Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

King David’s Sword and Scabbard

Balin’s sword was Galahad’s first sword. Galahad’s second sword was King David’s Sword, which he found on Solomon’s Ship. Some makes this sword the one-time property of Saint David, it is more widely accepted as having belonged to the biblical David. It appears in the Arthurian tales as the sword used by Varlan to kill King Lambor in one account of the Dolorous Stroke.

Following his wife’s advice, Solomon had his father David’s sword repommelled with a rich pommel subtly made. The pommel was of stone, with

all manner of colours that any man might find, and everych of the colours had divers virtues.

One scale of the haft was a rib of a serpent

which was conversant in Calidone, and is called the Serpent of the Fiend.

The virtue of this bone is that the hand that handles it will never be weary nor hurt. The Vulgate names the serpent Papagustes and says its virtue is to guard the bearer from excessive heat. The other scale of the haft was a rib of a fish called Ertanax (Ortenax) – Orteniaus in the Vulgate – which lived in the Euphrates. Whoever handled the bones of Ertanax would never be weary and, while handling it, would think only of the task before him at the time; as the Vulgate explains this, he would forget everything except the purpose for which he drew the sword. On the sword were the words:

Let see who shall assay to draw me out of my sheath, but if he be more hardier than any other; and who that draweth me, wit ye well that he shall never fail of shame of his body, or to be wounded to the death.

Attempting to draw the sword had brought grief to various men through the ages, and Galahad would not have tried it had not Amide assured him the sword was meant for him. Amide gave the name of the sword as The Sword with the Strange Girdles.

The scabbard was made of serpent’s skin, and written on it in gold and silver were the words:

He which shall wield me ought to be more harder than any other, if he bear me as truly as me ought to be borne. For the body of him which I ought to hang by, he shall not be ashamed in no place while he is girt with this girdle, nor never non be so hardy to do away this girdle; for it ought not be done away but by the hands of a maid, and a maid all the days of her life, both in will and in deed. And if she break her virginity she shall die the most villainous death that ever died any woman.

On the other side, which was red as blood, was written in letters black as coal:

He that shall praise me most, most shall he find me to blame at a great need; and to whom I should be most debonair shall I be most felon, and that shall be at one time.

This last referred to the adventure of Nascien, some time before Galahad and his companions found the ship. Nascien had drawn the sword to defend himself against a giant, but the sword broke. Later Nascien met his brother-in-law Mordrains, who mended the sword. (It might be the other way around, Mordrains drew the sword and Nascien mended it.) Amide named the scabbard Mover of Blood.

for no man that hath blood in him shall never see the one part of the sheath which was made of the Tree of Life.

In the Vulgate, the scabbard is named Memory of Blood, which seems to make slightly more sense.

Solomon’s wife provided hemp girdles because she had no worthy materials to sustain so high a sword. The hemp girdles were to be replaced by a worthy maiden damsel, as mentioned in the writing on the scabbard. When Amide had learned the adventure that was ordained for her, she cut off her hair and wove it, along with golden threads, into a girdle, set with gems and a golden buckle. She carried this girdle with her in a box until her time came to use it for girding David’s Sword to Galahad’s side.