No, Arthur is not dead !

version française

Hear me, if you are in the mood,
And you will hear a charming story
Which will only have nothing false
Except one or two words.
When he gave back his soul to God , the famous king Uther Head-of-Dragon did not let any known heir. But he had a secret son who he could not bring up in the Court because his mother was not the legitimate queen. He confided his son to a valiant knight from the Realm, Seven, who gave him an education worthy of his high birth and made him share the games , lessons and warrior training of his own son Keu. The child named Arthur, was 16 years old when his father died.

The Welsh clan leaders gathered and asked to Marzin the soothsayer who has been the councillor from the king Uther, who should succeed to their lord. Marzin answered them to wait until the feast of winter solstice , during which great wonders arrive because the soul of deads passed along the roads singing canticles, the animals speak the language of humans and the standing stone go to drink in the rivers.

So on Christmas night, night of winter solstice , all the Welsh clans met together at the midnight mass in the Cathedral of Kerléon-sur-Osk, capital of the realm. The valiant knight Seven was there with his son Keu and his adopted child Arthur. The bishop Bedwini asked the audience to pray fervently in order for the Lord to show by any sign the one who would be the most worthy to reign and to govern. After having heard the three masses, the crowd went out on the square, cries of amazement resounded. In the middle of the square, empty before, has appeared a block of stone with an iron anvil in which was sticked until the hilt a sword with a golden pommel.

The bishop Bedwini was immediately informed, he came with holy water. As he bent down to spray the stone, he discovered an inscription, he read with a loud voice : "The one who will take off the sword from the anvil will be the king elected by Jesus-Christ". Immediately there was a rush among the lords, each one willing to be the first to lay hand on the sword. But the bishop rebuked them :

- Noble sire, be more wise. The Christ , our Saviour, do not consider neither the birth, nor the fortune and only will succeed to take off the sword the one who has been elected.

He called one by one, the 250 knights, but none succeeded to move the sword even from one inch, which seemed to be glued to its base. After the knights, all the people who were there, were allowed to try their luck. But bards, monks, bourgeois , peasants , beggars all failed as have failed the proud warriors. Then the bishop had the idea to call the children to do the test. The high lords pushed their kids and there were a few rows , but the holy prelate put everything to rights and all the kids, one by one tried to pull out , but without success, on the handle of the sword. ! I make a mistake , one was remaining who has not followed what was happening, because he was in great conversation with Marzin the enchanter, he just met : it was the young Arthur. Seven , his adoptive father, called him.

- What is it? asked the stripling , what shall I do ?

Keu , his foster brother , laughed :

- There will be warrior games, in a moment and I had forgotten my sword, could you find one for me ?

Arthur looked around him and saw the anvil and the weapon which was stuck in it.

- If it belongs to nobody, he said, you can take this one.

- Be kind, take it for me.

The naive child came near the stone block , put the hand on the handle of the sword and easily took it off the anvil.

- My son , said the Bishop Bedwini , you are king of Bretons.

The humble folk shouted cheerings but the nobles expressed frustration and a strong displeasure They required that the test be done again. Arthur put back the sword in the anvil and anyone tried to pull it out. But again, Arthur alone was able to do so.

Arthur was lead with great pomp and ceremony to the royal castle of Kerleon-sur-Osk. But a delegation from the clan leaders came to make in know that none was ready to admit the power of a sovereign of such a low lineage. Then Marzin interceded and revealed that the young king was not as it was believed the son of Seven and the brother of Keu but well and truly son from Uther Head-of-Dragon himself. This did calmed the envious who declared war to Arthur. He gathered an army composed of people from the folk , of peasants and beggars and with great bashings from the magical sword which he has removed from the anvil and which was named Kaledvoulc'h, which means "which cuts hard", (I do not know why french storytellers have modified the name in "Escalibor" ) , protecting himself with his shield Gweneb-Gourzhuc'her (Evening 's Face), sticking his good lance Rongomyant, he put to rout the troops of the great lords.

Soon after, Marzin informed him that the Saxons have just invaded the territory of a knight called Gogvran Gaor and advised him to give him help with forty valiant knights , but without saying whom they were. Gogvran Gaor was very happy of this reinforcement. At the same moment , fires started to blaze at the horizon : the Saxons came near, they were ready to attack the castle. Marzin suggested to make a sortie without waiting to be assaulted and all the knights behind Gogvran Gaor, hurled in the plain. The woman and the daughters of the lord went up the ramparts to look at the battle. The saxon army was twelve times more important than the Breton army but Marzin , with his magic , created a cloud of dust which flied towards the invaders and blinded 3/4 of them. Arthur and his knights did many feats , in defiance of danger, and the enemies were falling like flies under their blows. A group of Saxons succeeded to seize Gogvran gaor when Arthur , alone swooped down on them, he slaughtered half of them , put the other half to flight and freed the prisoner. In the evening, the few surviving Saxons left and never any Saxon was seen later wandering on the lands of the lord Gogvran Gaor.

