Excalibur – Rospo Pallenberg, John Boorman (script)

Darkness. The sound of battle cries and the clang of metal upon metal. The forest lights up with huge sparks flying from sword and ax as armored knights hack and swing at each other. Mounted knights collide head-on at full gallop, their armor made incandescent in the clash. Sparks eddy in their wakes and float to the ground. The forest catches fire.
MAIN TITLES on the flames. Out of the sounds of ancient battle grows music, heroic and barbaric, shot through with melancholy.
Two crazed eyes reflect the fire. The eyes belong to a man without age, at once ancient and boyish, female and male; his eyes are pained from the burden of too much knowledge. So close is he to the flames that a lock of his wild hair sizzles alight. He slaps at the fire as if it were an annoying insect. He wears a cloak of black trimmed with silver. It is Merlin. The wizard weaves a path through the burning forest, dodging the combatants, searching.
MERLIN Lord Uther! Lord Uther!
The forest around him weeps softly with the sounds that follow slaughter. Patches of undergrowth are smoldering. Small flames lick bark and branches.
Smoke floats through the trees and hovers over the bodies of the dying and the dead.
A huge knight reins up beside Merlin on a lathered horse. His armor is blood spattered. He is weary from battle. He looks down at Merlin, his countenance fierce. The blade of his sword glows with an unnatural aura.
MERLIN It’s done. A truce. We meet at the river.
UTHER (disgusted) Talk. Lovers murmuring to each other…
Waiting on one bank of a small river that flows through the forest is a warlord, the Duke of Cornwall. He is flanked by his armored warriors. Lot of Lowthean prominent among them. They are battle-weary and bloodied, but they look ready to fight. Behind them is an army of lesser knights.
To the opposite bank come Uther and Merlin, a much smaller force of knights, including Uryens, Lord of Gore, surrounding them.
DUKE OF CORNWALL I spit on your truce, Uther. If you want peace, throw down your swords.
Uther and the Duke of Cornwall glare at each other in silence across the river. Uther strains forward, burning with anger; but Merlin restrains him.
UTHER I should butcher all and every one of them. Merlin, what is this wagging of tongues?
MERLIN Just show the sword.
Uther unsheathes his mighty sword, and brandishes it in the air high over his head. The blade hums disquietingly and leaves a lingering electric hue upon the air. The marvel instills dread in all present.
MERLIN (waxing eloquent) Behold the sword of power, Excalibur. Before Uther, it belonged to Lud, before Lud, to Beowulf, before Beowulf to Baldur the Good, before Baldur to Thor himself and that was when the world was young and there were more than seven colors in the rainbow. (and in an aside to Uther) Speak the words.
UTHER (bellowing) One land, one king! That is my peace!
The Duke of Cornwall looks around nervously as some of his knights fall to their knees in awe.
DUKE OF CORNWALL Lord Uther, if I yield to the sword of power, what will you yield?
UTHER Me, yield!?
Merlin urges Uther hard.
MERLIN (a whisper) He has given. Now you must.
The two knights glare at each other, rage contending with anger.
UTHER The land from here to the sea is yours if you will enforce the King’s will.
The enemies lock eyes and Merlin watches anxiously.
All men from both sides break out in wild cheers.
DUKE OF CORNWALL My Lord King Uther, let us feast together. To my castle. Lord Merlin, you must join –
But Merlin is nowhere in sight.

Drums and wailing flutes fill the banquet hall with a lusty rhythm. Armored warriors watch a lone woman dancing. She is very beautiful, both sensuous and innocent.
Uther sits at the long table beside the Duke of Cornwall with the barons and dukes of the land, and the lesser knights. The table is stained with wine and littered with bones and half-eaten fruit.
Uther’s eyes burn with lust as he watches the dancer.
DUKE OF CORNWALL I would wish you such a wife, Lord Uther, as my Igrayne. So innocent, but in bed, a furnace…
The Duke rises and goes to his wife, be-striding the center of the hall and Igrayne weaves circles of dance around him. He gloats with pride.
The words escape his lips:
UTHER I must have her.
Lot spins to face him.
LOT What? You’re mad! What about the alliance?
UTHER (oblivious) I must have her.
