The Quest for King Arthur: David Day: 9781899883028: Amazon.com: Books
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle Reading App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.
DAVID DAY is the author of the best-selling A Tolkien Bestiary, Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia, The Hobbit Companion and Tolkien's World; as well as Castles and Gothic(both also illustrated by Alan Lee). Dayhas always been fascinated by the legends and myths of all nations – and particularly those that relate to the Arthurian tradition. As such, hewas commissioned as dramaturg for the Royal Birmingham Ballet’s millennium ballets: Arthur I and Arthur II. David Day has also published more than thirty other books in the fields of ecology, poetry, natural history, fantasy and mythology as well as a number of award-winning children's books.
ALAN LEE was born in Middlesex in 1947. He attended the Ealing School of Art, specializing in illustration, and has illustrated a wide range of books, including Faeries, The Mabinogion, Castles, Merlin Dreams,Black Ships Before Troy. He is also the creator of the hugely successful and extremely beautiful illustrated editions of The Lord of the Ringsand The Hobbit. Alan Lee was awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal for Children’s Book Illustration in 1993. In 2004 he won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction for his work onLord of the Rings trilogy, and in 2010 began work on The Hobbit trilogy.
TERRY JONES is most famous as a member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, however, he is also a celebrated screenwriter, actor, director, comedian, author, political commentator and television host. As a medievalist and Chaucer scholar, as well as the screenwriter and director of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Terry Jones has had a special interest in Arthurian history and myth.
THE QUEST FOR KING ARTHUR
To Daniel Spence and Aisling Magill
The contents page, websites and page reference are hyperlinked throughout this edition.
First published as an eBook in 2012 by DavidDayBooks
No part of this work may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior permission of the Publishers.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
For a historical figure, King Arthur seems remarkably fictional; yet for a fictional character he has had an extraordinary impact on the history of Britain.
David Day’s fabulous book about King Arthur disentangles the fiction from the history. I say “fabulous” because that is exactly what it is – it takes a tapestry of fables, sorts out the threads of truth and weaves them together into a vivid new picture.
When we were writing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I remember being baffled in my attempts to pin down King Arthur into a single story that we could use as a basis for our film. Each account of him seemed to contradict another and the more I read the more confused I found myself. I wish David Day’s book had been available then. Not only would it have put King Arthur into his historical perspective, but it would have also provided some hilarious material: like most history, much of King Arthur’s story would fit easily into a Monty Python script. For example, it seems that there were two historical Arthurs and two Merlins and none of them knew each other. And although they are heroes of Anglo Saxon and Norman England, most of them were actually Welsh-speaking Romanized Celts who lived in the lowlands of Scotland. What is more, none of them were really kings or wizards. Confused? Read on!
In the magical world of King Arthur, nothing is what it seems and everything transmutes into something else. Bits of Gawain turn up in a new incarnation as Lancelot. Arthur’s own character as an implacable warrior undergoes a sea-change at the hands of French love-song lyricists, and the Lady of the Lake turns out to originate in a tribe of Greek lake nymphs. Even once perfectly respectable ladies like Morgan Le Fay and Guinevere metamorphize into a wicket fairy and a scheming harlot at the hands of a group of misogynistic twelfth-century monks, who seriously debated whether or not women had souls!
The first full account of King Arthur’s life and times is found in The History of the Kings of Britain, written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1136. This “bizarre combination of fact and fiction that has and will forever inspire, baffle and enrage it readers” has nonetheless according to David Day, “proved to be one of the most influential books in the whole of European history”. Its account of King Arthur’s life has been manipulated by almost every British sovereign to prove his or her right to rule, and it was used as the factual and legal basis for five centuries of war between France and Britain. Python has had no monopoly of the absurd.
Ever since Malory’s Morte d’Arthur was published in 1485, the Arthurian legends have all too often been isolated in the realm of literature. The great strength of this book is that it places them in the real world in which and for which they were created. Many disparate strands are here pulled together for the first time. David Day applies his eclectic knowledge of mythology, linguistics, totemic language, symbolism, heraldry, alchemy and even metallurgy to provide new insights into the world of the Round Table, bringing the Arthurian legends to life in a quite extraordinary way. The Quest for King Arthur is the most enlightening single text on King Arthur to have been written since Malory first laid his hero to rest.
