(published by Sourcebooks Landmark 2009; ISBN 978-1402218897)
In this second volume of The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, Helen Hollick continues her historical portrayal of the Arthurian legend. Arthur is now firmly established as King of Britain, although he has plenty of opposition, including his ex-wife Winifred, who seeks what is best for her son by him, Cerdic, as well as his own people who oppose his making peace with various of the Saxon peoples.
But in my interest in how modern fiction writers treat King Arthur’s children, I think the results here are fairly predictable for his children based on Welsh tradition, all of whom are Arthur’s children by Gwenhywfar in this novel, namely Gwydre, Amr, and Llacheu. Hollick, following their traditional stories, more or less, has each of them die before Arthur.
In legend, Amr usually dies in battle with Arthur—he is believed to have been the original version of Mordred, but Hollick has other plans for Mordred, named “Medraut” in her story, she can’t allow Amr to have the same ending as Medraut so she has him fall into the river and drown when he’s about two years old (p. 98-102). Amr’s death causes hostility between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, who blames Arthur for not watching him closely.
During Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s time fighting following Amr’s death, Arthur ends up bedding his cousin, Elen, the daughter of one of Uthr’s sisters. She is demanding and manipulative and claims she is pregnant with Arthur’s child. She also wants more from him than just a fling on the side. When they have a disagreement, Elen pulls a knife on Arthur, resulting in his kicking her in the stomach in defense. It’s unclear whether he’s caused her to miscarry their child, and if so whether intentionally, but it does not matter since she becomes despondent and soon after slips off a cliff. However, as I said in my earlier blog about The Kingmaking, Hollick’s Arthur has few if any qualities that make him likeable.
Arthur and Gwenhwyfar soon after reconcile, but then she loses a son of Arthur’s in childbirth.
The fate of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s sons continues to be ill. When Hueil of Alclud, a lover to Morgause, accuses Gwenhwyfar and Bedwyr of adultery, Arthur does battle with Hueil, and in the battle, Llacheu is accidentally stabbed by Hueil. He manages to recover, but soon after eight-year old Gwydre is gored to death during a boar hunt, leaving only Llacheu alive of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s children.
When Llacheu becomes deathly ill, Arthur seeks out the Lady of the Lake, Morgaine, desperate not to lose his and Gwenhwyfar’s last son. Morgaine uses her skills to keep the child alive, but Arthur has no idea she is Morgause’s daughter, or that Morgause has ordered her to hurt Arthur. Neither Morgaine nor Arthur know she is also Uthr’s daughter, and therefore, Arthur’s half-sister. Morgaine tells Arthur her mother orders her to sleep with him, although Arthur interprets what she says to mean the Mother Goddess. They sleep together and Morgaine soon after gives birth to Medraut.
Despite Arthur’s bargain with Morgaine, Llacheu ends up being killed in battle when Morgause is involved in a plot to overthrow Arthur. The novel ends with all of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s children dead, but Gwenhwyfar pregnant.
Arthur is left with two living sons, Cerdic, by his first wife, Winifred, and Medraut, by his half-sister Morgaine.
Doubtless, Medraut will be a key player, and perhaps the traditional villain in the final book of the trilogy Shadow of the King, but what about Cerdic? My guess is he’ll end up ruling the kingdom when all is said and done and being ancestor to the Wessex royalty that will eventually rule all of England, but I’ll have to read the third book to find out how it all actually turns out.
For more information about Helen Hollick and her Arthurian novels, visit www.HelenHollick.net
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com