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Title: Excalibur: An Arthurian Drama Author: Ralph Adams Cram * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0605411h.html Language: English Date first posted: August 2006 Date most recently updated: August 2006 Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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Excalibur is the introductory drama of a contemplated trilogy founded on the Arthurian legends as the perfect embodiment of the spirit and impulse of that great Christian epoch we call Mediævalism. The attempt is again made--however inadequately-- to do for the epic of our own race, and in a form adapted to dramatic presentation, a small measure of that which Richard Wagner achieved in an allied art for the Teutonic legends.
Excalibur was completed, and in its present form, in the year 1893. Since then no other than verbal changes have been made. This is said for the reason that during the last fifteen years several new dramatic versions of the Arthurian epic have appeared, and the correspondences between them and the present attempt must of necessity be somewhat marked. In every case, however, these are due to the nature of the subject and the compulsion of established and indestructible ideas.
DRAMATIS PERSONAE Arthur Pendragon: afterwards King of England. Vassals of England: Uriens, King of Gore, Nentres, King of Garlot, Leodegrance, King of Cameliard, Duke Lucas of the Southfolk, Duke Brastias of Estsex, Rience, King of North Wales, English Knights.: Sir Launcelot du Lake, Sir Tor, Sir Pelleas, Sir Ector, Sir Breuse saunce Pité, The Archbishop of Canterbury. Sir Kay, the Seneschal. Merlin. Morgan le Fay, Queen of Gore. Guenever, Daughter of King Leodegrance. Dame Columbe, Wife to Sir Kay. Ettard. Ysed. Nimue. Roman Ambassadors, Barons, Knights, Esquires, Citizens, Priests, Monks, Heralds, Pages, and Lake Girls. Scene, England and Wales. Prologue The curtains open on impenetrable darkness. Merlin (invisible). Pendragon passes; now Pendragon's seed Shall reign, Pendragon, on Pendragon's throne. A kingdom passes; now a kingdom's king Shall raise a kingdom for the King of kings. (Merlin's figure becomes faintly visible, poised in mid-air.) Morgan le Fay, rise from the riven rock, Rise through the waters of the Magic Mere, Merlin, thy master, calls. The night is done. I hear the trumpets of the trampling day, I see the glimmer of the torch of dawn Dance like the northern fires along the sky. The curse is lifted, England wakes again. Angelic Voices (above). Night passes, the darkness breaks: see how the curse is wafted away! Down from Heaven, a beam of light, Sinks the smile of the Lord. England, awake! Rouse to the cry! Day is at dawn for the land for God is aweary of wrath. Merlin. Hark! how the marshalled choristers of God Proclaim the dawn that burgeons on the world. Now falls thy kingdom, Morgan, all awrack, For Uther dies, and England waits a king. The rune is written: "Now Pendragon's seed Shall reign, Pendragon, on Pendragon's throne." Whereby God's kingdom grows in England. Rise, Morgan le Fay! Pendragon passes. Rise! Pendragon passes, and the night is done. Morgan le Fay (below, invisible). Pendragon passes, but the darkness holds, And England sleeps: her dawn shall never come The while I rule the Magic Mere. The day Is not for her until I loose my hand; Until the sunken sea and all the gods That dwell therein, shall fail and fall away, Dissolving as the mist that meets the sun. Merlin. The sun, the sun! Look where the flaunting host Of blazing minions mounts the steep of Heaven. Morgan, thy reign is ended! Morgan. At whose word? Merlin. The word of God, and here I give it thee. What time King Uther lived, His hand was stayed, While England paid the grievous penalty Of evil done, and thou wast given leave To scourge us with the curse of paynim gods. Pendragon passes and the ban is raised; Pendragon's seed is lord. Morgan. Is lord not yet! Deep in the Magic Mere I hold the Sword: Take it, magician, if ye have the hand, Pendragon wins no worship if ye fail. Merlin. While Uther lived, the Sword was in thy hold; Pendragon passes, and the Sword is won. Morgan. Thou liest, Merlin, for the Sword is lost! Merlin. Thou liest, Morgan, for within my hand I hold the proof. Morgan. The proof? Merlin. Excalibur! (Merlin is illuminated with a dazzling radiance. Four shafts of light shoot upward, downward, and to either hand, as he draws Excalibur, brandishing it aloft in the light.) Morgan. Here to me, all ye dwellers in the mere! Excalibur is won! Cry treason, cry Unto the uttermost and deepest depth, Unto the farthest bounds of all the world, "Excalibur is won!" Black treason stalks Stark in the sunken sea: your bootless blades Rust in their scabbards, hingeless hang the doors That closed my Castle Terrabil, the walls I reared to ward Excalibur are cleft In sunder hopelessly. The Sword returns! Voices. Queen Morgan calls! Who reft the sleeping Sword From out our holding? Treason! Morgan. All is lost, And we ourselves hurled from our high dominion Unless ye win him back. Gain me the Sword! All hangs on this, the night is broken else. (Dark phantoms dash across the light, assailing Merlin, who rests motionless. A tumult of cries and of low thunder.) Merlin. Pendragon passes, and Excalibur Is for Pendragon's seed. Morgan le Fay, The sun is bursting from the black abyssm; Give thee good night, the day breaks on the land. Morgan. Spirits of darkness from the Magic Mere, Win me the Sword! Voices. Excalibur is lost, Our hands are helpless: mighty Merlin conquers. Morgan. Win me the Sword! Voices. Excalibur is lost; Woe to the people of the Magic Mere! Woe to thee, Morgan, crownless queen, Woe! Woe! (The spirits vanish downward. Morgan's voice is heard afar off.) Morgan. Hold the Sword, Merlin, guard it with thy craft: The day is breaking, but the day will die: Night follows close. The rune is written. Hear! "Pendragon passes. Now Pendragon's seed Shall slay Pendragon for Pendragon's lust. A kingdom passes, now a kingdom's king Shall lose a kingdom to the lord of hell." Merlin. Not while Excalibur is in his hand. Morgan. Morgan le Fay shall gain Excalibur. Merlin. Not while gray Merlin guards Pendragon's seed. Morgan. Gray Merlin passes, and the night befalls. Magician, guard thyself! the Sword returns. Merlin. So runs the rune, but God shall gain the day! Excalibur is won, and England's dawn Is breaking: cry adown the winds, "All hail, Arthur Pendragon, King of England, hail!" Build thou God's city in the wilderness, Trample the paynim underneath thy feet And raise the Cross above a thirsty land. All hail, Pendragon, servant of the Lord! Angelic Voices (above.) Hail, Pendragon, Lord of the Sword! Crowned of England saviour and king. Come forth, thou servant of God, for the dawn is white on the world, and Christ shall arm thee to-day The Sword is won, hell is confounded, back from England cowers the curse. The Sword Excalibur comes; follows fast the Kingdom of God! Merlin. So answers Heaven and hell is dumb. The bell Sounds for the day; go then, Excalibur, Hold in the heavy rock until the king, Great England's king, shall gain thee for his own. So do I send thee, Sword of Avalon, Down to the waiting world. Pendragon comes! (He brandishes Excalibur thrice, then hurls it downward: the light vanishes.) Act I SCENE I. London. The cloisters of St. Paul's. In the midst of the garth is a great runic cross, in the base of which the Sword is buried to the hilt. Merlin is standing beside it. Without is heard the chanting of the Miserere. Enter: the funeral procession of Uther Pendragon, the body of the king borne in the midst upon a bier. Before walk many monks, priests, and acolytes. Following comes the Archbishop of Canterbury, attended, and behind him King Nentres, King Uriens, Duke Lucas, Duke Brastias, Sir Launcelot, Sir Breuse, and other Knights and Barons. Men's Voices. Benigne fac Domine in bona voluntate tua Sion, Ut aedificentur muri Jerusalem. Merlin. Pendragon passes, now Pendragon's seed Shall reign, Pendragon, on Pendragon's throne. Men's Voices. Justificeris Domine in sermonibus tuis, Ut vincas cum judicaris. (The procession crosses the front of the stage: as the bier comes in the centre it is set down and the Archbishop raises his crosier and speaks.) Archbishop. Lords of the realm and gentlemen at arms, From all the farthest borders of the land I summoned ye to answer, under pain Of ban and interdict of Holy Church. Uther is dead, and 'gainst his heritage The ravening kings are leagued. In jeopardy Lies England, kingless, prey to whoso comes. Pendragon dies, and dies the last of them That ruled England by the grace of God. The House is fallen, and there is no heir. Nor law nor custom meets this woful plight Wherein we sink: yet needs must that a king Rule over us, lest England be disrupt And parcelled out in shameful vassalage. To-day is Easter: on this blessed morning Lord Jesu rose, wherefore of His great mercy Perchance this day He may give certain sign Who by His will shall reign. The love of God Passeth our wisdom. For a miracle Fall on your knees, besiege the King of kings With lusty prayer. Sir Launcelot. Dear God, a miracle! Omnes. O Jesu, hear us! Archbishop. By thy Mother's love, Lord Jesu, answer! Omnes. For thy Mother's love! Merlin. God hears His children, and the word is said. Archbishop. Now speak, magician, if thou hast a tongue, For in thy words is somewhat ominous Of welfare to Pendragon's kingdom. Speak! Where is the sign of God? Merlin. Beneath the cross. Gather, ye barons and ye knights at arms, Gather, ye commons from the farthest fields, And look upon the mercy of the Lord! (He mounts the steps of the cross.) See ye the Sword that grows in living rock, Thrust to the hilt within the closing stone? See ye the scripture writ around it? Read! Read ye the rune, and reading, rise and do. This very night, ere yet was day conceived, Whilst grimly darkness gripped the cringing earth, I heard a Voice that cleft the sombre night, And thus it spake, and speaking died away. "Pendragon passes, now Pendragon's seed Shall reign, Pendragon, on Pendragon's throne." And all the night grew white with leaping light As down the heavenly glory flashed a star, A streaming fire that thundered to the earth Riving the rock. Excalibur is come. Omnes. Excalibur is come! Archbishop. Now unto God Be laud and honour, that has shown a sign. Duke Lucas. Pendragon's seed shall reign? What word is this? Pendragon's seed is ended. Uther died Void of all heir, and helpless of his House; How then shall reign his seed? Duke Brastias. How reign his seed When barren lies his field? Shame shows her head: No bastard reigns in England! Merlin. Peace, ye fools! A rune is written 'round the rigid hilt, The which I gain, and straightly give it thee, Most holy father. Read! and reading, rest. Archbishop. "Whoso shall pull this Sword forth of the stone Is rightwise king, born of all England." Merlin. Hear! Barons and knights and commons; come, essay! Hale the steel forth, for England lies enwrapped Around the blade of great Excalibur. King Nentres. By right I claim the Sword. Have I to wife Queen Igraine's daughter? Then to her, Elaine, And so to me, comes England! King Uriens. Traitor king, Morgan le Fay is mine! From Queen Igraine I gain the daughter's dowry. Give me place, For so to me comes England. Sir Breuse. Hold your hand! How runs the rune? Pendragon's seed shall reign, And not Duke Cornwall's daughter, gotten first On Igraine ere she lay with Uther. Hold! Nor look to gain a kingdom with a wife. I win the Sword that am King Uther's son. Duke Brastias. No bastard reigns in England! Sir Breuse. In thy teeth, Thou damnèd duke, I cast thy scornful word! Bastard or no, I reign, Pendragon's seed: Heave up thy sword, for Breuse shall send thee hence! Duke Brastias. Have at thee, boaster, that would fain be king! Archbishop. Now by authority of Holy Church, I bid ye cease, else underneath the ban I cast ye, traitors. Who shall win the Sword Is rightwise King of England, and none else. Strike back your swords! What! dare ye hesitate? Then so I damn ye!-- Good: Now hold your peace! Merlin, guard thou the Sword: my lords, essay! King Nentres. England is mine, and thus, - What craft is here? The brand is frozen in the iron rock, Cursèd magician, by what evil spell - Merlin. Give place, King Nentres, England is not thine. Duke Brastias. But mine, and so I lightly win the crown, - Hell and hell's angels hold thee! Duke Lucas. For my hand. Excalibur and England! Merlin. Are not thine. Sir Breuse. Pendragon's seed shall reign. Said so the rune? Here to me, Sword! What, firmer than the hills? By God I'll rive the ground up from the rock, The rock from nether hell, but thou shalt come. What demons hold thy blade? Unsheathe thyself! Know'st thou not me? It is Pendragon's seed That grips thee! Devils rend ye Merlin-- Archbishop. Peace! Fall back, Sir Breuse, the Sword is not for thee. (Enter: unperceived, Morgan le Fay.) Sir Breuse. Now now, but after: Merlin, mark me well, I seize the Sword and England, maugre thy spell. King Uriens. Then ask me for them, fair Sir Breuse, for now I claim them. Morgan, aid me, that I gain Thy dowry and a kingdom. Merlin. Stand thou back, Morgan le Fay, thy gods are helpless here. Morgan. Wait for the proof! King, grasp Excalibur And cry: "Here to me from the Magic Mere Gods of the sunken sea! Queen Morgan calls, Win her Excalibur!" Merlin. The charm is void. Morgan. Wait for the proof! Merlin. The charm is void, for so I shield the Sword and England from thy spell. (He makes over Excalibur the sign of the cross.) King Uriens. So now thou'dst prop thy magic with the sign Of thy Redeemer when the magic fails; As men deny their Lord to win the cast And failing, fall on Him for final aid. So, I defy thee, black blasphemer, so, I seize my kingdom. From the Magic Mere Here to me, demons of the sunken sea! Queen Morgan calls! Win her Excalibur, Yield me a kingdom! Omnes. See, the Sword is fast! Merlin. Morgan le Fay, thy magic lacks the prop Of righteousness. God gives to whom He will Knowledge of laws, dominion of unseen, Unfathomed powers that yet are His alone. Fools mutter "Magic!" cross themselves aghast, Granting to God no wisdom save their own, The which to Him is lisping of a babe, To Him who made the world, and fixed the laws Of its endurance. Of His sovereign will, From time to time, that men may have the light Wherewith to guide their footsteps through the dark, He grants some glimpsing vision of that Truth That in His Being, unto us who stand As His ambassadors; but know ye well That whoso wields this wisdom without God Falls to the nethermost hell. Morgan. Where thou art summoned A little while, mayhap, thou dost prevail, But swell not with conceit and orgulite, For thou shalt play the fool. The Sword returns! (Tumult and confusion without. Enter: Sir Kay and Sir Ector, followed by many people in great disorder.) Sir Kay. Lord Bishop, barons, noble knights, to arms! King Lot of Orkney and King Carados, The King of Scotland and a myriad knights Beat down the gates of London. Like a flood They surge against the ramparts, cresting high A breaking wave of death. The people quail Cowering, kingless, in a kingless land, With none to lead them. Who is chosen? Merlin. None. Sir Kay. Christ help us! for King Lot is at the gates Claiming the kingdom for Queen Margawse. Choose! For God's love, choose! Sir Launcelot. Stand not upon the form While dolorous peril menaces the land. Beat back the tide of treason! Follow Gore, Or Nentres, Brastias, or any knight That dares to lead us. Duke Brastias. Follow me afield, The crown may rest with Uther. King Nentres. Follow me! While Merlin keeps the Sword, I gain the crown. Duke Lucas. Is England won upon the field to-day? Stand by me, lords, for I will lead the fight. Omnes. Who heads us, Merlin? Merlin. He who hails the Sword: None other. Sir Launcelot. Merlin, art thou leagued with them That shatter England? Merlin. No, Sir Launcelot. The king shall come. Sir Launcelot. Must we abide thy jest And stand here waiting while the city falls? I hear the kings hale down the grinding gates, And traitor knights prick through the screaming streets To bait us in this trap. Sir Kay. Black traitors all, For God's love choose! Archbishop. We may not. He has sent Excalibur to England, Joseph's Sword Left long in Avalon, lost ages since, And held unransomed in the Magic Mere While Uther lived. Whoso shall draw the Sword Is rightwise king of England, and none else. Sir Kay. So England falls, for Lot is king anon! Merlin. So England falls not, for the king shall come. Sir Kay. To rule a desert waste! Archbishop. God give us aid As He has given sign. Fall on the Sword, Barons and knights, who hales him forth is king. (The Knights cast themselves about the cross, striving for the Sword. Enter, Arthur.) Merlin. "Pendragon passes, now Pendragon's seed Shall reign, Pendragon, on Pendragon's throne." Arthur. Lords of the realm, King Lot is on the walls! Our knights fall from him like the mangled dogs That roll before a foaming boar at bay. Sound thou the onset, herald; lords, to arms! Sir Kay. They may not answer, for there is no king. Merlin. Their eyes are blinded, Arthur, by the hilt Of some fair Sword that holds within the rock And comes not forth. Arthur. Contend they, sir, for that, While England falls? Sir Kay. Aye, boy, while England falls. Arthur. What shame is this? Shall men dispute a sword Nor use their own to save a kingdom? Fools! Sir Kay, I pray thee leave, these women folk Have softened into children, that a sword Should blind them, baffle them. Sir, give me leave, I am Sir Ector's squire, I lack a sword. But give me leave and I shall lightly win Knighthood, and fight beside thee: give me leave! Sir Kay. And blessing, boy. Merlin. The hour is on the stroke. Arthur. Stand back, ye puling sluggards, is your brawn Grown fat and futile with