“Bruv, you’ve got to be quieter, yeah? We’ll get nicked if you keep acting up! I don’t need to get fired.”
“Fired, why? You work here and its your job to show people around the museum, fam!”
“During the day, you git. Not late at night, drunk, and certainly not in here!”
“Aaah ... it were all Artie’s fault anyway, wasn’t it? He’s the one whats pining over Gwen!”
The others seemed to agree it was all my fault and, I suppose, it was true in a way. Gwen was Guinevere Alice Elizabeth Allen Windsor, properly Princess Guinevere. She was the fifth child of King Harry, the other four were sons, so the whole royal family would have to be wiped out before she got the throne.
Me? I was the American born bastard of a minor lord whose family had the money to get me into St. George’s. Arthur William Pendleton at your service. My name and a couple of other similarities popped up and suddenly I was obsessed with the Arthurian legends and histories. Meeting Gwen at school was like supercharging my obsession and I was more determined than ever to do what they said couldn’t be done.
Silly? Sure, but dreams ... dreams are powerful things. Lust is too.
So here we were, after a drunken Saturday evening at the pub discussing girls we fancied, we wound up in the infamous Tower of London. Markus, a classmate and son of a minor lord, had a part time job giving tours here to school children. He had been a history major at school, before switching to pre-med, so it made sense in a way, and it provided him with some extra coin to drink up on the weekends.
With his employee security pass we were able to come in through the employee entrances and bypassed the folderol the common tourists were forced to endure out front. We made our way through the museum, being quiet as church mice ... okay, drunken church mice. Unlike the crown jewels that were behind the most impressive security I had ever heard of, the sword and stone were behind a velvet rope. The stone weighed in at well over two Imperial tonnes and no one was going to stick it in a bag and make off with it after all.
“There, you’ve seen it. Can we go now?” Markus asked, wringing his hands.
“Sure thing, Markus. Right after I do this.” I told him happily, stepping over the rope and wrapping my fingers around the well-worn, plain wood grip.
That’s all I recall. Really! I woke up some indeterminate time later in a jail cell.
Okay, fine, be pedantic.
No, I didn’t know it was a jail cell. I woke up, manacled to what appeared to be a hospital bed, complete with beeping monitors and an IV in my left arm. The room was otherwise featureless except for a solid steel door with no handle on this side and a long lighting fixture sunk into the ceiling with a heavy wire mesh over it. Happy now?
Can I continue?
Anyway, I woke up in a jail cell. I suppose there must have been a camera in there because when I raised my head to get a look around, and rattled my manacled hands too, there was a harsh clunking sound and the imposing steel door opened inward.
My, oh my. That nurse looked a little like Princess Meghan, King Harry’s beautiful wi ... um ... the guards with her were glaring at me as if daring me to breath.
“Your highness. I would bow but I seem to be restrained.” I said, carefully. I was not one to bow and scrape, I was an American no matter that half my genetic material came from here. Still, I didn’t want to piss off the heavily armed men who were scowling at me, did I? No I did not.
“Arthur, Guinevere tells me that you are a very nice young man, once she is quite fond of.” Princess Meghan said, her hands folded demurely over her still flat and trim middle. Four Sons and she looked as good as she did when she was an actress.
“I am glad to hear she does not think badly of me, your highness. A schoolboy prank gone wrong, or so I would have thought. I can’t imagine why I am in the dungeon.” I told her, cracking a smile.
She laughed and the sound was delightful. “You know, when Harry and I first started dating, I asked him if there really were dungeons that the Queen could toss people in to for displeasing her. He told me that they really did exist, but were tourist traps these days. Instead, she had them jailed ‘At the Queen’s Pleasure.” That meant that they stayed in jail until she stopped being mad. Since she held a grudge until it died of old age, then had it stuffed and mounted so she could keep it with her, that could be a very, very long time.”
I listened in fascination. In the US, Princess Meghan was as much a legend as Princess Grace had been generations before. She was an American girl, of mixed heritage too, and she had married an honest to god Prince. The death of his older brother left him on the throne when Prince Charles abdicated after his stroke, and Princess Meghan was the next best thing to a Queen. I think every boy in America had a crush on her at one time or another.
“So, am I to be jail until the King forgives me?” I asked, making a joke of it, but seriously concerned at this point. They didn’t send the wife of the King to deal with pranksters.
“No, actually.” she said, an odd look on her face. She nodded to the guards who, unhappily, came forward to undo my shackles.
Nothing more was said as I was handed my clothes. The Princess turned her back with a grin on her face, and allowed me to get dressed without embarrassing myself. From the cell we traveled silently up several levels via elevator and came out, much to my surprise, in the museum again! We really had been in the dungeons of the Tower of London!
I recognized the route we took and I wasn’t all that surprised when I found myself back in front of the stone again. There, laying on the carpet, being closely guarded by what seemed like a company of fully armed and armored troops ... was Excalibur.
