Deep within the burial vaults of Camelot, Nimueh approaches a crypt and chants a spell over the stone effigy of a knight. At the conclusion of her spell, an armoured hand punches through the stone crypt. Nimueh smiles in delight.
In the Great Hall, Arthur kneels before Uther and places his hand on a jewelled spectre. Arthur swears allegiance to Uther, Camelot and its people and is declared Crown Prince. The entire court applauds, including Morgana standing at Utherís side and Gwen and Merlin standing together in the corner.
Gwen: So how does it feel to be servant to the Crown Prince of Camelot?
Merlin: Washing his royal socks will be even more of a privilege.
Gwen: You're proud of him, really. Even though you complain about him constantly.
Merlin: I am not.
Gwen: You are. I can see it in your face.
Merlin: Those socks are very clean! Of course I'm proud of them.
The two are sharing a laugh when a Black Knight on a horse suddenly bursts through the stained-glass window at the end of the hall. As the court recoils, Arthur and the knights draw their swords. Slowly the knightís horse walks the length of the hall, drawing close to the royal family, and Uther reacts to the crest on the knightís shield with alarm. At the foot of the royal dais, the knight takes off his gauntlet and throws it at Arthurís feet.
Arthur sheathes his sword in order to accept his challenge, but as he reaches down to pick up the gauntlet, another knight (who seriously looks like a twelve year old kid) beats him to it. Sir Owain agrees to the knightís demand for a single combat fight to the death, and the knight departs the way he came.
Back in the physicianís quarters, Merlin is asking Gaius whether he knows who the knight is, but Gaius demurs at the question of whether he recognised the knightís crest.
Gaius: Merlin, your faith in my all-seeing knowledge is both touching and wholly misplaced. Maybe if you've finished your work, you could go to bed and leave me to finish mine.
In Morganaís chambers Arthur is having an argument with Morgana while Gwen looks on. Arthur insists that Owain shouldnít have picked up the gauntlet, but canít do anything about stopping the fight. Despite Morganaís suggestion that Arthur fight in Owainís place, the Knightís Code dictates that Owain must go ahead with the challenge.
In the Hall of Records, Gaius finds our old friend Geoffrey of Monmouth. The two men recognised the knightís crest as that of Tristan Dubois. With this information, Gaius goes to Uther in the council chamber and asks how itís possible that Tristan Dubois has returned: Uther killed him in single combat twenty years ago.
The following morning Tristan stands in the arena, ready to fight. In Arthurís quarters, Owain is prepared for combat by Arthur and Merlin. Arthur advices him to quickly get the measure of him and that all it takes to kill a man is one well-aimed strike. Gwen enters and gives Owain a token from Lady Morgana to wear for luck. Owain takes it, but insists he wonít need luck. From the looks on their faces, Merlin, Arthur and Gwen are not at all convinced.
Arthur walks Owain into the tournament ground where Tristan awaits, telling him to try and control the fight. He joins his father on the stands and announces that the battle will commence. Tristan immediately dominates the fight, but Owain is agile enough to duck and stab his sword into Tristanís stomach. Only Merlin sees the sword go in and cries out in triumph. However, the fight continues and Owain is soon overwhelmed. The crowd gasps in horror as Tristan kills Owain. Morganaís favour flutters across the arena as Tristan takes off his gauntlet and throws it down.
Arthur tries to leap over the barrier of the stands, but Uther grabs him and hauls him back. Instead, Sir Pellinore leaps down and takes up the gauntlet. Merlin watches Sir Tristan leave and tells Gaius that he took a hit Ė the knight should be dead.In the Council Chamber, Arthur is furious with his father for preventing him from taking up the gauntlet. Uther insists that Pellinore is a match for the black knight, but Arthur argues that heís still recovering from wounds he sustained at an earlier battle.
Uther: It was his choice to take up the gauntlet! I am not to blame.
