Howard Pyle's King
Arthur and his Knights
Chapter Third. How Several Kings and High Dukes Assayed to Draw the Sword Out of the
Anvil and How They Failed. Likewise How Arthur Made the Assay and Succeeded
So when the morning of Christmas day had come, many thousands of folk of all qualities,
both gentle and simple, gathered together in front of the cathedral for to behold the
assay of that sword.
Now there had been a canopy of embroidered cloth of divers colors spread above the
sword and the anvil, and a platform had been built around about the cube of marble stone.
And nigh unto that place there had been a throne for the Archbishop established; for the
Archbishop was to overlook that assay and to see that every circumstance was fulfilled
with due equity and circumspection.
So, when the morning was half gone by, the Archbishop himself came with great pomp of
estate and took his seat upon the high throne that had been placed for him, and all his
court of clerks and knights gathered about him, so that he presented a very proud and
excellent appearance of courtliness.
Now unto that assay there had gathered nineteen kings and sixteen dukes, and each of
these was of such noble and exalted estate that he entertained high hopes that he would
that day be approved before the world to be the right king and overlord of all Britain.
Wherefore after the Archbishop had established himself upon his throne, there came several
of these and made demand that he should straightway put that matter to the test. So the
Archbishop commanded his herald for to sound a trumpet, and to bid all who had the right
to make assay of the sword to come unto that adventure, and the herald did according as
the Archbishop ordered.
And when the herald had sounded his trumpet there immediately appeared the first of
those kings to make trial of the sword, and he who came was King Lot of Orkney and the
Isles. With King Lot there came eleven knights and five esquires, so that he appeared in
very noble estate before the eyes of all. And when King Lot had arrived at that place, he
mounted the platform. And first he saluted the Archbishop, and then he laid his hands to
the pommel of the sword in the sight of all. And he bent his body and drew upon the sword
with great strength, but he could not move the blade in the anvil even so much as the
breadth of a hair, for it stood as fast as the iron in which it was planted. And after
that first assay he tried three times more, but still he was altogether unable to move the
blade in the iron. Then, after that he had thus four times made assay, he ceased his
endeavor and came down from that place. And he was filled with great anger and indignation
that he had not succeeded in his endeavor.
And after King Lot there came his brother-in-law, King Urien of Gore and he also made
assay in the same wise as King Lot had done. But neither did he succeed any better than
that other king. And after King Urien there came King Fion of Scotland, and after King
Fion there came King Mark of Cornwall, and after King Mark there came King Ryence of North
Wales, and after King Ryence there came King Leodegrance of Cameliard, and after him came
all those other kings and dukes before numerated, and not one of all these was able to
move the blade. And some of these high and mighty lords were filled with anger and
indignation that they had not succeeded, and others were ashamed that they had failed in
that undertaking before the eyes of all those who looked upon them. But whether they were
angry or whether they were ashamed it in no wise helped their case.
Now when all the kings and dukes had thus failed in that adventure, the people who were
there were very much astonished, and they said to one another, "How is this? If all
those kings and dukes of very exalted estate have failed to achieve that adventure, who
then may hope to succeed? For here have been all those who were most worthy of that high
honor, and all have tried to draw that sword and all have failed. Who then is there now to
come after these who may hope to succeed?"
And, likewise, those kings and dukes spoke together in the same manner. And by and by
there came six of the most worthy - to wit, King Lot, King Urien, King Pellinore, King
Ban, King Ryence, and Duke Clarence of Northumberland - and these stood before the throne
of the Archbishop and spake to him in this wise: "Sir, here have all the kings and
dukes of this realm striven before you for to draw forth that sword, and lo! not one of
all those who have undertaken that thing hath succeeded in his undertaking. What, then,
may we understand but that the enchanter Merlin hath set this adventure for to bring shame
and discredit upon all of us who are here, and upon you, who are the head of the church in
this realm? For who in all the world may hope to draw forth a sword-blade out from a bed
of solid iron? Behold! it is beyond the power of any man. Is it not then plain to be seen
that Merlin hath made a mock of us all? Now, therefore, lest all this great congregation
should have been called here in vain, we do beseech you of your wisdom that you presently
choose the one from among the kings here gathered, who may be best fitted to be overlord
of this realm. And when ye shall have chosen him, we will promise to obey him in all
things whatsoever he may ordain. Verily, such a choice as that will be better worth while
than to spend time in this foolish task of striving to draw forth a sword out of an anvil
which no man in all the world may draw forth."