your wantonness? The devil makes men women, now may God Make men of boys, England is fallen else! Merlin. "Pendragon passes, now Pendragon's seed Shall reign, Pendragon on Pendragon's throne!" (The Knights about the cross fall back.) Arthur. Good Jesu, help me! Come, reluctant Sword! (He hales the Sword forth, and brandishes it in air.) Omnes. The Sword is won, and by a beardless boy! King Nentres. The Sword is won! Elaine, thy dowry falls. Morgan. The Sword is won! Magician, guard thy craft. Duke Brastias. The Sword is won! What bastard gains the goal? Arthur. The Sword is won, and lightly, by this arm. Why stare ye all astonied, good my lords? Is it so hard to hale a biting blade From rock that grips it with but half a hand? Your arms are women's arms, that like your hearts Halt quaking! Holy father, cry them on, The toy is mine and I can heave it well. Now let these whining children draw their swords, Full heavy for their futile hands. A king Baleful, black-hearted, hammers at our gates. I call a challenge, shall I fight alone? The Commons. Hail to the King of England! Arthur. Where's the king, Save Uther's corpse? Nathless a rotting king Best leads dead warriors. The Commons. Hail to England's king! Excalibur is won! Lead us to war! Arthur. Who wins Excalibur? Merlin. Look in thy hand. Arthur. What Sword is this? The Commons. Excalibur! Arthur. Ye lie! Lie in your teeth: magician, name this Sword. Merlin. Excalibur. Archbishop. Who art thou? Arthur. Arthur. The Commons. Hail, Arthur of England, rightwise king and lord! Arthur. Call ye me king? The Commons. Aye, King of England. Sir Breuse. No! I challenge thee! King Nentres. I challenge thee! King Uriens. And I! The Barons. King Uther's seed shall reign, no lowborn knave Propped with the magic of a sorcerer. The Knights. A squire for England's king? What shame is this? Duke Brastias. No bastard reigns in England! Arthur. Hold thy cry, Thou foul-mouthed carrion crow! My blood is clean And with this Sword I'll prove it. Fair Sir Kay, Thou art my father: tell him, ere I cleave His mocking mouth and feed my hungry blade. The Commons. Arthur is king: we'll have none other! Archbishop. Peace! Merlin, thou art the warder of the Sword, Speak, if thou know'st an answer. Is this he That reigns in England as Pendragon's son? Merlin. Sir Kay, give thou the answer. Sir Kay. King and liege, Upon my knees I swear thee fealty. Sir Ector. And I, O King of England. Arthur. How, to me Thou kneelest father, and thou, Ector? Speak! Why yield ye homage to the youngest born? Sir Kay. For that thou art Pendragon's son, and lord. The Commons. King Uther's son! The Barons. The king's son! Sir Launcelot. How is this? King Uther died, and passed, devoid of heir. Duke Brastias. No bastard reigns in England! Merlin. Cease your clamour, While from the misty caverns of the night I raise a vision that shall wash your eyes Of cloudy sleep. Arthur is rightwise king, For by his hand Excalibur is drawn To carve a nation from the wreck of worlds. Son to King Uther, got on Queen Igraine Ere yet the Church had blessed the king's great love, Arthur Pendragon holds Pendragon's throne. Duke Brastias. So now I see two bastards in the field, Arthur Pendragon, Breuse saunce Pité, Choose, lords and commons, bastards have the day. The Commons. Arthur for England! The Barons. We'll no baseborn king! The Commons. Arthur for England! The Knights. Out upon his name! Arthur. Have I no word in this? I win the Sword. Uther Pendragon was my father. Well, England is mine. Will any meet my stroke? Here stand I ready. Sir Breuse. If my father's lust Sowed thine untimely seed in others' fields Ere yet my day was come, his blood is mine. "Pendragon's seed shall reign." 'Tis mine or thine, Brother, I need thy life. Hurl up thy blade! Archbishop. Once more I charge ye under pain of ban Strike home your swords! Merlin, is there no choice? Merlin. Aye, between son and bastard; Breuse, thy claim Is null and void, Arthur is Uther's son. Sir Breuse. And I as well. Merlin. Born out of wedlock. Hear, Ye men of England. When the king was hot With fire of love for Igraine, Cornwall's duke Lay far afield, and Uther had his will. But ere befell the crowning of his love The Duke of Cornwall died upon the field And Uther knew it not. But when Igraine Grew great with England's hope and gave him birth Tintagail stood beleaguered of the gods That Jesu Christ had prisoned in the Mere, For well they read the rune that gave them word How on a day should come Pendragon's seed, The which would lightly cast them deep in hell And ranson England. By their subtile hands Was Igraine reft of Arthur, and the child Hurled downward to the sea. The friendly waves Softly received him, bore him to my feet And laid him scathless in my shielding arms; So then I lightly gave him to Sir Kay To rear him as his son. Anon, the king Wedded Igraine, and she was England's queen, So Arthur stands, Pendragon's lawful son. Arthur. So stand I, men of England, Uther's son, And rightwise king from sea to crawling sea. Swear me allegiance! While we parley here Like old wives chaffering scandal, Orkney's king Leaguers the walls of London. When the waves Rack the tough timbers of a sinking ship And hell gapes wide where howling breakers yawn, Do men contend who shall be master? On! I cry you, On! Arthur for England, On! King Nentres. Better that England falls than Arthur reigns. King Uriens. Merlin, thy magic wins no men to-day. Sir Breuse. No bastard brother shall command my sword. King Nentres. Give us a true king, Bishop, or we fail. Sir Kay. Stand by me, Ector! King, our swords are thine. Certain Knights. And mine, and mine! King, marshal us for war. The Commons. Arthur for England! A Citizen. Bishop, give us word, That we may arm us from these traitor knaves. The Barons. Treason! King Uriens. The churls lift hands against our lives! Thou jester king, hale thou thy nobles home. Arthur. Shall I fight Lot alone, ye traitor brood? Sir Kay. No, for I fight beside thee! Sir Ector. Sir, and I! Sir Launcelot. And I, King Arthur: for that thou art king My soul gives answer. But wert thou the last Of villains with a barred and blotted shield I'd fight beside thee, for thou art a man Amongst black traitors. The Commons. Hail to Launcelot! Merlin. Now do I know that I must work alone To save this land and give it back to God. There was a day when wives gave birth to babes And nurtured them for heroes: not to rats That waxed to bloated vermin. Fat with spleen, Yellow with jealousy, ye barter life, England and honour for your belching pride. What would ye have? The Barons. A proof, foul Merlin, proof! Arthur. And ye shall have it, if the Lord will speak In otherwise than by a thunderbolt To hurl ye back to hell, whence came ye forth To do disworship to your chivalry. (He kneels before King Uther's bier.) O thou, that gav'st me life, thou king of men, My father, hear me! From that awful land When thou art walking with the saints of God Hear me and save thy kingdom. Speak to these Thy liegemen; tell them that I am thy son, Nor knave nor bastard, but great England's king. Save thou thy people! (The dead king lifts his hand, removes the crown from his brow, and with it crowns Arthur.) Omnes. Look! Christ Jesu! Look! Archbishop. To Thee, O Christ, and to Thee, Lord of Hosts, Be praise forever! Merlin. Are ye satisfied, That hounded God until He gave ye proof? Duke Lucas. It is enough. With all my men at arms I yield thee, king, liege love and loyalty. Arthur. My honour take for guerdon. King of Gore, Dost thou confess me rightwise overlord? Morgan. Deny him, king, and thou shalt wear the crown. King Uriens. Shall Gore be vassal to a changeling, crowned By sorcery with England's coronet? I solemnly deny thee. Arthur. Go thy ways; Anon I'll meet thee in the reeking field, And on thy body prove thy treason. Speak, Nentres of Garlot! King Nentres. I have spoken, fool! Now comes the deed. I join with Scotland's king, With Gore and Carados. The stolen crown Falls from thy head ere sunset. Arthur. Brastias, Dost thou deny me? Duke Brastias. I am sworn to fight For England, and I stand beside thee, king, If that thou art. I tell thee to thy face If, when the fight is won and England free, I find thee but a crownèd bastard, then By God, I'll hurl thee headlong from the throne And ask no priest to shrive me of my sin! Arthur. Well spoken, Brastias: give me thy hand, And if Pendragon's blood flows not to-day From out my sundered veins, I give thee leave To snatch the crown I reached no hand to win. Garlot and Gore, lightly avoid our sight Until we meet ye, traitors, in the field. Now, herald, sound the onset. Knights, to arms! Arthur for England! (Flourish of trumpets. The Barons and Knights kneel before Arthur, swearing allegiance.) Sir Breuse. But not yet for me. Queen Morgan, art thou helpless in the blaze Of Merlin's mockery? Hast thou no spell To blast this folly? Morgan. Wait a little, Breuse; I know no spell to match with marching time To wash men's minds of madness. Follow me, Wait patiently. Thou know'st I love thee, knight, And I do swear the crown shall clinch thy brow When Arthur rots. King Nentres. My lord of Gore, Why dally we among these daffish dupes? The road is open for us. Follow, knights! We fight with Orkney, Arthur fights alone. (Exeunt King Nentres, King Uriens, Sir Breuse, and certain of the Knights.) Merlin. Bright in the blazing zenith flames the sun Of England's dawn. King, cry the onset! Arthur. Come, Liegemen of England's crown; for England's king, And so for England, let your impatient swords Menace the sun with lightnings; let the horns In brazen clamour hurl the word abroad That England's king brooks no disloyalty Of prince or peasant, while his faithful knights Die, if God wills, but suffer no disdain To fall upon their lord who is their land. War waits us; England watches; God has heard. (Exeunt Arthur, the Barons, Knights, and Commons, singing the war song. The Archbishop and Monks re-enter the cathedral chanting, "Te Deum laudamus." Merlin remains standing on the steps of the cross, regarding Morgan, who remains by Uther's bier, gazing on him with defiance.) WAR SONG Sun, see us, Wind, hear us, Earth, feel us hurling on. God, free us, Who near us brings foemen whirling on. Christ, guide us, saints, arm us, Lady Mary, lead us now! None abide us hurt or harm us: King and kindred need us now! Merlin. Pendragon passes, now Pendragon's seed Shall reign, Pendragon, on Pendragon's throne. A kingdom passes, now a kingdom's king Shall raise a kingdom for the King of kings. Curtain. SCENE II. Carlion. The crown of a low, wooded hill: the royal pavilion in the midst. In front Sir Pelleas, lying wounded, Ettard nursing him. Around are other Knights with Monks dressing their wounds. Sunset: the sound of battle without. Enter at a galop, Sir Tor. Sir Pelleas. How goes the fight? Sir Tor. As some enormous flood That thunders down the mountain, rolling on Inexorable. Sir Pelleas. Stay, for God's love, Tor, And ease my wounds with word of victory. The king prevails? Sir Tor. Thou speakest as a fool! The boy fights even as St. Michael fought, And rebel kings fall headlong from his stroke As fell the devil's angels. Stay me not, I ride with word for Launcelot. (Exit) Sir Pelleas. Sir Tor! He goes, and all my wounds burst out afresh. Ettard, I follow him! Give me my shield! Ettard. Nay, sweet, fair knight, bethink thee of thy case, Thou could'st not lift a sword; see how thine arm Turns rebel to thine whole, unwounded will. Abide a little. Sir Pelleas. Aye, and house me here Like any whining churl, the while the fight Roars loud and lusty, howling in mine ear To rise and follow. Give me drink! My shield! Ettard, bring me my shield! If I must die At least I'll die where steel is biting steel, Not in a woman's arms. Ettard. Thou shalt not die, For here I hold thee, maugre thy headlong will. See, dear my lord, thou canst not rive the clasp Of my two arms, and wouldst thou lead the fight? Content thyself. Sir Pelleas. Out on the scurvy knave That did me this disworship! (Enter Duke Lucas, wounded.) Who is come, Forspent, and gaping with such grimly wounds? Sir knight, what word? Duke Lucas. The day is well-nigh won, But for this vile and most felonious wound I needs must lose the glory of the end. Certes, the villain that did me this trick Fell, cleft in halves unto the saddle bow, But all too late. Sir Pelleas. Look thou to him, Ettard, He falls. Sir monk, come hither: look afield, Canst thou see ought? Monk. Naught, save a whirling storm Of dust that rolls in dun and sullen clouds Along the meadows. Think not of the battle But of thyself: perchance thou art to die. Art thou assoiled? Sir Pelleas. Death lingers not for me, Do as I bid thee: tell me of the fight. Monk. The cloud is broken: towards the sinking sun A thousand--nay, ten thousand men drive on Dismayed, disordered. Sir Pelleas. Whose the banner? Speak! Monk. I mark no banner, but the shields are round. Sir Pelleas. St. George, an altar for thee, 'tis the Scots! What else? Monk. The dust is lifted like a fog: East, north, and south men hurl across the plain, And on their flanks swords flash as lightning. Ha! I mark the crest of Garlot. Sir Pelleas. Fleeing, monk? Monk. Aye, like a champion coursing down the lists, So fast. Sir Pelleas. The king, canst see the king? Monk. Not yet. Hold! by the Mass, the fight is at an end. A mighty shout comes winging on the wind, And down the field the dragon-crested knights Come spurring wonderly. Sir Pelleas. God save the king! Duke Lucas. What cry is that? Quick, lift me higher, girl! Who says the fight is won? Monk. The king, the king! The pageant opens, and I see him ride With whirling sword before the shouting knights; God save King Arthur! Sir Pelleas. Grip me round the waist And lift me, so, good monk: I see the king! Omnes. God save King Arthur! Hail Pendragon! Hail! (Enter: King Arthur, Sir Launcelot, Sir Tor, Sir Ector, Sir Kay, Duke Brastias, and Knights, mounted.) King Arthur. So fight the saints for England, and the tide Of treason that rose darkling on the land To 'whelm Pendragon's House and heritage, Is halted, broken, utterly dispersed In shallow ripples sobbing o'er the fields. Now soars the Dragon to the shouting sky, Exalted high, unchallenged, undismayed; England is free, for God has won the day! Sir Launcelot. By thee, King Arthur, for thy royal hand Struck down the enemies of England's crown As I thought not to see the like thereof. Thine was the victory, for since he rode, The king, thy father, in the latest fight, And heaved his mighty sword, with palsied arm Made iron by the grace of England's God, Such prowess has not been. Sir Pelleas. King Arthur, hail! God save the man that saved a kingdom! Omnes. Hail! God save the king! King Arthur. Give me no honour, lords; What brought I, save the brawn of rugged arms? If ye would glorify the holy thing That won the day, look on this awful Sword That hews untramelled victory, whoe'er May hap to wield him. Hail Excalibur, And heap your thanks on Merlin, not on me. Sir Launcelot. On thee and Merlin and Excalibur All England casts the tribute of her praise, But thou art first for that thou art the king, And he that climbs to clutch the royal crown From off thy riven helmet, from this day Must reckon first on dolorous debate With every man that backed thee in the field. Sir Brastias. And first with me; I want the trick of words, That am for fighting, not for parliament, But I confess thee king. My sword is thine; What Brastias gives he takes not back again. King Arthur. As I am king, I pledge Pendragon's name Thou gainest, Brastias, no cause from me To ask it ever. Sir Launcelot. Come, victorious king. Avoid thy steed for easing of thy limbs, The while thou dost refresh thy taxèd strength With meat and drink: we fight no more to-day. Rest on thy victory. King Arthur. Give me thine hand, And for a narrow space I'll halt me here The while my hounds shall harry to their holes The crownèd wolves of treason. Fair Sir Tor, Look thou that all the knights and men at arms Be well disposed. Of thy good grace, Sir Kay, I pray thee see that all who are on live, Yet sorely wounded, have such ministry As fits their case; and thou, Sir Launcelot, Hold thou by me: I need thy councilment. (Exeunt all but King Arthur, Sir Launcelot, Duke Lucas, and Monk.) Duke Lucas. Death frights me not, now I have seen the sun Go down upon this wondrous victory. Lift me, good monk: king, I am sore bested With searching wounds. I may not see thee fight Again for England, but if I must die I die thy vassal. King Arthur. 'Tis Duke Lucas's voice That hails me from a mask of sorry wounds! The sun of victory is in eclipse If thou art sinking towards a grievous end. Grip hard upon the hilt of life, my lord, And thou shalt brandish it against the foe On many fields ere yet thy day is done. Duke Lucas. I fear me, king, my sun is on the rim Of death's horizon. Let it go: content Am I to follow, now the field is won. King Arthur. That shalt thou not. Good father, guard him well, And thou shalt be an abbot for thy pains. Would well my Merlin followed in the field, For he is skilled in cunning medicine. Has any seen him? (Exit Duke Lucas and Monk.) Sir Launcelot. Aye, King Arthur, horsed Upon a frightful steed as black as hell, That gnashed with foaming teeth and bloody jaws Against the horses whilst his master fought: A baleful spectacle. King Arthur. Did Merlin fight? Meseemed his weapons were the fateful stars, His hauberk fearsome magic. Sir Launcelot. Aye, he fought, And wonderly, for whereso'er he rode The traitors opened from him in amaze, Nor could endure the lightning of his eye. King Arthur. 