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The Tale of How Arthur Got His Tomatoes
Arthur, king of Camelot, awoke from an odd dream. In it, he was surrounded by many strange, red fruit. They were about the same size and shape as his fist and hung from vines. He had never before seen such fruit and longed to taste one. Upon rising, he asked for his wife's, Guenevere's, advice on his dream. She had no knowledge of such a fruit. The king was dismayed that his wife could not help him to obtain something as simple as a fruit. He thought that Merlin, his magician, must surely know of it.
The king went to Merlin's abode and found the magician bent over some ancient tome of lore. He waited for the old man to finish his reading before speaking. One does not bother a man as powerful as this wizard, even if you are a king. After hearing King Arthur relate his dream and describe the fruit he beheld in it, Merlin thought about the dream and the fruit for some time. He knew of no such thing, and offered to look though his library to see if he could glean some insight. Arthur asked him to do so and told him to take as long as he needed and whatever was needed to assist him with the search was his for the asking.
With that settled for now, the king left his trusted advisor doubting not that soon he would hold in his hands some of that mysterious fruit from his most unusual dream. Arthur could not stop thinking about the soft, red flesh or the sweet taste of it. He must have that fruit at any cost. He had no idea that it would take Merlin six months to discern the whereabouts of the object of his king's obsession.
The king had been impatient for some time. The red fruit kept creeping into his dreams. Every time it did, he reported it to Merlin in case there was anything new that might help the magician to locate one of the fruit for him. At first, the famed magician could not find the least bit of information about what it was or where it could be found. No book had anything like it, no story told of it, the dreams did not have enough information to be of much help.
At last, success! Merlin had ascertained through meditation, dream interpretation, and scrying where the king could locate the object of his obsession. It was a long ways off to the west. Many days of sailing would be required to get there and many more to return. When advised of this, Arthur was at first disheartened. A few minute of thought and then he told his mage that he must have some of the fruit from his dreams. Merlin was to draw up plans for the journey and decide what provisions would be taken and how many people would be needed.
So Merlin returned to his library to determine how long he expected the voyage to take and how many sailors would be needed. From the court, he thought it best to take only a small number, only three. Three is a good number, good things come in threes. Two of the people were already decided, the king would not stay and the wizard might be needed to deal with situations that arise. The question before him was who else should go? Many of the knights would jump at the chance for such an adventure. Perhaps Sir Lancelot would be best. Now, who to recommend to watch over the kingdom while Arthur was away on this quest? Much, much trickier and would require more thought. After some deliberation, the magician decided on Sir Galahad, that knight had much to recommend him for such a position of trust. He was quite possibly the most trust-worthy of that august group of men.
With all that settled, Merlin had to think about how many sailors would be needed for this voyage. First was to see what ships were available and pick one to use. The largest one would be needed for the king's quest and enough experienced sailors to sail into uncharted waters and return safely. He had little trouble at the docks, none would dare to question a wizard much less the king's own. Afterwards, he gathered together several merchant captains and their stewards. They discussed the requirements of the trip and came to an agreement concerning the amount and type of supplies needed. Now, all that was needed was to acquire the needed supplies. This task was given to the king's steward.
A week later, Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, and Galahad met in Arthur's private chambers. The king explained why they were gathered together and his dream. While both Lancelot and Galahad were itching for an adventure, they did not expect such an odd quest as this one. Galahad was quite disappointed that he was to stay behind. His only consolation was that he was to be entrusted with running Camelot while the Arthur was off adventuring. This was a great responsibility and the knight well knew what an honor it was to be given such a task. Sir Galahad tried to talk the king into staying and the knight taking his place as part of the adventuring party. King Arthur would have none of that, to stay behind on his own quest was simply unthinkable. The king must go and the knight was the most suitable to ruling in his absence. The good knight could not resist such an appeal and accepted his task. Lancelot was much happier with his part in this quest. Haring off on adventures was second nature to the impetuous knight.