Then was the Archbishop much troubled in spirit, for he said to himself, "Can it
be sooth that Merlin hath deceived me, and hath made a mock of me and of all these kings
and lordly folk? Surely this cannot be. For Merlin is passing wise, and he would not make
a mock of all the realm for the sake of so sorry a jest as this would be. Certes he hath
some intent in this of which we know naught, being of less wisdom than he - wherefore I
will be patient for a while longer." Accordingly, having communed thus within
himself, he spake aloud in this wise to those seven high lords:
"Messires," he said, "I have yet faith that Merlin hath not deceived us,
wherefore I pray your patience for one little while longer. For if, in the time a man may
count five hundred twice over, no one cometh forward to perform this task, then will I, at
your behest, proceed to choose one from amongst you and will proclaim him King and
Overlord of all." For the Archbishop had faith that Merlin was about to immediately
declare a king before them all.
Now leave we these and turn we unto Arthur and his father and brother.
For Merlin had bidden those three to abide in their pavilion until such time as he
thought would be fit for them to come out thence. And that time being now come, Merlin and
Sir Ulfius went to the pavilion of Sir Ector, and Merlin said, "Arthur, arise and
come forth, for now the hour is come for thee to assay before the whole world that miracle
which thou didst of late execute in privacy." So Arthur did as Merlin bade him to do,
and he came forth from the pavilion with his father and his brother, and, lo! he was like
one who walked in a dream. So they five went down from thence toward the cathedral and
unto that place of assay. And when they had come to the congregation there assembled, the
people made way for them, greatly marvelling and saying to one another, "Who are
these with the Enchanter Merlin and Sir Ulfius, and whence come they? For all the world
knew Merlin and Sir Ulfius, and they wist that here was something very extraordinary about
to happen. And Arthur was clad all in flame-colored raiment embroidered with threads of
silver, so that others of the people said, "Certes, that youth is very fair for to
look upon; now who may he be?"
But Merlin said no word to any man, but he brought Arthur through the press unto that
place where the Archbishop sat; and the press made way for him so that he was not stayed
in his going. And when the Archbishop beheld Merlin come thus with those others, he arose
and said, "Merlin, who are these whom thou bringest unto us, and what is their
business here?" And Merlin said, "Lord, here is one come to make the assay of
yonder sword." And the Archbishop said, "Which one is he?" and Merlin said,
"This is he," and he laid his hand upon Arthur.
Then the Archbishop looked upon Arthur and he beheld that the youth was very comely of
face, wherefore his heart went out unto Arthur and he loved him a very great deal. And the
Archbishop said, "Merlin, by what right doth this young man come hither?" And
Merlin made reply, "Lord, he cometh hither by the best right that there is in the
world; for he who standeth before thee clad in red is the true son of Uther-Pendragon and
of his lawful wife, Queen Igraine."
Then the Archbishop cried out aloud in great amazement and those who stood nigh and who
heard what Merlin said were so astonished that they wist not what to think. And the
Archbishop said, "Merlin, what is this that thou tellest me? For who, until now, in
all the world hath ever heard that Uther-Pendragon had a son?"
Unto this Merlin made reply: "No one hath ever known of such a thing until now,
only a very few. For it was in this wise: When this child was born the spirit of prophecy
lay upon me and I foresaw that Uther-Pendragon would die before a very great while.
Wherefore I feared that the enemies of the King would lay violent hands upon the young
child for the sake of his inheritance. So, at the King's behest, I and another took the
young child from his mother and gave him unto a third, and that man received the kingly
child and maintained him ever since as his own son. And as to the truth of these things
there are others here who may attest the verity of them-for he who was with me when the
young child was taken from his mother was Sir Ulfius, and he to whom he was entrusted was
Sir Ector of Bonmaison-and those two witnesses, who are without any reproach, will avouch
to the verity of that which I have asserted, for here they stand before thee to certify
unto what I have said."
And Sir Ulfius and Sir Ector said, "All that Merlin hath spoken is true, and
thereunto we do pledge our most faithful and sacred word of honor."
Then the Archbishop said, "Who is there may doubt the word of such honorable
witnesses?" And he looked upon Arthur and smiled upon him.
