Carn Cabal: The Oath of the Hound

It came to pass in the ancient days of what is now known as Wales, high in the cold Cambrian Mountains, that the King’s best and most loyal friend saved his life.

The king’s name was Arthur and he had with him some of his best knights.   They had been chasing the boar now for so long that Arthur could not remember any other vocation.  The wars of men and the politics of court seemed pale and distant.

It seemed to Arthur that he was a part of an ancient story of Gods and magic, not a mortal king charged with ridding the country of invading Saxons and keeping his clans at peace.  For what they chased was not simply a boar at all…at least not all of the time.

His knights did not know this.

Many mid-nights, in front of the fire, he contemplated telling his knights the truth –  that there were men who could also be beasts.  But something stopped him.  Maybe he was not sure he himself believed what old Merlin had told him and he thought he would sound like a frightened woman.  The stories of the men who had made an animal-pact and could change their form at will seemed like fairy stories meant for children.

He had not yet witnessed it, but why should he think of it as just stories, when there was proof of magic surrounding the very circumstances of his birth and his kingship?.  And, Merlin was always right because he was demon-born and he knew things only given to men with no father to know.  He had never yet been wrong.  Arthur supposed that it was easier to let his men believe that it was a mortal animal they chased because they would be braver. But, they must have   known by now that this was no ordinary beast they chased.

It was difficult not to notice the supernaturally gigantic boar that had been ripping through his kingdom as a thing possessed, leaving large swathes of bloody destruction behind it wherever it went.  The beast carried a rage that was terrifying to behold. It slaughtered livestock and trampled houses, apparently out of spite.  The numbers of villagers and farmers to appear at his court with pleas for help were beginning to outnumber the Saxon armies!

“Beware the boar, Arthur!” Merlin had said.  “You will find him a slippery chase, for he is a boar, but then he will suddenly changeinto the guise of a man, and you will not know who he is. You must find and kill this fiend for he dishonors his kind and endangers your lands.”  But, because Merlin’s advice was never simple or direct, he had added, “You do not know what kind of friendship truly surrounds you. You have seen men as great as the boar is terrible.  You will prevail.”  Of course he had never seen men that were able to do anything unusual.  No one except Merlin.  Arthur had decided Merlin meant those hardy supporters around him were strong and hard to kill.

And so he and a dozen of his knights had set out, and it was as Merlin had said.  The boar would disappear and reappear, making them give chase and dispatching of his men and their horses one by one, until now, only Arthur and a few remained.

But, Arthur was to find, to his great surprise, as time went on, that he did not need to tell his knights anything at all.

With him was Menw, a strange bardic knight, small and dark, with knowledge of ancient and secret sciences, but also quick of foot and easy with a sword.  He also had with him Kay and his young squire, Goreau, whom Kay had rescued from certain death at the hands of his uncle.  Goreau had taken easily to Kay and listening to their light banter had made the quest seem less dangerous at times. And also by his side was Bedwyr, the handsome and silent one-handed knight with his enchanted lance always at the ready.

And not the least to be counted among his companions was Arthur’s mare, Llamrei, and his large, white hound, Cabal.  These animals Arthur prized as friends dear to his heart. They were  as close friends in his eyes as any of the humans. This was not strange to him, for he had done great battle with them and he imagined that the affection was returned.

The weary band of adventurers had not seen or heard from the boar for several days.  They trudged on, each thinking of home, when suddenly one day they heard a growl issue from Cabal’s mighty throat.  The white hound’s muscles stiffened and twitched as he picked up the scent of their prey.

“May almighty God give us good hunting today!  I am sick of this chase!  What say you, Cabal? Shall we go get us a tusk to adorn our halls?,” said Menw enthusiastically.  And the great dog answered with a growl and a bark.

“Let us surround it,” said Arthur.  “If we each go our own direction and corner the beast from all sides, then perhaps we should have victory at last!”

