Having bored all of you rigid with my pictures of the Cardiff Castle jousting event, just for a change here’s some Merlin related fan fiction which you might, or not, enjoy with your weekend breakfast cup of tea:
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 her part. The copyright for all BBC Merlin series characters & storylines remains with the BBC and Shine Ltd, the producers of the show.
Part One was created on 29th June 2012 and inspired by tweets sent by director Alice Troughton and actor Eoin Macken (who plays Gawain) relating to an early morning, after party swim. The tweets reminded me of my own swimming lessons in the crystal clear forest lakes of Northern Germany.
The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin!
“Tell me Ethelgunda, what can you see?” Yolanda scratched her warty nose and stared deeper into the steaming cauldron. Next to her, her sister Ethelgunda quivered with excitement.
“A group of knights…riding through our forest…they’re stopping…they’re dismounting…the blonde one’s walking over to the edge of our lake…just look at them…so young…so strong…so…hmmm…delicious,” Ethelgunda gave the cauldron another stir and cackled, seemingly licking her lips at the thought of such delightful visitors riding towards her castle keep.
High above their heads, peering out into the dusky sky from her perch on the bartizan, Marigold sniffed the balmy air. A swift sailed past her, busy chasing the first moths venturing out, now that the sun was setting. Below Marigold’s small turret, the forest spread out as far as the horizon, its oaks, firs, beeches and pine trees swaying dreamily in the evening breeze.
Marigold’s stomach rumbled loudly. She hadn’t eaten in ever such a long time…the scent of herbs and fried capon wafting up the spiral staircase was making her quite giddy. She hurried down from the bartizan to join her sisters in the hall, nearly snagging her trailing black robes on a broom lying abandoned on the stairs.
Despite the heat of the day Yolanda and Ethelgunda had lit a fire, over which a cauldron was now lustily bubbling away. Marigold coughed when the smoke-filled hall greeted her nostrils, but her sisters were too absorbed in their task to notice her. She trotted across the flagstones to join them, each woman seemingly lost in her own thoughts. To get their attention, Marigold picked up a log from a pile next to the hearth and threw it on the fire. The log landed in the centre of the flames, hissed and spat in protest, but finally succumbed to the glow and resisted no more.
Marigold smoothed out her long black hair and positioned herself next to her eldest sister. “Will it work this time, do you think?” She didn’t dare to look up into Ethelgunda’s face, just in case she should shake her head in refute.
“Of course it will!” Ethelgunda dipped a wrinkly finger into the broth and watched the brown juice drip slowly down her hand. With a flick of her purplish tongue she caught the liquid, before it could disappear down her lace sleeve. “All the ingredients are right this time. To make doubly sure, I picked the herbs myself.” She threw an accusing glance at Yolanda. “This is a real princeling, my darlings, eagerly riding through our woods. Aw look, he’s even taking a bath with his little playmates, so they’re all going to be nice and clean for their visit.”
“Not like the last one you mean…that imposter Hrothgar?” Marigold shuddered; he’d been such a disappointment. “He stank to high heaven. Hadn’t washed in years, I’d wager.”
Yolanda, keen to get a closer look at the picture in the cauldron, elbowed Marigold out of the way, whose plump frame threw a shadow over the pleasant aspect in the cauldron. The women’s noses nearly touched the surface of the broth, as they huddled together, each sweating profusely in front of the fire, but refusing to give as much as an inch of ground to the other.
“My goodness…that large one…with the arms…he looks a bit of a handful,” Yolanda pointed at the tallest of the knights, who was busy taking off his cloak and chainmail.
“You can say that again! Nature has certainly blessed the lad.” Ethelgunda’s wrinkly cheeks glowed as she gave the soup another stir.
Having divested himself off his cloak and chainmail, the young knight stretched his powerful arms and yawned. His fellow knights were already in the lake. The knight dropped his heavy armour to the ground and was about to step out of his hose and shirt. At that moment a bead of sweat slid off Yolanda’s bulbous nose and hit the surface of the broth. The picture of the bathing knights vanished instantly.
“Hell and damnation, Yolanda! Why couldn’t you keep your beak out of the cauldron for a little longer?” Her sisters looked at Ethelgunda and grinned. “Erm…I meant, now we won’t be able to see our little princeling’s reaction, when our welcome party arrives!” Ethelgunda hurried to explain.
