I know, I know, you’re having to wait far too long for the end and I had promised to post this “shortly”. After I’d written the battle ending, I suddenly got this idea for a different twist…aaaand changed everything round. Aaaaarrrgggh, I hear you cry, now she’s written such a long “final” part, it’s going to be split over two more posts!
Never mind, I’m feeling somewhat flushed with success, having lured fab fantasy writer and WordPress blogger William Stadler into our Merlin Family. Yep, an otherwise sensible and business-like writer like William is now watching Merlin episodes as we speak, which just goes to show that resistance is futile – you might as well join the Merlin fandom now and have done with it (here’s looking at you, Michelle Barber from LoonyLiterature)!
Maria Thermann’s fan fiction “Merlin” (BBC series) sees the action set between seasons 4 and 5. This piece of fiction is written purely as a fun writing exercise and was not created with the intention of any commercial exploitation on my part. The copyright for all BBC Merlin series characters & storylines remains with the BBC and Shine Ltd, the producers of the show.
The show stars Colin Morgan (Merlin), Bradley James (King Arthur), Angel Coulby (Guinevere), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Katie McGrath (Morgana), Rupert Young (Sir Leon), Eoin Macken (Gwaine), Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan), John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon Kilgharrah and Anthony Head as King Uther.
In tunnels leading to the Great Cave below Camelot’s citadel…
Arthur hurried past the long line of soldiers and trolls making their way through the damp tunnel to join Lady Dragonara, Ethelgunda and Yolanda at the top of the column. Merlin, hampered by carrying Arthur’s lance and shield, had trouble keeping up. While the ladies had ridden into the tunnel, Arthur and his men were mainly on foot, their horses left behind in the forest, where Kai and Siward, Urien’s faithful servants, would tend them until their master gave new orders. Merlin could not quite fathom the wisdom of taking horses into the caves, but the ladies had insisted on riding ahead.
“Can’t say I blame them,” Arthur panted beside him, “if Gwen and Gaius really managed to persuade a dragon to take up residence in our Great Cave, the ladies want to find their way out of here as fast as they can. Horses hate fire, so horses bolt for the nearest exit. I get that. Ladies are made for banqueting halls, singing and dancing. Men are made for war…aaaaand for slipping on slimy stuff in tunnels apparently!” Arthur clung to a crevice in the roughly hewn wall; his feet were trying to find purchase on the slippery ground before the king was forced to suffer the indignity of landing on his behind. He pulled himself into an upright position and inspected the sole of his left boot. “What in the name of Camelot is THAT? It stinks worse than Gawain’s feet after a full day’s training.” Arthur sidled past a sticky patch of slime on the ground of the rat infested tunnel.
“Dragon dung?” suggested Merlin unhelpfully. He sighed and shifted the heavy shield to his right arm to give his left a rest. “You’re doing the ladies an injustice. Your godmother tells me dragons are fond of horseflesh. The ladies are merely using their horses as bait.” Merlin examined the sticky stain on Arthur’s boot. “Arthur, there’s every likelihood we’ll get out of this alive…can’t you stay clear of stinky mess just this once? I don’t want to spend the day of our liberation cleaning boots while everyone else is dancing and singing in the banqueting hall!”
“What makes you think you’d get an invitation?” Arthur snatched the oak shield from him and set off at a trot. “Speaking of banqueting halls, how did you persuade the Segovia soldiers to drink that enchanted wine? I’m surprised it still worked after Dragonara’s treatment.” Arthur glanced at the column of troll-soldiers ahead and frowned. “Did my godmother use sorcery to enhance its potency?”
“Not a bit!” An air of innocence spread across Merlin’s face. He reached into his pocket and produced a purse heavy with silver coins. “We pretended to be traders fleeing from Camelot. After a long day’s marching Leofwine’s men were thirsty and gulped the whole lot down without a second thought.” He shrugged his shoulders. “The spell is bound to work better on Segovia’s own men. We told them we had seen Leofwine’s beautiful queen heading for Camelot. They’ve had years to lust after your godmother…stands to reason they’re even more susceptible to her charms after drinking the wine.”
