Soon after the crowning of King Arthur, he was journeying through the land with Merlin, the wise old magician, when they met a knight who challenged Arthur to a combat. The two fought, and at last the knight wounded Arthur severely. In the end the king was victorious, but he had lost so much blood that he could go no farther. Merlin took him to a good hermit who healed his wound in three days. Then the king departed with Merlin, and as they were slowly riding along he said:
“I am still weak from the blood I have lost, and my sword is broken.”
“Do not fear,” said Merlin. “You shall lose no more blood and you shall have a good sword. Ride on trustfully with me.”
They rode in silence until they came to a lake, large and quiet, and as beautiful in color as a pearl. While Arthur was looking at its beauty, he became suddenly aware of three tall women, with fair, sweet faces, standing on the bank.
“Who are they?” the king asked.
“Three queens who shall help you at your worst need,” answered Merlin. “Now look out upon the lake again.”
Arthur turned his eyes upon the lake and saw that in the distance a slight mist had arisen. Through it the figure of a lady glided over the surface of the water. Her robe appeared to be made of waves which streamed away in flowing curves from her body. Her head and shoulders seemed wrapped in foam tinted with the colors of the rainbow, and her arms glittered with sparkles which came from bubbles of water. She was so wonderful that Arthur looked at her for some time before he asked softly:
“Who is she?”
“She is the Lady of the Lake,” said Merlin. “She lives in a rock in the middle of the lake. See, she is coming toward us. Look at what is beyond her in the water.”
Arthur looked and saw rising above the surface of the water an arm clothed in pure white. This arm held a huge cross-hilted sword, so brilliant that Arthur’s eyes were dazzled.
When the Lady of the Lake approached nearer, he said:
“Damsel, what sword is that? I wish it were mine, for I have none.”
The lady smiled, saying:
“Step into yonder boat, row to the sword, and take it, together with the scabbard.”
So Arthur entered a little boat that was tied to the shore, and rowed out to the sword. As he took it and the scabbard, all gleaming with jewels, the hand and arm vanished into the water. And when Arthur looked about, the three queens and the Lady of the Lake were also gone.
As Arthur, still gazing at the sword, rowed to shore, Merlin said to him:
“My lord Arthur, which pleases you more, sword or scabbard?”
“In truth, the sword,” replied the king.
“Let me assure you,” said Merlin, smiling gravely, “that the scabbard is worth ten of the sword. While you have it with you you shall never lose blood, no, no matter how sorely you are wounded. So see that you guard it well.”
The king, who was looking at the sword, sighed.
“There is writing on the sword,” he said.
“True, my lord, written in the oldest tongue in the world.”
“Take me on one side,” said Arthur, “and Cast me away on the other. I am glad to take the sword, but it saddens me to think of casting it away.”
Merlin’s face grew sad, too. He was so wise that he knew what was going to happen in the future, and he was well aware that when the time came to cast the sword away, much evil would have befallen the good King Arthur. But he knew that the time was yet very far off; so he said:
“You have taken the sword. Now use it to make justice and right prevail in all the land. Do not think of casting it away until you must.”
Arthur grew joyful again as he felt the strength of the good sword in his hand, and the two rode cheerfully forward through the country.