Menw said, “I will go around the east side, and Goudeau can remain here to watch this side at the south.  If Kay goes around to the north and Arthur to the west, we may have a chance at being home at this time a few days from now!”

Kay said to Arthur, “But, I have no horse, mine having been gored through at the last hunt.  I could go around the furthest side, if I could be let to ride Llamrei.  You have Cabal with you.”

Arthur nodded his assent, handed the reins to Kay, and whistled for his dog.  Cabal’s head snapped around from where it had been watching the north intently, and followed the king towards the west and the afternoon sun.

Quickly and silently, the man and dog made their way through the thick woods and steep trails of the mountain side.  Arthur nodded to his dog, and Cabal went ahead a pace, as his soft feet would be harder for any prey to hear and his nose would smell the danger before either of them would see it.  It was as if the dog knew what the man was thinking.

Arthur had always supposed that this is why he and Cabal always made a good fighting team.  Sometimes, the dog seemed to think as a man would, and could obey unspoken commands and subtle signals as well as any human soldier and sometimes better!  For as long as he could remember, Cabal would run off on his own, sometimes for days, before showing back up at the keep, or a campsite, as if he had never been away.  Over time, Arthur had learned that his dog’s peculiar habit only meant that he wanted to hunt on his own, and he learned not to question it.  The dog hurt no one and he did no harm to property.  Arthur supposed that if his human friends could go for a pint of ale or a woman’s company, Cabal deserved the same courtesy!  He had certainly earned it in battle! His habits were so human, there were times when he was surprised to remember that Cabal was a hound.

Lost in his thoughts, Arthur had not realized that he could no longer see his friend.  The dog had gone too far ahead, he supposed, and Arthur noticed that the sounds of the forest amplified as his own senses heightened.  Something was wrong and he could feel it.  He let out a soft whistle, but Cabal did not come.  Arthur cursed himself for such a mistake.  He was a seasoned soldier, not a child.  He should have been paying attention.

But, the wind was picking up and his senses alerted him once more. Something was coming towards him from the north and at a fast pace and he heard a mighty roar.  The boar.

“Cabal!” Arthur shouted, drawing his great sword, Excalibur. But, the dog did not come.  Arthur ran into a meadow, filled only with grasses and rocks and boulders, so that he could hide among them and see around all sides.  And then he saw it…a great boar, almost as big as a horse, its silver and black hide, glistening with sweat foam and the giant rib cage heaving in rage.

The boar charged at him, knocking over trees and turning up the earth as it ran toward the meadow, as a beast from hell.  Arthur jumped up on the tallest of the boulders to try and gain some advantage.

“Cabal!” he called once more, urgently.  Where was his dog? Was he slain?

The boar lunged, jumping over the tall rocks as easily as a deer.  Arthur missed his step on the rock as he swung his sword, and it flew out of his hand as he fell.  Arthur heard his bone crack, but the pain did not register.  His attention was on the demon before him.  It had turned and was snorting angrily, about to charge once more.  Arthur knew that his leg was broken and he scrambled frantically on his hands and elbows trying to find Excalibur between the rocks.  This was not the death he imagined for himself, alone, broken, and gored by a devilish wild beast, far from his comrades.

Arthur realized that the boar had not charged.  Confused, he arrested his frantic hunt for Excalibur and turned to look at the animal.  The beast was now still, and the only movement was the boar’s breath still coming in great heaves. Its deep red eyes were regarding him with anger, but there was something else behind the anger.  Arthur could not understand.  It was as if the beast knew that Arthur was about to die and was enjoying the moment.  Then, to the king’s amazement, the boar’s form began to change.

First the snout shortened and the blowing nostrils pulled back.  Then the course silver and black hair began to melt together to form a tunic.  The huge animal reared onto its hind legs as it got shorter, and after a minute, Arthur found himself looking at a giant, burly man, still angry, his chest heaving and his dark skin glistening with sweat.  And it was still looking at him with the same deep red eyes full of hate.

