The Drawing of the Sword
How Britain was without a king
In the olden days in Britain it came to pass that Uther the king died, and none but Merlin, the wise man and magician of the realm, knew that he left a son Arthur, who had been delivered to Merlin at his birth to be trained in all things by him. So for a long time the realm stood in great peril, for every lord that was mighty made himself stronger, and many strove to be king.
Then Merlin went to the Archbishop of Canterbury and counseled him to send for all the lords of the realm, and all the gentlemen of arms, be they earls or barons or knights, to come to London at Christmas time, and there God would show by a sign who was to be rightly king over all England. So the archbishop summoned them all. And many of them made clean their lives, that they might be more acceptable to God.
Of the marvel of the appearing of a sword
At Christmas time all the lords and earls and barons and knights came together from every side unto London to await the sign which should show who should be king. And behold, when they came out from their morning devotions, there in the churchyard they saw standing a great stone. It was of the same breadth and height on every side, and its appearance was like marble. And in the midst of it was an anvil of steel a foot high, and therein stood a fair sword, naked without sheath or guard, and about it were written letters of gold which said thus: "Whoso pulleth this sword out from this stone is rightwise king born of all England."
Then the people marveled, and all the lords went to gaze upon the stone and the sword. When they read the reading, some tried to pull the sword. One by one the lords and gentlemen of arms, such as would have been king, essayed to pull it. But none might stir the sword, nor even move it.
"He is not here," said the archbishop, "that shall achieve the sword. But doubt not God will make him known. Now this is my counsel, that we choose ten knights, men of good fame, who shall guard this sword. And upon New Year's Day let the barons make a joust and tournament in which every knight of the realm who will shall play. Perchance at that tourney it shall be made known who shall win the sword." And so it was done as the archbishop said.
How Arthur pulled out the sword seven times and was made king
Upon New Year's Day the barons rode to the field, and among them were Sir Hector, Sir Kay his son, and young Arthur, whom Merlin had caused to be brought up by Sir Hector as his own son. As they rode, Sir Kay found that he had no sword with him, for he had left it behind at his father's lodging, and he prayed young Arthur to ride back for it.
"I will well," said Arthur, and he rode swiftly back; but when he came to the house it was closed, so that he could not by any means make his way in, for the lady and all the servants were gone to see the jousting.
Then was Arthur angry and said to himself, "Nevertheless, my brother Kay shall not be without a sword this day. I will ride to the churchyard and take the sword that I saw there sticking in a stone."
He rode with all speed to the churchyard, and alighted there and tied his horse to the stile. When he came to the stone he found no knights there, for they were at the jousting. So he grasped the sword by the handles, and lightly and fiercely pulled it out of the stone, and took his horse and rode till he came to Sir Kay, and delivered to him the sword.
When Sir Kay saw the blade that Arthur had brought him, he knew well that it was the sword of the stone. Straightway he rode to his father, Sir Hector, and said, "Sir, lo, here is the sword of the stone; wherefore I must be king of this land."
But Sir Hector said to him, "Swear to me by thy knightly honor how thou camest by this sword."
"Sir," said Kay, "by my brother Arthur, for he brought it to me."
"How gat ye this sword?" said Sir Hector to Arthur.
"Sir, I will tell you. When I came home for my brother's sword, I found no one at home to deliver it to me. Yet, thought I, my brother Sir Kay should not be swordless. So I went in all haste and pulled out of the stone in the churchyard this blade which I had seen sticking there as I passed in the way."
"Found ye any knights about this sword?" said Sir Hector.
"None," said Arthur.
"Now," said Sir Hector, "I understand ye must be king of this land."
"Wherefore I?" asked Arthur, "and for what cause?"
"Because God will have it so; for there should never man have drawn out this sword but he that should rightwise be king of this land."
He led Arthur and Sir Kay to the churchyard, and Arthur read the words that were written there, which in his haste to get the sword he had not seen.
"Now," quoth Sir Hector, "let me see whether you can put the sword there as it was and pull it out again."
"That is no mastery," replied Arthur, and he put it into the stone and drew it out again.
"Once more put it in," commanded Sir Hector, and this time he himself essayed to pull it out, but he could neither move nor stir it.
"Do thou try," he said to Sir Kay. And anon Kay pulled at the sword with all his might, but it would not be moved.
"Now shalt thou essay," said Sir Hector to Arthur.
"I will well," said Arthur, and drew it out easily. That was the third time Arthur had drawn it forth.
Therewithal Sir Hector kneeled down before Arthur, and so likewise did Sir Kay.
"Alas!" quoth Arthur, "mine own dear father and brother, why kneel ye to me?"
"Nay, nay, my lord Arthur," returned Sir Hector, "it is not so. I was never your father, nor of your blood, but I wot well ye are of an higher blood than ever I thought ye were."
Then Sir Hector told him all, how Merlin had brought Arthur to him at his birth, and how he had nourished and trained him by Merlin's commandment.
Arthur was sore grieved when he understood that Sir Hector was not his father.
"Sir," said Hector, "will ye be to me a good and gracious lord when ye are king?"
"Else were I to blame," said Arthur, "for ye are the man in all the world I am most beholden to, and to my good lady and mother your wife, that hath fostered me and kept me as well and as tenderly as her own. And if ever it be God's will that I be king, as ye say, ye shall desire of me what I may do, and I shall not fail you. God forbid I should fail you while you and I live."
Therewithal they went all three unto the archbishop and told him how the sword was achieved and by whom. On Twelfth Day all the barons came to the churchyard, and he who wished essayed to take the sword. But there before them all there was none that could draw it save Arthur. Wherefore many lords were angry and said that it was a great shame unto them all and unto the realm to be governed by a boy, and he of no high blood. So it fell out that the crowning of a king was put off till Candlemas, when all the barons should meet there again. (But ten knights were ordained to watch the sword by day and by night. They set a pavilion over the stone, and five always watched.)
At Candlemas many more great lords came thither to win the sword, but none might prevail. And as Arthur did at Christmas, so he did at Candlemas, and pulled out the sword easily. Again the barons were sore aggrieved, and yet again they delayed. As Arthur did at Candlemas, so did he once more at Easter. And still they would not crown him king. Then the archbishop of Canterbury and many of the best knights were full of indignation, and they made a guard of the most worthy knights, those whom King Uther had loved best and trusted most in his day, and all these, with many others, were always about Arthur day and night until the feast of Pentecost.
At the feast of Pentecost all manner of men essayed once more to pull out the sword, but still none might prevail but Arthur. He pulled it out before all the lords and common people who were there, wherefore all the people cried out, "We will have Arthur for our king; we will have no more delay, for we all see that it is God's will that he shall be our king, and he that holdeth out against him, him will we slay."
Thereupon they all kneeled down, both rich and poor, and cried Arthur mercy because they had delayed so long. And Arthur forgave them, and took the sword between his hands and offered it up on the altar where the archbishop was. So was he made knight by the best man that was there.
Anon, when Arthur had been made a knight, was the coronation made, and there did he swear to his lords and his people to be a true king, and to stand for justice from henceforth all the days of his life.