Cletus stood on the battlements of a castle with Merlyn at his side.
“The win against Lot was quite easy,” Cletus said. “Soon enough, all these Gaelic bastards will be out of my country. I’ll kill them all.”
“You’re a blubbering ape,” Merlyn said. “Have I taught you nothing? Do I need to turn you into a fish again?”
Cletus rolled his eyes. “I understand that violence is not always the answer, but when it is, there’s nothing wrong with taking a little pride and enjoyment from it. That violence defended this kingdom and protected my people.”
“Protected your people? I’m glad you think so, caveman. How many foot soldiers died in that last battle? How many conscripted peasants did you and your army leave on the battlefield?”
“How should I know?”
“By caring, you bastard. You’re going to have to start thinking logically for yourself soon. I’m going to fall in love, and the bitch will trap me in a tree trunk for centuries with my own magic.”
Ignoring Merlyn, Cletus picked up a loose brick from the wall. “You know what’s truly amazing?” Cletus asked.
“The fact that you are unfazed by me talking about my own future?”
“No, you’re just another supernatural freak show. No, what is amazing is the fact that I could throw this stone onto the head of someone below. I could kill them near instantly, and no one would say or do anything to me. They couldn’t since I am their king.”
“You bloodthirsty savage,” Merlyn said. “I’ve clearly failed you as a tutor. I’ve failed the Greater Good.”
Cletus threw the rock at Merlyn, knocking the starry hat from the ancient man’s head. “Stupid magician,” Cletus said.
“I’m a wizard, dammit. Magicians are court jesters that perform illusions for table scraps.”
“C’mon, you geezer, we’re gonna be late for our hunting trip with Kay.”
“Geezer? You’re older than me!”
“Yeah, but I still have my boyish good looks,” Cletus said.
The two men met a tall, muscular redhead with a blonde beard. The three left the castle on horseback, armed with bows. “It’s unfortunate Wart couldn’t join us, Kay,” Cletus said to the red-haired man.
“Well, he’s hard at work,” Kay said. “He’s twenty now. Wart works day and night to be sure you’ll knight him come his next birthday.”
“Stop changing the subject,” Merlyn said. “We were not done talking about the Gaels.”
“They’re angry barbarians that want my kingdom,” Cletus said. “We’ll stifle their rebellion or kill them in trying. What more is there to the discussion?”
“There are countless reasons they’re rebelling. You need to understand their reasons and try to address those concerns. There is a deep trench of racism from the Normans against the Gaels. Plus, the former king, Uther Pendragon, slaughtered the Count of Cornwall, a Gael.”
“I understand why they fight, Merlyn. Men are inherently greedy and hunger for power that is not theirs. Evil men will corrupt others to use to those ends. I should take it upon myself to stop such corruption from controlling more of this world.”
“More wrongs do not make things right,” Merlyn said. “The Normans drove the Gaels from power. Long ago, the Gaels destroyed another race, but no one now remembers it because the conflict was lost to the time streams. It’s a cycle of death and violence that can and must be broken. Fighting is generally wrong. A good man only fights to defend himself or those weaker than him. Never more. Never less.”
“I’m not so sure I agree with you, wizard,” Kay said. “Not all of us sit on such moral high ground that we believe ourselves capable of looking down on the battlefields of men. From the position of the average man, I don’t think one can see who the evil man truly is.”
“Preposterous. It’s quite clear to see who drives aggressive situations. You have trouble seeing such things because you are typically the aggressor in conflicts, Sir Kay. Much like any man could easily say that you’re a hothead, it is obvious King Lot is the one at fault. The man starts wars as casually as we’re hunting this moment. He has no regard for the common soldier or his own countrymen.”
“Gentlemen,” Cletus said. “Can we shut up and just hunt these damn birds?”
That night, Cletus lay in bed. In his old age, he rarely slept. Days passed by as quickly as hours had when he was younger. Merlyn’s lectures from the last several weeks stayed in his head. Cletus knew the wizard had to be right. Fighting for fighting’s sake had brought him nothing but hardship in the past. Cletus left his room and went to Merlyn’s. After several loud blows against the wooden door, Merlyn answered. “Your Majesty,” Merlyn said, “what in blazes are you doing here?”
