“The high and mighty Emperor Lucius sends you greeting, O King of Britain, and he commands you to acknowledge him as your lord, and to pay the tribute which is due from this realm, and which, it is recorded, was paid by your father and others who came before him. Yet you rebelliously withhold it and keep it back, in defiance of the statutes and decrees made by the first Emperor of Rome, the noble Julius Caesar, who conquered this country. And be assured that if you disobey this command, the Emperor Lucius will come in his might and make war against you and your kingdom, and will inflict upon you a chastisement that shall serve for ever as a warning to all kings and princes not to withhold the tribute due to that noble empire to which belongs dominion over the whole world.”
Thus they spoke, and King Arthur having heard their request, bade them withdraw, saying that he would take the advice of his counselors before giving them his answer; but some of the younger knights that were in the hall declared that it was a disgrace to all who were at the feast that such language should be used to the King in their hearing, and they would fain have fallen upon the ambassadors and slain them. But King Arthur, hearing their murmurs, declared that any insult or wrong suffered by the ambassadors should be punished with death. Then he sent them to their quarters, escorted by one of his knights, who was ordered to provide them with whatever they wanted.
“Let nothing be grudged these men of Rome,” said the King “though the demand they make is an affront alike to me and to you who are of my court. I should be dishonored were the ambassadors not treated with the respect due to them, seeing that they are great lords in their own land.”
As soon as the ambassadors had left the hall, King Arthur asked his knights and lords what was their advice and counsel in the matter. The first to give his opinion was Sir Cador of Cornwall.
“Sir,” said Sir Cador, “the message brought by these lords is most welcome to me. We have spent full many days at rest and in idleness, and now my hope is that you will wage war against the Romans. In that war we shall, I have little doubt, win great honor.”
“I am sure,” answered King Arthur, “that this affair is welcome to you, but I seek, above all, your aid in devising a grave and suitable answer to the demand they have made. And let no man doubt that I hold that demand to be a grievous insult. The tribute they claim, in my opinion, not only is not due, but cannot be due; for more than one British knight having been Emperor of Rome, it is, I hold, the duty of Rome to acknowledge the lordship of Britain, rather than of Britain to acknowledge that of Rome. What think ye?”
“Sir,” replied King Anguish of Scotland, “you ought of right to be lord over all other kings, for throughout Christendom there is neither knight nor man of high estate worthy to be compared with you. My advice is, never yield to the Romans. When they reigned over us, they oppressed our principal men, and laid heavy and extortionate burdens upon the land. For that cause I, standing here, solemnly vow vengeance upon them for the evil they then did, and, to support you in your quarrel, I will at my own cost furnish twenty thousand good fighting men. This force I will command in person, and I will bring it to your aid whenever you choose to summon me.”