|Home | Weather | Search | Maps | Images of Burgundy | About Burgundy | About Franche-Comté | Press | Contact Us|
|Travel | Accommodation | Restaurants | Gourmet Traveller | Towns | Property | The Grapevine | Mind, Body & Spirit|
the pendragon connection
King Arthur Riothamus' last journey in France
It should have taken them a lot less time than it did, but their route was impeded by the wounded, by the heat of the daytime and by the fear of being ambushed by a pursuing army. They marched slowly. Many of the injured could not march at all. Some were carried on makeshift stretchers, others clung to their brothers, hand to shoulder, in a shuffling line. Since leaving Bourges four nights ago, what was left of King Arthur’s army had travelled silently in the dark, like outlaws. From the flat plains of the Loire to the dense forests of the Morvan they had foraged for food, their supplies left behind in the confusion of the retreat. The King was sullen and angry.
Two nights before, he had sent ahead to the Roman garrison in Avallon. He had no means of knowing whether his messenger had got through. The attack on Bourges had the smell of treachery. How had King Euric come against them with such a vast army unless he had been forewarned of their position? Why had Syagrius failed to send his Roman army to fight beside the Britons? He was a man unlike his father, Aegidius. His word could not be relied on. Or perhaps it was worse than that. Such meditations did nothing for the King’s mood.
His plan was to visit a place of healing with his wounded, and send on the able-bodied either to the garrison at Avallon, or to Camp Cora on the Via Agrippa. From there they must make their own way back to Britain, following the rivers to the Channel coast. He would stay until the rest of his men were fit. Or dead. He did not know whether any Roman soldiers remained at Camp Cora. He knew that it had come under attack. In times of war nothing is solid. Nothing is reliable. His own wounds troubled him, but not as much as the pain of defeat. He did not care about anything except the loss of his soldiers ……and the loss of Hoël. Two things kept him marching at the front of his ragged troops. Firstly, he was the King and could do no other. Secondly, he held in his memory the image of a tall girl in the fields of Brittany.
He lifted his eyes from the uneven stones of the road. The moon was bright. Like daylight. They were passing a ruined temple to Mercury, and a burnt-out villa.. This was once the centre of the iron works in the forests of Fontanae in pago Avalense . He called his men to halt and rest. They were close now. It was his childhood stamping-ground. He remembered the first time he had visited the pits and the sluicing pools of the ore-smelters in this forest. He remembered the magic of the forges. The fires of their furnaces throwing sparks into the night sky. He had been taken to the forge of his kinsmen in Sermizelles by his father, Pendragon. He was fifteen and his father had had made for him a suit of chain mail, and a sword. The forgerons were dark skinned and it was said that they were able to cast the strength of a bull into their weapons. They were Sarmates, a tribe from the east of the Empire, whose warrior caste fought on horseback and carried dragons that wailed in the wind. That had been the last time he had seen his father. Pendragon had returned to Britain only to meet his death. Arthur had followed, to take his place as King. Two days ago that same chain mail had saved his life, and the sword Caliburn, he carried with him still. “The Forge of Espandragon”, Arthur said out loud. Jonathel brought him a water flask.
After a brief rest they moved on again. The land opened out, first into rolling countryside with little hills and running streams, and then with white cliffs and high jagged rocks which shone in the moonlight, and lined one curving bank of the River Cure. The other bank folded flat into a fertile water meadow. He saw in the distance the familiar hill he knew as the Scorpion – a strange deserted place, breathing with an animal presence, as if it were asleep waiting to be aroused. The air was heavy with the scent of ripening grapes. He motioned the men to be still. They were near the sanctuary, but he did not know what he would find there.
The buildings were grouped together close to the River. It looked as if some were still standing, although deserted. He saw the stone shells of the bathhouse, the heated rooms and the latrines. The cold house was in ruins, and the flat gymnasium yard overgrown with cow parsley. The villa and the salt store seemed intact. The Temple still stood. The sanctuary itself was surrounded by a high, circular wall. Inside, he knew, was the most sacred of the healing wells. The walls had not been breached. He looked at the apple orchards and physic garden and saw that they were well-tended. His spirits lifted.
"She removed her hands and gazed for a long time at his battered body. It was the body of the man she loved, and who had loved her."
