Andrew Lang's King
Arthur - Tales of the Round Table
THE QUESTING BEAST
But Arthur had many battles to
fight and many Kings to conquer before he was
acknowledged lord of them all, and often he would have failed had he not
listened to the wisdom of Merlin, and been helped by his sword Excalibur, which
in obedience to Merlin's orders he never drew till things were going ill with
him. Later it shall be told how the King got the sword Excalibur, which shone so
bright in his enemies' eyes that they fell back, dazzled by the brightness. Many
Knights came to his standard, and among them Sir Ban, King of Gaul beyond the
sea, who was ever his faithful friend. And it was in one of these wars, when
King Arthur and King Ban and King Bors went to the rescue of the King of
Cameliard, that Arthur saw Guenevere, the King's daughter, whom he afterwards
wedded. By and by King Ban and King Bors returned to their own country across
the sea, and the King went to Carlion, a town on the river Usk, where a strange
dream came to him.
He thought that the land was over-run with gryphons and serpents which burnt
and slew his people, and be made war on the monsters, and was sorely wounded,
though at last he killed them all. When he awoke the remembrance of his dream
was heavy upon him, and to shake it off he summoned his Knights to hunt with
him, and they rode fast till they reached a forest. Soon they spied a hart
before them, which the King claimed as his game, and he spurred his horse and
rode after him. But the hart ran fast and the King could not get near it, and
the chase lasted so long that the King himself grew heavy and his horse fell
dead under him. Then he sat under a tree and rested, till he heard the baying of
hounds, and fancied he counted as many as thirty of them. He raised his head to
look, and, coming towards him, saw a beast so strange that its like was not to
be found throughout his kingdom. It went straight to the well and drank, making
as it did so the noise of many hounds baying, and when it had drunk its fill the
beast went its way.
While the King was wondering what sort of a beast this could be, a Knight
rode by, who, seeing a man lying under a tree, stopped and said to him: "Knight
full of thought and sleepy, tell me if a strange beast has passed this way?"
"Yes, truly," answered Arthur, "and by now it must be two miles distant. What
do you want with it?"
"Oh sir, I have followed that beast from
far," replied he, "and have ridden
my horse to death. If only I could find another I would still go after it." As
he spoke a squire came up leading a fresh horse for the King, and when the
Knight saw it he prayed that it might be given to him, "for," said he, "I have
followed this quest this twelvemonth, and either I shall slay him or he will
"Sir Knight," answered the King, "you have done your part; leave now your
quest, and let me follow the beast for the same time that you have done." "Ah,
fool!" replied the Knight, whose name was Pellinore, "it would be all in vain,
for none may slay that beast but I or my next of kin"; and without more words he
sprang into the saddle. "You may take my horse by force," said the King, "but I
should like to prove first which of us two is the better horseman."
"Well," answered the Knight, "when you want me, come to this spring. Here you
will always find me," and, spurring his horse, he galloped away. The King
watched him till he was out of sight, then turned to his squire and bade him bring
another horse as quickly as he could. While he was waiting for it the wizard
Merlin came along in the likeness of a boy, and asked the King why he was so
"I may well be thoughtful," replied the King, "for I have seen the most
wonderful sight in all the world."
"That I know well," said Merlin, "for I know all your thoughts. But it is
folly to let your mind dwell on it, for thinking will mend nothing. I know, too,
that, Uther Pendragon was your father, and your mother was the Lady Igraine.'"
"How can a boy like you know that?" cried Arthur, growing angry; but Merlin
only answered, "I know it better than any man living," and passed, returning
soon after in the likeness of an old man of fourscore, and sitting down by the
well to rest.
"What makes you so sad?" asked he.
"I may well be sad," replied Arthur, "there is plenty to make me so. And
besides, there was a boy here who told me things that he had no business to
know, and among them the names of my father and mother."
"He told you the truth," said the old man, "and if you would have listened
he could have told you still more: how that your sister shall have a child who
shall destroy you and all your Knights."
"Who are you?" asked Arthur, wondering.
"I am Merlin, and it was I who came to you in the likeness of a boy. I know
all things; how that you shall die a noble death, being slain in battle, while
my end will be shameful, for I shall be put alive into the earth."
There was no time to say more, for the man brought up the
King's horse and he mounted, and rode fast till he came to Carlion.