On the subject of “When I should have been working”, I just found a little something I wrote a couple of years ago, apparently while overdosing on Arthurian legends.
Below is the prose part of it, being the beginning and the end of an account of Arthur the Unlucky, done in the mode of “All people are bastards, woe is me and maybe no-one ever found the Grail because it never existed”. It’s a bit less cheerful than that might suggest; apparently I imagined it as the testament of some really, really disgruntled old soldier. And no, it’s not humor.
The other part of my old scribble, a time scheme, contains such a hasty, abbreviated version of my half-baked ideas for the rest that it’s not worth reproducing here. Anyway, you know the general outline from a hundred other tellings.
Curiously enough, the first part is pretty much “before Arthur was born” and the second “after Arthur died” — seems I managed to write only the parts where the main character doesn’t appear!
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Ambrosius Aurelianus was the high warlord of the Britons before Arthur. He was a foul and ill-tempered man but highly esteemed by the wise because he was the greatest war-leader these poor isles have seen, before or after. He was greater in war than even Arthur, who eventually became the high warlord of us all.
Ambrosius is best remembered for defeating the immense host of Aelle, the Southern King of the Saxons in these isles, at Mount Badon, where Arthur was too young to fight, but where he much later won a great battle of his own. Aelle, whom his own brutish people called Over-Proud, gathered all his men, and many free men of the other Saxon Kings, and even some mercenaries and greedy adventurers from beyond the sea, and marched north and west, intending to reach the western sea and thus cut the Briton lands in half. He mayhap expected Ambrosius to charge at him in dire fear of this event, rushed and easy to defeat.
Aelle reached the western sea with great sack and slaughter of all he could reach, and he raised his standard at the shore and wondered where the high warlord was. From the north there marched no banners, no men from the hills; from the south there came no cry, no lords from the lowlands. Aelle’s men burned and raped, but Aelle himself was intimidated by this absence. What runners he sent back to his dominions went and never returned, for Ambrosius’s men laid in wait and killed them, and so Aelle heard nothing of the east.
When the Southern King had waited for a month, a bloodied messenger loped to his camp from east, saying that Ambrosius had scorned battle with the King and preferred sacking the Saxon lands, and that the hall of Aelle was under siege and ill prepared to withstand Ambrosius’s attack.
So Aelle rose up in anger and fear, and rushed east, and in that rush was met by the main strength of Ambrosius, which had never been in the Saxon lands, and on Mount Badon the Saxon army was met, and scattered, and destroyed, far from its home.
Aelle cried for Ambrosius to meet him in combat, but Ambrosius sent his archers instead, and Aelle was slain. Because of this the men of Ambrosius grew to loathe him, for though he was victorious, he did not appear brave. And Ambrosius ordered the hereditary parts of each slain Saxon to be rendered apart from his body, and these parts he sent to the hall of Aelle in the southern Saxon lands.
Some say that receiving this terrible proof of Aelle’s defeat drove his older son to suicide, and his younger son to fearful exile somewhere beyond the seas. The seat and hall of the Southern King were vacant for years, and the power of that kingdom was greatly diminished.
Ambrosius so won a great victory over the Saxons, and there was peace in our lands for many years, but the people loved Ambrosius not, for Aelle had cruelly ravaged their lands and killed many of them. And the warriors loved him not, for he had not met Aelle at the first chance, and had not fought him himself.
Now this is what was told of Ambrosius Aurelianus before Arthur and of how Aurelianus became the high warlord, which position was by Arthur called High King.
Ambrosius was born of people that had ancestors of our British race, and ancestors of the stone people from beyond the sea and beyond the long lands as well. His father, though poor, was brave and held the most beautiful hall in these isles, or say the tales said.
The hall of Ambrosius’s childhood was, however, close to the Saxon lands, and one night it was attacked by [name illegible], who later became the Northern King of the Saxons. All of Ambrosius’s family and all of its servants and followers were slain, and the hall itself was looted and put to the torch.
Ambrosius was at the time a ward of the infamous Vortigern, who was the high warlord, and thus he survived, though without inheritance or followers. From childhood Ambrosius was proud and artless, and quick to anger and slow to forgive. It is said that he blamed Vortigern for his family’s end, and never forgave him.
Vortigern had two sons that both died young of the bleeding disease, and one that died not. The name of this son was Uther, and he was Ambrosius’s constant rival and unwilling companion.
Some said that the reason Uther was not afflicted by the bleeding disease was that he was not a son of Vortigern, and that Vortigern’s wife had been unfaithful with Ambrosius’s father, who had been the most handsome of all men at that time.
Ambrosius had but one child, a son, and even that was born out of wedlock. He denounced the son and said that the mother had been a witch and that he had been seduced with foul sorcery.
Ambrosius did not like women or children, and he loathed even the company of men.
That son was called Merlin by his mother, and he comes to the tale of Arthur later.
There have been many outsiders and warlocks called Merlin, and this Merlin bastard of Ambrosius is not the Merlin that ill advised Vortigern. The deeds of the bastard of Ambrosius are different, though equally disastrous.
When Vortigern then fell ill, wearied by the constant war and unrest that had resulted of his own ambition, people expected Uther to become the next lord of us all, the next high warlord.
