“It’s just not fair,” grumbled the youth to himself as he stomped through the undergrowth in the woodland. “I am just as good as Kay, even if he is a knight and a year older. Why should I have to be his squire? Why can’t I be a knight and fight too? Hmmph! Bet I’d beat him - I usually do.” That thought made his eyes sparkle in his handsome young face.
Unseen, an odd looking old man smiled into his long white beard, as he hid nearby. “It’s definitely time,” he murmured, “time he knew the truth and claimed his inheritance.” He started muttering strange words.
The young man hurried on, head down, until he suddenly looked up and realized he did not know where he was. “I can’t be lost,” he turned round and round, frowning with worry. “My brother needs a sword, he can’t fight without a sword, I must get back to our tent and find his sword.”
He started to run up a nearby pathway, hoping to recognize something around him. He darted right, along another turning and came to a wide muddy track – which way, which way to turn? Desperately he turned right, saying to himself that it had to lead somewhere. He stumbled along the rutted route and suddenly found himself in front of an ancient church.
“Maybe there’s someone in there I can ask,” he thought and started running up the path to the heavy wooden door.
Suddenly his attention was caught by a huge stone monument on his left, with an anvil on top and sticking out of the anvil was an enormous sword. He could not believe his eyes. Was this real? He approached carefully, and yes, sure enough it was a very a handsome sword. The young man glanced around, no-one about. Perhaps it would be all right for him just to borrow it for his brother, who would not be able to take part in the festivities if he had no sword.
He approached closer, noticed some inscription which he did not bother to read, and quickly laid both hands upon the sword and tugged hard. The sword did not move. He tugged again even harder. The sword did not move.
“I must do it, for my brother, he needs me to do it. Perhaps I am pulling wrongly. How would I take a sword like this out of a scabbard?”
Once again he approached, gently laid his hand upon the hilt and firmly but evenly started to draw and slowly but smoothly the glistening sword slid from the anvil as if it being drawn from a bed of sand. His eyes shone as he held the beautiful weapon high.
“Oh, Kay will fight well with this,” he cried aloud.
As he turned round, he realized that he recognized one of the paths leading from the church and in the distance he could hear voices raised in laughter.
Laughing aloud himself, he ran along the path and, skirting the edge of the fairground, found Kay waiting impatiently for his return.
“Where have you been Arthur? They are starting any minute! Here, give me my sword.” He lifted his hand to take the sword. “This isn’t mine, you nincompoop!”
“No, I know, but I somehow got lost on the way back and came across this in a churchyard and thought it would not matter if you borrowed it just for today. We can put it back this evening.”
“Got lost Art? You really are ….” His eyes widened as he took in the magnificence of the sword he was holding. “Oh my, where did you say you found this?”
“In a churchyard up the road, stuck in an anvil. Will it…”
“Wait here, don’t move,” commanded Kay.
He hurried out towards Sir Ector, who was behind the tents. “Father, father, look at what I have! Isn’t this the sword they have all been talking about? The one people say will show who is the true king of Briton now that Uther is dead?”
Sir Ector took the weapon from his son and scrutinized it closely. “It could well be .. where did you find it?”
“In a churchyard just up the road. It was stuck in an anvil. I took it – I must be the true king.” Kay’s eyes slid away from his father’s piercing gaze.
“Kay,” he said firmly, “look at me.” Kay glanced up at his beloved father and hung his head in shame.
“I lied father,” he mumbled, “I’m sorry. It was Arthur who brought it to me.”
Ector put his arm across his son’s shoulder and together they approached the waiting youth.
“Arthur,” said Sir Ector quietly, “I want you to show me where you found this sword.”
“Yes, father,” he replied, glancing up at Sir Ector’s serious face. Desperately worried, he continued, ”I didn’t mean to do anything wrong – I’m sorry - I got lost – I just wanted to borrow it for Kay – I was going to return it.”
“Hush boy, just show me where you found it.”
As Arthur led the way towards the churchyard, he saw that a great crowd had gathered where there was no-one before. “It’s gone!” “Who did it?” was being muttered all around. The crowd parted as Sir Ector approached, bearing the sword and followed by Sir Kay and Arthur.
In front of the stone and anvil stood an old man, with a long white beard. Wordlessly, Ector handed him the sword and the old man held it aloft. “Who took this sword from this stone?” his voice rang out.
Silence greeted him until, at last, a shamefaced Arthur muttered, “I did.” A gasp ran round the assembled knights. “I’m sorry,I didn’t mean any harm. I was going to replace it.” He moved towards the old man, who handed him the sword and said sharply,” Replace it now.”
Arthur stepped up to the stone and quickly pushed the sword back into the anvil just as he had found it. “Now read out the words written there and don’t mumble.”
Arthur looked at the inscription and read out slowly,” Whoever pulls this sword out of this stone and anvil, is born to be the rightful king of all England.”
His face creased into a frown as a great hubbub rose from the crowd. Some were shouting, “He must be the king!” Others roared, “He’s only a boy.” Others yet, “ I didn’t see him take it out” and “Let me do it!”.
“Quiet!” the old man’s voice rose above the noise.