Arthur gathered together what warriors there were in the island Of Britainand at his coming there was greatfear and trembling. - The Mabinogion - Anon
A cyclone. That is what King Arthur most resembles. A whirlwind that constantly changes shape and moves. It picks up fragments wherever it goes and they all become part of the whirling entity we call a cyclone. There is little doubt that the being we call King Arthur once existed. Indeed, for most people he still exists and always will. But if we are searching for the real historical Arthur - or the accumulative King Arthur - we must do a little work. The real King Arthur is like the cyclone’s eye: still and silent and invisible. We can only perceive him by the turbulence around him. There is a titanic cyclone of history, myth, legend, fantasy and romance whirling about King Arthur. Only a handful of figures in history have created so much turbulence. Why Arthur?
The great Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges once observed that nearly all civilizations created stories with dragons in them. Although he could no more explain a dragon than he could explain the universe, he believed that psychologically, sociologically and imaginatively the human race needed dragons. “Dragons”, he concluded, “were necessary monsters”. It is equally true that dragon-slayers are “necessary heroes.” And the reasons for a civilization or even an individual choosing one monster or hero over another reveals a great deal about that culture or person. As one of the world’s most popular heroes, there can be no doubt that King Arthur is a “necessary hero”. Indeed, one might argue that he is almost the definitive hero of Western civilization. What is there about King Arthur that makes him so necessary for us? What does this say about him? What does it say about us? If we look at his origins and his progress through the centuries, we find that he is not just the “once and future king” but the eternal king who is a hero for all times and all cultures.
The motivation for reading and exploring the history, legend, myth and romance of King Arthur may be anything from idle curiosity to hard-core carbon-dated archaeology. In the end, however, there is no doubt that the more we learn about King Arthur in his many manifestations, the more we learn about ourselves - both collectively and individually.
If we wish to understand the phenomenon of King Arthur, we must begin at the beginning. We must examine the historical evidence left to us: the texts, chronicles, verses, myths, fragments of epic poems, inscriptions, symbols, graven images, graffiti. We must learn what we can of that heroic age of Arthur and the people who inhabited his long-vanished kingdom.
It must have seemed like the end of the world. The chroniclers tell us that the fifth century in Britain was a cataclysmic time of slaughter and “days as dark as nights”. The Britons of that age were the Celtic people who are the ancestors of the modern Welsh. They had occupied the island for a thousand years. Since the first century, they had formed an integral part of the Roman Empire and their educated classes of clergy and aristocracy spoke Latin as well as Brythonic (an early form of Welsh). Consequently, although Britons were racially Celtic, they saw themselves as Romanized Christians who were bound economically, politically and culturally to an empire that was rapidly and disastrously collapsing.
The collapse had begun decades earlier, with the disaster of the Battle of Adrianople in 378, which marked the beginning of a massive invasion of barbarian horsemen from the East. At Adrianople, the Visigoth cavalry crushed the Roman Emperor Valens’s legions of heavily armoured infantry. After Adrianople, horse-mounted warriors would dominate warfare in Europe for a thousand years. It was the dawn of the age of the horseman, the beginning of the apocalyptic age of “chivalry”.It was also the beginning of the end of the Empire. Wave after wave of barbarian horsemen would batter down the monumental civilization of the Greco-Roman world. The Roman legions were trampled beneath the hooves of the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Franks, Slavs, Burgundians and Vandals. By 407, Rome had no choice but to withdraw the protection of her legions from Britain, to fight invaders on the continent of Europe. (In 410 Rome herself was sacked by Alaric the Goth.) Britain was made independent and self-governing, but was soon embroiled in inter-tribal conflicts between various petty kingdoms. Without a single authority to organize a united defence, Britain was attacked by pagan barbarian invaders from the north, east and west. Christian Roman Britain was teetering on the edge of obliteration and was threatened with a headlong fall into an age of darkness.