They decided on a fortnight for preparing. Supplies were gathered, a crew selected, the ship outfitted for a voyage longer than had been undertaken by anyone, and all of the preparations were done2 in that fortnight. Merlin gathered books, scrolls, and supplies he'd need for the trip. Sir Lancelot picked out and readied his armor and weapons. King Arthur went over running the kingdom with Sir Galahad and ordered his armor and weapons to be made ready. All were busy for that fortnight which went by faster than a galloping horse. Soon, all too soon, it was time to set out on their adventure. There was a grand procession to the docks, all the knights resplendent in their shining armor. Their wives in their very best gowns rode beside them, there was a rainbow of colors stretching from the castle to the docks. People had come from far and away just to watch this procession and bid those leaving farewell. Arthur and Guinevere were in the lead, followed by Merlin and Lancelot. At the rear were Galahad and his wife.
When this procession reached the harbor, those sailing out split off and Sir Galahad took the lead of those remaining behind. The king gave a short speech and then they all embarked. The knights and the women waved farewell to all those who were leaving. The ship slowly pulled out of the harbor bound for Eire on its way east to the mystery fruit.
The crossing to Eire was uneventful. The seas were calm and no one accosted them. They put in at a small fishing village on the south eastern coast. Here they spent a few days and prepared to meet the king of Eire. King Arthur sent Sir Lancelot to the king of Eire to get provisions for the next leg of his journey. The knight took only a small contingent as the ship would sail around to a closer town to the king of Eire's castle. Merlin suggested doing this since they would be here until they were ready for their next hop, it would do well to allow the king to be properly prepared. Also, so the Irish king could be reassured that Arthur did not mean to engage in battle.
Lancelot rode his horse and the eight sailors that rode with him borrowed some horses from the villagers. They rode slowly with three elders of the village. It took them three days to arrive at the king's castle. Each day ended at another village where the twelve of them would be put up in the homes of the village elders. The knight gave everyone who allowed his men and himself to stay at their homes a small token in return for their hospitality. No highwayman bothered them, no disaster befell them, their trip went smoothly. They were able to appreciate the Irish countryside as the guides pointed out various important pieces of landscape.
When Lancelot and his troupe arrived at the king's castle, they were greeted warmly. Both sides exchanged gifts and a banquet was made ready. Lancelot and the sailors were given food, wine, and a chance to refresh themselves from their journey. During the meal, the knight explained to the king that Arthur would soon arrive seeking only some provisions to continue his quest. As to King Arthur's quest, Lancelot said little and suggested that the Irish king speak to the king of the Britons, as he had not enough details to rightly understand it himself. There was to be adventure and that is what mattered most to him. Afterwards, news of both kingdoms was exchanged and stories told, and much wine was drunk by all at the banquet.
Arthur and Merlin were guided by a local fisherman around Eire to a village on the north western coast. Here the captain put in. The king, his magician, and seven sailors rode from this coastal village to the Irish king's hall. They were guided by three men from that village. With so many well armed men, they had no trouble on their way either and met with no ill fortune. This group stayed at the houses of village elders in those villages where they stayed and exchanged gifts with all. After three days, the king's troupe arrived at the hall of the king of Eire. With the three days of sailing, Lancelot had been trying the patience of that worthy king. The knight's boasts were unbelievable and his wine consumption astounding.
Still, the Irish king greeted Arthur warmly and provided drink and food and a place for the travelers to refresh themselves. As they were resting, a great feast was prepared in King Arthur's honor. The king or the Britons discussed a few things with Merlin before getting ready for the feast and was reassured that his magician also thought this king to be warm and friendly and not disguising an ulterior motive in his treatment of them.
The feast was grand, every type of game was present, sweet breads aplenty, and all manner of wine flowed freely. The three from Camelot enjoyed themselves and swapped many stories with the Irish king and his knights. It went on well into the night and not a man left the hall less than roaring drunk.
The following day, Arthur met with the Irish king and they talked privately about Arthur's quest. The Irish king agreed to give Arthur the supplies needed for the next leg of the journey and wished him well on his voyage and a swift return. The following day, Merlin and the steward discussed supplies and made arrangements to transport them to the ship. Both nights ended in drunken revelry, the Irish king not being one to skimp on hospitality.
The third day after Arthur's arrival, they were off again. Lancelot, Merlin, Arthur, and the fifteen sailors were escorted by some of the Irish knights back to their ship. Even with their gifts and supplies, no one bothered this group. There were rumors that some of the highwaymen, knowing who was traveling, took to warning the rest off. The last thing they wanted was increased attention and more armed men looking for them.
