The Cornwall County Fair was in full swing, a twirl of colourful distractions, as Arthur and his mates strode purposefully through the throng of laughter. Their destination was the Holy Grail marquee and their aim was to win one of four tickets to try out the new computer game, being unveiled here, today, for the very first time. They had slept in tents at a makeshift campsite on a grassy meadow beside the rippling waters of the River Camel. Arthur had not slept well, his imagination no doubt influenced by a local farmer telling them that the place where they camped, Slaughter Bridge, was so named because it was the site of a battle that had taken place way back in the Dark Ages. He had dreamed of an ancient king, of knights in shining armour, of swords, shields and helmets littering the blood soaked meadow. Since morning the visions had continued to invade his conscious mind.
Waves crashed on the granite cliffs, gulls circled, buffeted by the wind. He looked out over the stormy sea, not seeing where the grey skies met the maelstrom, an all powerful force of Nature, pounding against the World of Man; relentless and eternal, before us and after, unbeatable, untamed, supreme. Kingdoms may rise and fall, but the power of Nature is an ever present force and must be respected. Behind the walls of Tintagel Castle he felt safe and secure, but soon must ride out to do battle. He felt uneasy – a sense of foreboding. Knights who had deserted him, led by his own kin, were coming for him. There could only be one King, and it was his head that wore the crown. He must defeat his own son in battle and reform the Knights of the Round Table. He must ride out in the morning and face down those who were once his loyal followers. It would not be a pleasant business. It was beyond talking. He was determined to end it once and for all.
Dozens of computer gaming geeks jostled at the entrance to the Camelot Marquee, anxious to get inside for the two o’clock launch by legendary game designer, Marvin Ambrose. The stale and rancid air caused Arthur and his friends to gag as they pushed their way to the front.
“Oy! Stop your pushing!” someone said.
Arthur just glared and squeezed past. He would not be deflected from his mission. Four computer terminals with stools were behind a roped off area, and outside a generator hummed a self-satisfied tune. Marvin suddenly appeared, as if by magic, resplendent in a flowing white robe, and the group of predominantly young men applauded enthusiastically.
“Dear friends, you are here because you are the few true followers of my games. You have successfully decoded the clues I placed in my last game, ‘Arthur’s Test’, that have led you to this very place at this time.” A sweep of the arm fired up the PCs and the words ‘Quest for the Holy Grail’ appeared on all four screens. The youths leaned forward to see and sporadic hand clapping and ‘oooing’ and ‘ahhing’ broke out. He held up his hands for silence.
“Dear gamers, today I am launching my latest game, which contains recently developed features as yet unknown in the industry. I want to select four worthy players from amongst you to be the first to battle through four levels to achieve the ultimate prize of finding the Holy Grail.”
Arthur and his pals were enthralled; hanging on the older man’s every word. His keen grey eyes moved over the rank of eager faces and he held up his hands again for calm.
“I will ask you all a question, and if you think you know the answer, put your hand up, but do not shout out. The question is: In my previous game, ‘Arthur’s Test’, what was the name of the damsel in distress whom Arthur had to rescue from a fire breathing dragon in level five?”
The mighty King rode out in regal pomp and majesty, his banners displayed at the head of a small army. His heart was heavy as he reflected on the origins of the feud that had torn his Court apart – the secret love between his Queen, Guinevere, and his mightiest knight, Launcelot. He had no choice but to condemn her, but his authority had been undermined by Launcelot’s rescue and elopement with her. How he missed them both – his beautiful wife and best friend – now his sworn enemies. There could be no reconciliation. His bitterness and unhappiness had been exploited by his ambitious son, born out of wedlock and brought up to hate him by his sorceress mother, Morgana le Fey. He had been bewitched into fathering this malignant son by his own half sister. A tangled web of deceit and betrayal had led to this day – a day of reckoning.
A dozen players shot their hands up, including Arthur, and the crowd surged forward. Marvin appealed for calm, and two security guards appeared by his side.
“Can those twelve hands please come down to the front. Alright. Now, whisper the answer to my glamorous assistant.” An attractive blond haired young woman had also appeared, dressed in a long flowing medieval gown of green with gold trim. Starting at the end farthest from Arthur, she bent forward to hear the whispered word and either tapped the shoulder for ‘Yes’ or shook her head for ‘No’. When Arthur’s turn came, he whispered, ‘Demelza’. She smiled at him and tapped his shoulder. The twelve had become eight. Marvin beamed happily and said; “We have eight loyal and worthy players who have correctly named the damsel in distress as Demelza; also the name of my glamorous assistant!” She bowed to thunderous applause.
“But now, dear friends, we must halve their number to just four brave knights who will take on the quest for the Holy Grail.”
Demelza produced a velvet draw-string bag and handed it to Marvin. He rooted around inside and removed some balls. “Dear friends, we must take on a game of chance and be guided by the hand of fate in making our selection. In this bag are eight balls. Four are red, and four are gold. Our seven young men and one lady;” he said, nodding to a blushing young woman in the group, “will draw for the privilege of playing the game. A gold ball will give you a seat at a terminal!”