“Arthur, come here. I want you to pull out the sword again in front of these people.” Bewildered, the young man approached the anvil again, and remembering how he had done it before, drew the sword slowly and surely from the stone.
Another roar went up from the crowd and again the old man called for peace.
“I Merlin, proclaim you, Arthur, the true born son and heir of Uther Pendragon and the king of all Briton.”
Then, as the hubble started up again, he told Arthur to put the sword back.
“You can all have your turn now at trying to pull it out,” Merlin announced to the assembled company, “but, at sunset, the final proclamation will be made.”
So saying he walked away from the gathering, beckoning the shocked Arthur, Ector and Kay to follow him. As they left, Arthur glanced back and saw the knights almost fighting each other to take their turn to try to pull the sword out .. and none succeeding.
Merlin led the small group into the nearby wood and to a clearing with some convenient stones for them to sit upon.
He muttered a few words and made some passes with his hand, at which there came a rustling in the undergrowth, and a number of small woodland creatures scurried out bearing fruit, berries and nuts. They dropped them on the ground near the wizard and his amazed guests, who watched them scamper back into the forest as quickly as they had come.
As the others munched, Arthur started to come out of his shocked state and stood up. “This is ridiculous. Here is my father,” pointing to Sir Ector, “and here my brother, who is older than me and therefore should be heir.” His voice became more agitated, “ I don’t understand .. what’s going on? Won’t someone please explain?”
“Hush, Arthur,” came the calm, loving voice of Sir Ector. “You are my son, but you are my foster son, given into my keeping by Merlin here when you were a tiny baby.
I have seen you boys grow up together with equal pride and joy in you both. But I knew that one day it would come to an end. Merlin will explain.”
The old wizard stood up and gazed fondly at the youth before him. “Sit down Arthur and eat something, while I tell you your story, and please do not interrupt.”
The young man obeyed, but his eyes stayed firmly fixed on Merlin as he spoke.
“About sixteen years ago, when I was still an advisor to your father, Uther Pendragon, he called together the war leaders of Briton to plan ways to defeat the Saxons who were raiding our shores. It was then he saw and fell in love with Igraine, the beautiful wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. Gorlois saw Uther’s interest, and immediately took his entourage back to Cornwall. He left Igraine in his impregnable stronghold at Tintagel, a castle on a wild and soaring headland on the northern coast.
“He moved his main force to Dimilioc about 5 miles away. Furious that Gorlois had left, Uther soon marched his army to camp outside Dimilioc. He then called me, worried that he might get killed in battle without ever declaring his love to Igraine. It had been foretold to me, that a great King would be born of a union between Uther and Igraine and so I agreed to help, on the condition that I would have the safe guarding of any child conceived. Uther was so much in love, he agreed without demur.
“And so I rode, after dark, with the king and a small group of knights, like the wind, towards Tintagel.
Once there, I worked a charm to disguise Uther into the outer shape of Gorlois, and myself as his servant. We were admitted unchallenged, of course, and Uther went to Igraine’s quarters, where she believed that he was her husband.
The king remained with Igraine the whole night, and that is when you were conceived Arthur.
“What we did not know then was that one of Gorlois’ scouts had seen us leave the camp at Dimilioc, and reported it to Gorlois. He, believing Uther’s troops were leaderless, led his army out onto the battlefield, thinking he would win an easy battle.
However, Gorlois was struck almost immediately by a well aimed arrow and was certainly dead even before Uther and I reached Tintagel.
“In the morning, when the news reached us of Gorlois’ death, Uther immediately declared himself to Igraine and begged her to marry him, which she did as soon as possible.
As predicted, Igraine was pregnant. To stop any gossip, she returned to Tintagel after the wedding. It was important that knowledge of you should be secret and that you should be kept safe, once you were born, to prevent any treachery by Uther’s many enemies.
“When Igraine’s time was due, I secretly arrived by sea, one stormy night, with just a wet nurse and a faithful servant.
The wind was howling and the waves smashing against the rocks. But, with the help of a little magic, we managed to beach our boat in a cave and I climbed the slippery, treacherous cliffs to a hidden castle entrance.
There I was met, as arranged, by the midwife attending Igraine, who brought me the precious bundle.
“Despite the worst fury of the storm, I carried you down to the boat and we slipped out of the cove and fought our way up along the coast, across to the Usk and up to Caerleon. There we stole to the house of a wellwisher and waited until dark again.
She had arranged horses and we rode all night to reach my good friend, Ector here, before daybreak. He has been your guardian and father ever since, teaching and readying you for the mammoth task you have before you.
“Throughout the years I have watched your progress, unseen, and have been proud to tell Uther about your courage, skill and generosity; important qualities that you have developed, under Sir Ector’s guidance, which will fit you for your inheritance.
When Uther died, it was his wish that you should be his heir. He knew that without a strong and wise king, the country would descend into civil war and the Saxons would be able to invade and settle with impunity.
“This fair today was not really about the games, but to get knights together from all over Briton, so that you could be presented as the true heir, as no other will have managed the feat, I arranged, with the sword.
And now Arthur, the sun is setting and it is time for us to return, and for you to pull that sword from the stone just once more, in front of the whole gathering, so that the official proclamation can be made and you can take your rightful place as King Arthur of Briton.”