LOT And risk all you’ve won? This castle commands the sea gate to the kingdom.
Uther is not one for politics, and Lot’s words sail past him. The King lusts for Igrayne.
A bell is struck not far away. The music ceases and the hall falls silent. The great door creaks open, revealing the dawn light, and a monk steps into the hall and waits by it. Muffled by corridors of stone, a choir of monks can now be heard singing the high, ecstatic harmonies of the Te Deum. Those who have fallen asleep at the table are roused, those drunk, helped up.
The monk leads the party down the hallway of the castle. Thin shafts of dawnlight filter through archers’ slits in the thick walls onto stone floors. Otherwise, it is dark. Each person, lady and knight, proceeds alone, head bent, some crossing themselves.
Uther is among them. He stops in a dark alcove, breathing heavily, waiting.
As the lovely Igrayne drifts past him, he pulls her out of sight of the others.
In a shaft of pale light Uther clasps Igrayne to his breastplate, his iron arm wrapped around her frail body. So violent is his embrace that she cannot breathe, her mouth is wide with fear, and her feet do not touch the ground; an impaled butterfly.
UTHER You will be mine. Wife and queen, bed and crown.
His face is close to hers, looking as though he would devour her tender whiteness with his kiss. She doesn’t answer; she can’t. Even Uther understands this and lets her go.
IGRAYNE (a fierce whisper) I want no other crown and no other bed than those I have.
Her gown and her fragile skin torn on the spikes of his armor, Igrayne backs away and joins the procession.
Uther trembles with unreleased passion.
Igrayne enters the candlelit chapel from which issues the chant, calling the castle to worship. She rushes to her husband’s side, kneeling next to him and whispering. The Duke of Cornwall looks back at Uther, hatred in his eyes.
Uther is in a towering rage. Sword drawn, he stalks among the biers of fallen knights. Squires and clerics keep a healthy distance. The sky is lowering, pregnant with rolling thunder. Beyond his encampment, high on a cliff rising out of the sea stands the impregnable Tintagel Castle, seat of the Duke of Cornwall, now under siege.
UTHER (bellowing in all directions) Merlin! Where are you!?
Just then a knight rides up and dismounts. It is Ulfius, a lieutenant.
UTHER Have you found him?
But he cannot finish. He is taken aback by the sudden appearance of a hideous hag who approaches, rattling a beggar’s pan.
HAG What a hurry you were in this morning, good sir. You forgot to give this old woman a coin.
ULFIUS I saw you half a day’s gallop from here. I asked you if you had seen Merlin. I returned here straight away. How did –
HAG –I heard. I have come. I am also Merlin.
The figure straightens, the filthy rags become a flowing cape, and the hair is swept back by the wind, andóit is Merlin, laughing.
MERLIN I have walked my way since the beginning of time. Sometimes I give, sometimes I take. It is mine to know which, and when.
UTHER (exploding) Dumb riddles, Merlin. I am your King.
Ulfius edges away.
MERLIN I know the storm inside you, and what it has wrought. The alliance I forged is wrecked.
The Duke of Cornwall under siege. All this for lust. Selfish lust.
Uther grabs Merlin.
UTHER For Igrayne. One night with her. Do it. Use the magic.
Merlin frowns pensively, his gaze searching strange distances and wandering; then focusing, blazing straight at Uther.
MERLIN You will swear by your true kingship to grant me what I wish. Then you shall have it.
Uther kneels and draws his sword and holds it up by the blade, a cross.
UTHER I swear it. By Excalibur and the holy–
MERLIN –What issues from your lust will be mine. Swear it again.
UTHER I swear it.
Merlin looks down sorrowfully at the kneeling King.
The Duke of Cornwall watches a force of armored knights riding forth from Uther’s war camp, with banners flying. It passes beneath the castle and on toward a distant cliff.
DUKE OF CORNWALL (to a lieutenant) It’s Uther and all his best knights. He leaves behind little more than fledglings to guard his camp.
His eyes are as cold and as pale as ice.
Uther and his knights, and Merlin on a mule, ride to the high promontory and dismount. Here, overlooking the sea, is a circle of ancient stones, carved with strange runes and hieroglyphics, and as the wind moves through them it moans and sighs.