“I didn’t know you had developed an eye for the ladies…and older ladies at that!” A grin spread across Arthur’s face, when he noticed his servant’s embarrassment. “Now I know why you’re always hanging around Camelot’s kitchens…you can’t resist the lure of our cook’s dumplings! You’re braver than you look, Merlin.” Arthur laughed out loud. “Mind you, they do say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
In the dark next to him Merlin snorted. “Trust me Arthur; I can do a lot better than that old crow!”
Arthur chuckled good-naturedly. “Who’d have guessed there’s a whole different you? Merlin: Camelot’s very own duster-wielding seducer of fair maidens! Gawain’s corrupting influence is to blame, no doubt. A word of advice, you might want to change your appearance, if you’re hoping to better his record of success with tavern wenches. Ladies like a man who shows strength of mind and has some muscle in his arms.” Arthur tried to squeeze Merlin’s biceps, but his servant held up the lance and blocked his king’s move. He quickened his pace and now it was Arthur’s turn to hurry after him.
“Why would I want to win the hearts of tavern girls? A man likes to better himself, not trade down.” Merlin panted moments later, trying to run while carrying the lance. There was always the risk of accidentally impaling his comrades-in-arms in the dark. They had reached the top of the column and were just a few paces behind Dragonara and her magnificent horse. Merlin slowed his pace to match Arthur’s. “I heard when you first happened across Dragonara out there in the forest you tried to make an impression by appearing in your birthday suit. Let me guess, you were trying to win your beautiful godmother’s admiration but the lady just took pity on you?”
Ignoring the taunt, Arthur stopped abruptly and turned to face his servant with an air of suspicion. “I see where this is leading…I married a serving girl and now you’re hoping to climb up the ladder, too.” Arthur grabbed Merlin’s arm roughly. “I have nothing against a servant making the most of his chances by pursuing a wealthy older woman but you’d better not set your sights at winning my godmother’s heart!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Merlin tore his arm out of the king’s grasp and scolded one of the torch bearing squires to keep up with the rest of the men. “My kind isn’t good enough for your godmother? I’m a servant and should know my place?” Merlin hissed at the king, when the hapless young squire was out of earshot.
“No, dollop-head!” Arthur slapped Merlin’s head. “I’m saying she’s an enchantress and not just in the usual sense of a beguiling face that turns a fellow’s head. She spells trouble…like all of her kind. When this idiotic war is over, she’ll answer to the laws of Camelot…there’s no place for sorcerers in my realm!”
Mistaking the dismay on Merlin’s face for hurt pride, Arthur reached out, giving his servant’s shoulder an affectionate, if painful squeeze. “Honestly, Merlin, lighten up. I didn’t really think you were setting your hopes on my godmother. She’d be flattered by the attentions of a young and…uh…not exactly repulsive fellow like yourself, no doubt, but she’s more trouble than she’s worth.” Arthur’s fingers reached for the broach that fastened the cloak under his chin. “Damn this thing’s far too tight; I feel I’m being throttled before the battle has even started. Does the tunnel feel hotter to you, too?”
Merlin ignored both the plea for help and his king’s discomfiture, preferring to march on at a faster pace. Arthur fell into a companionable trot by his side, playfully trying to match his servant’s gait. When Merlin continued to blank him, he dug his elbow into his servant’s ribs.
Merlin fastened his step. “I don’t recall you complaining when your godmother lifted the curse off everyone at Deira! You can’t have it both ways. Accept it, Arthur, not everyone who has magic is worthless or evil!”
“Oh, come on, don’t be like that! You know, we’ll never see eye to eye on this. We’re about to go into battle; let’s not quarrel.” Arthur slung an arm around Merlin’s neck and half wrestled him to the ground, before releasing him and ruffling his hair far more tenderly than Merlin had expected. Seeing Merlin’s surprise, Arthur relented. “If you must know, I’d wish for something far better for my…friend than losing his heart to a woman with a jilted lover on the throne of every realm.” Encouraged by the look of wonder on Merlin’s face, Arthur hurried on:” Even without magic, she’d still be a woman as untrustworthy as a goat in charge of Gaius’ herb garden, right?”