'Tis very strange: but marvels fall as rain Each day in England. Tell me, Launcelot, The while we drink and quench the flame of fight, Bore I myself as fits Pendragon's son There in the press of battle? Sir Launcelot. Good my lord, St. Michael in the charge of heavenly hosts Against the devil fought not in such wise. King Arthur. Nay, answer not with any courtier's tongue, I crave no words of fawning flattery. Speak as a provèd knight unto a squire That feutred maiden spear along the lists And rides victorious. Was is it rightly done? Pardie! I know not. Sir Launcelot. Aye, 'twas bravely done. And thou hast routed, not alone the foe, Orkney and Carados, the King of Scots, The traitor Garlot--God alone can tell The number of the kings--but more than all Thou hast o'erthrown the last of them that mocked Against thy majesty. King Arthur. God grant 'tis so, But flame stamped out oft bursts again anew. I would the day were ten good years agone When I did gain the crown. Sir Launcelot. Ten years of years Could fix it no more firmly on thy brow. Pendragon's blood confirms Pendragon's seed. King Arthur. How runs the rune, Sir knight? "Pendragon's seed Shall slay Pendragon:" Sir Launcelot. Nay, "Pendragon's seed Shall reign, Pendragon, on Pendragon's throne." King Arthur. I think me of the other. Sir Launcelot. Why, my lord? King Arthur. For that the fire of fight within my veins Is fading, and the dark of coming things Looms close upon me. Tell me, Launcelot, Woulds't thou be king? Sir Launcelot. Aye, sir, an' thou wert not. King Arthur. Take thou the crown! Sir Launcelot. What jest is this, King Arthur? King Arthur. No jest, good Launcelot, as I do find. Seven days I've called it mine, and on each day It waxed a pound in weight. A weary thing, An irksome, weary thing, a royal crown; Yet men would sell their souls to feel it cling Around their brows, and hate it when 'twas won. (Enter Merlin at back.) Sir Launcelot. This sadness likes me not. King Arthur. 'Tis gone again. A passing mood begotten of the mist That blots the future: think no more of it. My Launcelot, a most untoward thing Is this that meets me: for a maiden joust Fierce war with mighty kings, and for the prize A crown and kingdom. Merlin. It is well contrived To match the marvels that shall follow, king. Upon the deep foundation thou hast laid This day, shall rise a fabric such as men Saw not, nor shall again. Great England's crown Shall widen in its circuit till it rings An empire that would blind with sore amaze High Cæsar thronèd in the crowding walls Of awful Rome. For such high destiny Most meet it is the crown come on this wise. King Arthur. I give thee greeting, Merlin: knight thou art And no more wizard, but a man of war, Therefore, Childe Merlin art thou. Gentle knight, How like ye warfare? Were the stars unkind That thou should'st flout them for a naked sword? Nathless I thank thee, for upon the oath Of chivalry, I do believe the day Was won by thee. Merlin. Mock me no jest, Sir king, For years and wisdom cannot curb the hand That itches for a sword when steel and steel Are clanging music in the listening ear No more of that; thou art anointed king With traitors' blood: the chrism of my lord Of Canterbury can avail no more. So now, to horse, and ride for Camelot! King Arthur. And let the traitor foxes find their holes, Nor scourge them for their treason? Merlin. Let them be. Already on their borders press the foe, And flame and slaughter hotly call them home; They may not hinder thee. The war is done, Now statecraft clamours for thee. King Arthur. I am fain To harry them a little--Ha! Sir Tor, What tidings of the chase? (Enter Sir Tor.) Sir Tor. The sky is clear. Like fleeting mist before the rising sun, The foe has melted into little clouds That, driven by the wind of victory, Scud aimless, formless, blind with blanching fear. Shall we pursue? Merlin. Bethink thee well, King Arthur. King Arthur. Call back the knights, we rest here till the dawn; To-morrow we will lie at Camelot And call a Parliament. (Exit Sir Tor.) Merlin. 'Tis well resolved. Thou hast approved thy right to wear the crown, Upon the field. Prove thou the sceptre thine, The sword of justice and the golden orb, As thou shalt prove them in thy Parliament, And thou art king indeed. (Enter Sir Kay.) Sir Kay. My lord, a vassal But lately fighting 'gainst thy majesty Is come, repentant of his evil mood, To do thee worship. King Arthur. We will greet him kindly; Bring him before us. Merlin. King, be on thy guard! There's more of treason than the bearing arms Against thee in the field. King Arthur. I am the King Of England,--all of England,--and I hold No hatred 'gainst a vassal that repents Of treason, asking pardon. (Enter King Uriens and Queen Morgan.) King of Gore, And thou, our sister, welcome! Merlin (aside) Loathly witch, I scent thy craft in this! Now Merlin, watch, For danger climbs the steps of Arthur's throne. Morgan. King Arthur, here we yield us to thy grace. Thou art approvèd king: in vassalage We humbly kneel and swear liege loyalty. King Arthur. Thou art our sister, Morgan, but not king: So let him speak. King Uriens. I do confess the proof And hail thee King of England. King Arthur. On thy knees Thou shalt swear fealty at Camelot To-morrow. Seneschal, into thy charge We give the King of Gore, and Morgan, queen, And sister unto England. Merlin. Guard them shrewdly, Sir Kay, but look thou to the lady With double cunning. Morgan. So, the sorcerer Still props the throne! We do confess the king, But not his master, Merlin. Merlin. As thou shalt! (Enter: Sir Ector and Duke Brastias.) Sir Ector. My lord, Sir Ulfius is well returned From hounding Lot adown the western wind, And with him bruit of war hard here at hand By Rience, King of Wales, 'gainst thine ally, Leodegrance, King of Cameliard. Sir Launcelot. How say'st thou, sir? King Arthur. Is Rience loose again? I hate him well, the wolfish King of Wales. A most felonious, false-hearted knave, While King Leodegrance held by our House In hearty friendship. How says Ulfius Touching the battle, Ector? Sir Ector. King Rience Prevails most wonderly. Leodegrance Is prisoned in his castle, close beset By howling hoards of lewd and savage men That cease not from the siege. The king is lost If succour comes not swiftly. Sir Launcelot. Jesu Christ, Hold back the hasty sun! King Arthur. How say ye, lords? We are forefoughten, but the peril looms Close on Leodegrance. Shall we essay This brave adventure? Duke Brastias. Wait until the morrow, We cannot fight with bodies that cry out For mercy. March at dawn; Leodegrance Must hold a little longer. Sir Launcelot. Good my lord, In God's name grant this boon that on my knees I ask of thee! March for Cameliard This night, this very hour! Thou knowest not That all my life is prisoned with the king, And even now, mayhap, the black Rience Is bursting through the walls to hale them forth, Thine ally, and the lady Guenever That I do love. King Arthur, give no heed To cautious council, but be moved by me If thou dost love me. King Arthur. Fair Sir Launcelot, Thy love leaps with my liking. Sound the horns, And strike the camp as lightly as ye may. On to Cameliard! (Trumpet without. Enter many Knights.) Sir Launcelot. My life is thine, King Arthur, ask it of me when ye will. On to Cameliard! King Arthur. My lords, my knights, My hardy men of England, King Rience, The which we loath since he doth hate us well And holds against us, strikes Leodegrance, Our sworn ally. Around the castle walls A rabble army all disworshipful Howls loud for blood and booty. We are knights, Sworn by our knighthood ever to afford All aid to them that suffer evil hap. For high adventure march we forth to-night Into Cameliard. To-morrow's sun Shall see us well discharged of our devoir, And Rience beaten back into his lair. Let honour stay our hunger, ease our limbs, Here rest we not. Cry, "Death to King Rience!" On, for the worship of our chivalry! (Exeunt, leaving Merlin standing before the pavilion, King Uriens and Queen Morgan at back. The stage is quite dark.) Merlin (seating himself beneath the pavilion.). All passeth as an ordered pageantry, And without hinderance the great design That gathered perfect form within my brain Takes shape and substance. So I stand with God, Who did conceive the project of a world And give it being, in that I may weave A splendid fabric where the warp and woof Are little lives that, like a tangled web Of knotting threads, would break and haul awry Did I not play the part of destiny. Morgan. See where the grim magician sits him down Upon the throne of his poor puppet king In guise of majesty. 'Tis well devised; He is the king! King Uriens. And must we bear with this That hold the throne of right from Queen Igraine, Nor lift a hand against this trickery? Morgan. Thy sword is by thee, strike for England now! King Uriens. The king is gone. Morgan. The king is in thy reach! King Uriens. How mean ye, Merlin? Morgan. Hush! he speaks again. Merlin. What man is there would crouch beneath a crown And be the target of a thousand swords, When he might stand unseen behind the throne To marshal armies, overthrow estates, And fashion kingdoms by his sovereign will? There lies the potency of royalty Hid in a little word. Prevailing will, The essence of the Godhead, and the sign That shows in man the imagery of God. King Uriens (aside). Shall I not strike him now? Morgan. Unless thine arm Is palsied with thy years. Give me the sword! King Uriens. I am no dotard, topling on the brim Of black eternity. Morgan. Then strike thou home! (Uriens approaches Merlin from the back of the pavilion and lifts his sword to stab him.) Merlin. What menace threats me? (He rises: Uriens strikes him from behind, the sword turning blunted from the stroke.) Fool! I kill thee not, For that thou art none other than the tool Of one that is hell's proxy in the fight Betwixt us. Morgan, lightly stand thou forth The while I give thee council. Morgan. Mark me, then, For like a bloodhound nosing down the trail I follow thee, Sir Merlin, to the end. Merlin. With weapon such as this? I would not move An hand's breath from my course for fear thereof. Thy wit forsakes thee, Morgan, dost thou think To cope with Merlin? Marshal in their might The quaking spirits of the Magic Mere And hurl them on me, they shall fright me not Nor let me from my labour. I am he That God has made His deputy on earth. I am incarnate will, and I abide Forever scathless. Thou art futile craft And this thy tool is blind and senseless force. Shall either match me that am perfect will Untrammelled, unconditioned? Get thee gone And sink thy deep dishonour in the sea, Nor sally forth to mock me with the jest Of potent hinderance. I am thy lord, For I am will and wisdom, and I stand Unhampered of thine idle enmity Until my task is ended: until God Reigns absolute in England, and the day Of righteousness shall lighten on the land. My will prevails: content thee with thy doom. Curtain. SCENE III. Cameliard. Before the castle of King Leodegrance. Enter: King Rience, mounted, and with him Knights, Men-at-arms, and Bowmen. Before dawn. King Rience. Now breaks the day of triumph to our arms! Too long, my men of Wales, Leodegrance, Chased like a fox to cover, flouts our might And holds his haughty castle that uprears A menace to our kingship. Once again Assail the dragon's nest, and hale him forth To die disworshipfully. Sound the horns, And hurl against the rocky fastness, doomed, Ere yet the laggard sun lifts on the world, To fall in ragged splinters round the king That thinks to halt Rience with stony walls. This day is mine. Good herald, sound the horns! (Trumpets. Enter above: King Leodegrance and Knights.) King Leodegrance. Hold back thy men, Rience, and give thy tongue To gentle parley, ere the dreadful shock Of grimly war distains the breaking day. Declare thy quarrel, that with savage arms Thou wagest battle 'gainst my kingdom. King Rience. So! The orgulous monarch turns to mellow speech When warfare helps him not. Leodegrance, I fight thee for that I do loathe thy name All blazonèd with epithets of praise, For that thou dost revile me for a knave, For that thou art a vassal to the fool Uther Pendragon. King Leodegrance. Uther lieth dead: Pendragon dieth never. I am sworn In loyal friendship to that royal House, Wherefore I die if God so wills my death, But never shall forget my knightly oath. King Rience. Why then, thou diest, king. Cameliard I hold in fee before the lifting sun Hangs in mid-heaven. Archers, bend your bows! King Leodegrance. Once more, King Rience, answer my appeal; What then befalls me if I swing the gates And yield my castle? King Rience. Four flame-branded steeds To rend thy carcase! This for thee, Sir king, And for thy squeaking women, each a man, A stalwart wolf of Wales, to dry their tears And give them joy before their death to-night. For me thy scornful daughter, Guenever; So now, swing wide thy gates! King Leodegrance. Thou damnèd cur, Hell howls to grip thee in its grinning jaws! An' we must die, we die not by thy hand. The castle thou dost covet is a tomb Heaped high with corpses, if ye breach the walls In black despite of God. King Rience. A brave reply, Thou wintry-pated miscreant. Think well Before thou holdest longer. Strike a blow Once more to-day against my majesty And I will crucify thee on the walls And shame thy daughter in thy dying eyes! King Leodegrance. Bring forth thy legions out of yawning hell And ring my castle with consuming flame Until it melts, and pours in blazing streams Along the screaming meadows. I endure, And flaunt Pendragon's banner in thy teeth! King Rience. See, wolves of Wales, the dragon, drunk with dole, Crawls fearsomely upon his battlements Intent to stay my hand. Give me a bow! By God, I'll nail the dotard to his shield With this my mighty arm. Give me a bow! (Trumpets. The ramparts above fill with bowmen. Rience's force bring scaling ladders and mount and fight on the walls.) King Leodegrance. God fights with us against unrighteous Wales. Hurl on them, knights, the day is lost not yet. King Rience. Heave up the catapult and breach the walls! Bring in the ram and split the guarding gates! One little hour, my wolves, and ye shall lie With glutted maws, beneath the drowsy shade Of blooming orchards. (Enter: King Nentres of Garlot, mounted.) King Nentres. Hail, great King Rience! Nentres of Garlot am I, and I come To fight with thee if thou wilt league with me Against the wittol that has filched the crown Of England, backed by scurvy sorcery. King Rience. Marshal your shields along the leaping ram For cover of the men. So, now essay! Garlot, I need thee not, but for the hate I bear Pendragon I will stand with thee. Back, men, and to't again! How came ye here, Nentres of Garlot? King Nentres. From a grim debate With traitor knights that back the bastard king. King Rience. That did thee hurt? Gramercy for thine aid! Ha, well sped! Sirrah, to the catapult, And bid the captain load with blazing brands; Once more against the gates! King Nentres. Nay, King Rience, The rebels fled along the hiding night Distraught with dole. King Rience. Crave thou no booty, king; This castle is for me and for my men; Ye gain no part thereof. King Nentres. Nor ask the same. For guerdon give me aid to overthrow Pendragon. King Rience. Not for guerdon, but for hate. Thou winnest worship not of me to-day That standest prating while we toil amain. Get thee within the fight! (Enter: A Welch Knight.) How now, thou fool? What sears thy face with fear? A Knight. My lord, my lord! The forest turns to grim and armèd knights Fierce, dragon-crested, raging on our flank With savage fury! King Rience. Damn thee, traitor king! Is this thy work? King Nentres. I swear I knew it not! God's wounds, it is King Arthur! We are done: The heavenly host 'gainst him may not prevail. Save thou thyself, King Rience! (Exit.) King Rience. Turn, my knights! Give o'er the siege until we stay the fool That hinders us when our enhungered fangs Are at the quarry's throat. Come on, my wolves, And make a mock of England! (Exeunt, King Rience and the Welsh Knights. Enter, above: King Leodegrance.) King Leodegrance. Jesu Christ, Thy hand is stretched to save! A miracle! My men, a miracle! Who does God will? Mine eyes are lightless and I scarce can see. Tell me, Sir knight, who by the grace of Christ Has turned the tide of battle? A Knight. All is hid Within a rolling cloud. A myriad men As they were like a plague of summer gnats Fall on Rience. King Leodegrance. Canst thou not mark their crest? A Knight. By all the saints, 'tis England aids us, king! The dragon flashes through the seething storm, Pendragon comes! Omnes. God save Pendragon's name, All hail, great England, hail! Pendragon comes! (Enter: English and Welsh Knights fighting. They pass across the stage.) King Leodegrance. Down to the port and swing the labouring gates! On, for the worship of Cameliard, And smite the wolves of Wales in open field! God wins the day, Cameliard is free. (Exit: from above, King Leodegrance and the Knights. The gates open. Enter: From the castle, many men, who exit shouting, -) Omnes. Leodegrance, Pendragon, and set on! (Enter, mounted: King Arthur and King Rience, fighting.) King Arthur. This day wipes out the shame on Uther's name, Rience, thou diest! King Rience. Damn thee, villain! (Enter, above: Guenever, Ysed, and other women.) Guenever. See! Rience is mastered by a doughty knight. God save thee, sir, strike down the mocking knave! King Arthur. My worship to ye, gentle ladies. King, Yield thee a recreant! King Rience. Not if thou wert God! Guard thyself! Guenever. Sweet Ysed, it is the king That reigns in Uther's stead, for see, the crown Clings 'round the Dragon. Ysed. Oh, the king is slain! He falls along his steed! (Enter: Sir Launcelot. He rushes against Rience. Arthur reels in the saddle.) Guenever. God sends him succour. What favour flutters round the bruisèd helm Of him that presses hotly on Rience? My favour! Launcelot, 'tis Launcelot! (Rience falls.) Ysed. He falls, King Rience falls! King Arthur. Nay, Launcelot, Thou dost unkindly by me. I was fain To win this worship. Sir Launcelot. Art thou wounded, king? King Arthur. Whole, hardy, and unscathed. 