To save themselves from being ruthlessly attacked by the pagan Picts and Irish, the Britons made a desperate alliance with the Angles of the Jutish chieftains Hengist and Horsa. The Angle mercenaries were given the southeast lands of Essex and part of Kent in exchange for driving the barbarian hordes back into the mountains north of the old Roman walls. For the Britons, no alliance could have been more disastrous. True to their word, the Angles played a decisive part in driving the Picts north beyond Hadrian’s Wall, but they themselves eventually proved to be an even greater threat. Once given a safe foothold, Hengist and Horsa revolted against their hosts and paymasters. Soon, waves of Saxons, Angles, Jutes and Frisians arrived to reinforce the original mercenary army. Allied with the Picts, the northern attacks against the Britons as far south as York were renewed. As Angles and Saxons raided the whole of the east and southeast coast, they seized all of Kent, Essex, Sussex, East Anglia and Bernicia. Meanwhile, from Northern Ireland the wild Gaelic pirates known as the “Scotti” (a Roman term meaning “bandit”) launched random attacks along the length of the west coast and established the first Scots kingdom of Dalriada northwest of Loch Lomaine and the Antonine Wall. This series of disasters was deemed the fault of the British king Vortigern who had first extended the invitation to the Angles. The name Vortigern (meaning “overlord”) was probably a title assumed by the most powerful clan chieftain of the Britons. In the end, Vortigern was attacked by both the Saxons and the Britons, who felt he had betrayed them, and came to a violent end.
The civilization of Roman-Celtic Britain - its forts, citadels, temples, churches, libraries and cities - was overrun, burned and obliterated as the barbarians swept all before them. Disaster followed disaster and the Britons were pushed back on every border. In the year 446, they sent one last plea for help to Roman Consul Aetius, the Military Commander of the Roman Forces of Gaul. There was no reply. The Empire was collapsing and Aetius had no time to consider the plight of the Britons. The Consul was desperately struggling to make an alliance with the Goths and Franks to create a single military force capable of withstanding the one terror they all feared: Attila the Hun.
There seemed no hope for the Britons. If ever a people needed a champion, it was the Britons of the late fifth century. Miraculously, not one, but two great champions united the Britons in a common cause and transformed their fortunes in war. The first champion was called Ambrosius Aurelianus; the second went by the name of Artorius.
According to Gildas, a British priest and scribe who wrote his DeExcidio Britorum (The Ruin of Britain) in the early sixth century, “a remnant to whom miserable citizens gather from various lairs on all sides as keenly as a hive of bees under threat of storm… takes up arms and challenges the Saxons under Ambrosius Aurelianus”. We are told Ambrosius Aurelianus was not really a Briton, but the “last of the Romans”. There has been much speculation about Ambrosius Aurelianus, but archaeological evidence suggests that he was responsible for restoring trade with the Empire and re-establishing the rule of law and government. Certainly, imperial roads were repaired, while forts and walls were rebuilt and reoccupied during this time of renewed prosperity.
By what authority did Ambrosius Aurelianus take control? As a Roman aristocrat, he certainly was not considered a British king. The word “rex” or “king” was never used in association with Ambrosius Aurelianus, but he was frequently identified with the Roman government administrative titles of Comes Britanniarum (“Count of the Britons”) or Dux Britannia (“Duke of Britain”). It is known that the emperor Honorius appointed a Roman aristocrat named Constantine as Britain’s last senior governor or Comes Britanniarum just after 410. It has been suggested that Ambrosius Aurelianus was the son of Constantine, whose post was withdrawn in 418. After that time Britain became a self-governing state and the Britons reverted to the old Celtic system of tribal kings who rallied around the Vortigern. Perhaps the spectacular failure of Vortigern and the betrayal by the Angles resulted in an attempt to revive the old imperial government system which for nearly four centuries had unified the Britons.
