The Celtic Literature Collective

Mort Artu


THEN THE KING commanded his people that they prepare themselves to depart on the third day for Rome. The day before Arthur intended to set out, he was in the palace in Paris and with him were Gavain his nephew and Keu the seneschal and Guiilac the King of Denmark and King Lot of Orkney. Then four messengers dismounted at the palace steps and went into the hail and saluted him in the name of God. When Arthur saw them he knew them well and asked them: "Lords, why have you come here? In God's name, tell me how my wife does and Mordret my nephew. Is all well with them?" 

And the messengers answered him: "King, we will tell you our news of this which you ask us. Know that your nephew Mordret has worked against you as a traitor, for he espoused your wife and bore away your crown in the first month after you departed from your country, and he has the hearts of all the people. And, in truth, you have not castle that is not full of crossbowmen and knights and soldiers, nor is there a knight in the land who opposed his will that he has not had slain. And, in truth, he has sent word to the Saxons who are of the lineage of Engis who warred so much with your father, nor in all the land of Britain does he allow the chanting of Mass or Matins; and we say unto you most certainly that if you do not aid the land you will lose it, and better it becomes you to conquer your own land than another." 

When Arthur heard these words he felt deep shame and great anger in his heart, and he took counsel with his nobles to determine how he might best attain success. And the sum of their counsel was that he should go back and regain his land again, and if he could take Mordret that he should burn him. And even Gavain who was Mordret's brother so advised him, as did King Lot of Orkney his father, who felt great shame of him. 

When Arthur had heard this counsel he thought it good, and the next day he journeyed with his knights and came through Normandy and entered upon the sea. And Mordret, who knew of his coming through the spies that he had with the king, mar shalled the Saxons and the soldiers and knights and came to the seashore to meet Arthur. And then King Arthur prepared to disembark, and Mordret came to prevent this. And, in truth the disembarking was most perilous, and Sir Gavain went to disembark with twenty thousand men; and you may be sure that he felt great shame because of Mordret's treason. Thus it was that he wished to disembark, but his brother was before him with fifty thousand Saxons; and they threw pikes and stones and lances and darts against the Britons, and the Britons did the same to them. And indeed Gavain came to misfortune there, for he had not laced his helm, and a Saxon took an oar and with it struck Gavain in the head so that he fell down dead. 

When Gavain was killed the deepest sorrow was felt. Oh God what a great loss of a worthy leader! He was a good knight and loyal and wise and was just in judgment and knew how to speak well. God, what great sorrow there was when his death befell Then such great weeping could be heard in the ship that the sound of it carried for two leaguers distance. There were killed Saigremor and Beduier and Keu the seneschal. There many worthy men ended their lives! And know that of twenty thousand knights none escaped who were not slain or drowned. And even the ship where it lay was cut into a hundred pieces and foundered in the sea. 

When Arthur learned that the twenty thousand had perished he was very mournful, and when he learned for certain that Gavain was slain he was filled with such great anger and such great sorrow that his heart failed him and he fell down in the ship and swooned more than fifteen times. And then he was lifted up again by the Britons; yet I can tell you in all certainty that no one has ever heard such great mourning as King Lot made for Gavain his son. Then the fleet reached land and King Arthur also and they took the port by storm, coming forth from the ships, but many were killed there before they had landed And great misfortune happened again to King Arthur, for just as King Lot issued from the ship a soldier shot at him and pierced him through the breast with a bolt. Then there was great weeping over the body. Thereupon the Saxons reformed their forces and charged again upon Arthur, but since the Britons were on horseback they attacked the Saxons and killed many of them, for they were filled with deep anger against them. In the same way that the hungry wolf devours the lamb, so the Britons devoured them, and they killed so many of them that the mounds of them lay across the fields. And God gave the Britons the victory and they defeated the Saxons; and Mordret fled from there and came to the walled towns that he had fortified and wished to enter them. But the citizens and knights when they learned that Arthur had returned and defeated him refused to open their fortresses to him. 

