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Authors: Rosemary Sutcliff

The King Arthur Trilogy

BOOK: The King Arthur Trilogy
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About the Author

Also by Rosemary Sutcliff

Title Page

PART ONE The Sword and the Circle

1. The Coming of Arthur

2. The Sword in the Stone

3. The Sword from the Lake

4. The Round Table

5. The Ship, the Mantle and the Hawthorn Tree

6. Sir Lancelot of the Lake

7. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

8. Beaumains, the Kitchen Knight

9. Lancelot and Elaine

10. Tristan and Iseult

11. Geraint and Enid

12. Gawain and the Loathely Lady

13. The Coming of Percival

PART TWO The Light Beyond the Forest

1. The New-Made Knight

2. The Thunder and the Sunbeam

3. The Shield of King Mordrain

4. Sir Lancelot Fails His Testing

5. Sir Percival: Kings and Demons

6. Sir Bors Fights for a Lady

7. Sir Gawain Sees a Vision and Slays a Friend

8. A Hair Shirt and an Uphill Road

9. Sir Bors Makes a Hard Choice

10. The Ship and the Sword

11. Death of a Maiden

12. Sir Lancelot Comes to Corbenic

13. The Loosing of the Waters

14. The Grail

PART THREE The Road to Camlann

1. The Darkness Beyond the Door

2. The Poisoned Apple

3. Guenever Rides A’Maying

4. The Queen’s Chamber

5. Two Castles

6. The Usurper

7. The Last Battle

8. Avalon of the Apple Trees

The King Arthur Trilogy
: The Backstory


About the Author

Rosemary Sutcliff was born in a blizzard on 14 December 1920. She wrote many children’s books, especially historical fiction and retellings of myths and legends. However she didn’t start writing until the age of 30, barely went to school and only learnt to read properly at the age of nine!

Rosemary’s childhood was highly unusual, she contracted an illness early on in her childhood which left her wheelchair bound and disrupted her schooling. Her father was a naval officer so Rosemary’s childhood was very nomadic, moving frequently from port to port. She was mostly home schooled and developed a love of myth and legend from her mother who was a wonderful storyteller.

She left school at 14 to study miniature painting at Bideford Art School and was 18 when the Second World War broke out. It was during the war that Rosemary first felt the ‘itch’ to write, but her first published novel
The Chronicles of Robin Hood
was only published in 1950.

Although her career as a writer started relatively late in her life, she went on to achieve widespread fame and a large and devoted readership, writing over 50 books and changing the way history was written for children. She was awarded an OBE for services to children’s literature in 1975 and a CBE in 1992. She continued to write all her life – she was even writing on the morning of her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff was a keen believer that books should not patronise children or over-simplify the story. She once commented that she wrote ‘for children of all ages from eight to eighty-eight.’


Beowulf: Dragonslayer

The Capricorn Bracelet

The Hound of Ulster

Sword Song

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
The Coming of Arthur

years after Rome was gone from Britain, Vortigern of the narrow eyes and the thin red beard came down from the mountains of Wales, and by treachery slew Constantine of the old royal house and seized the High Kingship of Britain in his place.

But his blood-smirched kingship was little joy to him, for his realm was beset by the wild hordes of Picts and Scots pouring down from the North, and the Saxons, the Sea Wolves, harrying the eastern and southern shores. And he was not a strong man, as Constantine had been, to hold them back.

At last, not knowing what else to do, he sent for two Saxon warchiefs, Hengest and Horsa, and gave them land and gold to bring over their fighting men and drive back the Picts and the Scots and their own sea-raiding brothers. And that was the worst of all things in the
world that he could have done. For Hengest and Horsa saw that the land was rich; and at home in Denmark and Germany there were many younger sons, and not enough land nor rich enough harvests to feed them all; and after that Britain was never free of the Saxon-kind again.

They pushed further and further in from the coasts, sacking the towns and laying waste the country through which they passed, harrying the people as wolves harry the sheep in a famine winter; and many a farmer died on his own threshold and many a priest before his altar, and ever the wind carried the smell of burning where the Saxons went by.

Then, seeing what he had done, Vortigern drew back into the dark fastnesses of Wales and summoned his wise men, his seers and wonder-workers and begged them tell him what he should do.

‘Build yourself a mighty tower and lie close in it. There is nothing else left to you,’ said the foremost of the seers.

So Vortigern sent out men skilled in such matters to find the best place for building such a stronghold, and when he had listened to their reports, his choice fell upon Eriri, the Place of the Eagles, high in the mountains of Gwynedd. And there he gathered together workmen from the North and the South and the East and the West, and bade them build him a tower stronger than
any tower that ever had stood in Britain before then. The men set to work, cutting great blocks of stone from quarries in the hillsides; and the straining teams of men and horses dragged them up to the chosen place. And there, on the cloudy crest of Eriri, they began to set the mighty foundations that should carry such a stronghold as had never been seen in Britain until that time.

