The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart
The Hollow Hills

I am very keen to read this second book in the King Arthur series, having greatly enjoyed the first book (The Crystal Cave). This second book continues straight on from where the first book ended, with King Uther Pendragon having slept with Duke Gorlois’ wife Ygraine at Tintagel (this having been engineered by Merlin due to a vision he had that a child would be conceived by them who would be an important king), Duke Gorlois killed in battle, and Merlin injured.

The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart available on Amazon
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I am very keen to read this second book in the King Arthur series, having greatly enjoyed the first book (The Crystal Cave). This second book continues straight on from where the first book ended, with King Uther Pendragon having slept with Duke Gorlois’ wife Ygraine at Tintagel (this having been engineered by Merlin due to a vision he had that a child would be conceived by them who would be an important king), Duke Gorlois killed in battle, and Merlin injured. 

Merlin feels regret for the treachery he took part in, as Duke Gorlois had trusted him and appealed to him for help, and he also feels regret for killing Brithael (Duke Gorlois’ servant), and also for the death of his own servant Cadal. Hmmm, I was quite surprised at Merlin killing Brithael, and I know Merlin is following his vision of a future important king but I was uncomfortable with Uther’s tryst with Ygraine in the first place, particularly as it resulted in people being injured and killed.

King Uther is to marry Duchess Ygraine after Duke Gorlois has been buried. Merlin does not intend to be there for the wedding, and King Uther is angry at Merlin for not foreseeing Duke Gorlois’ death in battle, which then made his treachery and deceit by sleeping with Duchess Ygraine unnecessary. Oh dear, this seems a bit high-handed and unfair of Uther to blame Merlin for everything, I am guessing he feels guilty about what he did while Duke Gorlois was dying and is seeking to ease this guilt by putting the blame on those who aided him at that time.

Merlin returns to Maridunum in Wales and his cave in the hill. Merlin stays in his cave for several months, his magic seeming to have deserted him. Ralf, a messenger from the palace, comes to bring Merlin the news that Queen Ygraine is pregnant, with the baby due in December, although he adds that she seems unhappy and to be grieving for Duke Gorlois, and King Uther is frequently angry, though he obviously adores her. Ralf’s grandmother is in Queen Ygraine’s service and she sent this message to Merlin via Ralf, as she is also sending Ralf to be Merlin’s servant in order to keep him safe as he is out of favour with both King Uther and Duke Gorlois’ son Cador for the same reasons as Merlin is out of favour. Ralf adds that he was attacked on his way to Merlin, and is unsure if the attackers were Cador’s men or King Uther’s men, or just opportunistic robbers. Ralf stays at the cave with Merlin though is unhappy and frustrated by this as he wants to be back at Tintagel. I did love the tales of Merlin in his cave in the first book and all he discovered there, though it’s sad that Merlin is now afraid that his magic may have deserted him. And I love these mentionings of Tintagel, it’s such a fascinating and beautiful place which I visit as often as I can.

A messenger arrives from Queen Ygraine, summoning Merlin to her in September when King Uther will be away. Merlin suspects this is because King Uther has told Queen Ygraine that he won’t acknowledge their baby when he is born, so Merlin suspects she will then ask Merlin to take the baby and raise him, which is what Merlin saw in his vision. Merlin knows he will have to go disguised to Tintagel as he is actively disliked there, and will have to see Queen Ygraine in secret. Ralf begs to go with him. They reach Tintagel successfully, and it is as Merlin guessed, that Queen Ygraine wants Merlin to take her baby and raise him, as King Uther has told her the baby will be called a bastard or it will be thought to be Duke Gorlois’ child, and King Uther has assured her that they will have other sons. She says that King Uther has suggested that the baby goes to Beduc in Brittany (who took care of Ambrosios and Uther when their elder brother the King was killed). Merlin isn’t sure how he will get the baby but promises Queen Ygraine that he will do so, and adds that he foresees the baby being king. Merlin decides to speak to King Uther about taking the baby, making it seem like it is his suggestion and not saying anything about him speaking to Queen Ygraine about this, but King Uther actually summons Merlin first and asks for his advice about what to do with the baby. King Uther says that Beduc has died. He also explains his fears for the child’s safety, as he thinks others may try to harm the child if he’s thought to be in line for the throne, or that the child when grown up may harm other sons that King Uther has. Merlin offers to raise the child himself but to have it said that the child is in Brittany with Beduc’s son. King Uther is relieved at this plan, and has also now forgiven Merlin and Ralf. Merlin decides to raise the child in North West England with Count Ector and his wife Drusilla. I wondered if this North West England is actually the Lake District? And I was surprised at Uther’s thought that this son could later potentially harm his other sons who are in line for the throne, but I guess this was what often happened in those brutal times with people hungry for power.

Baby Arthur is born, and Merlin and Ralf collect him and go to Kerrec in Brittany with Merlin’s old nurse/governess Moravik, as this is to be where Arthur will stay until he is about 3-4 years old, when he will then go to the North West of England. Oooh, I remember the Kerrec standing stones from the first book, Kerrec village now being known as Carnac, and in North West France, and omg, the stones are just completely amazing, so many of them and in such straight lines, I was absolutely fascinated when I read about them on Wikipedia and looked at the photographs of them, I would love to go there to see them. 