By whatever means he came to power, Ambrosius Aurelianus proved to be a capable governor and a competent organizer and commander, but he was not the warlord who left his mark on the battlefields of history. That distinction belongs to his successor, a Romanized Briton named Artorius, a military leader of genius. Although Artorius did not assume the title Count of the Britons, he adopted the more aggressive Roman title of Dux Bellorum (“Duke” or “Lord of Battles”). We are told that Artorius or Arthur, in its Brythonic form the Dux Bellorum, led the Britons to victory in twelve mighty battles against the Saxon, Pict, Scot and Irish hordes.
Time and again, the armoured British cavalry shattered the shield wall of the barbarian infantries and drove their armies from the field. The culmination was the Battle of Mons Badonicus (Badon Hill) where Arthur and his British cavalry were credited with slaughtering nine hundred Saxon warriors in a single final charge. This battle was a victory so bloody and complete that the Saxons sued for peace. For three decades after, it is claimed, the Saxons did not dare challenge the authority of the Britons. It was the brilliant warrior and architect of this truce with the Saxons, Arthur the Dux Bellorum, who provides the basis for the myths and legends of the composite character we now know as King Arthur.
The deeds of the Dux Bellorum were forever remembered by proud Britons. Arthur was not only the saviour of a people on the brink of extinction, but he gave them the glory of a dozen victories. The deeds of other heroes (including those of Arthur’s mentor, Ambrosius Aurelianus) soon became associated with his name. With the Saxons pacified and the Picts and Irish subdued; the Britons were granted a time of peace and prosperity when their culture flowered once again. In tales and songs, this was the golden era of the Britons when for the last time the whole nation came under the command of a single British leader. It was their heroic age and Arthur was their greatest hero. The ancient Welsh legends recorded in the Mabinogion speak of the ever-victorious Arthur, whose wrath was so great that when he drew his sword “flames of fire might be seen as from the mouths of serpents, and so dreadful was he that none could look upon him”. And so Arthur, Lord of Battles was gradually transformed into King Arthur - the very real symbol of the unconquerable spirit of the British race.
ARTHUR DUX BELLORUM
The warrior Arthur, with the soldiers and kings of Britain … was twelve times leader in war, and victor in all battles. - History of the Britons - Nennius
Artorius Dux Bellorum, the British Arthur, Lord of Battles was the historical figure around whom the myths and legends of King Arthur whirled. But what do we really know of this man and of the people who followed him? Where was his long lost kingdom in that dark age? Can we know Arthur and his men by those deeds recorded in chronicles? Can we catch the gleam of his bright sword in an epic tale, or perceive a glint of light from his fierce eye in an ancient song or poem?
There are clues. From fragments of historical texts, we know something of the warlord’s deeds and character. The warfare and turmoil of the Dark Age Saxon conquest left very little in the way of written records for nearly two centuries after Arthur’s time. However, the oral tradition of the day was rich, and the stature of Arthur in the recitations of the bards would before long grow to god-like proportions among the Britons. History and myth would combine to make him the Alexander the Great of the British people.
As the commander of the elite British cavalry, Arthur the Dux Bellorum stood out at the head of his forces on a white horse. He was as renowned for his personal fearlessness as for his bold tactics in battle. The Dux Bellorum stood at the head of the army as was his right, with none before him but the enemy. He was flanked by two standard bearers holding aloft the image of the Golden Dragon on the right and a fluttering banner with the Red Dragon on the left.
Arthur could not be mistaken for anyone other than the Lord of Battles. His cavalry helmet was mounted with a golden crest shaped like a dragon. He wore a golden torque around his neck, a burnished mail shirt and lightweight body armour of silver. In his belt was thrust a long dagger and from his Tyrian blue sash hung the double-bladed Caliburn, the legendary sword forged in Avalon. Across his back Arthur slung his circular shield, the radiant Pridwen. Its bronze studs and boss were chased in gold and painted with the haloed image of the Virgin. In his right hand, Arthur held Rhon, his long-bladed Elf spear, and from its shaft fluttered a pennant bearing the image of a sword thrust into a stone.
