King Vortigern the usurper
sat upon his throne
in London, when, suddenly
, upon a certain
day, ran in a breathless messenger
, and cried aloud
"Arise, Lord King, for the enemy is come; even Ambrosius and Uther, upon whose throne
thou sittest-and full twenty thousand with them-and they have sworn by a great oath
, Lord, to slay
thee, ere this year be done; and even now they march
towards thee as the north wind of winter for bitterness and haste
At those words Vortigern's face grew white as ashes, and, rising in confusion
, he sent for all the best artificers and craftsmen and mechanics
, and commanded them vehemently
to go and build him straightway in the furthest west of his lands a great and strong castle, where he might
fly for refuge
of his master
's sons-"and, moreover," cried he, "let the work be done within a hundred days from now, or I will surely spare
no life amongst you all."
Then all the host
of craftsmen, fearing for their lives, found out a proper site
whereon to build the tower
, and eagerly began to lay in the foundations. But no sooner were the walls raised up above the ground than all their work was overwhelmed and broken down by night invisibly, no man perceiving how, or by whom, or what. And the same thing happening again, and yet again, all the workmen, full of terror
, sought out the king, and threw themselves upon their faces before him, beseeching him to interfere
and help them or to deliver
them from their dreadful
Filled with mixed rage
and fear, the king called for the astrologers and wizards, and took counsel
with them what these things might
be, and how to overcome
them. The wizards worked their spells and incantations, and in the end declared that nothing but the blood of a youth born without mortal
father, smeared on the foundations of the castle, could avail
to make it stand. Messengers were therefore sent forthwith through
all the land to find, if it were possible
, such a child. And, as some of them went down a certain village
street, they saw a band of lads fighting and quarrelling, and heard them shout at one-"Avaunt, thou imp
!-avaunt! Son of no mortal
man! go, find thy father, and leave us in peace."
At that the messengers looked steadfastly on the lad, and asked who he was. One said his name was Merlin; another, that his birth and parentage were known by no man; a third, that the foul fiend
alone was his father. Hearing the things, the officers seized Merlin, and carried him before the king by force
But no sooner was he brought to him than he asked in a loud voice, for what cause
he was thus
"My magicians," answered Vortigern, "told me to seek
out a man that had no human
father, and to sprinkle
my castle with his blood, that it may stand."
"Order those magicians," said Merlin, "to come before me, and I will convict
them of a lie."
The king was astonished
at his words, but commanded the magicians to come and sit down before Merlin, who cried to them-
"Because ye know not what it is that hinders the foundation
of the castle, ye have advised my blood for a cement to it, as if that would avail
; but tell me now rather what there is below that ground, for something there is surely underneath that will not suffer
The wizards at these words began to fear, and made no answer. Then said Merlin to the king-
, Lord, that workmen may be ordered to dig deep down into the ground till
they shall come to a great pool of water."
This then was done, and the pool discovered far beneath the surface
of the ground.
Then, turning again to the magicians, Merlin said, "Tell me now, false sycophants, what there is underneath that pool?"-but they were silent. Then said he to the king, "Command this pool to be drained, and at the bottom shall be found two dragons, great and huge, which now are sleeping, but which at night awake and fight and tear each other. At their great struggle
all the ground shakes and trembles, and so casts down thy towers, which, therefore, never yet could find secure
The king was amazed
at these words, but commanded the pool to be forthwith drained; and surely at the bottom of it did they presently discover
the two dragons, fast asleep, as Merlin had declared.
But Vortigern sat upon the brink
of the pool till
night to see what else would happen.
Then those two dragons, one of which was white, the other red, rose up and came near one another, and began a sore
fight, and cast forth fire with their breath. But the white dragon had the advantage
, and chased the other to the end of the lake. And he, for grief
at his flight, turned back upon his foe
, and renewed the combat
, and forced him to retire
in turn. But in the end the red dragon was worsted, and the white dragon disappeared no man knew where.
When their battle
was done, the king desired Merlin to tell him what it meant. Whereat he, bursting into tears, cried out this prophecy
, which first foretold the coming of King Arthur.
"Woe to the red dragon, which figureth the British nation
, for his banishment cometh quickly; his lurkingholes shall be seized by the white dragon-the Saxon whom thou, O king, hast called to the land. The mountains shall be levelled as the valleys, and the rivers of the valleys shall run blood; cities shall be burned, and churches laid in ruins; till
shall turn for a season and prevail
against the strangers. For a Boar of Cornwall shall arise
them, and trample
their necks beneath his feet. The island
shall be subject
to his power
, and he shall take the forests of Gaul. The house of Romulus shall dread
him-all the world shall fear him-and his end shall no man know; he shall be immortal
in the mouths of the people, and his works shall be food to those that tell them.
