled at Hagen with such might that it felled the
traitor to the ground, and was itself broken to pieces. If the hero
had but had his good sword Balmung in his hand, the murderer had not
escaped with his life that day.
Then all the Rhineland warriors gathered about him. Among them was
King Gunther, making pretence to lament. To him said Siegfried,
"Little it profits to bewail the man whose murder you have plotted.
Did I not save you from shame and defeat? Is this the recompense
that you pay? And yet even of you I would ask one favour. Have some
kindness for my wife. She is your sister; if you have any knightly
faith and honour remaining, guard her well." Then there came upon
him the anguish of death. Yet one more word he spake, "Be sure that
in slaying me you have slain yourselves." And when he had so spoken
Then they laid his body on a shield and carried it back, having
agreed among themselves to tell this tale, that Sir Siegfried having
chosen to hunt by himself was slain by robbers in the wood.
The trumpets sounded and the army went on its way to France. The
next day King Charles called his lords together. "You see," said he,
"these narrow passes. Whom shall I place to command the rearguard?
Choose you a man yourselves." Said Ganelon, "Whom should we choose
but my son-in-law, Count Roland? You have no man in your host so
valiant. Of a truth he will be the salvation of France." The King
said when he heard these words, "What ails you, Ganelon? You look
like to one possessed."
When Count Roland knew what was proposed concerning him, he spake
out as a true knight should speak "I am right thankful to you, my
father-in-law, that you have caused me to be put in this place. Of a
truth the King of France shall lose nothing by my means, neither
charger, nor mule, nor packhorse, nor beast of burden."
Then Roland turned to the King and said, "Give me twenty thousand
only, so they be men of valour, and I will keep the passes in all
safety. So long as I shall live, you need fear no man."
Then Roland mounted his horse. With him were Oliver his comrade, and
Otho and Berenger, and Gerard of Roussillon, an aged warrior, and
others, men of renown. And Turpin the Archbishop cried, "By my head,
I will go also." So they chose twenty thousand warriors with whom to
keep the passes.
Meanwhile King Charles had entered the valley of Roncesvalles. High
were the mountains on either side of the way, and the valleys were
gloomy and dark. But when the army had passed through the valley,
they saw the fair land of Gascony, and as they saw it they thought
of their homes and their wives and daughters. There was not one of
them but wept for very tenderness of heart. But of all that company
there was none sadder than the King himself, when he thought how he
had left his nephew Count Roland behind him in the passes of Spain.
And now the Saracen King Marsilas began to gather his army. He laid
a strict command on all his nobles and chiefs that they should bring
with them to Saragossa as many men as they could gather together.
And when they were come to the city, it being the third day from the
issuing of the King's command, they saluted the great image of
Mahomet, the false prophet, that stood on the topmost tower. This
done they went forth from the city gates. They made all haste,
marching across the mountains and valleys of Spain till they came in
sight of the standard of France, where Roland and Oliver and the
Twelve Peers were ranged in battle array.
The Saracen champions donned their coats of mail, of double
substance most of them, and they set upon their heads helmets of
Saragossa of well tempered metal, and they girded themselves with
swords of Vienna. Fair were their shields to view, their lances were
from Valentia, their standards were of white, blue, and red. Their
mules they left with the servants, and, mounting their chargers, so
moved forwards. Fair was the day and bright the sun, as their armour
flashed in the light and the drums were beaten so loudly that the
Frenchmen heard the sound.
Said Oliver to Roland, "Comrade, methinks we shall soon do battle
with the Saracens." "God grant it," answered Roland. "'Tis our duty
to hold the place for the King, and we will do it, come what may. As
for me, I will not set an ill example."
Oliver climbed to the top of a hill, and saw from thence the whole
army of the heathen. He cried to Roland his companion, "I see the
flashing of arms. We men of France shall have no small trouble
therefrom. This is the doing of Ganelon the traitor."
"Be silent," answered Roland, "till you shall know; say no more
Oliver looked again from the hilltop, and saw how the Saracens came
on. So many there were that he could not count their battalions. He
descended to the plain with all speed, and came to the array of the
French, and said, "I have seen more heathen than man ever yet saw
together upon the earth. There are a hundred thousand at the least.
We shall have such a battle with them as has never before been
fought. My brethren of France, quit you like men, be strong; stand
firm that you be not conquered." And all the army shouted with one
voice, "Cursed be he that shall fly."