Once again, the ship set out, bound for unknown lands to find a dream fruit. Now, the sea and air turned cold as they headed for Iceland. Merlin was not hopeful, but they could not carry all the supplies needed for a journey of such length. The Norse were not as well disposed to the knights of Camelot as the Irish were. Though if caught in a good mood, their hospitality was unbelievably great. They needn't linger, only get what they needed and leave quickly. The head of the king's magician was uneasy, he did not think it likely that the Norse in Iceland would be hospitable to those from Camelot. His thoughts were as dark as the sea surrounding their ship.
The ship approached the cold shore of Iceland. There were constant watchers for icebergs and sea monsters and raiders. These waters teamed with evil, both above and below the surface of the sea. At least the fishing was good and helped the supplies stretch for a bit longer. They came across a fishing boat and hailed her for news hoping to get some feel for the mood of the Norse lord. The fishermen replied that the lord had just returned from raiding and had had a poor raid. This bothered Arthur and Merlin, though they could not avoid the coming meeting and would not turn back. They could not afford to skip a stop for supplies.
Arthur had insisted that the sailors for this voyage being the best fighters on the seas and had the best arms and armor in Camelot brought to the ship. There was enough for all on board and some for trade as well. Of course, the king of Camelot brought Excalibur and his best suit of mail. The knight brought his very best as well; it would not do to be caught in a strange land and not be able to defend himself or his king to the best of his ability. So Arthur had the sailors prepare the weapons and armor, but since he had no intention of antagonizing the Norse lord, he asked for the weapons and armor to be hidden as well and as long as possible. Lancelot was hoping, unlike his king, that there would be fighting for his trip was very boring other than the drinking and feasting in Eire.
They landed near the lord's stronghold and only a few debarked; Arthur, Merlin, and Lancelot among them. They Carefully approached the gate and asked for entrance. King Arthur used all of his skills at diplomacy to show he meant no harm, only to trade for some supplies. Gold, silver, jewelry were all brought out and shown to the gatekeepers so that they would know the sailors had come to trade, not to fight. Gifts of rare fabrics were prepared. The very best was brought out and laid before the Norsemen, in the hopes of peace. Arthur tried all he could to trade with them rather than fight. But, the Norse were spoiling for a fight after a recent failed raid.
All of Arthur's entreaties were spurned and out marched the men of the north, resplendent in their armor. The men of Camelot retreated to the ship and raised their army, small as it was. Fortunately, the Icelandic force was no bigger; many had been lost and more were wounded on the last raid. The lord's garrison was much reduced, but wanting a fight, they thought Arthur's few would make for an easy win.
The soldiers of Camelot met the Norse on the beach. The clang of metal on metal could be heard for miles. The sounds of men dying and being injured drowned out other sounds. The battle did not last long, and the Norse army retreated as Arthur's advanced on the stronghold.
Merlin, early in the battle, cast a spell to discourage the Norsemen and then another to encourage the Britons. When he noticed that they were winning, he broke what remained of the Norsemen's spirit by conjuring an illusion of a large sea serpent ready to attack. The battle was short and with very little loss of life on both sides. Arthur pressed his advantage to storm the stronghold despite a grievous wound he received. Having beaten the Norse nobleman, the king extracted an agreement from them. The Norse would give Arthur and his men the supplies they needed and they would leave in peace. So, the wounded had their wounds tended. The ship from Camelot was resupplied and made ready to sail the following day.
Morning broke and the captain set off early without ceremony. All thought it best to leave before the Norse could bring reinforcements. The sea was still dark as was the sky. These were portents of a great storm approaching. All were downcast after the battle and the roughs seas did not improve their mood. The fishing was poor too. The night was dark and moonless and eerily calm. The sea was still, the wind did not blow. Just as morning broke, the storm let loose.
The wind blew the ship around like it was a toy. The sail ripped to shreds, the waves taller than the mast. Many was the time the sailors had drawn a breath as the ship was slammed about. The rain torrented down. In seconds, not a thing was dry on that ship. It even started to fill the hold and drag it below the waves. For the whole of that day, the sailors bravely fought for their lives against the storm. It continued into the night. Many thought all was lost, that they would not survive the night, but they sill fought on.
