After what felt exactly like one-thousand-four-hundred-and-eighty-five years, Arthur was finally beginning to suspect he wouldn’t be needed any more, and that they could all retire just like his men wanted. But just then, the old stone door covering the cave entrance slid open, and they saw a figure silhouetted by the glory of the daylight.
Arthur leapt to his feet at once, his chained mail jingling. “Merlin, old chap! It’s about bloody time.” Then all his knights jumped to their feet too, and everyone drew their swords and cheered, “Huzzah!”
The figure at the mouth of the cave stepped forward, and flipped on a flashlight. When Arthur’s eyes adjusted to all the new light, he saw that Merlin didn’t look quite the way he remembered.
“Merlin, old chap! You have turned into a lass! And a comely one at that.” The knights all murmured their approval, not having seen a woman in a millennium and a half. Indeed, they hadn’t done much of anything in a millennium and a half, other than sitting on their stools in the darkness of the cave, waiting for the day Britain would need them again.
“Well hey there, fellas,” said the woman, with an exaggerated East coast accent. “I’m Gertie.”
“Gertie?” asked Arthur.
“That’s right. And I’m a forest ranger here in the Avalon Wilderness Reserve. And, oh, I’m so sorry, but you boys can’t be living in this cave. You can camp with a permit though. Oh, and you should know, we’ve had a few bear sightings nearby.”
“Psst!” Lancelot pssted. “Arthur, ’tis not Merlin. ’tis not Merlin at all!”
The other knights all concurred with a chorus of “Ayes!” and “By my troths!”
“You are right, I wager,” said Arthur. “’tis no matter. The seal is still broken, and we are called once again to the aid of our beloved Britain.”
He turned to the ranger. "Brave Gertie, most breathtaking maiden of the forest paths! Have no fear, for we shall save the day. This, I swear to you, for I am King Arthur Pendragon, son of Uther Pendragon, and these fine warriors are my unparalleled knights!
“And this cave we shall abandon anon, for we’ve no more use of it.”
“That’s swell,” Gertie said. “Thank you, Mr. Pendragon. Oh, there’s just one more thing, and I’m really sorry to bring it up, but it’s kind of a biggie.”
“Well, those things you got, they’re not swords, are they? They’re not sharpened? You know, you can’t just walk around with sharp swords after all.”
“You can’t?” asked Arthur. He looked at his men, and they were all just as perplexed.
“Well, surely,” Lancelot started, “they’re not sharp at all. We don’t even have a whet stone down here.” The others concurred.
“And besides,” said Gawain, “these, er, aren’t swords at all.”
“They aren’t?” said Gertie.
“No, no, these are,” Gawain continued, then pursed his lips, then finished, “knives. Big knives. Decorative cutlery.”
“Oh, that’s all swell then,” said Gertie.
“Then it’s settled!” Arthur proclaimed. “Let us hie back to Britain, save everyone, and finally drive the Saxons back into the sea!”
Gertie led King Arthur and his knights out of the cave, but alas, their troubles were only beginning. When she took them to the Newfoundland coast, they promptly started chopping trees down with their decorative cutlery, intending to build a great ship with which to sail back to Britain.
Johnson Johnson, Mayor of St. John’s, stopped his pickup at the side of the road and told them, “Hey! You can’t do that, eh!” And then Officers Marney and Klampp arrested Arthur and his knights, and took them to St. John’s.
This was just as well, as none of the knights had ever built a ship before, that being more Merlin’s thing. Arthur found the city overwhelming, with its concrete spires and sorcerous street lights and fire hydrants. When they saw all the horseless metal carriages, presumably propelled by elfish trickery, Galahad fainted. It was all too much, and Arthur used his one phone call to talk to Gertie.
They met in the jail’s cafeteria.
“Gertie, I need your help,” Arthur said. “We’re in way over our heads here. They want us to pay some kind of fine, only all I have are Roman denarii and they won’t accept those, and they say we don’t have any ID! How could my identity be in doubt?” He unsheathed his sword and raised it high. “I wield bloody Excalibur, don’t I? How are we ever going to drive the Saxons into the sea now?”
“Oh, Mr. Pendragon,” she said, patting his free hand. “I don’t doubt you, but you boys are in quite the pickle. Look, why don’t you sheath that sword for now.”
Arthur did, looking glum. “Things have changed so much, Gertie. I don’t recognize Avalon at all anymore.”