“Aren’t you all-knowing?”
“Not quite, but that’s beside the point. You’re a king. You don’t go to people’s rooms. You summon them to yours. Leave here at once.”
Cletus huffed, but left. If Cletus intended to rule his country right, he’d have to do even the smallest things correctly. Cletus stopped outside his bedchamber and ordered a servant retrieve a number of people. An hour later, Cletus sat in his royal chamber with Merlyn, Sir Kay, Sir Ector, and Wart.
“I’ve been thinking hard on the many lessons Merlyn has mentored me in,” Cletus said. “I have come to the conclusion that might does not always equal right. Knights in our own kingdom and across the world do whatever they please with their authority. Murder, torture, and rape occur as if they’re a sport.”
“It’s how things have always been,” Kay said.
“Not always,” Merlyn corrected.
“For as long as I can remember,” Cletus said, “but that does not make it right. Strength is just a tool that can be used. How a man uses that tool defines the man and the tool alike. Might can be used to achieve right. I will use force to stop Lot’s rebellion, and then harness that strength for good. When this war is over, I will create an order of knights that will pledge their lives to fight for just causes and nothing more.”
Week later, the same men stood in Cletus’s tent on the plains of Bedegraine, preparing for the battle with King Lot’s forces.
“I’ve been thinking more about the order of knights,” Cletus said. “I’ve decided to seat all at a round table. Each place at the table will be equal, with no one man having greater power than the others.”
“King Leodegrance has such a table,” Merlyn said. “That reminds me, don’t let me forget to talk to you about his daughter before I leave.”
“Tables are well and good,” Kay said, “but what do you plan to do after we defeat Lot?”
“Nothing,” Cletus said. “We quell his rebellion. The Gaels’ lands are still theirs. They will be free to swear fealty or not. We shall leave them in peace so long as they do not attack our lands again.”
“What nonsense,” Kay said. “They’re poor beyond imagination. Continuing to push into their kingdom to control them will benefit us both.”
“Might does not make right,” Merlyn said.
“This is right. If our victory will bring a better life to the conquered people, then the war itself is right. We can make their lives better by conquering their lands.”
Fire burned in Merlyn’s eyes. “It is far better to make ideas and knowledge available to those you defeat, than to force it upon them,” Merlyn said. The wizard and several items in the room trembled with rage. “In the future, there’s an Austrian that shares the same views as you, Sir Kay, and he damn near drags the whole world into bloody fucking chaos.”
“Everyone out,” Cletus said. “I need to speak with Merlyn.”
“Our time together is nearly up,” Merlyn said after the others had exited the tent.
“Why must you go?” Cletus asked. “Why can’t you avoid the imprisonment that awaits you?”
“You cannot escape destiny,” Merlyn said. “There are many timelines, many branches to how time flows. But, there are many points in time that are set in stone. No matter how much you try to change them, you simply cannot. The universe finds a way to correct the floods so that things are set they way they are meant to be. For example, long ago a man learned that he was to die soon. So, he set out on horseback to escape Death, but he ran into Death while running away.”
“Something so cruel should not be set in stone.”
“Cletus, be wary of King Leodegrance’s daughter, Guinevere, and of the knight Lancelot,” Merlyn said. “Their relationship will be the end of King Arthur. Please, be sure it is not also the end of you.”
Merlyn departed the tent for Cletus to never see him again. With sadness in his heart, Cletus gathered his armies. Ignoring knightly honor, Cletus led his armies around King Lot’s encampment. Cletus attacked in the middle of the night, assaulting Lot’s knights, but ignoring the foot soldiers. Although greatly outnumbered, Cletus swiftly defeated the Gaelic army.
Fifteen years passed, and Camelot prospered. Cletus and his closest knight, Lancelot, fought the Romans for many years until Cletus became overlord of most of Europe. Cletus aided the French king, Ban, in guarding his kingdom. England grew more civilized. Scholars and hospitals and great shops covered the lands instead of murders, thieves, and flames. Not all was perfect. With little crime and war, Cletus feared that his knights had developed an obsession with games and competition instead. To strengthen the weakened Round Table, Cletus sent all his knights on a quest for the Holy Grail.
