Does beauty in a woman create strife?
It may indeed – if she’s another’s wife!
King Uther wished to possess fair Igrain.
Her beauty – rare. Her honour without stain.
But Gorlois is her own true espoused knight:
Who hates King Uther, and in his despight
Removes Igraine quickly to where his castles lie
Upon the Cornish coast. His knights nearby
Gather to fight the king who’s broken trust
And wishes but to satisfy his lust.
When Merlin whispers some crafty advice
Uther the king requires no telling twice.
Igraine resides safely in Tintagel
Strong-built, well-manned, and long provisioned well.
Its walls patrolled by loyal men-at-arms
Always alert to sound warning alarms
Should any force attempt to break inside
To capture them, or molest their lord’s bride.
Merlin aids Uther only for his ends:
To fulfill prophecy. What action tends
To bring about the birth of Uther’s son
Must be – for by this child in due season
A king will rise to rule in Uther’s stead
A mighty king – is what the portent said –
To reign over Logres’ new Golden Age:
So Merlin hoped the portents did presage.
One morning Uther unto Merlin sent.
Later that day, the twain a-riding went –
Both unattended. Unmarked. None could name
Their destination. To Gorlois’ domain
The twain but lightly armed, rode on, unseen.
Gorlois’ pickets they silent ride between
As though they were but leaves blown on the breeze.
They penetrate the patrol-lines with ease.
Uther is pale and sweating. Merlin’s face
Is lined with concentration. But their pace
Is placid. Slow. Uther is fearful. Round
About he looks. But never makes a sound.
No alarm given. Are Golois’ men blind?
Uther worries the problem in his mind:
Merlin had told him that if just the two
Of them this journey made, he’d see them through.
A spell! Of course! Merlin’s face frowned in thought
A moment Uther’s eyes discerned, which caught
The wizard speaking softly-chanted spell.
Uther tried to relax. All would be well.
The twain at Tintagel would soon arrive.
But how to enter? Merlin must contrive
Another spell which will transform his shape:
He speaks and gestures. Upwards from the nape
His snowy locks submerge in ruddy-brown!
His face changed too! Sir Brickel’s face is shown –
Gorlois’ retainer. Next over the king
Merlin speaks certain words, also waving
His hand in curious motions slow and wide
Uther as Gorlois stands beside his side.
At dusk the twain ride to the postern gate.
Which opens quickly. Smiling servants wait.
They’d thought their lord would not come back so soon:
His quick return they welcome as a boon –
Gorlois is well-liked by his knights and men.
They give him welcome to his keep again.
The faux-Gorlois would quickly make his way
To Gorlois’ chambers. Until break of day
The magick his appearance will maintain
Enough to fool even Lady Igraine:
Whom he enjoys passionately all night.
Merlin – as Brickel – stayed up till first light
Signaled departure. They left by the same
Postern they’d entered, leaving as they came.
Sir Gorlois died abroad the very night
Igraine conceived. She worried how she might
Yet bear a child when her lord had died?
And if he had been absent from her side:
Whose child within her womb did daily grow?
The lady was perturbed: she did not know.
Her secret was well kept: for her good name
She’d never sully by a public shame.
The babe once born would to the holy church
Be dedicated. None would her besmirch
Her honour. This at least the lady’s plan.
Nine months later when her birth-pains began –
A midwife in attendance – came the boy.
Igraine some moments held him, to enjoy
His newborn warmth. When once he was asleep
The midwife walked him through the silent keep
Obeyed his lady’s orders. At the door
A monk stood waiting, patient. Once she’s sure
He was the man, the babe with gentle hands
She gives to him, as her lady demands.
The monk gives her a blessing. Signs the cross
And leaves the midwife with a sense of loss
That newborn babes could shame a lady so.
How could that be? ‘Twas better not to know.
The monk moved quickly. For despite his age
His weathered face was kind, and mild, and sage.
A shimmer – and the monk was gone for good –
And in his place stood Merlin! To the wood
He sped to seek his horse, which he untied
And in the saddle, fast began to ride.
The babe with Merlin disappeared from sight
Both like dark shadows merged into the night.
The babe will live – Merlin to this will see
The boy will grow safe to maturity
Somewhere secret, under an assumed name
For some years until the right time came.
It came about King Uther wed Igraine
Although Uther ordered Sir Gorlois slain.
And so the widow came to Uther’s bed
Although it cost her erstwhile husband’s head.
Uther delighted in his beauteous queen.
And from the shadows Merlin watched, unseen.