“Mm-hmm,” Gertie said. “Well Avalon’s just the wilderness reserve. We call this place Newfoundland.”
She nodded, then showed him her phone, where they looked at a map of the area. “Newfoundland is part of Canada. See?” She zoomed out, expanding this strange new world. “Which is part of North America. And see, here? The whole globe, in your hand.”
“The world’s a ball?” said Arthur, his eyes wide. “Blimey. I owe Percival a Coke.”
“I think I can help you guys get out of jail,” Gertie said.
Arthur’s face lit up. “Oh, you have my eternal gratitude, fair Gertie!” He clasped her hand in his, and she blushed.
Gertie was able to negotiate a community service deal for the knights to pay off their fine. This suited them well, for helping communities was their second most important sworn duty, right after driving Saxons back into the sea.
They spent a month walking up and down Newfoundland’s highways, picking up litter and helping caribou cross the road. Gertie chaperoned and more and more she felt herself drawn to Arthur and his stories. And Arthur had no shortage of questions for her, and was amazed at both her breadth of knowledge and her grace.
But when the month was up and their debt was paid, she delivered more bad news.
“People don’t really travel on ships anymore. That’s just for fishing or cargo,” she said.
“But then how shall we ever sail back to Britain? My people need us.”
“Well, most commonly, people nowadays would take an airplane.”
“An airplane. It’s like a bus with wings, and it flies you from one part of the world to another.”
“By my troth!” said Percival. “You mean to say, ’tis a dragon!?”
“No, sorry,” Gertie said, chuckling. “The airlines might have beastly customer service but they’re no dragons. Airplanes are just machines, like cars. But they’re fast! They should get you to London in just over eight hours.”
“Eight hours!?” said Arthur, and all his knights buzzed. “It took us three bloody years to sail to Avalon. What miraculous sorcery, this! The day is saved! We’ll show those Saxons what for, yet! Tell me, Gertie, where does one capture such an airplane? And do we need a special saddle?”
Gertie sighed. She wanted to help Mr. Pendragon, but the prospect of him leaving was getting increasingly hard to bear. “Well, you don’t need to capture it,” she said. “But you do need a passport.”
And so the brave king and his knights hit their next hurdle, for when they went down to the passport office, it turned out that Excalibur still didn’t count as a valid ID. Worse, the government had no records of the knights at all – no birth certificates, no driver’s licences, no visas, no death certificates – nothing. Not only did they not get passports, they were also ineligible for them.
“Oh, greatest of woes!” said Arthur. “Whatever shall we do now?”
“I have an idea,” said Gertie. “Only, it might take a while…”
“We’ve waited this long, Gertie most fair. However you wisely counsel us, so shall we endeavour.”
“You can apply for Canadian citizenship,” she said. “That way they would have to give you a passport.”
“Then apply we shall!”
Alas, the application process was a nightmare the likes of which the intrepid heroes had never faced before. They would need addresses, for the mountains of correspondence and paperwork. They would need incomes, to show they weren’t just a drain on the economy. They would need at least a seventh grade education, and to pass a written test. This new government was labyrinthine and alien, a far cry from the straightforward efficiency of the feudal system they knew and loved.
But they grit their teeth and pushed forward. For starters, they decided they would sell jam. They already knew the highways and would set up shop on the shoulders, and of course everybody loved wild jam. They’d sell by day, and nights they would sit around Gertie’s large round table, filling in forms according to her guidance, and learning the basics of civics and history.
One night, when they had a night off, Gertie asked Arthur if he wanted to see a movie, and so they went to see The Lord of the Rings. Arthur, dearly missing the advice of Merlin, became deeply interested in Gandalf.
“What a magnificent wizard!” he said. “I simply must find him! He shall counsel us most wise.”
“Oh, Mr. Pendragon,” Gertie lamented. “I’m so sorry I’ve misled you. This story isn’t real. It’s like a play. Gandalf isn’t a real person.”
“Oh, I see,” said Arthur, growing quiet. But then he looked up at her with a warm gaze, and he took her hand. “No matter. What use are wizards, when I have the privilege of your company?”
Again, Gertie felt her cheeks run hot, and they spent the rest of the evening grinning at each other over popcorn.
Time went on. The jam business brought in a decent penny, but Lancelot saw an opportunity to move faster when he took a job as an assistant manager at a Timmie’s. Shortly after, Kay and Yvain decided to try their luck on the lobster boats. And so it went, the knights gradually parting ways and following their own paths, until only Arthur and Gertie remained selling jam on the highways.
