“My son… there is something I must tell you.” the old king wheezed. His breath had become a ghostly rattle. Where once was a vibrant and bright man age had replaced with a gaunt and frail thing. The son had kept a vigil beside his father for the past three days. In those three days this was the first the king had spoken.
“I am here father, be at ease.” the prince replied taking his father’s hand in his own and moving closer.
“This is the end my boy I know it to be true, but do not be sad for me for I lived a life better than most.” the king continued seeming to gain strength with each word. “But before I go forth unto my final journey you must know the truth of our family.”
The young king to be listened to his father with a dubious ear. For what more could be known about his lineage? He had the finest tutor in the land and was well versed in the history of the land.
“Soon you will be king, as I was and as my father and his before him. You know that our families reign began when the first of our line fulfilled a great prophecy of these lands. A magical blade plunged into solid stone by an ancient sorcerer as a test for the man who would lead this kingdom to peace and prosperity.” The king paused as he was overtaken with a fit of coughs.
His son moved to the corner of the room to fill a cup of water for his father. He helped the old king sit up enough to drink a bit and waited as the fit subsided. After a few moments the king continued.
“During a great tournament held to find a champion to test himself against the sword or forefather went to visit the shrine erected around the stone. While everyone else was busy he decided to try pulling it free as any curious boy might. As the story goes he succeeded and when it was discovered a great celebration was held and the boy became king. He was a much beloved king and did indeed bring our kingdom into a new age of peace and prosperity.” The king paused again but only briefly as he breathed deeply and seemed to stare into another time and place that only he could see.
“But that is not what happened.” he whispered.
Perhaps he has become delirious in his condition the son thought. Everyone knew that is what happened and the sword, the very one leaning against his father’s bed, was proof of that.
“I do not understand father, if that is not what happened then what did? And how did the prophecy come to pass if that is not what happened?”
The old man nodded slowly, “I had the same questions when the truth was revealed to me as it has been for generations. The story, as told by our forebearer Arthur who was believed to have pulled the sword from the stone, is this. It is true that it was the day of a festival and that he went to visit the shrine when the usual crowds were otherwise occupied. But the shrine was not entirely empty that day. When Arthur arrived a man was admiring the sword just as he had been planning. The man was tall and strong dressed almost like a sword for hire with a plain blade at his hip as well as a chain shirt and leathers for armor. Arthur moved up beside him and the two stared in silence for a few moments.”
The king took a break for another drink of water and a short rest. The son while curious was more concerned for his father and did not rush him.
“The man broke the silence first with an odd question. ‘Would you care to be king’ he asked of the young boy beside him. Considering the question carefully Arthur replied ‘I’m not quite sure’. The man acknowledged this was a fair answer. He offered that he himself would not care to be king. It would be far to restricting for a worldly man such as himself. With all of the duties required of him and the safety of a kingdom to worry about he would never have time to do the things he wanted. The young Arthur listened with more than a little interest. When the man finished his piece he replied ‘perhaps you are right, but I think I WOULD like to be king if I had the chance’. Arthur explained that given the opportunity he would try to make the kingdom a better place for all. Having lived in a kingdom that was almost always at war and never had enough for its people, Arthur was adamant that a kings duty was to help his people not wage wars on the people of another kingdom.”
The old king paused from his story and looked at his son with a soft smile “I believe you will do an excellent job of holding up those ideals my son.”
Returning to the tale he continued “The man listened and nodded along as the young boy spoke thoughtfully and passionately of helping his fellow man. Looking down to Arthur for the first time he said ‘well it seems you have a sensible head on your shoulders. Perhaps you would make a fine king indeed.’ and with that he stepped up to the stone and pulled the sword free as easily as if it had been in its sheath. The sword flashed and Arthur stumbled as surge of energy pushed out from the stone. After inspecting the sword for a moment the man walked to Arthur and placed it in his hands. As Arthur stood flabbergasted the man picked up his pack and began to leave ‘I suppose we shall see’ he continued as though nothing had happened since he last spoke.”
The son’s gaze drifted to the sword and then back to his father who was now staring intently at him. For a moment his father’s eyes shone brightly as they did when he was a younger man. But what little strength he gained from telling his story quickly faded and the elderly king sunk back into his bed with a tired sigh. “I tell you this story my son, as it was told to me, as one last important lesson. We are simply men from humble stock. This has guided the kings of our line for generations. We are from the people and we are for the people. Never forget.”
The son stood and moved to a window. He looked out across the city and further out to the countryside. Surveying the kingdom full of people he would soon serve as King. The setting sun cast a rich glow across the scene painting a serene picture.
“You know father,” the young man spoke without turning “the prophecy wasn’t wrong. The man who pulled the sword from the stone did lead our country to peace and prosperity. He was just wise enough to know he wasn’t the right man for the job, don’t you think.” he finished turning to the king.
But there was no one left to listen.