“Surprised, Great King?” asked the strange man, with a terrible laugh. The man was clothed in silver and black, and at his breast, the symbol of the mighty boar remained, tame and harmless.  He walked slowly toward the fallen king where he lay injured on the ground.

“I do not understand this magic, “ said Arthur.  “Have you come from Hell to take my lands from me? Of what great wrong am I guilty?”

“Oh, Your Majesty, “ said the man-boar. “There are so many things you stupid humans do not know.  I do not just want your lands.  Land is just dirt.  I care about your power.  I want your power over all of Britain.  I want to rule as all of my kind should. It is a tragedy that weak, useless humans with no real power rule the world, while Temics hide like washing-women.”

“How will you do that?  The Round Table will not recognize you after my death and they will fight you!” exclaimed the king, angrily.  “Men who can turn into boars! You want the boars to rule the men?  Temic, you name yourself? Where are your men? I see no Temic warriors at your side.  We will hunt you and you will not last!”

“I do not intend to rule as Boar.  My name is Troynt and I will rule as the man!  For, I can be both, you know. But, the boar gives me great strength and speed and his anger is my advantage!  I can beat any man in battle!  Not even your weak friends can stop me. For have I not led your group here, knowing well that my attacking the villages and kingdoms around Camelot would attract you?  King Arthur and his knights love a quest! Several of your men, I have dispatched already.  But, a hound, a horse, and a bird?  And only two men, one of them disfigured, and a boy?  This is what the great king of Camelot brings to fight me!”

“I have no bird, “ said Arthur, confused, “ And yes, if I had my friends, we would stop you!”  Arthur suddenly understood that this man, Troynt, saw the animals as part of his fighting group and he had mentioned them first above his knights.  That was strange, yes, but what bird was he speaking of?

“Oh, I see you do not know your Temic friends! Even your own men dare not tell you who they truly are?  What kind of king must they think you to be that they can not trust you with their knowledge and power!”  Troynt laughed heartily, greatly amused at this. “And they left you all alone to face me!  How much they must want your death, as well.”

“You spew hatred and lies, “ said a deep voice from behind the man-boar.  “He is much loved in our clans. You dishonor the Boar with your dark intent and we will not let you rule.”

Arthur beheld the stranger who spoke. He was another large man, with soft auburn waves and a rustic black and brown garment, who was holding Arthur’s own Excalibur in his hand.  Several feet to the right of him was Bedwyr, bringing his lance into the the air with his good arm. To the left of him was Kay, his sword also at the ready.

And from behind, came a slender woman with long, blonde hair, wearing a simple white shift and pants with brown boots.  A sight of beauty out of place in a campsite, Arthur thought.   All four advanced slowly on Troynt, keeping him in the middle.

“Kay?  Bedwyr?  Who are your companions, who love me so?  How can they think so highly of me seeing as I do not know them at all?” asked Arthur.

“Do you not know us, Arthur? We have been on many roads together, you and he and I!” the lady nodded towards the other man and laughed.  There was a twinkle in her eye.

“I believe a lady such as yourself would not be amiss in my travels!” Arthur said.

“Ah, but you have missed me.”  She helped Arthur from the ground so he could rest against a boulder, “Apologies, Majesty. We have you at such a disadvantage!  My name is Llamrei.”

“But, that is the same name I gave my horse.”

“Yes, it is,” nodded the lady. “It is a beautiful name for a Temic mare and I chose to keep it with honor. Thank you. And my companion is your dearest friend, Cabal.”

Arthur’s face lit up with surprise and delight as his brain registered what he was hearing.

“You are my mare and you, sir, are my hound?” Arthur asked.  He looked at Kay, who just shook his head and gave a merry laugh.

“Bedwyr and I are still human to my knowledge, Majesty. I did not know, either.  Imagine my surprise when your horse turned into a beautiful woman right under me!”

Troynt circled impatient to regain his advantage and stamped and swung his word angrily at the ground.