Behind Arthur came his cavalrymen, rank on rank, carrying shields marked with images both savage and sacred, with single and triple bladed spears. Some carried bows and javelins or long lances. Some wore iron helmets and wild animal skins. Others wore linen combined with plate armour or mail. Some wielded axes taken from the Saxons; still others proudly brandished their heavy Roman cavalry swords.
The secret of the historical Arthur’s military success was his revival of the elite armoured Roman cavalry known as the “cataphracti” which had patrolled Britain during the third and fourth centuries. Arthur’s adaptation of this highly mobile, highly disciplined cavalry against an enemy that was almost exclusively made up of infantry forces resulted in a military force that rapidly out-manoeuvred, out-flanked and outfought its more numerous foes. His twelve undisputed victories against the enemies of his people demonstrated Arthur’s ability to command a force of armoured cavalrymen to devastating effect.
So who were these warrior people that Arthur led? Today all regions of Britain claim to be within Arthur’s realm, although it is most widely believed that his battles and deeds were in the southwest of England. There is little doubt, however, that the historical Dux Bellorum, the saviour of Britain, lived and fought primarily in the most northern realm of the Britons, specifically in that continually embattled region between Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall. This includes the Borders and Lake District of England and the Lowlands of Scotland, from the Firth of Forth to the southern bite of the Solway Firth.
In Arthur’s time, this region was called the Gododdin (meaning “north”), the most northerly kingdom of the Britons. The Men of the North were made up of four great tribes, all said to be descended from the hero Coel, the legendary “Old King Cole” of the nursery rhymes. Arthur’stribe – known as the Votadini - were fiercely independent warriors who for four centuries had been in the front line against all comers in the Gododdin. Never conquered by anyone (before the Saxon invasion), the Men of the North had been allied with the Romans against the Picts and Scots. They usually commanded their own cavalry troops, but at other times, they served as troops within the Roman Legion’s cavalry units.
The people of the Gododdin were partially Romanized, semi-Christian Britons mixed with Picts and ruled by a dozen clan chieftains known as the “Twelve Kings of the North”. It was among these people that Arthur rose to power and it was from their midst that the horsemen of his armies came. Voluntarily united in a common cause, as they had been during the great days of Rome, they were once again fighting under a single warlord, the Dux Bellorum. From his strategic location, Arthur had use of both Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall with a total of thirty-six forts. He also controlled the massive fortification of the former Sixth Legion citadel of Carlisle on the south shore of the Solway Firth, on the western end of Hadrian’s Wall. This was the primary military stronghold in the region. However, it is likely that the gathering place or governmental seat for the Kings of the North was further north, in the heartland of the Gododdin near Edinburgh, not far from the current royal seat of Holyrood and just below the mountain ridge that still carries the name Arthur’s Seat.
As the Romans clearly understood, the northern Border Country was the most critical region for any military defence of Britain. Once Hadrian’s Wall was breached, nothing could stop barbarian armies from the north, east and west. Through their strongly fortified passes, the Roman roads of the North were the only routes invading Pict infantries could take south. It was also the natural invasion route for the Irish from the west and the Saxons from the east across the North Sea. Nor could the Irish or the Saxons risk by-passing these borderlands by invading further south, because they would soon find armies of Britons both before them and at their backs.
From the defenders’ point of view, the Gododdin provided the best defensive position in Britain. This was particularly true when the nation was threatened by more than one enemy, because instead of stationing a number of armies all along a defensive front, a single, large, fast-moving cavalry might forcefully and rapidly respond to attacks on any side. There was only a narrow neck of land between the North Sea and the Irish Sea (that is, between the Firths of Clyde and Forth), so a single horse-mounted army might easily cross from one coast to the other and respond to even the most coordinated attacks.
Largely through the influence of the Roman clergy, many of the Gododdin were fluent in Latin and were familiar with the history and literature of classical Greece and Rome. They may have been at the far edge ofthe Empire but the imperial trade routes allowed them access to remarkable products from many parts of the world. Rich in both civilizations, their world was an exotic blend of Celtic and Roman art and culture.