Then Arthur said, "Have I then thy leave, Lord, to handle yonder sword?" And
the Archbishop said, "Thou hast my leave, and may the grace of God go with thee to do
Thereupon Arthur went to the cube of marble stone and he laid his hands upon the haft
of the sword that was thrust into the anvil. And he bent his body and drew very strongly
and, to! the sword came forth with great ease and very smoothly. And when he had got the
sword into his hands, he swung it about his head so that it flashed like lightning. And
after he had swung it thus thrice about his head, he set the point thereof against the
face of the anvil and bore upon it very strongly, and, behold! the sword slid very
smoothly back again into that place where it had aforetime stood; and when it was there,
midway deep, it stood fast where it was. And thus did Arthur successfully accomplish that
marvellous miracle of the sword in the eyes of all the world.
Now when the people who were congregated at that place beheld this miracle performed
before their faces, they lifted up their voices all together, and shouted so vehemently
and with so huge a tumult of outcry that it was as though the whole earth rocked and
trembled with the sound of their shouting.
And whiles they so shouted Arthur took hold of the sword again and drew it forth and
swung it again, and again drave it back into the anvil. And when he had done that he drew
it forth a third time and did the same thing as before. Thus it was that all those who
were there beheld that miracle performed three times over.
And all the kings and dukes who were there were filled with great amazement, and they
wist not what to think or to say when they beheld one who was little more than a boy
perform that undertaking in which the best of them had failed. And some of them, seeing
that miracle, were willing to acknowledge Arthur because of it, but others would not
acknowledge him. These withdrew themselves and stood aloof; and as they stood thus apart,
they said among themselves: "What is this and who can accredit such a thing that a
beardless boy should be set before us all and should be made King and overlord of this
great realm for to govern us. Nay! Nay! we will have none of him for our King." And
others said, "Is it not apparent that Merlin and Sir Ulfius are thus exalting this
unknown boy so that they may elevate themselves along with him?" Thus these
discontented kings spake among themselves, and of all of them the most bitter were King
Lot and King Urien, who were brothers by marriage with Arthur.
Now when the Archbishop perceived the discontent of these kings and dukes, he said to
them, "How now, Messires! Are ye not satisfied?" And they said, "We are not
satisfied." And the Archbishop said, "What would ye have?" And they said,
"We would have another sort of king for Britain than a beardless boy of whom no one
knoweth and of whose birthright there are only three men to attest." And the
Archbishop said, "What of that? Hath he not performed the miracle that ye yourselves
assayed and failed to perform?"
But these high and mighty lords would not be satisfied, but with angry and averted
faces they went away from that place, filled with wrath and indignation.
But others of these kings and dukes came and saluted Arthur and paid him court, giving
him joy of that which he had achieved; and the chiefest of those who came thus unto him in
friendliness was King Leodegrance of Cameliard. And all the multitude acknowledged him and
crowded around that place shouting so that it sounded like to the noise of thunder.
Now all this while Sir Ector and Sir Kay had stood upon one side. And they were greatly
weighed down by sorrow; for it appeared to them that Arthur had, of a sudden, been
uplifted so far from their estate that they might never hope to approach him more. For now
he was of kingly consequence and they but common knights. And, after awhile, Arthur beheld
them where they stood with downcast looks, whereupon he straight-way went to them and took
first one and then the other by the hand and kissed each upon the cheek. Thereupon they
were again very glad at being thus uplifted unto him.
And when Arthur departed from that place, great crowds of people followed after him so
that the streets were altogether filled with the press of people. And the multitude
continually gave him loud acclaim as the chosen King of England, and those who were
nearest to him sought to touch the hem of his garments; wherefore the heart of Arthur was
exceedingly uplifted with great joy and gladness, so that his soul took wing and flew like
a bird into the sky.
Thus Arthur achieved the adventure of the sword that day and entered into his
birthright of royalty. Wherefore, may God grant His Grace unto you all that ye too may
likewise succeed in your undertakings. For any man may be a king in that life in which he
is placed if so be he may draw forth the sword of success from out of the iron of
circumstance. Wherefore when your time of assay cometh, I do hope it may be with you as it
was with Arthur that day, and that ye too may achieve success with entire satisfaction
unto yourself and to your great glory and perfect happiness. Amen.