disclaimer: disclaims

teaser: in which fairytales, legends, and sorted mythology are told by knights, pirates, urchins, and princesses to hold off boredom and depression (more or less)

Author's Notes: honestly? This was too fun, not to. Also, everyone on livejournal insane and it spreads. Oh, it spreads. Other than that I honestly have no idea. Enjoy!

/the boy-king who removed the Sword from the Stone, as related by Basch/
(or the retelling of King Arthur of Camelot)

Somehow, they made it through the Giza Plains without speaking to each other. And such phrases as "watch your back" and "there is a large frog behind you" and "don't attack it with magick, Vaan!" didn't count.

Balthier paused and frowned at the mud that caked his vest. He had taken a nasty spill into the banks of the flooding dry beds in the Giza Plains and he'd yet to find a way to clean himself. Fran, bless her heart, had handed him a handkerchief—as his was just as muddy as the rest of him—but it had been sacrificed to remove the dirt crusted on his face.

The whole party was dirty, Balthier noted, and felt a sour taste rise in his throat. Oh, no doubt Vaan didn't mind it, but Balthier actually liked to be clean. He couldn't remember the last time he'd actually rolled around in the mud, accidently or otherwise.

Fran seemed to be faring the best out of the party, looking mostly clean save for the few flecks of dirt that clung to her white shift. She seemed to be unaware of them and Balthier decided to save himself from a confrontation by pointing them out.

Their little princess was actually doing the worst. Well, other than Penelo—and Penelo had sixteen years of experience on avoiding the mud of the Giza Plains in the wet season—Ashelia B'nargin Dalmasca was the shortest of the group and in the ensuing battles mud was bound to be kicked up.

Now, the haughty princess looked little more than a street urchin. Her hair flying every which way, matted with mud and dirt, her bared legs caked with the stuff. Her nose and cheeks looked they were decorated in war paint.

And she looked displeased about it.

In fact, they all looked to be in a rather sore mood. Basch stood protectively in front of Ashe, his sword out, and the former knight looked almost ready to fight. Almost eager. Penelo hobbled along beside Vaan, occasionally reaching out to touch his wrist—as if to solidify his existence—but her normally chipper voice was silent. Even Vaan himself seemed content to kick up stones as he trudged.

They were all a little down. And Balthier knew why.

Vossler. Everyone took betrayal hard. Basch had spent two years in prison believing that Vossler would never once surrender, break, or give in, and Vaan hero-worshipped any man who could swing a sword. And Penelo had probably never actually fought someone to the death before.

Even Fran had been put down by the betrayal—once she had calmed down from the burning Mist. She wasn't taking it as hard as the rest, but it was still a bit darkening to think that so stalwart a knight could betray those he cared for, and still think it the right decision in the end.

And he knew Ashe was taking it the hardest. And who could blame her? She had spent two years in hiding with him, trusting him, believing that Vossler would help her no matter what. And then she had killed him, she had offered him no forgiveness, no understanding. She could not break, not a woman in her position.

He frowned and resisted the urge to rub his temples. If he had known that it would have come to this… no matter, he had made his deal with the devil. It was time to see it through.

Ashe would occasionally rub the ring-finger on her left hand, as if the discolored band of skin was an irritation to her. And it made Balthier feel guilty. Only a grand fool would not be able to surmise what the ring had been, why she had worn it.

Balthier could swear he almost felt the weight of the simple band of silver that he had shoved into his pocket when he had had no other idea what to do with it. He had toyed with the notion of slipping it onto his own finger, but the princess was in a bad enough mood to actually stab at him for it.

Up ahead, Basch came to a sudden halt, Ashe all but smacking into his back. He turned to address the party.

"We'll rest here for the night," he said and Ashe frowned a moment before nodding in acceptance.

Well, Balthier thought, at least it isn't mud. The Ozmone Plains were actually fairly picturesque, if one ignored the poisonous snakes and rabid, giant horses. And those damn birds. But other than that.

Fran moved forward and she and Basch went about setting up a campfire.

Ashe sat down wearily and rubbed her stiff shoulders as Basch ordered Vaan to collect more firewood. Penelo knelt down beside Ashe, finally noticing a nasty cut across the princess's hip. Balthier frowned again.

"I'm alright," she told the younger girl, but her voice sounded strained and hurt. Penelo went to healing anyway.

In silence they prepared for sleep, but sleep did not come. Two hours after everything had been set up, they still remained in front of the crackling fire, looking into it's orange flames, and finding absolutely nothing to say to each other.