This Dark Age of the historical Arthur was a time when the oral tradition of British bards and poets flourished. It was a time not unlike that of the Dark Age of Greece when Homer’s epic poetry was composed and sung. The historical Arthur was almost an exact contemporary of the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf and theBurgundian heroes who inspired the epic tales of both the Norse Volsunga Saga and the German Nibelungenlied. Unfortunately, of all the epic tales of Arthur’s time, none survives intact.
The great British bard of the time was Aneirin who is credited with the composition of the earliest Celtic epic. Called simply The Gododdin, it is the tale of a heroic last stand by Arthur’s tribe, the Votadini Men of the North, and their extermination at the hands of the Saxons. Aneirin writes:“The Men of the North hastened forth, wearing torques, defending the land and there was slaughter. Though they were slain they slew and they shall be honoured until the end of the world”.
By the eighth century, the Gododdin had been overrun and the Votadini Kingdom of the North was no more. Saxons, Picts and Scots scattered, subjugated and annihilated Arthur’s people. Yet, so brave were they in their struggle against overwhelming forces that their deeds were preserved and in spirit passed on in the legend of their greatest leader, Arthur.
KINGDOM OF THE DRAGON
Alas for the Red Dragon, for its end is near…. Britain’s mountains and valleys shall be levelled, and its rivers shall run with blood. - Prophecies of Merlin
Geoffrey of Monmouth
In the world of myth and legend where King Arthur is still to be found, we are confronted with heraldic image and symbolic language more frequently than we are with straight historical fact. If we learn to read the images, they can provide us with ‘a remarkable means of investigating the past. One of the most important heraldic images in the world of King Arthur was that of the dragon. There is something remarkable about the way in which the dragon appears in histories and texts in connection with Arthur. For example, on the occasion of Arthur’s “glorious slaughter” of the Saxons at the Battle of Badon, the Dark Age Welsh bard Cynddelw sang a vivid battle song:
The action of the Battle of Badon was shown
in the day of the victorious dragon’s anger;
a track of shield-cleaving and shattering,
a path with red blades
Arthur is not - as one might have expected - a fairy tale dragon slayer like England’s Saint George. Quite the contrary, in this song the hero is himself the “victorious dragon” who slaughters the Saxons. The dragon is a manifestation of Arthur and his people. Today, everyone recognizes the image of the Red Dragon as emblematic of the Welsh people, the true descendants of the ancient Britons. The Welsh, or the Cymry, as they prefer to be known (“Welsh” being Anglo-Saxon for “slave”), are the People of the Red Dragon and this beast is the central feature of their national flag. But where did the Welsh acquire their dragon, and when and how did the Red Dragon, Arthur the Dux Bellorum and the Britons come together?
In fact, the few texts that have survived contain two legends about dragons. The first of these tales relates exactly how the Britons acquired the Red Dragon as their heraldic beast. The second legend provides the link between the Dragon and Arthur the Dux Bellorum. The story of “The Red and the White Dragon” is set in the time of Vortigern, the “overlord” or High King of the Britons, during the mid-fifth-century revolt of the Anglo-Saxons of Hengist and Horsa. It has frequently been interpreted as a parable about the fall of a king who builds on the shifting sands of dubious morality and false belief. In fact, though, its main purpose is to present and explain the heraldic animal of the Britons. Curiously, this legend not only serves to link the Britons to their heraldic animal, but is also the story of the origin of the greatest prophet and most important spiritual guide of that race, Merlin the Magician.
THE RED AND THE WHITE DRAGON
When he saw the devastation of the British people whom he had betrayed, the High King Vortigern did not try to turn back the Saxon invaders. Instead, he commanded his magicians to tell him how he might best secure his own life. They advised him to build a strong tower high in the mountains, so that if all other fortresses should fall he might find safety there. Soon masons assembled by the cowardly Vortigern began to lay the foundations of the tower, but however much they built by day, the earth swallowed their work up by night. Some terrible enchantment was cast upon this place, so again Vortigern called his magicians.
