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The Sword Is the Stone
Fourteen-year-old Arthur Penn, lived with his mother in a modest flat on Camelot Lane. A small lake was on the property, a bit murky, but it was cooler near it than inside. Arthur spent this uncommonly hot summer day with his feet hanging off the fishing dock and his face in a book. He’d also brought a few skipping stones, which he idly tossed between chapters.
Arthur heard a thunk and a cry of pain. “Oww! Hey, what’d you do that for?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry—” Arthur raised his head from his book and saw a beautiful woman in a flowing pale green robe. She was rubbing her knee, seeming to stand atop the water. She carried an ornate gem-encrusted sword in a scabbard, hefting it with little effort. Arthur asked, “Who are you anyway?”
“I am Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, and you are Arthur, the Future King. It is your destiny to wield—”
Arthur raised a hand, asking for silence. “Look, I’m sure you’re a touch confused and damp. Just wait a second. I’ll get my mum, and we can get you back to shore.”
The lady began to draw the sword from the scabbard, and brilliant white light reflected from the immaculate polish on the blade. Arthur scuttled backward quickly, dropping his copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane to the deck. The lady seemed to notice this, speaking in musical tones. “You have nothing to fear. In fact, you are being rewarded for your purity of heart and kindness of spirit.”
Arthur got to his feet and started to run toward his house. As he looked at the dock, it seemed to grow longer with every step he took, his home getting further away as he ran toward it, although the Lady seemed to always remain at arm’s length. A fog rolled in across the boards, obscuring his view of suburban safety.
“That way leads only to Avalon. One day, you will visit a grave man. There is much to be done in this life first, Arthur.”
“You sneak up on me, soggy, armed, spouting crazy nonsense. What did you think I’d do? I must be asleep. This must be a dream. Why did I read such a spooky book?” Arthur knew it was no dream, though.
“Celebrate! Excalibur is the most powerful weapon known in the mortal world. Even in Tír na nÓg its authority is recognized, but it must be you, Arthur, who wields it. You will conquer Britain and rule as king!”
“What am I supposed to do with that, anyway?”
“It is EXCALIBUR!” the Lady roared. “Cleave the heads from your foes and assert your royal station on the peasantry. It is the mark of a ruler!”
“Look, Lady, I don’t think you understand how it works here. We have a king, but he’s not cleaving heads or asserting his station. He hosts foreign leaders and keeps the scummy tabloids in business. What am I supposed to do with a sword? A true leader uses words to win over hearts and minds. And anyway, that’s the Prime Minister.”
The Lady looked at the priceless sword, seeming perplexed. She held it out to Arthur, who shook his head again, saying, “Any artifacts I find are the king’s property by law. I couldn’t even sell that if you gave it to me.”
“You are the king!” she shouted, regaining a little bit of her former bravado.
“No, I’m not. And the real government, the ones who would come take this from me and lock it away in a museum, have an army and lawyers, far more potent. Violence is never the answer. Power comes from the people, or it’s supposed to anyway.”
The Lady deflated, resting her weight on the sword and adopting a casual posture. “Well, bollocks, then what would you have me do? All I’ve got are gold coins, magical swords, and a lock of Merlin’s beard. You are fated to rule, to repair the rifts besetting Britain, to bring an age of peace and prosperity to your people.”
“Well, I hadn’t thought about running for Prime Minister, not seriously. Do you think I could do it? Climate change, entrenched power, broken systems, greed, hunger, drugs … it’s a lot to try to improve, let alone fix.”
The lady withdrew a small ruby from the pommel of the priceless sword, handing it to Arthur. “Take this then,” she said, “a symbol of your pure heart and commitment to the path you have chosen.”
Arthur took the gem, feeling a surge of warmth and hope.
He was about to thank the strange wet woman when he awoke with a jolt, alone on the dock, book covering his face. A single skipping stone was held in his palm, unremarkable in every way except for the comfort, strength, and determination he felt while holding it.
He pocketed the stone. He would have a long road ahead of him. He knew true leadership wasn’t forged with swords but with kindness, wisdom, and understanding. But he had a secret weapon, Excalibur!