But then came a strange thing. Every morning when they went to start work, they found the stones that they had raised and set in place the day before cast down and scattered all abroad. And day by day it was the same, so that the stronghold on the Place of the Eagles never grew beyond its first day’s building.

Then Vortigern sent again for his seers and magicians and demanded to know the cause of the thing, and what they should do about it.

And the seers and magicians looked into the stars by night and the Seeing-Bowl of black oak-water by day, and said, ‘Lord King, there is need of a sacrifice.’

‘Then bring a black goat,’ said Vortigern.

‘A black goat will not serve.’

‘A white stallion, then.’

‘Nor a white stallion.’

‘A man?’

‘Not even a man who is as other men.’

‘What, then, in the Devil’s name?’ shouted the High King, and flung down the wine-cup that was in his hand,
so that the wine spattered like blood into the moorland heather.

And the chief of the wise men looked at the stain of it, and smiled. ‘Let you seek out a youth who never had a mortal father, and cause him to be slain in the old way, the sacred way, and his blood sprinkled upon the stones, and so you shall have a sure foundation for your stronghold.’

So Vortigern sent out his messengers to seek for such a youth. And after long searching they came to the city of Caermerddyn; and in that city they found a youth whose mother was a princess of Demetia, but whose father no man knew. The princess had long since entered a nunnery, but before that, when she was young, she had been visited, as though in a dream, by one of those who the Christian folk call fallen angels, fair and fiery, and lost between Heaven and Earth. And of his coming to her, she had borne a son and called him Merlin.

All this she told freely to the High King’s messengers when they asked her, thinking no harm. But when they had heard all that she told, they seized the boy Merlin and brought him to Vortigern in the fine timber hall that he had caused to be set up in the safety of the mountains hard by Eriri. And Vortigern sat in his great seat spread with finely dressed wolf-skins and cloth of crimson and purple, and pulled at his meagre beard and looked at the boy through the smoke tendrils of the hearth fire. And
the boy stood before him, lean and whippy as a hazel wand, with dark hair like the ruffled feathers of a hawk, and stared back at him out of eyes that were yellow as a hawk, also, and demanded, as a man demanding of an equal, to know why he had been brought there.

The High King was not used to being spoken to in that tone, and in his surprise he told Merlin what he asked, instead of merely ordering him to be killed at once.

And the boy listened; and when it was told, he said, ‘And so my blood is to be shed that your tower may stand. It is a fine story that your magicians have told you, my Lord King, but there is no truth in it.’

‘As to that,’ said Vortigern, ‘the matter is easily put to the proof.’

‘By scattering my blood upon the stones of your stronghold? Nay now, do you send for your magicians, and bid them stand before me, and easily enough I will prove them liars.’

Vortigern tugged at his beard and his narrow eyes grew narrower yet. But in the end he sent for his wise men, and they came and stood before the boy Merlin.

And Merlin looked them over from one to another, and said, ‘The Sight and the Power have grown weak in you and your like in the long years since the passing of the true Druid kind. Therefore, because you are darkened to the truth, you have told the King that my blood shed upon these stones shall make his tower stand.
But I tell you that it is not the need for my blood that causes his stones to fall, but some strange happening beneath the ground which every night engulfs the work of the day. Let you tell me then in your wisdom, what thing that is!’

The magicians were silent, for their powers had indeed grown dim.

Then Merlin turned from them to Vortigern. ‘My Lord the High King, let your men dig beneath the foundations until they come to the deep pool that they will find there.’

So the King gave his orders and the men set to work, and in a while they broke in through the roof of a vast cave; and all the floor of the cave was one deep, dark pool, from the depth of which slow bubbles rose to the surface as though some great creature lay asleep and breathing deeply far below.

Then Merlin turned to Vortigern who had come from his hall to look on, and to his magicians behind him, and said, ‘Tell me, oh workers of wonders and walkers in secret ways, what lies at the bottom of this pool?’

And again they could not answer.

And Merlin said to the King, ‘My Lord Vortigern, now let you give orders that this pool be drained, for at the bottom of it you shall find two dragons lying asleep.’

And when the pool was drained, there, far down among the rocks, lay the two dragons, sleeping; and one
of them was white as frost and the other was red as fire. And the King and all those who stood about the pool were struck with amazement. But the magicians had slipped away.

BOOK: The King Arthur Trilogy
8.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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