To have glory well separate from the infamy of his father, Uther then gathered a host and engaged the Saxons of the southern lands in combat. Ambrosius, who would not serve under Uther, gathered a host of his own, and went north to battle the Saxons there.
Uther laid siege to the hall of the Southern King of the Saxons in the south. In the north, Ambrosius fought many battles and gathered the heads of three Saxon kings.
In the south, Uther breached the doors of the Southern Hall, but before he could sack it, a great host came from farther east and forced him to flee, losing many men and all the spoils of his siege.
Uther was besieged on a low hill in the borderlands, and after losing many of his men he broke and knelt and surrendered to the Saxons, pleading for clemency and for the lives of his men.
As Uther knelt and whined, and the Saxons cheered and drank, the men of Ambrosius came from the north and utterly surprised them all, and the Saxons were driven into utter disarray and defeated with great slaughter.
So Uther returned to his father defeated and humiliated, without spoils and with little men, and even them all hating him, while Ambrosius returned with the heads of three kings and their arms, with great spoils and many captured women and swords, with his men all singing his praises.
Vortigern, the ill king, called Ambrosius his son, and refused to see Uther who was his true issue, and when the high warlord died, it was Ambrosius that stood at his bedside, proud and grim.
Uther muttered that maybe it was no accident that Ambrosius had come to his rescue so late, but people hated him for saying such a craven thing, true or not.
So Ambrosius became the high warlord and the lord of us all, and people esteemed his cunning but loathed his ill temper.
Uther would not serve him, and so the son of Vortigern gathered a pitiful number of men, all that would follow him, and went east to prove himself in battle, and died there with all of his men.
Some say that in losing he against pled for his life, but [name illegible] would not take him for a slave, or honor him as a warrior, and so killed him.
Now this is to be said of the issue of Uther.
His eldest brother died before he was named, for he was born wrong and afflicted with the bleeding disease.
The second of his elder brothers was Pendragon, who also was cursed with the bleeding disease, and was weak from the birth.
Pendragon was married to a western girl named Igraine when he was ten years old, for Vortigern desired the help of the western Britons, of whom Igraine’s father was king.
Igraine was older than Pendragon, and had already been married to a western lord named Gorlois, but the western king proclaimed that their marriage had not been consummated, for Gorlois had died of insanity.
Pendragon was married at ten, and died of the bleeding disease when he was sixteen.
Pendragon and Igraine had but one child, a girl, named Anna Morgause. She was born soon after Igraine married Pendragon, and some say he was not of Pendragon, but of mad Gorlois. This would explain much, but it may be only a malign rumour, for Morgause was much hated by some.
That girl was at birth named Anna by Igraine, and named Morgause by Pendragon, but in the end she scorned both names and answered, when willing, only to Morgaine, or Morgan.
Vortigern needed the western people for his war against the Saxons, and so after Pendragon’s death Igraine was married to Uther, Pendragon’s brother.
Soon Igraine gave a son to Uther, but no other issue. Igraine wasted herself caring for that lone son, and when news came of Uther being besieged by Saxons on that low hill, as already told, she lost her wits and threw herself down from a high tower and died.
The son of Uther and of Igraine the wife of Gorlois, Pendragon and Uther, was Arthur.
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Note: That was the beginning; now the ending.
Also — no whining about “Morgause and Morgaine are different people!” or similar issues — as there’s no “original tale” to be followed, I’m just putting old, worn pieces together into a shape that amuses me. If you think this is an original approach, just see Wikipedia on Morgause for a dizzying list of women she was, and the children and men she had.
Oh, and [name illegible] is just a way of fudging [damn, I don't feel like digging up a sufficiently good-sounding Saxon name right now, much less one of some historical plausibility].
* * *
So Arthur died, and proud Constantine took his crown.
He said that Arthur had given it to him when the Angels took him up, but I was there: there were no Angels, no taking-up, and no speech by the dead king. Only Constantine, kneeling by the fallen king’s side, listening for his breath, and then kicking his side – maybe because of hate, maybe to see if he had really given up the spirit. Then Constantine tore the bloodied crown from his helm, and whispered: “The king is dead; so I am the king.”
[lost; concerning the bodies of Arthur and Mordred]
King Constantine’s first deed was to deal with the two young sons of Mordred. They had few armsmen so they had to flee: Constantine slaughtered their followers. They had few friends so they had to constantly move from one place to another: Constantine crucified the elders of any village they had passed through to encourage their capture. They had no-one to turn to, and so indeed they turned to God, and separately took refuge in churches and pled for mercy, or at least the clemency of exile.
Constantine, in the guise of an abbot, came to them both in turn and spilled their blood on the floors of those churches, hacked at them and threw their limbs to the corners of those holy halls, and in the end desecrated and burned the churches and beheaded their priests so there would be no relic, ever, and no memory, of the cursed lineage of Arthur.
So no-one of Arthur’s time remained: they were all dead save Constantine the Unnoticed. Dead all: Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Gawain, Galahad, Lot, Ban and Mordred. Dead or gone beyond the reach of men: Arthur, Morgaine, maidens of the lake, the holy grail, the wounded king. And, since the brute strength of the beastly always triumphs over the foolish delusions of the noble, soon the Saxons made war again, and Constantine was slain, and the British dominion of these isles ended.
All is blood, foolishness, betrayal and death, and here I end.
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Endnote: Can you imagine how cheerful some 10 000 words of this would have been?