'Twas but a blow That blotted reason for a little space. The day is won! Guenever. God save thee, gentle king, Thou hast delivered us! Sir Launcelot, Look hitherward, dost know me, Launcelot? Sir Launcelot. Aye, lady, as I know the favour twined Around my helm, and I do love thee well. Guenever. Hold thou thy station! Follow me, Ysed, While with the king my father we do come To lay our woship before England's feet. (Exeunt.) King Arthur. Why now I win a fight and thou a maid! Give me thy guerdon and I yield thee mine. How say'st thou, Launcelot? Sir Launcelot. My noble king, Were all the world within thy proffered hand I'd cast it from me, resting well content With that I have. (Enter: from the castle King Leodegrance, Guenever, Ysed, and many Knights and Ladies. Enter from the field: Sir Kay, Sir Ector, Sir Tor, Duke Brastias, and many Knights. King Arthur dismounts.) Omnes. God save great England's king! King Leodegrance. Where is the servant of the living God Come down from Heaven to save Cameliard? Let me behold him. King Arthur. King Leodegrance, Arthur Pendragon is Pendragon still, And holds by them King Uther loved withal; Give me thy hand. King Leodegrance. Upon my palsied knees I thank thee, King of England. King Arthur. God forfend That thou shouldst kneel, that art so reverend And white with years. King Leodegrance. My daughter Guenever, Do homage unto England! King Arthur. Lady fair, My homage unto thee in place thereof, For, by mine oath of knighthood, fair thou art And matched by none in all the crowded world; Wherefore take thou my worship. Launcelot, I pray thee, come! Sir knight, the crown is thine Upon condition. Sir Launcelot. Sir, I crave it not, But only this. (He kneels, kissing Guenever's hand.) King Arthur. Why now the sun is gone, And victory is but a hollow name. My brother of Cameliard, we two Will sit forlorn about the patient board And talk full sadly of the emptiness Of martial triumph. Who would win a fight And find the guerdon gained the fame thereof, While others reap the booty? Come, my lords, We will within, and while we ease us well, Drink deep the health of King Leodegrance And of the flower of women, Guenever. Curtain. ACT II SCENE I. - Camelot. The shore of the Magic Mere, seen close at hand through tall, slim trees. In the midst a silken pavilion open on all sides. Dame Columbe, Guenever, Ysed, and Ettard; Sir Launcelot, Sir Pelleas, Sir Tor, and Sir Kay, lying on the grass. Columbe. Sweet damozel, sing me that song again: Full dolorous it is and wet with tears, Yet glad withal, as one should weep with joy Of life that is too sweet with brimming bliss. Guenever. Nay, Lady Columbe, pray you let it pass, A true thing said rings false if said again. Sang I not true? Columbe. Aye, Guenever, in faith Ye sang me true, and even as my heart Calls gently when the night is very still. How think ye, lords? Sir Kay. Dame Columbe, prythee say If still my beard be grizzled, for the maid Sang me so softly of the sweet, dead days, When all my blood leaped like a noble stag Through golden, gleaming forests, that meseemed Twoscore of years had vanished with her song; I was a squire again. Ettard. As thou art now, Sir Kay, and shall be ever, for the years Are not for thee; the silver in thy beard Turns traitor to the fire within thy blood. Sir Kay. Out on the knave that gives me evil name! Sir beard, I charge thee with high treason - Columbe. Hold! Wreak not thy vengeance on a silly rogue That deals in futile lies that none believes. Thy heart, my Kay, gives answer to the lie: Sir Tor, liked thou the song? Sir Tor. As sinners love The hand that shrives them, makes them clean for God. Fair lady, while ye sang I saw the wind Grow bright with angels leaning near to learn The why men seem to love this paltry world More than the courts of heaven. Columbe. Well said, Sir Tor. Speak, Pelleas, what saw ye in the song? Sir Pelleas. I saw the milky blossoms of the May, Ripe roses bursting into honeyed bloom, And every flower that burgeons on the bough When summer winds are warm with summer love; And all these melted, as the music moved, Into one face-- Columbe. That thou didst call? Sir Pelleas. Ettard. Columbe. Fair sir, thou speakest as a loyal knight. Now Launcelot, hast thou no word of praise? Launcelot. No word that I may say. Columbe. False, craven knight, Dost yield thee recreant? Sir Launcelot. With all my heart. Columbe. Then kneel and sue for mercy. Sir Launcelot. Guenever, Unhorsed and vanquished, wounded unto death Kneeling I crave thy mercy. Give me life, Nor send me back into the dolorous dark Whence came I forth to find thee. Let me live Thy loyal knight, and by Sir Jesu's wounds I swear to yield true service unto thee, And stainless worship. Guenever. Fair Sir Launcelot, I pray thee, of thy knighthood, do not kneel. How should I give thee life, that art so strong And lusty? Wit ye well, most gentle knight, Thy life lies not within my holding hands. Sir Launcelot. Of thy good grace, I pray thee, reach them forth Close clasped before my sight. O Guenever, Within the tender cup of these white hands That I do worship as the Holy Grail, Thou holdest that which is too poor a thing For me to cast beneath thy slender feet, Yet is it all I have, for 'tis my heart. Guenever. And will it break if I unclose my hands And let it fall? Sir Launcelot. Aye, lady, it will break. Guenever. I will essay! Sir Launcelot. I pray thee! Guenever. See, 'tis fallen. Sir Launcelot. And it is shattered in such grievous wise It may not beat again. Guenever. Poor, broken heart! But if I lift it from the couching grass And nurse and warm it in my heart of hearts, - Sir Launcelot. Then like the phoenix from the fawning flame It will arise, transfigured with new life. Guenever. Now wit ye well, I know not what to do. See how it lies like some soft, wounded bird Among the primrose buds that nestle close. Certes, I fain would warm it in my breast, But I do fear me it would change, mayhap, Into a serpent. Sir Launcelot. Never, by my sword, And by my faith I owe my knighthood! (Enter, on the banks of the lake: Morgan le Fay) Columbe. See! Where through the quaking trees Queen Morgan goes, Ill hap betides us if she lifts her eyes And looks upon us. Ysed. Jesu, mercy! Why? I do beseech thee, why? Columbe. Thou art not wise, Ysed, in all the lore of Arthur's court, Else wouldst thou ask not such a foolish thing. Ysed. Yet tell me, lady: I am newly come From out Cameliard. Columbe. Queen is she of Gore, And wife to Uriens, but men say well One kingdom likes her not, and she has won By crafty magic and unchristian lore Dominion over all the paynim gods That fled from England when Christ Jesu came. And now beneath the waters of the Mere In golden caverns, wonderly beseen, She holds her court. Sir Pelleas. Look, how she lifts her head And gazes on us with her serpent eyes. Guenever. Methinks she brings a chill, ungentle wind From out the hollows of the Magic Mere, For I am cold, and shrink with creeping dread. Sir Launcelot. Look not upon her, she may harm thee not Whilst I stand ready. Columbe. She is gone again, But I do fear the malice of her eye. Sir Kay. One only man in Arthur's kingdom curbs Her wanton witchcraft, for old Merlin holds Her hard in leash, in that the craft of God, Whereby he works, is potent to command Queen Morgan's damnèd magic. Sir Tor. If the king Were not an headstrong boy that knows not fear, He would give ear to Merlin, and the witch Should burn right merrily. Sir Kay. See where he comes In guise full knightly on a royal quest, The pride of chivalry, great England's king, Arthur Pendragon, that did overthrow King Lot of Orkney and King Carados And all that leagued them 'gainst the high estate Of Uther's kingdom. Guenever. Is it, then, the king? Full fain am I to look upon his face, For since I came from far Cameliard To Camelot, I only hear his name Go rushing by me as a whispering wind, Nor ever have I seen him. Columbe. Guenever, The king is hungry for a knightly quest; For certain is it that the golden crown, So lightly won, sits restless on his brow; We may not hold him in the narrow court, Where gray-beard councillors wag learnèd heads, Or wanton girls with sleepy, longing eyes Creep softly 'round him with sweet, subtle words. Nor dalliance nor statecraft lure him now, He rides afar afield. Guenever. I fear me, then, He is indeed the thing that all men say, And so I hold him most unworshipful. Sir Kay. What thing is that? Guenever. A man without a fault. Such manners like me not. Give me a man Content with that, nor greedy for the crown The blessèd saints achieve when they are dead And men no longer. Columbe. Fie upon thee, girl! Thy words are peevish, and unmaidenlike The thought that prompts them. Guenever. Thou art thrice mine age, And that much nearer sainthood, lady mine, Nathless ye liked my song. Ah, well-a-day! We maids be nought but bratchets in a leash, Give you good hunting! Hush, the king, the king! (Enter: King Arthur, mounted, with him Sir Ector. Guenever stands aside among the trees.) Omnes. Hail to the King of England! King Arthur. Give ye joy, Sir knights and ladies fair. How now, Columbe, Art weary of tall Camelot? Columbe. My lord, The springtime beckoned, and my heart was fain To leave the courtelage of Camelot And track the footsteps of the questing king. King Arthur. The while he followed where the springtime led, Was that thy thought? Well, it was even so. Maid April starts a quickening in the blood That when the winds of June are on the fields Is ill gainsaid. Come, Ector, let us rest And crave refreshment of these gentle folk; I would be weary were I not a king. Columbe. Will ye not drink, my lord? the sun is high, And heavy hangs the harness of a knight. Quaff thou this goblet: when thou art assuaged Then shalt thou tell us of thy latest quest. King Arthur. I thank thee, dame, yet have I nought to tell Save of a Questing Beast I followed far And won disworship of him in the end. Sir Kay. Of thy good grace, King Arthur, tell the tale. King Arthur. 'Twas in this wise, and ye may laugh at will. When we had fought King Rience, and had freed Leodegrance, King of Cameliard (The which has one most wondrous daughter, hight The Lady Guenever, more passing fair Than saw I ever, even in my dreams.) I rode in quest of some adventure. Noon Was hot upon us, and I lay me down Beside a fountain in a drowsy wood, And if I slept I know not, but anon Deep thunder rolled and I did see in sooth The forest filled with griffins, gaunt and grim, And slimy serpents, slavering as they crawled On scaly bellies through the cringing grass. High in the midst of all, as he were king, I saw a beast beyond all mortal ken, Huge, humped and horrible, with scaly sides And twisted talons fierce with rending claws. Winged was he with the pinions of a bat, And either side his harsh and horny beak Blazed baleful eyes that blinked and rolled amain, While over all I saw as on his helm The Dragon of our House. The while I lay And marvelled on this strange and grizzly thing, Meseemed the wood grew thick with myriad knights From all my kingdom. Then the raging Beast Shrilled wonderly: right so the serpent brood Hurled on my knights, and in such grievous wise That in a little none was left on live. And all the forest darkened as the Beast Went howling onward. "Now Pendragon's seed Shall slay Pendragon!" And I saw him not. Sir Launcelot. By Holy Rood, a grim, ungentle dream. King Arthur. So thought I, but I saw the Beast again. Columbe. With thine own waking eyes? King Arthur. I saw the Beast. No word said I unto Sir Ector here Of that I thought a dream, but on a day, The while we rode athwart a savage wood, Sir Ector cried: "Sweet Jesu, be my aid! What thing is that?" I looked, and lo, the Beast Came hurling with the sound of many hounds Adown a forest path until he spied A little fountain, where he stayed to drink. Sir Launcelot. And didst thou slay him? King Arthur. Listen, Launcelot. Certes I pricked full hotly on the Beast, But when he marked the onset, on he rolled The while I followed fiercely. Weary leagues I tracked him till my steed was clean forspent And fell beneath me. Then the Questing Beast Turned like a labouring carrack, and I dressed My shield, for I did think a sore debate Lay twixt us, but the Beast gave tongue and spake: "Hail, king and father! Seekest thou for death? Not now, but after, comes the dolorous day." Wherewith he vanished like a flash of light, And so I won disworship of my quest. Columbe. By all the saints of God, an evil Beast! Wilt quench thy thirst again? Come, Guenever, Serve thou the king. King Arthur. (leaping up). How say ye, Guenever? Art thou the daughter to Leodegrance? King of Cameliard? Guenever. No other maid, I do protest, Sir king. King Arthur. Nay, by my sword, I need no oath to prove me what thou art. The day I freed thy father of Rience Thou stood'st before me, matchless in my sight, So like the splendid sun I fell abashed And veiled mine eyes for worship of thy face. Guenever. And did my lord the king learn gentle speech From this same Questing Beast? In Camelot Men say he knows not how a maiden's face Looks other than the visor'd visage grim Of armoured knights. King Arthur. A murrain on the Beast! In fair Cameliard I learned it well, Nor slept a sennight for the wisdom gained. Guenever. Why, now I know they were but sorry japes Wherewith the Court did mock me, for the king Is not so faultless that he may not mark A damsel's face, and tell her so withal. King Arthur. As thou shalt know, anon, my lady fair; Come, sit beside me, let me see thine eyes Look into mine, and let me hear thy voice That lingers like the gentle summer wind Among the yearning trees. Give me thy hand And tell me of Cameliard--and thee. (He leads her beneath the pavilion.) Ysed. Look where Sir Launcelot, the dolorous knight, Stands ringed with thunder. Ettard. 'Tis a grievous thing To match a king in contest for a maid; I do bemoan his fortune. Sir Pelleas. Launcelot, - Why, how now, Launcelot! Have speech with us, Sir knight, be merry! Sir Tor. Art thou then unhorsed, Forefoughten with the first rude shock of fight That hurtles down the lists? Ettard. Out on thee, Tor! That thou shouldst mock a knight so all forlorn. Columbe. This likes me not: I would the king would ride Upon some other quest. (Exit Sir Launcelot.) Ysed. Sir Launcelot! He lightly leaves the field! Who follows on? A merry chase; come, sirs, the hunt is up. (Exit, followed by Sir Tor and Sir Ector.) Ettard. I have no heart for such a scurvy jest; Alas, poor Launcelot! Sir Pelleas. Bewail him not, I back him 'gainst the king. Ettard. Nay, Pelleas, Back no man 'gainst King Arthur. Sir Pelleas. Come away, I do beseech thee, sweet, if thou dost say "Back no man 'gainst King Arthur." Ettard. Save thyself, For well thou knowest, Pelleas, my heart Is like a stubborn fortress, strong and true, Whereof thou hast the key. Sir Pelleas. Yet let us go A little way along the water's rim, For by his glances Arthur needs us not. Ettard. Poor Launcelot! Sir Pelleas. Think not of him, Ettard, Or follow, and I'll teach thee to forget. (Exeunt.) King Arthur. Sir Kay, I pray thee, wait not on us here, I would not hinder thee. Sir Kay. I do protest, No hinderance, my lord. King Arthur. I do protest, Most grievous hinderance, my fair Sir Kay: We follow straitly. Columbe. Sir, we must away. Come thou with me, I fear the fruit of this. (Exeunt Sir Kay and Columbe.) King Arthur. My bonds are riven from me! They are gone, And I may give my tongue full liberty To voice the surging of my teaming heart. I love thee, Guenever! Guenever. And on the word Thy sport o'ersteps the limits of a jest. I am at fault that I did venture close Upon the brink of danger. Come, my lord, Let us go hence: this peril claims us not. King Arthur. I love thee! Give me back thy gentle hands And let me see the wonder of thine eyes Upturned to mine. I lack all mode of speech For pleading with thee, for my words are rude And hardly tempered to the cause of love, For that I am unlearnèd in the field Where any courtier matches me unscathed, That am for fighting, not for dalliance; And so I know not any form of words That is more potent than, I love thee, sweet! I love thee! Guenever. With such love as princes feign To lightly lead them to the end thereof. That usage likes me not. King Arthur. With such a love As never yet was known of any man Were he the truest knight of all the world! I knew not why my father gave me life, I knew not why I came by England's crown Nor why I marched to free Leodegrance, Thy father, till I saw thee, Guenever, And then I knew! Guenever. How lightly lies the oath Of knighthood on thee. What of Launcelot, Aye, what of Launcelot? High chivalry Thou showest, king! Hast thou no thought for him? King Arthur. Nor him, nor yet for anything that lives, Save only thee. The lightning of thine eyes Blots out all memory, all honour, all That guided, governed me. Sir Launcelot? I know him not! Is he then overlord Of thee and me, that I should wait on him And crave his pleasure? Am I not a man, A knight, a king? Shall I not match with him In contest for thy favour? Art thou his? How came he by thee? Is his title proved? By God, I challenge it! Guenever. I know thee not In this unwonted humour. Let me go, Thou art distraught! King Arthur. Aye, to the perilous edge Of perfect madness! In my fevered veins The seething blood cries out for recompense And hot requital! Guenever. Of thy gentleness Unloose me, king! King Arthur. Not though the sword of God Were brandished in mine eyes! I love thee, sweet, Give me thy lips, thyself! (Enter Merlin.) Merlin. King Arthur, hail! And to thee, lady, my most high devoir. My lord, I wait upon thee. King Arthur. Get ye gone! Avoid my sight and lightly. Guenever! (Exit Guenever.) Merlin. Stay thou with me, if thou indeed art king, And other than thy folly doth denote. King Arthur. What malice drove thee hither? Merlin. England, sir, That hardly brooks divided