The ancient realm of England was in total chaos. Old King Uther Pendragon had died leaving no heir to the throne. England was a kingdom without a king.
Since Uther's death, every power-hungry knight and baron had rushed forward claiming to be the best person to wear the crown. There was a fear that fighting might break out as people argued over who would rule. There seemed no prospect of a ruler being chosen in England before the end of the year.
However, there appeared to be one person inside the royal court that could sort out the chaos gripping the heart of England. Merlin, the wizard, had been King Uther's trusted friend and adviser for many years.
To find a solution, the old man locked himself away in the royal palace for three days and nights and consulted his magic books. He did not sleep, or eat, or speak with anyone.
Finally, when the old wizard emerged from his room, he still had nothing to say to any of the noblemen who asked him what he intended to do. But everyone gathered in the royal palace knew that Merlin had found a way of selecting England's next king.
It was a few days before Christmas and light snow had begun to fall over the countryside. Merlin called all the knights to a meeting in the great church next to the palace. He silenced the squabbling nobles, and told them that the search for a king would soon be over. But then he said nothing more.
The meeting was completed in only a few minutes, and the puzzled knights and barons filed out noisily into the churchyard. They were no wiser about which of them was going to become king than they had been before Merlin had summoned them to the church.
As the men pushed and shoved their way out of the church, the first knights to spill into the churchyard stopped in their tracks.
On the frozen ground in front of them they saw a massive block of heavy grey stone. But that was not all. A silver sword had been thrust deep into the granite. On the stone were the words: 'Whoever pulls this sword from this stone is the rightful king of all England.'
There was an immediate stampede by the men, who all wanted to be the first man to pull the sword out of the stone. Knight after knight, baron after baron grabbed hold of the sword's hilt and, tensing their muscles and summoning all their strength, tried to heave it out of the stone.
Yet each one failed. The sword didn't budge even a centimetre. Each of the knights and noblemen slunk away, embarrassed that they had not been able to pull the magical sword from its base.
Day after day more people came and tried, but they all failed. With the sword embedded in the stone, England remained without a king.
On New Year's Day, the annual King's Fete was held, even though there was no king. The festivities were already underway inside the palace grounds when Sir Ector, a knight from the north of England, arrived with his young son, Arthur, to take part in the celebrations. They were walking through the churchyard when they saw the sword sticking out of the stone.
Sir Ector read the words on the stone and tried to dislodge the weapon. It didn't move.
Then Arthur stepped forward, grabbed the sword and pulled it out of the stone like pulling a hot knife out of butter. All the knights who stood around watching the 'action' were dumbfounded at what the boy had done.
Sir Ector fell to his knees in front of Arthur. 'This is your birthright, my boy,' he told Arthur.
'I love you like a son, but you are not of my blood. You were left in my care as a baby by a royal wizard, who would not reveal his name. You must be the lost son of Uther Pendragon.'
And so it was that Arthur, the boy, was taught to become the king of England.
King Arthur, with an elite band of brave nobles at his side, went on to establish the Knights of the Round Table and to become one of the finest and wisest rulers England has ever known.
The story was made into a popular 1963 Disney cartoon, The Sword and the Stone.
1 Why had King Uther's death brought chaos to England?
2 Who was Merlin?
3 Who jostled to be chosen as king?
4 Why was the sword in the stone?
5 How did Arthur prove he was the rightful heir of King Uther?
6 Who were the famous Knights of the Round Table?
1. King Uther had died without a heir.
2. Merlin was a wizard, the king's trusted adviser.
3. All England's knights and nobles believed one of them should be king.
4. Whoever pulled it out would be the King of England.
5. He pulled the sword from the stone.
6. The Knights of the Round Table were an elite band of knights founded by King Arthur.