A sword out of myth and legend

weapon (melee)

A sword retrieved from the Verbena Seasonal Realms, along with a particularly dangerous spear-head, associated with the Tor legendry. Whether it is the blade carried by King Arthur, or representative of many swords out of stories from Celtic mythology and legends, they can’t be sure. That it has some power to it seems clear, as it burned Morgan’s undead hand when she took it up. Since her transformation, however, the blade’s capabilities have not been tested.


Some background information:

The sword of Celtic myth that can be related to Excalibur differs from that sword in important respect. Excalibur was Arthur’s exclusive property and was returned to it’s keeper, the Lady of the Lake’ after Arthur’s defeat. Yet it’s Celtic counterpart, whether Welsh or Irish was not used exclusively by a single person.

Excalibur’s Irish counterpart was carried the the three kings Feargus mac Léide, Feargus mac Róich and Aillil mac Máta. In the Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen there is a further Irish connection. Here Arthur’s sword (Caledvwlch) is wielded with great effect by an Irish warrior of Arthur’s army, when Arthur captures the cauldron of Diwnarch in Ireland: -

Lenlleawg the Irishman seized Caledvwlch, swung it round in a circle and killed Diwnarch the Irishman and his entire retinue. The Mabinogion, trans. Jeffrey Gantz, Penguin, 1976, P. 170.

The destruction of a large number of warriors by swinging a magical sword around in a circle is a feat that was also performed by the Irish equivalent of Excalibur: -

Fergus mac Roith is fighting in the force of Queen Maev against the forces of Ulster The battle was joined in the plain of Garach, in Meath. Fergus, wielding a two-handed sword, the sword which, it is said, when swung in battle made a circle like the arch of a rainbow, swept down whole ranks of the Ulstermen at each blow,1 and the fierce Maev charged thrice into the heart of the enemy. 1The sword of Fergus was a fairy weapon called the Caladcholg (hard-dinter), a name of which Arthur’s more famous “Excalibur” is a latinised corruption. Rolleston, T. W., Myths & Legends Series: Celtic, Bracken Books, n. d., pp. 223-4.

The mention of Fergus’ sword making ‘a circle like the arc of a rainbow’ suggests that it may have emitted light when used in battle. If this was so, then we have another resemblance to Excalibur. For in battle Arthur’s sword is recorded as emitting a blinding light as bright as ‘thirty torches’: -

Sir, said Merlin to Arthur, fight not with the sword that ye had by miracle, till ye see that ye go unto the worst, then draw it out and do your best. So forthwith Arthur set upon them (the six kings who rejected his claim to the throne of England) in their lodging. And Sir Baudwin, Sir Kay, and Sir Brastias slew on the right hand and on the left hand that it was a marvel; and always King Arthur on horseback laid on with a sword, and did marvellous deeds of arms that many of the kings had great joy of his deeds and hardiness. Then King Lot brake out of the back side, and the king with the hundred knights, and king Carados, and set on Arthur fiercely behind him. With that Sir Arthur turned with his knights, and smote behind and before, and ever Sir Arthur was in the foremost press till his horse was slain underneath him. And therewith King Lot Lot smote down King Arthur. With that his four knights received him and set him on horseback. then he drew his sword Excalibur, but it was so bright in his enemie’s eyes that it gave light like thirty torches. And therewith he put them on back, and slew much people. And then the commons of Carlion arose with clubs and staves and slew many knights; but all the kings held tham together with their knight that were left alive, and so fled and departed. And Merlin came unto Arthur, and counselled him to follow them no further. Le Morte D’Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory, BOOK I, CHAP. IX.

In Malory’s Morte D’Arthur the king’s sword is the more familiar Excalibur. However it’s origins are confused. At the most general level the gaining of the sword by Arthur involves the magician Merlin and the sword itself possesses magical qualities. The two ways in which Arthur obtained Excalibur must come from different sources. The method used to join these contradictory origin tales was the device of having one Excalibur (the sword in the stone) broken in a fight with Pellinor. With one Excalibur disposed of, the alternative version of the origin story could then be interpolated.

The first acquisition of Excalibur is the familiar kingship test in which Arthur proves his right to the throne by pulling Excalibur from a stone at a Christmas gathering. The gathering had been suggested by Merlin, but a religious element is introduced by the sword-in-the-stone appearing in the churchyard of the greatest church in London, close by the high altar, and by the prominent part that the Archbishop of Canterbury plays in the proceedings (Malory, BOOK, I CHAPS. VI-VIII). Only later is the sword’s name revealed to be Excalibur, when Arthur draws it to rescue his army from defeat in a battle and the light from Excalibur blinds his enemies eyes (Malory, BOOK I, CHAP. IX). This notion that Arthur’s sword emits a blinding light is also found on the Mabinogion tale ‘The Dream of Rhonabwy’:-

Then they heard Cadwr Earl of Cornwall being summoned, and saw him rise with Arthur’s sword in his hand, with a design of two serpents on the golden hilt; when the sword was unsheathed what was seen from the mouths of the serpents was like two flames of fire, so dreadful that it was not easy for anyone to look. The Mabinogion, trans. Gantz, J., Penguin (Harmondworth), 1976, P. 184

Merlin is also involved in Arthur obtaining the second Excalibur. When he guides Arthur to the Lady of the Lake and prompts him to ask for the gift of the sword that an arm holds above her lake. Arthur now obtains a second Excalibur, with a scabbard this time, from the Lady of the Lake. Though magical, this sword has different properties to the original Excalibur. It does not shine with a dazzling light, but gives extremely cutting blows while the scabbard protects it’s bearer from losing blood from his wounds (Malory, BOOK I, CHAP. XXV). The gift of a lady who rules an underwater otherworld, the sword is returned to her after Arthur has been mortally wounded (Malory, BOOK XXI, CHAP. V). Earlier the scabbard had been returned to a lake when Morgan le Fay stole it from Arthur and threw it into a lake to prevent him taking it back (Malory, BOOK IV, CHAP XIV).

Caladbolg (“hard cleft”, cognate with Welsh Caledvwlch; the name appears in the plural as a generic word for “great swords” in the 10th century Irish translation of the classical tale The Destruction of Troy, Togail Troi 12), sometimes written Caladcholg (“hard blade”), is the sword of Fergus mac Róich from the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. Spelled Caladcholg, it is also associated with the more obscure Ulster hero Fergus mac Leda, suggesting a conflation of two legends. It was said to be a two-handed sword that made a circle like an arc of rainbow when swung, and to have the power to slice the tops off hills and slaughter an entire host. During the Táin Bó Cuailnge, Ailill mac Máta takes Caladbolg away from Fergus mac Róich when he discovers Fergus’ affair with his wife Medb. He gives it back when the Ulstermen rally against his armies. Fergus wreaks havoc against Ulster’s forces with his blade, but Conall Cernach convinces him not to kill Conchobar mac Nessa. Fergus strikes the Three Great Strokes on three small hills instead, blasting off their tops.

Caladbolg is thought to be a source or analogue of King Arthur’s sword Excalibur, which in early Welsh is called Caledfwlch.

Another nickname based on the sword name’s translation is ‘cut steel,’ referring to its capability to slice through iron as easily as wood.


The Last Remaining Light tytalus