It was… a loathsome dream.
In my youth, my mother had whispered to me.
“My beloved child… you shall become a knight, and defeat your king. As my son, you have a claim to the throne. But the king must not learn of this now, or he would surely end you. For now, you must bide your time.”
It was a disturbing noise. Evil thoughts wormed their way into my head. I did not want to hear them. I wanted to ignore them.
I was an artificial life form – a homunculus. Birthed by twisted means, it was decided that I would grow, and age, and die quickly. While innocent boys of the same age played around the village, I was swinging a sword. By the time they reached manhood, I would be long dead.
How jealous I was of their lives. How I envied them. How I despised them.
And so it was that I swore to become an existence superior to common men. After all, I must race through life faster than any of them. It would only be natural that I would also be greater than all others.
One day, my mother had brought me to observe the king from the shadows – a steel figure of bravery, and austerity, and temperance.
“That is your goal. That is the enemy you must defeat. That is the king you must fell.”
Impossible – how could I hope to overcome such flawless elegance? The king’s judgment, the king’s swordsmanship, the king’s strategies; they were all the utter definition of perfection.
Unfortunately for my mother, I abandoned her scheme. Instead, I desired to serve the king, to become the blade that would cut down those aiming to sully his lands and people.
Yes, I would become a knight.
I grew up quickly and was eventually granted a helm. It was something I could never remove before the eyes of others; it would all be for naught were someone to see me and recognize my face. So said my mother, and I donned my mask. Despite this, my skill and knightly spirit were proven to be exemplary and the king honored me with a sword.
Although I was not yet granted a seat at the Round Table, I had gained the right to one. The days of bliss passed by quickly as was only natural for me. As a knight, I brought down those who opposed the king. “Why do you oppose your king,” I would ask.
They would retort, “our king is far too infallible.”
What fools. Was that not exactly why our king was great? In all of man’s long history, when had there ever been such a perfect king? Most who called themselves kings were cruel, and proud, and contemptuous – presenting their own greed as a source of joy for their people. These kings gave dreams to those who follow them, or took them away, but upon even once having their own dreams taken from their grasp, they left disaster in their wake with no thoughts for the future.
“All who become king are the same. They steal from the people, and the people must steal in turn.”
But the King of Knights had no selfish desires. The king saw only what was needed, and everything else might as well not exist. The king carried no dreams, forging ahead only to unite our homeland – a pure existence as exquisite as a sharpened blade. Although it brought me immense shame to consider my own birth in comparison, I still adored the king and aspired to embrace the path of chivalry in the same way.
I could say with certainty that those had been the most brilliant and joyful years of my life – but their end came soon enough. Frustrated, my mother made clear to me my pedigree. I was not merely the homunculus son of the great foe, Morgan, but also somehow conceived as a child and living clone of the king.
I felt happier than I had ever been. The figure whom I revered so was much closer than I had imagined – and I was also the only one who carried the king’s blood. In other words, I was the uniquely suited to succeed the king.
I spoke of all this to the king, including why I would be worthy of the crown. As always, the king replied in a cold, hard voice.
“I see… born from the machinations of my sister you may be, but indeed you are of my blood. Yet I shall not recognize you as my son, nor shall I allow you the throne.”
Perhaps I was too hasty in my desire to be the king’s successor. However, that I would not even be considered a son was too piercing a blow. It had been my basest assumption; even if I could not be recognized publicly as an heir, it was the one thing I truly wished to be accepted. I thought that in a dialogue between the two of us, I would be able to see the king’s heart – that I would be accepted as a son to be proud of.
“So… you would not admit that I am your son, O King?”
I murmured at the turned back of the king who showed no further interest in me – who looked ever onward at the path to the future. My voice was filled with enmity, revealing a hatred that I had never known before.
It was obvious, I suppose. Who would accept a child forcibly conceived by a bitter enemy? I must be something like a curse. As such, the day would never come where I received a seat at the Round Table. My excellence would be unrecognized, my passion disdained, my effort ignored – for I would never be forgiven, simply because I was born of Morgan.
“Very well. I will make you regret those words.”
That was the decisive moment when I was reborn in hatred, to stain all that my father had accomplished. The king’s achievements, the king’s rule, the king’s battles – I would render everything of the past decade meaningless.
Perhaps the king would despise me. It would be warranted.
Perhaps the king would punish me. The king could try.
But the king would see me. I would give up everything for the two of us to face one another again.
The long, long war for Britain was drawing to its end. After surpassing many hardships, the day was approaching where the country would be ruled as one under the King of Knights. The fighting had brought honor to the knights, but also suffering and poverty to the common folk. Just when everyone had thought that those days would be over, they were thrust into one disquiet after another.