“Arthur, if you would be so kind as to pick up that sword.” King Harry entered the room, his voice instantly recognizable and it took everything I had in me to keep from falling to my knees. That he had Gwen with him, the girl I had been obsessing over was, strangely, a minor thing.
Yeah, I know, I know, that whole American’s don’t fawn thing. Fuck that, the man had the power to make me disappear! He had almost single-handedly made Britain a world power again. He had overseen the return of the British Empire and was counted as the second, maybe third depending on who you asked, most powerful man in the world.
“Your majesty, I beg your pardon?” I squeaked out.
“Your sword, Arthur. Pick it up, please.” he asked quietly, his eyes locked on mine.
Almost against my own volition, I bent and my hand wrapped around the hilt of the sword. I was ready for another great shock but, instead, I felt warmth spread up my arm and through my body. In my head a small voice was heard, “At long last...”
When I looked up from the otherwise unremarkable sword in my hand, every person in the room, including King Harry, Princess Meghan and Princess Guinevere, were kneeling.
Maybe this is where I should stop and try and put this all in context. I can imagine that anyone reading my journal at this point is pretty damn confused, right?
Okay, so ... where to start?
Everyone learns the Arthurian legend, it is a great story and taught in schools all over the world. It is a distinctly Anglo legend, in that only idiotic people like us would allow some of the bullshit that occurred in legend to actually happen.
Think about it! Lancelot runs off with his wife, but Arthur takes her back. Then his own son usurps the throne and takes mommy as his wife, and Arthur comes to try and take her back again? Really?
I would be so over her at that point.
Sorry, I got sidetracked there.
Oh yeah! Arthurian legend. Okay, so legend says that Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon, but Merlin secreted the child out of the palace and hid him away with the family of a minor lord, Lord Ector, who raised Arthur as a fatherless bastard. Not a happy childhood for the kid. Sir Kay, Ector’s son, teased Arthur mercilessly and made his life a living hell.
Meanwhile, Merlin was not done sewing mischief. He knew that Pendragon was doomed and, since everyone thought he was childless, the throne would be up for grabs. He bided his time and had forged a great sword called Caliburn. He also created a great stone on top of which sat an anvil, fused permanently to the stone. He thrust Caliburn into the stone and declared that whosoever should draw the sword from the stone would be the next King of Logres (England).
Excalibur didn’t come into the story until later and how it got into the stone is more a guess than a sure thing, but hold your horses, I will get to it!
So the King dies, the kingdom is in chaos and every lord and lordling came to try their hand at the sword, no pun intended. In fact, several pitched battles between the armies of throne-seeking lords were fought over the stone itself. One lord had the idea of taking hammers to the stone and freeing the sword that way, while another thought to simply move the whole thing and have a duplicate sword forged.
Soon enough, it was discovered that neither of the schemes would work, Merlin was too smart to allow loopholes. Eventually, interest in the sword waned as pretender after pretender claimed the throne and tried to fight off his fellow claimants.
Years pass until Arthur, who is now fifteen and a man by the accounting of the times, was taken from Sir Ector’s hold to where the stone still abided. Arthur, in full view of several witnesses Merlin had brought along, pulled the sword from the stone.
He’s king, right? Sure. And I am the pope because I say so. He had a long, hard slog ahead of him to actually claim the throne.
Okay, so, Excalibur.
Arthur, in a battle with a pretender to the throne, broke Caliburn over some poor sod’s head. The battle was won but the famous sword was shattered! What was an up and coming King to do without a magic sword? He would be a laughing stock!
Not so fast! In comes Merlin who introduces Arthur to the Lady of the Lake, an ancient and powerful spirit, who presents Arthur with the Excalibur of legend. (Finally!)
When Arthur died, many years later in a battle with Mordred, it is said that he asked those around him to return Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. While legend says this is exactly what happened, other records suggested that Merlin was the one assigned to do this. Shortly thereafter, Excalibur shows up again, stuck in the very same stone that Caliburn had been drawn from so many years before.
Merlin up to his old tricks or did the Lady of the Lake decide she was out of the King-making business? No one knows for sure, there are no known accounts of any eyewitnesses to the insertion of Excalibur.
Legend says that the true King, and not the pretender who sits on the throne currently, would be the man who draws Excalibur from the stone.
Thousands of years have passed since the time of Arthur and the stone, once a kind of shrine to the past, was moved to London. Eventually, it was placed in the Tower of London, the most secure building in the country at the time. The reason for the move depends on whose history you believe.
The Crown says that it was moved to protect it from the hordes of hopefuls and the scoundrels who were preying on them. Other histories say the crown moved it so that no one could usurp their power should the right person ever get a hand on the sword.
Today the sword in the stone is just a tourist attraction. Almost no one who sees it actually believes that it is even real, instead thinking it a prop to draw in tourist dollars. There are some historians and romantics who know the truth and it is almost a rite of passage for them to travel to London to view the sword.
As for me, and why I am obsessed with the sword, well, let me tell you another story!
