By Lisette J. Merry
Vortigern, the ambitious Chief Advisor to King Maines, and Manson, the leader of the Saxons had their final secret meeting in a dark, corridor recess, in King Maines’ castle in Camelot.
Their plan would bring Vortigern everything his jealous heart desired, and Mason certain victory.
‘At sunset, then,’ Mason said.
Vortigern nodded, they shook hands, and then pulled up the hoods on their capes, and went their separate ways.
Vortigern went back to his chambers. He was not a man usually given to fear, because he was an experienced diplomat who had cultivated a show of bravado to disguise his true feelings in public. And in private, he had always convinced himself that the cosmos smiled upon him and therefore there was nothing that could harm him.
* * * * *
It all began well enough. King Maines had always trusted Vortigern implicitly, and he followed him willingly enough when Vortigern told him that he wanted to talk with him privately about ‘a very pressing State matter’.
Manson was waiting for them near the castle wall, and when he caught sight of King Maines on the battlements, he swiftly took aim, and fired. Manson’s arrow found its mark. It pierced a deep hole in the King’s chest, and moments later he was dead.
Vortigern looked down at the body of his dead King and suddenly his fears overwhelmed him. And like puffs of smoke in the wind, his well laid plans seemed to vaporise.
Vortigern bolted straight to the sanctuary of his study and when he arrived there sweating and trembling, he sat down on his chair behind the great table laden with books. He forced himself to find a book, any book, rather than sit there staring into space and shaking like a lunatic. He picked up a book and clutched at it until his hands stopped trembling. Only then did he attempt to open it and focus on the words on the first page. He forced himself to start reading. And when his manservant, Fabrian, arrived later to inform him of King Maines’ death, it seemed, for all the world, as if he had been reading for hours.
As soon as Fabrian had finished speaking, Vortigern reacted quite naturally to the dreadful news with surprise at first, and then with outrage, finally stating that King Maines’ murder was a treasonous act. His performance was flawless. Fabrian stared at his master unable to speak, and finally, overwhelmed by grief, he bowed, and rushed out with tears streaming down his face.
* * * * *
After King Maines’ assassination the Saxons defeated his leaderless army within days. And Vortigern got what he had always wanted, the crown.
King Maines’ subjects were terrified into submission, forced to accept the new order, or face torture and execution. And soon King Maines’ younger brothers Pendragon and Uther were banished to the distant land of Estion.
But still, Vortigern could not rest, because he was constantly plagued by the fear that they would return. He was too frightened to sleep, for whenever he did, he would soon wake again from yet another nightmare about his own violent death.
After weeks of losing sleep in this way, something rather strange happened. One night, on the eve of the full moon, King Vortigern was too exhausted to stay awake. But this time, instead of having yet another nightmare, he had a wonderful dream. The dream was about the construction of a huge fortified tower, built to his own specifications. As it came to an end, he saw himself saved from Pendragon and Uther’s army by taking refuge inside it. When King Vortigern woke from this dream, he felt, that at last, he knew how to save himself.
King Vortigern got up at sunrise. He dressed without the assistance of Fabrian for once, and then he opened the shutters and looked outside, with renewed confidence.
When Fabrian arrived in King Vortigern’s chambers a little after 7am, he was amazed when his master ordered fruits, cold meats, bread and cheeses for his breakfast, instead of his usual half goblet of red wine.
As soon as he had breakfasted, King Vortigern, feeling like a new man, ordered that the Royal Mason, Claudas, should be summoned to meet with him.
And when they met, an hour later, King Vortigern described to him the tower that he had seen in his dream. Claudas hastily unrolled the parchment he had brought with him and placed it on King Vortigern’s dining table. And then with a series of questions he coaxed King Vortigern to describe the tower again, from the beginning, so that he could sketch it out. When King Vortigern saw how accurate Claudas’ drawing was, he immediately approved it, and told Claudas to begin work at once.
Claudas followed King Vortigern’s orders to the letter, and as soon as he’d left the castle he assembled his masons and put them to work. King Vortigern was delighted, and he went about his diplomatic duties for the rest of that day with the reassuring sound of the masons chipping away at large blocks of sandstone, as they prepared them to lay as the foundations.
King Vortigern had ordered Claudas and his masons to complete the work by the next full moon. And fearful of incurring his wrath if they failed, they laboured from sunrise to sunset each day for the next whole month.
* * * * *
King Vortigern watched his tower steadily rise from its foundations to completion, and on the appointed day, Claudus held open the heavy oak door to the tower for King Vortigern. Once they were inside, Claudus lit his shuttered candle, and King Vortigern followed him across the flagstone floor to the foot of the stone spiral staircase. The King looked up, entranced by every tiny detail of the construction. And, as they climbed the staircase he stopped at each of the arrow slits in the curved stone wall to look outside. He noted that they gave excellent visibility in all directions, just as he had seen in his dream.
