A little ways off from the main road leading to the capital, there was a village. A dainty little pitstop, it provided it’s villagers with the necessary goods and services and was a center, albeit miniscule, for the local lumber trade. On the outskirts of this town lay a decrepit farmhouse, and an equally decrepit farmer.
“There are those who wish to see the Kingdom divided forever,” Ulther uttered to his young son. His hands were blistered and his voice was as rough and guttural as the cry of a baboon. He lifted the scythe to cut and carry another portion of grain.
“What merit is there in a divided Kingdom, father? Would it not make more sense to pursue a more centralized state, with a more efficient administration and army loyal only to the crown?”
Ulther paused for a moment. He was shocked at his own son’s vernacular. “I do not know how you have learned of such complex and educated words, nor why you bother saying them to a common serf, if not to insult me. You have a brilliant mind, but it shall be forever wasted, as you are a low-born. Get back to reaping, son.”
For the following years, Ulther’s son continued to sow and reap the grain. He stayed working as a serf under the local noble for 15 years, but not without keeping to his extracurricular agenda. On days of rest he would spend afternoons practicing swordplay with the blacksmith’s child, soon surpassing the proficiency of both the father and the son. He would sneak off from the fields at times in which the noble wasn’t present to be tutored by the local sage. There, in the very chambers of the noble, he was taught political theory and tactics by the one and only Merlin.
“And what does one do with traitors?” Arthur, son of Ulther, inquired of the old man.
“A king must first consider at what level this treachery would put the crown in danger. A king must not concern himself with a peasant’s treason, but a plot directly under his nose could mean his certain death.”
“What do you know of… political maneuvering, teacher?”
Merlin looked at his pupil with gazing eyes. His eyes may not have shown a color other than brown, but in a purely transparent world, a world in which intentions color the soul, his eyes would shine a burning crimson.
“You see, Arthur, people say that I dwell in the world of magic. This is not entirely true, as these are forces controlled only by powers beyond this earth. But I do have a vast cauldron of knowledge and wisdom that sometimes fool commoners into thinking I perform miraculous deeds.” He stopped for a moment to catch his breath. Old age and days absorbed in books had left his body in poor condition. “I know what you want, Arthur. You want a better life for you and your family. You want to be prestigious, respected, even admired. I can help you, Arthur. We will be best of friends.”
Arthur began down a long winding road into the political atmosphere. He first befriended the local noble, who noted his proficiency with blades, and promised to make him soon a knight, beginning his squiring the next morning. Arthur, in his journeys around the keep, soon met and fell in love with lord’s daughter, a beautiful seamstress with flowing auburn hair. They married the following summer, with the grace of the noble, and became a knight very soon as well. It became of Arthur’s fortune that the very next day after his wedding the lord’s only heir passed away from pox. The pox also spread to the noble, which caused the downfall of him as well, and the title fell to Arthur.
“You have done very well for yourself now, Arthur,” Merlin noted. “The lands that you once harvested are now yours to benefit from. And I see that you have placed your father in a rather stupendous townhouse. I suppose it pays to be your friend nowadays.”
“I imagine it does, thanks to you. If there is ever anything…”
His eyes lit up. He had a price, it seemed. “Now that you mention it, my lord, there is something that I desire. In my long years as a tutor, I have never once taken up a wife. My bones are growing old, Arthur, and I can hardly poor my own mead…”
“I shall find you a wife,” Arthur confirmed. The young lad would spend many a night pondering that decision. He would condemn a young woman to live with a man older than her grandfather.
“And do make her pretty, if you could!”
Arthur continued his hierarchical escapade for another long, ten years. It did not matter how prestigious the title, nothing sufficed his greed for power. With the help of the crooked, twisted genius of Merlin, he soon became a Baron, then an Earl, a Duke, and then, after a long fought war, the King.
“You have finally united the Kingdom, your highness! What great deeds!” Merlin exclaimed.
The look the King gave the old man was not one of excitement or of joy, but of agitation. “I assume you will ask more of me, now I am King! First, a beautiful wife. Then a glorious fortune! You’ve even asked for a private army! Everything that you have taught me and all that I have done has made me suspicious of those in my court who seek power. What am I to make of this, Merlin?”
“I am ask nothing of you today, Arthur. I have everything that I have ever wanted. You are a kind and gracious King, and I would bow to no one else.”
“Perhaps you are right. I should trust you without contempt, for what would I be without your guidance? Thank you for showing me the way, teacher.”
“My pleasure, your highness. Would you like to see your trap in action for the first time, my King?”
Arthur looked at Merlin with dead, motionless eyes. “I would like nothing less. Can you explain how it works again? I have bad memory.”
Merlin brought the King to a tower overseeing a wide valley. It was mostly empty, but beleaguering it was erected a tall, wooden palisade with small holes drilled into them.
“Do you see that stone in the middle, your highness? That stone has a sword plastered into it, secured so tightly into it that not even the gods could pull it out. We have also produced a rumor across the Kingdom. Any man, woman, or child who pulls the sword from the stone shall be declared King of Camelot.”
Arthur’s eyes sparked like torchlight. “But anyone who fails shall be killed on the spot for treason. It is a brilliant plan, Merlin, even better the second time you say it. It shall rid the Kingdom of all who seek power! Shall we open the gates?”
The large hardwood gates that sheltered the valley swung open violently. No one entered at first. It was dusk before the first soul entered the wretched valley. It was a teenager, just sixteen years old. Her body was thin and bony, and she had on nothing but a cured rabbit pelt. Her hands grasped the hilt of the sword. As she pulled upward, the sword did not budge from it’s resting place in the stone. As quickly as a lion pounces on his prey, a stream of arrows connected with the girl. In an instant, her life was extinguished. More came at dawn, even more the next afternoon. All traitors in the eyes of King Arthur.
It was three days before the current endeavor became uninteresting to the King.
“Merlin, my greatest advisor, would you do something very small for me. Just a small favor.”
“Anything for my King,” Merlin replied.
“There is a certain blade I desire, a very rare blade indeed. A sword so powerful it could make a commoner a king.”
“But you already are the King, your highness. I do not understand.”
‘Wouldn’t you like to be a king as well? I am eternally indebted to you, and this is the least I can do for such a trusted advisor.”
Merlin pondered for a moment, perhaps not for long enough. “I suppose I wouldn’t hate the concept of being a king…”
“Just as I suspected. Go down in the valley and fetch me the sword in the stone, and you shall be a king.”
Any ounce of crimson fire burning in Merlin’s eyes had turned into ash. “Please, I beg of you, don’t make me do this! I am your loyal servant, I would die for you!”
Arthur grabbed at his sword. “Then die for me now!”
Merlin proceeded to be pushed and kicked down the stairs of the tall tower by eager guards. At the base, he made the long walk to the great sword in complete silence. As he pulled at the sword he hoped that the stories were true, that he did practice magic. But, his attempt was futile, perhaps the most pathetic Arthur had ever seen. Arthur continued to watch as a storm of flighted arrows engulfed the old man.