Meanwhile, Merlin and Gaius head down to the burial vaults to investigate, with Merlin using his powers to handily light a flaming torch on the way. Gaius leads them to Sir Tristanís tomb, and finds it split open. Back in the physicianís quarters, Gaius tells Merlin that Tristan Dubois was the brother of Utherís late wife Ygraine. After she died in childbirth, Tristan came to the gates of Camelot and challenged Uther to a duel to the death. Uther was victorious, but as he died Tristan cursed Camelot to one day suffer his return. Gaius believes that Tristan has returned as a wraith, a big problem considering no mortal weapon can kill a wraith. Until itís achieved its objective, nothing can stop it Ė and what it wants is Utherís death.
The following day, Sir Pellinor fights Tristan in the arena, and this time the entire crowd sees his sword go into Tristian. Everyone cheers, but the wraith barely reacts, and a few minutes later, he slays Pellinore. A gauntlet is thrown down, but this time itís Arthur who challenges Tristan to single combat at noon tomorrow.
In the council chamber, Uther is furious at Arthur and demands that he revoke the challenge, but Arthur will hear none of it.
Arthur: No. The Knight's Code must be upheld. That's what you told me.
Uther: This is different.
Arthur: Once the challenge has been laid down it cannot be rescinded.
Uther: You are Crown Prince.
Arthur: There cannot be one rule for me and one for all the rest.
Uther: I forbid you to fight.
Arthur: You want me to prove that I'm worthy of the throne. I cannot do that by being a coward.
Uther: No, Arthur, this will be your death!
Arthur: I'm sorry you have so little faith in me, Father.
In the physicianís quarters Merlin and Gaius come to the conclusion that if Arthur fights the wraith, heíll inevitably die. Therefore, Merlin must use his magic to dispatch it before it hurts anyone else.
While Tristan stands motionless in the training grounds, Uther paces the council chamber and jumps when Gaius enters. Gaius breaks the news that Tristanís tomb has emptied and that the knight outside is an undead wraith, come to take his revenge.Gaius: He has come to take vengeance for Ygraine's death.
Uther: It was magic that killed her, not I.
Gaius: Nevertheless, it was you he blamed. You cannot allow Arthur to fight. No weapon forged by man can kill a wraith. It will stop at nothing till it has accomplished what it came for. Arthur cannot win, he will die.
Uther: He will not listen to me.
Gaius: Then you must tell him who the knight is.
Gaius: You cannot hide the truth forever.
Uther: I am the King. You will not tell me what I can and cannot do.
Gaius: That is your choice, Sire. You tell him, or let him go to his death.
Uther: No one but you or I will ever know the secret of Arthur's birth.
Gaius: The boy is of age, he should know.
Uther: Never! You made an oath. I warn you not to break it.
Gaius: Very well, Sire.
Uther: Leave me.
Outside, Merlin approaches Tristan and mutters a spell. A line of fire races toward the wraith and sets him alight, but when it dies down, Tristan remains unscathed. With an inhuman growl, he turns his head toward Merlin, who makes a run for it in fear.Upstairs, Merlin bursts into Arthurís chambers and insists that he pull out of the fight.
Arthur: And why is that?
Merlin: Because he'll kill you.
Arthur: Why does everybody think that?
Merlin: Because they're right! Just pull out. You're the Crown Prince. No one wants to see you die over some stupid challenge.
Arthur: I am not a coward.
Merlin: I know that. I've stood there and I've watched you overcome every fear you've ever faced.
Arthur: That's what's required of me.
Merlin: But you are more than that. You're not merely a warrior. You're a prince, a future king! You've proved your courage, but you must prove your wisdom.
Arthur: I'm not backing down.
Merlin: Please, Arthur, listen to me. This is no ordinary knight. Look at him. He doesn't eat, he doesn't sleep. He just stands there, in complete silence. Doesn't that tell you something?
Arthur: No one is unbeatable.
Merlin: If you fight him, you will die.
Arthur: I'm not listening to this.
Merlin: I'm trying to warn you, Arthur.
Arthur turns his sword on Merlin.
Arthur: And I'm trying to warn YOU, Merlin!
Seeing that heís getting nowhere, Merlin leaves in frustration.
In the council chamber, Uther starts as the candles blow out. He turns to see Nimueh casually standing behind him, a smile on her face.
Uther: I should've known.
Nimueh: It is more than I'd hoped for, Uther. Soon Arthur will be slain. You will have sent him to his death.
