There was once a great King, who ruled over the land with benevolence and righteousness in his heart. It was a time of peace and prosperity, but as with all great things, it could never last. The King was, after all, a man. And as all men are fallible in one form or another, so too was our good King. With age, his mind left him, and the kingdom gradually fell into chaos. And when the man that had been our King finally died and left no heir apparent, civil war was the only outcome. It was a time of great misery, brother fighting brother, father against son. There was no law save that of the sword. Many could claim a right to the throne, but none would support any but themselves and so chaos and anarchy ensued.
Then, one day, the King's sword—which had been lost upon his death—appeared embedded in a stone in a field atop a hill amidst an ancient circle of standing stones. No one knows how the blade came to be there, only that beneath its hilt were inscribed these words:
Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone is righteous king born of all England
Though many tried to pull the sword from its resting place and cement their claim to the throne, all failed, and the magnificent sword was soon forgotten. It seemed that the fighting would never end, however such was not to be the fate of the sword nor of our kingdom.
Arthur shivered in the early morning air, the mist clinging to his ragged clothing as he ascended the hillock upon which the circle of stones sat. The sun had not yet risen, the morning cast in a grim gray light as the mist crept about his heels hungrily. He looked over his shoulder uncertainly at the man who had brought him here.
“Go on then boy.” the wizard said quietly. “Claim your future.” an incomprehensible smile played across the seemingly ancient man's features. “Unless you wish to return to your life of obscurity and die a nameless page.”
Arthur stiffened and turned back towards the stone circle, stepping forwards boldly and entering between the great stones. He gazed about him in wonder at the strange circular carvings on their surfaces. All of them had the same emblem inscribed upon them. Three rings interwoven with one another. That there was magic here was obvious even to his unschooled mind, he could feel the energy in the air, crackling at his fingertips and setting his hair on end. He swallowed nervously, praying to God that his soul be spared from whatever magics kept this place. Taking a deep breath and exhaling a great cloud of steam he stepped into the inner sanctum of the stones and ever closer to the sword in the stone.
The inscription which had become at once famous and infamous blazed in angry red and gold lettering, seemingly alive with a flame deep within the sword. He reached forwards haltingly, hesitating just before the hilt of the blade before he found his courage and gripped it in both hands tightly and lifted. To his surprise the sword came free with next to no effort and with a great heave he fell back, clutching it in his hands as it dragged on the ground. He looked at it for a moment, his eyes unbelieving. Merlin had spoken the truth. The blade had yielded to his grasp. A great energy whirled around him, whipping his clothes about violently and sweeping the blade up against Arthur's will as he held it above his head in awestruck wonderment as it blazed with a great inner light that turned the early morning gloom into dawn as the sun broke over the horizon from behind him
Merlin smiled deviously as shouts began to arise from the camp surrounding the hillock, cries of alarm as the camp began to rouse thanks in no small part to the blazing light atop the hill amidst the stones.
He turned and spread his arms. “Behold, the sword in the stone, the King's own blade, Excalibur, has been drawn forth from the stone! All hail Arthur! Long live the King!”
There was stupefied silence for a time before the shout was taken up.
“Hail Arthur! Long live the King!”
It gained in momentum until with a resounding shout, all those assembled who were witness to the miracle bellowed in their elation.
“HAIL ARTHUR! LONG LIVE THE KING!”
And so it was that those assembled before the newly made King swore allegiance to him upon the sacred ground from which he'd pulled the sword. Word spread quickly across the land and more and more pledged their loyalty to King Arthur. There were those that resisted the rule of the rightful King, too blind and stubborn to see reason and they were joined in battle until they either swore their oaths or were slain. Peace was not long in coming, and so it was that a great city and castle were erected upon the sight of the miracle, the stone circle in which Excalibur had rested forming the foundation of the central keep at whose base rested the very stone which had born the great sword and made a page a King.
In that room, Arthur erected a great table, his Round Table and the meeting place of his greatest knights. The Knights of the Round table were pledged to Arthur and to the great city now known as Camelot. The new King ruled the land with goodness and justness both in his heart, and all the kingdom rejoiced.
Sir Lionel smiled at his wide eyed daughter Kayley who was staring up at him in wonderment. This was perhaps the hundredth time he'd told her the story, and it never ceased to draw pure amazement from the child.
“And so my child, King Arthur rules from Camelot with the sword Excalibur in his hand, and all the knights of the Round Table at his side.”
Kayley laughed and clapped her hands. “Tell me again father, how many knights are there?”
“Kayley.” chided Lady Julianna, Sir Lionel's wife. “You've pestered your father enough, and you know full well how many knights there are.”
“Oh but it's fine dear.” Sir Lionel replied, kneeling on the ground before his daughter. “There are fifteen Knights of the Round Table, and there may yet be more, for the King is always seeking those with goodness in their hearts and justice in their actions to serve alongside him.”
“When I grow up.” Kayley said. “I want to be a knight, just like you father.”
Sir Lionel laughed heartily. “Now that would be a sight I am sure.”