loyalty. Thou art the king. Let that enlightening torch Shine ever on the road thou treadest in, For by that light alone shalt thou avoid Rude misadventure. I will chide thee not, That thou hast played the fool. Thou art a boy, And therefore prone to vain and wanton things; But like a torrent raging lawlessly, I'll turn thine ardour in an wholesome course Until it serve God's ends. King Arthur. Must I abide In vassalage to thine o'erriding spleen, That am a king? Merlin. Abide a little yet And shortly shalt thou reap the high reward. No wanton humour leads me, but a cause, A giant purpose, meet for England's king To make his own. Endure me, good my lord, And I shall set thee on the awful throne Of universal majesty. But now I missed thee from the council of the kings That are thy vassals, and I find thee meshed Within the springes of a wanton girl. Yet will I chide thee not, but bid thee come The while I show thee labour fit for kings, And doubly fitting for thee, that shall reign The lord of monarchs. Come, thy place is there In Camelot, upon great England's throne. (Curtain.) SCENE II. Camelot. The terrace of Arthur's castle. Morgan le Fay is standing alone, gazing on Merlin's tower, which rises solitary in the background. Morgan. Thou black magician of the enchanted keep Builded of dreams by subtle sorcery To win dominion over all the world, How shall I baffle thee? Ringed 'round with cloud Thy frowning tower, four-square, impregnable, Fit symbol of thy pride, defies my will. High on the giddy ramparts of the keep Thy fell and fatal visage bends unseen Above the mystic lore of perished worlds For thou art sore bested. The puling boy Thou fain wouldst make thy catspaw, fails, thee sore, Most mighty Merlin, and thou knowest not What engine Morgan fashions for thy fall; Wherefore, affrighted, thou dost grope for aid. Strive thou amain, rive spell on evil spell From out the murky caverns of thy lore, Thou shalt not hinder me. (Enter Nimue) Ha, Nimue! I need thee, girl: art ready to my hand? Nimue. As restless sword that clamours for the fray Within the sluggard sheath of errant knight. Morgan. I'll hale thee shortly from thy scabbard; look! Where in his magic tower old Merlin sits, A bloated spider, spreading wide the web Wherein he thinks to catch us. Nimue. Like a fly I'll buzz and blunder 'gainst his very fangs, And when he springs, turn to a dragonfly And stab him! Morgan. Thou shalt spead thy wings anon, Thou subtle Nimue, for to my cost I know that we may trap the silly king Until our wit is withered, nor abate As by the weight of one least little cloud The curse that lets us, if we rest with that And curb not Merlin. Nimue. Merlin fears us not, For that the armour he has wrought him well Of spells and magic gives him leave to laugh At that we do. Morgan. I'll match him in his craft, Else know I nought of sorcery, and bind Him helpless in a sleep of living death. There is a potent spell the fayter knows, And only he, that grips in heavy sleep Beyond all power to waken, whosoe'er It falls on. Nimue. And thou'dst have me learn the rune To-night? Morgan. To-night, or after, if ye fail at first. This thing we must achieve, there is no choice. Win me the rune and England falls awrack. The way I leave to thee, but guard thyself; Thou tiltest not against an orgulous boy But in the front of awful wisdom. Nimue. Good: I sound my challenge! In the lists of life Flame-favoured Love has ever overthrown Sir Wisdom. Morgan. But not Merlin. He is armed In supple harness that will turn the point Of weapons deadly to the cringing king. Be wise and wakeful; strike with subtler tools Than serve against a man. Nimue. Is he not that? Mayhap the cloak of wisdom clothes him well But underneath is man. I strike at that. Morgan. Meanwhile I lime the twigs to catch a king,-- But look ye where she comes! The savoury bait Wherewith I lure him: Guenever. Nimue. Farewell, The night is moonless: ere the east is gray I'll cope with Merlin, and I win the rune! (Exit.) Morgan. How best to use this knotted skein of love Where Launcelot, the king, and Guenever Are sorely tangled? If the knight shall win What follows but the fixing of the king More strongly in his purpose to obey The crafty Merlin. But if Arthur gain And Launcelot yield nothing:-- Through the night That was so dark I see a little star, A little, distant star that waxes great And brightens to a ball of shrieking flame That shall with shame and slaughter overwhelm The king, the Court, and Merlin: Guenever I'll give the king,--and later, Launcelot. A merry game and I can play it well;-- I call a greeting to thee, Guenever. (Enter Guenever.) Guenever. Who hails me from the dusky twilight dim? I cry thee pardon, lady, but the light Befriends me not. Morgan. It is the Queen of Gore. Guenever. Oh, ho! and Empress of the Magic Mere, The lady of two kingdoms. Morgan. Now, indeed, I know thou givest ear unto the tales Loose-hanging tongues set free in Camelot, But this I tell thee, girl; the shameless knights And wanton women wag forbidding heads, Miscall me witch and mock me with their japes, For that their witless folly likes me not And I am wise in lore of many things They know not of. Gray Merlin strikes them dumb, With bated breath they pass him fearsomely, But I, that am a woman, rouse their wrath For matching Merlin. Guenever. And I blame them not; Were I to couch a lance along the lists, A she-knight thrusting in a fighter's field, I'd give them leave to mock me. Well content Am I that God has made me what I am, Content that He has made men as they are; My kingdom is mine own, I ask none else. Morgan. The which is folly. Yet I like thee well, And so let call a truce to warring words The while I counsel thee. Thou art a girl; An headstrong filly, heedless of the curb; Lawless, impatient; learn a thing of me That am well broken to the harness, wise In diverse things that thou shalt know anon. Guenever. That I may reign beneath the Magic Mere A queen of goblins? Keep thy learned lore, An earthly crown contents me. Morgan. Grasp it, girl, And thou art Queen of England! Guenever. First, meseems, I'd see it proffered. Thieving likes me not, Nor yet a beggar's usage, when a crown Is held for guerdon. Morgan. Hear me, Guenever! Witch am I, if it please the prating Court; Wise am I, maugre Court and king and thee; And this I know: thou art assoted, girl, If thou dost think King Arthur loves thee not! Guenever. Fool am I, if it please the learnèd queen; Maid am I, maugre Court and king and thee; And so I knew King Arthur loved me well When first he saw me in Cameliard. Morgan. Then seize the crown he proffers with his heart. Guenever. The heart I see, but not as yet the crown. Morgan. Nathless he holds it forth. I know the king, And for a word thou shalt be crownèd queen. Guenever. Of England. Morgan. Aye, of England: of the world! Flout thou my wisdom if it pleaseth thee, But well I know that on before the king Stretches a path that rises to a height Of glory and dominion such as men As yet have never seen. Be thou the queen, Walk thou with Arthur toward the blinding flame Of fame and honour blazing in his path, And thou shalt reign the Queen of Christiantie! Guenever. And pay the hateful price! Morgan. Why dost thou gaze With wistful eyes into the crowding dark? The while with heavy sigh thou sayest slow "And pay the hateful price." Can'st read the crest Above the helmet of the drooping knight That mounts the steep upon a jaded steed? Nay, now I know! 'Tis Launcelot returned To Camelot from riding on the quest That quickly called him when the king returned And found thee come from far Cameliard. Dost sigh for him? Out on thee, Guenever! That weighs a king against a wanton knight. Guenever. Be silent, witch, and lightly quit my sight! Mock me no more, nor tempt me with the tale Of crown and kingdom purchased with the blood Of this my heart; I need thee not! Morgan. Farewell! I leave thee to Sir Launcelot, but mark The thing I say: the crown is for thy brow, Nor shall a knight let Arthur from his own. (Exit.) Guenever. Ah me, unhappy, that am like a ball Tossed back and forth across the tennis court; Forbid to rest in any friendly hand, But made the sport and pastime of a game. Would well I knew so much of Morgan's lore Or Merlin's, as would tell me why the heart And brain were made of God fierce enemies, Nor ever in accord. The crown is mine And at the price of one least little word, For Arthur loves me, fain would make me queen, To reign unchallenged; but Sir Launcelot Would make me wife, and bend me to his will A fawning slave. What woman halts for choice 'Twixt service and dominion? So, the crown Goes spinning down the vasty waste of night, A mocking bauble, meet for envious fools. The joust is over and the favour won, Sir Heart, thou art the victor in the lists, Sir Brain the recreant, I the warison! (Enter: below the terrace, Sir Launcelot. He remains for a time seated on his horse.) Sir Launcelot. Although the night were darker than the depths, Long since forgotten, of the nether hell Where damnèd souls, forsaken, howl for light, Yea, for the blazing of tormenting flame So that 'twere light--I'd know thee, Guenever! Guenever. And were the world resounding with the din Of rending heavens on the Judgment Day, I'd hear thy voice if thou didst call my name, O Launcelot! Sir Launcelot. Hide not within the night, I know the king is with thee. Hale him forth That I may see thy lover. Guenever. Launcelot! Sir Launcelot. So thou didst call me when I won thy love, Playing the maid to mock me for a churl; But now that thou art wanton to a king, Call me Sir fool! Guenever. I know not what thou art Or knave or madman, for thy words are wild As one assotted. Sir Launcelot. Wouldst thou have me deal In honeyed words to match thy honeyed breath? I call thee as thou art. Guenever. Thou liest! Sir Launcelot. Peace! Nor think to mesh me in a web of words. Thou art the lightest lady in the Court, And I will prove it 'gainst whoever comes, Be he the king. Guenever. Thou layest in the glare Of some malignant moon, and thou art mad! Avoid my sight, I look on thee no more, Thou art distained forever. Sir Launcelot (dismounting and coming on the terrace ). Guenever, 'Tis thou that art distained. I thought thee mine, Unsoilèd, faultless, and I find thee false As rotting death's head grinning through the casque That outwardly doth show the noble knight. Unwrast my helm, my hauberk rent away, My sword all shattered and my spear forhewn; A craven knight, forlorn I walk the world, Nor fall on worship whereso'er I go For that I loved her that betrayèd me. Guenever. Am I a wanton that I stand at speech And chaffer mouthings with a daffish churl? This is the end. If I do look on thee One only time in Camelot, beware! I'll charge thee with black treason to thy face, And call on every knight that loves the king Or holds me worshipful, to prove me clean, Upon thy craven body. Sir Launcelot. Stand thou there! I have a thing to say. I loved thee well And wore thy favour twined about my helm, Wherefore I grew a jest for all the Court. Thou wert King Arthur's, and they knew it well The while I doted, heeding not the fame That ran so lightly of thine evil ways. Girls mocked me, curled their lips and laughed me down; Knights tossed the shameful jest from hand to hand; The very pages round the royal throne Shrilled scornful laughter when I passed them by, And still I loved thee. Then upon a day Meseemed I could no longer 'dure the Court And rode for silence in the tongueless wood. Right so I met a maid that bade me stay, And plucked me by the mantle, saying so, With railing words: "Wouldst thou then find the king? I pray thee of thy gentleness, Sir knight, Molest him not; he lies with Guenever Among the ferns beside a little brook, He needs us not." A quarrel from the bow I sped along the forest, drunk with wrath, Believing naught, yet half believing all: And then I saw thee. Through the leaning trees, Beside the king I marked thee moving slow, With willing eyes uplifted to his face. White lightning seared mine eyeballs, heavy night Shut down impenetrable, but I knew. (Enter King Arthur.) Guenever. For that thou art a faithless, miscreant knight, And like a buzzard fain of filthy food, All gorged with slander, I do owe thee nought, But this I tell thee, I am blameless here. By neither word nor act, nay, by no thought, No little fawning fancy has the king Done me disworship. King Arthur (coming forward.). It is soothly said, And I will prove the lie with mine own sword, Upon his body that with shameful tongue Says that thou art not spotless before God. What knave missays thee, Guenever? Guenever. Sir king, I pray thee, harm him not: a blighting spell Is over him, he knows not what he says, For e'er by magic he was driven mad, Thou knowest, king, he was a stainless knight. King Arthur. Speak, traitor to thy king and chivalry, That dost with bawdy mouth revile a maid! The darkness cloaks thee, let me see thy face, Stand forth, thou art no knight of Camelot! Sir Launcelot. My lord, I am no traitor! King Arthur. Launcelot! By Jesu's wounds, I would a thunderbolt Had riven Camelot and hurled it wide In rocky rain upon the blasted fields Or ever I had seen this dolorous day! Sir Launcelot. So say I, king, and hadst thou taken heed Of thine own knighthood, and the scarlet shame That like a broidered mantle thou hast cast Upon the body of thy paramour, Thou wouldst have halted in thy faithless quest. King Arthur. I know not by what dark and devious road Thou camest, Launcelot, unto this pass, But that thou art a false, felonious knight Distained of treason, foul with calumny, Alas, I know. Deny thine evil words, Upon thy knees beseech of Guenever That she assoil thee of thy damnèd sin Or thou dost fight thy king. Sir Launcelot. Right so, and now! King Arthur. A spell is cast around Pendragon's House; How other should a knight fight fierce and grim Against his brother? For I loved thee, sir, Aye, more than any man of all the Court, Yet I do love mine honour over all, Save only that of Guenever. Assay! Unsheathe thy sword and dress thy heavy shield, I have no harness; shieldless, void of helm, Armed only with my sword I meet thy stroke, For righteousness is hauberk to a king. Sir Launcelot. And to a knight in equal measure. So, I cast my helmet and my shield away, Naked I stand before thee. Kill me, king, Or thou shalt die for thy sins warison. Guenever. For God's love, hold! My honour cannot weigh Within the balance 'gainst one little drop Of royal blood, nor yet against thy life, Sir Launcelot!-- King Arthur. Art ready? Sir Launcelot. Cry you on! (They fight.) Guenever. If ye do love me, sirs, I pray ye, stay! (Enter Sir Kay: with him pages bearing torches.) Sir Kay. Who dares defy the laws of Camelot And with rude weapons war against the peace Of Arthur, King of England? Stay your swords, Or rightwise shall I charge ye with offence And treason 'gainst the king. Ha, Guenever! What knights are these? Guenever. Woe to me, Seneschal, It is the king and Launcelot. (Enter: Sir Pelleas, Sir Tor, Ettard, and other Knights and Ladies, with them torch-bearers.) Sir Kay. Alas! I know not how to speak for dole and woe; Lord Arthur, of thy grace I pray thee stay! Sir Launcelot, give way before the king, Nor peril England with thy faithless blade. Guenever. Lords, make an end of this! My heart is torn That I, unhappy, am the sorry cause Of this forlorn debate. Sir Tor. What evil star Has risen over England? Sir Pelleas. How befell This wicked warfare twixt the hasty king And Launcelot? (Enter: Sir Ector, Morgan le Fay, Columbe, Ysed, and others.) Columbe. God's mercy, 'tis the king! Sir Kay, bestir! Let not this awful shame Fall blackening on the land. Sir Kay. Lord Arthur, see! Upon my knees I cry thee mercy. Hold! For God's love, hold. Think that thou art the king, Nor hazzard England for a traitor's blood. Morgan (aside). Too soon I see the fruit of my design Fall all untimely, yet I grasp it now. Ysed. See, see! King Arthur bleeds, and Launcelot Is pressing on him sorely! Sir Tor. Ha! the king Is smiting wonderly. The knight is lost, He falls! Sir Pelleas. No, no! He struck that blow aside; Look there! Sir Kay. My lord! Sir Ector. My God, this endeth here! (He draws and rushes on Launcelot.) King Arthur. Who lets me from the fight or strikes my foe, Hangs dead to-morrow on the castle wall! (Merlin has entered: he strides through the crowd, seizes Ector's sword, and with it strikes down the weapons with such force they fall on the ground.) Merlin. Then so I die, for so I end the fight. Lord Arthur, thou art king and thou art law; Thou art incarnate England, and thy word Is backed with all the majesty of God. Nathless through me speaks all the awful line Of perished kings that gave thee life and crown, And with a voice that brooks of no reply. Save thou thy sword for England's enemies! Morgan (aside). Again I meet thee; Merlin, thou shalt die! King Arthur. Am I the king, or thou, bold sorcerer? One word from me and I may see thee torn In horrid gobbets here before mine eyes! Merlin. That word knells England's doom. No earthly king Although he hold dominion streight from God, Sits on a steadfast throne unless he learn The wisdom that God gives not with a crown. King Arthur. And this I learn from thee, my master? Merlin. Aye, From me, King Arthur. I was grim with years When first thou gavest tongue, and when the king That did beget thee mouthed his mother's breast, Still aged was I. Be persuaded, king, By Merlin that did give Excalibur Into thy hand. King Arthur. So all my royalty Is but a pageant. I must let thee reign, Most potent master! Merlin. Ring thyself with knights And daunt the world with show of dreadful arms, Thou art a crownèd jester, if thou lack'st The prop of wisdom for thy majesty. King Arthur. Thou speakest well, and I am sore distained That with unwatchful heart I did forget The solemn warning thou didst bid me heed, Yet, by my knighthood, I could