The Siege Absolute
When a legendary power is made manifest its strengths can be as much a trap as a prize, especially when even understanding it might be beyond those seeking to control it.
A lesser-known aspect of Arthurian legend than the Siege Perilous; the unclaimed seat at the Round Table kept vacant for the knight who was able to find and claim the Holy Grail for Camelot, the Siege Absolute nonetheless has the distinction of being the only relic supposedly of King Arthur's court to have been discovered. Not of the Round Table itself, the Siege Absolute was the seat of Myrddin (later anglicised from the Welsh to the more commonly used ‘Merlin’), and was described as having a less-lustrous splendour than the chairs created for the Knights of the Round Table and Arthur's own seat. Mentioned only in the most esoteric of Arthurian Age sources, the Siege Absolute sat apart from, and allegedly above, the other seats of the Round Table. Said to sing with its raw potential, the spirit of the Siege Absolute could imbue a properly prepared proxy with a fraction of its power; which, considering the source, is likely more than could ever be safe.
Usually considered entirely mythical, even by those who spend their lives delving deeply into legends for those elements of truth often disguised by the cycle of retellings and revisionism, there was very little serious investigation into the reality of Camelot and King Arthur’s Court. That is, of course, outside of the literary interrogation which, by ascribing the sources to more exoteric historical figures and events, buried the reality even deeper. As a result, the discovery of the Siege Absolute beneath Ben Twthill, the peak of a hillside in the Welsh town of Caernarfon, was the result of foolhardy and deadly braggadocio (a freedive into a narrow underwater cave system concealed by rocks some hundred metres out into the Menai Strait) rather than deliberate or systematic exploration. We know that the diver, Bryn Ellis, emerged from the caves into an underground cavern and that he found the Siege Absolute but this, sadly, does not come from any account he was able to relay himself.
Ellis drowned on his way back out of the cave, his body washing up on shore a few days after his disappearance. It might have been written off as an unremarkable tragedy if not for the contents of his stomach: a fistful of small gold coins he had swallowed, presumably so as to free his hands for swimming. Over the following months the story of these coins, the strange decoration and patterns of their markings, filtered up through various channels until they came to the attention of parties with the insight and means to have the matter of the coins’ origins investigated more careful. Their agents soon discovered the underwater caves, the cavern, and the Siege Absolute. Forbidden from touching it, every line of the Siege Absolute’s ornate stone construction, the inlays of silver and mother of pearl and the growths of lichens and seaweeds which grew through and partially engulfed it were photographed, while others undertook the painstaking work of widening the tunnels that led back out to the sea.
The furtive project took months more to come to the point where the Siege Absolute would be able to be removed from its isolation; transported through the underwater tunnels to a waiting ship and the expectant scholars and scientists who intended to analyse the find through the lens of every discipline they could think of. Careful examination of the photographs had already shown links to the styles, symbols and iconography of Arthurian legend, as well as leading to its tentative identification as the Siege Absolute, and every possible protective precaution was put in place before any attempt to unmoor it was made. There was a chance then, however slight, that the endeavour would be a success; at least to the best of the contemporaneous understanding of the Siege’s nature. Instead, even as folly had uncovered it, folly would bury it again. Worked to exhaustion, the worker who was sent to complete a final assessment of the planned removal stumbled on the wet rocks and, in trying to right themselves, fell into the arms of the Siege Absolute.
Where legend speaks of a power being shared with someone who is - for want of a better word - worthy, information about the state of being or the method of becoming ready to accept such a gift are lost. Whatever the quality of character by which the Siege Absolute measured that requisite value, it was immediately clear that the victim of the accidental contact fell short. Instead of the promised power, the Siege Absolute filled the worker’s mind to breaking, leaving their colleagues to find them foetal in the corner as they mumbled apparent gibberish in a variety of languages they had no previous ability to speak. Recordings of the mumbling, made in the week between the worker being sent to a specialist neurological hospital and their deterioration through catatonia into brain-death, have become the objects of intense study; revealing both religious scriptures and advanced theoretical physics. The Siege Absolute seems, like Parsons Eclipses, another preternatural means by which contrivance a person can come to know the unknowable, to know too much for the mortal mind to bear.
Undeterred, albeit even more cautious in their preparations, the plan to cut the Siege Absolute free from the firmament and flora it had become fused with went ahead after only a brief delay. It was a disastrous failure from the outset, as the transitive nature of the Siege Absolute made itself unambiguously clear. The instructions for the work made clear that the first step would be to cut away the seaward and other plants that grasped at the Siege, leaving enough room that they wouldn’t inadvertently damage it. It immediately became clear that they had fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the relationship between the Siege Absolute and its fusion with the space around it: It was not tethered to the earth, it was linked to it. Perceiving itself to be under attack the plants grew around and through the stone at an impossible rate, crushing it to shapeless chunks that, retracting even more quickly than they grew, pulled themselves back into the cracks and crevices, taking the remains of the Siege Absolute with them.
Though the scene was scoured for any traces of it, the Siege Absolute had been consumed completely in its self-destruction, found and lost at the cost of two lives. Nevertheless, the discovery has spurred renewed interest in Arthurian legend, the search for relics like Excalibur and the Holy Grail that had been believed to be the inventions of storytellers. Even the Siege Absolute continued to be sought out, despite its apparent destruction, though it was during the investigation of an entirely separate artefact that I, by happenstance, might have found it: It had grown through the walls, from the walls, distended wallpaper and undercoats of cracked institutional arsenic-green paint wrapping wires and cables and vines and spiders’ silks that ended in a coarsely woven web that looked like a throne, decorated with some marks that I recognised from the photographs of its previous incarnation. Up close I could hear it, creaking like boughs bending in the wind and singing with the static pops and hum of improperly contained energies.
The tangle that fed into the Siege Absolute disappeared into the recesses of every corner and gave the sense, an unshakeable intimation, that these tendrils went deep, plugged into and powered by technology and nature in an awkward melding of the planet itself and humanity’s crude and destructive overtures towards harnessing its power. I was drawn to it, briefly and deliriously thinking that perhaps all I had seen might have made me ready to hold its power… but I forced myself to step away. It would have been a terrible mistake. Entrusting myself, my mind, my fate, to a machine I did not and do not understand and damning myself as a result. It is debatable whether anyone could survive such impossible understanding, whether we could understand the very fabric of the great work itself and live or if such absolute knowledge would be too terrible and too bloody to bear. I left, hesitantly, resolving to return more properly equipped. When I went back the ruins were empty and the Siege Absolute gone, perhaps for good.