Before Merlin had a chance to reply, Arthur’s attention was distracted by a scout, who’d just arrived. The ladies were forced to dismount, when the horses refused to take another step into the darkness ahead. Arthur gathered his knights around him, while Merlin leaned against a large rock to catch his breath. They had reached the part of the underground vaults where two main tunnels intersected, the tunnel from Geoffrey’s Rest met up with the tunnel from Rowan in a smallish cave. Ahead of them a silent mouth gaped, tempting them into impenetrable darkness and onwards to the Great Cave.
Eying the entrance suspiciously, Dragonara gently stroked her horse’s nose. Arthur turned to her. “That’s odd…the horses are nervous, but not scared out of their wits…they should be, if we faced a dragon ahead. The smoke and flames we saw coming from the air shafts earlier must have been from fires within the citadel, courtesy of Leofwine’s men. All seems quiet now; Gwen must have ordered our men to put out the flames. Still, we’d better hurry.”
Arthur was proven wrong much sooner than anticipated when a flash of bright light shot through one of the air vents and exploded with a bang in the passage to their right. Knowing that it couldn’t possibly be a dragon, Merlin suspected foul play from Leofwine’s quarter. For a moment Merlin thought he had seen a man crouching in the shadows of the tunnel…the Rowan tunnel. He turned and stared with glowing eyes into the dying light but the man had disappeared. Merlin cast a spell into the passage, forcing all living things to reveal themselves only to him. Cowering on the ground, their dark purple cloaks blending in with the bluish rock formations all around them, Leofwine’s warriors had flattened themselves to the ground and into crevices, no doubt hoping to ambush Arthur and his men as soon as they had passed.
“Arthur, the Rowan tunnel is full of Segovia’s men!” Merlin cried and charged ahead with only Arthur’s lance as a weapon. Merlin’s eyes glowed fiercely, as his magic knocked out the first three warriors heading his way and he impaled the fourth on his lance. The man squealed, doubled up with his hands clutching his chest, where his blood was already drowning the golden crest of Segovia.
In no time the tunnels filled with the clashing of swords, the neighing of terrified horses and the cries of men falling under prey to the onslaught of Excalibur and Arthur’s knights. A second wave of Leofwine’s men thrust forward and into the affray, driving Camelot’s king and his men back into the small cave, where they ended up fighting back to back against Leofwine’s determined forces. Merlin dealt out magical blows left and right, but managed to keep an eye on Dragonara, who had unaccountably mounted again, clearly urging the other two ladies to do the same. Forcing their way through the melee of fighting men, the horses and their riders knocked over several of Leofwine’s men before charging ahead into the third tunnel, the one that lead to the Great Cave. The trolls abandoned the fighting and followed the women into the dark.
Strangely, as if a secret password had been spoken, Leofwine’s men also abandoned their attack and disappeared as noiselessly as they had come. Sir Percival advised pursuit and chasing after them in the Rowan tunnel, but Merlin urged Arthur to head for the Great Cave on the shortest possible route…the tunnel straight ahead. Arthur hesitated and laid a restraining hand on his servant’s shoulder.
“Merlin, I know you like my godmother…but she’s leading us into a trap. When all’s said and done…she’s a sorceress and they can’t be trusted. No way is that a dragon ahead of us. Even if Gwen had managed to find and trap one, how on earth could we slay the beast in this confined space? We’d be incinerated before we’d struck the first blow!”
“Arthur is right, Merlin. We drugged Leofwine’s raiding party at Rowan, yet here he is, lying in wait with a second contingent of men in the Rowan tunnel. That can’t be a coincidence, surely?” Percival towered over Merlin, urging him to see reason, his face full of concern.
“You’re both wrong. She’d never harm Arthur or Camelot! You’re just prejudiced because she’s got magic.”
“I’m not saying Dragonara’s planning to usurp Camelot’s throne like her husband’s done with some of his neighbouring realms…but we should proceed with the utmost caution and perhaps follow Leofwine’s men rather than charging ahead. We can decimate them one by one as we go along,” Percival pointed at the lance in Merlin’s hand. “Now that you’ve discovered the business end of that thing you might as well put it to good use.”
