A young man stood outside the castle walls, cloaked in a tattered and faded black robe. Where others saw beauty, the man saw only ugliness. The ground was littered with rotten leaves, the wind was chilling and the gray sky threatened to pour rain at any minute.
Dark shadows ruled his fears, showing things that were not really there in the windows and doorways.
The guards were asleep in a drunken stupor, just as his mother had promised. ‘It will not be difficult to gain entry into the worldship,’ she had said, ‘but it will be near impossible to leave the castle.’
He looked back just to see her one last time. Her disease riddled figure was hunched over, she limped as she made her way back to the ship he called home. The young man saw her through the eyes of a loving son, seeing nothing of her faults. All too soon she disappeared behind the doors of the airlock.
It took the full weight of his body to open the castle door. The creak went unheard amongst the sounds of chaotic uninhibited merriment. The clang of cups was like the clash of swords and became harsh to his ears. The peals of laughter turned to cries of agony and the people’s praise became a death chant in his mind.
The young man strode down the hallway leading to the courtyard. He tried to steady his trembling hands, he must not show weakness. He must be brave, or the enemy would cut him down without a second thought.
He hugged his left arm to his chest and pushed his way through the muck and mire where the people danced to celebrate another victory of their beloved king.
He felt the pressure building inside his chest as he found his place at the foot of the throne. “I must speak with thee.” His baritone voice stopped the musicians.
All of the knights of the round table looked up, they knew that voice. Each one representative of a race in the kingdom, coming in all sorts of shapes, colors, and sizes.
“If thou must speak, then speak!” King Arthur’s face did not lose composure. “Praise thy good fortune of having as great a man as me for thy king. Ask me to tell another tale. Go on then, speak!”
“Does the king remember the words the Lady Of The Lake spoke when she gave the mighty sword Excalibur to thee?” The young man pointed at the sword which had not left the king’s side in over a century.
King Arthur smiled lopsidedly and his red scales shimmered in the light. “It is my subjects favorite tale.” King Arthur stood, unsheathed the sword and raised it towards the stars above. “The Lady Of The Lake said to me, ‘I give thou the mighty sword Excalibur. As long as thou art strong, brave, loyal, and pure, Excalibur will never fail thee and thou shalt be victorious in every battle!’” Arthur emphasized the words at the end, raising the crowd into a frenzy.
“And what did she say unto thee after this?”
The crowd grew quiet, expectantly looking to their king.
A scratch and a rumble, a tiff and a tramble, the wizened old Merlin came down from his study. He flipped another pair of lenses in front of his face and peered at the newcomer with keen interest, but not a lick of recognition. His body given over to the cybernetic replacements of his own design.
King Arthur’s smile tightened and his tail twitched. “Who said she said anything more than that?”
“The king’s memory seems to have failed him. Sir Lancelot, wouldst thou care to fill in the missing words?” The man motioned towards the knight sitting at King Arthur’s right-hand. He was unquestionably human looking with idealized features, the envy of any man and the object of many woman’s desires.
Sir Lancelot opened his mouth, but at a glare from his king he bowed his head and refused to speak.
“Ah, I see, the king holds thy chains and muzzles his greatest knight.” The young man spat the words and turned to face Merlin. “Perhaps, wise one, thou might remember the words spoken by the Fae that made thy ward a king.”
The silence was filled with whispered questions from the people down below.
“No? Well, then I will speak the words. ‘I give unto thee, my son and champion of the Fae, Lancelot.” The young man had to shout to be heard over the din of the angry crowd. A Fae in the court of their king?! “‘As long as thou are loyal, pure, strong and brave, so will he be. Break thy promise and thou will be unable to wield Excalibur. Thou shalt lose thy hold over thy knights, thou wilt lose thy kingdom and thy love.’”
“Ye hide thy face like a coward, unhood thyself and speak thy name.” Merlin’s deep voice reverberated off the castle walls.
“My name is Mordred.” With a trembling hand, the young man pulled his hood back. “Mordred Pendragon, son of Morgana le Fay and Arthur Pendragon.” His sapphire eyes and red scales echoed his words.
The crowd shouted for answers.
“Lies! Imposter!” King Arthur reached for Excalibur and found it had sunk into its metal resting place. He pulled at the sword with all of his might and it would not budge.
“Excalibur will no longer obey thy wishes, not in the very presence of thy disloyalty to thy queen.”
Arthur searched for another sword, but none of the knights would give him their blade.
“Thy knights will no longer obey thee, not in the presence of the son who ye tried to kill.” Mordred untied his cloak and let it fall. His left arm was bent and crippled. “Ye thought thou murdered my mother and me, but ye failed. Just as thou have failed to uphold thy promise to the Fae and thou will pay for both crimes.”
Lancelot stood and placed his hand on the hilt of Excalibur.