“Yes, King, they are like me.  But, how tedious this is!  I am here to kill you and I grow impatient.  Even if your inconvenient friends arrived and I have to kill them, too. Now I fight!”  Troynt ran at the disabled, unarmed king, but was cut short by a loud bird cry from above.  A great falcon, appeared out of nowhere and flew into the face of the charging man.  Suddenly finding himself fending off an attack on his eyes, the man dropped his sword to protect his face.   Llamrei stood at the ready and looked to Cabal for a sign.

“Now!  He is beginning to change! Look to Menw!” Cabal called.  Sure enough, Arthur saw the shifting black and silver bristles between the frenzy of feathers.  And Llamrei and Cabal ran to help the bird, whom Arthur now realized was the missing Menw.

“Come back! You have no weapon, Lady!” Arthur yelled.  But, to Arthur’s amazement his friends started to change form as they ran.  Llamrei’s long flowing hair became the mane and her white garments became the familiar well muscled flanks of Arthur’s charging horse. The strong man threw Excalibur toward the king as he joined Llamrei, and as he did so, the face and body changed into the comforting sight of his hound, growling and snapping at the enemy.

Kay and Bedwyr had considerable trouble seeing the battle beneath the hooves, the wings, the tusks, and the snapping jaws of the four animals.  Troynt, who was now a boar again, turned this way and that, trying to find a way through the other Temics.  Apparently, he had decided to make a charge again in an effort to break the attack. This time, instead of Arthur, he charged Bedwyr and Kay, who were frustrated with trying to find a way to help. Bedwyr raised his lance with his good arm and steadied his feet.  Kay also readied his weapon.  As the boar charged, Cabal tried to knock him off course to protect the humans, but found himself thrown by the boar’s giant tusks.  He sailed with a great whine across the meadow.

“Cabal!” screamed Arthur, trying to get to his friend.  Arthur picked up his sword and dragged his leg, trying to reach the animal but tripped again.  The pain was too great.  Arthur was helpless and he felt angry.  Cabal’s sides were heaving with exhaustion and Arthur could see the blood flowing from his gored side.  As the battle raged on behind him, Arthur used Excalibur to drag himself on one knee towards his friend.

“Oh, Cabal,” said Arthur, putting the dog’s head in his lap, losing himself in grief.  “I wish to know you as a man. Come now! We will drink our ale and talk of our battles together!  Do not let this be the end of it!”  Cabal’s dark brown eyes looked at Arthur in pain and sadness and he shifted back into a human, crying out as the change caused the wound to stretch and bleed.

“Arthur, I wish it, too,” Cabal panted. “But, we must look to the others.  The battle is not yet won. I believe I have strength in me yet.”  Arthur did his best to help the injured man up.  The wound in his side bled freely and Arthur feared that Cabal was not as strong as he said and was weakening by the second.  Together, they turned towards the battle.  The boar was greatly injured, bruised, bleeding and battered by the other animals.

“Ho, Boar!” called Cabal, “Had enough yet?”  Kay and Bedwyr took Cabal from Arthur and they formed a line in front of Arthur, an animal and human barrier.  “I stand before you now, and I know that I die.  You have mortally wounded me, but hear my oath!  While the Dog packs run free in England, the rightful king will be protected.  Arthur’s line has the protection of the Hound. You, Troynt, who dishonor the Boar, your Totem, by Working in the Dark, will die today.  By my hand.  Who stands with me?”

And next to him the horse, Llamerei, stamped her hooves, threw her head and neighed.  The great falcon, Menw, stretched his wings and screamed.  And the humans cried their oath as well.

And with that Cabal let out a great howl as he shifted and ran, using the strength he had left and the boulders beside him as leverage to charge Troynt in one giant leap.  The boar-man had been weakened considerably by his injuries and was not able to keep up his own great strength.   They met in mid air, and Cabal, now a dog again, and with a great growl, ripped out the throat of the boar from underneath.  They fell to the earth, and the boar lost consciousness as his great sides slowed their angry quakes and became peaceful.  The king and his panting, weary companions watched Troynt slowly shift back into a man as he died.