The next morning came soft and bright. The seas had calmed, the wind stopped, and they were still afloat. Still alive! The ship was badly damaged, though somehow still, barely, floating. They bailed out the hold, and made what few repairs they could. Merlin looked about and said he would have to wait until that night to see the stars and determine where they were. Arthur praised the sailors and promised great rewards for all when they returned to Camelot, in return for their bravery and skill.
That night, Merlin looked at the sky. With much of their supplies lost, they did not have long until they ran out. With equal measures of hope and dread, he determined their position and checked the maps. What luck! They were only two days sailing from Greenland. More Norsemen, but these might be in a better mood. Arthur and Lancelot spent those days preparing plans for if they were not in a helpful mood. The injured sailors were recovering now that the storm was over. All that could be repaired was. This ship showed signs of the storm, but sailed with ease for now. With the news of land near and seeing that the injuries were being well tended and knowing they had survived against all odds, the crew were very hopeful.
The ship put in at a large village on the sea. The local lord rode out to meet the incoming ship. King Arthur, Merlin, and Sir Lancelot debarked and approached the nobleman cautiously. He greeted them warmly when he discovered who led them and offered to repair the ship and resupply them. The tales of that noble king of Camelot had reached even this far corner of the world. Surviving that storm also showed to him that the gods smiled on these men.
All the crew debarked and went to the lord's hall. The wounded were tended by the Norse noble's physicians. All were given their fill of food and drink. The captain, Arthur, Lancelot, and Merlin met with the lord privately. They gave their tale, in full, to him and the king explained his quest as well. Impressed with the tale of their voyage thus far, he again pledged to repair the ship, supply them, and heal them, asking for nothing in return. It would be his honour to help such men as these, ones whom the gods spared from certain death. This man could not refuse to offer help on such a quest, it would speak poorly of him, especially to refuse the legendary king of Camelot. They were to be his guests until they recovered and all was ready for the next part of their quest.
Every night, there was a sumptuous feast prepared and the wine flowed like water down a mountainside. All were happy and shared many stories and much news. A week passed, and all was now ready. The crew boarded, Arthur gave his thanks to the lord and presented him with what few tokens he could. The lord promised to visit him in Camelot after he returned from his quest. They parted as good friends. A few of the local sailors asked to join, to replace those lost and those who could not withstand such a journey. These sailors were greeted with much thanks and allowed to join.
The air became colder and the wind chill. The seas were rough and the adventurers had to watch for icebergs. Fortunately, the new sailors were experienced with this kind of weather and these seas. They sailed slowly and cautiously towards the west. Arthur could feel the red fruit beckoning him. It was getting nearer by the hour, he could feel it!
After several days, they had traveled further than anyone was known to have gone. Lancelot was excited, new land, new experiences, new people! Merlin was less melancholy than he had been for most of the journey, as he was looking forward to the new knowledge he would discover. The sailors were hoping to see land soon. This ship was not well built for the open seas. The captain was very worried about the ship and these seas.
They spotted shore not long afterwards. Looking for a village, they sailed down the coast. Much of the land was covered in snow and it had been spring when they had set out from Camelot. The king could not believe how long it had been since he last saw his kingdom. Further south they saw some locals out fishing and tried to converse with these fishermen. It was no use, they did not have a language in common, though they had many languages spoken by the sailors on board. Still, the sailors were able to get across the basics of what they wanted to the fishermen. Shortly, they were debarking in a nearby village.
Soon they were surrounded by the natives of this distant land. To Arthur, they were odd looking with their dark reddish skin and course leather clothes. He would have been horrified to know the villagers thought he was equally odd looking with his pale skin and unusual clothes. These were friendly people and offered food and drink to Arthur and his company. The man king Arthur assumed was their leader approached him and spoke a few words. The king replied with welcoming words, thinking that this leader was greeting him as he would greet this man in his own castle. Lancelot was greatly disappointed when he discovered their drink was not alcoholic, but he enjoyed it anyway. They were given to several families to stay the night. Merlin, the captain, and a few sailors worked with some of the villagers to work out the their language. In a few hours, they had a few basics and decided to work on it some more the following day.
The morning shone cold and bright. Those trying to learn the language once again met with their teachers. It was slow at first, but by the end of the day they had the basics well understood. The chiefs both met and pointing and nodding, came to some agreement. Many of the sailors helped with the cleaning and preparing of the fish. The next few days went the same. After a week, Arthur knew his fruit was not here and he had not heard of anything that would help him to locate it. Merlin and the captain persuaded him to head south. The king thanked his hosts and they exchanged gifts. All waved farewell as the ship slid slowly to the south in search of the mysterious red fruit.
