This scene is from the first or second draft of “Intangible.” It never made it into the final draft, although Peter references it in Chapter 5 when he’s summarizing the story for Lily. …But I really like it so I wanted to post it anyway!
Amid the hubbub of the castle, Arthur snuck downstairs unnoticed. Nobody bothered to pay attention to him as he threw together provisions, including a lantern, skins of water, parcels of food, and extra clothing that could double as a pillow. His step-brother Kay noticed, and slipped quietly behind him.
“Are you going somewhere?” Kay finally asked suspiciously, making Arthur jump.
“I… thought it might be a nice night to go camping,” Arthur said evasively. “On the battlements,” he added quickly, because those would be even less likely to interest Kay than the forest: they had slept on the battlements many times before, and there was no novelty about it.
“Now?” Kay asked incredulously. “Look, I know you’re oblivious half the time and all that, but I thought even you must’ve heard that our king has been killed!”
“I heard,” Arthur replied vaguely, picking up his pace.
“And you thought, ‘I know! Camping!’” Kay repeated sarcastically.
Finally Arthur heaved a great sigh. He had spent too much time with Merlyn to be very good at lying. “All right, if you must know. Merlyn says the only way to protect ourselves against the Saxons is if we have a king, and the king will be the one who can pull Excalibur from the stone.”
“Yeah? So what?” said Kay suspiciously.
“So, I know where it is,” said Arthur.
Kay gaped at him. “Excalibur?”
“Of course Excalibur, what else would I be talking about?” Arthur snapped.
“But… how? How in the world do you know where it is?” Kay demanded with a mixture of derision and envy.
“Because I found it once before, all right? It’s been a long time, but I think I still might know how to get there,” he said, though he didn’t sound convinced. Then he rallied and added, “And anyway, I have to try. It’s our only hope.”
Kay watched him for another second before he declared, “Fine. Then I’m coming with you!”
“Shh! You mustn’t!” Arthur hissed. “Didn’t you hear what the servants were saying? King Uther died looking for this sword! If anything happened to you, Sir Ector would never get over it!”
“A knight never refuses a quest!” Kay rejoined, puffing his chest up importantly. Kay was almost eighteen and would soon be knighted, unlike Arthur, who was essentially considered one of the servants. Arthur would be lucky to become Sir Kay’s squire. “And anyway,” Kay went on, “I’ll be hanged if you find the sword and come back king, because there was nobody else of higher rank along with you. You, the king of all of Britain!”
“I never said I wanted to be king,” Arthur said crossly. “I only want to find the sword, so there can be a proper tournament to decide the matter.”
This idea seemed to appeal to Kay, who then added eagerly, “We’ll bring something to mark our path, so we can find our way back to it again once we find it. But we mustn’t tell anybody where we’re going right now! They would only try and stop us!”
“Stop you from what?” came a voice from the hallway. Arthur froze.
A young girl, Arthur’s own age, with curly brown hair and flashing green eyes stepped into the storeroom suspiciously, her hands on her hips, and her cheeks rosy from dashing to and fro with all the commotion in the castle.
“Don’t—you—dare,” Cecily said, emphasizing each word as she approached Arthur. “You’re going to try and find Excalibur yourself, aren’t you?” she demanded. Before Arthur could even answer her, she snapped, “Don’t give me that look, I’ve been listening to you talk about it for years now. I know you think this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Well, I won’t let you go!”
“And how exactly do you suppose you’re going to stop us?” Kay drew up to his full height, for once fixing the little serving wench with his full attention.
“I will tell everybody!” Cecily threatened. “Do you think they would let you, Sir Kay,” she added his soon-to-be title mockingly, “out of the castle on such a mission? One word from me and they won’t let any of you out of this room, let alone into the forest—”
But before Cecily could utter another threat, Kay violently clamped his hand over her mouth and hissed, “Then you’ll just have to come with us, to make sure you keep quiet, won’t you?”
Arthur’s eyes grew round; this wasn’t going how he planned at all. “Kay, really! We can’t drag Cecily into this…” He desperately racked his mind for a good reason. “Think what they’ll say if they find out you dragged a maiden into danger on purpose! They’ll refuse to knight you!” He didn’t bother to define who ‘they’ were. He thought the threat was a good one, chivalry being one of the codes upon which knighthood was based.
Kay, who had been in the process of binding and gagging his hostage, hesitated for a split second, and seemed to consider Arthur’s argument. But then he said, “Not once we find Excalibur they won’t. They’ll be kissing the ground we walk on, and won’t care what we had to do to find it.”
Arthur, who was far too small to do much good on Cecily’s behalf, meekly pled with her for forgiveness with his eyes as he packed the extra parcels of food for his unexpected traveling companions. Cecily looked away haughtily.