The knights watch as Merlin and Uther, leading his horse, walk toward the stones. Merlin strides into the circle, turning to look at Uther, who hesitates.
Uther starts to make the sign of the cross, but Merlin halts him with a gesture. Uther’s hand drops, and he enters the circle with his horse.
Merlin and Uther look out across the sea, to Tintagel Castle high upon the cliff.
Merlin solemnly raises his arms toward that distant castle, and chants in an ancient language, the sounds of which he marries to the roaring and whining of the wind. The wind becomes stronger, and Merlin’s incantations become more intense, and the wind in turn becomes wilder still. Until Merlin is charged with a fierce, nonhuman power, as the wind buffets his slight frame.
And then, for all to understand:
MERLIN I hold the balance of all things in my summoning. Arise mists. Come fog.
From the horizon a front of fog advances toward the castle to envelop it, and continues across the gulf to the circle of stones.
The portal opens and a small force of armored men, led by the Duke of Cornwall, exits. A fog is thickening all around them.
The advancing front envelops Merlin and Uther, eddying around the stones. All else is obliterated.
MERLIN Mount your horse.
The King does.
MERLIN Ride straight to the castle, across the sea of fog.
Uther spurs straight for the edge of the cliff, then reins in his horse abruptly.
UTHER But the cliff, the sea…
Merlin rages, crazed.
MERLIN Ride across! Across the bridges of desire. Your lust will hold you up. For I have just woven it into the fabric of the world. This is magic – making solid what is in the mind, and unsolid, that which is already solid.
He gives the horse a stinging blow with his staff.
The horse and Uther charge forward into a gallop and stepping off where the hidden edge of the cliff would be, hoofbeats ceasing and the horse dropping for the blink of an eye, they gallop across the fog.
Galloping on no visible terrain, Uther and his horse advance through the restless fog, and as they recede rider and animal become a wavering, changeable form within the cloud.
Horse and rider pull up at the gate.
RIDER (calling) Wake up in there. It is I.
If it was not for the electric blue hue burning in the eyes of the man entering the castle, the same magic hue that Excalibur left upon the air when wielded, the resemblance to the Duke if Cornwall would be perfect.
After a moment the portal opens.
He passes into an inner court, the portal closing behind. Armed men emerge cautiously. Thinking that it is their Duke they help him dismount.
‘DUKE’ OF CORNWALL Have the horse ready. I ride out before sunrise.
An inner gate opens and the ‘Duke’ goes through it.
The real Duke and his men ride through the fogbound camp, cutting the ropes of the tents, stabbing the men trapped beneath the canvas. When a frightened crow flies squawking into the face of the Duke’s horse, which rears. He is unhorsed and falls, and impales himself on a tent stake.
Dying, the true Lord of Tintagel Castle rises and staggers forward, blood pumping from him.
A little girl of four awakens from a nightmare, a small lone figure in her canopied bed. Her eyes are ice, like her father’s.
MORGANA Papa… Papa…
Igrayne is soon at her side, lifting the child from the bed, holding her tight.
MORGANA My father is dead…
The ‘Duke’ enters. The room is empty, but the door to Morgana’s room is open.
The ‘Duke’ stands in the doorway. Igrayne herself is surprised.
IGRAYNE Look, here is your father. It was just a dream, little one.
‘DUKE’ OF CORNWALL Come Igrayne.
Igrayne kisses Morgana, tucks her in and returns to her own room, closing the door. The child doesn’t know whether to believe the truth of the dream or the waking truth.
In full armor, the ‘Duke’ bears down on the naked Igrayne on her marriage bed. She stares at him, wondering. But his eyes are closed, and finally he carries her in his wild passion, her white limbs tangling around the lustre of his armor.
And Merlin is jolted awake from deep within himself, coming out of a trance.
MERLIN It is done. The future has found root in the present.
He lifts himself up on his staff. He stands in the midst of the ancient stones, bristling with excitement. Uther’s mighty knights are asleep, a deep unnatural sleep, huddled together and surrounded by their horses. And then Merlin swoons, collapsing to the ground.
His lieutenants deposit the Duke of Cornwall’s bloodless body upon the long table. His eyes are wide open, icy and cunning even in death. The ladies of the castle support and comfort the grief-stricken Igrayne as she approaches the body of her husband. Morgana hangs onto her mother’s gown.