Arthur walked towards the villa. A tall woman appeared in the doorway. They exchanged a few words. The King turned and beckoned to his men. More women appeared, some carrying candles although they were hardly needed. With silent efficiency the women gave wine and bread to the soldiers and marshalled the wounded onto palliasses to begin their ministrations. The tall woman came to Arthur and motioned him to follow her. He was at first reluctant, but seeing that his men were so well cared-for, he followed her into her private chamber.
The woman lifted the sword from his side, helped him out of his chain mail which was dark with dried blood, and guided him to her bed where he lay down on a soft woollen cloak, rich in gold fibre. Ever mindful of the King’s safety, Jonathel appeared in the doorway and watched as the woman surveyed Arthur’s wounds. She passed her hands over his body, gently touching the edges of a deep cut in his arm, and a sword wound to his leg. But she paid most attention to a black bruising on his belly, pressing down until Arthur cried out. She removed her hands and gazed for a long time at his battered body. It was the body of the man she loved, and who had loved her. She turned to Jonathel.
“The King can be restored to health if he remains here where I can treat him. If the lance had pierced his armour he would not have drawn breath again. The damage done is inside, and I believe that it will heal. It will take some time, but I do not think that he will die of his wounds.” Jonathel nodded and, seeing that the King and the lady were no strangers to each other, he took his leave.
Arthur took her hand and brought it to his lips.
“Welcome back,” she replied. “Your messenger forewarned us. You are safe now. There have been no hostilities here for some years. And Hoël?”
Arthur looked away. Morgen stood and moved to her table. She busied herself with preparations.
She bathed his wounds and covered them in linen soaked with scented oils. She washed his blistered feet and bound them with wild mint leaves and plantain grass. She cleansed his face and washed the blood from his hair. The saltiness of the water remained on his lips and prompted his memory. He watched her as she prepared comfrey and deadnettle. He had never forgotten the naming of plants and their uses.
Morgen was the girl in the fields in Brittany. There was the boy, Hoël, too. Always the three of them. Blood kindred. Arthur, Hoël and Morgen. Arthur and Hoël were cousins who shared the Pendragon blood. Arthur and Morgen were half-siblings who shared their mother’s blood. Ygerna’s blood. Morgen also shared her mother’s beauty. Ygerna’s beauty had so inflamed Pendragon that he was possessed with desire for her, and had her husband Gorlois of Cornwall, murdered. The King would have satisfaction. These three children of blood were never apart. Morgen, the eldest and Arthur, the youngest, were sent to Brittany and brought up in safety by Hoël’s family. They forgot blood and fell in love with each other. All three of them.
They were sent to Avallon where Pendragon, and Hoël’s father, and the great Germanus had been schooled. They learned mathematics and philosophy. Hoël and Arthur learned from the Sarmatians at Camp Cora to fight on horseback. They learned how to live by the great slashing swords. They learnt the names of the stars and their configurations, and how to travel silently by night, like outlaws. Morgen learned music and the art of healing. She was taught how to see beneath the surface of things – looking through the water of a pool to the bottom rather than being distracted by reflections. She also learned about giving birth. The boy child was taken away to the Morvan to be raised by a wet nurse. He was named Morvandus. He was born both a son and a nephew.
Soon after, Pendragon had come for Arthur. And while Arthur was growing into a man, and then a king, the three were parted for the first time. Hoël to his own kingdom in Armorica, and Morgen who stayed in Avallon, in a marriage, then widowhood, then Sisterhood. These memories lingered with the salt taste - images burned into his head as if they had been forged there and, like the fires of the forgerons, shifted and changed and made new shapes, sometimes liquid, sometimes solid. Morgen returned and gave him a sweet-tasting tisane.
She sat down beside him, and gently applied ointment to his stomach from a clay vase. She took great care that all the cream had been absorbed into his blackened and bruised flesh. When she had finished, she lay down beside him and stroked his damp forehead until he drifted into sleep.