They sailed for a few days and the weather remained cold. Winter was definitely upon them. Fortunately, it was mostly clear and there were no storms. Fish were plentiful and their hold full of supplies. All but Lancelot were content, he wanted more excitement, a battle, a storm, a sea monster, a drinking contest at least; the good knight longed for action. Upon spying a bay and seeing some boats, they decided to risk another visit with the natives of this land. They cautiously approached and tried to hail the boats, but they could not understand one another. Some gestures later and they were escorted to the village. These were similar looking to the other villagers, only the language was different. The village leader came out, saw them and rushed to another hut. Everyone was perplexed. What could have caused offense? Then he came out with a man that looked like a Norseman. Could it be? It was, one of the Norse sailors started to talk to him and he replied. This was a Norse fisherman who was brought here by a storm some years ago.
They were led to a large hut where they all gathered and spoke together. Arthur explained his quest and need for supplies and directions. The village leader was reassured that they did not wish to fight. That night a great feast was held and they were to sleep in the communal hut for tonight and discuss plans on the following day. That day opened with much snow on the ground. The sailors helped clear the snow and cut the wood for fires and hunt for food. The villagers were impressed with their willingness to help and asked them to stay the winter here.
With the weather and the hardships encountered so far, Arthur decided it was wise to stay here and recover. The ship could be refit, old injuries tended, and a bit of relaxation so they could be ready when the weather broke in the spring. The villagers were very happy to have such generous men to stay in their village and it would be nice to have some new faces during the long winter. The sailors were happy with the change of pace and not having the same routine as on the ship. It was good for everyone.
Longer term arrangements were made and the ship unloaded. Merlin and the captain were busy learning the language and customs so they could be taught to the rest of the crew. About half of the sailors worked on repairing the ship; the other half helped the villagers hunt, fish, gather, chop wood, and other daily tasks. Arthur, Lancelot, and Merlin were busy learning about the local geography and politics and where Arthur's red fruit might be found. About a month later, there was an odd sight, a large group of armed men approached the village. The village chief explained to Arthur that these men were from a tribe that were enemies of theirs and likely wanted to attack the village. At that, the king jumped up, ran out of the hut, found all of his men, and ordered them to prepare for battle. They all put on what armor they had and grabbed their weapons. Extra spears were given to the warriors of the village.
They were ready just in time, no sooner had they marched out of the village, the other army attacked. The battle went on all day, with many causalities on both sides. Arthur, Lancelot, and the captain were in the lead as they had the heaviest armor and best weaponry. The officers of the ship of the ship, also having heavier armor and better weapons, were just behind them. They fought their way through the larger force, splitting it in two. With the aid of Merlin's magic, the defenders were able to beat off the attackers, but not without paying a high price. Many of the defenders were badly wounded, a large number were dead or dying, and even that paragon of knightly prowess, Lancelot, did not emerge unscathed. He was hit heavily in the right arm. The chief of the village was dead, having given his life to protect his village. They collected the dead and treated the injured. Tomorrow the dead would be buried and a vote for the new chief would occur. Those men who attacked must have been desperate to attack in the winter, so soon after such a heavy snowfall.
The following month, there was a very heavy snowstorm. The huts were nearly completely buried under the snow. All was white and everyone was stuck inside until the village could be dug out. Fortunately, supplies were distributed before the storm, so no one would starve before they were dug out. It took everyone in the village a week to clear the snow. And even then, no one was able to leave the village until the thaw. Other than that, the winter passed without incident and was as pleasant as a winter can be. All of Arthur's men were getting a bit restless being cooped up because of the weather. The king had agreed to help the villagers on their first hunt and then they were to leave in search of the red fruit again. The hunt went very well. There was now food enough to spare for quite some time. The extra manpower also allowed more gathering to be done as well. There was enough that the ship was heavily loaded with food and other supplies. They left waving to the villagers and the villagers were waving back.