Marigold poked a forlorn finger into the steaming broth. “Can’t you bring them back? That last one…the one with the arms…I think he’s rather cute.”
“No, I can’t, not without belladonna, which someone forgot to pick this morning!” Ethelgunda growled.
Yolanda turned abruptly away and picked up a satchel and scythe. “Do you think there’s any left in the kitchen garden?”
“Nooooo,” roared Ethelgunda, “because somebody didn’t replenish it, when I asked her to. Somebody clearly far too busy flirting with the blacksmith’s son!”
“You’re just jealous ‘cause that cross-eyed wonder, the village magistrate, threw you over last month. Get over it and give the rest of us a break!” Yolanda stamped her foot hard but instantly regretted it, when she caught the squelching sound of an expiring pet toad and a gasp of horror escaping her sister’s throat.
Marigold beat a hasty retreat to the safety of her turret. She hated her sisters’ bickering over men. As far as she was concerned, there were plenty of them to go around and most of them weren’t worth falling out over. Except perhaps the young knight with the impressive arms. Taking two steps at a time, Marigold nearly tripped over the broom on the last step.
“Keep your eyes peeled. Let us know the moment they arrive!” Yolanda yelled up the spiral staircase. “And don’t think we didn’t notice you sneaking that capon under your robe, you greedy pig!”
Below her on the drawbridge the sound of marching feet announced the departure of the welcoming party. Marigold watched the contingent of armour plated woodland trolls head into the trees and disappear into the silent forest.
She sighed and pulled the illicit roasted fowl from under her cloak. Biting into the crisp brown skin with gusto, juice running down her warty chin and down the front of her velvet gown, Marigold chewed thoughtfully on a roasted leg. “I hope they’re not going to hurt the knights…Ethelgunda’s trolls can be so rough sometimes…I wonder if the knight with the arms enjoys eating capons as much as I do?”
* * *
Half way across the forest…
“I think we all deserve a rest…from Gawain’s endless moaning! I get your point… a long ride on a very hot day…and so far not a trace of the reason for our quest. Let’s make a camp here for the night,” King Arthur dismounted from his horse and sighed resignedly. “It’s as good a place as any and what’s even better, there’s plenty of fresh water, so Gawain can finally have a wash. Merlin, what’s for dinner?”
“How should I know? You haven’t actually killed anything, yet! Getting a little rusty with the old crossbow, aren’t we?” Merlin patted his liege’s horse dry and led it to the edge of the lake for a much needed drink.
“Must be all that married bliss that’s putting him off his aim. The last stag positively walked away with a snigger, knowing there was no danger whatsoever with a wornout bridegroom at the trigger.” Gawain winked and the other knights laughed.
“Haha, very funny! I admit, so far we haven’t exactly covered ourselves in glory on this quest…but it’s good to be out of Camelot on a hot day like this, don’t you think?” King Arthur clouted Gawain on the back, firmly, but not unkindly.
The knight’s knees sagged under the blow and he flopped down on a tree stump, where he pretended to busy himself with his boots. The other knights knew Arthur’s friendly demonstrations of comradeship only too well and viewed Gawain’s feeble attempts at a cover up with disdain.
A little stiff after their long journey, Arthur took off his gloves and cloak. Stretching his arms and legs, he surveyed the lay of the land. Before him the lake glistened in the last rays of the sun. In the background the verdant hills beckoned him to explore, to seek adventure, to marvel at the beauty of the world and its many mysteries. Closer to home, the sight of cooking utensils emerging from Merlin’s saddle bags reminded Arthur to put one of his most sacred royal duties into practice, namely to get up his servant’s nose as often as he could.
“Merlin, when you’ve watered the horses, fetch some firewood and get cooking! I could eat a whole garlic boar by myself,” Arthur rubbed his growling stomach, “but I guess we’ll have to make due with your infamous bean stew instead?”
His long suffering servant Merlin sighed and unsaddled another horse. “Yep, unless you can persuade some fish to jump into our pot by royal command, it’ll be bean stew all the way until the end of our quest.”
“Please don’t say that! I’m always the one who ends up sleeping next to Gawain!” Sir Elyan groaned. “You have no idea what prolonged exposure to fermented bean stew à la Gawain can do to a knight’s morale.”
“Very funny Elyan, you don’t exactly smell of roses either after one of Merlin’s dinners, you know!”
