A King's Tale

Merlin's telling of the tale behind King Arthur, a tale that has never reached the light of day.

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1. The making of a king

~~Here I record the truth of my dealings with King Arthur and his wife Guinevere. Mine is a story of magic, cunning, love, lust, and betrayal. Since that time I have long outlived my usefulness, and at the age of 100 my mind is clear enough to understand the gravity of my sins. I only wish that Arthur and Guinevere could hear my apology.
 My story begins in a small village to the north of London. The world was full of tales of Merlin, aide of Uther Pendragon. I was eager to know all I could of my namesake. I was disappointed to learn that he was nothing but a charlatan and a fraud. But now that I have reflected on my sins I know that if he lied a hundred times then I lied a thousand, so deep is my disgrace. But you must forgive the musings of an old man. I ached with my whole being to stand at the top, perhaps not as king, but as his trusted advisor. With such a goal in mind I taught myself how to read, and write. I believed myself to be capable of things that no one else was suited for.
 In my arrogance, nay, my ambition I began to look down on those who did tasks I saw as menial. I hated those who subjected themselves to those that were destroying our country. It never occurred to me that perhaps there was some reason for their subjection. The blacksmith’s shop that I entered was the epitome of what I hated. It was dark, lit only by ever-dimming coals. The work done here was menial, or used by those who wished to destroy us, yet my going there seemed like a necessary evil at the time, now I see it as a blessing. “I am looking for the blacksmith named Ash.” She was the first to show me that menial tasks were a blessing, even more than they were a curse. She sat in the corner on a stool, blond hair covered in ash and grime, she was to me the epitome of all that I despised. She was pretty, to be certain. Her features were sharp, though not aquiline. Her face was streaked, though her green eyes still shone brightly.
 “Sword smith.” It was her voice that truly caught me. It was simple enough, indeed she was no songbird, yet she spoke with an authority that I could not understand. “I don’t make armor, or pots and pans, I don’t repair things. My business is simply swords and knives. If you are not in need of either of those things, leave.” With a few simple words she was capable of introducing me into her world, then closing me off again in an instant.
 “You’re the famous, sword smith, Ash?” I was drawn to her, eager to see her other abilities, and yet fearful of the consequences of disappointing her. Despite my obvious interest I could not fight down the small smirk that accompanied my laugh. “You’re just a girl.”
 “And you’re a child,” Her word choice was so simple, anyone could have spoken so, yet from her they seemed to hold far more weight. “If you find your only talent is to insult me, I suggest you take your business elsewhere.” Through this exchange her tone had not changed, she showed no anger or frustration, she simply pointed out facts.  While her impertinence infuriated me I could not bring myself to leave. I suppose now it is a blessing. She threw me a small wooden sword and stood. She was shorter than me by a head, yet she had no fear as she moved around the shop, picking things up and putting them back down. When she finally returned her attention to me she spoke gently, “hold it in your dominant hand, as though striking an opponent through the abdomen.” I did as I was told, and she took a long look at my arm and began to work. It looked like magic, things seemed to simply obey her. The wooden sword became heavier with a whisper. The fire began to burn brighter with a simple wave of her hand. Everything she did was filled with grace, even in that dark and dirty room.
 “You’re an elf.” My sharp intake of breath caught her attention and I looked at her more closely. She wasn’t a great beauty as the fair folk are often described, she seemed almost plain when I thought of the stories I had long been told. “A glamour.”
 “You want a glamour forged into the blade? Of what kind?” She sounded intrigued, practically laughing at me.
 The thought formed moments before the words did, “A glamour to make me look old, wise.” I would truly be Merlin, helper of Uther Pendragon. She laughed, but did not deny me. Night waned and she began her work. As I have no knowledge of the process of forging a blade I cannot here relate it. But I can say that with every movement I became more fascinated with her. She made menial tasks, things I had despised and looked down on seem like great wonders, like a pleasurable task. When she was done the sword shone in the moonlight, a brilliant silver. The glamour was well forged upon, looking in the mirror I took on the image of a wise old man, a white beard, and piercing green eyes.
