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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Once And Future King

I descended the Welsh hillside, past the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel to the shore of the reservoir. The mist remained dense, even at this lower level, and I could not see the water’s edge until it was just a few feet away.

I sat down upon a fallen tree trunk to draw breath, intending to shortly return to my car, left at the parking area on the far side of the dam.

As I rested, my attention was suddenly drawn by the sound of a horse’s hooves. This clip-clopping became louder, until, before me on the lake shore, a horse and rider emerged from the mist. The magnificent animal was decorated as if for a medieval pageant. The rider, though slumped in his saddle, was clad in the finest medieval armour. To complete his ensemble, he wore a jewel-encrusted crown, albeit lopsidedly, upon his head.

The rider dismounted lethargically, still oblivious to my presence, opened a saddlebag and withdrew a laptop computer. Then he glanced across his saddle, and our eyes met.

My new companion appeared startled, and neither of us spoke for many seconds. ‘Are you a spirit of the Sacred Lake?’ he finally enquired.

‘Er, no,’ I replied. ‘I’m a walker. Swan Morrison’s the name. You can call me Swan.’ There was a further pause. ‘Who are you?’ I added to end the embarrassed silence.

‘Er… I,’ he said, developing, as he spoke, a new-found, aristocratic composure, ‘am Arthur Pendragon.’ He straightened the crown on his head. ‘The Once and Future King of Britain.’ He paused. ‘You can call me Sire.’

‘I’m surprised to see you here, Sire.’ I ventured, deferring to his preferred style of address.

‘Why is that, lowly surf?’ he questioned.

‘Well Sire,’ I replied, ‘you were last seen in the Avalon area of Somerset around the mid fifth century AD. This is Powys, and it’s now 2011.’

‘You are an Arthurian scholar,’ he surmised.

‘I watched your story in a Disney cartoon,’ I modestly corrected.

‘I have come to visit Nimue,’ Arthur explained.

‘The Lady of the Lake,’ I noted, once again employing my Disnarian scholarship.

‘She moved from the West Country to Mid Wales when the property prices here collapsed,’ clarified Arthur. ‘She got a four bedroomed bungalow in Llanfyllin for the price of her one bedroomed terrace in Glastonbury.’

‘I thought that the Lady of the Lake lived in… well… a lake,’ I queried.

‘Nobody lives in a lake.’ A gentle female voice caused both Arthur and me to look southwards along the shore.

A few feet away from us, near the water’s edge, the mist cleared to reveal a small hummock on which sat a young woman in a long, white, flowing, semi-transparent dress of silken fabric - the weave incorporated golden threads which brightly sparkled; even through the sunlight was obscured by the mist.

‘I was having a swim when Arthur first collected Excalibur,’ the woman continued. ‘The story was misreported, but, after that, it became the expected tradition to distribute sacred and legendary artefacts from a lake.’

‘Hello Nimue,’ said Arthur, focussed on his task, ‘I’ve come to return Excalibur.’ He approached the woman and proffered to her the laptop.

‘I thought Excalibur was a sword,’ I said.

Nimue responded without looking at me: ‘The name denotes the sacred artefact best suited to engage in the battles of its time,’ she explained.

Nimue stood-up and turned towards Arthur. ‘So, you are returning Excalibur to the Lake,’ she concluded, sadly accepting the machine.

‘It’s symbolic of me giving-up,’ said Arthur to Nimue with resignation. ‘The laptop’s useless. You shouldn’t have given it to me from beneath the water, this time. Submerging laptops buggers the electronics.’

‘You are giving-up on a quest, Sire,’ I questioned in surprise.

‘The world has moved on,’ he replied, ‘I’m not up to it, anymore.’ Arthur sat down upon a nearby rock and placed his head in his hands. He paused for some time before speaking again. ‘Before I sailed from Avalon all those centuries ago,’ he continued, glancing up at me, ‘I made a solemn vow. I pledged to return if England was in crisis and in need of a leader to once more unite our Great Land. That’s why I’m here, now.’

‘You’ve come at the right time, Sire,’ I said. ‘The Labour Government left the economy in ruins, and now Cameron, Clegg and the coalition are re-enacting the Muppet Show.’

‘Exactly,’ he concurred. ‘It couldn’t get much worse. I felt duty-bound to return to prove my sacred vow.’

‘So what’s the problem?’ Nimue asked. ‘The Country’s still in a mess. I wasn’t expecting you to get it sorted and come back for months.’

‘It was easy in the fifth century,’ Arthur explained. ‘You only needed to slay the odd dragon and cleft a few helms in twain. Any really tricky quests would be sorted with a bit of magic from Merlin...’

Nimue appeared slightly uneasy.

I glanced sideways at her. ‘I heard about you and Merlin,’ I said.

She raised her hand to arrest further comment. ‘I’d get a super-injunction preventing discussion of that, if it wasn’t already all over the Internet.’

‘These days,’ Arthur continued, indifferent to our exchange, ‘Britain’s problems are economic, socio-political and global. I don’t have the skill-set.’

‘Frankly,’ I said, ‘I don’t think anyone does, but you could contribute something vital.’

‘What do you mean, lowly serf?’ Arthur responded.

‘It’s not what you did in the Arthurian legends that mattered, Sire,’ I clarified. ‘It was the values and attitudes that underpinned your actions.’

Nimue and Arthur looked blankly at me.

‘Did you ever dishonestly claim expenses for a castle that didn’t exist, Sire?’ I asked Arthur.

‘No,’ he said, emphatically, ‘and I always had my moats cleaned at my own expense.’

‘Were you ever complicit in selling swords to despotic rulers of far away kingdoms?’

‘No,’ he said.

‘Did you ever make pledges to your people and then not fulfil them?’

‘Never!’ he said, with passion.

‘Were you ever unfaithful to Guinevere, even when she was having a fling with Lancelot?’

‘Of course not,’ he said.

‘Did you ever ask Guinevere to take the blame when you were driving your carriage too quickly?’

‘That would be contrary to the chivalric code,’ Arthur reminded us.

‘No one remains in British public life who has your level of integrity,’ I pointed out. ‘As a result, lowly serfs, such as I, have no moral example to follow.’

‘What can Arthur do?’ implored Nimue.

‘I think he should sell that horse and get a more up-to-date wardrobe,’ I replied. ‘After that, he should get involved in politics and hope that his moral example will inspire others. Maybe it’ll catch on.’

‘The lowly serf is right,’ said Arthur with renewed enthusiasm. ‘I can’t go on behaving as if this is the fifth century; we’re not in the Middle East.’

Arthur rose and retrieved Excalibur from Nimue. He then re-mounted his steed.

The animal reared upon its hind legs, and Arthur majestically waved Excalibur, his sacred laptop, in a gesture of farewell. He then galloped away into the mist.

I looked at my watch and turned to Nimue. ‘The Tower Bar’s still open at the Vyrnwy Hotel,’ I said.

‘OK,’ she said, winking, ‘just a quick one.’


King Arthur's Table in the Great Hall at Winchester

Lake Vyrnwy Reservoir, Powys, Wales

Photographs Swan Morrison