Two years later, the knights slowly gave up the search for the Holy Grail and returned to Camelot. Gawaine returned first, furious because he found no traces of the Grail. Then came Sir Lionel and Sir Aglovale. Slowly, all the other knights returned. Cletus heard many tales of slaughter and bloodshed, drunken womanizing and brotherly betrayal. Cletus listened politely to numerous contradicting tales from and about his knights.
When Lancelot returned, he had his own tale to of how he failed to find the Holy Grail since it was a task God had reserved for Galahad. Lancelot spun the tale of Galahad defeating the elder knight in a jousting match. Feeling weakened by the loss, Lancelot tried and failed to defeat a group of knights, and then again Lancelot was bested by a knight in black armor. In his defeat, Lancelot boarded a magic barge where he found Galahad. According to Lancelot, Galahad seemed distant because he was more angel than man. The barge took the knights to a castle where the Holy Grail rested. Galahad entered and participated in a mass with other holy knights, but an invisible force kept Lancelot from entering. The best knights of Camelot never returned.
Many more years passed. The knights Agravaine and Mordred approached Cletus in his Justice Room.
“My lord,” Mordred said, “we’ve come to you bearing grave news.”
“What do you want Mordred?” Cletus asked.
“We’re here to request that the Queen be officially charged with adultery and Sir Lancelot with treason,” Mordred said.
“Do you have any proof of your claims?” Cletus asked.
“We have our word,” Agravaine said.
“Agravaine, you’re a drunk. Your word means nothing to me. Besides, under my new laws, there must be proof of wrongdoing before judgement can be passed.”
“Then we’ll gain proof, You Majesty,” Mordred said.
“Very well,” Cletus said. “I’ll be leaving for a month on a hunting trip. If you can obtain proof I will prosecute Guenevere and Lancelot to the fullest extend of the law. However, I hope that anyone that attempts to apprehend Lancelot in some foul way is caught and killed. If upon my return, you cannot prove this accusation, I will prosecute the two of you for bringing false charges against a Knight of the Round Table and the Queen of Camelot. Good day, gentlemen.”
Cletus left the Justice Room and went to Guenevere’s chambers. As Cletus approached, he heard Lancelot and Guenevere talking.
“Arthur knows about our affair,” Lancelot said. “He ignores it and will never punish us.”
“We still must be careful,” Guenevere said. “Perhaps you should leave Camelot for a time again.”
“Absolutely not. I love Arthur too much to hurt him by continuing our affair, but I love you too much to stop or leave you.”
Cletus stepped away from Guenevere’s chamber door. In the castle halls, Cletus found a page to announced his presence to the Queen. Following the page, Cletus stepped into the chamber and greeted Guenevere and Lancelot. “There are things I need to discuss with you,” Cletus said.
“Of course, Arthur,” Lancelot said. “We are always here for you.”
“It involves the Orkney family,” Cletus said. “The youngest boy, Mordred, is my son.”
“How?” Guenevere asked.
“Neither of you were in Camelot yet. A few weeks after I defeated King Lot’s rebellion, Sir Pellinore married a girl named Piggy here at the castle. I slept with one of the ladies at the wedding, Queen Morgause of Orkney. That night, I fathered Mordred. I later tried to kill him.”
“You tried to kill a child?” Lancelot asked.
“Yes,” Cletus said. “When we first formed Camelot, Merlyn warned me that I would have a son with a witch. The magical child would try to kill me and bring about the end of Camelot. So, a year after that night, I had all babies less than six months old put out to sea to die. Somehow, Mordred survived that culling.
“I regret what I did then. Merlyn would have never let me do something so evil. I’ve tried to make amends with Mordred by ensuring he and his brothers lived a good life and even made all of them knights. None of it has helped. Gawaine, Gareth, and Gaheris are fine knights, but Mordred and their younger brother Agravaine have just become more aggressive with time. I fear Mordred is out for revenge. He does not seem to know I tried to kill him, but he feels I have offended his mother. Mordred may try to use the two of you against me.”
