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Fantasy Fiction Drama

I hold the sword in my hands. Moonlight glints off its shimmering blade. A blood red ruby gleams in the golden cross-guard. The length of the fuller glows with ethereal light and is ice cold to the touch; cold as the hand of Death itself. I can hear the voices within. Souls, hundreds of them, vanquished and enslaved by the blade.

The wind howls on this blustery night, but I can still hear his footsteps approach from behind. He stops a couple yards before reaching me, sees the soul-eating weapon in my hands. A deep, mournful sigh brushes past his cracked, withered lips. “I did not believe Sister Enith when she said she saw you consorting with demons. When they presented you with the fabled sword written of in the archives. I had to see it for myself.”

I whirl my face around, eyes burning with malice and betrayal. His own beady blue eyes fall upon the blade held tight in my grasp. “Did you know this entire time? What I am? Who my father is?!”

And in this moment, the lines of his face grow deeper. His shoulders slouch, his chest heaves, and he speaks those damning words, “I did.”

“You told me my powers were a gift from God!”

My shout resonates throughout the courtyard. It rattles the ancient bricks, said to have been built by wise sages back in the days when Christ walked the earth. These are hallowed grounds. And, ironically, they’ve played host to the most unholy of abominations for the last 16 years.

...Me.

Father Kenuric, the man who had raised me, educated me, bathed me, played with me, read me bedtime stories as a child, stands before me now with solemn guilt in his tired old eyes. “Merlin,” he breathes my name, as he had time and time again with all the affection of a true father. This time is different. This time he speaks to me as if I am the priest and he the sinner come to confess for absolution. “Please. You have to understand that everything I’ve done, I — “

“Don’t say you did it to protect me! You only wanted to protect yourself. Protect the world. From me!” I spit venom, and he knows not to prod the serpent. He remains silent as I tear into him. “From the moment I was born, you’ve been lying to me! I thought I was one of the Lord’s chosen. All the visions I have, the prophecies… You told me everything I could do was miraculous. I can grow plants out of season in merely a night. I can converse with animals as if talking to my peers. On frigid nights, the flames of candles burn brighter and seem to dance in my presence. ‘The holy fire of Michael calls to you’ you used to say.” I laugh, a bitter sound that dies in my throat. “How was I to know it was the flames of Hell?”

“And what was I to tell you, my dear boy?” He trudges over to a rickety wooden table and takes a seat. Splaying out his hands, he says, “The truth? That you were the bastard son of royalty, born out of a devious plot to overturn the Lord’s divine plan? That you were meant to become the Antichrist?”

I close my eyes and I can still see them, those horrid creatures composed of decaying flesh and obsidian orbs for eyes. I was tending to the garden out at the edge of the woods. They came for me then, and I could sense their dark aura before I even saw them. 4 little imps hobbling across the uneven ground, tripping over roots and dragging their bloodstained wings behind them. They carried a parcel wrapped in a coarse beige leather I only later realized was human skin. It was almost comically large in their emaciated arms, but faithfully they carried it with the slow march of a funeral procession.

My liege…, they had spoken to me with the most unnatural cadence, their voices raw as if scratching their way out from their throats. We bring you the Sword of Kings, the Soul-Eater, the Conquering Thorn. Your father, Lord Asmodeus, has gifted you this weapon for your most glorious task. Take up arms against your foes and their souls will be yours for eternity. This world will be yours, Master. Such is as the prophecy foretold.

My knuckles burn with more than rage. I can feel it there, what I now understand to be magic coursing through my veins. Fire threatening to burst from my skin and consume all around it. The sword begs to be ignited, a torch to outshine all other lights and put the very Sun to shame. I can almost smell the charred corpses now. If I embrace it, they won’t stand a chance. None can stand against me. “I deserved to know.”

He sighs and reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Believe me, I have debated telling you for years. I always meant to. Ever since your mother, Her Highness Princess Adhan, came to me with the news that she was with child, and she feared it to be of demonic origin, I knew this was a sign of dark days to come. But I also fully believed that the concept of destiny is a farce. It matters not the circumstances of our birth, Merlin, for I have lived many years, and I have seen destiny defied time and time again. I have seen princes meant to lead their troops into battle and become great kings run from the battlefield with their tails between their legs. I have known mere peasants born into the most crushing poverty rise from the ashes and become wealthy travelling merchants. The Devil may have had his plans for you, but you have a mind of your own, my son, a brilliant one at that. We are who we choose to be, and I wanted you to grow up knowing you had choices.”

