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The Age of Chivalry, or Legends of King Arthur



ALL that day they journeyed until the evening, and then they beheld a vast castle, which was the largest in the world. And lo! a black man, larger than three of the men of this world, came out from the castle. And they spoke unto him, and said, “O man, whose castle is that?” “Stupid are ye, truly, O men! There is no one in the world that does not know that this is the castle of Gwernach the Giant.” “What treatment is there for guests and strangers that alight in that castle?” “O chieftain, Heaven protect thee! No guest ever returned thence alive, and no one may enter therein unless he brings with him his craft.”

Then they proceeded towards the gate. Said Gurhyr Gwalstat, “Is there a porter!” “There is; wherefore dost thou call?” “Open the gate.” “I will not open it.” “Wherefore wilt thou not?” “The knife is in the meat, and the drink is in the horn, and there is revelry in the hall of Gwernach the Giant; and except for a craftsman who brings his craft, the gate will not be opened to–night.” “Verily, porter,” then said Kay, “my craft bring I with me.” “What is thy craft?” “The best burnisher of swords am I in the world.” “I will go and tell this unto Gwernach the Giant, and I will bring thee an answer.”

So the porter went in, and Gwernach said to him, “Hast thou news from the gate?” “I have. There is a party at the door of the gate who desire to come in.” “Didst thou inquire of them if they possessed any art?” “I did inquire,” said he, “and one told me that he was well skilled in the burnishing of swords.” “We have need of him then. For some time have I sought for some one to polish my sword, and could find no one. Let this man enter, since he brings with him his craft.”

The porter thereupon returned and opened the gate. And Kay went in by himself, and he saluted Gwernach the Giant. And a chair was placed for him opposite to Gwernach. And Gwernach said to him, “O man, is it true that is reported of thee, that thou knowest how to burnish swords?” “I know full well how to do so,” answered Kay. Then was the sword of Gwernach brought to him. And Kay took a blue whet–stone from under his arm, and asked whether he would have it burnished white or blue. “Do with it as it seems good to thee, or as thou wouldst if it were thine own.” Then Kay polished one half of the blade, and put it in his band. “Will this please you?” asked he. “I would rather than all that is in my dominions that the whole of it were like this. It is a marvel to me that such a man as thou should be without a companion.” “O noble sir, I have a companion, albeit he is not skilled in this art.” “Who may he be?” “Let the porter go forth, and I will tell him whereby he may know him. The head of his lance will leave its shaft, and draw blood from the wind, and will descend upon its shaft again.” Then the gate was opened, and Bedwyr entered. And Kay said, “Bedwyr is very skilful, though he knows not this art.”

And there was much discourse among those who were without, because that Kay and Bedwyr had gone in. And a young man who was with them, the only son of the herdsman, got in also; and he contrived to admit all the rest, but they kept themselves concealed.

The sword was now polished, and Kay gave it unto the hand of Gwernach the Giant, to see if he were pleased with his work. And the Giant said, “The work is good; I am content therewith.” Said Kay, “It is thy scabbard that hath rusted thy sword; give it to me, that I may take out the wooden sides of it, and put in new ones.” And he took the scabbard from him, and the sword in the other hand. And he came and stood over against the giant, as if he would have put the sword into the scabbard; and with it he struck at the head of the giant, and cut off his head at one blow. Then they despoiled the castle, and took from it what goods and jewels they would. And they returned to Arthur’s court, bearing with them the sword of Gwernach the Giant.

And when they told Arthur how they had sped, Arthur said, “It is a good beginning.” Then they took counsel, and said, “Which of these marvels will it be best for us to seek next?” “It will be best,” said one, “to seek Mabon, the son of Modron; and he will not be found unless we first find Eidoel, the son of Aer, his kinsman.” Then Arthur rose up, and the warriors of the island of Britain with him, to seek for Eidoel; and they proceeded until they came to the castle of Glivi, where Eidoel was imprisoned. Glivi stood on the summit of his castle, and he said, “Arthur, what requirest thou of me, since nothing remains to me in this fortress, and I have neither joy nor pleasure in it, neither wheat nor oats? Seek not, therefore, to do me harm.” Said Arthur, “Not to injure thee came I hither, but to seek for the prisoner that is with thee.” “I will give thee my prisoner, though I had not thought to give him up to any one, and therewith shalt thou have my support and my aid.”

His followers said unto Arthur, “Lord, go thou home; thou canst not proceed with thy host in quest of such small adventures as these.” Then said Arthur, “It were well for thee, Gurhyr Gwalstat, to go upon this quest, for thou knowest all languages, and art familiar with those of the birds and the beasts. Thou, Eidoel, oughtest likewise to go with thy men in search of thy cousin. And as for you, Kay and Bedwyr, I have hope of whatever adventure ye are in quest of, that ye will achieve it. Achieve ye this adventure for me.”

They went forward until they came to the Ousel of Cilgwri. And Gurhyr adjured her, saying, “Tell me if thou knowest aught of Mabon, the son of Modron, who was taken when three nights old from between his mother and the wall?” And the Ousel answered, “When I first came here, there was a smith’s anvil in this place, and I was then a young bird; and from that time no work has been done upon it, save the pecking of my beak every evening; and now there is not so much as the size of a nut remaining thereof; yet during all that time I have never heard of the man for whom you inquire. Nevertheless, I will do that which is fitting that I should for an embassy from Arthur. There is a race of animals who were formed before me, and I will be your guide to them.”

