Andrew Lang's King Arthur - Tales of the Round Table

HOW THE ROUND TABLE BEGAN

   It was told in the story of the Questing Beast that King Arthur married the daughter of Leodegrance, King of Cameliard, but there was not space there to say how it came about. And as the tales of the Round Table are full of this lady, Queen Guenevere, it is well that anybody who reads this book should learn how she became Queen.
   After King Arthur had fought and conquered many enemies, he said one day to Merlin, whose counsel he took all the days of his life, "My Barons will let me have no rest, but bid me take a wife, and I have answered them that I shall take none, except you advise me."
   "It is well," replied Merlin, "that you should take a wife, but is there any woman that you love better than another? " "Yes," said Arthur, "I love Guenevere, daughter of Leodegrance, King of Cameliard, in whose house is the Round Table that my father gave him. This maiden is the fairest that I have ever seen, or ever shall see." "Sir," answered Merlin, "what you say as to her beauty is true, but, if your heart was not set on her, I could find you another as fair, and of more goodness, than she. But if a man's heart is once set it is idle to try to turn him." Then Merlin asked the King to give him a company of Knights and esquires, that he might go to the Court of King Leodegrance and tell him that King Arthur desired to wed his daughter, which Arthur did gladly. Therefore Merlin rode forth and made all the haste he could till he came to the Castle of Cameliard, and told King Leodegrance who had sent him and why.
   "That is the best news I have ever had," replied Leodegrance, "for little did I think that so great and noble a King should seek to marry my daughter. As for lands to endow her with, I would give whatever he chose; but he has lands enough of his own, so I will give him instead something that will please him much more, the Round Table which Uther Pendragon gave me, where a hundred and fifty Knights can sit at one time. I myself can call to my side a hundred good Knights, but I lack fifty, for the wars have slain many, and some are absent!" And without more words King Leodegrance gave his consent that his daughter should wed King Arthur. And Merlin returned with his Knights and esquires, journeying partly by water and partly by land, till they drew near to London.
   When King Arthur heard of the coming of Merlin and of the Knights with the Round Table he was filled with joy, and said to those that stood about him, "This news that Merlin has brought me is welcome indeed, for I have long loved this fair lady, and the Round Table is dearer to me than great riches." Then he ordered that Sir Lancelot should ride to fetch the Queen, and that preparations for the marriage and her coronation should be made, which was done. "Now, Merlin," said the King, "go and look about my kingdom and bring fifty of the bravest and most famous Knights that can be found throughout the land." But no more than eight and twenty Knights could Merlin find. With these Arthur had to be content, and the Bishop of Canterbury was fetched, and he blessed the seats that were placed by the Round Table, and the Knights sat in them. "Fair Sirs," said Merlin, when the Bishop had ended his blessing, "arise all of you, and pay your homage to the King." So the Knights arose to do his bidding, and in every seat was the name of the Knight who had sat on it, written in letters of gold, but two seats were empty. After that young Gawaine came to the King, and prayed him to make him a Knight on the day that he should wed Guenevere. "That I will gladly," replied the King, "for you are my sister's son."
   As the King was speaking, a poor man entered the Court, bringing with him a youth about eighteen years old, riding on a lean mare, though it was not the custom for gentlemen to ride on mares. "Where is King Arthur?" asked the man. "Yonder," answered the Knights. "Have you business with him?" "Yes," said the man, and he went and bowed low before the King: "I have heard, O King Arthur, flower of Knights and Kings, that at the time of your marriage you would give any man the gift he should ask for."
   "That is truth," answered the King, "as long as I do no wrong to other men or to my kingdom."
   "I thank you for your gracious words," said the poor man; "the boon I would ask is that you would make my son a Knight." "It is a great boon to ask," answered the King. "What is your name?"
   "Sir, my name is Aries the cowherd."
   "Is it you or your son that has thought of this honour?"
   "It is my son who desires it, and not I," replied the man. "I have thirteen sons who tend cattle, and work in the fields if I bid them; but this boy will do nothing but shoot and cast darts, or go to watch battles and look on Knights, and all day long he beseeches me to bring him to you, that he may be knighted also."
   "What is your name?" said Arthur, turning to the young man.
   "Sir, my name is Tor."
   "Where is your sword that I may knight you?" said the King.
   "It is here, my lord."
   "Take it out of its sheath," said the King, "and require me to make you a Knight." Then Tor jumped off his mare and pulled out his sword, and knelt before the King, praying that he might be made, a Knight and a Knight of the Round Table.
   "As for a knight, that I will make you," said Arthur, smiting him in the neck with the sword, "and if you are worthy of it you shall be Knight of the Round Table." And the next day he made Gawaine knight also.