The morning was bright and fresh and the sky deep blue. Energised by their sleep and nourishment Arthur’s soldiers awoke to the sound of the cithar. Those that could, walked outside into the sunshine, many believing that they had died in the battle and reached the land of their ancestors. They gazed in wonder at the sky – at the colour blue behind the colour green and the brilliants spots of red of the apple trees. The apples were still too sour to be eaten. A Sister called Thetis was sitting in the shade, her hands running over the wooden stringed instrument on her lap. As she plucked it, each string rang with the sound of another, which would then set others in motion, so that the sound was augmented and filled the air. Two buzzards circled slowly overhead calling to each other. Jonathel watched them. He wondered what manner of huge bird glided unruffled across the sky. He wondered if the Sisters could change into birds. They seemed capable of such things. The woman Morgen would have become a swan. He had spent the night outside her chamber listening to the King’s laboured breathing. At dawn she had left his bed and walked to the sanctuary. Jonathel had entered the room and cleaned his lord’s armour, and polished the great sword Caliburn. He placed them beside the bed, ready for the King.
For three nights Arthur suffered a fever, his lips moving with the terror of an animal caught in a thicket. Sometimes he cried out. Jonathel knew that he was calling for Hoël. He believed that if the King’s pain of loss were greater than his love for this woman, he would die. Morgen tended him herself, bringing water from the most sacred of wells inside the sanctuary, where men could not go.
The people of the village had begun to drift back from the Morvan where they had taken refuge fearing Arthur’s bloody and bedraggled troops. Old men and women had come back to work with the salt. They had told Jonathel that the well inside the sanctuary gave water that did not lie still, but bubbled slowly with the energy of the Scorpion hill. The Scorpion gave fire and strength to men, beauty and ripeness to women. The living water could cure all ills.
Meanwhile, seven of Arthur’s men had died of their wounds, but three times that number were recovering. The soldiers found their strength again and splashed each other in the cool water of the Cure and wrestled on the cracked paving of the gymnasium yard. The old women watched them, and laughed and cackled, and lewdly lifted their skirts. The men hunted in the forest and brought back pig and deer. The Sisters made fine salt broth.
On the fourth day Arthur opened his eyes from a troubled sleep. He sat up and found Morgen beside him. He looked at her with the eyes of a man who had lost everything, and told her the manner of Hoël’s death. They talked about how he would come back to them, and in what form. Morgen told him of the new religion of one-god, which said that all men would go to Heaven if they had led a good life, and that the three of them would be united there. Arthur thought of the blue sky outside and the golden sunlight, and was comforted. He imagined that after his death Hoël had changed into a great eagle so that he might fly high enough to reach Heaven.
In another week, the King was well enough to call his men together. He told them that all those who were fit must make the journey back to Britain. Cador of Cornwall would lead them home. Arthur would return when the last of the wounded was better. He would return a strong King, ready to lead his people against all who would seek to enslave them. It was a rousing speech, designed to give them heart, and they cheered. With all his men as witnesses, he further called Cador to step forward. He told him that if he should not return, then Cador’s son, Constantine should take the crown of Britain. Pendragon had done a grave wrong to Cornwall in the past, which would now be set right. Privately he called Jonathel and asked him to go with them and become the scribe who would write in his own tongue, and chronicle the fate of King Arthur’s men.
A year passed, and all of the wounded but Kymbelin had recovered fully, and made their way back to Britain on the rivers of Gaul. A favourite of the King, Kymbelin was beset with fevers and a weeping pain from his arm which had been almost torn from his body in the battle. The healing waters, the prayers to the one-god, the flowers and grasses of the meadows had no more effect. Arthur would not leave him to join his men. Morgen knew that Kymbelin must be taken to Sequana, for her powers would surely make him well.
It was a journey that would take them two nights. Perhaps more if Kymbelin had to rest. Kymbelin was strong enough to walk as far as the Island of Willows, where the Brothers would give them horses for the journey. They planned their pilgrimage for the time the village brought in the grapes and harvested the apples. The heat would not be so intense. They took bread and cheese, fruits and wine and salt. They took some of the little white stones that could be found around the Scorpion hill that had all manner of shells embedded in them. They were a curiosity, and were looked on in wonder by strangers. They could be used as gifts, or exchanged for food.
They set off as the sun rose. There were already people in the fields who turned and waved a greeting at the King and the invalid as they passed. The dispossessed hero-king was uncomfortable wherever he went. The roadway to Avallon was well-worn. It would take not half a day to walk there, despite the steep hills and little valleys running with streams and ditches. They crossed the river Cure at the ford. The water was low, so that the paving was above the level. They talked quietly, each of them in good spirits.
