“Friends, and sometimes enemies.” The people laughed, but not very loud, and they looked around at their neighbors. “We have gathered because there is too much fighting and bad blood being spilled in our land. No one is safe and nothing is getting done. Worse. The Germans, Picts in the north, even the Irish are taking advantage of our squabbling. A man works hard on his land to build something only to see it stolen by a neighbor or an invader. It is not right. It has to stop.” He paused while the gathered Lords nodded their general sense of agreement.
“The Roman had been right about one thing. Things worked better when we had a high chief, a Pendragon to judge the right and wrong of it between us, and to call us to arms to defend the borders against the invaders that surround us. Things were better under Uther.” Pelenor had to pause then while the people shouted, “Uther! Uther!” and cheered the idea of a new high chief. When they settled down, Pelenor continued.
“Now, many of you are here because you understand. You have had your crops burned, your homes attacked, your wives and children threatened and in danger. Many of you have come at the urging of the church.” He nodded at the Bishop. “The church understands and prays for us who are like sheep who have lost our way. Then, some of you are here on the invitation of Meryddin who fought beside Uther and Ambrosius before him, and had foreseen the trouble of these days. Here then, in the courtyard of the stone, we must choose a new man to lead us in battle. We will all give a little when we answer the call to arms, but we will gain a lot in the peace and security we win for our homes and families.” The crowd cheered again and strongly approved of that plan.
Meryddin stepped forward and called for quiet before he spoke. “When the Roman placed the sword in the stone, he claimed to be no prophet. But he also claimed the hands of the true high chief would be the only hands able to draw the sword. Caliburn, which by my art I have discerned to be the sword’s true name, is not a sword to trifle with. But it would save us much trouble if the matter can be decided simply, in the way the Roman designed it. I have tried the sword and cannot draw it.”
“Nor I,” Pelenor mumbled.
“But I say, let all who wish now try the sword first, and let even the squires take a turn. It may be one of the young will be chosen to grow into the Pendragon.”
People objected, and the noise got loud. Most common sounded something like, “I’ll not take orders from a boy or a squire or someone who is not full grown.” Meryddin had a time quieting the crowd. Then he shocked everyone as he turned to the Bishop.
“What says the church?”
Dubricius stood, stared at Meryddin and wondered what the Druid might be scheming, but he spoke what he knew because he had seen the Pendragon in a vision and could not deny it. “Young men grow. Let the squires take a turn.” The crowd looked stunned to silence. It was nowhere near the truth, but common wisdom said the clerics and Druids were total opposites and never agreed on anything. The silence remained until one man pointed out that the squires were all in the courtyard the day before and all tried the sword, and failed.
“Not all!” Gerraint’s voice rang out from the back, and he grabbed Arthur’s arm and dragged him forward. “Arthur didn’t try it,” he said, as the crowd parted to let them through.
“Gerraint didn’t try it either,” Arthur yelled when they broke out into the open court.
They came to the stone and both Meryddin and Dubricius smiled, knowingly. Gerraint raised one eyebrow at that, but pushed Arthur forward. “This is Arthur,” he shouted for whatever Bogus or Dumfries might be listening.
“Don’t laugh,” Arthur said. He put his hands on the hilt and pulled a little. The sword moved. He felt as shocked as anyone as he pulled it cleanly from the stone. The crowd erupted, and at first, it did not at all sound positive. Percival at the back got the squires all yelling, “Arthur! Arthur!” But the Lords just made noise until one thought stood out.
“Put it back.”
Arthur turned to the stone. He did not look sure of what to do, but Gerraint felt glad he did not tell Bogus and Dumfries to demagnetize the sword. Meryddin looked disturbed at the development, but Dubricius continued to smile as Gerraint yelled. “Putting the sword back in the stone.” Arthur looked. He found a slot in the stone where the sword had been. “Go ahead,” Gerraint said. Arthur did, and felt the sword slip from his hands when it got half-way in. Loth stepped forward from the crowd.
“By my father who died fighting Danes and Jutes, who died defending your homes from dreaded invaders, I say we need a man to lead us in battle, not a boy. I will pull the sword myself, and that will settle it.” He reached for the hilt and tugged, but the sword was stuck fast. Several other men stepped up and gave it a try, bringing more and more frustration to the crowd. At the last, Loth drew his own sword and hacked at the rock and the exposed hilt until something like lightning shot out from the stone and deposited Loth ten feet away, shaken, but not badly damaged. That quieted the crowd again.
“Arthur’s turn,” Gerraint shouted, and shoved Arthur in the direction of the sword. “Arthur’s turn,” he said again, and Arthur easily drew the sword cleanly from the rock.
No good fortune comes without responsibility, and no human promise goes without testing. Next week, R5 Gerraint: The Test. Happy Reading.