They sailed south for some time, putting in to shore only when they needed to avoid a storm. It was mostly smooth sailing on their way. One of the times they were on shore, a sailor brought back a few spherical red fruit that had a sweet taste. When Arthur saw them, he yelled loudly that they were the object of his quest. The king took one and ate it. It was the most delicious thing he had ever tasted. He had to have more and would not leave until he found some to take back with him. The sailor led a group to where he found the fruit. They spent many days picking the fruit and even digging up some of the vines from which they came to take back to Camelot. Arthur was determined to have a supply of them at home. With everything carefully stowed, it was time to start the long journey home.
Their first stop was the village where they had wintered. They spent many days there getting reacquainted and resupplying. Once again they helped hunt, fish, gather, and with the farming as well. They even managed to get a few more vines with the red fruit as well as more of the fruit itself. Arthur presented the the village chief with a sword, shield, and suit of armor in return for their hospitality and especially the fruit. They had a tearful goodbye and the ship went to sea again for the next leg of their journey home.
They quickly slid along the coast, the ship eating mile after mile until they came across the first village they had seen in this new land. The captain hailed some fishermen and they were welcomed back. Both sides exchanged gifts and more food was brought on board for the long part of the journey ahead. Arthur and his men stayed but three days, as they wanted to return to their homes and families as quickly as possible. The good knight, Sir Lancelot, was once again bored. While the trip on the whole had excitement enough, many of the individual days had not.
A great sea lay between them and Greenland. It would take many days to cross. As much as many wished to return home, they dreaded the crossing. A few sailors chose to remain behind and a few of the natives to join the crew and travel to Camelot with them.
The journey started off uneventfully, no pirates, no storms, no ill fortune at all. The sun shone, the air was warm, the wind blew soft and steady. About halfway to Greenland, a large serpent was spotted off in the distance. The captain changed course and hoped to avoid it. Unfortunately, the serpent had seen them and quickly swam after them. The ship and the serpent played a game of cat and mouse for three days; then the serpent disappeared beneath the waves.
In the afternoon of the fourth day, there was a great crash as the serpent surged out of the water and snatched one of the crew before returning to the deeps from which it came. Arthur knew it would be back and soon. He had everyone armed and on alert. Lancelot's countenance was grim and determined, but his eyes gleamed with excitement. The tension increased every minute the beast remained hidden beneath the waves. Arthur, Lancelot, and Merlin were in the bow and armed sailors lined both sides of the ship. All waiting with a mixture of fear, excitement, and impatience.
There was a gurgling off the port bow. Could the monster be preparing another strike? Then, the beast reared out of the water. The sailors cast their spears, few stuck. Most just bounced off the hard scales. Arthur lunged at it with sword drawn and hacked at it again and again. Not even the fabled Excalibur could do more than scratch it scaly hide. Lancelot struck at the sea serpent with his lance, one, twice, thrice, and it snapped in half. The beast remained unharmed after all the might spent to injure it.
The sea monster, surprised but unhurt, retreated to the sea. The men regrouped and rearmed. They now knew when the creature would arrive, but not how to hurt it. Arthur, Merlin, and Lancelot were discussing that very problem while waiting for it to reappear. Merlin noticed something that was said and had his brain churning. Both of the other men had described a small, off color patch under the beast's jaw. Could that be a weak point? They could but try. Merlin said as much to the king and his trusted knight. Both agreed to attempt to strike the serpent there and pray that the blow would kill it.
The water boiled again, closer to the ship than before. With a great splash, the monster appeared again, rocking the ship and damaging the mast. More spears were launched at it. All glanced harmlessly off the beast's thick, shiny scales. As it reached low to snatch a sailor or two, Arthur thrust Excalibur towards the creature's jaw. At the last minute, it rolled its head and the blade slid down the scaly neck of the beast. It looked grim for the men of Camelot.
It was then that Lancelot thrust his mighty lance towards the serpent's jaw. Its eyes were looking to its next victim and did not see the brave knight. The lance struck, but only lightly, could it have been enough? Lancelot pushed harder and the lance plunged deeper into the creature. The sea serpent reared back in pain, but the knight held his lance tight. It thrashed about causing the lance to snap. Lancelot drew his sword and jumped on the beast as it writhed in pain. The knight swung his blade at the soft spot; it cut deeply into the serpent's neck. He hacked and hacked until the beast's head was severed from its body and it lay still. The knight himself was spent as well.
