King Arthur: The End of Arthur

For reasons of length, I have omitted the opening part of this chapter in which Sir Mordred, Arthur's nephew, plots against him. You can read the whole chapter online here: The End of It All.

Also, in the previous story, you read about Lancelot returning to his sinful ways, which is to say that he renewed his love for Queen Guenevere, and he also broke the heart of "The Fair Maid of Astolat," which you can read about here: The Fight for the Queen, The Fair Maid of Astolat, and Lancelot and Guenevere.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the King Arthur unit. Story source: King Arthur: Tales of the Round Table by Andrew Lang and illustrated by H. J. Ford (1902).

The End of Arthur

[After slaying Mordred in battle and being struck down by Mordred in turn, Arthur lies wounded on the battlefield, attended by Sir Bedivere.]

'Alas!' said the King, 'My time flieth fast. Therefore, Sir Bedivere, cease moaning and weeping, and take Excalibur, my good sword, and go with it to yonder water side, and when thou comest there, I charge thee, throw my sword in that water, and come again and tell me what thou hast seen.'

'My lord,' answered Sir Bedivere, 'your commandment shall be done,' and he departed. But when he looked at that noble sword, and beheld the jewels and gold that covered the pommel and hilt, he said to himself, 'If I throw this rich sword into the water no good will come of it, but only harm and loss,' so he hid Excalibur under a tree, and returned unto the King, and told him his bidding was done.

'What did you see there?' asked the King.

'Sir,' answered Sir Bedivere, 'I saw nothing but the winds and waves.'

'You have not dealt truly with me,' said the King.

'Go back, and do my command; spare not, but throw it in.'

But again Sir Bedivere's heart failed him, and he hid the sword and returned to tell the King he had seen nothing but the wan water.

'Ah, traitor!' cried King Arthur, 'this is twice you have betrayed me. If you do not now fulfil my bidding, with mine own hands will I slay you, for you would gladly see me dead for the sake of my sword.'

Then Sir Bedivere was shamed at having disobeyed the King, and drew forth the sword from its hiding place, and carried it to the water side, and with a mighty swing threw it far into the water. And as it flew through the air, an arm and hand lifted itself out of the water, and caught the hilt, and brandished the sword thrice, and vanished with it beneath the water. So Sir Bedivere came again unto the King, and told him what he saw.

'Alas!' said the King, 'help me hence, for I have tarried overlong,' and Sir Bedivere took him on his back and bare him to the water side. And when they stood by the bank, a little barge containing many fair ladies and a Queen, all in black hoods, drew near, and they wept and shrieked when they beheld King Arthur.

'Now put me into the barge,' said the King, and Sir Bedivere laid him softly down, and the ladies made great mourning and the barge rowed from the land.

'Ah, my lord Arthur!' cried Sir Bedivere, 'what shall become of me now you go from me, and I am left here alone with my enemies?'

'Comfort yourself,' replied the King, 'and do as well as you may, for I go unto the valley of Avilion to be healed of my grievous wound. And if you never more hear of me, pray for my soul.'

But Sir Bedivere watched the barge till it was beyond his sight; then he rode all night till he came to a hermitage.

Now when Queen Guenevere heard of the battle, and how that King Arthur was slain and Sir Mordred and all their Knights, she stole away, and five ladies with her, and rode to Amesbury, and there she put on clothes of black and white, and became a nun, and did great penance, and many alms deeds, and people marvelled at her and at her godly life. And ever she wept and moaned over the years that were past, and for King Arthur.

[Lancelot goes to see Guenevere, but she sends him away; Lancelot then lives as a hermit for six years, until he learns of Guenevere's death.]

From that day Sir Lancelot ate so little food that he dwined away, and for the most part was found kneeling by the tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guenevere. None could comfort him, and after six weeks he was too weak to rise from his bed.

Then he sent for the hermit and to his fellows, and asked in a weary voice that they would give him the last rites of the Church, and begged that when he was dead his body might be taken to Joyous Gard, which some say is Alnwick and others Bamborough.

That night the hermit had a vision that he saw Sir Lancelot being carried up to heaven by the angels, and he waked Sir Bors and bade him go and see if anything ailed Sir Lancelot. So Sir Bors went and Sir Lancelot lay on his bed, stark dead, and he smiled as he lay there.

Then was there great weeping and wringing of hands, more than had been made for any man, but they placed him on the horse bier that had carried Queen Guenevere, and lit a hundred torches, and in fifteen days they reached Joyous Gard. There his body was laid in the choir, with his face uncovered, and many prayers were said over him. And there, in the midst of their praying, came Sir Ector de Maris, who for seven years had sought Sir Lancelot through all the land.

'Ah, Lancelot,' he said, when he stood looking beside his dead body, I thou wert head of all Christian Knights. Thou wert the courtliest Knight that ever drew sword, and the faithfulest friend that ever bestrode a horse. Thou wert the goodliest Knight that ever man has seen, and the truest lover that ever loved a woman.'

(900 words)

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