find no choice, For Launcelot did blacken Guenever With most ungentle slander, and the crown That guards the head clings not about the heart. Sir Launcelot. Thou hast not proved the slander on me, king, Nor blotted out the shame with thine own blood; Wherefore I stand my ground. Before the Court, Yea, Arthur, before God, with brimming tears, For that my heart is broken that my king Should deal dishonourably with a maid I loved with passing worship, once again I do impeach thee of unknightly shame. Sir Tor. I challenge thee! Sir Ector. God's blood, I'll prove the lie Upon thy body! Omnes. Treason, treason! King Arthur. Hold! Gramercy for your loyalty, my knights, But neither words nor blood blot out a lie, The deed is all. Hear, lords and knights at arms, Sir Launcelot impeacheth me of shame; Take ye the answer. Lady, of thy grace I do beseech thee hear me. Thou art she That I do love in loyal, knightly wise, As I have loved thee since the blessèd day When first I saw thee in Cameliard. God knows, and thou, there is no bond of shame Betwixt us, maugre the scandal of the Court, And therefore, Guenever, wilt thou be queen Of Arthur and of England? Merlin. Stay! Guenever. My lord As I am stainless and all clean of sin-- I will be Queen of England. Morgan (aside). I have won! King Arthur. Bid all the trumpets blow, and let the flame Of flaunting beacons paint the sombre sky. England, thou hast a queen! Omnes. Hail, Guenever! Sir Launcelot (aside). Christ Jesu, of thy mercy, let me die! Merlin. So comes the terror stalking through the night. Morgan. Merlin, the fight is lost, and England falls. Merlin. Not in thy hands, black witch! King Arthur. Come, Launcelot: Thou hast impeached thy king and drawn a sword Against his sacred body. Stand thou forth; What chastisement befits thee? Sir Launcelot. Let me die. Guenever. In God's name, dear my lord-- King Arthur. Peace, Guenever. It needs not that thy heart should intercede For Launcelot. I am no orgulous fool To slay the knight that guards my lady's fame. Give me thy hand, the hand that heaved a sword Against thy king to shield a maid. I swear Thou didst win greater worship of me, sir, Than found I ever in all Camelot. I know thee now, a fearless champion Of maiden's honour, and a noble knight. Look thou, Sir Launcelot, that when the crown Of England tops the head of Guenever, Thou dost defend her honour to thy death, Yea, 'gainst the king himself. Sir Launcelot. I pray thee now Let me depart, my heart is like to break. King Arthur. Yet would I have thee by me, Launcelot, I need thy knightly heart. Come, Guenever. Merlin. One only word, King Arthur. When the sands Have told an hour of the passing night, I wait for thee upon the battlements Of Merlin's Tower. Arthur. Lightly will I come. And now, lead on, Sir Kay. Unsheathe your swords, Hurl them in the air, my knights, and let the horns Declare the tidings unto all the world, The while with lusty voices ye acclaim Queen Guenever! Omnes. God save Queen Guenever! (Exeunt.) Morgan (alone). So passes Arthur to his destiny And I abide. Queen Morgan, thou art free! Curtain. SCENE III. Camelot. The ramparts of Merlin's tower. Merlin is seated in the midst of the platform. Midnight. Merlin. How silent lie the purple fields of God Above the troubled earth. Since time began, When, by the fiat of Omnipotence, The howling chaos, without form, and void, Swelled to this awful vault, the hollow dome That prisons us upon this little world Has hung inexorable. Like a bird That beats with futile wing against the roof, The soul soars through the cavernous abyss To smite impatient pinions 'gainst the sky And falls back, vanquished. On the farther side Of that impenetrable firmament Lies Wisdom absolute, wherein the saints And shining angels have a part with God. Yet we that need so grievously the light Of knowledge, were it but a slender ray No larger than should filter through the chink Of any little star, must live our lives Unholpen, undirected. What is this That I have won of wisdom but the blind And devious gropings of a creeping worm Hid in the heavy earth? The world of men He knows not, as I know not what is hid Forever by that roof of adamant. And yet, such learning as I win must serve To make me master of these little men Whereof I build a kingdom. Oh, how frail The stones that I must work withal, how small The craft that aids me, and when all is done How unenduring is the fabric raised. I may not think of this, but for the time As other men, see that which lies to hand, For wisdom works inaction in the blood By showing forth the dread futility Of that we do. How darkness chills the will And halts the hand. Come, disenchanting flame, Dispel my langour! (He kindles the brazier. Enter: Nimue.) Nimue. Prythee, chide me not That I have clomb with unfamiliar feet Unto thy rocky fastness. Let me rest Above the world with thee, a little space, I will not hamper thee. Merlin. Were I a boy All flushed with ardours, I would think a dream Encountered with me in some dusky pass Of unsubstantial sleep. Nimue. Why stare ye, sir, And bend your solemn brows upon my face? Is it so strange a thing to meet a maid Within thy frowning stronghold? Merlin. Wit ye well You are the only lady of the court That would forgather with the sorcerer Upon his tower. Streightway give me word Of that thou needest, for the night is old And thou must lightly go. Nimue. Dismiss me not! The boon I crave leaves thee no poorer, lord, Yet may it make me rich. Merlin. Ye lack the spell To win unwilling love? Nimue. 'Tis soothly said; My love returns to me with empty hands. Merlin. I may not aid thee. Potions like me not, Nor silly spells. Go thou to Morgan, girl, That she may ease thee. Nimue. Out upon the witch That deals with pagan demons in the Mere! I will not speak with her. Merlin. Then thou art wise, Yet shalt thou lack thy philtre. Nimue. Better so Than that I peril mine immortal soul In most unchristian commerce with a witch. I am content to couch me at thy feet The while with potent hand thou dost control The straying stars, compel the elements That with unkindly malice hinder us And let us from our goal. Deny me not, But suffer me to crouch against thy feet Most mighty master. Merlin. Nay, thou silly child, Thy vigil gains scant comfort. What have I To give thee, that am but a surly seer, While thou art-- Nimue. But a woman! Say ye so? Nay, Merlin, I am more, for perfect love Ennobles e'en a woman. Merlin. What a thing Is woman, then, without the gift of love, That with it is but hell's ambassador. Nimue. I cannot hear thee, Merlin, let thine eyes, Aweary of their scanning of the stars, Look less unkindly on me. Read my heart And learn what I would tell thee. Merlin. Mock me not! I am no lusty knight. Love's apples grow In other fields, not on the barren crest Of Merlin's Tower. Lightly get ye hence, I am aweary. Nimue. Nay, I leave thee not. Art thou forspent? I'll pillow thee in sleep Upon my bosom. Art thou sad withal? Then shall I make thee laugh for joy of life, And cradle thee in dreams that shall dispel The lurking visions of adversity. My lord, my love, look deep into mine eyes And see my secret! (Soft music.) Merlin. Dreams assail me, dreams Of days that are not: dreams of laughing love, And dreams of love that wept for very joy. Why should I dream? Nimue. I love thee, Merlin! Merlin. Stay! I heard a voice that spake an unknown tongue, The which did say "I love thee." Nimue. Lift thine eyes And look upon my face! (The night slowly flushes with rosy light, and all the sky turns to a flowery pleasaunce.) Merlin. Who art thou? Nimue. She That loved thee long ago. Merlin. I know thee not And yet,--I love thee!-- Nimue. Crush me to thy breast, Thou lord of all the world. Give me thy lips And drink the wine of life that brimming high Shall quench thine anguish! Merlin. Dreams assail me, dreams Of days that may be nevermore. Nimue. My lord, See how the forest opens for our feet This day of June. It is the Land of Love, Come follow, follow-- (She mounts the battlements. Merlin follows slowly.) Merlin. Dreams assail me, dreams That baffle me-- Nimue. Give my thy groping hand! We two will lie beneath the little leaves The while they whisper sleepy songs of love, And noon melts into night. Merlin. A mocking spell Is over me: my heart has ceased to beat: My brain is in disorder. Help me, God! My craft is broken! (He makes the sign of the cross: the vision vanishes.) Damn thee, witch of hell! I know thee now! Nimue. Have mercy, master! Merlin. Go! (He hurls her down from the battlements, then slowly descends and seats himself by the table.) How better am I than the least of these Ignoble creatures that I make my pawns Upon the board where I do play at chess With destiny. Am I no more than they That I should be beguiled of sorcery? Merlin, thou art a wittol! Mend thy wits Or England crumbles. (Enter: King Arthur.) Thou art welcome, king; So like a cloud I find thee, changing form With every little wind, unstable, frail, I durst not count upon thee. Being come I crave thy patience. I'll have speech with thee. King Arthur. Meseems thou art ungentle in thy words And scant of courtesy. I am thy king While thou art--Merlin. Merlin. Merlin am I still When thou art crownless and a naked soul Abashed before the Lord, an' thou dost flout The aid I offer thee. King Arthur. Say on. Merlin. Sir king, I am thy servant if thou dost obey, Thy master else. Before thee, face to face I tell thee this. Exalt thy feeble will, Cry scorn upon the burrowing sorcerer And magnify thy royal majesty, Thou shalt not balk me. I will make thee king Despite thee. King Arthur. Do I let thee from thy goal? If thou hast any ground for chiding me, If any way I fail of my devoir, Name me the deed, nor stretch authority Until it snap, with arrogant reproach. Merlin. So be it. Arthur, look upon this scroll Wherein is traced the circle of the skies At thy nativity. In each its place Are posited the planets and stars, The sun, the moon, the constellations, all The fortunes and infortunes as they held When thou didst see the light. Now mark them well. For never stood the stars in this array For any man before. So marvellous And all unwonted is their strange design, A word, a breath, a thought may tip the scale, Make thee immortal, make thee infamous. And dost thou marvel that I watch thee well When thou art walking on the dizzy rim Of fortune, that is like a naked sword Set edgewise over hell? King Arthur. Act thou thy part As guardian of the State, if so thou art; Oppose me not in mine. I am the king, And royalty strikes deeper than the crown. Give me thy council, aid me with thy lore, But hold in mind I am no puppet king Content with empty majesty. I reign! And while the crown is mine I shame it not By playing pupil to thy mastership. Merlin. I hear Pendragon speaking through thy mouth And am content, but only with thy words. Act as thou speakest, king, and I am dumb, But while thy words are grave thy deeds are wild And wanton. Ruin crouches close at hand Where thou dost walk, and for a paltry whim Thou'dst barter England. King Arthur. Name thy grievance, sir! Merlin. Did I not hold thee from thy doltishness Thou'dst lightly make a queen of Guenever. King Arthur. By God, I make her queen despite thy will! This leaps the bounds of reason. Must I crawl On supplicating belly to thy feet And crave thy grace to wed with her I love? I will not! Merlin. Listen: in the seventh house, Yea, in the cusp thereof, in square of Mars, The Great Malefic, grim, implacable, Frowned on thy birth, and therefore shalt thou swear To have no part in love forevermore; For if thou takest to thy throne a queen, Were she as pure as flame, thou shalt descend Into thy grave a cuckold, and I read, Alas, too clearly, in thine evil stars, That England is entangled in thy fall. King Arthur. I know not why I do abide thy speech, Thou foul-mouthed slanderer, nor hurl thee down Incontinently from the battlements For speaking thus of Lady Guenever. I give my life in hostage for her faith, Content thyself with that. Merlin. Thou art o'er bold. Dost thou not know that with a whispered word I could weave round her such a subtle spell That thou shouldst see her not forevermore? No man wins aught of me by haughty words, For as the sword leaps baffled from my breast So threats fall from me. King Arthur. Thou dost daunt me not. Lay by thy magic for the quaking girls That throng the Court. I marry Guenever! Merlin. Not while I live. King Arthur. Then shalt thou shortly die, For, by God's wounds, I will! Merlin. Wait for the proof; I have a hand in this. I made thee king, And king I'll keep thee 'til the doleful day When England totters, and Pendragon's seed Shall slay Pendragon for Pendragon's lust. King Arthur. Mock me not, Merlin, with an idle rune, For magic is no medecine for love. Within the ordered limits of thy sphere Be thou my guide, but look ye leave them not, For there is yet another province, meet For other councillors, and there I bar thee, sir. Molest me not, for love brooks no control Of wisdom or of magic or of fear. Merlin. Swear on thy knighthood and the holy Cross That thou wilt cast away all love and lust. King Arthur. Lust will I cast away, but never love; Who mocks thereat is damned for blasphemy. Merlin. Who plays with either perils all things else. I tell thee, boy, this kingdom is not won Save by him only that shall thrust away All thought of love. The brand Excalibur Carves not a kingdom if the wielding hand Is tethered to a maiden's silly heart, And therefore I forbid thee. King Arthur. Save thy words, For here I act alone. Withhold thine aid Since so it pleases thee. I call on God, And He who gave me leave to live and love Shall guard me. Merlin. Go thy ways, thou silly fool! I builded on a false and shifting sand When I did build on thee. The hour is gone, And once again shall England split with strife Until the wrath of God comes hurling forth To strike thee by the hand of thine own son, For so the doom shall fall. King Arthur. I know the rune And heed it not, my life I leave with God, And He shall take it when and how He will. But if He call me not before the spring Come burgeoning o'er England, once again Pendragon's seed shall sprout in virgin fields, To reign when God shall cast me from the throne. So, thou art answered. Merlin. In such dolorous wise That I am fain of death. I pray thee, go! Nor seek me ever when thou art bested. So splits the golden dream! King Arthur. I will not go With wrath and malice. Merlin, I must live, My life, not thine, and even as my soul That I revere as God's ambassador Commands me. Thou art withered with thy years And may not know the majesty of love, Therefore, my heart must be a sealèd book, Clasped, clamped, and locked before thy failing sight, Yet I may read it well, and in the words I see the tracing of the hand of God. By this I walk. I can no other thing. (Exit.) Merlin. How like my life is this forlorn abyss Of empty air that rings me with a wall Of unrelenting iron. All alone, Unaided, unbefriended, I abide In solemn isolation, toiling on To build a nation of the headstrong boys That feign man's grave estate. Why should I strive To wrench incompetence to dignity Against its will? Fool! for that thou art wise With lofty learning men know nothing of: Thou art of them that rule the childish world. Thou art the king. Ye silent, baffling stars, Give me your aid! How shall I win the cast, Despite the headlong folly of the boy I crowned with England's crown? From sore defeat Shall I not win abundant victory? That thing I do, but by what subtle means? King Arthur weds with Guenever. I heard Pendragon speaking, and I know the blood. What follows after? King Leodegrance Henceforth is England's vassal. Small reward I find the fact, but--King Leodegrance! Merlin, thou art assoted! Rouse thy wits That art not used to such base treachery. Queen Guenever? Aye, let her wear the crown, And let the king be lapped in dalliance If so he please. Out of Cameliard The daughter of Leodegrance shall bring A dowry that will disenthrall the State, Release it from dependence on the king, And guard it with invincible defence. So cometh victory from overthrow, So wisdom matches folly. So I win Dominion absolute. Leodegrance Yields the Round Table into Arthur's hand! Curtain. ACT III SCENE I. Camelot. The great hall of the castle. Sir Tor, Sir Ector, Sir Pelleas, Sir Breuse, and other Knights. Sir Pelleas. Now drain a beaker to Lord Arthur's love And England's queen that shall be, on a day; The fairest mistress and most worshipful Betwixt the borders of the Scottish king And grim Tintagail by the southern sea. The Lady Guenever! Omnes. Hail, Guenever! Sir Breuse. Forget not Launcelot! Come, good my lords, And drink oblivion to Launcelot Lest he rebel. 