The king appraised the situation. Several sailors had been eaten by the serpent, several more lay dead on the deck, a score more were injured and would need much healing, and the ship was badly damaged. Their cargo, however, was intact. Fortunately, they were near the shores of the lord who helped them on the way to the strange, new land that held the object of Arthur's quest. The captain said they were three days away in their current situation and the ship should make it there provided no other ill fortune befell them. Arthur, after seeing that the injured were tended, prayed for good fortune and smooth sailing.
About a day out from the port, they came across a few fishing boats. The captain hailed them and received news of the lord and his dominions. Not long ago, he had had a son and was in a very good mood. Two of the boats offered to help them sail into port and the captain agreed. Arthur was looking forward to telling his tale to his Norse friend. Lancelot was looking forward to the copious amount of alcohol he intended to drink while there. Merlin was looking forward to dry land. The following afternoon, they were docked and the lord approached them. He greeted them warmly and put his finest shipwrights to work repairing the ship. All were taken to his hall where a meal had been laid out for them. They ate and drank and then were led to private rooms to rest and refresh for the feast later that night.
At the feast, the lord told stories of what had happened since the men of Camelot were last in his hall and boasted of his newborn son and heir. Arthur regaled the Norsemen with the story of how they found the fruit of his quest. Lancelot drunkenly told of the battle against the sea serpent and how he single handedly defeated the monster. Afterwards, all went silent, the king was worried at the suddenness of it. The lord stood and asked the king of Camelot if it were true that the knight had killed the sea serpent. Arthur, confused, confirmed the story; he was worried that something was wrong. The lord then swiftly lifted his cup and thanked them for ridding the seas of that accursed beast who often harassed his fishermen and traders. Whenever his warriors went in search of it, they either did not return or had not seen any trace of it; not even one glimpse. Everyone's cup was then filled to the brim and the villagers heartily thanked the crew of the ship for killing the creature. They all drank, and told stories until the sun rose in the east. The celebration continued when everyone awoke and through that day and the following one. None from that ship could walk more than nine steps without someone thanking them, which was good because none could walk further than that without help. The lord offered to fill the ship with supplies and give to Arthur any treasure he desired and to Lancelot a sword, shield, and set of armor fit for a warrior of his prowess. The king mostly desired to sleep in his own bed by this time and wanted no earthly treasure this lord could offer. But, he knew that to turn down such a gift would be a deadly insult to this lord. He knew he had to be careful as selecting a treasure of insufficient worth was nearly as much of an insult as turning down an offered gift. Arthur asked for a day to think about what gift he wanted.
Arthur knew he must choose a very valuable item, but what? He thought long and hard about this question, even asking Merlin's opinion. The great wizard advised him to think about what was displayed in the great room, surely a valuable treasure would be displayed for all to see the lord's wealth and prowess. The king went to the great room and looked around, noting all the weapons and armor displayed. His gaze kept being drawn to one particular item, a shield. It was a fine looking shield, but could it be that valuable? It certainly didn't look like it.
The following day when the lord asked Arthur what he wanted, Arthur asked for the shield. There was a loud gasp by many in the room. The king was sure he had picked wrongly. The lord asked Arthur if he were sure that he wanted that shield. Arthur decided it would not do to show the least bit of hesitation or indecision and replied yes, he was certain he wanted that shield. The lord went and took it off the wall and handed it to Arthur. The lord told him that he did not think any man would be bold enough to ask for it; it was by far the most valued treasure he had. It was his father's shield and his father's father before him. The shield had seen countless battle, yet was still as if it were newly made. It was blessed when it was made and no man wielding it would be harmed in battle. The lord then added that Arthur had it with his blessing. The king of Camelot was astonished and then related his troubles with deciding on a gift. He then explained how he was pulled to this shield. The lord laughed and said that it was meant to be his.
They stayed a fortnight, until the ship was repaired and provisions stored. Arthur gave his gracious host some of the fruit of his quest as well as three plants that bore it. Arthur asked the Norseman to come to Camelot so the king could return the norseman's generosity and the lord agreed to come see Arthur's kingdom. The ship pulled out of the harbor with much sadness both from the sailors and the those on shore. They decided that since they had enough supplies and their last visit did not go so well, they would attempt to avoid Iceland.