Uther: Haven't you tired of revenge?
Nimueh: Haven't you? You began this war when you threw me from the court and slaughtered all of my kind.
Uther: You brought it on yourselves. You practised evil.
Nimueh: I was your friend, Uther! You welcomed me here.
Uther: You betrayed that friendship.
Nimueh: I did as you asked! I used the magic you so despise to give your barren wife the son you craved.
Uther: Don't ever speak of her in that way. She was my heart, my soul. And you took her from me.
Nimueh: She died giving birth to your son. It was not my choice. That is the law of magic. To create a life, there had to be a death. The balance of the world had to be repaid.
Uther: You knew it would kill her.
Nimueh: No, you're wrong. If I had foreseen her death, and the terrible retribution you would seek... I would never have granted your wish.
Uther: I wish you hadn't.
Nimueh: You wish you didn't have a son? Well, your wish will come true tomorrow.
Uther: I will not let you take him.
Nimueh: I have watched so many people I love die at your hands, Uther Pendragon. Now it is your turn.
With a flash of light, sheís gone again.
In the library, Merlin rifles through a pile of books and is caught unawares by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Merlin shares his fears, and Geoffrey tells him that heís read of weapons that can kill the dead. He searches a shelf and describes a sword that was begotten in a dragonís breath. Bingo.
At her house Gwen opens her front door to see Merlin standing outside. Heís come to ask her a favour: he needs the best sword that her father has ever made. Meanwhile, Arthur and Morgana share a somewhat pointless scene in which Morgana asks Arthur not to fight. Unsurprisingly, he refuses.
At the physicianís quarters Uther knocks at the door and addresses Gaius.
Uther: I'm sorry. You knew that one day this business would come back to haunt me.
Gaius: Not quite so literally.
Uther: I should've listened to you. You said that no good would come of using witchcraft at Arthur's birth.
Gaius: You wanted an heir. You thought it was the only way.
Uther: Nimueh told me there would be a price to pay.
Gaius: You weren't to know that that price would be Ygraine's life.
Uther: I cannot let Arthur die.
Gaius: Then you must stop the fight.
Uther: No, I will take his place.
Gaius: Do you know what you're saying?
Uther: Ygraine gave up her life for him. So must I.
Uther: I have no other choice.
Gaius: There must be another way.
Uther: My death will stop the wraith and Arthur will live. But it means you are the only person left who knows the truth about Arthur's birth. I want you to swear to me that you will keep your oath.
Gaius: I will take it to my grave.
Uther: You have always been a good friend, despite my temper.
Gaius: I always thought that would be the death of you.
Uther: I have one other favour to askÖ
Back at Gwenís house, Gwen pulls a sword out from under her fatherís bed, telling Merlin that itís the best heís ever made. The two share a sweet moment in which Gwen repeats her words to Merlin the night of the banquet:
Gwen: I knew you were proud of him really.
Down in the dungeons, Merlin tells the dragon that he needs him to burnish the sword in order to save Arthurís life. On hearing that the wraith has come to seek vengeance on Uther, the dragon is uninterested in helping, but Merlin convinces him that it is Arthurís life at stake. The dragon agrees to burnish the sword on one condition: that it is not used by anyone save Arthur, for in the wrong hands such a powerful weapon would do great evil. Merlin promises, and the sword floats above his head to where the dragon can let loose a great burst of fire onto its blade.
Dragon: Heed my words. The sword was forged for Arthur, and him alone.
Gaius knocks at Arthurís door and gives him something to drink, telling him itíll help him sleep. Arthur drinks it down and passes out on his bed. Gaius checks to see heís fully unconscious, and locks the bedroom door behind him.
The following morning Merlin is looking over the new sword in the armoury when Uther enters. He comments on the beauty of the sword and commands Merlin to prepare him for battle. Confused, Merlin helps him with his armour as Uther inspects the sword and comments on its workmanship. Merlin tells him that he fetched it specifically for Arthur, and Uther tells him that he appreciates the bond between the two of them, giving Merlin instructions to look after him as he leaves. Merlin can only watch helplessly as he leaves with the sword.