When they reached the top step, King Vortigern listened with great interest as Claudus pointed out the cone shaped oak timber ceiling above their heads and told him how the structure supported the roof’s weight.
When the tour was over, King Vortigern had no hesitation in approving the work. His fears had evaporated. For he now felt secure in the knowledge that he would be able to defend himself from Pendragon and Uther should they ever return. When he retired that night, he slept more soundly than he had done in weeks.
The next morning he woke in excellent spirits, and he got up and walked over to the shutters and opened them so that he could, once more, feast his eyes on his beautiful tower. But when he looked outside, to his dismay, his fortified tower was no more, it had collapsed during the night, and it was now just a huge pile of stones. A ruin!
King Vortigern was distraught. He began to pull at his hair and beard, and shout at the heavens in his outrage and distress.
When Fabrian entered his master’s chambers a little later, with his breakfast, King Vortigern’s eyes were still wild with disbelief and fear.
‘How could this have happened?’ he asked Fabrian. But he didn’t wait for Fabrian to answer, he just carried on talking, as if to himself. He ranted on and on. Finally he said
‘……and I chose the finest mason, Claudus, the Royal Mason, no less, to design the tower and act as the foreman for the building of it. ’
Fabrian listened to him in stunned silence, too frightened to interrupt. When the King fell silent at last, Fabrian assumed that the storm of emotions was over. So he was startled when the King suddenly spoke again.
‘But, I am not deterred, Fabrian, I will have Claudus and his masons build another tower for me, and this one will stand, by God, and protect us against our enemies.’
Fabrian breathed an inward sigh of relief as the King calmed down. But just to be sure, he waited until he had not spoken again for some minutes.
‘Yes, my Lord,’ Fabrian said as he served the King his breakfast, placing it before him on the dining table in the ante room which adjoined King Vortigern’s bedroom. Then Fabrian poured him a goblet of sweet melon juice.
When the King had finished his breakfast, he looked up at him.
‘I will dress now, Fabrian. I have much to do.’
Fabrian bowed, and immediately fetched King Vortigern’s clothes and helped him dress. The King finally put on his sleeved cape, and as he looked at his appearance in the mirror he nodded his approval at his reflection, and gently stroked his sleeved cape’s ermine collar.
‘Bring Claudas to me, Fabrian,’ he said. ‘I have decided that he will start the rebuilding of my fortified tower today.’
Fabrian bowed, and then withdrew from King Vortigern’s chamber and fetched Claudas. He met with the King an hour later. And after they had spoken, the work on the tower began again. The King had given orders that the masons were not to use stones from the old tower for the rebuild. He ordered them to use all new sandstone, which meant that they had to start the work all over again, and painstakingly shape each piece of sandstone with their hand chisels. They were furious, but they were so afraid of King Vortigern’s temper, that they kept their feelings to themselves.
Weeks passed, and by the end of the month, the fortified tower was finished. When he saw it King Vortigern thought it looked more splendid than the first one had done.
But ill fortune struck again. For soon after it was finished, the tower collapsed, just as the first had done. King Vortigern was furious, but he was also frightened, for he could find no explanation for why both of his magnificent towers had collapsed so suddenly. King Vortigern was so angry that he interrogated Claudas for a whole hour after the second tower’s collapse, but he finally concluded that Claudas was as puzzled as he was.
King Vortigern would not let the matter rest. He was determined to find out why the towers had collapsed, and he called the Court Astrologers to him to ask them for their advice. They dutifully responded to King Vortigern’s summons without delay, and upon their arrival walked ceremoniously into the great hall, and then stood before him resplendent in their silken robes trimmed with fox fur. They listened intently to all that King Vortigern had to say. And when he had finished, they turned to each other and spoke amongst themselves for some time. Finally, and after much deliberation, they nodded their agreement to each other. They had made their decision, and they chose Micas, the most learned of their number, to tell King Vortigern what they advised.
‘Sire, we are all sorely troubled by what you have told us, and by what we have learned ourselves of these events. We can determine no explanation for them in the cosmos, despite our efforts to do so. Our advice to you is that you seek your answer from a young boy who is known to us, and who has extraordinary gifts.’ They all nodded their agreement to this.
King Vortigern was deeply disappointed. He had felt certain that they would have found an answer to his dilemma in the cosmos. But it seemed they had not. He was at a loss now as to how he should proceed. And although he was startled by their advice, he knew better than to question it.
‘Who is this young boy? And how shall I find him?’
‘You will not have to find him, Sire. We will go in search of the boy,’ Micas replied.
‘So be it.’ King Vortigern said.
Then he turned to Fabrian who was standing by his side.