Then Oliver turned to Roland, and said, "Sound your horn; my friend,
Charles will hear it, and will return." "I were a fool," answered
Roland, "so to do. Not so; but I will deal these heathen some mighty
blows with Durendal my sword. They have been ill-advised to venture
into these passes. I swear that they are condemned to death, one and
After a while, Oliver said again, "Friend Roland sound your horn of
ivory. Then will the King returns and bring his army with him, to
our help." But Roland answered again, "I will not do dishonour to my
kinsmen, or to the fair land of France. I have my sword; that shall
suffice for me. These evil-minded heathen are gathered together
against us to their own hurt. Surely not one of them shall escape
from death." "As for me," said Oliver, "I see not where the
dishonour would be. I saw the valleys and the mountains covered with
the great multitude of Saracens. Theirs is, in truth, a mighty
array, and we are but few." "So much the better," answered Roland.
"It makes my courage grow. 'Tis better to die than to be disgraced.
And remember, the harder our blows the more the King will love us."
Roland was brave, but Oliver was wise. "Consider," he said,
"comrade. These enemies are over-near to us, and the King over-far.
Were he here, we should not be in danger; but there are some here
to-day who will never fight in another battle."
Then Turpin the Archbishop struck spurs into his horse, and rode to
a hilltop. Then he turned to the men of France, and spake: "Lords of
France, King Charles has left us here; our King he is, and it is our
duty to die for him. To-day our Christian Faith is in peril: do ye
fight for it. Fight ye must; be sure of that, for there under your
eyes are the Saracens. Confess, therefore, your sins, and pray to
God that He have mercy upon you. And now for your soul's health I
will give you all absolution. If you die, you will be God's martyrs,
every one of you, and your places are ready for you in His
Thereupon the men of France dismounted, and knelt upon the ground,
and the Archbishop blessed them in God's name. "But look," said he,
"I set you a penance--smite these pagans." Then the men of France
rose to their feet. They had received absolution, and were set free
from all their sins, and the Archbishop had blessed them in the name
of God. After this they mounted their swift steeds, and clad
themselves in armour, and made themselves ready for the battle.
Said Roland to Oliver, "Brother, you know that it is Ganelon who has
betrayed us. Good store he has had of gold and silver as a reward;
'tis the King Marsilas that has made merchandise of us, but verily
it is with our swords that he shall be paid." So saying, he rode on
to the pass, mounted on his good steed Veillantif. His spear he held
with the point to the sky; a white flag it bore with fringes of gold
which fell down to his hands. A stalwart man was he, and his
countenance was fair and smiling. Behind him followed Oliver, his
friend; and the men of France pointed to him, saying, "See our
champion!" Pride was in his eye when he looked towards the Saracens;
but to the men of France his regard was all sweetness and humility.
Full courteously he spake to them: "Ride not so fast, my lords," he
said; "verily these heathen are come hither, seeking martyrdom. 'Tis
a fair spoil that we shall gather from them to-day. Never has King
of France gained any so rich." And as he spake, the two hosts came
Said Oliver, "You did not deem it fit, my lord, to sound your horn.
Therefore you lack the help which the King would have sent. Not his
the blame, for he knows nothing of what has chanced. But do you,
lords of France, charge as fiercely as you may, and yield not one
whit to the enemy. Think upon these two things only--how to deal a
straight blow and to take it. And let us not forget King Charles's
cry of battle." Then all the men of France with one voice cried out,
"Mountjoy!" He that heard them so cry had never doubted that they
were men of valour. Proud was their array as they rode on to battle,
spurring their horses that they might speed the more. And the
Saracens, on their part, came forward with a good heart. Thus did
the Frenchmen and the heathen meet in the shock of battle.
Full many of the heathen warriors fell that day. Not one of the
Twelve Peers of France but slew his man. But of all none bare
himself so valiantly as Roland. Many a blow did he deal to the enemy
with his mighty spear, and when the spear was shivered in his hand,
fifteen warriors having fallen before it, then he seized his good
sword Durendal, and smote man after man to the ground. Red was he
with the blood of his enemies, red was his hauberk, red his arms,
red his shoulders, aye, and the neck of his horse. Not one of the
Twelve lingered in the rear, or was slow to strike, but Count Roland
was the bravest of the brave. "Well done, Sons of France!" cried
Turpin the Archbishop, when he saw them lay on in such sort.
Next to Roland for valour and hardihood came Oliver, his companion.
Many a heathen warrior did he slay, till at last his spear was
shivered in his hand. "What are you doing, comrade?" cried Roland,
when he was aware of the mishap. "A man wants no staff in such a
battle as this. 'Tis the steel and nothing else that he must have.
Where is your sword Hautclere, with its hilt of gold and its pommel
of crystal?" "On my word," said Oliver, "I have not had time to draw
it; I was so busy with striking." But as he spake he drew the good
sword from its scabbard, and smote a heathen knight, Justin of the
Iron Valley. A mighty blow it was, cleaving the man in twain down to
his saddle--aye, and the saddle itself with its adorning of gold and
jewels, and the very backbone also of the steed whereon he rode, so
that horse and man fell dead together on the plains. "Well done!"
cried Roland; "you are a true brother of mine. 'Tis such strokes as
this that make the King love us."
