William Shatner’s A Twist in the Tale – Plot Synopsis: Obsession in August
“…The two enduring English folk-heroes are Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest and King Arthur of Camelot. We know Sherwood Forest existed – it’s still there. But where was Camelot? … A hundred years ago three brilliant men were prepared to risk their sanity – and their lives – to prove they knew its exact location … ”
Our story opens in Victorian England. Vicky (14) and Aidan (11) Tudor are wildly excited about the imminent return of their mother and father after three years travelling abroad. However, the carriage that finally rumbles up the driveway contains not their parents but their beloved uncle, the gentle and scholarly Lance Dulac (36).
The Tudors’ ship has been delayed, and in their absence Lance has come to take the children with him to visit his dear friend, Arthur LeRoy, the Earl of Sackville, and – perhaps even dearer to Lance – the Earl’s lovely and lively daughter Guinevere (18), known to all simply as Jenny. To Aidan’s particular delight, the Sackville’s estate, Gramayre, is in Dorset, deep in Cameliard: the land of King Arthur and his court of Camelot.
But despite the warm welcome the children receive from the Sackvilles, this is far from being a simple holiday in the countryside. Even as they approach Gramarye for the first time, a mysterious wind blows up around them: harsh, hot and dry, a terrifying roar filled with menace. Strangest of all, although the sound of the wind is deafening, it seems to move nothing in its path. As the children react in fright, we see their carriage is being watched through narrowed eyes by the sinister gipsy Morgana.
Jenny is particularly pleased to make the children’s acquaintance, and it doesn’t take long for quick-witted Vicky to notice that Jenny and her uncle have a certain understanding between them. However, Lance’s primary purpose in coming to Gramarye is the pursuit of knowledge rather than love: he, the Earl and a third party, the sombre Merlyn Tredinnick, have been working on an excavation site within the estate for fifteen years, and their work is nearing completion. Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin and the lady Guinevere drawn together again: Aidan is delighted by the coincidence, but as Jenny points out, if he remembers the legend correctly, it is not necessarily a happy one …
To the children’s disappointment, their first day at Gramarye dawns gloomily. Confined indoors, they decide to explore the house – and very rapidly make an intriguing discovery: a shrine concealed behind an ornate mirror, and within it, a sword and anvil beneath a medieval tapestry. The face of the knight figured there is startlingly like that of their host, the current Lord Sackville.
But when the children tell Jenny of their discovery she is half-uneasy, half-indifferent. Jenny, indeed, is the only adult in the household not in the thrall of the Arthurian legend, and perhaps she has good reason. Lance has formally proposed to her, but they cannot marry until the work on the excavation site is complete. As Jenny tells the children, if you become too obsessed with the past it leaves no time for the present: and the present is where we live.
The second day dawns fine, and with the men busy at the site, Jenny, Vicky and Aidan set out for a picnic on the lake. Aidan, who true to form is paddling his own canoe, is ahead and out of sight of the others when he finds himself being dragged offcourse. He is horrified to see guiding the wayward canoe a woman’s arm, clothed in white samite, rising from the waters of the lake. Leaping ashore in terror, Aidan sees a figure in white beckoning him on … and as if hypnotised, he sets out to follow her…
The modernday king, knight and necromancer have uncovered an astonishing find: a Roman tessellation, perfectly preserved: and in the centre, the figure of a medieval monarch – King Arthur. As Professor Dulac gravely observes, this is potentially the most dangerous archaeological discovery ever made – because it utterly defies both time and history. Echoing the knight in the children’s tapestry, the face of the King is … that of the Victorian Arthur LeRoy.
Into this solemn conclave comes Aidan, hot, dusty, frightened, and whooping for breath. The Earl wheels on him in fury – the nature of their work has always been contained in complete secrecy. Sobbing and distressed, still under the partial thrall of a magic he does not understand, Aidan bolts away through the forest, with a mysterious voice singing threateningly in his head: the King needs him, the King needs him …
Jenny and Vicky are not the only ones relieved when Aidan stumbles upon their picnic site. There is a nasty consequence for Aidan of his afternoon’s adventure, however – he has run through hemlock, and the pollen has burned him badly: Vicky finds him in the bedroom very ill indeed. Jenny is reassuring – she has seen hemlock burn before: the old gipsy Morgana will be able to mix a potion to counter the poison.
