I’d like to think that, when Arthur left his kingdom in Mordred’s hands before going to fight Lancelot, Mordred was ceremonially invested with the Sword in the Stone as a symbol of being the one to protect the kingdom until the return of its king. But that Mordred, after spreading the tale of Arthur’s death, continued to keep it by his side, as a kind of self-reassurance that he was the rightful king. And then his followers urged him to carry it into battle with him at Camlann, to bolster the morale of his army and to symbolise God’s right. This would then mean that when Arthur and Mordred meet, they are both carrying two out of the three magical swords in the legend, and, though Arthur kills Mordred with a lance and not Excalibur, Mordred deals him his death blow with the Sword in the Stone. Thus Excalibur, the actually magical sword given to Arthur by his supernatural allies, is made redundant by Mordred’s sword, the one with a more worldly significance.
Also, I believe that somehow Galahad did manage to return his sword to Lancelot after the Grail Quest, so then Balin’s sword fulfilled its prophecy (and it does do a lot of “killing the man he most loved”), and came up against Excalibur when Gawain was using it. So you have the magical side of the legends (Excalibur), the side about right and kingship (the Sword in the Stone), and the side about family versus knightly chivalry and friendship (Balin’s sword).
And then Excalibur obviously went back to the Lady of the Lake, so I’d like to believe that the Sword in the Stone was stripped from Mordred’s body by some spoil-seeking infantryman who was later apprehended trying to smuggle out such an obviously expensive blade, and the Sword in the Stone given to Constantine. And that the sword that Balin, Galahad, and Lancelot wielded, also being rather pretty and expensive, was laid on Gawain and Gareth’s tomb as part of Lancelot’s penance.
Damn, I have more thoughts on magical objects than on the actual characters.
I didn’t know I needed this until I’ve read this. This is beautiful. Omg the part about Lancelot’s penance! I am so incapable of keep tracking of all the swords and weapons in arthuriana.