He looked up as his page came running up, leading his horse behind him.
“Sir Lionel, the knights are here.”
Nodding, Sir Lionel took the reins from the page and kissed his wife lovingly.
“I won't be long.”
“So you always say.” Julianna replied quietly. “We both know that you'll be as long as you are needed to be.”
He smiled and knelt down, putting a hand on his daugther's shoulder.
“Mind your mother while I am away.”
“I will father.” she said dutifully, hesitating for a moment before throwing her small arms around his neck. “I love you father.”
“And I you Kayley, now come on and see me off.”
“I want to come with you.” she said fretfully.
“I know.” he said as he stood and mounted his steed. His page handed him his banner, and he braced it against his leg before he turned about and smiled down at Kayley. “I will take you to Camelot one day, I promise.”
And with that, he turned the head of his great horse around and urged it forwards. The three knights who had come to greet him were all from the region. Sir Bors was a great barrel of a man with a fierce gaze, Sir Kay was King Arthur's adoptive brother and one of the longest serving Knights of the Round table, and finally Sir Tristan one of the younger knights who sat at the Table.
“Come on.” Sir Lionel called as he rode past them, waving his arm.
They fell in around him and the foursome rode down the main road. It was three days to Camelot and the King was waiting for them.
Kayley watched as her father rode away. She hated when he left her behind at their estate, but he always said that one day when she was older he would take her with him and she believed him with all her heart. His shield bore the three interwoven rings symbolizing Camelot and the rule of King Arthur, but his banner bore the silver winged falcon that was his unique heraldry. She would watch for that banner every day while he was gone, waiting for it to return.
Arthur stood on the steps to Camelot's central keep, watching as the last arriving members of the Round Table dismounted their steeds and came forwards. He returned his brother's smile, embracing him warmly.
“It's good to see you again.” he said, clasping Sir Kay's hand tightly. “How is father?”
“He is well, though he still hasn't adjusted to his son being King.”
Arthur looked into his brother's gaze searchingly, Kay had wanted to be King, of that he was certain. However his brother had been one of his most stalwart supporters. He hoped that there was no resentment on Kay's part. For Arthur, he held nothing but affection for his elder brother, adoptive or not.
He turned his gaze to the remaining three knights and smiled. “Sir Bors, I see you've not changed at all.”
“It will take more than a year to change me your Majesty.” Bors rumbled as he knelt momentarily before walking past the young King.
Sir Tristan ducked his head nervously. He was barely any older than Arthur himself, and one of the the few members of the Knights of the Round Table that had not been a knight prior to the drawing of Excalibur. Finally came Sir Lionel and Arthur's face broke out in a smile as the older man approached him and clasped his hand.
“How fare you my King?”
“Well enough.” Arthur conceded. “I will be much relieved when this is over with.”
Sir Lionel chuckled. “Most I think are content.”
“Most are not all. There are grumblers.” Arthur said tiredly.
Sir Lionel nodded. “There always are. You have my support.”
“Thank you my friend. Come, let us begin this business.”
The pair followed Sirs Tristan, Bors, and Kay as they walked inwards. A dark figure stepped out from a side passage and Arthur immediately tensed as Sir Ruber joined him in walking to the council room.
“Sir Ruber.” Sir Lionel said cautiously.
“Lionel.” replied Sir Ruber dismissively.
Arthur took a deep breath as he entered the council chamber to find the rest of his knights standing behind their chairs at equidistant positions around the great table. At the back of each chair rested each man's sword and shield, a symbol of trust that no man sat with his weapon readily available. Arthur walked to his seat opposite the great doorway and drew Excalibur from its sheath at his side and placed it in the sheath at the back of his chair before taking his seat. With the King being seated, the knights took their seats as well.
“My friends.” Arthur began. “Thanks to your efforts we have secured the kingdom from outside invaders and brought peace and growing prosperity to the lands. In the ten years since I assumed the throne, we have reunited and unified the lands once held by the good King Pendragon before me. I wish to thank each of you for your—“
“Enough of this.” snarled Sir Ruber, slamming his fist down on the table. “What about my new lands?”
“Sir Ruber.” Arthur said with measured calm. “Always thinking of yourself. The land will be divided according to each man's needs.”
“Then I need more than any of you.” Ruber sneered, leaning back in his chair and tapping the table with his armored hand. “I wouldn't have supported you all these years if I'd thought it was for charity.”
“The King has decided.” Sir Lionel replied darkly from Arthur's right. “It is not your place to question his decision.”
“I disagree.” Sir Ruber said, leaning forwards. “I say it's time for a new King, and I vote for me.”
A murmuring rumble ran around the table as everyone exchanged uncertain glances. Sir Lionel gave voice to the rumblings as he stood up and glared across the table.
“I will not support a false King.”
“Then perchance you'd rather serve a dead one!” Sir Ruper said as he leapt to his feet and sprang onto the table and charged towards Arthur.