They told him that a sacrifice must be made or the foundations would never remain. Vortigern’s soldiers must find a child without an earthly father. That child must be sacrificed, his blood mixed with the mortar and then sprinkled on the stones. Only then would the foundations become sound and the great tower raised. It happened that there was just such a child. Born of a princess who was a virgin nun, the child’s father was anincubus demon from the region of the night that lay between the moon and the earth. These demons were in part men and in part angels, but unholy. In fact, this child might have been an anti-Christ, had it not been for the wisdom and piety of his mother, who had the child baptized at the moment of birth, so driving out evil but keeping his supernatural nature.
When the demon-child was brought before Vortigern, the King saw great authority in the youngster’s bearing. Learning what his fate might be, the child challenged the authority of the magicians and claimed that he alone knew the reason why the foundations of the tower would not hold firm. “You who have ordered my blood to be scattered on the stones, tell me now what lies hidden under the foundation? For there is the thing that prevents the walls from holding firm.” To this the magicians were silent and the child mocked them and told the King that. if he summoned his workmen and ordered them to dig, they would soon find a deep pool beneath the foundation that was the cause of the shifting earth beneath the foundation stones.
When the King ordered his workmen to do as the child commanded, he indeed found the deep pool that had been prophesied. Again the child mocked the magicians.
“Tell me now, you wise men, what lies beneath the pool?” Again the magicians were silent before the demon-child’s fierce gaze. The child then turned to Vortigern and said, “Command your workmen to drain the pool and at the bottom there will you find two huge hollow stones that roll and slide about in the watery pit.Inside those stones you will see two mighty dragons who are sleeping.”
The King was amazed at the child’s prediction, but he did not doubt his eyes when the pool was drained and two hollow stones were found in the ebbing waters of the lake. Yet, still Vortigern and all the assembled workmen and soldiers and magicians gave up a great cry when the two hollow stones burst with a mighty blast and there appeared two huge dragons, one white and one red. But from them the men had nothing to fear, for the dragons had eyes only for one another. They leapt to fiercely attack each other, panting fire and tearing away at flesh with talons and teeth.
When Vortigern asked what this battle meant, the demon-child burst into tears and sank into a trance, replying in a strange voice, “0 my lord, weep for the Red Dragon for his end is near. His dwelling place shall soon be occupied by the White Dragon, who is the Saxons you have welcomed into your kingdom. The Red Dragon is the people of Britain, who will be driven out by the brood of the White Dragon. The valleys of Britain shall be emptied, the mountains shall be stripped and the rivers shall run with blood. Cities shall be pillaged, churches burned and the people slain or oppressed. Calamity shall come to all you have known in your kingdom.”
Vortigern grew fearful when he heard this account, yet he believed the words of the demon-child. He then asked by what name the child was known and offered him a great reward if he might give the King some hopeful prophecy to save his life in the disasters ahead. It was then the demon child told Vortigern that his name was Emrys Merlin. He could accept no reward for his prophecies because they brought no comfort: the young Merlin foresaw Vortigern in a tall tower set afire. Terrified by this prophecy, Vortigern fled, but it did him no good. The armies of the betrayed Britons found him anyway. He could not escape his fate, for in retreat he climbed the tower of a vassal which was set ablaze and just as Merlin the demon child had prophesied, Vortigern was consumed by flames.
The second legend was that of “The Dragon Star”. This is a tableau in which Merlin the Magician presents proof of the celestial approval of Uther Pendragon - and his son Arthur after him - as the king of the Britons after the murder of Ambrosius Aurelius (Aurelianus). The appearance of the hero is foreshadowed like that of Christ by a bright star, which in this case is obviously a twin-tailed comet.
The account is taken from The History of the Kings of Britain written in the twelfth century, but the incident comes from an earlier source. This version mistakenly identifies Aurelius and Uther as brothers who along with Arthur are said to be kings of Britain. But they were not kings: Aurelius was a Roman Comes Britanniarum while Uther and Arthur were both Britons who took the post of the Dux Bellorum. The purpose of the original story was to establish the connection between the Roman Dux Bellorum and the Briton Pendragon. Once again it is Merlin who interpretsevents. He is now the resident royal magician and prophet of the Britons who establishes royal pedigrees and certifies tribal titles by interpreting supernatural signs.