Within the hour they had arrived at Island. The Brothers were of the one-god religion. They had come from Ireland. Brother Hoban had taken instruction from the monastery at Auxerre that had been founded by Germanus. Old Brother Gilliam had known St. Patrick in the north of his country. The ten Brothers had founded their own monastery at Island some years before, and spoke in their own language and in the languages of Britain and Gaul, as well as the language of the church. They had not lost their knowledge of the ancient religion, and did not condemn it amongst their community. The Brothers gave refreshment to the travellers and supplied their horses. Brother Gilliam gave a beautifully carved wooden arm to Kymbelin, and a small stone sculpture of an apple held high, between two hands. It was understood that both of these were to be used as offerings to Sequana. But it was not talked about. Arthur gave the salt to Brother Hoban, and they set off for Avallon.
At Avallon, Kymbelin rested while the King rode to the garrison. He sought news of Syagrius. In the year since his retreat from Bourges Arthur had come to the town many times, but there was no word. Today the garrison was silent. Silent as the grave thought Arthur. He had an inkling of finality. Things had changed. The Romans had left. What had once seemed an impossibility was now real. He saw beyond, into the future, when everything that was familiar would be gone. He recalled his dream on the boat, of how the Dragon and the Bear had fought, and how the Dragon finally hurled the Bear’s scorched body to the ground. He realised that he had been wrong. That his interpreters had been wrong. That Arthur had been the Bear not the Dragon, Arthur with his black and broken body had been left for dead by the fire and the battle cries of all the armies of the world. For the first time he thought that he might not return to Britain.
That night they rested at Epoisses. The following day they travelled on to Alesia and surveyed the vast plain where Caesar had laid siege to Vercingetorix. There was a small monastery at Flavigny where they spent the night. On the third day they reached the most sacred source of the River Seine. But the sanctuary was deserted. They found shelter in a colonnaded villa, but it was a fine, warm night and they sat outside for a while. Arthur was further disquieted by the silence. He remembered the place alive with pilgrims. Arthur told Kymbelin about his dream. They gazed up at the stars and talked of the great bear in the sky, the seven sacred sites on the earth, and of Arthur’s star, which was named Arcturus. It seemed that his past had gone and his future was no longer waiting. They visited the sacred pool in the morning, left their offerings and made the journey back to Avallon.
"He could not explain Morgen to her. How Morgen was part of his body, part of his flesh."
The following year, Kymbelin died. Arthur did not return to Britain. He had been away for many years, only a handful of his men had survived and he didn’t know how many of those had finally reached Britain. There was a faithless wife. No children. There was only ever one child, who was named after the black mountains of the Morvan, his dark presence always looming between him and his Queen. He could not explain Morgen to her. How Morgen was part of his body, part of his flesh.
He left Avallon and Morgen some days later. He had the restlessness of a soldier of fortune, for that is what he had become. The great volcano near Rome had erupted. It sent its fire and ash as far as Constantinople, so travellers said. It was the final, dramatic display of the power that had been Rome. As a last-ditch attempt to secure northern Gaul, Syagrius fought the young Merovingian King Clovis at Soissons. Arthur Riothamus joined his old ally and led a battalion of Franks to victory over the Roman who had let him down at Bourges. He remained with Clovis for a long tour of duty. When he returned to Avallon a new building had sprung up beside the Temple and the salt wells. It was a chapel to the one-god. He learned that Morgen had died. Her body was inside the chapel in a beautifully carved stone sarcophagus made by the stonemasons of Careacus. Arthur spent time inside the chapel, and talking to Sister Thetis. He finally went to the Brothers at Island and measured out his days in learning. But he had not yet fought his final battle. King Clovis was expanding his empire. He had joined forces with the Burgundians to hold central France.
The full story of Morvandus has no place here except in so far as he met his father on the Champ de Bataille at Sermizelles, and was the cause of his death. As a disgraced prefect for Rome he had been banished from Gaul and spent some fighting years in Britain allying himself with the strong Germanic tribes who now invaded her shores. As a bastard son his life was spent craving everything that legitimacy could have given him. He sought his birthright and took what he thought was his due, including Arthur’s wife, Guinevere. Guinevere saw her husband in Morvandus. Like Arthur, Morvandus felt the pull of the land where he grew up and waited impatiently for the time to return to France. When the Romans left Gaul he went to fight against the Burgundians, to make his claim for France. He brought his army – a savage band of many tribes from Allemand. He led them down the Via Agrippa towards Avallon.
