This is a chapter of King Arthur and His Knights by Blanche Winder.
One dark and stormy night, Merlin stood at one of his windows and kept looking up at the wild sky. He was expecting to see something there: something very unusual and wonderful, which one of his fairy books had told him to expect. For a long time, however, nothing happened. Then, all at once, he caught sight of a little pearly glimmer in the north. This little pearly glimmer grew brighter and brighter; it turned from silver to gold, and from gold to a deep shining red.
Merlin gazed still more eagerly, and presently, in the heart of the red glow, he saw a great star brighten, as you might see a crimson fire suddenly break into a shining flame. From the great star, one ray shot out suddenly, brilliant as a diamond and slender as a knight’s spear. At the end of the ray appeared a globe of fire, which, as Merlin still watched, uncoiled itself slowly and took the shape of a beautiful and terrible dragon. This fiery dragon opened its mouth and sent out two more rays, one to the east, the other to the west. The eastern ray seemed to have no end to it, but disappeared in brightness, so that you might almost have thought the sun was just going to rise. The ray to the west went into the night shadows and then broke up into seven smaller rays, which spread themselves in a golden fan above the shadowy peaks of the distant hills.
When Merlin had seen all this happen, he laughed gladly, and, flying down the long staircase of his fairy home, as lightly as a bird or a butterfly, he set off on invisible wings through the night. Always the fiery dragon shone in the sky overhead, and Merlin knew that its bright form was hanging just over the castle of Uther, the king. As the wizard drew near to the castle, he dropped onto his feet on the grass and took on the form of an old man, wrapped in a cloak. With his white beard, he walked up to the castle gates and knocked loudly with his staff.
Now, all this time, the great flaming dragon was lying, stretched out in the sky, steeping the towers and turrets of the castle in a crimson light, fiery and terrible. The guards and servants, the porters, the cooks, and the pages had seen it and were frightened out of their wits. Nobody dared to answer the door at first, so Merlin knocked again, much more loudly.
Then, when a terrified porter appeared, the magician, in a voice of authority, demanded to be taken to the presence of the king. There was something in Merlin’s voice that the porter dared not disobey. He hurriedly opened the great gate and let the old man in. Then he led Merlin through the courtyard —all lit up by the dragon— down the great stone corridor, across the hall, hung with gorgeous tapestry, where terrified pages waited, dressed in satins and silks. Then the porter paused and pointed, and Merlin went on alone right into the royal apartment of the king.
King Uther sat on his throne, pale and grave, and quite alone. Through a great window, curtainless and arched, came the fiery glow from the dragon in the sky. It stained the fresh green rushes on the floor with crimson and shone all about the solitary figure of the king. Uther looked up at the sound of footsteps and saw an old man coming slowly up the room, wrapped in a long cloak, with a snow-white beard.
“Who are you? Why do you come here unbidden and unannounced?” demanded the king sternly. But, before he finished speaking, the old man threw back his cloak, and Uther saw who he was. “Merlin — my friend Merlin!” he cried in an altered voice. “I am indeed glad you have come! What means this blazing and terrible dragon in the sky?”
Then Merlin answered. His voice sounded so glad and triumphant that King Uther knew the news was good even before the magician gave it.
“The dragon is the most wonderful sign that has ever shone in the sky above the castle of a king,” cried Merlin. “I have been watching for it night after night! It means that to you, and to the beautiful lady you love, a little prince will be born. This little prince will be the greatest king the world ever saw. He will reign over many subjects and will conquer all his enemies. He is the ray from the mouth of the dragon that goes to the east, and he will be as bright and beautiful as the rising sun. The ray that goes to the west, and breaks up into seven rays, is your daughter. She will be, not only a princess, but fairy, and have seven fairy children, who will teach the men —children of the West— the songs that fairies sing. That is the meaning of the fiery dragon, King Uther — the meaning that I have hurried into your presence to explain!”
Uther listened breathlessly, and, all the time, the light from the dragon shone crimson upon the faces, and hands, and robes, of the old wizard and the young king. Then Uther leaned forward and pressed his fingers on Merlin’s arm.
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“My beautiful lady?” he said eagerly. “Do you mean Ygierne?”
He could hardly wait for Merlin’s reply, because he had loved Ygierne for months, but she was shut up in a castle, quite out of his reach.
“Yes, I mean Ygierne,” answered Merlin. “I promise that you shall have her for your bride. I promise, too, that you and she shall have this bright and beautiful prince and this fairy-like princess for your children. But, if you are to marry Ygierne through my help, you must make me a promise in return.”
“What is that?” asked Uther. “Tell me! There is no promise that I would not make for the sake of beautiful Ygierne!”
“You must promise that, as soon as your little son is born, you will give him into my care. He has a great work to do in the world, and can only learn to do it if I have the charge of him. Give me your promise, Uther, and I will set about the performance of mine!”
Then King Uther, for a moment, felt uncertain and sad. Where would be the gladness in a little princely son if the child was to be taken away from him as soon as he was born? But he loved Ygierne so passionately that, after only hesitating for one second, he consented.
“Very well, Merlin!” he cried. “Very well! You shall have my little son to bring up as your own child, if you will only make it possible for me to marry my beautiful lady, Ygierne!”
The red shining through the window, which fell from the fiery dragon in the sky, grew stronger and fiercer as Uther spoke. When he had given the promise the light blazed crimson and terrible about the throne on which he sat, and showed up all the diamonds and sapphires in his scepter and crown. A peal of thunder rolled above the palace; a flash of lightning darted about the grey stone towers. The blazing dragon seemed to close its jaws. As it closed them, the rays drew slowly back into its great mouth. It stretched out its long, fiery claws, and two great golden wings rose, waving, over its great golden head. Then, all at once, it struck its wings together once — twice — thrice. Once, twice, thrice, the thunder pealed out again, and, before its echoes had died away, the fiery creature had shot, swift as an arrow, far through the night sky, leaving a long tail of starry light, like the tail of a comet, behind it.
Even King Uther had crouched for a moment and covered his face. When he took his jeweled satin cloak from his eyes, the royal throne room was empty, dark, and still. Merlin had vanished with the dragon. The king stepped down from his throne and went to the window. He looked up to the sky and saw it dark and clear, silvered over with little quiet stars. Then he summoned a herald and told him to take his trumpet and go through the castle, crying aloud these words:
“King Uther has been told the meaning of the blazing dragon in the sky. It is a sign of great gladness, and victory, and well-being for himself and for his kingdom. From now, the king will be known as King Uther Pendragon, and he lays commands on his royal sculptors that two golden dragons immediately be made. One of these dragons will be set in the capital of his kingdom. The other will be carried by his royal standard-bearer into every battle. These are the orders of Uther Pendragon, king of the lordly and ancient country of Britain!”