In the Land of Stories Old
Arthur had been brooding ever since the decision to undertake a quest into the Broken Lands had been finalized, even he admitted he had been. It was one thing to go heroing about the Fairy Isles with a regular sword, even such a fine one as Captain Gerard had gifted him with, but to go into the wild lands that were surrounding what was said to be the very starting point of the Cataclysm…well, he wanted something more than plain steel in his hand. But he’d tried so many times to draw the Sword from her stone, and every time she’d refused to come to him.
It was cold comfort that she’d refused to come to his father and his father’s father before him as well. Uther was sanguine about it—She skips a generation here and there, he’d say with a shrug. I don’t doubt she’s got her reasons.—but Arthur also couldn’t bring himself to simply let it go. He still wasn’t sure he was worthy to bear Excalibur…but he definitely had need of her. And if finding a way to stop the rapidly spreading shadow-sickness wasn’t a good enough reason, what was?
Finally, a few days before they were to leave the Black Isle for parts unknown, he screwed up his courage and told everyone at dinner that he would be going on an errand the next day. No one questioned him, as his brother and all of his friends knew exactly where he was going, but Serena had frowned over the announcement and had still been a little bit frowny when she’d bid him a sweet good night later that evening.
And then the next morning, she was there blocking his way when he approached the castle gates. “I’m going with you.”
She had on a sturdy little pair of boots, and her skirts were of a length that wouldn’t be troublesome—not that they were going far, just to the other side of the island—and her golden hair was in a long, shining plait that fell over one shoulder. She even had a jeweled knife in her belt, which startled him…until he realized Jack was hovering nearby. His friend nodded. “Her reason is a good one,” was all he said, and then he turned and walked back into the castle. “Do not get into trouble, either of you!”
“We won’t!” Serena called back, and then dimpled up at Arthur. “We should be going, before he changes his mind.”
“I’m not sure how you convinced him in the first place, but yeah, I do need to get this done.” He offered her his arm, and the two of them went through the castle gates together. “You know this might not…I mean…”
“I know she might not want to go with you,” Serena told him, and gave his arm a reassuring squeeze. “But then again, she might. And either way, I wanted to spend more time with my betrothed before he left.”
“I’m not complainin’,” Arthur said. “It’s just…it’s embarrassin’, you know? Dad said I just wasn’t ready, before, but…what if she thinks I’m not ready now either?”
“Then you take the really nice sword you already have, and you go save the world anyway,” was her answer. “If she won’t come, she probably doesn’t need to.”
Arthur squeezed her arm back, not having anything to say to that. She wasn’t exactly wrong, but it also wasn’t that simple. Or at least, he didn’t think it could be.
They made their way down into the town and then followed the road through it and around the other side of the promontory which separated the trading part of the Black Isle from the fishing part. The bay here was much deeper and wider than the shallow half-moon where the docks were located, and the water was dotted with small boats plying their trade while the main fishing village hummed with everyday activity. They went past the village and around to the other side of the farthest point, where a rocky land-bridge arched up across a sparkling expanse of water and spilled into a road that ran through green fields on the other side. After taking a short rest near the base of the bridge, sitting on the rocks and watching the fishing boats tack back and forth over the deeper water, they followed the new road across fields and hills and finally into a tiny port town whose cobbled streets were quiet under the midday sun’s heat.
Arthur led Serena over the familiar—to him, anyway—streets until they reached the waterfront, where a nicely railed and paved area right on the water circled a massive rough stone, and from the top of that stone protruded a gleaming gold sword hilt with just the barest sliver of shining steel blade showing beneath it. He took off his sword belt and gave it to Serena to hold for him, and then he walked up to the stone. The jewels embedded in the golden hilt seemed to twinkle at him, and he sighed. “I am sorry, about what happened before,” he told it. “Dad says you wouldn’t have let me do it if you hadn’t agreed the situation was desperate. Well, I have to say, this one is worse. A lot worse. So please, if you’re ever gonna find me worthy to wield you, now would be a really great time.”
He took a deep breath and grasped the pommel of the Sword. His disappointment when nothing happened was clearly visible on his face, but then to his surprise Serena’s slender hand wrapped over his. “Excalibur,” she said. “My beloved goes into the unknown, seeking a way to banish the Shadows which threaten us all, the entire world. Please, go with him on this selfless quest, that he might come back to me sooner.”
Arthur’s brown eyes widened when the Sword under his hand first started to glow and then to sing. She sang of pure-hearted love, of bravery, of great deeds and small ones…and then the magic in her connected with a part of Arthur he’d never noticed before, a part that felt like it had been waiting for the magic of Excalibur to touch it. Her song was inside him, all around him, and she all but leaped into his hand, shining like a star. Arthur didn’t try to stop the tears from coming, not that he thought he could have even if he’d wanted to, even though they were already drawing a bit of a crowd. And he pulled Serena to him with his free arm, drawing her into the circle of the Sword’s protection, his protection, and looking down into her shining blue eyes. He could see the moon-magic on her now, see how powerful and pure it was. “I will come back to you,” he said. “It’s not a promise I’d feel confident to made…but She’s sure for both of us.”
Serena’s arms went around his waist, and she tucked her golden head against his chest. “I know, I can hear her.”
In the Land of Stories Old