Ah, Excalibur. The sword is almost as famous as King Arthur. It is the modern template for heroic weapons. Of weapons with a name, it is at the top of the list when it comes to recognizability. Other weapons have had names before it, but Excalibur reigns supreme.
Geoffrey of Monmouth recognizes the weapon by the name, but skips out on how Arthur got it. It’s just there, along with Ron, Arthur’s lance, and Priwen, Arthur’s shield. Fortunately, we have Mallory to tell us how Arthur got the sword, but there’s a new twist. The Lady of the Lake. In fact, there’s more than one.
The whole episode is very straightforward. Merlin takes Arthur to the lake, there’s an arm holding the sword aloft next to a rock in the middle of the lake. There’s a woman going about on the lake. Yes, she is walking on water. Arthur asks what she wants for the sword, and this is where things get sticky, for “[she] will ask [her] gift when [she] see[s] [her] time.”
The Ladies of the Lake are mobsters. It’s all about the favors for a favor. I do this favor for you now, you repay me later with something I ask. And Merlin knows about this, too, since he warns Arthur to “speak ye fair to her that she will give you that sword.” He knows that the Ladies have some special powers, and they are not to be trifled with. And this is Merlin, who definitely has power, and he’s telling Arthur to treat the Ladies with respect and do what they ask.
Why? Because the Ladies of the Lake are faeries.