Arthur was correct: nobody seemed to notice them in all the commotion—particularly because Arthur and Cecily knew every secret passageway in the castle and were experts at making themselves invisible when they wished to be. Cecily, of course, was not helping that cause at the moment, but bound and gagged as she was, there was little that she could do to prevent it either.
“Don’t you think we’re far enough out now that we can untie her?” Arthur pleaded once they entered the forest. He shot a sideways glance at Cecily, which she shunned.
Kay looked back at the walls of the city, which were still visible. “No. She’ll scream,” he said curtly.
“She won’t scream. Cess, will you scream?”
She nodded vehemently, her eyes flashing. Arthur sighed and Kay gave him a look that said I-told-you-so.
“All right then. Stop for a minute and let me think.” The sky was just turning pink and the shadows of the larches and beeches in the forest grew long. He drew a shaky breath which he hoped Kay would not detect and closed his eyes in an effort to concentrate.
And then, all at once, he opened his eyes and set out with such determination and eagerness that Kay had to hurry to keep up, and poor Cecily tripped more than once without having her hands free to break her fall. Arthur turned around once just in time to catch her, and saw that her face was scraped up. He looked at Kay angrily.
“Oh, don’t be such a beast!” Arthur snapped, and pulled out his hunting knife to free Cecily’s hands. While he was at it, he un-gagged her as well. But the moment she was back on her feet, Arthur was off again at breakneck speed.
“Arthur!” Cecily cried at last, winded. “Slow down! We can’t keep up with you!” He obliged unwillingly and slowed long enough for her to catch her breath. “How on earth is it that you know where you’re going, anyway?” she panted.
“Shh!” Arthur hissed. “Hear that?”
The other two froze, and then finally Kay ventured, “Hear what?”
“The water. Doesn’t it sound like water?”
“So what?” asked Cecily.
“So, the last time I saw the sword, it was lodged in a stone at the top of a waterfall. If we follow the sound of the stream, it should take us right to it.” He plunged forward determinedly into the darkness, and Cecily followed so closely behind him that she slammed into him when he halted again to get his bearings.
“Sorry,” she whispered back, “I can’t see where I’m going.”
“Where are all those glowing plants everybody talks about, anyway?” Kay muttered.
“They change places, remember?” Cecily whispered. “Guess they’re not here right now.”
Forgetting about his lantern altogether, Arthur muttered, “Laimh trí thine ag!” and his right hand went up in flames.
Cecily screamed, and then clamped both her hands over her mouth.
Arthur saw Kay’s and Cecily’s expressions, and said quickly, “Don’t worry, my hand isn’t burning,” and held his arm up like a torch.
“Did you know he could do that?” Cecily whispered to Kay, who shook his head in a peculiar combination of wonder and envy.
Suddenly a light appeared in the thick darkness. It approached them from behind.
“They’re following us!” said Kay.
Mustering all the bravado he had, Arthur cried out, “Who’s there?”
“Arthur? Is that you?” It was the desperate voice of Sir Ector, who started to run toward them when he heard Arthur’s reply. When he got close enough, they could see that Sir Ector was not alone: he had brought a large search party along with him, and several more lanterns crowded behind him.
“Cecily! Are you with them?”
“I’m here, Daddy!” she cried, shooting a defiant look at Kay.
Kay said desperately, “Arthur, get back to the trail! We have to find Excalibur before they catch up to us! They’ll make us turn back if you don’t!”
It took Arthur only a split second to decide. “Cuir amach dóiteáin,” he said, and instantly they were enshrouded in darkness once more, except for the light of the moon and the rapidly approaching search party. “Run back to them!” he told Cecily, and he tore off down the path known only to himself, leaving Kay too stunned for a split second to move.
When Kay recovered, he called out, “Wait!” He caught up with Arthur a few seconds later and huffed, “Are we almost there?”
“Almost,” Arthur returned, his feet pounding the turf below him in rhythm with his breath as he leapt over stray roots and ducked beneath the moss and uprooted trees that barred his path. “It’s just through that next clearing, I’m certain of it.” They could hear the heavy footfalls of the search party just a few kilometers behind them, which drove Arthur to pick up his pace.
And suddenly, with Kay right behind him, Arthur burst through the clearing.
It was like an oasis in a desert, so different was it from the terrain of the rest of the forest. Where the forest was opaque, here the ground was alive with mosses glowing in iridescent greens and blues, and the larger foliage leading up to the waterfall was lit from within in orange, red, and magenta. The skies overhead shimmered with starlight, and the water reflected it back to amplify the illumination. The waterfall splashed cheerfully over smooth stones that looked like they did not belong there at all: it was not obvious where the water came from or where it was going, but it no longer seemed important.
At the very top, a sword protruded from a stone. Heartbreakingly beautiful, Arthur thought. Those were the only words he could think of, because it felt like something within his chest swelled to the point of bursting when he looked at it.