"Soldiers who live by the sword, die by the sword."
The battle lines were drawn along the valley of the river Cure, the broad water meadows providing a level, open field for the conflict. The plains of Valbeton stretched for four leagues without any marsh land, woods or undergrowth. Only the River Cure cut across them. Arthur left his studies at Island and came to fight for the Burgundians, who moved as a mighty force across the Morvan from Autun. Arthur wore his chain mail, and carried the great sword, Caliburn. The old warrior rode out in front of Morvandus’ men, and spoke in his own tongue. There were only two men on the field who understood him. One was his soldier son, Morvandus, and the other was a holy man, Brother Hoban.
Soldiers who live by the sword, die by the sword. Better that than to die in a field of cabbages. Arthur’s thoughts turned to Brittany. His memory allowed him to see Hoël, and to forget the shrivelled body in the sarcophagus and see only a tall girl in the fields. It allowed him to present himself in battle as a young, fearless warrior, fighting for a just cause with men he would die for. He galloped his horse up and down in front of the ranks. They watched him silently, there was only the sound of their pennants rustling in the breeze. He told them about his armour which had been made in the forge of Espandragon. He told them about mighty Caliburn. He told them he would fight for the land of his childhood as if it were his own. Death held no fear for him, for he would return, with Hoël, even stronger, and together they would make more conquests. Morvandus rode out to meet him, but could not meet his eye. For a moment Arthur hesitated. In Morvandus he saw his mother and his sister before him, their dark hair shining in the sun. He lifted his eyes to the Scorpion hill, and felt himself borne upwards to its summit. He surveyed the valley below – and beyond that, the hills of the Morvan, and beyond that, where Rome lay, and Jerusalem. All around him there seemed to be kings and princes, soldiers and pilgrims and holy men. The Scorpion was stirring. It was ready to take breath. It was the end of Arthur’s time. He gazed up into the deep blue sky, and for ever afterwards his thoughts were upon the stars.
"The lightning had turned to flames which danced around the summit like a ring of fire"
The signal to begin the battle was given by Morvandus. He had not struck the Dragon. He had been too afraid. A young soldier from the front ranks of the Allemands rode out with a war cry and brought his sword down through the King’s head. The Burgundians did not hesitate. The battle was enjoined. It was a mighty contest and many widows were made that day. Lightning danced above the Scorpion hill and the sky turned black. Suddenly a thunderclap split the air and drowned out the sounds of clashing swords and screaming horses. Everything became still, and heavy as lead. The soldiers turned to look up at the hill, and ceased their fighting in wonderment. The lightning had turned to flames which danced around the summit like a ring of fire. The flames grew higher and began to leap silently towards them, reaching out towards their lances, transforming them into red-hot brands of fire. Men and horses panicked in terror. Many ran to the river. Soldier helping soldier of whatever colours, in the face of such divine wrath. The carnage was over. The River Cure ran red with blood.
Brother Hoban miraculously found Arthur’s body amongst the dead. The other Brothers made their way to help him, and together they took his body to the Sisters and the chapel beside the sanctuary. They placed him inside the sarcophagus with Morgen. He had told Thetis his wishes. He had sprung from the same womb, and would rest for ever in the same tomb. He still wore his chain mail, and Caliburn was cleaned and polished for the last time, wrapped in oiled skin and placed on top of them both. He was buried with the words of the one-god religion, his mighty sword making the cross which would protect them from evil on their journey to the ancestors. Brother Hoban returned to Island and wrote down with care and diligence, all he knew about the last years of Arthur Riothamus, over-king of Britain and Armorica.
The plains of Valbeton were strewn with bodies. Morvandus and what was left of his soldiers slunk away. Messengers were sent to Careacus for stone tombs to bury the Burgundian soldiers. A long line of ox carts brought their heavy loads down from the Morvan to the water meadows. The men from the farms and hamlets arrived to dig a vast necropolis, and the stone sarcophaguses were buried in their ranks at Cercueils beside the Cure, near Vau-Donjon. For generations the memory of the battle remained. But, as is the way with war, no one could recall what it had been about, or who the soldiers were, who had died in such great number on that day.