‘Take Fabrian with you, so he might be your messenger. Send him back to me with the news that you have found the boy,’ he told Micas. Then he smiled at the assembled group of men.
‘You have my leave gentlemen,’ he said, dismissing them.
And as soon as they left the king’s presence, the Court Astrologers set out with Fabrian, on their journey. Early the following morning, they found some children playing together by a stream. One of the children, a young boy, noticed them, and he immediately left his playmates and ran over to speak to them,
‘I am the boy that you seek. My name is Merlin.’ He said. The Astrologers looked at him and were silent for a moment, because they were amazed that the boy already knew their purpose. Micas turned to Fabrian, and said.
‘Go now my friend, and tell King Vortigern that we have succeeded in our search.’ Fabrian nodded to him, and set off towards the castle at a run. Then Micas spoke to the young boy.
‘Will you come back with us to King Vortigern’s Court, and speak to the King on a matter of great importance to him?’
‘Yes,’ Merlin replied. ‘But before I go with you, I must first return home and tell my mother why I am going to see the King, so that she does not worry about me. My home is close by, so I won’t delay you long.’
‘Good,’ Micas replied. And a short time later, after Merlin had reassured his mother, he went with the Astrologers to Camelot. And when they arrived there, they took Merlin straight to the castle’s great hall.
Merlin walked into the great hall behind the Astrologers, and they processed in this manner to the far end of it where King Vortigern sat on his throne. Despite the grandeur of the hall, and being in the presence of the King, Merlin showed no fear. He stood infront of King Vortigern, looked up at him, and said confidently,
‘Sire, my name is Merlin, and I know that you have brought me here to tell you why your great towers would not stand.’
King Vortigern was amazed by the child’s knowledge and insight.
‘And why would that be, young master?’ he asked.
‘Your towers did not stand Sire, because two dragons sleep under the ground where they stood. And the weight of the towers pressed down on the dragons’ bodies as they slept. They became uncomfortable, and began to move about in their sleep. Their movements shook the ground above them, and it was this that caused both of the towers you built to fall down.’
Silence descended on the great hall.
There had been something about the look in Merlin’s eyes as he had spoken that defied King Vortigern to question his conclusion, and therefore, though he was amazed by what Merlin had just told him, he sent Claudas and his masons out to the site, and ordered that they should dig down beneath the foundations. The men did as they had been ordered. And after some hours of digging, they found the two dragons, just where Merlin had said they would be, one of the dragons was red and the other one was white. As soon as the masons saw them they were terrified, and they ran away, in fear for their lives.
Although this looked cowardly, it proved to be a wise decision on their part, because only a few minutes later, the daylight woke the dragons, and they climbed out of the ground and attacked each other. They fought ferociously for some time, and the Red Dragon was killed. But the White Dragon was not the victor. For Destiny had determined that just before he died, the Red Dragon had found the strength to mortally wound the White Dragon and he too died soon after the battle finished.
King Vortigern had witnessed the dragons’ fight from the battlements of his castle with Merlin standing beside him.
‘And what is the meaning of all of this? Is it possible that you can tell me, young master?’ he asked Merlin.
Merlin looked up at King Vortigern whose eyes were now wide with fear, and said,
‘I believe I can, Sire. You are the Red Dragon. The White Dragon is Pendragon and Uther, who will soon return to Camelot, kill you, and reclaim their kingdom.’ King Vortigern smiled, and shook his head, for he did not want to believe Merlin.
* * * * *
Merlin’s prediction soon proved true. For only a few days after the collapse of King Vortigern’s second tower and the battle between the dragons, the two brothers, Pendragon and Uther returned to Camelot with an enormous army. They fought with, and defeated King Vortigern and Manson’s Saxon army. When the battle was over, the usurper King Vortigern was found dead in the remains of his second ruined tower. Pendragon and Uther reclaimed Camelot, and the older brother, Pendragon, assumed his place as the rightful king.
King Pendragon and Uther asked Merlin, despite his youth, to become their counsellor. For Pendragon and Uther both agreed that Merlin was wise far beyond his years. Merlin said he was honoured by their request and accepted.
Merlin instinctively knew what his first duty would be, and that was to warn them of the imminent danger of another attack on Camelot by the Saxons.
And a short time later, the Saxons did indeed invade and wage war against King Pendragon, Uther and their loyal army close to Camelot. Both victory, and tragedy were destined to follow. For even though they won this, their second battle against the Saxons, Pendragon was struck down on the battlefield and killed.
After his brother’s death, and the designated period of mourning, Uther succeeded his older brother Pendragon, and out of respect for his brother’s valiant deeds, and in devoted remembrance of him, Uther chose to be known from that time forth, as King Uther Pendragon.
Lisette Merry has always found history fascinating. One of her favourite periods of British history is the time of the legendary King Arthur. She lives in Kent, England with her husband.