Vicky approaches Morgana’s caravan in great fear and trembling, and certainly the wisewoman’s reception of her is chilling. She sends Vicky running with both the antidote and a flea in her ear. Stumbling round the side of the caravan, Vicky sees, to her horror, a crude small gallows from which three clay figures dangle … Standing behind her, whispering in her ear, Morgana coaxes the girl to study the faces of the figures: and as Vicky watches they mix into those of Sackville, Dulac and Tredinnick – Arthur, Lancelot and Merlin. These three are meddling in a past that does not belong to them – and no good will come of it.
The following day Aidan is better, but still not well enough to venture out of doors. The girls go off on a sketching expedition and leave him to his own devices. Bored and disgruntled, he returns to the hidden shrine – but discovers that the sword and anvil have vanished. How can this be? Then, terrifyingly, the face of the King in the tapestry speaks to him: he must not tamper with Camelot; it will destroy him if he disobeys. Aidan bolts, badly frightened.
His dreams that night are full of menace and foreboding, but the children are powerless to dissuade the three men from setting out on the final day of the dig. Indeed, all three are hugely excited: they have uncovered, beyond the tessellation, what appears to be a granite tombstone – and in its side, engraved in Latin, are the words, “The once and future King.” Could it be that the Holy Grail lies buried inside?
As they approach the excavation site for the last time, the Earl and Lance toss aside the two black banners that have warned intruders from the path. From this day forward the site will be open to scholars all over the world. But as the banners wheel and arc through the air, there are two huge claps of thunder – from a blue and cloudless sky …
Aidan, leaning out of his dormer window, hears the thunder too. The insidious voices begin whispering inside his head once more: only he can save the men; he must stop them from committing this blasphemy, he must stop them …
Aidan crashes through the forest, frantic with fear, as the men begin to raise the stone slab from the ground. Beneath it lie steps, leading downward; and one by one the men enter the darkness as Aidan still runs, weeping: he cannot make it in time.
Inside the crypt all is still. The men gaze, awestruck, at the tapestry hanging on the far wall: a replica of the tapestry in the shrine – King Arthur, with the face of the Earl. Beneath it, shrouded in white samite, lies – what?
Aidan explodes out of the forest and tumbles helterskelter down the earthworks toward the tessellation and the open tomb, shouting desperately to the men – they must not touch the shroud – but he is too late. With a fierce clap of thunder Morgana appears before the tomb, in a shift of white samite – the figure he has seen before – and as she seizes him the hot restless wind begins to howl, and the ground to rock and shake. As Sackville in the tomb below lifts the shroud and takes up the Grail, the slab collapses over the entrance, and inside the tunnel, the earth begins to fall over the helpless figures of the three men.
The three men are never found; the excavation site itself is never found, and the hot wind still sears Gramarye as Aidan, Vicky and Jenny grieve. Jenny is in despair; she believes the wind is telling them the spirits of the men are not at rest. Aidan believes so too: the end of the real Arthur haunts him, but when he speaks of it Jenny reacts with fury. Hasn’t she already lost enough to this medieval nightmare?
So it is left to Aidan alone to trace the steps of bold Sir Bedivere. Buried in the same bed of bulrushes where his canoe was once dragged ashore, he finds the sword which disappeared from Gramarye’s shrine: and just as Bedivere did, Aidan throws the sword into the lake, where just as in legend, an arm clothed in white samite rises from the waters, seizes the sword’s hilt, brandishes it three times and draws it beneath the surface … and the wind ceases.
Trudging back to the house, weary but content, Aidan is met by Vicky, leaping up and down with excitement. Their parents have finally arrived: it is as if with the completion of the shape of the Arthurian legend the past has been laid to rest, and the children’s present set in motion once more.