When Mordret saw that he could not enter the towns he was greatly chagrined and afraid, and he went from there to Winchester and sent word to all the Saxons throughout the land and told them that he was going to await Arthur to do battle. And when Arthur knew this he was most deeply moved and came to the shore and had Gavain and Keu the seneschal and Beduier and Saigremor and King Lot of Orkney brought there, and he buried them. Then he moved with all the remainder of his men and followed Mordret to the fortified places, and a messenger told him that Mordret was at Winchester with a great host. And when Arthur knew this he rode that way, and he called the nobles of all his country and the burghers and citizens and they came there. And when they had come they made accusations to him against Mordret for having destroyed and shamed them. 

When Arthur heard them he was so deeply moved that he could not answer them. And at once he had his knights mount, and then he journeyed until he came to Winchester, and when Mordret learned of his coming he issued forth against him; and he said that he would not hide in a castle for he had a stronger army than the king's. And then they readied themselves for combat and charged each other most savagely on both sides; and one might have beheld there the most fierce melee the world has known and might have beheld knights and soldiers lying dead in such numbers on the ground that they would have filled thirty carts, and so many Saxons were slain there that few of them remained. And Mordret departed from there fleeing in great haste with the remnant of his army and fled to Ireland and passed through the land. And at Last he came to an island where a pagan Saxon king reigned who was related to Engis and who kept Mordret with him gladly and loved him much because he was a good knight. 

When Arthur knew that Mordret was in Ireland he followed him swiftly and traveled so far that finally he entered the land where he was. When the king who was a Saxon learned of his coming, he summoned his army and advanced against him. And then they attacked each other, and you may be sure that the Britons hated the Saxons fiercely, and the Saxons the Britons; and therefore many more were slain there. The battle lasted a very long while and many good knights died there, but of all that died there the book does not speak; however I can tell you in truth that Mordret was slain there and the Saxon king who had given him refuge. And also King Arthur was wounded mortally, for he was pierced through the breast with a lance, and then they made great mourning around Arthur. And Arthur told them: "Cease your mourning for I shall not die. I shall have myself borne to Avalon that my wounds may be tended by Morgain, my sister." 

Thus Arthur had himself borne to Avalon and he told his people that they should await him and he would return. And the Britons came back to Carduel and waited for him more than forty years before they would take a king, for they believed always that he would return. But this you may know in truth that some have since then seen him hunting in the forest, and they have heard his dogs with him; and some have hoped for a long time that he would return. And when these events had ended, Merlin came to Blayse and told him these things 'just as they had happened. When Blayse had finished his writing he bore it to Perceval, who had the Grail in keeping and was of such a holy life that the Holy Ghost often descended to him, and he told him all of Arthur's adventures: of how he had been borne away to Avalon and how Gavain was slain and how the knights of the Round Table had completed their time. When Perceval heard this he wept for the pity he felt for them; and he prayed Our Lord that He might have pity on their souls, for he had loved them greatly. 

And then Merlin came to Perceval and to Blayse his master, and he took leave of them and told them that Our Lord did not wish that he should show himself to people, yet that he would not be able to die before the end of the world; "but then I shall enjoy the eternal joy, and I wish to make a lodging outside your palace and to dwell there and I will prophesy whatever Our Lord commands me. And all those who will see my lodging will name it the esplumoir (or moulting cage) of Merlin." 

Then Merlin left them and made his esplumoir and entered within and never since then has he been seen in the world. The story does not speak further either of Merlin or of the Grail, except that Merlin prayed Our Lord that He would give His grace to all those who willingly hear his book and who would make it written down in order that his works might be remembered; and all of you say of it: Amen. 

Here ends the romance of Merlin and of the Grail.

de Boron, Robert. The Romance of Perceval in Prose. ed. and trans. Dell Skeels. University of Washington Press, 1961.

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