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But far beneath him he beheld a
hideous black pool, in which were all manner of serpents, and vile
worms, foul and horrible. Suddenly the wheel seemed to turn, and he fell
among the serpents, which seized upon his limbs.

Awakening in fright, he loudly cried, "Help!" and knights and squires
came crowding in alarm into his chamber; but he was so amazed that he
knew not where he was nor what he said.

Then he fell again into a half slumber, in which Gawaine seemed to come
to him attended by a number of fair ladies.

"Fair nephew," asked the king, "who are these ladies?"

"They are those for whom I did battle during my life," answered Gawaine.
"God has sent them and me to warn you of your coming death, for if you
fight with Mordred to-morrow as you have agreed, you will both be slain,
and most of your people. Therefore I am here to warn you not to fight
to-morrow, but to treat with the traitor, and make him large and fair
promises, so as to gain a month's delay. Within that time Lancelot and
his knights will come, and Mordred the usurper cannot hold against you
both."

This said, Gawaine and the ladies vanished. Then Arthur waked, and sent
messengers in haste to bring his lords and bishops to council. When they
had come he told them his dream, and they counselled him by all means to
be guided by it. Lucan the butler, and his brother Sir Bevidere, with
two bishops, were therefore sent to treat with Mordred, and make him
large promises for a month's truce.

The commissioners sought Mordred's camp and held a long conference with
him. At the end he agreed to meet King Arthur on the plain between the
hosts, each to bring but fourteen persons with him, and there consult on
the treaty.

"I am glad that this is accomplished," said the king, when word of the
compact was brought him.

But when he was ready to start for the place of conference, with the
fourteen chosen men, he said to his knights,--

"Be wary and watchful, for I trust not Mordred. If you see any sword
drawn, come fiercely forward, and slay the villain and his guard."

Mordred gave the same warning to his lords, for he had equal mistrust of
Arthur, whom he feared and doubted.

The two leaders, with their chosen followers, now advanced and met
between the hosts. But by a fatal chance, as the king and his opponent
were in consultation, an adder came from a heath bush and stung a knight
on the foot. Feeling the wound he drew his sword in thoughtless haste to
kill the venomous serpent. But the instant the hosts on both sides saw
that sword flash in the air all was uproar and tumult. On both sides
trumpets and horns were blown, harness rattled and clanked, and the
flash of spear-heads and sword-blades gleamed in the sunlight, while
like two mighty waves of war the great hosts broke from their stations
and rushed together across the plain.

Then Arthur sprang to his horse, exclaiming, "Alas! this unhappy day!"
and rode to his party; and Mordred did likewise.

No hand nor voice could stay the advancing hosts, and in a moment there
began the most doleful battle ever seen in Christian land. For there was
rushing and riding, foining and striking, and deadly clamor, and fearful
strife. Many a grim word was there spoken, and many a deadly stroke
dealt. Many times King Arthur rode through Mordred's host, and knightly
were the deeds of his hands. And Mordred fought with knightly valor and
zeal.

Thus went on the deadly fray all day long, without pause or stint, till
noble knights lay like fallen leaves upon the bloody ground. And when
nightfall was at hand they still fought with desperate valor, though by
that time full a hundred thousand men lay dead upon the down.

Then the heart of Arthur grew full of warlike fury, to see so many of
his people slain. And when the sun was near its setting, he leaned upon
his crimson sword, and looked about him with eyes that seemed to weep
blood. For of all his mighty host of knights but two remained alive, Sir
Lucan the butler, and his brother Sir Bevidere; and both of these were
sorely wounded.

"God's mercy!" cried the king, "where are all my noble knights? Alas!
that I have lived to see this doleful day! Now, indeed, am I come to my
end. But would to God I knew where to find that traitor, Mordred, who
has caused all this mischief."

As he spoke, his eyes fell on Mordred, who stood leaning upon his sword
amid a great heap of slain, for his host had been slaughtered to a man.

"Give me my spear," cried Arthur, wrathfully, to Sir Lucan. "Yonder
stands the traitor who has wrought this dire woe."

"Let him be," said Lucan. "He is unhappy enough. Remember, my good lord,
your last night's dream, and what the spirit of Sir Gawaine told you.
For God's sake make an end of this fray. Blessed be God, we have won the
field; for here are three of us alive, while Mordred stands alone among
his dead. If you leave off now, the wicked day of destiny will pass and
life remain to you. Your time for revenge will come hereafter."