When Arthur came back to the castle with his family , the eldest daughter from Gogvran let nobody else take care of him, she disarmed him, washed his hands, his face and his neck and wiped them very softly with a white embroided towel. This charming young lady was named Guenievre , which means "the white ghost". She was the nicest damsel who lived in that time in the whole island of Brittany. She kneed in front him to give him a cup of wine and their gazes met. They were so agitated that Arthur kept the cup in his hand without thinking to drink and the young lady forget to stand up.

-Milord said Marzin to the brenin , smiling in his barb , I am surprised that with such a beautiful daughter, you did not yet marry her with a man of high birth. You have no son, did not you think to insure your succession ?

- Well I often thought to that , but the war enabled me to do so and I live under the threat of those damned Saxons. I need a son-in-law who can defend me.

- Father sighed Guenievre , reddening, to accept a husband I will not take into account neither the rank, nor the blood , nor the fortune of the man whom you will propose to me but only his valour and the emotion of my heart.

Gogvran was subtle enough to understand. He knew his daughter and had never seen her so agitated. He says to Marzin :

- I ignore, because he did not want to give his name, who his the brave stripling to whom I owe my spared life but whom he is prince or servant, wealthy or poor , I would be happy to have him as son-in-law. My daughter is nice , wise and well educated , if I propose him to marry her , will he accept ?

- She will be accepted, shouted the king Arthur, without waiting for the answer of Marzin.

Gogvran Gaor took the hand of his daughter and put it in the one of the young prince.

- Kind unknown stripling , he said , receive my daughter as thy wife. I could not give her to a more valiant person.

- Well now , interceded Marzin, I can reveal you Lord Gogvran, that you had taken as son-in-law the king Arthur of Brittany, son of Uther Head-of-Dragon and your legitimate suzerain.

At those words, the happiness of Gogvran Gaor and of the audience was so great that such an happiness had never existed before in the whole country. The wedding occurred next month and there were great jubilation and sumptuous feasts.

I won't tell you in great details all the heroic actions done after that by the King Arthur, because this would take many books. He covered himself with glory , vanquished saxons invaders , guaranteed his power in Great and Small Brittany , conquered the Gaul and the country of Franks . He lead an expedition in Ireland to grab the magical cauldron from Diwrnach the Gael, which was called the "Graal". Here what has happened : a prince named Kulhwch has asked to the giant Yspaddaden Penkawr the hand of his daughter, the gentle Olwen whom hair were more fair than the broom flower the breast more white than the swan and the cheeks more red than the reddest rose. Yspaddaden Penkawr answered him that he would have the kind Olwen with hair more fair than the broom flower only if he was able to accomplish a series of exploits which one was to get the basin from Diwrnach the Gael, the intendant from Odgar mac Aedh, king of Ireland , to be used during the wedding feast. This cauldron had the particularity that as numerous as were the guests who took food in it , they never left without being satisfied ;however he did not boil the food from cowards. It also had this other propriety, when the bodies of dead warriors were thrown in it , they came back the day after more fiercely than ever, but they could never speak again.

To triumph from tests which were imposed, Kulhwch had required the help from Arthur who would have lost his honour if he would have refused. So he sent a messenger to Odgar mac Aedh, king of Ireland, to beg him to give the cauldron from his intendant, Diwrnach the Gael. Odgar encouraged his intendant to make a gift of the object but Diwrnach strongly refused. "God is my witness , he said , that even if he wants only to have a look at the Graal , he will not get the right ". The messenger came back to report the answer to Arthur. Then Arthur took with him a small group of warriors and embarked on his boat, the "Prytwenn". Immediately landed on the green land of Erin , the Bretons went by Diwrnach the Gael who received them with courtesy and offered them bed and board. But after having eaten and drunk enough , Arthur asked for the cauldron and Diwrnach answered that as long as he will be alive, Arthur will not have it. Immediately one of the warriors of Brittany , called Lancelot du Lac, took Kaledvoulc'h, the sword of his king , made it whirled and killed Diwrnach and all his folk, when his fellow Bedwyr was taking the cauldron and put it on the shoulders from Hywydd , Arthur servant whose the function was , at any time , to carry the cauldron of Arthur and to light the fire under it.

Irish armies rushed up to give battle to Arthur and his folks. But the Bretons put them to flight and , under their eyes , embarked bringing with them the cauldron which was streaming with all the gold and silver from Ireland.

Such was the renown of Arthur 's Court that the most valiant knights of all over the world took for an honour to be welcomed at the Court . The king gathered his valiant knight , for the meats , around a circular table , so as among them there will be neither first nor last. That is why they were called the Knights from the Round Table. They were the best knights never seen in the world. But each of them after staying, a certain time near the king, finished to leave in search of adventures and they came back only after having accomplished many feats and be covered with glory.

