Nancy McKenzie's Arthurian Tales

Queen of Camelot
Grail Prince
Prince of Dreams
The Child Queen
The High Queen
Guinevere's Gift
Guinevere's Gamble

Grail Prince Excerpt
"Tell us about Camelot," Percival begged, "and the weapons you made. They say the finest swords in all the world were forged in Camelot."

The old smith smiled. "Aye, that's true enough. Smiths from all over Britain left their forges and traveled to the High King's fortress to try their hands at making weapons worthy of Arthur. We all had skill, but only a few of us had the Blessing."

Percival looked blank. "What blessing? The High King's blessing?"

"Ah, no, lad. This be a Blessing older than any king." The old smith's face took on an expression of reverence and his sightless eyes looked far away. "Without the Blessing a smith is only a man who wields hammer and tongs at a forge. Horseshoes, such a man can make, and plowshares, hooks, and hoops. But weapons?" He smiled knowingly. "Such men as yourselves don't want weapons forged by such a man. A sword forged without the Blessing will fail at the moment of its testing and begtray the man who wields it." He shook his head slowly, as if aware of the wide eyes that watched him. "No, no, young lords. You want a sword with life in the blade. Mark my words: Best find a smith who has the Blessing."

"But what Blessing?" Percival wondered. "Christ's blessing? Or do you speak of other gods? We are Christians."

The old smith chuckled. "And so be we, lad, good Christians all these thirty years and more. Yet the truth of the land is age old, older than the nailed God fro the east, older than the three-faced Goddess from the west, older than Mithra, older than Yahweh, as old as the earth herself. This is a truth other gods cannot destroy." He paused. "Have you ever walked into an oak wood and felt eyes on your back? Or looked up at a high place with reverence? Or witness a dawning with awe? Some things bear a holiness from time's beginning. The ways of going, the places where roads and waters meet have been sacred time out of mind. And that's where you'll find us smiths, son, near a ford, a crossroads, or a watersmeet." He laid a bony finger next to his long nose and stared at them with cloudy eyes. "A good smith, a born one, knows where to build his forge. The land tells him. He hears her voice and obeyes her, and she blesses the work he does."

Percival coughed uncertainly.

"Take me lightly if you dare," the smith growled, "but I speak no more than truth. I'll prove it to you. I'll tell you boys the secret of the Blessing, which is not a scret many know outside the forge." He grunted appreciatively as their attention sharpened. "When a smith has the Blessing the iron takes shape in his hands almost without his willing. He hears a voice no one else can hear—the shape of the thing-to-come calls to him from the fire." He nodded solemnly. "A smith knows if he has the Blessing. He hears the voice. And you will know it by the weapon he makes."

"In Camelot," Percival whispered, "did you make swords for the King himself?"

The old man shook his head sadly. "Not I. I made them for his soldiers and for two of his Companions. There was ony one among us who made swords for the High King. The greatest smith I ever knew. Elludyn of Lothian. Named for a god. He was a master."

"I've heard of him," Galahad said. "I've heard it took him a month to fashion a sword."

The smith grinned, showing gaps between his teeth. "Oh, aye, a month, sometimes, for a blade without blemish. I remember a sword he made, it seems a lifetime ago, now. I was younger then, with the strength still in my back and my arms. I took a turn at the bellows for him just to watch him work. He fashioned the blade from the finest steel and chilled it with water melted from ice brought all the way from Snowdon and packed in straw in the cellars." His voice sank to a whisper and the boys leaned closer. "Every single time before he put the iron into the fire, he shut his eyes and listened. Some took it for praying or casting spells, but it never was. Elludyn appreciated silence. He listened. For the voice of the sword-to-be He always heard it. He was the best."

"And what became of the sword you helped him make?" Percival asked. "Did King Arthur use it in battle?"

"No," the smith replied, "he gave it as a gift. Elludyn fashioned a cross of rubies in the hilt, and Arthur gave it to his dearest friend, the Breton Lancelot."
Galahad gasped aloud. "But that sword is mine now! I have it here."

The old smith turned his head toward Galahad. He went very still. "Where?"

Galahad rose, drew the sword from its scabbard and placed it in the smith's hands. The gnarled fingers moved over the blade with consummate skill, testing its edge, its springiness, its heft and balance, caressing the jeweled hilt and the grip worn smooth with use. Tears sprang to his unseeing eyes and slid down his weathered cheeks.
"Aye," he whispered, "this is the one. The very one. Feel how it sings of glory, how it breathes with the joy of battle. A weapon made for a king! I honor you, my lord. A base man could not wield it."

"It was my father's," Galahad acknowledged. "He made me knight with it."

"Knighted by a sword of Elludyn's! What a future awaits you, young prince! You've honored me just by letting me hold it. It is a great gift. I am ashamed I have nothing to offer you in return."

Galahad took back the sword and sheathed it. "There might be a way you could help us. We are looking for the Grail and Spear that once belonged to Magnus Maximus, Emperor of Britain. Have you ever heard tales of such things here in Rheged? Songs, perhaps? Or of a man called the Fisher King?"

The old smith went very still. His lips worked silently for a moment before the words came out. "Who are you?"

"My name is Galahad."

"Galahad," the old man repeated in a whisper.

Percival and Galahad exchanged quick glances. The smith put ou a trembling hand and touched Galahad's hair. "You are—you might be—the one who is awaited. The Grail Seeker."