A FTER Arthur had been established in his Court for some time, his neighbor, Leodogran, the king of Cameliard asked him for help in a battle. To this Arthur cheerfully consented, and gathered his warrior men about him.
It chanced, as he and his men were marching past the castle of Leodogran to meet the enemy, the king's daughter, Guinevere, who was the most beautiful lady in all that land, stood on the castle wall to watch her father's allies pass. Now she did not know, of all the knights who rode by, which was Arthur. Many wore gold and jewels on their armor, while the king's armor was plain.
But Arthur saw her bending over the wall. She was slender and graceful; her black hair fell in two long heavy braids over each shoulder; her eyes were large and black. And Arthur felt a warm love spring from his heart for her, and said to himself:
"If I win this battle for Leodogran, I shall ask him to give me the princess Guinevere for wife."
His love for Guinevere made him fight even more bravely than usual, and he soon won the battle. After he had returned to Camelot, he told his knights that he wished to marry the princess. They were very glad, because they, too, had seen her and thought her the most beautiful lady they had ever beheld.
Then Arthur said:
"I will send my three good knights, Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias and Sir Bedivere, to King Leodogran to ask for Guinevere."
The three knights set forth gaily, feeling certain that King Leodogran would be glad to marry his daughter to their great Arthur. When, however, they came to the castle of Leodogran with their request, the king hesitated. He bade them wait for a little while in the room adjoining his large hall. Then he said to himself:
"Arthur has helped me, indeed. I know, too, that he is powerful. But I hear strange stories of his birth. There are people who say that he is not a king's son. However great he is, I cannot give him my only daughter unless he is really a true king, born of royal blood."
He called the oldest knight in his kingdom and said to him:
"Do you know anything about Arthur's birth?"
The old man looked very wise and said:
"There are two men who do know; the younger of them is twice as old as I am. They are Merlin, and Bleys, the master of Merlin. Bleys has written down the secret of Arthur's birth in a book."
Then King Leodogran laughed a little and said:
"My friend, your words have not helped me much. If Arthur had not helped me in my time of need more than you have helped me now, I should have been lost indeed. Go and call Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias and Sir Bedivere."
So the old man brought in the three knights, and Leodogran said to them:
"I hear strange tales of your king's birth. Some say that he is indeed the son of the late King Uther, but others say that he is the son of Sir Hector. Do you believe that he is Uther's son?"
They said "Yes," and then told King Leodogran that Sir Hector had brought up King Arthur as his son, for fear that those who wanted the throne would kill the child; and that Arthur was undoubtedly Uther's son.
Still King Leodogran could not make up his mind. He bade the three lords remain with him for a few days.
Meanwhile the beautiful Queen Bellicent came to the Court, and Leodogran asked her advice.
"Do you think Arthur is a great king?" he asked. "Will he always be great?"
"He is very great," said the queen. "And all his people love him. Perhaps he has not many lords, but their deep love makes up for their small number."
"That may be true," replied the king.
"Besides that," added the queen, "they are good men. As you know, the Knights of the Round Table are bound by vows to be kind and true and merciful and helpful."
"I have heard it," said the king.
"Moreover," went on Queen Bellicent, "Arthur has powerful friends: Merlin, the magician, and the Lady of the Lake, who gave him his sword Excalibur, and the three fair queens, who will help him when he needs help most."
"Yes, yes," said King Leodogran, "if all this is true, Arthur must prevail over his enemies. But is he the son of King Uther and Queen Yguerne? You are the daughter of Queen Yguerne by an earlier marriage, and, therefore, Arthur's half sister if Arthur is really Uther's son. You ought surely to know the truth."
Bellicent waited a little while, and then said:
"King Leodogran, I do not know what the truth is. There are two stories: the story Merlin tells and the story Bleys tells. Merlin says that Arthur is Uther's son, and indeed I should like to believe it."
"But you are not sure?" asked the king.
"I am not sure. For my mother Yguerne was dark, and King Uther was dark. Their hair and eyes were black like mine. Yet Arthur's hair is as bright as gold. Besides, there is the story of old Bleys."
"What is his story?"
"He says that Uther died, weeping because he had no heir. Then Bleys and Merlin, who were present at his death, passed together out of the castle. It was a stormy night, and as they walked along by the lake they were forced by the roar of the tempest to look out upon the waves, whipped by the wind.
"Suddenly they saw a ship on the water. It had the shape of a winged dragon. All over its decks stood a multitude of people shining like gold. Then the ship vanished, and a number of great waves began to roll in towards shore. The ninth of these waves seemed as large as half the sea. It was murmuring with strange voices and rippling with flames. In the midst of the flames was a little fair-haired baby who was borne to Merlin's feet. Merlin stooped and picked it up, and cried, 'The King! Here is an heir for Uther!' This, King Leodogran, is the story Bleys told me before he died."
King Leodogran wondered very much. Then he said:
"But did you not question Merlin about this?"
"Yes," answered Queen Bellicent. "I asked him if this story of Bleys was true. He would only answer me with a riddle."
As King Leodogran was still silent, she said:
"Do not fear to give your daughter to Arthur, for he will be the greatest king the world has ever seen."
Leodogran felt less doubtful. While he was thinking, he fell asleep and had a dream. He saw in his dream a field covered with mist and smoke, and a phantom king standing in the cloud. He heard a voice which said, "This is not our king; This is not the son of Uther." But suddenly the mist disappeared and the king stood out in heaven, crowned.
King Leodogran took this dream for a good sign. He called the three knights, Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias and Sir Bedivere, and said to them;
"Say to your king that I will give him Guinevere for his wife."
So the three hastily returned to King Arthur, who was overjoyed with their message.
In the month of May he sent Sir Lancelot, the son of King Ban, for Guinevere. When she came, the Archbishop of Canterbury married them. And he blessed them and said that they, with the help of the Knights of the Round Table, must do much good for the land.