Many of the knights leapt up on the table after him, but his massive frame cast them aside easily. Sir Lionel was one of the few that managed to get their shield up and actually slow Ruber down, and for his efforts he was thrown aside like a doll, his shield dented by Ruber's armored fist. It gave Arthur the precious moment to draw Excalibur and raise it up, slashing at the charging Ruber. The blade flashed with power as it cut throw armor and flesh, sending Ruber sailing across the room to land by the great door below the raised table.
He staggered to his feet, holding the charred stump that had been his forearm and glared hatefully at Arthur. “One day you won't have that sword in your hands boy, and then we'll see who is King!”
He turned and fled from the chamber, slamming the door behind him as several of the knight's grabbed their blades and bounded after him. Arthur sighed heavily as he brought Excalibur down, its energies still crackling through his arms. This had not been what he'd expected. He'd known that Ruber and others were discontent but he hadn't expected to draw his sword. He turned to see Sir Kay and Sir Tristan gathered around Sir Lionel's prone form lying limp on the stone floor, his head bent at an odd angle. Arthur had been fighting battles for the past ten years, he knew a corpse when he saw one, however he asked the obvious, hoping that his eyes were deceiving him.
“Does he live?”
Sir Kay looked up at him, and Arthur saw in his brother's eyes the reality of the situation. He bowed his head solemnly.
“Let it be known henceforth that Sir Ruber is no longer a Knight of the Round Table, nor of this Kingdom. His lands are forfeit.” he looked around at the remainder of the knights sternly. “His lands will pass into Camelot's control until I decide on their disposition. I will have no infighting over them is that clear?”
There was no dissension from the remaining knights much to Arthur's relief. He blinked in surprise as he looked back to Sir Lionel's body and found Merlin stooping over the fallen Knight. There was a glowing from something the wizard clasped in his hands which quickly subsided and vanished within Merlin's robes.
Arthur frowned as his mentor turned to him. “Is there anything you can do for him Merlin?”
Merlin looked back at him with his wizened eyes. “I cannot forestall death Arthur. He is gone.”
Kayley turned her pony around, readying her broomstick once again against the scarecrow that was her opponent. She sighted down the length of the broom's handle, determined not to miss this time. She stopped however at the sight of a fluttering pennant in the mists. Her face lit up and she jumped from her pony, tossing her makeshift lance aside and doffing the bucket she'd used for a helm.
“Mother! The knights are back!” she called excitedly as she ran towards the mounted men.
She ran amongst them, smiling up and expecting to see the hardened features of Sir Bors, or perhaps the somber eyes of Sir Kay, or the boyish smile of Sir Tristan. Of course she was looking most for the bright eyes of her father. She saw none of these however, frowning at the strange men, none of whom she recognized. As the strange knights continued their somber ride past her she grew increasingly concerned. Then an ox drawn cart lumbered out of the mists. It was flanked by four men. Surely this was her father.
“Father!” she exclaimed, running forwards with a bright smile.
She recognized these knights, there was Sir Kay, Sir Bors, and Sir Tristan. She looked to the last night and stopped. That wasn't her father. He was too young, his hair was blonde to match his blonde beard and mustache. With a deepening frown she looked to the cart. There was a blanket shrouded lump upon it. She reached forwards and pulled it back over her father's still features. Sir Lionel's face was set in grim repose, his arms crossed over his chest where his shield and sword lay.
Kayley jerked away violently. “No.” she continued to step away in shock.
The blonde knight dismounted and caught her as she fell back.
She looked up at the young knight's face, his blue eyes gazing down at her and sharing in her pain.
“I am King Arthur.” the young man said gently. “Your father saved my life.”
Kayley couldn't speak, she was already crying against him as the King knelt and held her tenderly.
As Sir Lionel's body was entombed, Arthur felt a great weight settling upon his chest as he turned towards Lady Julianna and Lionel's young daughter Kayley, holding her mother's dress. She was being remarkably brave for such a young child as she sniffled against her mother. He met Julianna's gaze and knew that there was nothing he could say to mitigate the lose, yet he had to say something.
He handed over the battered shield that Sir Lionel had held in his last moments. “Your husband died saving my life. Lady Julianna, I know it will never be enough, but Camelot's gates will always be open to you.”
She nodded wordlessly, and even Arthur felt the meaninglessness of his words as he turned towards the tomb of his friend.
“Sir Lionel was counted among my most trusted knights, and also my dear dear friend. We shall always remember the way he bravely upheld the ideals of Camelot....”
The King's words fell on Kayley's ear's mutely. She couldn't bear to stand there any longer. Releasing her mother's skirts, she ran down the hill towards the estate. She didn't want to be there. None of the warmth of her father was in that place, it was cold, dark, and lonely. She tripped and fell, hitting the cold ground. She lay there for a moment, crouched and huddled against the earth as her tears spilt quietly. There was a low chuffling sound and she looked up to find her pony munching at her hair. She got to her feet and wrapped her hands around its head, burying her face in its thick mane.
“Father's gone now.” she murmured tearfully as the pony nuzzled against her.
The thought hit her like a hammer and she started crying anew. No kind words from the King would change anything for her.