The others, then,  also shifted back to human form and solemnly, they pulled the weak and bleeding dog away from the body of his kill.   Llamrei laid Cabal’s great head in her lap.

“Oh,Cabal!” Llamrei sobbed.  The tears streamed freely down her face.   She stroked the dying dog’s head as she mourned.  Cabal changed to a human so that he could speak.  Cabal ran his fingers tenderly along the woman’s wet face.

“Do not be so sad, my love.  I go to my rest with a free conscience and a light heart.   I have done the Hound honor and my king is safe once more.  We will travel together again one day.”  Cabal then looked at Arthur, kneeling painfully beside him. “I too wish we could have known each other as men, and could drink to all our victories, but will you grant me one request?”

“Anything, Cabal.  Name it.” Arthur said.

“Now that you know, you must protect us as I have pledged the Hound to protect you. It is a great honor to be personally guarded by a Temic and you are guarded by so many.  That is how great a man you are.  Promise me that you will do us honor in return and keep our secret.”

Arthur raised Excalibur in salute to his friend to make his promise.

“I pledge, that as you have given your life for mine and protected me as my greatest and dearest friend, I will honor the Temics for as long as I shall live and pledge the protection of the Round Table to come to their aid, with discretion and courtesy.  The Hound shall have a place of honor here and I name this place for you.  It is henceforth to be known as Carn Cabal.  Rest well, my friend, and may we meet in the Summerland again one day.”

And with that the Temic hound Cabal died.  And what happened next would amaze the king for the rest of his life.

“Lady, we must separate the animal spirit from the human one and send each on their way to their rest, “ said Menw gently and he helped Llamrei to her feet.

The Temics, Llamrei and Menw, laid the dead men next to each other.  Then stood over them, one on each side.  They joined hands over the bodies as Menw called on his ancient runes*,

“Othala, to gather those who have gone before,

Raidho, to aid your journey Home,

Kenaz, to banish the Darkness from your path,

Wunjo, so that in friendship, we may meet again.”

Menw and Llamrei repeated the runic spell over and over.  During the small ceremony, the bodies of the dead began to shimmer, like packed dirt on a hot day. The wind picked up and whipped the living with great strength and speed.  Arthur imagined that he could hear packs of dogs and bellowing boars on the wind getting closer and louder, intensifying with the chanting.  Arthur could see the outlined forms and shadows of the animals, barking, running, and roaring all around him in a hurricane of sound and wind.  The bodies glowed with the silver-black of the boar and the auburn red of the hound, and the colors lifted from their owners to join their barking and roaring counterparts in the wind.

When the wind died down and Menw and Llamrei finished the runes, the bodies of the two men, somehow now diminished, lay quietly next to each other, peaceful in the afternoon sun.

Arthur and his friends silently buried the great Temics, both of them,  beside the boulders, now standing as the only silent witness to their grave.  They then returned to their waiting young squire, Goudeau, at the South.

Travellers who happened to stop in the meadow for a well-earned rest, would often tell tales of Carn Cabal. Often, a man would find himself brought to the meadow by his canine companions, as if they were drawn there.  Many told tales of being protected in the surrounding forest by barking dogs when they found themselves in danger.  And some would wonder at  the mysterious imprint on the biggest boulder where a king’s famous hound had once leapt to rip the throat out of his enemy.

The imprint of a hound’s paw pressed into solid rock.

 

**********

For  information on the legends concerning Cabal, the Boar, and King Arthur, check out these great blogs!

King Arthur – Man, Myth…or Both? – Part Three

Clas Merdin: Legendary History, Arthuriana and Celtic Mythology

 

 

 

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About Hope Graham

I am a writer, teacher, and theatre and travel enthusiast. I teach theatre in public schools. I love to read, write, play with my kids and play pretend all day long!
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One Response to Carn Cabal: The Oath of the Hound

  1. Pingback: King Arthur's Dog, Cavall

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