Their time in Rabanastre hadn't felt so strained, though, admittedly, they had each been able to go off on their own. In fact, other than the day they had all met in the tavern to discover their next course of action, they had never been in the same place all at once.

Balthier looked over at Ashe, who sighed softly under her breath, her hand sneaking down to rub the discolored band of skin on her finger.

He grinded his teeth and looked over at Penelo, who had curled her knees under her chin and leaned in close to Vaan.

Then, Fran said the magic words, "It seems we are very restless…"

"Vaan and I… well, we've never been this far out," Penelo admitted, absently twiddling with her fingers as she glanced over at the Viera. "And who knows what they Gerif are really like? They might b—be mean or not friendly. I think I heard once that they're not friendly to—"

"Little we can do about that now, can we? Best to take your mind off it." Balthier pressed his palms into the dirt beneath him, leaning back and grinning slowly. "Hmm… I have just the thing. How about a story?"

"A story?" Vaan asked, his interest piquing. Even Ashe glanced over at him in surprise. "You know a story, Balthier?"

"Well, I can't remember one just right now," he lied, and scanned their little group. "But I've a feeling… Basch might know a tale or two to humor us."

The former knight's eyes narrowed at the pirate, who grinned cheekily back him. Then he looked at Vaan and Penelo, staring at him eagerly, to Ashe, who did not look away from the fire. Finally, he sighed.

"I do remember… a certain story," he said after a long pause.

"Is there a sword fight?" Vaan wanted to know.

"Is there romance?" Penelo asked at the same time.

"There is a magickal sword," Basch answered. "It's a legend that I heard a long time ago. When I was a young boy, I'd insist my mother tell me it over and over again. No matter how many times I heard it, I'd never grow tired of it. And I never forgot it."

"Well, don't tease us," Balthier commanded, watching out of the corner of his eye as Ashe lifted her head to look over at Basch. "Tell the story."

Basch sighed deeply. "Alright. Alright." He glanced at Vaan and Penelo. "Don't interrupt."

"Once, before the lands we know today were called their names, and before there were empires and before we even recorded history, there was a small town that was unremarkable in every way. It was called Camelot, which means 'simple' in the old languages.

People continued on their lives for a number of countless years, content with their normalcy. Their serenity and happiness.

But then, one day, a strange woman walked into the town. She said nothing to those who stopped to stare at her. She looked at not a soul. Her hair was long, blonde, and seemed to shift around her like water. Her dress seemed to be translucent, but it was not see-though. Some whispered that she was made of water. And they were correct. For she was the Lady of the Lake.

Onward she walked until she came into the courtyard owned by the town's blacksmith. She paused and looked 'round her, as if taking note of her surrounding for the first time. Then she stepped into the center of the courtyard and stood.

The blacksmith and his sons gathered around this strange woman as she planted her palm upon the ground. From beneath her milky fingertips rose a stone, wide and large, made of a sturdy gray. Solid and unbreakable.

Then the woman touched just the tips of her fingers to the stone and in a blinding flash of light, rose a sword. A beautiful sword, unmatched by any that would be made before or after, enchanted and pulsing with power.

"The man," said the woman, "who takes this sword from the stone will be the mightiest king to ever rule, and shall rule long, with those of blood immortal as his eternal allies."

And then, just as she was there, she was gone.

The news traveled fast, that a fey woman of ancient blood had left a magickal sword for the One True King. Knights came far and wide to pull the sword from its entrapment, but each knight left in vain. The sword remained, stuck, steadfast, unmoving in the face of many noble and brave knights.

Soon, men from all breed came to try their hand. For, they argued, the Lady had not said 'the knight who takes this sword' she had said 'the man who takes this sword' and thus it could fall to anyone to rule the land.

The blacksmith and his sons, who until that moment had been merely content to enjoy the new commerce they received from knights who traveled to the Sword in their courtyard, decided that it was time to try the sword for their own.

"The Lady has left the sword in our midst, has she not?" said the father to his four sons. "Obviously, it was meant to fall to one of us to rule."

Three sons were eager and ready, and it fell to the fourth to look after the shop as the rest of the men went to try their hand.

This son, the youngest, was called Arthur. He had no knack for the making of weapons or horse-shoes. Instead, he seemed more ready to dream his day away. He was gangly and stuttered and no one in the town expected anything of him.