'Twere safer for the State. Sir Tor. Missay him not. As any loyal knight He yields before the king, not stretches forth A hungry hand to grasp the thing he gave. Sir Breuse. A noble knight! yet may the gift return For very liking; he will scorn it not. Sir Pelleas. Out on thy lewd and bawdy tongue, Sir Breuse, That dares missay a maid with scurrile japes; Thou art forsworn, thou false, felonious knight! Sir Breuse. Meseems I hear the voice of Launcelot, But by the Mass, I look not on his visage; Yet is he champion of Guenever By right of earliest holding, and I crave His pardon that I mocked his paramour. Sir Pelleas. That word against thy teeth, thou lying knave! Sir Breuse. How now, 'tis not Sir Launcelot that speaks, But Pelleas? Why, thou most orgulous boy, Art thou then of the blest? This makes amaze Fall heavy on me. Sir Pelleas. Draw thy cankered sword, Thou shame of knighthood, for I prove the lie Upon thy body! Sir Breuse. Must I fight with babes? Strange portents loom in England, when a maid Forgets to favour men, and for a whim Is fain of boys and makes them champions. Sir Pelleas. Wil't fight or no? Sir Tor. Stand back, good Pelleas! Breuse saunce Pité this overleaps a jest: Guard thou thy tongue: we brook no calumny Against a maid. Sir Ector. Curb thou thy bastard blood Or thou shalt lose it lightly; we are knights, Not savage churls, and slander likes us not. Sir Breuse. Is any here would have to do with me? My sword is ready! Sir Tor. Worship is not won For fighting misbegotten savages. Hold hard thy tongue, or lightly as ye may Get thee again into thy wilderness. Sir Breuse. Fair manners find I in the haughty Court! Sir Ector. Thou'lt straitly cope with deeds as well as words, An' thou dost silence not thy railing speech. Avoid him, Pelleas, and you, Sir Tor. Come hither where the air is sweeter; sirs, What know ye of the rumour in the Court Touching the deed that Arthur does to-day? Fame is that some unwonted fortune falls On England through that King Leodegrance, We freed of Welsh Rience, but of what temper The merit is, or how the boon shall come, Whether of gold or knights or land, none knows That I have coped with. Wit ye ought of this? Sir Tor. Naught save that never ransom matched with his. Sir Pelleas. And I o'erheard the seneschal the while He muttered awsomely: "And I shall see Our glory grow again; Leodegrance, By thee comes England's dawn!" Sir Ector. 'Tis very strange; A fleeting memory, like fading smoke, Slips lightly by me of a magic tale My father told me very long ago When Arthur was my brother, of a thing The dead King Uther had whereby the State Waxed wonderly, until a doleful day Whereon a king did wrest it from his hold, The which was England's ruin. Sir Pelleas. That, mayhap, Was Joseph's sword, Excalibur. Sir Ector. Not so, For I remember me the legend well Of that most holy brand Lord Arthur won In London at King Uther's burial. (Enter: Sir Kay.) Sir Pelleas. Would well we knew. Sir Tor. Look where the seneschal Comes well besene in honour of the day. Ask him, Sir Ector. Sir Ector. Father, by thy leave I pray thee tell us of this wondrous thing King Arthur gainèd of Cameliard, The which works fame for England. Sir Kay. Curb thy zeal, Nor strive to sound the secrets of the king. I promise thee he tells ye when the time Has reached its term, but I can say ye nought, Nor will for all your asking. Sir Pelleas. Fair Sir Kay, Play not a churlish part, it ill beseems Thy gentle bearing and so gracious heart. Tell us, good seneschal. Sir Kay. Prevent me not, Nor vex me with your prying inquiries, I must attend the king. I tell ye nought. Sir Pelleas. And brave and hardy is the reason, sir; Thou knowest nothing. Sir Tor. I'll be sworn of that. Sir Kay. How now, ye insolent and saucy knaves, "Know nothing?" By the Mass, I know enough To make your swelling hearts burst through the ribs For exultation. I know nought forsooth! Sir Pelleas. Then go your ways, Sir Kay, unto the king, And we will tell thee ere a little space What ransom King Leodegrance did give, For certes thou art ignorant. Sir Kay. I know, Ye shameless knights! Sir Pelleas. Nay, nay, Sir seneschal, The king has told thee nothing. Sir Kay. Aye, he has, And rounded my old eyes with wonderment.-- But I must to him--Stay! Ye think I boast Of that I know not--but I must away, The king has summoned me. Sir Tor. Our high devoir Unto his lordship, and our humble praise That he did tell thee nought, wise seneschal. Sir Kay. This passes bearing! King Leodegrance Cedes the Round Table for his ransom. Hush, No word of this to any eager ear In Camelot. Farewell! (Exit.) Sir Pelleas. In sooth, Sir Kay Guards well the treasured secret of the king, Yet I do think he gave us little light. What boots a table to us? Sir Ector. 'Tis the same! I do remember now; the Table Round That was the pledge of prowess in the field, The guaranty of valour unexcelled; But how and why I do remember not. Sir Pelleas. Meseems I win small wisdom from thy words, For to the full they are as tenebrous And blind of meaning as thy father's speech. Sir Tor, I count on thee, for thou art merged In gloomy seas of studious debate. Read us the riddle! Sir Tor. As a mariner Contending with the rough and burly waves, Gropes blindly for the rope outflung for aid Nor grasps it ever, so I clutch in vain At fleeting phantoms of forgotten things. The great Round Table of Pendragon,--aye, My father told me of its awful worth, So much I know. (Enter: above, Merlin.) Sir Pelleas. And that is nothing! --Hail, Thou fearsome Merlin, I did think thee near, For on a moment all the hall grew dim With murky darkness, as a cloud had drawn Athwart the merry visage of the sun. We stand at gaze, magician, dumb with doubt, But thou art come to bring us blessèd ease; What is the ransom of Leodegrance, The great Round Table? Merlin. What is that to thee? Where heard ye ought of this? Sir Pelleas. Where else, fair sir, Save at the bubbling mouth of gossip's well, The prudest seneschal, that strongly swore He would tell nothing, and then lightly told. Merlin. Confide thy secrets to judicious age That like a withered bawd goes up and down To hawk her wares along the market-place! Sir Pelleas. A truce to mouldy saws; tell us of this! Merlin. Since ye do have the half, take ye the whole. The great Round Table of Pendragon comes, And so is England armed against the world. Sir Ector. That much we know. Sir Tor. But not the cause thereof. Merlin. When blessèd Joseph came from Palestine Unto the sacred isle of Avalon, He brought the awful Sword, Excalibur, And that most precious Thing, the Holy Grail. Long time he lay in Avalon, and they That came with him from looking on the face Of Jesu Christ, did build a little church Where stands the solemn pile of Glastonbury, And daily did the brothers sit at meat Around the Table. One by one the Lord Callèd them to Him, till the latest left, Alone and watching, heard the welcome voice. Yet ere he answered he did give the Sword, The Holy Grail, and this same Table Round, Unto the king from out whose mighty loins Sprang great Pendragon's line. A little while Pendragon guarded well the sacred gift And England waxed in glory. On a day He proved unfaithful, and the Holy Grail Returned to heaven, yet the Sword remained, And eke the Table. Slowly rolled the years Until King Uther's father's father reigned, By whom the Sword was lost. The evil hap Swept darkening over England; pestilence, Famine and battle blasted all the land, Until the king stood in such sorry plight He gave the Table to Cameliard For aid and succour 'gainst the paynim kings. So fell great England's glory, and the shame That scorched her fields burned out the memory Of ancient honour. Glory be to God, That did withhold His wrath, the Sword is come, And now the Table once again returns. The night is broken, and Pendragon's seed Shall reign, Pendragon, on Pendragon's throne. For 'round the Table knights invincible, Seven score and ten, each thronèd in his siege, Shall round a ring that none shall cope withal. Sir Pelleas. And are we chosen? Sir Ector. Are we summoned here To see the founding of the Table Round? Sir Tor. Who names the knights to form this wondrous ring, Who marks the sieges, Merlin? Merlin. God Himself! Whoso shall sit beside the sacred board Gains double prowess by His sovereign grace. But none may claim a siege save only he Whose sword is stainless: who has won renown In joust and tourney: who can bring the proof Of some adventure, knightly, worshipful: And in whose heart the flame of honour burns Untroubled of the breath of any shame. So once again the fame of England soars On beating wings into the farthest height Of earthly majesty. So God He sends Unto King Arthur endless victory, Rimless dominion, and a steadfast crown. No longer England chafes within the curb Of fretting seas, but leaps the narrow flood And wins the world, Pendragon's heritage! (Exit.) Sir Ector. Ye mock us, Merlin! Sir Pelleas. He is gone again And as he came, unmarked of any eye. How think ye, Tor, did Merlin jest with us, Or is this wonder rising to its dawn? Sir Tor. I doubt me nothing, now King Arthur reigns; No marvel balks me. Sir Ector. Hark, what horns are these, Didst hear them? Sir Tor. Aye, look where Duke Lucas comes Forspent with haste. What word? Sir Pelleas. Lord duke, what word? (Enter: Duke Lucas.) Duke Lucas. Good sirs, I come from looking on a thing So passing wonderful I lack the heart To give it forth, for ye will cry me down, And mock me for a madman. Sir Tor. Nay, no whit. We take thy word, for wonders with the sun Rise brightning over England on this day. Sir Pelleas. Hast thou descried a comet in the noon Fighting the sun with greater glory? Sir Ector. Speak, Duke Lucas of the Southfolk, nor defraud Our hungry ears of marvels. Duke Lucas. As I rode, But now to answer to the king, I spied A little army wonderly arrayed, And decked with trappings alien to mine eyes. No banners blew along the morning air, All blank the shields that swung beside the knights, But fashionèd of brass that mocked the sun With emulating fire. For a space I halted, dumb with wonder; moving slow The pageant passed, and in the midst thereof I saw twelve aged men, most reverend And grave of countenance: within each hand A branch of olive spake the peaceful quest, The which assuaged my doubt, and so with spur Unspared I galloped here to Camelot To warn the castle. Sir Ector. Embassy from Rome! So far the fame of England's name has fled. Sir Tor. Call out the knights! Advise the heedless king Of this most gracious advent. (Trumpets without.) Duke Lucas. Follow me! Hark, how the trumpets signal Rome's approach, Make we what show we may. Come on, Sir knights! (Trumpets.) Sir Pelleas. I know that song: the horns of Camelot Give England's greeting to Imperial Rome. Cry royal welcome, knights! Omnes. Hail, Rome! All hail! (Exeunt: leaving Sir Breuse.) Sir Breuse. So, like a mob of silly, gaping boys, The fawning hounds troop off to mouth and stare. I rest me here and watch; I have her word, Queen Morgan's word, that I shall wear the crown That Arthur ravished from the rotting skull Of Uther. Shall I gain it then to-day? Ha, Morgan! (Enter: Morgan le Fay) Morgan. Hail, Sir Breuse saunce Pité How like ye Camelot? Sir Breuse. As bastards love The house forbid them by their father's lust. How else? Morgan. Thou art discourteous of speech. Dost owe me nothing? Sir Breuse. No! Morgan. How now, thou knave? I promise thee the crown. Sir Breuse. And give it not. Morgan. Thou puling child, a crown is hardly won For asking. Sir Breuse. But by taking. Mark the king. Morgan. The king? The crown is topling to its fall From off his vaunting head. Hold thou thy hand And wait on me; when thou dost see it roll A trundling circlet to thy shambling feet, Then grasp it! Thou art king and I am queen. Sir Breuse. And Uriens? Morgan. Falls with Lord Arthur's crown. Sir Breuse. How long must I abide? Morgan. Until the king Has married Guenever, and Launcelot Makes noble horns sprout on the royal head To crowd the crown! Sir Breuse. And on the word he comes. Bid him bestir. (Enter: Sir Launcelot.) Morgan. Hail, Launcelot du Lake, Thou art o'er kind to wait upon the king That lightly triumphs over thee. Sir Breuse. Be sure He'll not attend thee, knight, in gentle wise The night thy triumph falls! Sir Launcelot. Hark ye, Sir Breuse, I am not tempered to abide thy words This day or any when, as slimy snails Defile a rose, they do befoul the name Of Lady Guenever. Look to it, sir. Sir Breuse. Before to-day I've seen a monkish cowl Serve as a cloak for cunning lechery, Nor ducked devotion for the seeing. Sir Launcelot. Peace! Or on the word thou art an unshrived corse. Sir Breuse. By God! I lie no longer in the hail Of ribald railing that King Arthur's Court Holds high in honour! Morgan. Sheathe thine eager sword, Thou testy brawler, lest it cut the cord That binds thee to good hap. Sir Launcelot, Small worship gainest thou of conflict here, But haply misadventure. (Exit Morgan and Sir Breuse.) Sir Launcelot. Go thy ways, Thou mock of chivalry, I kill thee not. (Trumpets. Enter Duke Lucas, Duke Brastias, Sir Tor, Sir Ector, Sir Pelleas, and Knights. With them twelve Ambassadors.) Duke Lucas. Upon the stroke comes now great England's king, Most reverend ambassadors. Be sure He will of his great gentleness be pleased To have Rome's message in his royal hands Before the task that waits him. Stand ye here Beside the throne. Sir Tor. Hark, how the warning call Of brazen-throated trumpets doth proclaim His happy coming. Omnes. Hail to England's king! God save King Arthur! (Enter: King Arthur, with him vassal Kings, Nobles, Knights, and Pages, preceded by Sir Kay. When the King comes before the throne the Ambassadors kneel.) First Ambassador. Hail, most mighty king! Receive our homage, and of royal grace Be pleased to listen to the solemn words Imperial Rome has spoken. King Arthur. Who are ye, Most venerable, that do stay the course Of England's kign upon this blessèd day? We give ye royal greeting. Let it serve Until the high fulfillment of the hour; Then shall we hark with unabated ear Unto our cousin, Rome. Go on, my lords. First Ambassador. Stand, England! for our duty may not wait. King Arthur. How say ye, may not? Yet perforce it must, Since we are prompted not to stay our course For any king in Christendom. Go on. First Ambassador. Bethink thee, England, Rome speaks through our lips, Disworship unto her is sacrilege. King Arthur. We are not wanting in fair courtesy, Nor would we suffer semblance of the lack. So be it, sirs. My lords, we crave your grace The while we wait on these ambassadors. Now sir, speak on. (He ascends the throne.) First Ambassador. The mighty emperor, Lucius, Dictator of the Public Weal And Sovereign of the World, to England's king Sends greeting, and commands him by the laws, The statutes, and decrees that Caesar made, He that did conquer Britain and was crowned First Emperor of Rome, that he shall swear Liege loyalty to him, as they have sworn, His royal predecessors, out of mind. Sir Pelleas. My lords, must we sit silent under this And hear our king missayed by Roman knaves Nor lift a sword in answer? Sir Tor. By the Mass, Thou speakest as a man! My lord, my king, Have done with this! Sir Launcelot. Dismiss the Embassy! Omnes. Down with them! King Arthur. Silence! We are crownèd king, And as a king we listen. Finish, sir. First Ambassador. So runs Rome's high commandment: if ye fail To render homage unto Caesar, fail To pay the truage rightly due to him As sovereign lord of England--- Duke Brastias. Stay thy tongue, Thy life is forfeit if thou sayest more! King Arthur. Peace! Are ye knights, or knaves, that dare defy Our royal will? Say on! First Ambassador. If ye refuse To bind yourself in vassalage to Rome, He will forthwith wage such unkindly war Against your realm, that to the end of time Ye shall remain a warning to the world Of that most fearsome chastisement that falls On such as do deny him. We are done. Sir Pelleas. Knights, rally to the king! Duke Brastias. Hell seize the churls! Duke Lucas. By all the saints of God, we'll prove our king The peer of any Roman! Sir Pelleas. Draw your swords! King Arthur. Here to me, spearmen! guard them with your lives Or yours shall pay the forfeit. Hear me speak! Am I a king of men, or lawless wolves, That ye shall dare assail ambassadors With olives in their hands? Strike back your swords! Sir Launcelot. They mocked your majesty! Sir Pelleas. They did defile The honour of our kingdom! King Arthur. What of that? We are no wanton, jealous of a name That bears scant questioning, but England's king, Raised on an eminence of such estate That words are gadflies waging silly war Against a mighty mountain. We will give Such answer unto Rome as does befit Our crown and England. Lord ambassadors, Ye shall return unscathed unto your king, "Lucius, Dictator of the Public Weal And Sovereign of the World." From England's king Bear ye our greeting; say, "Thus England spake." The great Round Table of Pendragon's House Is 'stablishèd to-day. An hundred knights And fifty, stainless, ignorant of fear, Shall form a circle none may cope withal. To-morrow we will wed with Guenever; Upon the day thereafter we shall go, With raging armies that shall shake the earth, To take possession of Imperial Rome, Whereof we are the king and overlord. To them that do confess us emperor We grant abundant pardon, but to him That doth usurp our throne, and unto them That dare deny our lordship we shall mete Such chastisement as doth befit their case. The audience is ended. Omnes. On to Rome! God save King Arthur! Lead us on to Rome! Curtain. SCENE II. Camelot. The shore of the Magic Mere, Sunset. Sir Breuse: enter to him, Morgan le Fay.) Morgan. Small space have I for greetings, good Sir Breuse, But all falls bravely in tall Camelot And deep disorder reigns in Arthur's Court, For Guenever is gone! Sir Breuse. Whose hand is here? I thought ye playèd pander to the king. Morgan. The which shall follow lightly: for the nonce Wise Merlin aids us, for with potent spells He has engulfed the girl that would be queen In some profound abyss of mystery Beyond the king's control. Sir Breuse. What follows? Morgan. War! Rude war betwixt the king and Merlin. Sir Breuse. Ha! I see thine import, Morgan. Morgan. All is well; We need not vex us touching Guenever, Our work lies close at hand. The king is wroth, And deep dissension gets betwixt the twain That let us from the throne. Sir Launcelot Sits in his haughty seige amid the knights Of that Round Table that shall guard the king. I see the issue of that royal whim; Red war is out against Imperial Rome, The while along the borders of the realm Impatient kings are fretting at their chains, And black confusion like a thunder cloud Creeps to the zenith. Sir Breuse. Have we nought to do? Or may we sit and babble of the day When I am king? Morgan. I do not deal in words, I act. Sir Breuse. Then lightly to thy labour. Morgan. Aye, The while ye idly fondle dreams of state When I have crowned ye. Sir Breuse. Curse thine idle tongue! What would ye have me do? Morgan. Avoid my sight That I may act alone. Stay! seek the Court And bring me word of Merlin and the king. Sir Breuse. A gentle errand! Morgan. For a gentle knight. Farewell, Sir Breuse. (Exit Sir Breuse.) Now I have ample swing; Come forth, my sword! Hola, brave Nimue! (Enter from the Mere: Nimue.) Nimue. Unhorsed, but in the lists. Grant me a quest, And I will lift mine honour from the deep Where Merlin hurled it. Morgan. Cope with him again With better fortune: now another task Of gentler savour have I for thy hand. Anon King Arthur walks beside the Mere, If thou didst whisper in his hungry ear The thing I bade thee. Nimue. "King, the spell dissolves At sunset, by the Magic Mere, to-night!" Morgan. Where ye shall soon encounter with him. See! How like a jaded warrior the sun Stands halting on the world's empurpled shore Before he plunges in the sea of night; The tide is at the flood and Arthur comes. Entreat him worshipfully; give him pause, Until I ring him with a magic sleep: Then sink with him a thousand fathoms down The where I wait thee. Nimue. Hush, I hear the fall Of eager feet. Morgan. And on the word I go. (Exit Morgan.) Nimue. And I will crouch me for a splendid spring. This hunting likes me well: come, little king! (Enter: King Arthur.) King Arthur. "At sunset by the Magic Mere to-night The spell dissolves." So breathed a passing voice, And I, a king, perforce must walk alone Beside a cursèd lake, and wait on chance To give me that is mine. And Merlin--hell Would lightly cast him forth an' he were dead, Therefore he lives, and cloaks him with a cloud Of black, impenetrable sorcery, As he has shrouded Guenever--By God! I'll burn him for high treason if he crawls Once more within my grasp.