When his barb started to be greying. Arthur had the thought, that there was a very long time since he had himself made a warrior exploits. He said himself that the valiant knights who lived with him , should smile in his back and considered him as a poor man who had made his time. He decided too show them what he was still able to do and he convoked the barons and vassals of his army for a great expedition which the objective was to seize the city of Rome. Before embarking he confided the safety of the realm to his nephew Mordred, the powerful lord of the Country of Verre where there are neither winter nor summer.

When he learnt the arrival of the breton army (to which have joined Irishmen , Danes , Icelanders, Norwegians and a few other) , the Emperor of Rome decided to walk to meet them. The collision of the two great armies was something terrifying. The fight lasted three days and on 350 knights from the Round Table only ten remained alive.

But the Romans were forced to beat a retreat and to go back to shelter behind the ramparts of their city. Arthur troops came e to besiege them but at the moment when the king was ready to command the assault , three messengers come from Kerléon-sur-Osk arrived in front of his tent. They brought him sad news from his realm. Mordred , the traitor had kidnapped the queen Guenievre. He had taken her on his horse black as the night, until his castle among the swamps in the Country of Verre , he had married her and had proclaimed himself king of the two Brittanies. Arthur, upset decided to immediately leave the besiege from Rome and to go back to the island of Brittany by forced marches, to punish the traitor.

Unfortunately , Mordred has entered into alliance with the Saxons and when the Bretons reached the shore of their country , they were awaited by 50 000 enemies at the head of whom strutted about the infamous traitor. Their landing was done under a hail storm of arrows , stones and spears and many were killed. The sea was red of blood. But those who could get a foothold on the breton ground were impelled by such an anger that they impetuously fight against the bloody Saxons and made a great slaughter of them.

Mordred and his troops found their safety in flight and Arthur run after them. The final battle between the two armies took place in Kamlann in Cornwall and this was the most deadly battle never done by the folk of Arthur. It is said that the deads where one hundred thousand. Among all the knight from the Round Table only survived Morvran ab Tegit, because of his ugliness (everyone thinking that he was the devil, avoided him), Sanddev Bryd Angel , because of his beauty (nobody raised one hand to him, thinking he was an angel) and Glewlwyd Gavaelvawr whose stature and strength were so great that everyone fled in front of him. Arthur and Mordred were nearly alone, face to face , in the middle of the battlefield. Then Arthur stuck his lance and spurred Lamrei, his white mare. He struck the traitor in the chest and pierced him right through : the iron and a good foot of wood came out from the spine and a sun ray also pierced the body in the same time as the lance, which was an obvious sign of the wrath of God.

But before dying, Mordred had the time to thrust his cold steel in the side of the king Arthur who tottered , slid from the saddle and heavily felt on the ground unconscious. Hywydd and Henwas , his servants , rushed up and brought him out of the battlefield . They carried him in a chapel near the seaside which was called "the black chapel", he opened his eyes and started to recite all the prayers he knew an to pray for his men who were killed. In the morning, his servant seeing him laying without any movement , arms in cross , thought that he was dead and moaned over him. Then the king raised up and in a burst of fondness , clasped Hywydd to his chest so strongly that he crushed his chest and all the organs which are inside and the poor Hywydd immediately expired. The king bitterly cried and said to Henwas :

- Help me to reach the shore.

When they were near the rocks overhanging the sea , Arthur collapsed. Then he put off his sword , unsheathed his sword and after looking at her a long-time , sadly said :

- Kaledvoulc'h, my good sword , the best that had never existed, your are going to lose thy master and right lord. It is not without sorrow that I leave thee. Now, Henwas , take this sword and throw her in the waves..

The blade was glittering with such a brightness that he turned his eyes away and dared not take the sword. Arthur should repeated his order. Henwas took the weapon and threw her in the sea. At the moment when she touched the water , an arm suddenly appeared until the elbow, caught the sword by the handle, brandished her three times then plunged back into the water taking her away.

- Let me, now, said the king to Henwas. Leave now , where I am going , you cannot follow me. One day I will come but you will no more be here to welcome me. Farewells good servant.

Henwas left, tears in his eyes. When reaching the middle of the moor, he turned over and looked at the sea. He saw a beautiful vessel which was coming and reached the shore not far from where he let the king. A beautiful lady went down it , he recognised the fairy Morgane. She moved towards the king, touched lightly his shoulder with a finger. Then he raised up as if he has never been wounded, climb with her in the vessel which sailed towards and left like a bird. It sailed until the island of Avalon where the king Arthur still lives, lying in a golden bed.

Bretons know that he will come back, gathering under his banner Armoricans, Welsh , Cornish , Irish , Scots and Manx and that he will restore the Celtic freedoms. Nobody knows when it will happen , but something tells me that times are near.

No ! Arthur is not dead.

Extract from "Contes et Légendes du pays Breton", Yann Brekilien

Translation Catherine Soubeyrand.