“We’d never let that happen,” Guenevere said.
“Be that as it may,” Cletus said, “if any proof comes into the light that either of you is working against me or my kingdom, I will punish you in the way the law sees fit.”
Unfortunately, Cletus did have to prosecute Guenevere and Lancelot. While away hunting, Mordred found Cletus. Mordred told Cletus of catching Guenevere and Lancelot in the midst of their adultery. Lancelot slaughtered twelve knights including Agravaine before fleeing Camelot. Though unwilling to kill his wife, Cletus returned to Camelot to prepare Guenevere’s execution. As Cletus stood in the square to watch his Queen burn at the stake, Lancelot saved the Queen. In the process of his rescue, Lancelot murdered Gareth and Gaheris.
Gawaine and Cletus followed Lancelot to France and sieged the knight’s castle. During the siege, the Pope pardoned Guenevere. Cletus allowed her to return to Camelot, but honor forced the caveman to remain at Lancelot’s castle. Weeks later, Cletus received a letter from Guenevere. Mordred had declared Cletus and Gawaine dead and seized the throne. Mordred forced Guenevere into marriage. Mordred formed a gang of rapists and murders called the Thrashers who practiced old Gaelic religions and hunted Jews and Christians.
Cletus lifted the siege on Lancelot’s castle and returned to England. He amassed an army on the fields of Kent to prepare to fight Mordred’s army. Even on the battlefield, Cletus worked on improving Camelot’s laws long into the night. Merlyn stepped into the tent.
“I must be dreaming,” Cletus said. “You’re locked away in a tree.”
“No dream, Cletus,” Merlyn said. “Time machine is wishy-washy. I eventually got out of the spell, thanks to your progeny no less.”
“Why have you come to me now?”
“That’s easy, Cletus. You need me now. Remember when we first met after you drew the sword at the church?”
“Yeah, we spent weeks where you turned me into animals and made me do weird shit to teach me lessons about different forms of government.”
“Right, but I was more talking about all the prophesies about how Camelot ends.”
“Mordred ruins everything,” Cletus said. “Seems it already happened.”
“That it has, my boy. That it has. Camelot’s done regardless of how this battle ends. I have two or three requests of you though.”
“What can I do for you?”
“You need to leave a legacy behind, especially a story about Arthur and a magical kingdom called Avalon. People need to believe in both ideas to fill them with power. Second, kill Mordred because if he lives he’ll become a powerful, demonic wizard the likes of which the world will not survive. Finally, get out of here however you can after killing the little prick.”
“Done. All of it.”
“Great,” Merlyn said. “I’ll be off then.”
“Merlyn, won’t you stay awhile? There’s so much I need to tell you.”
“I already know, son,” Merlyn said as he disappeared.
As the wizard vanished, a young boy entered the tent with a tray of tea and cookies. “What’s your name, boy?” Cletus asked.
“Tom of Warwick,” the boy said.
“Well Tom, peace is like a candle in the wind,” Cletus said. “Maximum effort is required to keep it alight. Might must only be used for good, and war is almost never justified. Do you know my story, Tom?”
“I know a lot, Your Majesty.”
Cletus handed Tom a small book. “It’s all in there. Run from this battlefield, Tom. Spread the story of King Arthur. I’m going to die here tonight, but my body will be set adrift on the sea to reach the towers of Avalon. The angels there will heal my wounds so that I may someday return as king again when Britain most needs me. Go now.”
Tom of Warwick ran from the tent. Cletus donned his gleaming armor and stepped out to face Mordred’s armies.
“That’s really where you’re going to end that one?” Lyra asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “What’s wrong with that?”
“That’s not an ending. That’s a hook to get you ready for another chapter.”
“It’s King Arthur,” I said. “Everyone knows what happens. Excalibur gets buried hilt deep in Mordred. Mordred shoves a spear in Arthur’s side. The only difference here is that Cletus flees the scene after killing his evil wizard son.”
“Fair,” Lyra said. “But I do have one question.”
“Did you free Merlyn from a tree prison?”
“I want to hear that story.”
“Some other time,” I said.