--And Guenever! I cannot see her, yet the sun is gone, And noisome pestilence is lifting white Above the Mere. Who played this sorry jest Upon me for my shame? What whitened there? Was it a ghostly creature from the lake Or was it Guenever? Nimue. Most noble king, I know thine errand, and I pledge my faith Thou shalt achieve. King Arthur. What do ye, lady fair, So far from Camelot? Nimue. The king's behest, And my devoir unto his majesty. Mistrust me not; I would befriend thee, sir, And to that end I spake. King Arthur. It was from thee I gained the warning? Nimue. Aye, "The spell dissolves To-night, at sunset, by the Magic Mere." King Arthur. And Guenever? Nimue. Shall lie within thy hand Despite Sir Merlin, ere the twilight goes And darkness gathers. King Arthur. What is this to thee, That thou shouldst play the part of mine ally? Nimue. Am I not subject unto England's crown In equal measure with the watchful knights? And shall I turn aside when treachery Slides serpent-wise to sting thee? King Arthur. What is hid Behind the arras of thy woven words? Nimue. Swift warning! King Arthur. Give it voice. Nimue. The sorcerer; Endure him not lest thou shouldst see the crown Reft from thee like thy mistress. King Arthur. What of her? I hold a sword that well defends a crown, Yet is it helpless here. Speak lightly, girl, If thou know'st ought of Guenever. Nimue. My lord, My honour on her coming. Of thy grace I pray thee sit, and school thine eagerness Until the stroke when Merlin's magic fails And Guenever is free. King Arthur. What art thou, then? How cam'st thou by this knowledge? By the Mass I do misdoubt thee. Nimue. And thou dost me hurt By thinking malice of my championship: Nathless I will content thee. Guenever Fled all distraught with dole from Camelot, For that old Merlin sought to weave a spell About her that should lift a wall of brass Forever 'twixt her and the world of men. (Soft music: the mist from the lake deepens.) I found her crouching in the reedy sedge And baffled Merlin, for I won a charm Most potent, from the Lady of the Lake Long since, for service, and he saw her not. (The Lake Girls rise silently above the Mere; they come softly forward and dance around the King and Nimue.) Within a mystic land of drifting dreams, A realm of faery, ringed with summer seas, She lieth, sleeping, 'til the long kiss frees Her veilèd eyes of slumber. Level beams Of sultry sunlight linger drowsily Around her bed of roses, faint with love. Give me thy hand, and thou shalt bend above To breathe her name, and she shall wake to thee. (The mist has deepened until all is obscured. It flushes rose colour and slowly dissolves.) SCENE III. Beneath the Magic Mere. A hall of the enchanted castle. Morgan le Fay in the guise of Guenever is seated on a splendid throne. King Arthur lies at her feet, his head on her knees. Lake Girls are dancing softly in a ring about the throne.) Morgan. O thou that art the king of earthly kings, The flower of chivalry and my true love, Come from the misty land of dreams. Awake! Unclose thine eyes and look upon my face, Dost thou not know me? King Arthur. Guenever! Morgan. My king, And worshipfullest lord of all my life, I love thee. King Arthur. Say that word again! Dear God, I know not if I sleep, or by the spell Of sorcery am prisoned in a dream. Oh, let me wake no more, whiche'er it is, But lie forever in thy circling arms. I love thee, Guenever! Morgan. With all my soul, With all my body, and with all my life I do thee worship, Arthur. King Arthur. Bend thy face Close, close above me. Let me drink the wine Of passion from the chalice of thy lips 'Til I am drunk with love! O Guenever, Let me but love thee while the sliding sands Tell one short hour of night, and I will die Content with life. Morgan. Not one, but endless hours Reach on before us like a golden dream. Time knocks not on the gates of Love's demesne Where I have brought thee. Very far away The world of men lies cold and desolate, Unwitting of us and of us forgot. This is the Land of Love, where I am queen; Wilt thou be king? King Arthur. Throned in thy closing arms I ask one only boon; to cast away My earthly kingship. Morgan. See, they open wide To clasp thee close. King Arthur. Oh, take me to thy heart, And let me feel thy body grow to mine Until one fierce, incarnate love is all, And life melts into death. Morgan. Not yet, not yet! Bethink thee of the price thou needs must pay. Wilt thou renounce thy crown for very love, Forsake the knightly quest, the shock of war, Thy royal House and England? King Arthur. On my knees I swear to cast them, Guenever, away, Nor ask them ever, for the love of thee. Morgan. Now do I know in sooth thou lov'st me well, And for thy paltry kingdom cast aside, I give thee, love, another kingdom, meet For such as thou, the Land of Living Love, Where we will lie forever, lapped in dreams And lost to all the world. King Arthur. To all the world! Farewell, my futile visions of estate, My royal crown, my swift and savage Sword; Farewell, proud Merlin, baffled of thy goal And blind with arrogance, cast down to hell The while I reign in heaven, crownèd king Of love and Guenever! Morgan. Give me thy Sword, That I may cherish it, and in the flame Of blazing jewels burning on the hilt See perfect proving of thy perfect love, For with the Sword goes England. King Arthur. Take the toy That is the badge of vassalage to man. And give me aid to cast this harness off, I need it not. (The Lake Girls remove his armour: Morgan takes Excalibur and lifts it high in the air.) Morgan. Now swear upon thy Sword, And by the faith of thy true body swear That thou wilt bear liege love and loyalty Forever unto me and to my land. King Arthur. Upon my Sword, and by the blameless faith Of this my body, Guenever, I swear I will do no disworship unto thee, But yield unending love and service. Morgan. Come! (The mist closes.) SCENE IV. The shore of the Magic Mere: all is hidden in pale mist that slowly melts away. Merlin is standing beside Arthur, who is lying upon the ground without his armour or Sword. Moonlight. King Arthur. Where art thou, Guenever? The moving mist Came close betwixt us and I saw thee not. Give me thy lips and lift me to thy heart: Where art thou, Guenever? Merlin. Where is thy Sword? King Arthur. What vision mocks me from the barren world I lightly cast away? Begone, gray ghost, Nor vex me with thy face! Merlin. Where is thy Sword? King Arthur. Who sent thee hither to the Land of Love, Thou baleful portent? That thou hast the garb And hungry visage of the sorcerer, Gray Merlin, I confess. Merlin. Where is thy Sword? King Arthur. I gave it, starling-tongue, to Guenever In pledge of love, as I would give the world An' I possessed it. As I gave my crown, My kingdom, all! Merlin. Thou silly, babbling fool, Look 'round; dost know this place, and dost thou see The Lady Guenever? King Arthur. Speak, sorcerer! Hast thou through black enchantment reft her hence? What hast thou done with Guenever? By God, An' thou hast harmed her, I will gnaw thy heart Before thine eyes! Merlin. Oh, what a thing is man, When he has cast away the flimsy guise The world bestows to veil his nakedness. And I must work with such unhandy tools As these to carve a kingdom. King Arthur. Wil't thou speak? Or must I cut the truth from out thy maw: Where is my lady? Merlin. Hid in Camelot. Nor has she moved therefrom since I upreared A mist betwixt ye that ye may not pass. King Arthur. Thou liest, Merlin, for I lay but now Upon her breast, within the Magic Mere. Whence thou didst draw me by malignant spells To make me serve thee. Merlin. Since thou didst fall on sleep Thou hast not seen the Lady Guenever, But thou hast wantoned with a damnèd witch Beneath the waters of the lake of hell, And for an hour of lechery hast sold Thy maidenhood and lost Excalibur. King Arthur. I hear thy words, but as the senseless din Of summer thunder. Merlin. Thou shalt understand Their heavy import shortly. Mark me well: Such futile treason was not since the day When Judas sold Christ Jesu. Thou art he That bartered England for an harlot's kiss. My weary eyes, that scarce can mark the course Upon the dial of the shadow's path, Saw through the weltering waters of the Mere Down to the murky depths. I saw thee crawl A wanton suppliant at a witch's feet; I saw thee hang upon her mocking lips And sell the Sword I bravèd hell to win. King Arthur. O Merlin, I am as a troubled child That awakes from noisome dreams. I cannot see, I know not what I say. Give me thy hand And gentle pardon for unknightly words, Read me the cursèd riddle! Merlin. Endless years Have I wrought patiently to save this land. The curse was lifted, and I crowned thee king And gave thee that which should have made thee lord Of such a kingdom as were fit for God. Against thee hurtled all the craft of hell To gain Excalibur, and thou didst prove A faithful warder; traitor to thy name And knightly lineage. The Sword is gone. King Arthur. Merlin, I love her as I love my God; 'Twas Guenever! Merlin. 'Twas Morgan, hight le Fay, Thy sister. King Arthur. Jesu, mercy! (He falls upon his face.) Merlin. For thy sin, For thine unholy incest, cry to God For pardon. Thou shalt pay the penalty With thine own blood, and I may save thee not Although I love thee as an only son. A little time is left us ere the doom Falls on thee. Swear to do my will And we may baffle Morgan, save the State, And render it into the hand of God. Swear me, King Arthur, and I win the Sword. King Arthur. Blast me, Lord God, with lightning, for my sin, Else will I tear mine eyes from out my face And sink my body in the cursèd Mere! Merlin. Rend not thy body, Arthur, rend thy soul; For that thou art a perjured, bawdy knave, Foul with dishonour; yet I know indeed That thing must lie with God. I deal with thee As King of England, I may give no heed Unto thy soul but only to thy Sword, The which I will achieve if thou wilt swear. King Arthur. What shall I do to gain Excalibur? Merlin. Wilt thou be sworn? King Arthur. Yea, Merlin, I will swear. Merlin. Renounce thou by thy knighthood love and lust; Swear by Christ Jesu's wounds that thou wilt live A spotless knight, and I will win the Sword. King Arthur. I cannot, Merlin. Merlin. What, thou wilt not swear? King Arthur. I cannot, Merlin. Lust I fling away, And, by God's grace, I keep myself from sin If He will help me. Love I hold mine own; For I have sworn an oath to Guenever And I will keep it if I lose the crown. Merlin. Bethink thee, king, for England hangs on this; Excalibur is gone. Ambassadors But lately come from out disdainful Rome Already are returning to their king That threats thee with invasion. Grimly war Shall compass England with a ring of death Advancing dauntlessly upon thy throne Where thou art shrinking in a woman's arms. What shall they profit thee if thou art bare Of thy most sure defence, Excalibur? King Arthur. Forsake thy vision, Merlin: let me go And hide me in the refuge of my love. I am not of such metal as a king Is fashionèd, and I shall fail thee sore If thou dost wield me. Give me Guenever, And let me sink in dim forgetfulness The while thou find'st a weapon to thy mind. I may not serve thee. Merlin. Yet perforce thou shalt; I know thy temper and it suits me well, Despite thy softness. None may save this land And bring the kingdom of the living God Upon this earth, but only thou thyself. Deny thy destiny and hell prevails, The night descends, and man shall grope in vain Through murky shadows for the hand of God, Nor find it ever. Seize the Sword and reign! So shall thy name be blazoned on the page Of God's great chronicle of blessèd saints That do His service for His people's sake. King Arthur. Give back my lady and I do thy will; Yea, Merlin, even to the uttermost And latest, lingering drop of mine own blood; Deny me, and I give thee back the crown. Merlin. What profits me my wisdom when I wage Uneven warfare 'gainst hot-headed love That weighs a beating heart against the world? Needs must I meet thy humour. Hear me, boy; The rune is written. "Now Pendragon's seed Shall slay Pendragon for Pendragon's lust." Read thou the import. Yet a little while And Morgan bears a child within whose veins Runs, dark and turbid, great Pendragon's blood. By him thou diest, king! King Arthur. And in this wise, For mine own wanton act, the doom shall fall. So be it, Merlin. Ye have space to act And I to do thy bidding, ere the wrath Of God is on me. Give me Guenever, And when I go the crown shall fall again Unto Pendragon's seed. (A long pause.) Merlin. Yea, that is well. And in despite of destiny I yield Unto thine inclination. King Arthur. Pledge thy word, Thine honour, and thine oath to give me her That I do love, the Lady Guenever, To make her queen. Merlin. That thing I soothly do, Wilt thou be sworn? King Arthur. Yea, Merlin, I will swear. Merlin. Then, by God's wounds and by thy body's faith, Swear to forsake all lust forevermore, But live unstainèd and devoid of sin. King Arthur. By Jesu's Blood and by the faith I owe Unto my knighthood I do swear the oath. Merlin. Come thou with me, the day is not yet lost Though perilled grievously, for nevermore May I compel the false and paynim witch To render up Excalibur. Be true Upon thine oath; we may save England yet, Though hardly. (He leads Arthur to the brink of the Mere.) Stand thou by me while I call Upon the loathly witch to hear my voice, And by the power of the awful spell That by God's grace I weave around here, yield The Sword of Joseph to thy waiting hand. Art ready, boy? King Arthur. Here stand I, Merlin: speak! Merlin. When thou dost see an arm from out the Mere, Robed in white samite, lift above the flood, Grasp thou the proffered hilt. King Arthur. I will obey. Merlin. Morgan le Fay, by grace of Him that lives Lord God of Heaven and Earth, and by the spell So awful and so potent, of the king Great Solomon of Israel, obey! Around the Magic Mere I weave the rune That locks thee helpless in an iron ring. From thy duresse thou may'st not win away, Thou lewd and miscreant fayter, without scathe Unless ye render ransom. Yield the Sword That with mal-engine thou didst win away. Yield thou the Sword! (A sound of wailing rises from the lake.) Must I then ask again? I give thee warning, lightly yield the Sword, For if thou haltest till the lifting moon Mounts skyward by the breadth of half a hand I'll damn thee down to hell! (Clouds obscure the moon and a fierce wind rushes across the lake. The wailing increases to a shriek.) Yield thou the Sword! Dost think to fright me with the stour of storm, And let me my quest with futile din? Thou art assotted, Morgan. Yield the Sword! (The storm bursts with a tempest of thunder and lighting) Ha, ha! ye fight with weapons weak with rust! Howl, tempests, 'til ye blast the shrinking earth; Blaze, all ye lightnings, split the sky in shards And hurl the reeling stars in torrents down, Ye cannot move me from a mighty quest. I bandy words no longer. Yield the Sword Before my heart beats thrice within my breast Or thou art damned! Yield thou Excalibur! (A pale, greenish light rises and illuminates the surface of the lake. Within Arthur's reach an arm arises, brilliantly lighted, holding Excalibur. He seizes it and brandishes it in the glare of lightning. The light vanishes and the moon bursts through the clouds. ) Angelic Voices. Hail, Pendragon! Lord of the Sword. Crownèd of England saviour and king. Arise! O thou servant of God, for the dawn burgeons white on the world and the Lord Christ has armed thee to-day. The Sword is won. and hell in confounded! Back from England cowers the curse. The Sword Excalibur comes, follows fast the Kingdom of God that He will raise at thy hands. The Table Round He has established, so art thou warded with knighthood anointed by God with the unction of blessing. Go forth on the Quest for the crowning high symbol of God in His world. The Holy Grail reft from the holding of man in his pride of will and of wisdom awaits the winning of them that acknowledge the Wisdom of God nor exalt themselves over His Will. The Holy Grail the Sword and the Table fix the foundation of God's Holy City. Guard thou Pendragon's inheritance Build thou the City of God. Curtain.
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