Not about a Stone
Twisted from King Arthur
A hot fire in the fireplace.
A breeze in the autumn night.
Father and son, sitting beside each other, playing Knights and Horses until they become tired of the game.
“Someday, son … you will become king,” Uther says quietly to his boy. Now that the night is darker, Arthur begins to yawn, but tries to hide it behind his hand. His father knows he will be asleep soon. “You will rule all of Camelot, and you will be the most powerful of the Pendragon line.”
Although little Arthur loves to hear it, he is tired of all the stories and games. He longs for real adventure, and actual fighting. He wants a sword of his own, and a chance at his own victories. “But Father,” he says, holding a wooden horse loosely in his hand. He rubs the sleep out of his eyes, so as to stay awake longer. “When can I be king? Will it be soon?”
King Uther chuckles to himself, remembering himself at such a young age. “Soon enough,” he replies. “When you are ready, you will know.”
This night, deep inside of Arthur, there grows a burning, a passion for nobility, a young and naïve hope for the future.
But this night, a burning also grows inside of the king. This burning will make its victim weaker, until there is nothing of him left.
Uther Pendragon does not have long.
Today is the day.
Today, the people of Camelot have gathered to see young Arthur remove the sword from the stone.
After his father’s death years ago, Arthur was left behind as an orphan of the castle. Because his parents, the king and queen, had both passed away, the kingdom had been forced to crown Arthur as their king, at the young age of 12. On the day of King Uther’s death, the sorcerer Merlin had proclaimed that whoever can remove the magical sword from its stone was to be the most powerful king Camelot has ever seen, but only on or after Arthur’s 23rd birthday would that man show.
But today, on his 23rd birthday, Arthur doubts himself. If he cannot pull out the sword, then he will bring absolute shame to his family name. If he was here, what would his father say? His people will not only despise him, but they will have to resent him throughout his entire reign, desperately hoping to have a truly powerful king.
Now, as he stares blankly at the erect hilt of the sword, a mass of people huddle around him at the edge of the forest, where the sword had been placed. They murmur to themselves, wondering hopefully, if Arthur is truly to be a great king, the same or better than his father. They talk of years ahead and a reign worth living in. They say they want Arthur to be the next greatest king; they need him to be. And Arthur hears them.
What happens next is a blur to Arthur’s mind. As it occurs, he doesn’t think about grasping the hilt. He doesn’t remember taking breaths between strong upward heaves. He doesn’t feel his hand grow sore as he struggles to extract anything, as his feet attempt to hold him down. But after a few short moments of struggle, after the people have been gone for some time, it all comes back to him.
The events that have been haunting him in his dreams, since he was young, have now come true.
And he doesn’t like it one bit.
When Arthur had been young, the castle halls had been comforting. They had been tall and wondrous, filled with ancient paintings and old armory. The large, deep-red drapes used to flow effortlessly, letting in beautiful sun rays, filling the dark hallways with a golden glow.
As Arthur walks into the halls, although it is only morning, everything is dark and still. No sunlight shines through, onto the floor or the walls. Arthur’s footsteps are hard and cold, much unlike he had imagined them to be on this day.
Very few servants look him in the eye. There’s a dark cloud over all of their heads, one that nobody mentions. They have felt this darkness, this deep remorse, twice before, during the deaths of the king and queen. But this feeling, this time, is worse somehow.
An elderly servant woman slowly walks into the room, holding her king’s next meal. She keeps her head low, careful not to upset anyone on this mournful day, but she has been there for Arthur in his many past years. She sets the bowl down in front of his blank face, deciding to be gentle.
“Arthur …” she says quietly. About to touch him lightly on the shoulder, she goes against the action.
He briefly glances at his meal, sighs, then rests his chin in his right hand. “I’m not hungry, Marie.”
