The Wrongful King

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Sir Ector looked at the sorcerer and worry filled him. While Merlin’s hair and beard had been gray, even when Ector was but a child, for the first time, he looked old. He sat slumped at Ector’s table, all energy fled from his body.

“What troubles you, Merlin?” Sir Ector said. “Please speak, old friend. You have always given me wise council in the past, and it would reflect poorly on me if I did not at least attempt to stir you from your melancholy. England’s king has returned to her this day, and all men celebrate save you.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Merlin said, not looking at the knight. “This young man is not the son of Uther.”

Kay cleared his throat, hesitantly. “The writing upon the stone did not speak of lineage. I had thought Uther’s line ended. That the stone would release the sword, not to the strength of one’s arm, or nobility of his blood, but to the worthiness of his heart.”

Merlin shook his head. “I knew that, raised under your father’s firm care, and granted my wisdom, Uther’s son would be the greatest King England would ever know. I know not what kind of king this newcomer, Gerald, will be, and that troubles me.”

Both father and son stared at Merlin. Finally, it was Ector who spoke.

“My care… Do you mean to tell me that the ward you placed with me, thirteen years ago is the son of Uther Pendragon and rightful heir to the throne?”

“For all the good it may do him, yes,” Merlin snapped. “I have been working towards this since the day I met Pendragon. Decades of work, all undone by a young upstart too clever by half.”

“Is cleverness not desired within a ruler?” Kay asked.

“Of course, of course, but it is not the only quality a good king needs. Compassion, honor, strength of heart. Arthur is clever and a good man. Your father and I have seen to that. All I know of this Gerald is that he has no qualms about breaking the spirit of the law if it maintains the letter.”

“There must be something we can do?”

“No, my son,” Ector said. “Our hands are bound. Merlin decreed to one and all that he who removed the sword from the stone and anvil would receive the crown of England. He cannot revoke this merely because he does not like the man who performed the feat, nor how he did it. Gerald removed the sword, and we are honorbound to acknowledge him. All the kingdom celebrates, and if Merlin were to interfere on behalf of a bastard orphan, all would have cause to suspect him of ulterior motives.”

“Only a fool would accuse Merlin of acting against England, and I will bloody any lips that give voice to such thoughts.”

“All who know and love Merlin as we do know this truth, but you cannot hold flaw with those who do not know him and have truthful reasons to doubt him. It is indeed a shame, to see such devotion to the kingdom undone by a technicality, but what is done is done. We will hold true to the words engraved upon that stone.”

Kay snorted. “Or what’s left of it.”

Merlin stood without warning, the age and weariness slipping from his face like water off a cloak. “That is it, then. I know what I must do.”

“What have you decided, old friend?” Ector asked.

“I will travel back in time, a task I do not engage in lightly. I shall place upon the stone an asterisk, just beyond the words ‘whosoever pulls this sword from this stone and anvil’.”

“An asterisk?”

“Yes, and at the bottom, in small letters, I will engrave ‘without blowing the bloody thing up’!” A crack of thunder filled the room and Merlin was gone.

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Prompt: The Sword in the Stone

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This week’s prompt is the famous sword in the stone, from Arthurian Legend.

Good luck and good writing!