The Eye of Excalibur by Roy Barton

by Roy Barton

I am Excalibur and I stand testament to that which happened many years ago now. As I look beyond the murky waters where I have lain for these many centuries, I visualise that moment in time when I was a power behind the throne of one of the most famous figures ever to have lived. This is my account of the rise and fall of Camelot and the end of the House of Pendragon. This was the story of Arthur - King of the Britons.

This was not the age of chivalrous knights and noble defenders of the realm that history would have you believe. There were no glorious battles for the hands of fair princesses and brave deeds or near impossible errands. Rather, this was the age of journeymen warriors and opportunists who plied their trade to tribal chieftains for the highest reward they could get. Honour and commitment were not held as great values for there was no glory or riches and life was all too brief to worry about allegiance to any one person.

These tribes plundered the land and invaded territory held by others and, in turn, they too were attacked and laid waste. Not long beforehand they were given land by the all-powerful foreign empire that had claimed the whole of the nation. But this empire had fallen and was soon to be no more, leaving the inhabitants to fend for themselves. The religion they had been left with had been forgotten by many, who had returned to their heathen ways. The same thing applied to the laws that they had enforced. With no policing this had also lapsed. So the nation was lawless and held little belief in the new religion and they lurched towards a dark age.

Another danger became present, too. Invaders from across the seas sought to take over the land. With so many fighting among themselves it became easy for the foreign armies to take the land that the wanted. With this in mind, unseen powers worked on saving this nation.

This land and time was one that was full of witchcraft and magic. Necromancers and soothsayers hypnotised and mesmerised, weaving spells and forecasting events that had yet to happen. The most powerful of these stood to one side and looked down upon a nation at war, leaving the lesser ones to make their fortunes from the misery that surrounded them. They knew that time was running out and something had to be done to unite these tribes and repel the invader, so they drew up plans to shape the future and guide this country away from the abyss.

The first thing they did was create me. The finest smiths were sought out and given spells of alchemy to shape and meld contrasting metals to create the ultimate weapon. A sword that could not be broken in battle, that could only be used by one man and held the soul of a warrior. A fusion of minds locked in battle around an indestructible weapon.

But who would be King. The answer was the son of a previous King. A warrior who had vanquished all who sought to conquer him and take his land. Had vanquished nearly all ! He had fallen in his last battle and was lost, his one heir taken to safety so that he might reclaim that which was rightfully his. It was arranged that his son - Arthur - would be the chosen one. His father had been intelligent and fair to his people, traits which were hoped to have been passed on.

But Arthur was not King of the Britons, at that time he was not even entitled to call himself a prince. His land had been taken from him and the Kingdom had been taken over. Arthur had been spirited away to somewhere outside of his domain where he could not be traced and where he could grow up safely, his development overseen by those of a higher order. Due to his extreme youth he was unaware of his rightful place and passed the years with common and honest people who worked from sunrise and finished their toil only when it was too dark to continue. They would then return to their homes where they ate and slept humbly. Arthur was made to work, eat and sleep with them so that he would understand fully how his future subjects lived. This insight would help to make him a greater and more grateful man, who would know humility and sympathise with all who lived within the realm.

Arthur was a young adult when the hidden ones decided that he was old enough take back his birth-right. They conspired to bring an end to the reign of the false king and hold a pageant to find the rightful ruler. Arthur was then told of his past and urged to take up the challenge that had been put out. In an age where magic and superstition ran through the minds of everyone, nobody argued when Arthur won the contest to decide the King. The story of Arthur was revealed to the rest of the people and he was crowned with their blessings, but this was just the beginning of a long and often painful reign.

There was a period of calm immediately after his coronation and he worked hard at securing a new capital for his kingdom. He had secured an ancient fort that overlooked his realm for as far as the eye could see. He then orchestrated the construction of a fine building where he would hold court. Made from stone and wood and large enough to hold meetings with his most trusted warriors who were carefully selected with the help of the mages that protected him. This building was the centrepiece of his entire kingdom and I was the centrepiece of the building. I held the very fabric of the country together, invincible and immortal. Another symbol was added to the court. A fine round table where the meetings were held, designed so that everybody could see each other at a time when trust was at a premium. This was where the gathering of warriors would sit and consider how best to unite and protect the people that they ruled over.

Over the years their domain grew, not by fighting and conquering, but by sharing in a common goal of driving the invaders out. Arthur delivered his promises wisely and the people that gathered under his banner did so gratefully. Separate tribal areas slipped into the expanding nation and protected from the outsiders. It was the outsiders that made sure that Arthur was constantly at battle throughout his reign. His ambition to reunite this disjointed kingdom was hampered at every turn by foreign warriors who wanted those lands for themselves. It was a constant struggle to push the invaders back towards the sea. But Arthur consulted with his warriors and the higher powers to succeed in that objective.

Ultimately it was not the invaders who took down the Kingdom that Arthur had built, but people from his own nation. The magic that had given Arthur the power and strength to succeed had an opposing side and they were strengthening their own side. Arthur resolved to try diplomatic means to unite both kingdoms but it was to no avail and one day the battle lines were drawn. An anonymous field between the two divides was the site of the final skirmish. Arthur’s side had been dwindled by the blackest of magic. Warriors had turned against each other and some had crossed to the other side. Arthur was in charge of a weak and a much depleted group. It was a fight that Arthur did not want and he waited. The magic that had been used to weaken the nation had been like a plague that washed over the land, blotting out the sun and poisoning the earth underfoot, and it looked sickly and wasted. It affected everything, even the magic that had been charged up within me. I felt the bonding of the metals weaken and Arthur could sense that I was not the invincible force that he had held before him in battle.

All day they waited. Neither side wanting to make the first move until more trickery forced the first glint of a drawn weapon. Arthur pleaded with the fighter to return his sword before it was seen, but it was too late. Battle was joined at a speed that overwhelmed everybody and the fighting was as violent and bloody as any that had been fought against the invaders. Bodies fell under the weight of the blows inflicted and were trampled into the mud, suffocating the dying screams of frightened men. Within the hour the field was churned and muddied and red with the blood of a thousand corpses and Arthur lay, mortally wounded. His side had been beaten and retreated with their dying leader. He still held me within his gauntlet, but my honed edges had been blunted and the blood of opponents wounds had started to corrode my component metals. The day and the realm had been lost to us.

In the solemn and subdued days that followed I was returned to the lake that bore me and I drifted slowly to the bottom. As I looked up over the years I saw the harvest of the seeds that were sown by the evil powers. The effort to prevent a dark age had failed. Ultimately everything that Arthur had achieved in an all-too-brief reign fell to pieces. The nation was lost to others and for over two hundred years a black cloak covered the country before King Alfred emerged to continue the work that Arthur had started.

Arthur is long dead and the things that surrounded his reign are now consigned to legend. Camelot is lost to the mists of time and the remains of the King and his followers are gone, too. The only thing that remains is me and I keep watch on this world around me and I wait.

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2009


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