Marie nods solemnly. She tells him that if he needs anything else, she will be happy to assist. As she leaves, Arthur reminds himself of the day ahead. Knight training, sword fighting, and rides into the nearby forest. All things he does not want to do, not now. Not anytime soon.
He closes his eyes, remembering his father. The great King Uther, the man who had led their kingdom into success and victory, straight into prosperity. The people of Camelot were surely good people, living off of whatever they could, but they enjoyed life. They were happy. Arthur, who had been a good enough king in the past, had never wanted to let them down at all, for they had been good to him as well.
But now, now that they know he was never fit to be their great king … what will they think of him? How long will this dissipating peace last, until they begin to grow in doubt of their king? How long will it be until they protest for a better-fit leader? Until they leave him, just as everyone else already has?
Arthur has no intention of waiting to find out.
They didn’t want to do it, of course. The Knights of the Round Table were noble men. They, normally, would never follow such orders. But, coming from their king, they also had no choice, and were forced to do so.
Now, it is truly dark. Outside, the moon shines above Camelot, a silvery-white orb that dimly illuminates the village square. There are no stars tonight, for it had been cloudy since the afternoon. Arthur strides along the road, alone, knowing very well that his people are already inside of their small, shabby homes. If they were to see him now, out and about by himself, they would certainly wonder what his intentions are. In fact, they would probably consider him unpredictable, ever since the events of this morning. And Arthur wouldn’t blame them for thinking so.
Tonight, there is nothing to be heard but the soft humming of nature, Arthur’s movements through the dirt ground, and the beating of his heart. Now that he really thinks over his actions, he wonders if he truly wants to do this as well. But there is no going back, now.
As he passes the town tavern, a yellowish glow comes from a window. He hears the heavy sound of men’s laughter, the clinking of glass. He remembers when he was once like that, every year, when his birthday would come and pass. Happy, foolish, and free. It has been a while since he has had those privileges, and to his sorrowing heart, it feels like even longer.
But those people in the tavern, the people of Camelot, the women, children, and men who live under his reign … surely, they must want for him to be a powerful king. If he does not act now, they will look up to him no more. They will see him as a coward, a weak king, a king who does actions only just out of harm’s way, never taking a risk. Never leading their kingdom into any kind of greatness. Before, he
had been young. They must not have expected much from their young king, but now … he is supposed to be ready to lead his kingdom as a real man.
The Knights have been sent to the nearby Druid village, where Arthur’s men will take their people, and make them a part of Camelot by force. If they disagree, they will be thrown out of the land, or worse. No more will those people of magic hide from him. Instead, they will bow down to their new king, and they will see how much better it is to be a part of Camelot. This is the kind of thing Father should have done much sooner, Arthur reasons with himself. They will see how great of a king I can be. They will all see, the Druids and my people. They will no longer have to fear my cowardice.
“They may have believed me to be a fool once,” he says aloud, under his breath. “But I am no fool. I am not a coward, as they think. I am Arthur Pendragon, King of Camelot, ruler of this land, and I shall do whatever it takes for the people to recognize me as so.”
He reaches the forest, following the trail of his Knights, and he sees a sight that causes his heart to stop for a beat.
The sword, fixed into the stone, stays where it had been this morning. Only tonight, it seems to glow softly in the moonlight. Arthur thinks for a moment, recalling all of the times he had been told he was the one whom that sword belonged to. And now, he no longer needs its help. He will find another way, a more rash way, of becoming a powerful king. If it is power they want, then he will show them power.
Something from within begins to burn a dark hole in his heart. Arthur, trapped in his deep thoughts, decides to pass the stone for one final time. As he walks by, he does not notice a change in the atmosphere.
He does not notice the sword’s glow become brighter. Nor does he notice as the sword moves slightly, for a split second, changing from its original position.
Today, King Arthur has turned down the power of Excalibur, for when he had tried for its ownership, he was not brave enough. Now that he has gained that courage, he is doomed to spiral down a path that no one could have foreseen.
Today was the day.