"But as for thee, O Vortigern, flee
thou the sons of Constantine, for they shall burn
thee in thy tower
. For thine own ruin
wast thou traitor
to their father, and didst bring the Saxon heathens to the land. Aurelius and Uther are even now upon thee to revenge
their father's murder
; and the brood
of the white dragon shall waste
thy country, and shall lick thy blood. Find out some refuge
, if thou wilt
! but who may escape
The king heard all this, trembling greatly; and, convicted of his sins, said nothing in reply. Only he hasted the builders of his tower
by day and night, and rested not till
he had fled thereto.
In the meantime, Aurelius, the rightful king, was hailed with joy by the Britons, who flocked to his standard
, and prayed to be led against the Saxons. But he, till
he had first killed Vortigern, would begin no other war. He marched therefore to Cambria, and came before the tower
which the usurper
had built. Then, crying out to all his knights, "Avenge ye on him who hath ruined
Britain and slain my father and your king!" he rushed with many thousands at the castle walls. But, being driven back again and yet again, at length
of fire, and ordered blazing brands to be cast into the building from all sides. These finding soon a proper fuel
, ceased not to rage
spreading to a mighty conflagration
, they burned down the tower
and Vortigern within it.
Then did Aurelius turn his strength
against Hengist and the Saxons, and, defeating them in many places, weakened their power
for a long season, so that the land had peace.
Anon the king, making many journeys to and fro, restoring ruined
churches and, creating order, came to the monastery
near Salisbury, where all those British knights lay buried who had been slain there by the treachery
of Hengist. For when in former
times Hengist had made a solemn truce
with Vortigern, to meet in peace and settle
terms, whereby himself and all his Saxons should depart
from Britain, the Saxon soldiers carried every one of them beneath his garment
a long dagger
, and, at a given signal
, fell upon the Britons, and slew
them, to the number of nearly five hundred.
of the place where the dead lay moved Aurelius to great sorrow
, and he cast about in his mind
how to make a worthy tomb
over so many noble
martyrs, who had died there for their country.
When he had in vain
consulted many craftsmen and builders, he sent, by the advice
of the archbishop, for Merlin, and asked him what to do. "If you would honour the burying-place of these men," said Merlin, "with an everlasting monument
, send for the Giants' Dance which is in Killaraus, a mountain in Ireland; for there is a structure
of stone there which none of this age could raise
without a perfect knowledge
of the arts. They are stones of a vast
size and wondrous nature
, and if they can be placed here as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand for ever."
At these words of Merlin, Aurelius burst
into laughter, and said, "How is it possible
stones from so great a distance
, as if Britain, also, had no stones fit
for the work?"
the king," said Merlin, "to forbear vain
laughter; what I have said is true, for those stones are mystical
and have healing virtues. The giants of old brought them from the furthest coast
of Africa, and placed them in Ireland while they lived in that country: and their design
was to make baths in them, for use in time of grievous
illness. For if they washed the stones and put the sick into the water, it certainly
healed them, as also it did them that were wounded in battle
; and there is no stone among them but hath the same virtue
When the Britons heard this, they resolved to send for the stones, and to make war upon the people of Ireland if they offered to withhold
them. So, when they had chosen Uther the king's brother for their chief, they set sail
, to the number of 15,000 men, and came to Ireland. There Gillomanius, the king, withstood them fiercely, and not till
after a great battle
could they approach
the Giants' Dance, the sight
of which filled them with joy and admiration
. But when they sought to move the stones, the strength
of all the army was in vain
, until Merlin, laughing at their failures, contrived
machines of wondrous cunning
, which took them down with ease
, and placed them in the ships
When they had brought the whole to Salisbury, Aurelius, with the crown upon his head, kept for four days the feast
of Pentecost with royal pomp
; and in the midst of all the clergy
and the people, Merlin raised up the stones, and set them round the sepulchre of the knights and barons, as they stood in the mountains of Ireland.
Then was the monument
called "Stonehenge," which stands, as all men know, upon the plain
of Salisbury to this very day.
Soon thereafter it befell that Aurelius was slain by poison
at Winchester, and was himself buried within the Giants' Dance.
At the same time came forth a comet
size and brightness, darting out a beam, at the end whereof was a cloud of fire shaped like a dragon, from whose mouth went out two rays, one stretching over Gaul, the other ending in seven lesser rays over the Irish sea.
At the appearance
of this star a great dread
fell upon the people, and Uther, marching into Cambria against the son of Vortigern, himself was very troubled to learn what it might mean
. Then Merlin, being called before him, cried with a loud voice: "O mighty
loss! O stricken
Britain! Alas! the great prince is gone from us. Aurelius Ambrosius is dead, whose death will be ours also, unless God help us. Haste, therefore, noble
Uther, to destroy
the enemy; the victory
shall be thine, and thou shalt be king of all Britain. For the star with the fiery
dragon signifies thyself; and the ray over Gaul portends that thou shalt have a son, most mighty
, whom all those kingdoms shall obey
which the ray covers."