The hurt in Gawain’s voice made Elyan relent. “Speaking of the end of our quest…when is it actually going to start? I mean, we must be nearly five leagues in, so where’s the famed oak tree and, more importantly, where’s the damsel in distress?”
“Good question! If I knew for certain a beautiful fairy godmother and two pretty maidens were waiting at the end of this quest…or at least three lusty tavern wenches with a tankard of mead…bean stew or not…I’d overlook the culinary deficiencies and be quite eager for tomorrow’s ride,” Gawain got up from the tree stump and tore off his boots, causing Sir Percival and Sir Leon to retreat with haste.
Arthur took a crumpled piece of parchment from his saddle bag. He studied it briefly, before putting it back. “According to the drawing, we must be within a short ride of our meeting point.”
“Who’s for a swim before dinner?” Not waiting for an answer Gawain had already ripped off his shirt and breeches. He was heading for a refreshing dip in the lake before anyone could stop him. Half way into the water, Gawain doubled over, howling with pain. The waves crashed over his head and the surface of the lake smoothed over again. Momentarily gone from their view, Gawain re-emerged seconds later, when his tousle-haired head broke the surface and he came up spluttering.
“Watch out for the crabs,” Sir Leon chuckled. “They like to hide under rocks close by the shore.”
“Now he tells me!” Gawain lifted his left foot out of the water. A sizeable crab dangled off his big toe. He hurled the lake dweller into the camp and surrendered himself to the welcoming waves. “Here’s one for the pot, Merlin! Come on in my lords or are your aristocratic toes too dainty?”
One by one, Merlin watched the knights enter the lake, each employing his own style and method to cope with the coldness of the water. Arthur, clearly trying to maintain dignity even when in a state of undress, walked slowly up to the water’s edge, dipped a royal toe in and shuddered with pleasure, before following his knights into the lake. Raucous laughter ensued, when Gawain caught his second crab of the day.
Merlin shrugged his shoulders, gave the horses a good rub down before heading deeper into the forest to fetch firewood, mumbling as he picked up twigs and kindling. On their way into Grendel’s Forest in Odin’s realm they had encountered three stags, five pheasants, two wild boar, fifteen rabbits and one rather rude bandit, all of whom had walked away unharmed. What in the name of Hecate was wrong with Arthur’s aim?
Lack of sleep…maybe…a man in love who’s extending goodwill to all mankind? Perhaps! But forest animals surviving one of Arthur’s quests totally unmolested? Not bloody likely!
Merlin didn’t relish the thought of daily bean stew either…firstly, there was the devastating effect it had on Gawain’s insides and secondly, the king’s level of grumpiness caused by a meat-less diet would frankly be unbearable. Merlin wondered if he knew any stunning spells that might bag them a few rabbits. He looked up into the dark canopy above. Even roasted squirrels were better than beans with onions every day.
Looking for firewood, he absentmindedly tripped over a root and fell. Merlin rubbed his knee and groaned. Nothing seemed to go right on this trip. First, they had received rumours of an advancing army having crossed the borders into King Cenric’s realm. On the morning of their departure Queen Guinevere had sprained her ankle and couldn’t join them on their quest. Now Arthur was off his aim. Whatever next?
Merlin eyed the hole in his trouser knee with distaste. Whispering a magic spell, he got up, the hole in his trousers mended itself instantly and a bundle of firewood and kindling flew into his outstretched arms. He nodded approvingly. About time things were going his way. He headed slowly back to the camp, pondering how on earth he could stretch the flesh of two crabs into enough dinner for his king and several hungry knights. Perhaps Gawain’s extremities had managed to catch another crustacean…or better still, a large pike and a couple of fat trout! Merlin’s mouth began to water at the mere thought of fish stew.
Stew…ever since a rider had come to Camelot with a cryptic message for Arthur, the whole court had been in rather a stew. “Your godmother Queen Dragonara and her two companions are in desperate need of your protection. In the name of Ygraine, I implore you, come to her aid. Grendel’s Forest, third oak from the right, exactly five leagues in.” The message had been written in golden lettering on the finest parchment, but the edges were slightly singed, suggesting the writer had perhaps been engaged in battle.
Who was this mysterious Dragonara? Neither Gaius nor Arthur had ever heard of the existence of a godmother… and who on earth gave directions like that anyway? Third oak from the right, five leagues in? The message carried no sender’s signature. It had to be a trap! Could the king’s evil half sister Morgana be behind it?