As I listen to his words, every last one dripping with sincerity and love, I feel the flames receding. The blade hums, angry, starved for the magic it longs to feed from. “And what if I choose the path of darkness?”

He looks up from the cobblestone ground beneath us, and I can feel the weight of all his years as if they were my own. This is not the wise and strong-willed leader of the monastery that I’ve always known. Standing before me is a man like any other. He fears and dreams and hopes like any other. He bleeds like any other.

“Then I will know I have failed as your teacher of the faith. Perhaps I know it too little myself. And I will walk that road of darkness beside you. For even if I should fail as your spiritual guide, you have always been a son to me. And if my legs grow frail on the road, I will take up a walking stick. And if that stick should break, I will crawl. But I will never abandon you, Merlin.”

At that moment, the strength leaves me and my knees buckle. The pain when I hit the stone ground is jarring, but it is nothing compared to how I feel upon hearing those words. My entire life has been a lie. And yet…through it all, I’ve always had my father by my side. The heart of a demon beats in my chest. But perhaps my soul is human. Perhaps even I have a chance at salvation. Because of the one man who took a chance on me, a helpless baby born to rule this world and bring it to its knees. I am the embodiment of everything he stands against. And that is all I would have been. A slave to evil...if not for the hand of grace.

I peer into the heart of the blade, and it gazes back into me. I see my reflection in it, midnight black hair and eyes that glow like jade in the firelight. A vein pulses in my temple, and I see a vision in my mind’s eye. Men and women, nobles and peasants alike, all share the same fate. I sit upon a leather-backed throne in a lofty tower before a window of glass. I gaze out across the city. The denizens that once roamed through the fires of Hell now walk upon the earth, free to pursue their greatest desires, and they worship me as their king. Hellhounds scour the streets and pull the dregs of humanity out of the alleys and underground hideouts. Those pitiful beings who once ruled with greed, malice, violence, and all manner of impurities now pay for their sins with absolute obedience. Those who rebel are brought before me; they taste my steel, and their souls are mine until the end of time itself. And not even all the host of Heaven can save them.

Sweat pours down my face. My breaths come ragged now. The humming of the blade is stronger. It sees this future too, hungers for it, cries out in fury across the plain of my mind until I feel I may break.

Then, like the eye of the storm, the calm washes over me. I can see something else now. Something far more beautiful…

I see hope.

“Merlin!”

I feel arms around me, and I’m helped to my feet. Cradling me as he has since the days of my childhood, he checks me over. “Are you hurt? Shall I send for the town physician?” he asks. Then, more grimly, “Or...did you see something?”

My mouth is dry as ash, my throat feels like the fire within has left its mark, and yet I feel as if I am born again, with infinite possibility as my greatest ally. I manage to whisper, “This land will have its ruler.” His hands tense on my shoulders. I shake my head. “No, father. It is not I, but one who has yet to be born.”

“What do you mean?”

I raise the sword as if presenting it before him. Despite its sinful conception, it is beautiful, as if forged by Heaven’s hands. “This blade. I know its true name, and its origins. In the beginning, before the Fall of Man, there were two great angels in the home of the Lord. You know this story well. One was Lucifer…”

“The other Michael.” Kenuric gazed upon the sword in great curiosity. “Their battle was the greatest in all of history. Merlin, tell me, does this blade have some connection to it?”

“When Lucifer and Michael clashed swords, Michael’s own blade was damaged in the conflict. A shard of holy steel chipped away from it, and his traitorous brother snatched it up and took it with him to the Lake of Fire when he fell. There it was reforged in dragon fire as a part of a new sword, one that the Devil’s Chosen would wield into battle and lead the world into an age of ruin. The one who holds this weapon shall be a great and powerful king, like none who have come before. Should I wield it, I know I will fall to temptation and fulfill the dark prophecy. But there is one other who will draw out the light within and bring about an age of prosperity.”

Father Kenuric’s face lights up. “Who?”

I raise a hand. “I know not his name or face, but I do know this much. The Great King has yet to be born, and may never realize his true potential without a guiding hand. I am key to orchestrating the events that lead to his rise to power. And I will need your assistance, father.”

“Anything, my son. Tell me what you need.”

I point to the small, yet ornate church just over the nearby hill. The cobblestoned path to the courtyard connects the two. “Go to the church and bring me as much holy water as you can carry, then we will venture deep into the woods.”