“Ye think ye can take Arthur’s place, but thou have already stolen his queen. Thou have made thyself unpure, ye hast been unloyal and Excalibur will not obey thee!” Mordred unsheathed his sword and hefted his shield off his back.
Queen Guinevere looked between her husband King Arthur, and her lover, Sir Lancelot in a panic.
“How dare thee think thyself worthy of Excalibur!” King Arthur's’ tail lashed in anger behind him. “Tell me this isn’t true, my brother in arms, that ye were only trying to help me. Tell me that this traitor of my blood speaks only lies to deceive me, tell me that you have not stolen my wife.”
Lancelot only paled further and not a sound was heard from him.
King Arthur turned towards Guinevere. “Tell me the truth, my love. Tell me that this filth is nothing but a liar and I will slay him where he stands.”
Guinevere wept and shook her head fervently. “I cannot tell thee what thou wants to hear.”
King Arthur wrestled a sword from Gawain. “Give me your sword, son of my brother and allow me to slay my enemies.”
Lancelot unsheathed his sword and raced to protect Guinevere. “My king, please I beg you to spare her life.”
“She shall burn as the wrenched adulterous wench that she is.” King Arthur growled; smoke wafting from his nostrils.
“Do not do this. I do not wish to fight thee.” Lancelot looked frail and weak compared to the dragon king.
Mordred heard the clicking of the joints and the hiss of hydraulic valves behind him and he turned to see Merlin.
“Ye wretched blackness, ye smote on the purity of the king, how dare ye come here and destroy the noblest king?” Merlin brandished his staff at the young man.
“I speak nothing but the truth. I do nothing but reveal what is already there.” Mordred slowly matched Merlin’s circling pace.
“Thou envy thy father, ye wish to take his crown.”
“The crown belongs to me, I am the only son of King Arthur’s first wife.” Mordred blocked the Merlin’s swipe of staff with his shield and pushed him away.
“Morgana is a monster, there is no way that the people will follow ye.” Merlin hissed.
“My mother was a strong woman who refused to die when the king wished to cover his inability to restrain himself.” Mordred worked his way towards the throne where King Arthur and Lancelot were locked in a vicious battle over Guinevere’s life. “Thou are a relic from a lost era, thou foresaw the fall of the nation into chaos when the dragon clans fought and killed each other. Ye tried to save the boy, ye tried to raise him to be better than his father, but Pendragons will never change.”
“Thou are a cripple who will never bear an heir, the people will never follow thee.” Merlin knocked Mordred off his feet.
“Ye seem to be stuck on this idea of people following me or not, who said that I wanted any of that?” Mordred rolled over and dodged the finishing blows of the end of the staff.
Merlin’s expression was perplexed. “What else could thou possibly want?”
Mordred laughed, “Look around ye great cyborg, and tell me what thou see.”
King Arthur had been wounded by Lancelot, who could not bring himself to kill him.
Guinevere wept uncontrollably.
The Knights had become divided, each one trying to pull Excalibur from its metal prison and failing. Each one trying to become king and fighting those who did not support them.
“A fallen king, the universe divided and chaos.” Merlin closed his eyes to blot it out. “No, no! This is not how it is supposed to be!” Merlin rushed to King Arthur’s side. “I will restore what has been lost, I will save the Pendragons.”
Mordred clicked his tongue and retrieved his cloak. “Ye wizards and thy care of bloodlines. Ye forget what matters most is not blood, but symbols.” He engaged in the melee of the knights and crowd until he had worked his way to Excalibur.
Mordred drew his hand around the hilt and effortlessly drew the sword from the stone. The sound was deafening and stopped everyone dead in their tracks.
“King for a hundred years, King for a minute, it doesn’t matter. History will only remember one of us, and it won’t be me. Ye will always be King Arthur, and I will just be thy wretched, crippled son.” All of the remaining knights of the round table turned their full attention to the new king.
In breathless, they began to kneel but Arthur, the new king's father, would not have it. He mustered the last of his strength for one last ill fated strike of the sword. The blow glanced off his only son's lame arm, spilling blood. The last purebred Pendragon collapsed, rattling his last breath.
Mordred clutched Excalibur with his good arm in a passionate embrace, bowed his head and imploded in a haze of black smoke. All that was left was a handful of ashes, and his blood soaked clothes.
Merlin frantically searched through the tattered robe, and commanded all in the chamber to search the room for the great sword but alas Excalibur was nowhere to be found.
King Arthur died that day and so did his only son, Mordred Pendragon.
The remaining knights of the round table disbanded, the universe no longer united by a single king. Civil war erupted once again and raged between the different clans.
Guinevere disappeared along with Lancelot, turning into nothing but rumors in the depth of Fae territory.
As for Merlin, he saved a precious vial of blood from each of the fallen kings, and he prophesied over the vials that only one wouldst return when the kingdom needed him the most.
But one of these things was a lie.