Sixmax Tutoring

Short Stories

Just in Time

Copyright C.J.Lindsay 2020

 

As the battlefield fell quiet around him Arthur pulled his blood soaked sword from his son’s chest.

‘I didn’t know it at the time, Mordred’ he gasped in exhaustion, ‘but my life ended when I took the sword from the stone’. Looking up from the blood sodden grass Mordred watched his father, hollowed out by battle and old age, fall to his knees and stab Excalibur into the ground between them. ‘It was heavy Mordred, so heavy, and I’ve been carrying its weight ever since’. 

“I want to say I forgive you Mordred” Arthur muttered, taking hold of the downturned blade so that the hilt formed a cross against the darkening sky, ‘but I don’t know if I can. You see, I don’t think I’m real’. Mordred’s eyes were darkening along with the sky, but Arthur continued regardless, his own eyes gazing off into the distance, and the past. ‘It took me a long time to realise this, it wasn’t as easy to grasp as the sword itself, but I am, I have always been, nothing but a puppet under God’s fingers, a tool in God’s hand as much as excalibur was a weapon in mine ’

His life nearing its end Arthur’s mind happened upon a memory of his wedding day; the whiteness of Guinevere’s gown stained by the colourful shadows that the sun cast through the cathedral’s high glass windows. Arthur smirked softly, ‘I was lucky Guinevere was pretty, but it didn’t matter what was hidden under the veil, I had no choice, I had to marry her, I had to marry her. At the time I was completely fooled, I thought I was in love. Maybe I was, but now I can’t see it as real, I never was free to choose, to feel what I wanted to feel. I felt only what fate allowed me to feel, no less, and no more.”

Casting his eyes across the battlefield he saw Lancelot’s solitary corpse encircled by heaps of the dead; he had sold his life dearly and guaranteed Arthur’s victory. ‘Lancelot was no different. Just like you, and Guinevere he had no choice. He never lost a fight not because he was the best, but because he could not lose.’ Arthur let out a maudlin chuckle thinking of the first time they’d met, of their epic clash of swords, and how Lancelot had defeated him, utterly and honourably, leaving him chastened and humbled. Arthur realised now that was why Lancelot had been sent, to teach wisdom to a hot headed young king. Pointing to the corpse Arthur panted, ‘He died Mordred, just over there, probably still thinking he made a difference.’

Arthur could support himself no longer in his heavy armour, it rattled around him as he sank to the earth. Looking up at clouds ripe with rain he said, ‘He didn’t, I mean HE didn’t, he was just like me, a player on a bloody stage ignorant of the script. He made no difference and neither did any of them, it all happened the way it was meant to.’ Arthur said, sweeping his quivering arm across the battlefield. ‘I slew dozens of men today Mordred, maybe more. Some charged at me, impaling their courage on my blade. Others stood off, hacking at my shield trying to eke out a few more minutes of existence. Still others turned and ran, no doubt to curse their cowardice for the rest of their days, but how can fate and cowardice exist at the same time? How can there be crime, or criminals? As King I have condemned men to death and watched as their heads rolled from the block to stare at their loved ones weeping alone amidst a cheering crowd. How...how can fate and justice exist at the same time? I thought I was doing good, but was I doing good, or was I just doing? Good...evil...in a world of fate words as as worthless as deeds. I finally understand you, my son you were never evil, just like me, you had no choice.’

‘But we are redeemed, we are redeemed because at last I’m free, Mordred. I’m free because I’ve done it, I’ve killed you, and now I’m dying. There’s nothing more He can ask of me, there’s no time anyway. The strings are cut, my limbs are mine to command. I think...I feel like I’m the one saying this, Mordred. I forgive you...I forgive you.’

Arthur’s son stiffened a little, then his body relaxed, his lungs sighed and any hint of a soul vanished from his eyes. Arthur had spoken his final words just in time.