It befell when King Arthur had wedded Queen Guinevere and fulfilled the Round Table, and so after his marvellous knights and he had vanquished the most part of his enemies–
. . . then so it befell that the Emperor of Rome, Lucius, sent unto Arthur messengers commanding him for to pay his truage that his ancestors have paid before him.
When King Arthur wist what they meant, he looked up with his grey eyes, and angered at the messengers passing sore.
–from Le Morte Darthur, by Thomas Malory.
Helen Cooper, ed. Oxford University Press, 1988.
Sometimes, you might be feeling that things have come together in your life, that things are going well. Perhaps you are home, enjoying a meal with friends; perhaps you just got married or got a new job or have finally come into a good, stable place in your life. Then, something rocks the equanimity. In 2021, all I need say is “covid” to bring such a circumstance to mind.
In Thomas Malory’s epic tale of King Arthur, Le Morte Darthur, the young king has finally, exhaustedly, solidified his rule and he just married Guinevere (though Merlin told him not to). They are celebrating in Camelot with a comforting future ahead. Then, out of the blue, ambassadors from Rome come to Arthur’s court, demanding fealty, and a whole unexpected trajectory spins into play. Arthur will leave England with troops, battle his way across Europe, slay a giant, kill the Roman emperor, rest by Lake Lucerne, cross the Alps, besiege a city, and, ultimately, arrive in Rome. It becomes his defining action as king, and his journey defined mine as a reader. I decided to follow Arthur’s route.