Nevertheless, for all the valour of Roland and his fellows the
battle went hard with the men of France. Many lances were shivered,
many flags torn, and many gallant youths cut off in their prime.
Never more would they see mother and wife. It was an ill deed that
the traitor Ganelon wrought when he sold his fellows to King
And now there befell a new trouble. King Almaris, with a great host
of heathen, coming by an unknown way, fell upon the rear of the host
where there was another pass. Fiercely did the noble Walter that
kept the same charge the newcomers, but they overpowered him and his
followers. He was wounded with four several lances, and four times
did he swoon, so that at the last he was constrained to leave the
field of battle, that he might call the Count Roland to his aid. But
small was the aid which Roland could give him or any one. Valiantly
he held up the battle, and with him Oliver, and Turpin the
Archbishop, and others also; but the lines of the men of France were
broken, and their armour thrust through, and then: spears shivered,
and their flags trodden in the dust. For all this they made such
slaughter among the heathen that King Almaris, who led the armies of
the enemy, scarcely could win back his way to his own people,
wounded in four places and sorely spent. A right good warrior was
he; had he but been a Christian but few had matched him in battle.
Count Roland saw how grievously his people had suffered and spake
thus to Oliver his comrade: "Dear comrade, you see how many brave
men lie dead upon the ground. Well may we mourn for fair France,
widowed as she is of so many valiant champions. But why is our King
not here? O Oliver, my brother, what shall we do to send him tidings
of our state?" "I know not," answered Oliver. "Only this I know--
that death is to be chosen rather than dishonour."
After a while Roland said again, "I shall blow my horn; King Charles
will hear it, where he has encamped beyond the passes, and he and
his host will come back." "That would be ill done," answered Oliver,
"and shame both you and your race. When I gave you this counsel you
would have none of it. Now I like it not. 'Tis not for a brave man
to sound the horn and cry for help now that we are in such case."
"The battle is too hard for us," said Roland again, "and I shall
sound my horn, that the King may hear." And Oliver answered again,
"When I gave you this counsel, you scorned it. Now I myself like it
not. 'Tis true that had the King been here, we had not suffered this
loss. But the blame is not his. 'Tis your folly, Count Roland, that
has done to death all these men of France. But for that we should
have conquered in this battle, and have taken and slain King
Marsilas. But now we can do nothing for France and the King. We can
but die. Woe is me for our country, aye, and for our friendship,
which will come to a grievous end this day."
The Archbishop perceived that the two friends were at variance, and
spurred his horse till he came where they stood. "Listen to me," he
said, "Sir Roland and Sir Oliver. I implore you not to fall out with
each other in this fashion. We, sons of France, that are in this
place, are of a truth condemned to death, neither will the sounding
of your horn save us, for the King is far away, and cannot come in
time. Nevertheless, I hold it to be well that you should sound it.
When the King and his army shall come, they will find us dead--that
I know full well. But they will avenge us, so that our enemies shall
not go away rejoicing. And they will also recover our bodies, and
will carry them away for burial in holy places, so that the dogs and
wolves shall not devour them."
"You say well," cried Roland, and he put his horn to his lips, and
gave so mighty a blast upon it, that the sound was heard thirty
leagues away. King Charles and his men heard it, and the King said,
"Our countrymen are fighting with the enemy." But Ganelon answered,
"Sire, had any but you so spoken, I had said that he spoke falsely."
Then Roland blew his horn a second time; with great pain and anguish
of body he blew it, and the red blood gushed from his lips; but the
sound was heard yet further than at first. Again the King heard it,
and all his nobles, and all his men. "That," said he, "is Roland's
horn; he never had sounded it were he not in battle with the enemy."
But Ganelon answered again: "Believe me, Sire, there is no battle.
You are an old man, and you have the fancies of a child. You know
what a mighty man of valour is this Roland. Think you that any one
would dare to attack him? No one, of a truth. Ride on, Sire, why
halt you here? The fair land of France is yet far away."
