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ARGUMENT

from the programme.

AT the dawn of a day when Arthur was led by Merlin to the Magic Mere he saw a great sword rising out of the water; and while he looked upon it there came voices from the Mere saying unto him that the name of that sword was Excalibur, which had been forged beneath the waters of the sea; and that it should be given to the son of Uther Pendragon, who in aftertime should rule over a kingdom that should rule the sea. And while Arthur wondered, Merlin declared the truth unto him that he was Pendragon's son albeit he knew it not; and Merlin bade Arthur take the sword, telling him also that although the blade was of such temper that no man could withstand its stroke, yet was the scabbard worthier than the sword. And at the same time there appeared a vision of Guinevere, and seeing her Arthur desired her for his Queen. But while he gazed upon her there came other voices which declared unto him that, by reason of her beauty, great evil should fall upon his kingdom; yet Arthur heeded them not and resolved to make her his Queen.

And in aftertime when they were wed Arthur bethought him of the words of Merlin, that the scabbard was worthier than the sword; for with the coming of Guinevere peace fell upon the land after a long season of havoc and war, and therefore Arthur likened his Queen unto the scabbard of Excalibur.

But there dwelt at the Court one Morgan Le Fay, who loved not Arthur; for she desired the kingdom for her son whose name was Mordred. And this same Morgan had learned from Merlin that he alone might slay Pendragon's son who was born with the May. And this thing she kept in her heart, for Mordred had been born to her on May-day.

Now at this time a strange thing happened at the Court; for the cup of the Holy Grail, which in long time past had been brought to this isle, and had since been snatched away no man knew whither, appeared again to Arthur's knights in the Great Hall at Camelot: yet was the cup so veiled that no man might see it with his eyes. Then a great company of Arthur's knights took upon themselves a vow to seek this Holy Grail through all the world till they might openly behold the cup itself. And Sir Lancelot, who was the bravest knight of all the Court, would have joined himself to this Holy Quest, and Queen Guinevere was willing he should go; for she knew of his great love for her and would not that they should bring shame upon the King. But Arthur withstood them both, for he loved Lancelot better than any other knight, and so it chanced that Lancelot stayed.

Whereat Morgan Le Fay was well content; for knowing of the loves of Lancelot and Guinevere she hoped thereby to bring ruin upon the King. And yet mindful always of Merlin's words that the scabbard of Excalibur was mightier than the sword, she bethought her of how the King had likened the scabbard unto his Queen; and so one night while Arthur slept she stole away the scabbard of Excalibur and left him only his naked sword. Whereafter followed great evil to the kingdom, for at this hour Caerleon was besieged and Arthur, who had learned that his Queen was false to him, cared no more for his scabbard that was gone, but with his naked sword went forth to make war upon his enemies.

And when the King had departed, Mordred gave out that he had been slain by Lancelot, and would have made Guinevere his wife; and when she spurned him he cast her into prison and condemned her to be burnt; and although Arthur came to fight in her cause he could not save her, for Excalibur availed not against the blade of him who had been born on May-day. Yet Guinevere died not then, for Lancelot saved her from the fire, and slew Mordred who had slain the King. And after he was dead Arthur was borne by the three Queens of Night to that sweet isle of sleep, which is called Avalon: yet ere he went he commanded Bedevere to take Excalibur and cast it into the water, so that when his day was ended England should find her sword again in the sea.


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