But barbarians continued to plague Burgundy – and not all of them pagans from the east. The church of Rome sent emissaries to weed out heretics that did not recognise the supremacy of the Pope. Brother Hoban and his community were hounded out of their little monastery in Island because they held beliefs that were more ancient, from a country that remembered the old gods, and recognised the simplicity of their own community and cared little for Kings, Bishops, Popes and Princes. But not before Brother Hoban had given his book written on fine vellum, to Sister Thetis. She wrapped it carefully in oiled linen and it was laid in the stone sarcophagus in the chapel, to wait out history.
Over the years, the Sisters fared better, being women, and were left in peace to worship beside the Cure. They tended the physic garden and harvested the apples and the grapes. They made wine and welcomed in the spring with fires. Young girls joined the order in preference to an unkind marriage. They healed the sick using the ancient wisdom as well as the one-god religion. They used the living water to bathe wounds and soothe fever. Year upon year. The secrets of the stone sarcophagus in the chapel were kept and passed down from Sister to Sister.
"For the second time, the Scorpion took breath, its fiery influence beginning to work on the volatile souls of men."
The Norsemen had reached as far as Auxerre, bringing their terror. For the first time in centuries the backwoods of Avallon were seriously threatened – by road and by water. The Sisters were now part of the domain of the Abbey St. Germain at Auxerre, and a village called Veziliacum had grown up around the chapel and the salt springs. The village prospered, and where there is prosperity, there is envy. The Sisters had champions in Berthe, the good wife of Girart de Roussillon, and their daughter Eva. They were safe until Berthe and Girart died. Their deaths brought uncertainty. Their daughter Eva feared for the future of the Sisters. She had no husband to protect their interests in a world where men had taken the upper hand, and women had nothing of their own. The church authorities wanted control of the lands so generously endowed to the Sisters, the produce from the fertile meadows, and the salt from the springs. They also wanted the direct protection of the pope, granted in perpetuity, which Girart had secured for the little monastery for women. The pope granted permission for the monastery to become a monastery for men – it was no longer ‘safe’ for women. The Sisters were disbanded but not before Eva had been told the secrets of the stone sarcophagus. She took the little vellum book into her possession. Women working together can achieve feats of extraordinary strength. And before new incumbents came from Auxerre to usurp the Sisters, the sarcophagus had been removed from the chapel and taken to the vast cavern beneath the Scorpion hill, where it would lay hidden for another three hundred years. For the second time, the Scorpion took breath, its fiery influence beginning to work on the volatile souls of men. A new abbey was being built, this time on top of the hill, and the lords, and popes, and abbots and bishops began to fight about it.
Eva slipped away from Gaul to Britain. She went to Nunnaminster in Winchester, to the convent founded by Ealhswith, the wife of King Alfred, where she lived until her death. She wrote her own post scriptum to Brother Hoban’s book, which told where the sarcophagus could now be found. The little book remained in the library there until almost two hundred years later when King Henry II of England was made aware of its contents.
King Henry read the story of King Arthur in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s book. The book had become a great favourite amongst his courtiers and their ladies. He had also read the story in a book written by a French man, Wace. Wace suggested that Arthur’s death was shrouded in doubt, and that he was in Avalon, awaited by the Britons, ready to return and live again. King Henry saw a great opportunity before him. If he could locate and display Arthur’s body and be associated with the great King, he could achieve three things: popularity after the blood on his hands from the death of Thomas Becket; revenue from pilgrimages to Arthur’s remains; confirmation that Arthur was truly dead, and would not therefore be returning as a great warrior to lead his superstitious people. He sent throughout the kingdom for information concerning King Arthur’s body. He summoned wise men to his court who brought him the little book from the library in Winchester about Arthur’s final days in Island and Avallon, and which told the story of his battle against Morvandus, and of his secret burial in a cave under the hill at Veziliacum. It was that same Vézelay where St. Bernard had preached the second Crusade, that same Vézelay where Thomas Becket had preached so vehemently against him, and where a new Abbey was being built. He summoned William of Sens, who was working on the new cathedral at Canterbury. He asked William for three trustworthy stonemasons from Burgundy who would undertake a special mission for the King.
