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The Winter King: A Novel of Arthur by Bernard Cornwell

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If I might live, I would destroy that castle and its evil customs. Anon came the lady of the castle, and when she heard their talk, and saw their evil case, she wrung her hands and wept bitterly.


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So Sir Balan prayed the lady of her gentleness that, for his true service, she would bury them both together in that place. This she granted, weeping full sore, and said it should be done right solemnly and richly, and in the noblest manner possible. Then did they send for a priest, and received the holy sacrament at his hands. And so, for many years, it floated to and fro around the island, till it swam down the river to Camelot, where young Sir Galahad achieved it, as shall be told hereafter.

Then King Arthur sent word to King Leodegrance that he mightily desired to wed his daughter, and how that he had loved her since he saw her first, when with Kings Ban and Bors he rescued Leodegrance from King Ryence of North Wales. I would fain give him half my lands with her straightway, but that he needeth none—and better will it please him that I send him the Round Table of King Uther, his father, with a hundred good knights towards the furnishing of it with guests, for he will soon find means to gather more, and make the table full. Then King Leodegrance delivered his daughter Guinevere to the messengers of King Arthur, and also the Round Table with the hundred knights.

So they rode royally and freshly, sometimes by water and sometimes by land, towards Camelot. And as they rode along in the spring weather, they made full many sports and pastimes. And always in the eventide, when the tents were set beside some stream or forest, many minstrels came and sang before the knights and ladies as they sat in the tent-doors, and many knights would tell adventures; and still Sir Lancelot was foremost, and told the knightliest tales, and sang the goodliest songs, of all the company.

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The Winter King - A Novel of Arthur

And when they came to Camelot, King Arthur made great joy, and all the city with him; and riding forth with a great retinue he met Guinevere and her company, and led her through the streets all filled with people, and in the midst of all their shoutings and the ringing of church bells, to a palace hard by his own. Then, in all haste, the king commanded to prepare the marriage and the coronation with the stateliest and most honourable pomp that could be made.

And when the day was come, the archbishops led the king to the cathedral, whereto he walked, clad in his royal robes, and having four kings, bearing four golden swords, before him; a choir of passing sweet music going also with him. In another part, was the queen dressed in her richest ornaments, and led by archbishops and bishops to the Chapel of the Virgins, the four queens also of the four kings last mentioned walked before her, bearing four white doves, according to ancient custom; and after her there followed many damsels, singing and making every sign of joy.

And when the two processions were come to the churches, so wondrous was the music and the singing, that all the knights and barons who were there pressed on each other, as in the crowd of battle, to hear and see the most they might. When the king was crowned, he called together all the knights that came with the Round Table from Camelgard, and twenty-eight others, great and valiant men, chosen by Merlin out of all the realm, towards making up the full number of the table.

Soon after came a poor man, leading with him a tall fair lad of eighteen years of age, riding on a lean mare. But this one will do no such work for anything that I or my wife may do, but is for ever shooting or fighting, and running to see knights and joustings, and torments me both night and day that he be made a knight.

Then the king, looking at him steadfastly, was well pleased with his face and figure, and with his look of nobleness and strength. But when he brought them, none of them resembled Tor in size or shape or feature. Presently after came in King Pellinore, and when he saw Sir Tor he knew him for his son, and was more pleased than words can tell to find him knighted by the king. And Pellinore did homage to King Arthur, and was gladly and graciously accepted of the king; and then was led by Merlin to a high seat at the Table Round, near to the Perilous Seat. Then rose the king and spake to all the Table Round, and charged them to be ever true and noble knights, to do neither outrage nor murder, nor any unjust violence, and always to flee treason; also by no means ever to be cruel, but give mercy unto him that asked for mercy, upon pain of forfeiting the liberty of his court for evermore.

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Moreover, at all times, on pain of death, to give all succour unto ladies and young damsels; and lastly, never to take part in any wrongful quarrel, for reward or payment. And to all this he swore them knight by knight. Then he ordained that, every year at Pentecost, they should all come before him, wheresoever he might appoint a place, and give account of all their doings and adventures of the past twelvemonth. And so, with prayer and blessing, and high words of cheer, he instituted the most noble order of the Round Table, whereto the best and bravest knights in all the world sought afterwards to find admission.

Then was the high feast made ready, and the king and queen sat side by side, before the whole assembly; and great and royal was the banquet and the pomp. So as they sat, there suddenly came running through the hall, a white hart, with a white hound next after him, and thirty couple of black running hounds, making full cry; and the hart made circuit of the Table Round, and past the other tables; and suddenly the white hound flew upon him and bit him fiercely, and tore out a piece from his haunch.

Whereat the hart sprang suddenly with a great leap, and overthrew a knight sitting at the table, who rose forthwith, and, taking up the hound, mounted, and rode fast away. Then the king desired Sir Gawain, Sir Tor, and King Pellinore to mount and follow this adventure to the uttermost; and told Sir Gawain to bring back the hart, Sir Tor the hound and knight, and King Pellinore the knight and the lady. So Sir Gawain rode forth at a swift pace, and with him Gaheris, his brother, for a squire. And as they went, they saw two knights fighting on horseback, and when they reached them they divided them and asked the reason of their quarrel.

Take my advice, set on against me, and if ye yield to me, as I shall do my best to make ye, ye shall go to King Arthur and yield ye to his grace. Then Sir Gawain, still following his quest by the distant baying of the hounds, came to a great river, and saw the hart swimming over and near to the further bank.

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Anon they got their spears, and ran against each other fiercely; and Sir Gawain smote the stranger off his horse, and turning, bade him yield. Then they fell on each other; but soon Sir Gawain struck him through the helm, so deeply and so hard, that all his brains were scattered, and Sir Allardin fell dead.

The winter king : a novel of Arthur, Bernard Cornwell, (large print)

Then did they turn again to follow the white hart, and let slip three couple of greyhounds after him; and at the last they chased him to a castle, and there they overtook and slew him, in the chief courtyard. Then did they fight with each other savagely and madly, till the blood ran down to their feet. But at last Sir Gawain had the better, and felled the knight of the castle to the ground.

Then he cried out for mercy, and yielded to Sir Gawain, and besought him as he was a knight and gentleman to save his life.

The Winter King a Novel of Arthur

But Sir Gawain would have no mercy, and unlaced his helm to strike his head off; and so blind was he with rage, that he saw not where a lady ran out from her chamber and fell down upon his enemy. Why give ye not your mercy unto them that ask it? So Sir Gawain sent him to the court to Camelot, making him bear one dead greyhound before and one behind him on his horse. Slayer of fair ladies, shame to thee evermore! Doubt not thou shalt thyself have need of mercy ere we leave thee. Then were the brothers in great jeopardy, and feared for their lives, for they were but two to four, and weary with travelling; and one of the four knights shot Sir Gawain with a bolt, and hit him through the arm, so that he could fight no more.

So they gave Sir Gawain and Gaheris their lives, and made them yield themselves prisoners. Thus ended the adventure of the white hart. Meanwhile, Sir Tor had made him ready, and followed the knight who rode away with the hound. Then rode out quickly at Sir Tor one armed on horseback, but Sir Tor was quick as he, and riding at him bore him from his horse, and made him yield. Directly after came another still more fiercely, but with a few great strokes and buffets Sir Tor unhorsed him also, and sent them both to Camelot to King Arthur.