Roland blew his horn a third time, and when the King heard it he
said, "He that blew that horn drew a deep breath." And Duke Naymes
cried out, "Roland is in trouble; on my conscience he is fighting
with the enemy. Some one has betrayed him; 'tis he, I doubt not,
that would deceive you now. To arms, Sire! utter your war-cry, and
help your own house and your country. You have heard the cry of the
Then King Charles bade all the trumpets sound, and forthwith all the
men of France armed themselves, with helmets, and hauberks, and
swords with pummels of gold. Mighty were their shields, and their
lances strong, and the flags that they carried were white and red
and blue. And when they made an end of their arming they rode back
with all haste. There was not one of them but said to his comrade,
"If we find Roland yet alive, what mighty strokes will we strike for
But Ganelon the King handed over to the knaves of his kitchen. "Take
this traitor," said he, "who has sold his country." Ill did Ganelon
fare among them. They pulled out his hair and his beard and smote
him with their staves; then they put a great chain, such as that
with which a bear is bound, about his neck, and made him fast to a
This done, the King and his army hastened with all speed to the help
of Roland. In the van and the rear sounded the trumpets as though
they would answer Roland's horn. Full of wrath was King Charles as
he rode; full of wrath were all the men of France. There was not one
among them but wept and sobbed; there was not one but prayed, "Now,
may God keep Roland alive till we come to the battlefield, so that
we may strike a blow for him." Alas! it was all in vain; they could
not come in time for all their speed.
Count Roland looked round on the mountain-sides and on the plains.
Alas! how many noble sons of France he saw lying dead upon them!
"Dear friends," he said, weeping as he spoke, "may God have mercy on
you and receive you into His Paradise! More loyal followers have I
never seen. How is the fair land of France widowed of her bravest,
and I can give you no help. Oliver, dear comrade, we must not part.
If the enemy slay me not here, surely I shall be slain by sorrow.
Come then, let us smite these heathen."
Thus did Roland again charge the enemy, his good sword Durendal in
his hand; as the stag flies before the hounds, so did the heathen
fly before Roland. "By my faith," cried the Archbishop when he saw
him, "that is a right good knight! Such courage, and such a steed,
and such arms I love well to see. If a man be not brave and a stout
fighter, he had better by far be a monk in some cloister where he
may pray all day long for our sins."
Now the heathen, when they saw how few the Frenchmen were, took
fresh courage. And the Caliph, spurring his horse, rode against
Oliver and smote him in the middle of his back, making his spear
pass right through him. "That is a shrewd blow," he cried; "I have
avenged my friends and countrymen upon you."
Then Oliver knew he was stricken to death, but he would not fall
unavenged. With his great sword Hautclere he smote the Caliph on his
head and cleft it to the teeth. "Curse on you, pagan. Neither your
wife nor any woman in the land of your birth shall boast that you
have taken a penny's worth from King Charles!" But to Roland he
cried, "Come, comrade, help me; well I know that we two shall part
in great sorrow this day."
Roland came with all speed, and saw his friend, how he lay all pale
and fainting on the ground and how the blood gushed in great streams
from his wound. "I know not what to do," he cried. "This is an ill
chance that has befallen you. Truly France is bereaved of her
bravest son." So saying he went near to swoon in the saddle as he
sat. Then there befell a strange thing. Oliver had lost so much of
his blood that he could not any more see clearly or know who it was
that was near him. So he raised up his arm and smote with all his
strength that yet remained to him on the helmet of Roland his
friend. The helmet he cleft in twain to the visor; but by good
fortune it wounded not the head. Roland looked at him and said in a
gentle voice, "Did you this of set purpose? I am Roland your friend,
and have not harmed you." "Ah!" said Oliver, "I hear you speak, but
I cannot see you. Pardon me that I struck you; it was not done of
set purpose." "It harmed me not," answered Roland; "with all my
heart and before God I forgive you." And this was the way these two
friends parted at the last.
And now Oliver felt the pains of death come over him. He could no
longer see nor hear. Therefore he turned his thoughts to making his
peace with God, and clasping his hands lifted them to heaven and
made his confession. "O Lord," he said, "take me into Paradise. And
do Thou bless King Charles and the sweet land of France." And when
he had said thus he died. And Roland looked at him as he lay. There
was not upon earth a more sorrowful man than he. "Dear comrade," he
said, "this is indeed an evil day. Many a year have we two been
together. Never have I done wrong to you; never have you done wrong
to me. How shall I bear to live without you?" And he swooned where
he sat on his horse. But the stirrup held him up that he did not
fall to the ground.
When Roland came to himself he looked about him and saw how great
was the calamity that had befallen his army. For now there were left
alive to him two only, Turpin the Archbishop and Walter of Hum.
Walter had but that moment come down from the hills where he had
been fighting so fiercely with the heathen that all his men were
dead; now he cried to Roland for help. "Noble Count, where are you?
I am Walter of Hum, and am not unworthy to be your friend. Help me
therefore. For see how my spear is broken and my shield cleft in
twain, my hauberk is in pieces, and my body sorely wounded. I am
about to die; but I have sold my life at a great price." When Roland
heard him cry he set spurs to his horse and galloped to him.
"Walter," said he, "you are a brave warrior and a trustworthy. Tell
me now where are the thousand valiant men whom you took from my
army. They were right good soldiers, and I am in sore need of them."
"They are dead," answered Walter; "you will see them no more. A sore