IGRAYNE When did it happen? Where?
LIEUTENANT In the camp of Uther, my lady, just after nightfall.
IGRAYNE It can’t be. He came to me, to his bed, last night.
LADY It was his spirit, yearning for you in his hour of death, that visited you.
IGRAYNE His spirit?
Pale with grief, Igrayne stares at her dead husband in silence.
Then her hand drifts to her stomach. When she talks again, undone and resolved, it is to all and herself:
IGRAYNE Tintagel Castle falls to Uther. But what shall become of me, and the child I bear?
Morgana shows no distress. She runs her baby hands across her father’s face and closes his eyes. The intensity that was frozen in them is now added to her own pale and cunning eyes.
Merlin has been propped up against one of the stones. He is in a deep trance and Uther is attempting to shake him awake.
UTHER I want her, Merlin. I cannot be without her. Tintagel is mine. Can I take her now? Tell me!
Merlin’s eyes open but he sees nothing, and only a puzzling squeal issues from him.
Morgana watches from a corner. The ladies of the castle surround Igrayne who is giving birth.
Noisy crows alight on the windowsill. Only Morgana notices.
Uther strides to Igrayne’s bedchamber, his warrior knights following. He is dirty and his iron dress is blood-spattered.
UTHER (bellowing) Three horses died under me, so hard did I spur them here. Is it born? Is it alive?
At his approach and entrance the ladies shrink back, and Morgana edges closer to her mother, and seats herself on the bed beside her. Ingrain holds her newborn baby in her arms, the blood of birth still wet upon it.
The ladies slip past him to the door, and he goes up to Igrayne.
UTHER What is it, lady?
Terrified of him, Igrayne faces him the best she can.
IGRAYNE A boy, sir. Rest yourself.
Uther waves away her words but does sit down on the bed, exhausted. He notices Morgana, who stares at him.
UTHER Send the girl away.
IGRAYNE She is just a child –
Igrayne draws the child to her and kisses her cheek.
IGRAYNE (whispering) Go now. Come back later.
The child leaves silently, hatred in her eyes.
UTHER She watches me with her father’s eyes.
He grasps the newborn baby with his iron hand, and pulls it to himself. He looks upon it with wonder, with a gentleness that is unexpected.
UTHER Igrayne, is he mine, or –
He can’t bring himself to say his name. She hesitates on the edge of tears, worried for the infant lying in its iron cradle.
IGRAYNE The night he died, a man loved me with great fierceness. He looked like my husband, spoke like, smelled like, felt like my own husband. But it was not he, for he was already dead. It wasn’t his spirit, for this child, who was conceived that night, is flesh and blood. I know nothing more.
Uther draws a dagger. He lifts it.
But he uses it before Igrayne can move. He severs the leather thongs that bind the iron breastplate to his chest. He casts it to the floor. His chest is smooth and milk-white in striking contrast to his creased, weathered face. And beaming, he holds the baby to it.
UTHER Through him, I will learn to love them, for I am tired of battle. I will stay by his side and (looking shyly at Igrayne) his mother’s…
Igrayne’s hatred for the man is at the very edge of becoming love. The baby starts to cry.
UTHER Here. It’s hungry.
And his free hand opens her shift, and he holds a swollen breast in his gloved hand, squeezing gently. Milk bubbles from it and he thrusts the baby’s mouth onto it.
Igrayne weeps and Uther watches proudly as the baby suckles.
Merlin advances from the window, his cape the same iridescent green-black as the feathers of the crows that were perched by the window.
UTHER Merlin! Out of the sick sleep at last.
MERLIN Doing what I did for you, it wasn’t easy, you know. It takes it’s toll. It took nine moons to get back my strength.
Uther avoids looking at him.
MERLIN Now you must pay me.
MERLIN The child is mine, Uther. I have come for him.
Uther is shaken to his roots. Igrayne watches, trying to understand.
UTHER The oath. You didn’t say–
MERLIN You didn’t ask!
IGRAYNE Uther, is it true? Don’t let him take the child.
UTHER I swore an oath, Igrayne. I made a pact with Merlin.