“What about the queen and the Citadel? If we get held up fighting skirmishes here in the tunnels, there might not be a Camelot left for us to save! Just look at the extent of the fires already raging under the citadel. Here, what’s this?” Merlin bent down and picked up a diamond shaped object from the ground. He held the thing under Arthur’s nose. “Where there’s dung…dragon scales won’t be far! Now do you believe in Queen Gwen’s beastie?”
Without waiting for an answer, Merlin pushed his way past Percival and Arthur and ran into the gaping mouth ahead. The darkness swallowed him up, but his arrival was greeted with a deep rumble and thunder that shook the small cave.
“Why can’t that dollop-head ever do as he’s told?” Arthur growled and sprinted after his errant underling.
“The words pot, kettle and black spring to mind!” Percival sighed and followed his friends into the abyss. Gawain and Elyan were hot on his heels. Sir Leon directed a small contingent of his men to follow Leofwine’s soldiers into the Rowan tunnel and wipe out as many of them as they could. Then Sir Leon led the remaining men into the tunnel that headed towards the Great Cave.
In the Great Cave under Camelot…
With Gwen’s assistance Gaius managed to break off the arrow’s shaft and bind Hueil’s shoulder as best as possible, but the man was losing a lot of blood. Weakened but undeterred to be of use, Hueil shook off Gwen’s ministering hands and drew his sword, joining the throng of knights and guards that surrounded the queen under Sir Edward’s command. Ahead of them the make-shift dragon had been set ablaze and all around them the air shafts fanned the small fire baskets the servants had placed around the Great Cave. Kilgharrah’s enormous chain led from the Rowan tunnel exit directly to the fake dragon and Gaius hoped together with the trail of dragon scales they had scattered in all the tunnels it would be enough to lure Leofwine’s men straight into Gwen’s trap.
When the first of Segovia’s warriors tumbled into the Great Cave, Gwen gave the command to throw the small leather pouches Gaius had made earlier into the fire baskets. The explosions knocked Leofwine’s men off their feet and to the ground, where Camelot’s soldiers made short work of them. The hunters and beaters kept up their drumming, producing a fairly realistic dragon roar. Unfortunately, Leofwine’s men kept on coming, there seemed no end to their numbers. Gwen gave the command for a second salve of explosives to be used and more skirmishes broke out, now engulfing the whole cave in fighting.
To her dismay Gwen spotted another purple clad wave of Segovia’s warriors charging through one of the tunnel exits but they were joined by a tall, skinny man dressed in blue shirt and brown hose. Merlin shot into the Great Cave like an arrow from a bow, wielding his lance with the intention to encourage the troll-soldiers rather than actually harming anyone. Their shaggy manes and hog-like features terrified Leofwine’s men and the supernatural strength of the trolls helped to drive part of the throng back into the tunnel, where Sir Leon’s men were already waiting for them. When a fresh wave of warriors spilled from the tunnels, this time from the one that led to Geoffrey’s Rest, Gaius broke out in a loud cheer, for they were wearing the red cloaks of Camelot and Arthur was leading them.
Before Gwen and Gaius had a chance to digest this new development and greet Arthur’s arrival, three women on horseback rode at full speed into the Great Cave. Petrified by the fires and explosions all around them, the horses bolted and threw off two of the horse-women. Ethelgunda and Yolanda were immediately surrounded by their loyal and utterly besotted troll guards, but the ladies clearly had no desire to be rescued and drew their daggers to hurl themselves at Leofwine’s men. Only the Lady Dragonara was still on horseback, her blonde mane glowing like a halo in the red flames. She charged at Leofwine’s men, her brave war horse scattering them like chickens in a farm yard. Leofwine’s soldiers were clearly unwilling to harm their queen and sought refuge rather than raise their weapons against her. Merlin clapped his hands over his ears in an effort to get his bearings. The Great Cave was thick with the stench of burning furniture and singed tapestries; the din of whinnying horses and the cries of dying men rose up into the dome and rang through the tunnels.