Merlin then goes travelling for several years around Eastern Europe. He has a vision of a sword, and later sees a sword in a picture, but he isn’t sure what this vision means. Hmmm, I have to say I’m finding this book quite slow-going, compared to the first book, it’s just not grabbing me as much.

Merlin is summoned back to England by King Uther, which also coincides with Merlin’s feelings that there is strife in England and his place should be there. He finds that King Uther is struggling to heal from a sword wound and he is impotent and is mortified by this, also that Queen Ygraine has only given birth to a girl and then a stillborn child so there has been no other son born and King Uther is beginning to think he won’t have another son. Merlin prepares a concoction to aid him. King Uther asks questions about Arthur and shows interest in him and says he will send for him when he is aged 14. Merlin plans to go to Arthur in the North West of England, as he has not yet seen him in person but has seen him in visions. Hmmm, so now Uther is feeling that Arthur is his only hope for an heir.

On his way north, Merlin visits Emperor Maximus’ ruined fortress at Segontium, and finds the sword which Emperor Maximus used to try and defeat Rome, as well as other treasures, hidden under an altar in the ruined fortress, and he recognises this as the sword destined for Arthur in his visions. He takes the sword and continues his journey. He rests at a deserted chapel near Count Ector, where the priest is dying and desperate for a successor to tend the chapel so Merlin thinks this would be suitable for him as he could live there fairly remotely and hidden and anonymous whilst also being close by to Arthur. He hides the sword in a cave on a supposedly haunted island nearby called Caer Bannog, as he’s learnt that all the locals avoid this island due to believing it is haunted. Merlin calls himself Myrddin whilst staying there. Arthur comes across Merlin and bonds easily with him and visits him often, and Merlin teaches him. Arthur’s true heritage has never been revealed to him, and he is named Emrys. Oooh, I remember from the first book that Merlin’s proper name is Myrddin Emrys.

King Lot is looking likely to side with the Saxons and Picts against King Uther. There are plans for King Lot to marry King Uther’s young daughter Morgan in an effort to unite the two sides but there are doubts about King Lot’s loyalty. Cador (son of Duke Gorlois from Tintagel) arrives to ask Merlin for support on behalf of King Uther and the threat to England. Cador recognises who Emrys really is and he tells Merlin that he swears allegiance to Arthur, and that Arthur needs to go to King Uther with Merlin in order to convince the king to declare Arthur as his heir and successor. Meanwhile, Arthur has sailed to the haunted island in order to retrieve his dog, and he has discovered the sword there. Merlin then reveals his own real identity to Arthur, but doesn’t reveal anything to Arthur about Arthur’s real identity. Merlin tells Arthur that he is needed to help fight with King Uther against the forthcoming threat from King Lot, which Arthur is keen to do. They hide the sword within the altar at the chapel and Merlin uses magic to disguise it to look like stone. King Uther’s men also arrive to Merlin, sent from the king to summon Merlin to aid him. King Uther includes the message that this is the summons that Merlin has been waiting for, which signifies that this is the time to bring Arthur to him. I am quite fascinated by this sword, but there is so much information and conflicting beliefs about it when I look on Wikipedia that it all seems quite overwhelming!

Arthur fights alongside King Uther in the battle against the Saxons, and they are victorious, King Lot waiting in the background seeing who will be victorious before joining their side. During the celebrations of victory, King Uther’s daughter, Morgeaus, seduces Arthur, as she realises who he is and wants to gain power by carrying his child. Oooh, sneaky Morgeaus, and poor Arthur being fooled by her. 

Merlin then tells Arthur who he really is. Arthur says he had believed he was Merlin’s son. King Uther announces Arthur as his heir at the dinner after the battle. King Lot tries to challenge this but is shouted down, particularly when it is stated that Arthur can produce Emperor Maximus’ sword. King Uther then dies at the meal. They all go to the chapel and Arthur takes the sword from the altar and everyone, including King Lot, swear allegiance to him. Hmmm, well, as I said earlier, I did struggle with this book, it just didn’t interest me or capture my imagination quite as much as the first book did. I loved Ambrosius from the first book and what a wonderful man he was trying to unite Britain, and all the tales and great deeds surrounding him, and what a brave and gentlemanly and honourable figure he was. And I also loved all the information I learnt about Britain at that time, whereas there was less historical information that captured my interest in this book. I think I am tempted to re-read the first book, The Crystal Cave, as I loved it so much. But I will continue with the series and read the next book, The Last Enchantment. I’ve also been recommended to read another series about King Arthur, by TH White called The Once and Future King, so I will try that too as I do love the legends around King Arthur and the history from that time. In fact, once I start searching for King Arthur, I see there is such a huge choice of books to read! But I also see there is The King Arthur Trilogy by Rosemary Sutcliff, and I have a book from this author (The Eagle of the Ninth) on my shelves waiting to be read, so her King Arthur book may be interesting to read as well.

The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart available on Amazon
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 Paperback  Audiobook

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