He went to Glastonbury and talked to the abbot about his plan to bring back Arthur’s body. They refined the plan together, and schemed and plotted like conspirators well into the night. In France, the Scorpion stirred. Then they burned the little book in the hearth at the Abbey. The fire spat out angry sparks from the fine vellum. Page after beautifully-written page was consumed until cinders from the charred remains fell upon the dried stacks of timber beside the hearth, ready for the morning. The timber smouldered, then glowed, and then grew hotter before bursting into violent flames which spread through the night, until, in the early hours of the morning, the whole Abbey was a conflagration. It was St. Urban’s day.
The King sent his emissaries to Vézelay, sworn to secrecy and to bring back the body of King Arthur, under the protection of their masonry guild. There was now even more reason for the deception. A new abbey at Glastonbury would cost the King dearly. For his part, the abbot had a lead cross made bearing the words, ‘Here lies buried King Arthur in the Island of Avallon’ as he had agreed with the King.
The story of the three masons is not for here, except to confirm that they did find their way to Burgundy. That they did retrieve King Arthur’s body from a carved stone sarcophagus hidden in a vast cavern beneath the Scorpion hill. But they also found another body buried with him. The two skeletons were so entwined that they could not distinguish one from the other. The superstitious masons would not attempt to separate them. They also found something else, far more valuable than old bones. They found Caliburn. It was as sharp and fine as the moment when it had been placed there. It was King Arthur’s mighty sword – and it must be worth a small fortune. So reasoned the masons.
They took it to the Abbot at the top of the hill, and offered it for sale. The Abbot was most interested in its provenance and agreed to purchase it for fifty gold coins. The masons were delighted with the sum and prepared to take their leave. However, the Abbot was not so pleased that these men had come like thieves to steal his property. It made no difference that the masons argued that King Arthur belonged to Britain, and his rightful place was back in England buried with his countrymen. That the cavern beneath the hill did not belong to the church, and that nobody knew of its existence until they had arrived. The Abbot let it be known that he could use the relics himself to promote new pilgrimages to Vézelay, and that he would have had the masons hanged if they hadn’t been Burgundian. He also let it be known that, after considering their request, he would sell the masons their body, for fifty gold coins. They did not wait to argue, returned the money and left for England.
"Thus were Arthur and Morgen buried as Arthur and Guinevere in Glastonbury."
Their arrival in Glastonbury had to be covert. The bodies were wrapped tightly in a shroud and hidden beneath some stone blocks on a cart. The Lady Chapel had already begun to be rebuilt. The bodies would be buried under the cover of the works. But the King, and the Abbot, and Ralph Fitzstephen the builder, were surprised that there were two skeletons. They conjectured who the other one might be, but none wanted to pull them apart. The wording on the lead cross had to be changed to include the other body. They agreed that they would call it Guinevere – but because of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s story, she had to be his second wife because everyone knew his first was a faithless adulterer. Thus were Arthur and Morgen buried as Arthur and Guinevere in Glastonbury, in preparation for being dug up again in front of eye-witnesses who would swear to their authenticity – and to the fact that the Isle of Avalon was Glastonbury all the time. Neither Brother Hoban nor Eva had been indelicate enough to mention Morgen. That secret would have been buried with them had it not been for the hated Morvandus, who had passed darkly into history. Perhaps unfairly, he was blamed for the horror of his provenance. He remained King Arthur’s only son, and many knew this to be the case.
King Henry did not live to see the exhumation. His son and heir, King Richard Coeur de Lion, was inseparable from King Phillippe of France, and only returned for a few months to his own country to raise funds for the third Crusade. He sped off again as soon as he had his money. All building at Glastonbury ceased for 50 years.
Vézelay thronged with kings and princes, lords and ladies, knights and pilgrims and holy men. The Abbot of Vézelay had presented Caliburn to King Phillippe of France on the occasion of his departure for the Holy Land. Phillippe gave it, as a love token, to Richard Coeur de Lion, who did not think much of it. No one used those giant slashing swords any more. Richard eventually gave it to King Tancred of Sicily. And from there, is was lost to history. Like the lead cross which said ‘Here lies buried the famous King Arthur with Guinevere, his second wife, in the Isle of Avallon,’ fooling all the people in England, and all the people in France. Like the little vellum book whose secrets had become part of a deception. And eventually, like the bodies of Arthur and Morgen who disappeared without trace like the marble tomb that had been built for them. All things turn to dust, and who can say where the truth lies except in the beliefs of the believers?
© Avallon, November 2008