The ship's next stop was Ireland. Arthur wanted to see the king of Ireland again before returning home and to relate his tale to that worthy person. They had a pleasant voyage for the first few days, then a ship appeared on the horizon. They warily approached the other ship. When they had closed the distance between them, the captain hailed the ship for news. In response, the other ship rammed them and attempted to board. The sailors grabbed what weapons they could while the warriors donned armor as quickly as they could before grabbing their weapons and entering the fray.
Merlin dared not cast a spell, as it might affect the sailors and warriors of Camelot as well as the pirates. The captain entered the battle in light armor with his sword drawn. He was a good fighter, especially on the seas and was used to fighting pirates. Next on the scene was Lancelot in his gleaming mail and wielding a mighty spear. He wielded it with great skill, bringing down a foe with each and every thrust. Last, but not least, King Arthur emerged in the battle in his resplendent mail, Excalibur drawn and his new shield in hand. Every time a foe attempted to strike the king, the blow was warded off by the shield. Arthur now understood how valuable it really was.
The battle raged for hours and the pirates went from boarding the ship from Camelot to being boarded themselves. They had underestimated the crew of the ship and were now paying the price. They could not even attempt to disengage as they were overrun. With no other option available to them, the remaining pirates and their captain surrendered, hoping for mercy from Arthur. There were heavy losses on both sides and Arthur did not want to prolong the fighting. The king accepted the surrender, under the following terms. One, the pirate captain and all of the officers of the ship were to be bound and tried upon return to Camelot. Two, the sailors of the pirate ship were to serve as sailors for the king and swear an oath to him. Three, upon return to Camelot, the pirate sailors would be indentured to the captain for a year and a day, if they were of good character for that time, they would be free men afterwards, otherwise, they would be tried for piracy. There was no hesitation, the pirate sailors immediately agreed to the terms. They were disarmed and split between the two vessels and the officers, after a brief struggle, were bound.
The next destination was their last before setting off for Camelot. Arthur had promised the king of Ireland that he would tell the tale of his adventure when he returned. And he was a man to keep his word. Lancelot was looking forward to the party that would ensue. Few could outdo the Irish king for feasting, drinking, and making merry. They sailed into the harbor they left a year ago and were greeted warmly. Once again, they were escorted to the king's hall to meet the king. Arthur and the Irish king greeted one another warmly and exchanged some gifts. A feast was made ready as the travelers were given time to refresh themselves. Once all was ready, a great banquet was spread before them.
During the meal and drinking afterwards, news was exchanged. The Irish king told of the happenings in his lands and any other news of import he had heard since he had last seen Arthur. Arthur, in turn, told of the nearby lands and what news of them he had. Then Lancelot was given the task of relating the grand tale of their quest. The story and the drinking went late into the night. The story told to the Irish king seemed to center more around the sea monster Lancelot slew then anything else that occurred. The travelers stayed but three days, wanting to return home as quickly as possible. More gifts were exchanged and then they went back to their ships and set out for Camelot.
The days passed quickly as the weather was as fair as Guinevere and the wind blew with them. All were eager for their return home. When at last their port was spied, a great cheer went up. And another from the shore when it was discovered who was on board the ships. A great parade was organized and the returning heroes led the way to the castle. Only Arthur's fruit was unpacked and carried with them, everything else was left to the dock hands and Arthur's chief steward.
Once at the castle, a feast was held. During the ceremonies there, Arthur resumed control of his kingdom from a grateful Sir Gawain. The tale was told, news was shared, the sailors were given much in return for their part in the quest. The captain that sailed the king there and back again was knighted. The pirates were to be dealt with the next day. The carousing went on well into the night and many were present for it. The king's generosity that night extended to all who were present, including the pirates.
The following day, after all else was done, Arthur called for the pirate sailors to be brought to his audience chambers. Reminding them of their agreement, he released them into the custody of the captain. Next were the pirate officers. All heard what they had done and when both sides were done, Arthur asked Sir Gawain what he would mete out as punishment. The knight who had been entrusted with the safety of the kingdom in Arthur's absence thought long and hard. With a grave countenance, he replied that he would have them all hanged. Arthur, equally grave, agreed, but decided on mercy. Only the captain would be hanged, the others would be spared that. The other officers were to be sold into slavery.
Arthur's red fruit was a delight to all. Some of the plants survived and were planted in the royal gardens where the fruit was a treat served as often as possible.