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Taliessin and the division of the Table

20 June 2010

The Divison of the Table’s lords
began with Sir Cay; Mordred it was
who proposed that the Lords of the
Table would be better serving the
business of rule and law if it were
their only business; he and Cay
laid the plan—and forbade any
of the noble blood of the Table
to work with their hands their own
lands or by their own labor bring
forth bounty.

To many this seemed a great thing;
that their only duty would be to
the realm and the King, and the
bounty of Albion would reign supreme.
But Taliessin addressed the Table’s
assembly and stated simply:

‘The curse of man is to work by
the sweat of his brow and the
tilling of the ground with his hands;
there is bounty in Albion, to be sure,
but not by the Art of the druid-college
nor by sorceries or schemes is it
produced. Though curse, it too is
a boon, for a man with work to do
can have no time to plot and plan,
to skulk and sulk; no, it is not for us
who at the Table sit to drink deep
of the bounty of others. What will
come of this is shame and disgrace:
all Albion will curse the face of its
King, and children will starve, or
their mothers.  For this sin (yes, I
will name it thus) must needs keep
the poor in slavery, and the great
it will make as gods; my lords, we cannot
this thing do.  We are rulers, yet
we are still men; to accept tithes
for our support, as are given to
God, seems a great blasphemy—
at least, to me.’

But the words of Taliessin went
unheeded by the lords of the
Table, save for the Lord Lancelot,
Sir Bedivere, Sir Bors, and the
cousins of the King, Gawain,
the grim but gallant Percival, the
Holy Knight Galahad and his
young nephew Gareth, newly come
to the Table’s fellowship.

As Merlin struggled in Llyonese
with Morgan’s wild will, all went
as Taliessin foresaw; in a year,
all Albion was laboring under the
rule of its masters (her protectors
no longer) and the lords
of poorer lands were taxed hard.
It was Sir Bedivere who came
to his friend, the king’s bard,
and spoke of the hardships in
the little land of Gwynedd, his
vassalage to Arthur, and how
he could not afford to squander
the lives of his people in toil
under the new law; Taliessin
counseled him to do as he
must; at dusk, before the evening meal
he excused himself from the Table
for a matter of haste, and home
went to Gwynedd to plant with
his people the crops for the season.

Mordred learned of the reason
for his leaving, and brought
before the Table’s assembly the
proof of Bedivere’s knowing and
willing treason; Sir Bors,
seeing the light of laughter
on the face of the King’s bastard
spoke out:

‘Boy, speak softly of your betters,
for Bedivere, who is lord but of
a mean realm that has no great
hoard of wealth, is a lord at least–
not some bastard boy who rode
out of the witch-queen’s north
to usurp the crown of his sire!’

The knife was thrown, but by
whom it is not known; Bors
dodged aside as the Table
erupted in violence; the brothers
who once swore eternal allegiance to
one another, the King, and Albion
shattered their oaths that day
as the King’s bastard and Cay
led the revolt; the king must, perforce,
obey the law–though he had no wish
to strip Bedivere of his title
and lands (what great crime is it,
to work with the hands the soil
of one’s homeland, and bring
forth bounty for harvest?).
But the king was bound by the law
he himself had made when he laid
the rule of law upon the Table’s Fellowship.
Bedivere was stripped of his privilege,
his seat at the Table. That very day
Bors, Galahad, Gawain, Lancelot and Percival
left the kind’s castle; each sent
messages and called their banners,
while Taliessin, at length,
pleaded with the king in words
and in verse, in the hurried
insitence as the lover of his soul,
to forsake the crown in the name
of his friends:

“My lord, we must all lose our own ends,
and the sins for which we atone
in this life are not for us alone, but for
the score set aright by love and by light–
and the greatest love (said Our Fair Lord)
is he who will lay down his life for this friends.
If the life of the kingdom is the life of king,
lay aside now your earthly crown, and bring
to an end this disaster of rule of law,
which is but the rule of unjust men.”

The king wept bitter tears; down
he threw the crown from off his brow,
and the king and the king’s poet
forsook Camelot, two wandering pilgrims now
headed for the solace and comfort
to be found with the loyal rebels
in the king’s homeland of Wales.

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