 I was so much like my predecessor that none doubted my word. I designed stories telling of the lost heir of the throne, a boy, Arthur. It had not mattered who he was, only who people believed him to be. I found I asked Ash to make a new blade for me, one that would remain in the stone until a certain person drew it. While it was being created I gained the boy’s trust. At the time Arthur was not someone I held dear, he was a tool for me to forge. My arrogance made me think that I had control of fate. I cannot express how very wrong I was. Most everyone knows the tale of the sword in the stone, so I will not bother you with it. Needless to say Ash was the greatest cause of my success.
 After the sword in the stone I had no need of her services and Ash became but a distant memory. My mind was then focused on other things. The rumor of Arthur’s heritage spread, he became the people’s man. I arrogantly believed that it was my handiwork that made him the great man that he was, but looking back on it now I can see that it was simply in his nature. A nature that was tested, not by fire, but by sword.
 “Three years Ash, that’s as long as it lasted. The sword you forged for a king!” Anger floods me, after three years she had gone back on her word, three years and my precious made king doubted his inheritance. She was the one to blame for his failure to see his power, his honor. Her stupid trick had failed and my grand plans were suffering for it.
 Her laugh was light, igniting my anger further. “I applaud him, to overcome a glamour as powerful as that is no easy task.”
 “Overcome the glamour? Your sword was weak, it broke in a battle. It was your inadequacy as a sword smith that was proven, nothing more.”
 “Put the sword down Merlin! I would rather my own glamour not be used against me. Here you are not the king’s advisor, but the boy who asked me to make a blade for him.” I looked down to my hand, it was the hand of an old man, I had unconsciously grabbed my blade, put on the glamour that gave me power. Power over a whole country, trusted advisor to the king. I put the blade down slowly, loathe to show the face I had hidden for three years. “Good.” A smile lit up her face, an act that made one’s heart melt. “Now, you must understand the nature of a glamour. An elf is incapable of lying, we use a glamour to plant the idea of an untruth into your mind. To put it simply, we use your imagination to our advantage. What I did, was forge a glamour into a weapon, so long as the lie remained strong and was believed the blade was strong. The fact that the sword broke means that Arthur doubts his heritage, he knows in his heart that he is not king by blood.”
 I slammed my hands on the worktable, all that I had worked towards was crumbling around me. “How can I make him believe that he is king? Forge another sword, with a glamour far more powerful than the last.” The idea formed in my mind’s eye, I saw once again the sword in the stone, Arthur confirmed again as king.
 Her bitter laugh interrupted my thoughts, “You believe you can fool him with the same trick? Nay, a human trick such as that will never secure him in his right to the throne.”
 “And what do you suggest, great and powerful elf?” The vehemence in my words startled me. Even now I cannot look back upon it without cringing. I swear to you, dear reader, I never intended any pain on Ash, she was a dear, dear friend. Though I must admit now that if any pain was inflicted it was by my hand.
 “I can suggest nothing. I am not the one intending to make a king.” She had turned her back to me, and I could hear the pain and anger in her voice. “I will say as I did the first time we met, if it bothers you that I am an elf then I invite you to take your business elsewhere. Though I doubt anyone else will make you a blade infused with glamour.”
 “Glamour.” The thought occurred to me in a moment, looking at her hair caused the thought to enter my mind in a moment. “Ash, take off your glamour, let me see the face of one of the fair folk.”
 “Simply because I am an elf you assume that I wear a glamour.” She came around to look at me. A shadow passes over her blue eyes.
 “You’re one of the fair-folk, and this is what you look like?” I pause to muse at her simplicity. “Though you are not the fairest of your kind I shall need your help.” And so my new plan was formed, though I never expected the outcome.

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