The crowd murmurs in surprise as Uther enters the area, and as the fight begins, Arthur awakens from his sleep to the sound of swords clashing. He gets up and looks down in shock at the combat below, but is unable to break through the locked doors. In the arena, Uther manages to knock the helmet off Tristanís head, revealing a mummified face. Nimueh watches in the crowds with a smile. Uther loses his sword and Tristan makes a killing strike, only for his sword to get stuck in Utherís shield. Uther retrieves the sword and runs the wraith through. Tristan explodes rather messily, and Nimueh leaves in anger as the crowds cheer for Uther.
In the council chamber Gaius tends Utherís wounds and comments on the new sword that lies on the table behind them. Uther tells him that Merlin gave it to him, and Gaius inspects the markings on the blade carefully.
Gaius: On one side it says, "Take me up," and on the other, "Cast me away."
Gaius looks thoughtful, but makes a quick exit when Arthur appears.
Arthur: You had Gaius drug me! I was meant to fight him!
Uther: No, you weren't.
Arthur: But the Knight's Code is very clea...
Uther: Be damned! I believed you would die. And that was a risk I could not take. You are too precious to me. You mean more to me than anything I know, more than this entire kingdom, and certainly more than my own life.
Arthur: I... always thought that...
Arthur: That...I was a big disappointment to you.
Uther: Well, that is my fault, and not yours. You are my only son. And I wouldn't wish for another.
Arthur is startled by this sudden display of affection, but covers it up by suggesting that Uther work on his footwork.
Over dinner, Gaius tries to get the full story of the swordís origins out of Merlin, but he remains uneasily quiet on the subject. That night the dragon calls to Merlin in his sleep. Reluctantly Merlin admits that the sword was not wielded by Arthur, but Uther. The dragon is furious at this and tells Merlin that in Utherís hands the sword will bring only evil. Telling Merlin that the sword cannot be destroyed, the dragon commands him to take the sword and place it where no mortal man can ever find it.As soon as itís morning, Merlin goes to the armoury and retrieves the sword. He leaves Camelot and treks through the forest to the lake of Avalon. There he unwraps it from its cloth and throws it as far as he can into the water. It slowly sinks to the bottom of the lake, waiting to be reclaimedÖ
- Awful Truth: The circumstances of Arthur's birth are (partially) revealed here.
- Badass Bystander: Owain and Pellinor take up Tristan's gauntlet, and in doing so save Arthur's life.
- Balancing Death's Books: Nimueh reveals that to create life, another must be taken.
- Black Knight: Sir Tristan
- Chekhov's Gun: Excalibur, obviously.
- Death by Childbirth: Ygraine, though it was not quite that simple.
- Department of Redundancy Department: Uther's strange request for Gaius to swear to keep his oath to remain quiet about Arthur's birth.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Both Nimueh and Uther take out their grievances on innocent people.
- Duel to the Death
- Evil Versus Evil: Depending on how "evil" you consider Uther and Nimueh.
- Foe Yay: Uther and Nimueh. C'mon, there had to have been a little something there back in Uther's hey-day.
- Foreshadowing / Mythology Gag: The Dragon says that Excalibur must be hidden where no mortal man may find it...
- Friendship Moment: Gwen gives Merlin her father's best sword after telling him: "you know I'd grant you anything."
- Gory Discretion Shot: The deaths of the Camelot knights.
- Grey and Grey Morality: Uther and Nimueh.
- Immortality: Nimueh grants it to Tristan.
- Infinity+1 Sword: Excalibur.
- The Lady's Favour: Morgana gives one to Owain for luck. It doesn't help.
- Mysterious Parent: Both Uther and Ygraine to Arthur.
- Named Weapon: Averted completely. Despite the title of the episode, the name "Excalibur" is not uttered here, nor in any episode from here to series five.
- Reforged Blade: In a sense, as the sword Guinevere gives to Merlin is "forged in the dragon's breath", giving it the appearance of an entirely new sword.
- Pet the Dog: Uther's speech to Arthur, telling him he's the most precious thing in the world to him.
- Shirtless Scene: Courtesy of Uther.
- Title In: Averted. Excalibur is never named.
- Throwing Down the Gauntlet
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Uther and Nimueh.