So they proceeded to the place where was the Stag of Redynvre. “Stag of Redynvre, behold, we are come to thee, an embassy from Arthur, for we have not heard of any animal older than thou. Say, knowest thou aught of Mabon, the son of Modron, who was taken from his mother when three nights old?” The Stag said, “When first I came hither there was a plain all around me, without any trees save one oak sapling, which grew up to be an oak with an hundred branches; and that oak has since perished, so that now nothing remains of it but the withered stump; and from that day to this I have been here, yet have I never heard of the man for whom you inquire. Nevertheless, being an embassy from Arthur, I will be your guide to the place where there is an animal which was formed before I was, and the oldest animal in the world, and the one that has travelled most, the Eagle of Gwern Abwy.”

Gurhyr said, “Eagle of Gwern Abwy, we have come to thee, an embassy from Arthur, to ask thee if thou knowest aught of Mabon, the son of Modron, who was taken from his mother when he was three nights old?” The Eagle said, “I have been here for a great space of time, and when I first came hither there was a rock here from the top of which I pecked at the stars every evening; and it has crumbled away, and now it is not so much as a span high. All that time I have been here, and I have never heard of the man for whom you inquire, except once when I went in search of food as far as Llyn Llyw. And when I came there I struck my talons into a salmon, thinking he would serve me as food for a long time. But he drew me into the water, and I was scarcely able to escape from him. After that I made peace with him. And I drew fifty fish–spears out of his back, and relieved him. Unless he know something of him you seek I cannot tell who may. However, I will guide you to the place where he is.”

So they went thither; and the Eagle said, “Salmon of Llyn Llyw, I have come to thee with an embassy from Arthur, to ask thee if thou knowest aught of Mabon, the son of Modron, who was taken away at three nights old from his mother.” “As much as I know I will tell thee. With every tide I go along the river upward, until I come near to the walls of Gloucester, and there have I found such wrong as I never found elsewhere; and to the end that ye may give credence thereto, let one of you go thither upon each of my two shoulders.” So Kay and Gurhyr Gwalstat went upon the two shoulders of the Salmon, and they proceeded until they came unto the wall of the prison; and they heard a great wailing and lamenting from the dungeon. Said Gurhyr, “Who is it that laments in this house of stone?” “Alas! it is Mabon, the son of Modron, who is here imprisoned; and no imprisonment was ever so grievous as mine.” “Hast thou hope of being released for gold or for silver, or for any gifts of wealth, or through battle and fighting?” “By fighting will whatever I may gain be obtained.”

Then they went thence, and returned to Arthur, and they told him where Mabon, the son of Modron, was imprisoned. And Arthur summoned the warriors of the island, and they journeyed as far as Gloucester, to the place where Mabon was in prison. Kay and Bedwyr went upon the shoulders of the fish, whilst the warriors of Arthur attacked the castle. And Kay broke through the wall into the dungeon, and brought away the prisoner upon his back, whilst the fight was going on between the warriors. And Arthur returned home, and Mabon with him at liberty.

On a certain day as Gurhyr Gwalstat was walking over a mountain he heard a wailing and a grievous cry. And when he heard it he sprang forward, and went towards it. And when he came there he saw a fire burning among the turf, and an ant–hill nearly surrounded with the fire. And he drew his sword, and smote off the ant–hill close to earth, so that it escaped being burned in the fire. And the ants said to him, “Receive from us the blessing of Heaven, and that which no man can give we will give thee.” Then they fetched the nine bushels of flaxseed which Yspadaden Penkawr had required of Kilwich, and they brought the full measure, without lacking any, save one flaxseed, and that the lame pismire brought in before night.

Then said Arthur, “Which of the marvels will it be best for us to seek next?” “It will be best to seek for the two cubs of the wolf Gast Rhymhi.”

“Is it known,” said Arthur, “where she is?” “She is in Aber Cleddyf,” said one. Then Arthur went to the house of Tringad, in Aber Cleddyf, and he inquired of him whether he had heard of her there. “She has often slain my herds, and she is there below in a cave of Aber Cleddyf.”

Then Arthur went in his ship Prydwen by sea, and the others went by land to hunt her. And they surrounded her and her two cubs, and took them, and carried them away.

As Kay and Bedwyr sat on a beacon–cairn on the summit of Plinlimmon, in the highest wind that ever was, they looked around them and saw smoke afar off. Then said Kay, “By the hand of my friend, yonder is the fire of a robber.” Then they hastened towards the smoke, and they came so near it that they could see Dillus Varwawc scorching a wild boar. “Behold, yonder is the greatest robber that ever fled from Arthur,” said Bedwyr to Kay. “Dost thou know him?” “I do know him,” answered Kay; “he is Dillus Varwawc, and no leash in the world will be able to hold the cubs of Gast Rhymhi save a leash made from the beard of him thou seest yonder. And even that will be useless unless his beard be plucked out alive, with wooden tweezers; for if dead it will be brittle.” “What thinkest thou that we should do concerning this?” said Bedwyr. “Let us suffer him to eat as much as he will of the meat, and after that he will fall asleep.” And during that time he they employed themselves in making the wooden tweezers. And when Kay knew certainly that he was asleep, he made a pit under his feet, and he struck him a violent blow, and squeezed him into the pit. And there they twitched out his beard completely with the wooden tweezers, and after that they slew him altogether. And from thence they went, and took the leash made of Dillus Varwawc’s beard, and they gave it into Arthur’s hand.

Thus they got all the marvels that Yspadaden Penkawr had required of Kilwich; and they set forward, and took the marvels to his court. And Kilwich said to Yspadaden Penkawr, “Is thy daughter mine now?” “She is thine,” said he, “but therefore needest thou not thank me, but Arthur, who hath accomplished this for thee.” Then Goreu, the son of Custennin, the herdsman, whose brothers Yspadaden Penkawr had slain, seized him by the hair of his head, and dragged him after him to the keep, and cut off his head, and placed it on a stake in the citadel. Then they took possession of his castle, and of his treasures. And that night Olwen became Kilwich’s bride, and she continued to be his wife as long as she lived.

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