The Death of King Arthur
by Mary MacGregor
It was not to win renown that King Arthur
had gone far across the sea, for he loved his
own country so well, that to gain glory at
home made him happiest of all.
But a false knight with his followers was
laying waste the country across the sea, and
Arthur had gone to wage war against him.
‘And you, Sir Modred, will rule the country
while I am gone,’ the King had said. And
the knight smiled as he thought of the
power that would be his.
At first the people missed their great King
Arthur, but as the months passed they began
to forget him, and to talk only of Sir Modred
and his ways.
And he, that he might gain the people’s
praise, made easier laws than ever Arthur
had done, till by and by there were many
in the country who wished that the King
would never come back.
When Modred knew what the people
wished, he was glad, and he made up his
mind to do a cruel deed.
He would cause letters to be written from
beyond the sea, and the letters would tell
that the great King Arthur had been slain
And when the letters came the people
read, ‘King Arthur is dead,’ and they believed
the news was true.
And there were some who wept because
the noble King was slain, but some had no
time to weep. ‘We must find a new King,’
they said. And because his laws were
easy, these chose Sir Modred to rule over
The wicked knight was pleased that the
people wished him to be their King. ‘They
shall take me to Canterbury to crown me,’
he said proudly. And the nobles took him
there, and amid shouts and rejoicings he was
But it was not very long till other letters
came from across the sea, saying that King
Arthur had not been slain, and that he was
coming back to rule over his own country
When Sir Modred heard that King Arthur
was on his way home, he collected a great
army and went to Dover to try to keep the
King from landing.
But no army would have been strong
enough to keep Arthur and his knights away
from the country they loved so well. They
fought fiercely till they got on shore and
scattered all Sir Modred’s men.
Then the knight gathered together another
army, and chose a new battle-field.
But King Arthur fought so bravely that he
and his men were again victorious, and Sir
Modred fled to Canterbury.
Many of the people began to forsake the
false knight now, and saying that he was a
traitor, they went back to King Arthur.
But still Sir Modred wished to conquer
the King. He would go through the counties
of Kent and Surrey and raise a new army.
Now King Arthur had dreamed that if he
fought with Sir Modred again he would be
slain. So when he heard that the knight
had raised another army, he thought, ‘I will
meet this traitor who has betrayed me. When
he looks in my face, he will be ashamed and
remember his vow of obedience.’
And he sent two bishops to Sir Modred.
‘Say to the knight that the King would
speak with him alone,’ said Arthur.
And the traitor thought, ‘The King wishes
to give me gold or great power, if I send my
army away without fighting.’ ‘I will meet
King Arthur,’ he said to the bishops.
But because he did not altogether trust
the King he said he would take fourteen
men with him to the meeting-place, ‘and the
King must have fourteen men with him too,’
said Sir Modred. ‘And our armies shall keep
watch when we meet, and if a sword is lifted
it shall be the signal for battle.’
Then King Arthur arranged a feast for Sir
Modred and his men. And as they feasted all
went merrily till an adder glided out of a
little bush and stung one of the knight’s
men. And the pain was so great, that the
man quickly drew his sword to kill the adder.
And when the armies saw the sword flash
in the light, they sprang to their feet and
began to fight, ‘for this is the signal for
battle,’ they thought.
And when evening came there were many
thousand slain and wounded, and Sir Modred
was left alone. But Arthur had still two
knights with him, Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere.
When King Arthur saw that his army was
lost and all his knights slain but two, he
said, ‘Would to God I could find Sir Modred,
who has caused all this trouble.’
‘He is yonder,’ said Sir Lucan, ‘but remember
your dream, and go not near him.’
‘Whether I die or live,’ said the King, ‘he
shall not escape.’ And seizing his spear he
ran to Sir Modred, crying, ‘Now you shall
And Arthur smote him under the shield,
and the spear passed through his body, and
Then, wounded and exhausted, the King
fainted, and his knights lifted him and
took him to a little chapel not far from a
As the King lay there, he heard cries
of fear and pain from the distant battle-field.
‘What causes these cries?’ said the King
wearily. And to soothe the sick King, Sir
Lucan said he would go to see.
And when he reached the battle-field, he
saw in the moonlight that robbers were on
the field stooping over the slain, and taking
from them their rings and their gold. And
those that were only wounded, the robbers
slew, that they might take their jewels
Sir Lucan hastened back, and told the
King what he had seen.
‘We will carry you farther off, lest the
robbers find us here,’ said the knights. And
Sir Lucan lifted the King on one side and Sir
Bedivere lifted him on the other.
But Sir Lucan had been wounded in the
battle, and as he lifted the King he fell back
Then Arthur and Sir Bedivere wept for the
Now the King felt so ill that he thought he
would not live much longer, and he turned
to Sir Bedivere: ‘Take Excalibur, my good
sword,’ he said, ‘and go with it to the lake,
and throw it into its waters. Then come
quickly and tell me what you see.’
Sir Bedivere took the sword and went
down to the lake. But as he looked at the
handle with its sparkling gems and the richness
of the sword, he thought he could not
throw it away. ‘I will hide it carefully here
among the rushes,’ thought the knight. And
when he had hidden it, he went slowly to the
King and told him he had thrown the sword
into the lake.
‘What did you see?’ asked the King
‘Nothing but the ripple of the waves as
they broke on the beach,’ said Sir Bedivere.
‘You have not told me the truth,’ said the
King. ‘If you love me, go again to the lake,
and throw my sword into the water.’
Again the knight went to the water’s edge.
He drew the sword from its hiding-place.
He would do the King’s will, for he loved him.
But again the beauty of the sword made him
pause. ‘It is a noble sword; I will not throw
it away,’ he murmured, as once more he hid
it among the rushes. Then he went back
more slowly, and told the King that he had
done his will.
‘What did you see?’ asked the King.
‘Nothing but the ripples of the waves as
they broke on the beach,’ repeated the
‘You have betrayed me twice,’ said the
King sadly, ‘and yet you are a noble knight!
Go again to the lake, and do not betray me
for a rich sword.’
Then for the third time Sir Bedivere went
to the water’s edge, and drawing the sword
from among the rushes, he flung it as far as
he could into the lake.
And as the knight watched, an arm and a
hand appeared above the surface of the lake.
He saw the hand seize the sword, and shaking
it three times, disappear again under the
water. Then Sir Bedivere went back quickly
to the King, and told him what he had seen.
‘Carry me to the lake,’ entreated Arthur,
‘for I have been here too long.’
And the knight carried the King on his
shoulders down to the water’s side. There
they found a barge lying, and seated in it were
three Queens, and each Queen wore a black
hood. And when they saw King Arthur they
‘Lay me in the barge,’ said the King. And
when Sir Bedivere had laid him there,
King Arthur rested his head on the lap of the
fairest Queen. And they rowed from land.
Sir Bedivere, left alone, watched the barge
as it drifted out of sight, and then he went
sorrowfully on his way, till he reached a
hermitage. And he lived there as a hermit
for the rest of his life.
And the barge was rowed to a vale where
the King was healed of his wound.
And some say that now he is dead, but
others say that King Arthur will come again,
and clear the country of its foes.