Arthur was second from last in line, and had to wait anxiously as six others drew balls. When it came to his turn, only two balls remained – one of which was gold. “My moment of destiny,” he murmured as he swirled his hand around, feeling the two balls, whilst holding eye contact with his hero. He extracted a ball and held it out, as if having drawn a sword from a stone. Marvin smiled at him, and then shook his head sorrowfully at the eighth gamer. “Sorry my friend, the last ball must be red.”
In this meadow, beside the River Camel, at a ford called Camlann, the two opposing armies faced each other. A thick mist enveloped the opposing forces, and they moved slowly forward until they could make out the outline of their foe, like ghosts emerging from the fog. A cry went up and they charged. Bitter fighting ensued, with many men slain by their own side as confusion reigned in the thick mist that hung ominously all around them. Cries and shouts became fewer as men died of their wounds, until only the mighty King remained with one Knight standing, the loyal Sir Bedivere, facing their only surviving opponent, Mordred. The King bade his loyal knight to stand aside as he fought in mortal combat with his own son, neither holding back nor showing any signs of weakness. Finally, the King struck down his foe, but in delivering the death blow, was himself fatally wounded.
“We have our four brave knights, and fittingly for this New Age, one is a lady!” The crowd clapped as the four lucky winners were ushered behind the rope and allocated terminals. “And now let me introduce the game,” Marvin said. “They will all play the same game, each as a different knight, and will compete against each other for points on four tasks that lead to the Holy Grail. After each level the knight with the fewest points will be eliminated. The two finalists will fight their way through a maze and the winner will be the first to find the Holy Grail. Now, log in and name your knight!”
Hunched forward with thumbs twitching manically, the four gamers set about fighting dragons, armies of the dead, competing in a jousting tournament and then through an enchanted forest. After level three, just Arthur and Melanie were left. After a brief respite for drinks, and amidst cheering on from their supporters, they started level four. The tension in the marquee was palpable, as the game fans watched on a big screen. The two remaining knights approached a heavily fortified castle and fought their way through a maze of corridors, dodging goblins and fighting dwarfs, before entering the chamber of the Holy Grail. A glittering golden vessel stood on an altar, but the approach was beset with traps. Arthur made a judgement call, and gallantly allowed his rival to go first. When she fell through a trap door, he made his way to the magical cup and lifted it to the sound of trumpets and a choir of angels. To rapturous applause, Arthur stood up and squinted shyly at the crowd, raising his hand in salutation. He had won; he had found the Holy Grail – he was their champion.
Marvin presented him with a replica golden goblet, engraved with ‘Holy Grail Game Champion.’ Arthur felt this was the happiest moment of his life – a champion at the tender age of nineteen. “Our winner, aptly named Arthur, not only wins a copy of the game and a console, but can also accompany us, if he wishes, to the O2 arena in London next week to give a demonstration of the game and take on other contestants. Thank you all for coming, and remember the game is on sale from all major retailers from Monday!”
Arthur followed Marvin and the Damelza out of the marquee and into a caravan behind, where they relaxed and got acquainted. Marvin had researched the Arthurian legend when developing his latest game, and now studied the shy but happy youth.
“A young man from Cornwall called Arthur, one thousand five hundred or more years ago, pulled a sword from a stone, and was proclaimed King, not far from where we are now sitting. A Wizard called Merlin guided him and kept him safe from harm, believing that he was destined to be a great leader who would unite the People of the West against the invading forces of Saxons who were pillaging the land.”
He gleamed at his new protégé: “Maybe you, young Arthur King, have been chosen by fate to be a new leader for your generation. You have a quick mind, exceptional hand-eye co-ordination and have smashed the previous high score on this game, set by our best games testers. You have a bright future, my boy, if not leading armies in the field, then inspiring the youth of today in other ways.”
Demelza squeezed Arthur’s shoulders and he was already feeling accepted as one of the team. “No promises, but you could have a future as a games tester.” The old man winked at him: “’Arthur King and Marvin the Games Wizard’ has a ring to it, don’t you think?”
The noble Sir Bedivere carried his dying King to a nearby lake, and rowed him in a boat to an island where a healer received him. On the way, the brave Knight assisted him to fulfil his final wish – to throw the mighty and magical sword, Excalibur, into the lake. To the knight’s surprise, an arm emerged from the calm waters. The Lady of the Lake received the sword, and King Arthur, mighty ruler of the West and hammer of the Saxon invaders, died soon after.
Arthur accepted the offer, and wandered off to tell his friends. Maybe it could be the start of something – the possibility of a job as a games tester, or some other unknown destiny. As they walked over Slaughter Bridge and back to their camp site, he did not tell his friends about the visions. He had seen the dying King throw his sword and the arm of the Lady of the Lake rise to receive it. A Golden Age had ended in that moment and the lands fell into a Dark Age as barbarian invaders swarmed over it, destroying all traces of learning and subjugating the people to their harsh pagan ways. He felt a curious resolve to do the best he can in life and to stand up for what he believed to be right. Legends live on for a reason and the deeds of mighty men continue to inspire those who come after.