Igrayne suddenly understands. She glares at Uther.
IGRAYNE It was you? You came to me that night. You are the father.
Uther is caught, and turns to Merlin who is harsh and unswaying.
MERLIN It’s not for you, Uther, hearth and home, wife and child.
UTHER To kill and be king, is that all?
MERLIN Maybe not even that, Uther. I thought once that you were the one to unite the land under one sword. But it’ll take another, a greater king…
UTHER You strike me with words as hard as steel.
MERLIN They are not weapons, my friend, but truths. You betrayed the Duke, stole his wife and took his castle, now no one trusts you. Lot, Uryens, your allies will turn against you. Give me the child, Uther, I will protect him. Go back to your war tent.
Uther wrenches the baby from it’s mother’s breast and hands him to Merlin.
UTHER (in torment) By the oath, take the devil child. Take him!
With the bawling baby under his cape, Merlin exits. Igrayne pulls herself out of the bed, weak, her legs giving under her. She starts after Merlin.
IGRAYNE WHY?… Why must he have the baby?
Uther stops her with his bulk and she claws savagely at his chest to get past him. He weeps as he folds his arms around her.
As Merlin walks through the castle, the baby crying in his arms, the knights and ladies step back, afraid to intervene in royal matters.
Merlin comes across the empty banquet hall, cooing to the baby, strangely pacifying him. Morgana steps out of the shadows in his path, and Merlin stops at the sight of the little girl, her pale eyes glaring at him.
She speaks haltingly and clearly while far-off Igrayne cries out her distress.
MORGANA Merlin, are you now the father, and the mother, of the baby?
Staring at her, Merlin shudders and without answering he continues away, faster now, and into an unlit passageway, disappearing from sight a bit sooner than an ordinary mortal would have.
The forest is dark and shiny with rain. An unseen battle rages.
The first combatant in sight is Uther, who swings the mighty Excalibur, cutting an attacker in half at the waist. Uther and a small force of knights, Ulfius among them, are retreating through the slippery wet forest, completely outnumbered.
Lord Lot of Lowthean and Lord Uryens of Gore are the leaders of the attack.
URYENS (to his men) The King’s sword. I must have it.
Ulfius and his men stand their ground so the King may escape the onslaught. They are hacked down.
Uther flees alone, severing the limbs of any man and tree that stands in his way.
Uther has gained on his pursuers. He comes to a small clearing where the spine of a buried boulder rises through the forest floor. He stops upon it, breathing hard, dripping blood. He rages aloud, but his throat is raw and cracked and only a whisper comes out.
UTHER Merlin, where are you? To weave a mist, to hide us…
He hears his pursuers closing in.
UTHER No one shall have the sword. No one shall wield Excalibur but me.
He holds it by the hilt with both hands, the blade pointing to the ground of stone. He flexes his knees. He lifts up his hands above his head. And with all the strength that rage and pain can muster, and more, he drives the blade of Excalibur into the stone, nearly to the hilt. His mouth widens in an awful silent scream, and then the foam of saliva pink with blood issues from deep within him, so violent was his effort.
As the sword cuts into the rock, the earth shudders.
The forest quakes. The knights searching for Uther halt in fear.
And far away, a caped figure is crossing a field toward a wood, when the earth shakes, stirring animals and birds. The man turns. He is Merlin, the two day-old baby peeking from his cape. Merlin is amazed at the phenomenon, he puts his ear to a rock protruding from the earth.
MERLIN Into the spine of the dragon! (and then he is saddened) Uther… I loved you, mighty child.
And tears welling, and giggling at the same time, he whisks away into the woods.
Uther staggers away, colliding with trees, staggering, crashing to the ground. Until the only life left in him is the coursing of his blood, flowing from his gaping mouth onto the leaves on the forest floor.
The enemy knights advance through the trees. They prod at the fallen leviathan, they roll him over to get at his scabbard. Only then do they see the sword in the stone, and they stop, amazed and afraid. Their captains appear. Uryens sees what they are staring at, and races to the sword and attempts to pull it out.
He strains with all his might, but it is immovable.
LOT Let me.
He shoves Uryens aside, but he can’t loosen the sword either, and he rages with frustration.
"Fifteen years passed and the land was without a king."



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