Leofwine had fought his way through various skirmishes and had reached the cave unscathed. From across the cave Merlin watched the sorcerer-king sneak out of a tunnel mouth. Raising his sword with one hand and the clutching the magical crystal in the other, Leofwine stayed well behind the lines of his fighting men, clinging to the rock face of the walls. Merlin’s eyes followed Leofwine’s gaze. The sight of his own warriors dressed in Segovia’s livery but fighting for Camelot seemed to pierce Leofwine’s heart like a dagger for he stared at his former lover and helpmate Dragonara with a face that was distorted by rage and hatred. Dragonara had dismounted and was now fighting back to back with Arthur, their height perfectly matched, their sword arms dealing out blows in harmony, their blonde heads and illuminated profiles betraying a kinship that went deeper than oaths made over holy water or promises made on the deathbed of erstwhile friends. With a pang Merlin remembered her words: I recognise all my children by the kindness they hold in their hearts!
In an instant Merlin understood. All creatures born of magic were part of the very fabric that held together the universe and made Earth what it was for the children of men. Uther’s plea to Nimueh had been answered – he had received the son and heir he craved but Nimueh was merely a high priestess, a woman initiated into the mysteries but lacking the magical power necessary to create such a son…not just a boy or common princeling but a king who would bring about Albion and unite the lands, a son honourable, tolerant and true of heart, a king whose memory would last into the mists of time. Arthur wasn’t just born of magic. Nimueh had taken credit for something another had accomplished. Arthur truly was a Pendragon…a dragon’s son…just like Eliffer and Eleanor!
To bring harmony to the children of men the dragon queen had created dragon lords giving them magic. Merlin caught his breath; his heart missed a beat when he understood the full implications of his reasoning. Magical beings were connected…and that meant…Merlin felt tears rise to his eyes…all magical beings like him shared a kinship with Dragonara and, in a manner of speaking, Arthur was his brother and just as magical in his own way!
Recalling where he was and what was at stake, Merlin wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand and decided it was about time he dealt with Leofwine. On the other side of the cave the sorcerer-king slowly made his way towards his intended prize: Queen Guinevere. All around them, fires blazed; the putrid odour of rat droppings, mould and rotting leaves mingled with the rancid smell of burnt flesh and stung Merlin’s nostrils. This time it was the smoke that made Merlin’s eyes water and he squinted across the flames towards the Camelot quarter, where Gwen’s shape was flitting here and there, as she tended the wounded, hurrying to Gaius’ and then to Emma’s side to fetch water or more bandages for Camelot’s injured men, women and children.
In the centre of the cave Gwen’s fake dragon was beginning to fade, consumed by flames and hacked to pieces by Leofwine’s men. His soldiers had begun to drag smouldering chairs and trestle tables away from the fires, diminishing the dragon’s power to shield Gwen’s sanctuary. Stealing past a large boulder, Leofwine kept an eye on the flitting queen, while apparently assessing the cave. Merlin’s eyes followed the sorcerer-king’s. Above them in the cathedral like vault, the ceiling was studded with stalactites that dropped from the roof like gigantic icicles. All around them stalagmites rose up like pillars in a great hall. In some places the columns had been shattered by a great force, the rock face still showing recent scars, where lichen and moss had not had sufficient time to cover the breaks. Watching closely, Merlin saw how a mirthless smile lit up Leofwine’s face. He’d been right all along: a real dragon had lived here until fairly recently. Undoubtedly, Leofwine pondered if the queen had either secreted the beast in one of the many tunnels or hidden the creature elsewhere.
The sorcerer-king had raised his crystal and summoned a spell before Merlin could stop him, bringing down an enormous stalactite that crashed onto the heads of the troops below. Realising too late that he had chosen the wrong hiding place, Merlin was forced to dive for better cover or be trampled by the wave of fleeing trolls and men. A large fragment of the rock forced Arthur and Dragonara apart. Merlin lost sight of Arthur when a second spell illuminated the vault and brought down an even larger icicle, this time causing devastation among Gwen’s wounded.
Leofwine did not waste time; dazed by the noise and dust, Merlin tried to scramble over fallen debris and towards Gwen, guessing Leofwine’s intent. However, he was too late. Leofwine took one huge leap and reached the queen before Merlin did, but the sorcerer-king hadn’t reckoned with Hueil, who darted across and put his bulk between Leofwine and the queen. Despite his wound, he challenged Leofwine, exchanging blow after blow, before Leofwine lost his patience and simply raised his crystal, removing Hueil with a spell that sent Urien’s favourite servant into the nearest wall with a skull-shattering force. Gwen cried out and tried to flee back into the circle of her guards with Sir Edward’s sword trying to protect her this time, but Leofwine was faster. He caught her by the wrist and dragged her towards him, holding on to her like a falcon unwilling to give up his prey.