"Betide me life, betide me death," cried the king, "this fray must end
here. Now that I see him yonder alone, he shall never escape my hands.
One or both of us shall die."

"Then God speed the just cause," said Bevidere.

With no word more Arthur took his spear in both hands, and ran furiously
at Mordred, crying,--

"Traitor, now has thy day of death come!"

When Mordred heard him, he raised his dripping sword and ran to meet the
king. Thus they met in mid-field, and King Arthur smote Mordred under
the shield, the spear piercing his body more than a fathom.

Mordred felt that he had his death-wound, but with a last impulse of
fury in his felon soul he thrust himself, with all his strength, up to
the bur of King Arthur's spear. Then wielding his sword with both hands,
he struck the king so dread a blow on the side of the head that the
trenchant blade cut through the helmet and deep into the skull.

With this last and fatal stroke Mordred fell stark dead to the ground.
And Arthur sank in a swoon to the earth, where he lay like one dead.

Thus sadly and direfully ended that dreadful war, with which came to a
close the flower of the days of chivalry, and the glorious and
never-to-be equalled fellowship of the Round Table, with all the mighty
deeds of prowess and marvels of adventure that to it belonged. For of
those noble knights, except Sir Lancelot and his kindred, only two
lived, Sir Lucan the butler, and Sir Bevidere his brother, and of these
two Sir Lucan was wounded unto death; and with them the illustrious King
Arthur, whose chivalrous soul had so long sustained this noble order of
knighthood, lay bleeding piteously upon that direful field of blood.

Sir Lucan and Bevidere, with bitter tears of sorrow, lifted their
helpless king between them, and with great labor led him from that place
of slaughter till they reached a small chapel near the sea-shore. Here,
as the night drew on, the sound of many voices came to them, as if the
dead had risen and were astir on the blood-stained field.

"What noise is this, Sir Lucan?" said the king. "Go, gentle friend, and
tell me what it means."

Lucan went, and by the moonlight saw a throng of pillagers, who robbed
the dead bodies of money and jewels, killing for their riches those
knights who were not quite dead. When he brought this news back to
Arthur, the king's sad heart came near to breaking.

"Alas! Lancelot," he said, "how have I missed you this day. Alas! that I
ever turned against you, for had you been here this fatal end could
never have been, nor those noble warriors left to be the prey of the
wolves and jackals of the battle-field. Sorely have I erred and sadly
have I been repaid for my error. But now, alas, it is too late for
regret or amendment, for the fellowship of the Round Table is at an end,
and Arthur the king shall reign no more."




CHAPTER VI.

THE PASSING OF ARTHUR.


When morning dawned, after that day of fate, Lucan and Bevidere took up
the king between them, and sought to bear him to the sea-shore, as he
bade them do. But in the lifting the king swooned, and Lucan fell
prostrate, the blood gushing anew from his wound.

Arthur lay long like one dead, and when he came to himself again he saw
Lucan lifeless at his feet, with foam upon his lips, and the ground
around him deeply stained with his blood.

"Alas! this is a heavy sight to see," he said. "He sought to help me
when he stood most in need of help. He would not complain though his
heart broke, and has given his life for mine. May Jesus have mercy on
his soul."

Bevidere stood beside him, weeping bitterly for the death of his
brother.

"Weep and mourn no more," said the king. "It will not now avail. Could I
live, the death of Sir Lucan would grieve me evermore. But my time goeth
fast, and there is that to do for which but few moments remain."

Then he closed his eyes for a time, like one who sees visions; and when
he looked again there was that in his face which Bevidere could not
fathom and his eyes were deep with meaning unrevealed.

"Now, my lord Bevidere," said the king, "the end is at hand. Take thou
my good sword Excalibur, and go with it to yonder water-side. When thou
comest there, I charge thee throw it as far as thou canst into the
water; then come again and tell me what thing thou seest."

"Trust me, my lord and king, your command shall be obeyed," said
Bevidere.

So he took the sword and departed to the water-side. But as his eyes
fell upon the noble weapon, whose pommel and haft were all of precious
stones, a feeling of greed came upon him and he said to himself,--

"If I throw this rich sword into the water, no good can come of it, but
only harm and loss. Had I not better keep it for myself?"

Moved by this thought, he hid Excalibur under a tree, and returned to
the king, whom he told that he had thrown the sword into the water.

"What saw you there?" asked the king.

"Sir, I saw nothing but the rippling waves."

"Then you speak untruly," said the king. "You have not thrown the sword
as I bade you. Go again, and obey my command, as you are to me dear and
true.



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