Once upon a time, in a village by the woods, the people found a sword in a stone. Each wanted the thing desperately for themselves, so they took turns trying to yank it out.
The old hero was the first to take a go. He’d been pulling swords out of things for years, he said. The trick was to find solid footing. Also, you had to secure a solid grip, and though it might sound strange, take his word for it: brushing your teeth daily was the key to success. Yet for all his brave talk and shiny teeth, he spent half an hour pulling and the sword never budged an inch. Eventually, he gave up, concluding that swords these days just weren’t as good as they used to be.
The mayor’s son tried next. Now he’d never actually held a sword, he admitted, but he’d traveled far and wide and read all about them. He had a degree in sword-pulling from the finest university, and he’d been practicing pulling the sword from the stone for years; it was all he’d ever wanted in his whole darn life. He took hold and started yanking, but soon realized how hard it was going to be, and fell to swearing and cursing on the person who’d stuck the sword there in the first place. He said if someone would only give him a sword, he’d be sure to bury it the right way.
Finally the rag-and-bone man rolled into town, with a slick tongue and a quick way about him. He brought the whole village to his side with a little song and dance, and produced a box full of prettified scrolls. He said he’d spent years talking to warriors, heroes, mercenaries, blacksmiths and butchers and blade-kings from the war, and what he’d found was they all shared a few secrets. He said, why, for just five dollars, anyone could have one of these fine scrolls, which detailed 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Swords and 1 Weird Trick to Separating them from Stones. The villagers were enamored, and they bought a thousand copies, but when they unfurled the things, they found the insides were empty, and the rag-and-bone man had made tracks outta town.
Eventually they all agreed that swords were stupid—and would, at any rate, soon be replaced by scimitars—then the lot of them got bored and wandered off.
Oblivious to all this foofaraw, there came a-wandering into the woods the local stone-mason, who sat himself down by the blade. Taking hammer and chisel from his bag, he set to working, chipping pieces from the stone ever so slowly, chip-chip-chipping away. He did that for an hour, and when it got dark, he hauled himself up and went home.
He came out again the next day, and did the same thing again: worked for an hour, then stopped. He did it the day after that, too, and the next, and the next, and the next. Days turned into weeks turned into months turned into years, and after 13 of those, the mason one day chiseled his last, and the sword sprang loose, clattering to the ground with a terrific noise.
At the sound of it, the townsfolk came running back to the woods, and all of them in furious excitement. The old hero wanted to test the mason’s strength. The mayor’s son wanted to become his apprentice. The rag-and-bone man (though he now wore a different face) asked the mason to sign his scrolls, and explain his secrets.
“Secrets?” asked the mason. “What secrets?”
The townsfolk answered: “The one that let you pull the sword from the stone!”
The mason lifted his boot and looked down. “Oh,” he said, “hey, a sword! Get a load of that. I was just here for the rock.”