But this did not disappointed Arthur. He was more than willing to remain unseen and anonymous. Already, he knew that to be king would be to sacrifice all freedom. And that power was a lonely bedmate.

So, on the day his family left to the courtyard, Arthur took his place at the smithy, wondering if perhaps he would become the brother of a king. For it was well known that his father and his brothers were all noble men, with ambitious and the knowledge to rule.

And Arthur was so lost in his daydreams that he did not notice the old, withered man walk into the shop until he stood in front of Arthur, staring down at the boy with twinkling eyes, hidden behind long white hair and a thick, white beard that fell to the floor.

"You must be the young Arthur," said the man and smiled, his face wrinkled with it. "I have heard a great deal about you."

There was something about this man that made Arthur think of a river in winter. Calm and serene at the top, but churning and powerful underneath.

"May I help you, kind sir?" requested the young Arthur, suddenly feeling as if he stared into his own future. "I am Arthur Pendragon, son of Royce Pendragon, owner of this smithy we stand in."

"And I am simply Merlin, too old to remember from where I come." The old man here smiled. "I daresay you will be able to help me. I seek the Sword in the Stone. Might you know the way?"

"Yes, sir. It is my father who owns the land on which the stone and the sword stands. Shall I take you there?" Arthur knew that he had been forbidden to leave the shop unattended, but this man was old and fading and it would not do for Arthur to let him walk on his own.

"Thank you, my son. My bones are frail and I do need some assistance to reach my destination." Merlin waited for Arthur to come 'round to him.

Arthur guided the man down to the courtyard that was owned by his family, not sure why, but feeling as if his heart and his feet grew heavy with each step. Still, something would not allow him to turn back, no matter how much he found he wished to do so.

At last, they came upon the courtyard, and the lines of knight who stood to wait for their chance to try the Sword. There, in the long line, stood Arthur's family and they landed their angry eyes upon him.

"Did I not tell you to watch the shop?" demanded his father, nearly stepping out of line to browbeat the boy. "Where is your head?"

"Oh noble blacksmith," implored the old Merlin, "reprimand not this boy, for he left the smithy must reluctantly. But I am old and frail and could not have reached this sacred place on my own. He has acted most chivalrously."

Royce Pendragon there subsided his anger, though he glared most grievously at his son, and Arthur's brothers looked away, back to the sword.

"Now then," old Merlin called and motioned Arthur to take him forward. "Would you knights begrudge an old man's last request to touch a sword of mythical powers?"

The knights could not deny the old man this right, and, of course, how could an old man and a skinny, unsightly boy be a threat to their kinghood? And so, they made way for Merlin and Arthur and they stepped to the stone.

Merlin lifted his hand and touched the hilt of this ancient sword. He sucked in a breath, as if it psychically pained him, and then turned his smiling eyes to young Arthur.

"Ah, my dear son, will you remove this sword from this stone for me?" Merlin then asked of Arthur and the boy could barely stop himself from laughing.

Him? Little Arthur Pendragon, remove the Sword from the Stone? No knight had been able to do so. What hope did he have? But the old man stared at him so imploringly, that Arthur decided to show him that he could not and allow him to slink away in disappointment.

He curled his fingers around the hilt and for a moment Arthur could only gasp in surprise. For this sword felt as if it was his sword. It felt as if the world around him suddenly clicked into place and he knew, knew, that if he moved just an inch, just a fraction of an inch, his life would change forevermore.

But he could not stop destiny. For this is what this was.

So Arthur pulled the Sword from the Stone.

"And so," Merlin said, smiling sadly at the boy. "Excalibur falls to its rightful lord. My lord, I am Merlin the Wizard, who has traveled far to pledge fidelity to the man who would be the king of Camelot and all the land."

And a great hush fell over the land as light burst forth from Merlin and surrounded Arthur and all who saw him dropped to their knees in awe, for this boy was transformed to a king in the blink of an eye.

Arthur merely stared down into the sword in his hand and felt his whole world drop away. He was half-tempted to return the sword, to demand that Merlin find someone else, but he knew there was no other. The sword—Excalibur—had always been his sword. And if he did not take up the kinghood, there would be no king of Camelot.

Camelot would need a king and so Arthur took the oath to rule and buried childhood daydreams and knew he did the right thing.

In time, he married the beautiful May Bride Guinevere and Camelot became the place of eternal peace and tranquility. Arthur formed a loyal following of knights, where such knight as Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad the Pure made their marks, who fought for justice and truth and peace. And Merlin was his ever faithful advisor, offering wisdom and advice, never straying from Arthur's side.