The king never changed expressions as the chain of ordeals were dealt with. However, I was certain that within the king’s heart nested great agitation – so I imagined, and laughed quietly in the shadows.
For one, it was I who had blazed and made grandiose the infidelity between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot du Lac, a sublime knight of the kind rarely known to the world. It was I who had begun the whispers – that Arthur did not possess the caliber worthy of being king, least not one whose wife was so easily stolen. Yet even as the other knights who had their own complaints spoke out to the king, I continued to serve loyally. To the king, it must have been quite ominous to have this so-called son still serving faithfully as a knight.
Yes – I knew well of the king’s anguish. It was then that Arthur made the first and last critical mistake. In order to bring down the traitor Sir Lancelot, Arthur set off for France and left me in command. It was only natural, with so many other knights and members of the court touting my competence – never mind that there were actual administrative affairs which I and very few others were capable of performing. The king appointed me as regent and headed for France.
How agonizing it must have been for the king to strike down the most trusted knight of all. Predicting that the fighting in France would drag on, I spread the news that the king had fallen in battle and called for an emergency council, during which it was accepted that I would be suitable for the throne. I took from the armory Clarent, the proof of kingship, and held a coronation in Canterbury. I became king, even if it were only in name. After that, I proposed to Guinevere.
“What is this nonsense you speak of?”
She replied coldly, and I laughed.
“As much nonsense as your games of playing husband and wife.”
Deriding her, I removed my helm. The expression frozen on her face was unforgettable.
I did not pursue her in earnest, of course. But it would antagonize the king one level further. Yes – I wanted him to hate me ever more.
Unsurprisingly, my lies were soon uncovered. It was made known that King Arthur hastened to return to Britain. By right, I should have been executed at that very moment. After all, regent or not, such a rampage as mine deserved its punishment. However, I was still backed by all those whom I had appeased, cajoled, or intimidated into submission.
I was persuasive – perhaps. However, on a deeper level, it was clear that there were many who held grievances against Arthur. The King of Knights was cold, and rational – always ready to discard anything and anyone when they were no longer necessary. But I was a much more human knight, or so they claimed. It was the most foolish thing of all, given that I cared for no one other than myself. Human beings were mere livestock whose only saving grace was their ability to speak. Young or old, it made no difference; throw meat into their pens and they would be fighting one other for the meal before it even touched the ground.
That was why I would not kill human beings, simply because I did not hate them. They were an annoyance, a locust, but not worthy of hate. I acted as I desired, without a care for those who followed me – so it was strange that they would find me all the more human for it. The king who had tried to save as many lives as he could was condemned as not understanding the hearts of men; yet I who thought nothing of saving anyone was praised of the opposite.
It was vexing. I did not rebel for the sake of the lot of you – I did it for myself. They could follow me wagging their tails if it pleased them, but I put them all out of my mind. Why spare my thoughts for the hounds that could forget the master who had been utterly devoted to them?
So it was that the last war began. Despite our defeat at Dover allowing the enemy to take the landing, I felled the wearied Sir Gawain. After several more minor clashes, it was time to face off against the king at the hill of Camlann.
By this point, it no longer mattered who won the war. The fate of the country had already been sealed. However, the king remained as frigid as ever. Again and again, I would call my father’s name on the field of battle – more loyalist soldiers surrounding me every time I did, and I would crush them and continue on. I killed, and killed, and killed again. The thought came to me. How did things turn out this way?
Outsiders observing this battle probably thought me a great fool – and why should I care?
Just as my mother predicted, I would become the great transgressor who ruined this kingdom – and why should I care?
I had plunged every single person in this country into my personal vendetta – and why should I care?
Why should I care? Why should I care?!
Finally, the King of Knights responded to my call – and our final duel began.
The battle was decided when the king’s holy spear pierced my chest. It was my defeat – no, it was my victory. All that the king had achieved, were reduced to nothing by my hands.
Yes, look at me. Hate me. Let the mere mention of Mordred forever grate your ears and twist your face with anger. Curse my very name.
But to the very end – the king did not recognize my existence.
Those cool eyes of jade watched over my death, turning away from me the instant it became certain. The king spoke no final words, shed no tears, showed not even the slightest hint of hate.
I was struck by the realization.
Perhaps… there was some truth in their grumblings after all.
The king did not understand the hearts of men.
I conceded. From the beginning till the end, King Arthur had been an infallible king. But that was all the more reason to hate you, my perfect king.
Even your hands had failed in the rule of this country.
I could have done better.
What King Arthur could not accomplished, I would.
Father, if they would claim that you were the perfect king, I would surpass you.
Ah – just once more. One more chance. Give to me the chance to draw the sword of appointment, just as the king had once did.
Just one chance…