Back to top

The Fight on Rhu-Carn

1 "Arthurius cum duobus equitibus suis. Kay videlicet et Bedgar, super cacumen collis cum alea ludentes consedere." Vita S. Cadoci. MS. Cott. Lib. Brit. Mus.
[Rhu-Carn is the name of a mountain road connecting the upper parts of Monmouthshire with Breconshire. Pen - i.e., the head or top - is the highest point in the line which takes its name from the numerous carns or heaps of sepulchral stones scattered near its course.]

ARTHUR, one sunny morn, our legends say,
Sat, playing dice,1 on Pen-Rhu-Carn with Kay
And Bedgar, his two knights, resting awhile
On one of those excursions through our Isle,
Taken at times to see with his own eyes
And hear with his own ears if that great prize,
So coveted by monarchs, his acclaim
For equal justice stood aright with Fame;
When looking down the pass, that led away
To the hill-tracts where Braganus held sway,
Now Brecon called, he saw up the hill-side
A single horseman, hotly spurring, ride,
Who, by her slender waist held safe before,
A lovely damsel, pale and anxious, bore;
Followed at a short space by his own men,
And farther down and farther yet again
Bands of pursuers who across the heath
With gestures wild, rode onwards, threatening death.
Up sprang the knights and clutched their arms with glee,
"Now, my Lord Arthur, this concerneth thee!
Lo! many press on few - odds most unfair,
Speak but the word, and straight two swords are there,
Which may go far to equal odds more great."
"Go then," cried Arthur, "but first bid them state
The reason of this flight and sharp pursuit -
Yet stay, the maid is fair, and ye are mute
Save to ring out your war-cries fierce and clear,
And she, methinks, wants nothing more to fear."
So strode they towards the riders, laughingly,
Who slowlier came, in wonder there to see
Figures of such proud bearing, and the king
With a grim smile beheld the damsel cling
More closely to her lover.  With command
Spoke Arthur, bade them tell upon whose land,
Within whose territorial bounds they stood,
And why their quarrel seemed a thing of blood.
"Gunleus am I, son of a king, and heir
Of this his realm; and in my arms I bear
My wife of one hour old, but still my wife,
Won by true love from faction, hate, and strife,
Daughter of Brychan, who, misled by spite,
Refus'd by day what we ne'er ask'd by night.
To Talgarth, to his Court, my father sent,
As king to king, and ofttimes, too, I went;
But all in vain, he still refus'd consent.
What could two lovers do?  She fled with me;
Her father vows a deadly enmity,
And yonder come his powers."
                                                   "Ride on secure,
We three will stay to make your nuptials sure."
And so they parted. - On a rising ground
Gunleus and his fair bride look'd safely round
And saw amaz'd three leaders stay his men,
Range them in quick array, and back again;
With vantage of the ground, charge the thick host,
That late pursued, - drive them from post to post
Until they broke and fled in wild dismay,
To cry in terror, "What gods fought that day!"
Then Gunleus to his palace on the hill -
From him Alt-Gunlieu called - rode fast to fill
His hall for feasting; but the vizor'd king
Rode by and would not stay, but gave a ring
To Gladys the fair bride; and years had gone
Ere Gunleus knew - shewing the graven stone
To an old trusted courtier, who amaz'd
Long at the gem on Gladys' finger gaz'd -
And learnt its tale, that Bedgar and Sir Kay,
And Arthur's self, fought on Rhu-Carn that day.