They all still met, every Saturday night around Gertie’s big round table, going through whatever fresh forms the government required. And they ended each night reaffirming their dream, of driving the Saxons back into the sea. But they saw less and less of each other.
Naturally, big events brought them together, like when Kay and Yvain bought their own lobster boat, or when Galahad’s kid made the Little League team. And of course, when Arthur and Gertie tied the knot. It was a big old party they threw, inviting the whole neighbourhood over.
And then, finally, when their forms were all submitted and approved, and their hard work paid off. They became Canadian citizens together. In all, it had taken just over a decade, but the king and his knights were proud, and more to the point, happy the ordeal was behind them.
“Good show, men,” Arthur said. “Jolly good show. We’ve finally done it. Now all that’s left is to get our passports. Then we can finally fly over to Britain, and drive the Saxons back into the sea!”
As always, Arthur raised Excalibur high into the air, but unlike always, his men weren’t as enthusiastic this time, instead murmuring half-heartedly. Arthur looked around at his knights, and he saw that they had all come with their new families, their new friends.
This week, Gawain had custody of his kids, so the little tykes cheered him on. Caradoc took a break from filming to go through the citizenship ceremony, and he was there with his supermodel girlfriend. Lancelot, now a VP in a major agribusiness conglomerate, had attended with his team of executives. And so it went, each man stamped with the life they had lived.
Arthur lowered his blade, and smiled sadly. They had waited one-thousand-four-hundred-and-eighty-five years with him, and then a decade longer. “Men, you have served me well. I could not have asked for a better band of brothers in arms.” He took a deep breath. “I hereby release you from your oaths.”
The knights nodded solemnly, blinking back tears and smiling. Nothing more was to be said. They bumped chain mailed fists with Arthur, as was knightly tradition since time immemorial, and all went their separate ways, to live their separate lives.
“And what shall you do, Mr. Pendragon?” Gertie asked.
“I shall continue my quest as ever, my love. I shall return to Britain, and drive the Saxons into the sea.”
Gertie grinned. “I think a vacation sounds lovely.”
The year it took to get a passport was a pittance compared to the citizenship, and Arthur used that time to get back into shape. Before they knew it, their flight was taking off, and a mere eight hours later they landed at Heathrow Airport in London.
It turned out that Britain had changed somewhat in fifteen hundred years. For one, compared to London, St. John’s no longer quite seemed the sprawling metropolis it initially had. Next, it had taken Arthur a good while to get used to cars back in Newfoundland, and now here, it turned out everyone drove on the wrong side of the road. Beyond that though, there was an impossible amount of people.
People cheered when they saw him, and they snapped photos and asked for autographs. And then they went on about their day, heading back to the shops, or work, or the next celebrity sighting. And not once, in any time, nor any place, did Arthur see a Saxon.
“My love,” he said, plopping onto a park bench. “Has it all been for naught? Did I wait too long? Do people… do they truly have no more need of me?”
Gertie rested her head against his shoulder and interlaced her fingers with his. “Some people need you, Mr. Pendragon.” She beamed at him. “I need you.”
It was enough to raise his spirits and they shared a kiss.
“Now, we’ve come all this way,” she said. “What do you say we just enjoy the rest of our vacation?”
“I’d love that!”
They toured the city of London and saw all the sights to see. Arthur gorged himself on exotic street food, and Gertie snapped photos of everything. When they popped in to a Tesco, they ran into the sitting British Monarch, out doing his groceries, and the two kings spent an afternoon talking shop.
Finally, Arthur and Gertie decided to round off their vacation by spending some time in Salcombe, to enjoy the lovely beach weather. Arthur had come to terms with his career being over. As he walked down the pier, holding hands with Gertie and breathing in the fresh salt air, he realized he was fine with it. Perhaps he never got to drive the Saxons to the sea, but, he was fine with it. He was satisfied. No, more than this, he was happy. Britain was free, after all. And now, so was he.
They stood at the end of the pier for a good long while, just watching the distant boats and swooping gulls.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you, too,” she said. Then: “Oh, this is funny! I think you’ll get a kick out of it. I got curious and I did one of those ancestry things, and wouldn’t you know it, turns out I’m part Saxon.”
Not missing a beat, Arthur stepped back, placed his hands on her shoulders, and shoved her off the pier.
And then he dove in after her, and they shrieked with laughter like rioting children, until the sun set.