And though Arthur might have missed the simplicity of his life as the youngest son of a blacksmith, he found some measure of happiness in seeing the smiling faces of his people and his wife's kind nature.

So it came to pass that the young boy Arthur Pendragon became King Arthur of Camelot, the greatest king to have ever lived."

Balthier yawned. "Well, you certainly put us to sleep."

Basch looked about ready to flush and he glared at the sky pirate. "You suggested I tell a tale."

"Yes, but leave it to you to choose the worst of the lot." Balthier lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "Chivalry and old men who are wizards and young boys who are kings. Courtly romance and politics. Bland and dull, that."

"And I suppose," Basch grounded out, "you have some story that is much more interesting?"

"Well, of course. Not exactly terribly straining to top that, is it?" Balthier asked.

"I liked it, Basch!" Penelo said helpfully, smiling up at him. "Did Arthur love the woman he married?"

"As much as a king could, I suppose," Basch answered. "I can't remember the full tale, but Guinevere falls in love with Lancelot, Arthur's most favorite knight, and that brings the end of Camelot and knights."

"Do they fight over her?" Vaan wanted to know, frowning. "Like to the death?"

"What does it matter?" Ashe finally spoke up, deep in thought. "She betrayed Arthur, this May Bride. She doesn't deserve to be fought over. She deserves to be forgotten."

"But Ashe!" Penelo protested, predictably.

"A little harsh, isn't that?" Balthier asked and offered a smile. "Guinevere didn't love the king. It was a marriage by the order of her father."

"She should have remembered her duty," Ashe snapped.

"The point of the story was to help us sleep better. You will get none of that if you insist on arguing," Fran pointed out calmly.

"Well, I am tired," Penelo agreed and looked over her shoulders at the tents they had set up. "But do I need to sleep in that? Can't we camp out in the open?"

"It doesn't seem like there will be rain," Fran replied, her nose tilted slightly in the air.

"Great! C'mon, Penelo," Vaan said as he stood, taking Penelo's wrist. The two children scampered off to the tents to dig out their blankets and set up to camp out underneath the stars.

Ashe stood as well and walked off, the darkness nearly swallowing her. Basch instantly rose to accompany her.

"I got it," Balthier told him, standing as well and brushing off the dirt from his pants. "I'm the one that made her mad."

Basch looked as if he was less than thrilled with that idea, but Fran called him over to help douse the fire. Basch sent him a warning look before he went to help Fran—who didn't need it, but understood that Balthier needed to deal with Ashe.

At least Ashe had thought enough not too stray to far from the safety of their camp. Balthier approached her slowly.

"Not a happily ever after sort of girl, are you?" he asked and Ashe lifted her shoulder in a shrug. "Or is that you cannot abide weakness in anyone?"

"I got caught up in the story," Ashe said tightly, refusing to look at him, and Balthier thought he caught a hint of embarrassment in her words. "I've never heard it before."

Moonlight made her hair look even paler, and her skin nearly porcelain. It was a surprise that someone who had lived in the desert heat all her life had managed to remain so pale and creamy. Balthier blinked and forced the thought away.

"That doesn't come as a shock. It's a fairly old tale, and few books have the legends of King Arthur and his Knights in them." Balthier tilted his head to the side and considered her. "And I suppose you didn't have much time for reading, did you?"

Ashe's head spun to him and she glared at him. "Of course I did! I read all the time. Sword techniques, and self-defense books, and proper etiquette. And—"

"Oh princess, you poor deprived child you." Balthier lifted a hand to his heart, as if her words psychically wounded him. "Did you never read a fairy tale? Where the prince sweeps the princess off her feet and they live happily ever after? Did no one ever think to give you such a book?"

"Once," Ashe said so softly that it took a moment for Balthier to realize what she said.

He lifted a brow. "Truly? Who?"

"I don't want to talk about it." Her voice was stiff again and she walked away from him, her head down. "Leave me be, Balthier. I have nothing for you."

A frown crossed his face. He walked up behind her, opening his mouth to say something. Ashe was rubbing that discolored strip of skin again, her shoulders stiff and unfriendly, her position stating that she was a woman used to standing alone. That a man such as he would not be welcomed near her.

Balthier threw his hands into the air and walked back to camp, leaving her alone in the dark, not sure why he was suddenly so angry.

notes: told you, too fun not to. XD It's fun to imagine the party telling fairytales and myths that we all know and all, innit?