“Bring me the ransom I was promised, Arthur Pendragon, and I’ll return your queen unharmed!” Casting another spell, Leofwine raised the crystal once more and Gwen disappeared in a cloud of golden dust. Leofwine grabbed the bridle of a fleeing horse and jumped on the animal’s back, charging into the Rowan tunnel without heeding the injuries he caused to his own men or any of Arthur’s soldiers being able to stop him.
Howling with rage, Arthur and his knights decimated Segovia’s men, the trolls fighting on Camelot’s side harder than before. Leofwine’s remaining garrison fled back into the Rowan tunnel and out of the caves to reassemble outside the citadel.
A strange calm was beginning to settle on the cave. Sir Leon was rounding up the remaining guards, Arthur and Gaius saw to the wounded, while Percival, Gawain and Elyan dispatched the last of Segovia’s warriors. Ethelgunda, aided by her sister Yolanda, limped towards Camelot’s women and children. They were strangely silent; instead of crying, the children who were unharmed brought cups of water to Gwen’s guards, who were crestfallen and desolate having lost their beloved queen. Under Gaius command the women rushed to the wounded and tried to help them as best as they could. Exhausted, Geoffrey of Monmouth scrambled out from his hiding place and knelt by Hueil’s side; he fingered the back of Hueil’s skull gently, but the man was dead, there was nothing left but to carry him off and lay him out tenderly with the other who had given their lives for Camelot and freedom to live as they chose. Merlin crawled out from behind the rock that had given him shelter and tried to find his bearings in the dust and billowing smoke. To his surprise, someone took him by the hand and pulled him back down. When Merlin looked up, he was confronted by a pair of emerald green eyes.
“It’s time for the real dragon to appear! Don’t argue with me, young warlock. Here, hold my hand and don’t let go.” Dragonara squeezed his fingers hard and he could feel his magical power drain from him, as if an arrow had pierced a vein. “My strength has not fully returned after reviving Eliffer and Marigold. About time you made yourself useful today!”
Dragonara’s skin changed from smooth to rough and he sensed how her blood turned from warm to cold. Her neck grew longer and scaly; her beautiful face transformed into that of a reptile and her clothing began to tear and fall off her in shreds.
“There must be another way!” Merlin looked on in horror as her fingers began to transform into a dragon’s talons. “I’ll think of something. We’ll get Gwen back, I promise!” Merlin clung to her claw with both hands. “Please, you’re the last of your kind!”
“Look after Aithusa for me, young warlock. It’s been a pleasure knowing you.” Dragonara smiled, gradually transforming into her dragon shape, her elongated face now graced by several rows of razor-sharp teeth, her emerald eyes changing into snake-like pupils.
With his own powers gone completely, Merlin felt his fingers slipping and she gradually escaped his grasp. Unable to hold her, he rose with tears streaming down his cheeks. Her golden body reared up in front of him; one of her gigantic paws pushed the rock that had sheltered them out of the way as if it were a pebble. She unfurled her wings and launched into flight, causing the fighting all around them to stop as everyone dived for cover, terrified of a fire blast from above. Before taking off into the vault, Dragonara turned and addressed Merlin one last time, but her voice only made sense to a dragon lord. To everyone else she emitted an ear-shattering roar.
“I’ll await my fate at sunset…on the field called Gytha’s Meadow, just below the town. Don’t forget: it must be Arthur who cuts out my heart! It won’t be hard to convince my darling husband; trust me, Leofwine will relish the thought. He’s a coward at heart.”
“I won’t allow it! Come back here, you’ve got to obey your lord and master,” Merlin said, barely able to stand on his own two feet. She merely chuckled and extended her wings, soaring up into the cupola, where a rose-tinted dawn was already showing in the skylight hundreds of feet above his head.
…/to be continued