Father Kenuric does as he is ordered, pushing his legs as fast as his weary old bones will take him up the hill. He shoves the heavy oaken doors with all his might and disappears into the darkness of the building. Upon his return, he carries over shoulder a large gourd of holy water we often reserve for ceremonial baptisms and the occasional exorcism. I worry for a moment, but I see by the look on his face that he is invigorated by our cause, and the strength of an ox flows through him.

I retrieve a lantern from its hook on a nearby wall. Father Kenuric follows my lead as we enter the dark and imposing forest surrounding the monastery. It is late autumn and the once vibrant red and fiery orange leaves that had fallen over the ground have begun to darken and curl with the threat of winter just around the corner. They crunch beneath our boots as we keep a steady stride to our destination.

It is some time, and the moon casts beams between the thick of the trees before I see it. Up ahead there is a meadow, a clearing in which a single boulder protrudes from the ground, a blemish upon the face of the earth. The boulder is utterly unremarkable; there are many others like it scattered about the woods. But its significance will be written in the history books in due time.

“Stop here,” I command.

Father Kenuric sets the heavy gourd down beside him and rests momentarily to catch his breath. His face betrays his bewilderment. “Where have you taken us, Merlin? And what is the holy water for?”

I point to the boulder. “That stone is critical in preventing the Devil’s plan from coming to fruition.”

He looks to me as if madness has taken me. And perhaps it has. I do not fully understand the visions I’ve seen, but I know that there are many possible futures that lie ahead. And while the one that I shall set into motion will be filled with strife for an innocent individual, it is far preferable to the alternative. Great leaders, like swords, are forged in fire.

“Take the gourd and pour out the water over the stone,” I instruct, and with a tiresome sigh he heaves the gourd the last dozen feet over to the boulder and douses it in the blessed water.

And now for my part.

I cross the distance to the stone. I can hear the sword once more, louder this time, crying out not in anger, but in fear. Just as Father Kenuric baptised me as a newborn babe and purged the Devil’s will from my body, so too shall this blade, forged from the very same weapon that was the Devil’s downfall, be reborn.

I hold it now above the stone, the tip kissing the smooth granite. The magic pulses through me, tingling up my spine and through my arms, resting in my fingers that wrap around the leather-bound grip. “I name thee now, O Cursed Blade of Souls. Excalibur, the Sword of Kings, Brother to the Sword of Michael. Here you will sleep throughout the years, and be purged of evil’s touch. Until the fated day of thy awakening, from this stone shall ye never rise. Only the Chosen King’s hand may grasp thee and raise thee Heavenward.”

I thrust the blade into the stone with all my might and magic, and a cacophony of voices fill the air. Ethereal mist is purged from the blade as, one by one, every soul is released. They are eternally absolved of sin and depart from this world to be taken into the arms of God.

I step away from the sword, and its brilliant glow dulls. To all the world, the sleeping weapon appears just as any other — beautiful, no doubt, with masterful craftsmanship, but just a simple sword in a stone.

I raise my hood over my head and turn away from the sword. Father Kenuric stands in astonishment at the event he just beheld. He turns to me and asks, “Who is this Chosen King you speak of? Whose hands will wield the sword’s might?”

I smile, soft and somber. “I do not know his name. All I know is that he, like myself, will be borne from the loins of a cruel and sinful man. And I may need to assist him in ensuring the child’s birth, loathe as I may be to. But I will watch over the baby and ensure he is brought up with an innate sense of justice and honor.”

I see the worry in his eyes, but he nods in understanding. “I see. Then you are taking your leave of the monastery.” It is not a question. He knows as well as I do why I cannot stay. “Where will you go?”

“I feel that I am needed in Camelot,” I say. “Perhaps His Majesty Uther Pendragon is in need of an advisor with a particularly keen insight.” I wink and tap my temple.

Father Kenuric laughs and wraps his arms around me. His cheeks are wet. “You will always have a home to return to here. I know many dangers lie ahead, but you have a good head on your shoulders, and I know you will be fine. I am proud of you, my son. Now go.”

My fingers hesitate to let him go, but I take a step back and squeeze his shoulder. No more words are exchanged, none need be, and I take my leave of him westward to the kingdom.

August 20, 2021 05:52

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1 comment

Beth Connor
18:04 Aug 26, 2021

I love a great Arthurian legend- this was well written, and I loved the way you tied Father Kenuric into the tale.

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