Thus, for the second time, did Merlin foretell
the coming of King Arthur. And Uther, when he was made king, remembered Merlin's words, and caused two dragons to be made in gold, in likeness
of the dragon he had seen in the star. One of these he gave to Winchester Cathedral, and had the other carried into all his wars before him, whence
he was ever after called Uther Pendragon, or the dragon's head.
Now, when Uther Pendragon had passed through
all the land, and settled it-and even voyaged into all the countries of the Scots, and tamed the fierceness of that rebel
people-he came to London, and ministered justice
there. And it befell at a certain
and high feast
which the king made at Easter-tide, there came, with many other earls and barons, Gorloïs, Duke of Cornwall, and his wife Igerna, who was the most famous
beauty in all Britain. And soon thereafter, Gorloïs being slain in battle
, Uther determined
to make Igerna his own wife. But in order to do this, and enable
him to come to her-for she was shut up in the high castle of Tintagil, on the furthest coast
of Cornwall-the king sent for Merlin, to take counsel
with him and to pray
his help. This, therefore, Merlin promised him on one condition-namely, that the king should give him up the first son born of the marriage
. For Merlin by his arts foreknew that this firstborn should be the long-wished prince, King Arthur.
When Uther, therefore, was at length
happily wedded, Merlin came to the castle on a certain
day, and said, "Sir, thou must now provide
thee for the nourishing of thy child."
And the king, nothing doubting, said, "Be it as thou wilt
"I know a lord of thine in this land," said Merlin, "who is a man both true and faithful
; let him have the nourishing of the child. His name is Sir Ector, and he hath fair
possessions both in England and in Wales. When, therefore, the child is born, let him be delivered unto me, unchristened, at yonder
postern-gate, and I will bestow
him in the care of this good knight
So when the child was born, the king bid
two knights and two ladies to take it, bound
in rich cloth of gold, and deliver
it to a poor man whom they should discover
at the postern-gate. And the child being delivered thus
to Merlin, who himself took the guise
of a poor man, was carried by him to a holy priest
and christened by the name of Arthur, and then was taken to Sir Ector's house, and nourished at Sir Ector's wife's own breasts. And in the same house he remained privily for many years, no man soever knowing where he was, save Merlin and the king.
Anon it befell that the king was seized by a lingering distemper, and the Saxon heathens, taking their occasion
, came back from over sea, and swarmed upon the land, wasting it with fire and sword. When Uther heard thereof, he fell into a greater rage
than his weakness could bear, and commanded all his nobles to come before him, that he might upbraid
them for their cowardice
. And when he had sharply
and hotly rebuked them, he swore that he himself, nigh
unto death although he lay, would lead them forth against the enemy. Then causing a horse-litter
to be made, in which he might
be carried-for he was too faint
and weak to ride-he went up with all his army swiftly against the Saxons.
But they, when they heard that Uther was coming in a litter
, disdained to fight with him, saying it would be shame
men to fight with one half dead. So they retired into their city; and, as it were in scorn
of danger, left the gates wide open. But Uther straightway commanding his men to assault
the town, they did so without loss of time, and had already reached the gates, when the Saxons, repenting too late of their haughty pride
, rushed forth to the defence. The battle
night, and was begun again next day; but at last, their leaders, Octa and Eosa, being slain, the Saxons turned their backs and fled, leaving the Britons a full triumph
The king at this felt so great joy, that, whereas before he could scarce raise
himself without help, he now sat upright
in his litter
by himself, and said, with a laughing and merry
face, "They called me the half-dead king, and so indeed I was; but victory
to me half dead is better than defeat
and the best health
. For to die with honour is far better than to live disgraced."
But the Saxons, although thus
defeated, were ready still for war. Uther would have pursued them; but his illness had by now so grown, that his knights and barons kept him from the adventure
. Whereat the enemy took courage
, and left nothing undone to destroy
the land; until, descending to the vilest treachery
, they resolved to kill the king by poison
To this end, as he lay sick at Verulam, they sent and poisoned stealthily
a spring of clear water, whence
he was wont
to drink daily; and so, on the very next day, he was taken with the pains of death, as were also a hundred others after him, before the villainy
was discovered, and heaps of earth
thrown over the well.
The knights and barons, full of sorrow
, now took counsel
together, and came to Merlin for his help to learn the king's will before he died, for he was by this time speechless
. "Sirs, there is no remedy
," said Merlin, "and God's will must be done; but be ye all to-morrow before him, for God will make him speak before he die."
So on the morrow all the barons, with Merlin, stood round the bedside of the king; and Merlin said aloud
to Uther, "Lord, shall thy son Arthur be the king of all this realm
after thy days?"
Then Uther Pendragon turned him about, and said, in the hearing of them all, "God's blessing and mine
be upon him. I bid
for my soul
, and also that he claim
my crown, or forfeit
all my blessing;" and with those words he died.
Then came together all the bishops and the clergy
, and great multitudes of people, and bewailed the king; and carrying his body to the convent
of Ambrius, they buried it close by his brother's grave
, within the "Giants' Dance."