My mother went to Europe after she graduated High School in Portland, Oregon, USA. The trip was a gift from her paternal grandparents and intended to allow her to blow off some steam and see the world before she returned to attend college.
While in London, she met Charles Uther Ector, heir to the family title and fortune, and ended up spending her entire break with him instead of moving on to France, Italy and points East. She was in love!
It wasn’t until her trip was almost over that she learned the truth. Charles Ector was married and his wife was at their estate in the country while he conducted business in the city. She fled the country in disgrace, pregnant and heartbroken that she had been used and discarded.
She returned to Oregon in the United States and had her child, raising him alone until she died his senior year in High School, the equivalent of 6th Form in England. Her child had a hard time of it, growing up and going to exclusive schools. That he had no father was common knowledge and the teasing was the cause of more than one altercation.
That child was, obviously, me! I lived with my grandparents until I finished school. I was a good student and had received several scholarship offers, but none to a school that had a medical program that really interested me. Sure, I could become a doctor anywhere, but I wanted to be a good, no a great doctor and everyone was telling me that meant a great school.
When I received an invitation from St. George’s in London? Well, just going to a British school in London would give me a certain cachet! The school had been St. George’s hospital in the mid 1700s and became a school in 1834! It was the only independent medical university in Great Britain.
The hook? It had been arranged by my absent father’s uncle, the current Lord Ector. Charles Uther Ector had not made it to become Lord Ector, he had been killed along with his father in a car accident. His father’s brother took the title and became Lord Ector. On doing so, he found out about me and hired an investigator.
If I agreed to come and stay with him during the holidays and get to know the family, and have the family get to know me, they would pay for my college, all inclusive, as well as a generous living stipend. He wanted to clear the family name and I wanted to be a doctor. Besides, the current Lord Ector had no hand in the past events, so there was no grudge to hold.
Okay, so let’s have a little test to see if you were following along, okay?
Arthur (Check!) Bastard Son raised in anonymity (Check!) Lived with Lord Ector (Check!) Guinevere (Check!) Brought back from obscurity to pull sword from stone (Check!)
Anyway, you can see where this would be pretty interesting to a lot of folks? Sure, who wouldn’t?
But here is where it gets a bit sticky.
British law and custom contains laws that have been on the books since the Athelstan conquered the Vikings of Northumbria and united the land under a single ruler. These old laws are mostly the purview of a few old musty historians and rarely see the light of day. Just recently, relatively speaking, a 747 year old law passed during the reign of King Henry III, part of the Statute of Marlboro, was ruled null and void!
Yet that wasn’t the oldest law, though many mistakenly believe it was. There are older laws that are passed down from crown to crown. Queen Elizabeth passed them to King Charles who passed them to King Henry IX (popularly called King Harry!) as had been done for generation after generation.
One of those laws concerned Excalibur and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
“Whoever shall draw the sword Excalibur from the stone shall be the rightful King of England.”
Yeah, they were not much for political correctness and in the journals of previous kings and queens, there was some question of whether or not a woman could ever pull the sword and become queen.
One thing that the journals made clear was that every King and Queen who was crowned had to swear on their very souls to abdicate in favor of the one who wields Excalibur.
So. Here we are, back at the beginning again, or near enough.
“My liege.” King Harry said, one knee on the ground, his hands folded on top of the raised knee and his head bowed over his hands. Next to him knelt the Princess Meghan, properly Princess Rachel, though no one ever called her that. She was in a deep curtsy, it not being proper for a Princess to kneel.
All around the room, from Princess Guinevere to the armed and armored soldiers. From the Tower of London footmen and docents to ... what were Markus and Allan doing here? Well, they were all kneeling!
“Rise! Or um ... yeah, okay, get up everyone.” I told them, trying not to panic. Turning to King Harry, I almost begged him.
“Your majesty, please, tell me this is a joke. I know that Gwen, er, Princess Guinevere has quite the sense of humor and is a practical joker, so she must have convinced you to go along with this, right? A prank on her brash American friend who needs a bit of humbling?”
King Harry looked, if anything, slightly amused but he was shaking his head back and forth.
“Sire, please, take this. It’s a prop, right? Part of the joke?” I tried again, but I knew better. The grip of the sword was warm, almost alive in my hand, and I felt that it was ... amused.
“Your Majesty, we have much to discuss. If I may be so bold as to suggest you come with us? We can try and find a sheath for your blade so you do not alarm the palace guard.” King Harry said evenly, holding his hand out towards the far door.
Markus and Allan, those twits, were in the back of the crowd giving me a thumbs-up and high fiving. What the hell were they thinking? This is serious!
Gwen. Princess Guinevere. Tall, slim, beautiful, had a smirk on her face that would have looked at home on the Cheshire cat. I tried to think of what to say but she shook her head too. She did take pity on me though, and came to stand by my side. Leaning closer until her lips almost, but not quite, touched my ear, she whispered softly.