In which Arthur is born and his father dies
A few months passed. Just as Merlin predicted, Igraine — now Uther’s wife and the queen of England — was pregnant. By the time she entered her third trimester, her new husband started to suspect something.
“So, I can’t help but notice you’re pregnant,” he said one morning, apropos of nothing. “Tell me, whose child is it?”
This was a question that Igraine really wasn’t eager to answer.
“C’mon,” said Uther. “I promise I won’t be mad.”
“Well, okay.” Igraine explained that the night her previous husband died, he had visited her with two of his men and spent the night. It was a bizarre supernatural occurrence, what with him being dead at the time. Jordanus and Brastias didn’t sleep with her; they just came in with Gorlas and left when he did. Igraine had given it a lot of thought and she was pretty sure the father of her most recent child was one of the following: time traveling Gorlas from the recent past, Gorlas’s ghost, a demon who assumed Gorlas’s form, or Gorlas’s evil twin, biological-type or parallel-earth-type.
“Not at all,” laughed Uther. “It was me all along! I was Gorlas the whole time! Merlin did it with magic.”
“Oh, great,” said Igraine. I know that sounded like sarcasm, but Malory assures us she was completely thrilled by the knowledge that her new husband used magic to disguise himself as her late husband and sleep with her. This is way better, she thought, than any of the alternatives. So, that’s nice.
Conveniently, Merlin showed up at this point. He reminded the king about how Merlin knew Igraine would be pregnant and how Uther promised Merlin the child.
“Oh, right,” said Uther. “Well, she’s not due for another few months, do you want it immediately or should we wait until it’s born? And do you want to eat it raw or should we cook it first?”
“No, no, no.” Merlin had zero intention of eating this particular baby. “There’s this guy — Sir Ector — who you should invite to visit. Have a sit-down chat with him, you’ll see he’s a reasonable guy, and get him to promise to raise your son as if it were his own. He’ll do a great job, I promise. Solid Merlin guarantee.”
Uther wasn’t about to start disagreeing with Merlin at this point. He met with Ector as requested and extracted the aforementioned promise. When the infant boy was born, boom, Uther sent two knights and two ladies to carry him off.
Uther had no idea how to keep a secret; this was Castle Tintagil all over again. At Tintagil, Uther couldn’t just have Merlin disguise him. No, Merlin had to also disguise himself and Sir Ulfius, which meant that those two had to hang out and make small talk with the folks at Tintagil all night, dodging questions like “why aren’t you at Terrabil?” and “hey, remember that conversation we were having last time we met, Jordanus? We were discussing the personal details of mutual friends. Let’s pick it up right where we left off.”
Anyway, Uther sent this detachment of lords, plural, and ladies, also plural, to the rear gate of the castle, where Merlin stood tapping his foot (further evidence that Merlin was a some kind of vampire and could not enter homes uninvited). Merlin had made a big deal about how he wanted the baby unbaptized, but first thing he did, he got a “holy man” to baptize Arthur. Merlin then turned infant Arthur over to Ector. Sir Ector kicked his own son (Kay) off to a wet-nurse, freeing up his wife, whose milk was aristocrat milk and therefore better I guess, to nurse Arthur.
Malory declines to address how Igraine reacted to Uther stealing her newborn son and giving him to Merlin. A reasonable guess is that everyone assumed Arthur was stillborn, what with it being the Dark Ages and all. I like to imagine Uther’s solution to this issue was to laugh and tell Igraine that she was never pregnant, because at this point I actively dislike Uther. He’s just a jackass. Fortunately, he’s about to die.
(Vocabulary word of the chapter: fianuce, which Google thinks is a misspelled fiance, but is in fact a synonym for promise or oath, as in, “Ector made fianuce to Uther for to raise Arthur as his own.” See also fiancé.)
Uther’s death comes next! As promised! It’s actually pretty sad.
Time goes by, a year or two, and before things had really gotten properly settled Uther contracted an unnamed lingering disease, which could be anything from tuberculosis to stomach cancer to cerebral calcification (cerebral calcification killed Lenin). While he lay around London slowly dying, all kinds of jerks (mostly Scots) started ravaging the land, because Uther was too weak to defend it.
Merlin came to Uther. “Listen, you need to kill these damn Scots; they’re tearing up the landscape.”
Uther responded, pretty reasonably, that he was dying.
“Tough shit,” said Merlin. “New prophecy. If you meet them in battle you’ll defeat them. Otherwise they’ll rampage and roar and level Tokyo. Get Ulfius and your boys to build you a litter so they can carry you into battle.”
Whether Uther thought this is a good idea or not, no idea, on account of it was at about this point that he pretty well lost the ability to speak.
So the dying guy got loaded into a horse litter, and carried out to the battle, where he lay quietly while his men rallied around him and drove back the Northern barbarians. Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias both kicked a lot of Northern ass.
Afterwards they carried Uther back to London, where he lay motionless, too ill to talk. Now, I don’t like Uther. I’ve made no secret of that. Thus far in the story, and we’re at the very beginning, he’s the best-defined character and he’s defined as a petulant brat whose only positive feature is his willingness to do as Merlin advises. By modern standards, if not the standards of the time, he raped Igraine.
That said, his slow and lingering death is a real bummer. Uther’s court could tell he was on his way out, so they asked Merlin what to do. Merlin confirmed Uther’s fast-approaching death, but volunteered to whip up some magic which would render him able to speak, if only for a few minutes.
The next morning, Merlin stood by Uther’s bedside, in front of the assembled lords, and did his magic. It may or may not have been ventriloquism, which is just a first-level spell according to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook. It may have been actual ventriloquism. Either way, ‘Uther’ gave a short speech about how he had a secret son who would be King Arthur, and then he died.
Also we’re told Igraine wailed and mourned him, so, that’s sad too.
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