Seconds later, they had an audience. The search party broke upon them easily once they stopped moving, and since Arthur and Kay stood just at the edges of the clearing, there was hardly room for all of them: it turned out that the company included not only the entire Castle of the Forest Sauvage, but also nearly every one of King Uther’s remaining knights who had not vanished with him on his last quest. A hushed silence fell over the group when they came in view of the sword.
“So it does exist,” murmured a knight called Sir Grummore.
Sir Ector put an arm silently around Kay’s shoulders but said nothing.
Cecily silently wrapped her arms around her father’s waist, both of them gazing fixedly upon the legendary blade.
Arthur himself shrank to the back of the crowd. It was another few moments before he realized that Merlyn stood silently beside him. He looked up with a start. Merlyn winked.
“So! How ‘bout it?” boomed Merlyn cheerfully, and everybody jumped.
“How about what?” said Sir Dedelaus.
“Men of renown have been searching for that sword for over half a century. We all know that it is not of this world, and could only be found by the one destined to pull it from the stone. If we apply the fundamentals of logic, that means the future king of Britain must be here among us tonight. So! Who’s first? How about you, Kay?”
Kay’s eyes grew wide, as if he couldn’t believe his luck. But then he set his jaw, and stepped forward, climbing the waterfall eagerly. When he reached the top, he closed his hands upon the pommel, and began to pull. And he pulled. And he yanked and he gritted his teeth and he cried out until he felt his shoulder come out of its socket, at which point he yelled in earnest.
“Come on, now, come on down!” said their nurse, who was among the party from the Castle. She saw the dislocation and stepped out of the group, motioning to the soon-to-be knight with the soothing tone of a mother hen. She knew exactly how to reduce a dislocated shoulder, and Kay gritted his teeth as she did it.
Arthur actually felt a little sorry for him… but only a very little.
“Too bad. Grummore?” said Merlyn cheerfully, evidently enjoying himself. He gestured to one of Uther’s knights, who needed no further encouragement, but bounded up to the top of the waterfall far more gracefully than Kay had done, his eyes wide and his round face flushed. He licked his lips.
But Sir Grummore failed, as did Sirs Faust, Dedelaus, Moriah, and twenty others, all of whom took their turn in a neat little queue as Merlyn called their names. The moon rose higher and the waterfall seemed to laugh at them. On and on it went, as Merlyn called out names of the next challengers like a Master of Ceremonies, his grin widening with every failed attempt.
“You look like you’ve just swallowed a canary,” said Sir Ector in ill humor after he himself failed. “Why don’t you tell us why you’re so pleased with yourself? What have you got to gloat about?”
“You’ll see, you’ll see,” said Merlyn, eyes twinkling.
Behind him, Arthur edged further toward the edge of the crowd, melting into the shadows. Silently, Cecily slipped from her father’s embrace and crept up beside him. Before he noticed her presence, she slipped her hand in his. He looked up, surprised to see her solemn, knowing expression.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” she whispered.
Arthur’s jaw dropped open a bit and he stared at her. He refused to understand what she meant, but his face turned red anyway.
“I knew it was you. It had to be. Why else were you the only one who knew where to find the sword?” She struggled to keep her emotions at bay, and finally she said with effort, “Remember me when you are king, my lord.” And to Arthur’s amazement, she dropped to her knees and kissed his scabby knuckles.
“That’s everybody!” cried Sir Ector desperately to the group. “And we still have no king!”
“There is just one more,” said Merlyn, in his gravelly voice that carried more clearly than a bell, eyes never leaving Arthur’s face. “I call the young squire… Arthur Pendragon.”
The reaction to his surname was immediate.
“Pendragon! Do you mean to say—?“
“It can’t be! The ward of Sir Ector, the son of—?”
“Good gracious! We never did know where the boy came from, but who would have thought…!”
Amid the clamor of voices, almost mechanically Arthur dropped Cecily’s hand and began to move as if in a trance. His feet propelled him forward: he had no choice but to go with them. He did not know that from the outside, he wore a kingly expression and carried himself regally from the moment Cecily had called him “my lord.”
When he reached the top of the waterfall and clasped the pommel of the sword, Arthur’s limbs knew what to do. His right leg wedged against the adjacent rock and he positioned his left leg to ground himself.
The blade dislodged with no trouble at all.
Arthur stood staring at it incredulously. He blinked, realizing that there were words written on the blade, and they were written in the language that Merlyn had taught him, the one called the Ancient Tongue. With another start, he realized that he had been speaking those very words only a second before, as he had pulled: “Ghlacadh mé suas,” it said. But he had no idea what they meant.
As he stared at the sword, the sudden silence made him self-conscious. He looked back up at the crowd, and then he saw why: every knee had bowed, with the sole exception of Merlyn’s tall, robed figure, who stood smiling at him with paternal affection.
“Long live the king,” he said.