Merlin was about to enter their camp, when laughter reached his ears. He grinned, when he thought he detected a familiar spluttering among the general uproar. It sounded just like Arthur emerging from his bath in the morning, grunting like a happy pig in anticipation of his breakfast. Merlin chuckled. No doubt Sir Percival had his work cut out trying to stop Gawain and Sir Elyan from holding Arthur’s head under water in a friendly wrestling competition.
The picture that greeted him when he peered out from behind the branches of a shrub was rather different from the idyll Merlin had expected to find. For a start, there were about twelve armour plated trolls that hadn’t been there before and Arthur was nowhere to be seen. Gawain had been hoisted up on a horse, where he lay helpless and prostrate across the saddle of a mounted troll. Sir Leon hadn’t fared much better, his hands holding his injured head from which blood was dripping through his fingers. Sir Percival was being held face down into the water by two trolls on either side of him; they let him briefly come up to catch his breath, before pushing him under again, presumably their idea of subduing the powerful knight. Chainmail, clothes and weapons were strewn across the camp. The horses were whinnying in terror, straining at their ropes, but the trolls held them fast and one whipped Sir Leon’s horse mercilessly, when it tried to make a run for it.
Only Sir Elyan was still standing at the water’s edge, a thick branch raised in defence. It was to no avail though, as the leader of the trolls struck him hard with a sword, knocking the branch out of Elyan’s hands. The troll took a couple of steps forward, apparently trying to say something, but Elyan hurled himself at the attacker and started pummelling him with his firsts. The troll merely laughed and shook the far smaller Elyan off like a bear would throw off a dog. Sir Elyan landed face down on the ground, the troll immediately stamping on the man’s arm, making a comeback impossible.
Where the hell was Arthur? From his position behind the shrub Merlin couldn’t make out what the troll was saying to Elyan, but before Merlin dared to get any closer, he caught sight of Arthur, hiding behind dense undergrowth on the far side of the camp. The king was gesturing wildly, clearly trying to send Merlin a message…but what was he trying to say? The king rolled his eyes angrily, shaking his fist at Merlin in frustration, his lips mouthing something vaguely familiar … pole something, was that it? Was he instructing his servant to strike the lead troll with a pole? What pole?
Merlin concentrated hard on Arthur’s face…ah…no…you clot pole…you useless toad of a servant…fetch me my cloak and sword…Arthur shook his head in despair, as his servant ducked behind the shrub to hide from both the king’s and the troll leader’s view.
“Where’s your princeling? Speak or your arm will break,” growled the leader of the trolls and shifted his weight forward. Elyan writhed and howled with pain.
Meanwhile, Arthur kept pointing towards the ground between himself and Merlin. The young sorcerer’s eyes finally caught a glimpse of gleaming chainmail and a pair of brown breeches. Ah yes, being caught without weapons was one thing, but being taken prisoner with your trousers down was quite another. Especially for a king!
This had given him an idea. Merlin’s firewood slid silently to the ground and he edged closer to the garments, as stealthily as he could. His hands were just reaching out for the king’s chainmail and Excalibur, when one of the trolls discovered Merlin’s hiding place. The lead troll turned his attention immediately from the knights, who by now had been bundled up and thrown across the back of a horse, to the sorcerer in the shrubbery. There was just one thing for it! Merlin had kicked Excalibur into the undergrowth and hoisted the chainmail over his head before the lumbering troll could reach him.
Stepping out from behind the shrub with one hand hidden behind his back, Merlin addressed the lead troll: “King Arthur, at your service! Have you come to share our crab dinner tonight? Funny, I don’t remember inviting you!”
With a growl the troll hurled himself at Merlin who, with one swift motion let go of the branch he had held behind his back. Stepping swiftly aside, Merlin let the branch go and it hit the troll leader full in the face. Stumbling backwards, the troll gave Merlin the opportunity he had hoped for and he made a dart across the camp, hurling himself onto the remaining weapons on the ground. He grabbed a sword and positioned himself in front of the lake in an effort to draw all eyes onto him.
Far from being impressed, the trolls just roared with laughter. Their leader rubbed his squat nose and furry forehead, shook himself a couple of times and then made for the centre of the camp. Merlin was no match for them, he knew that. Troll magic was far more powerful than his own, besides, with Arthur still watching from somewhere in the dense undergrowth, using sorcery was not a good idea.
“Yon princeling is brave, I give him that. But is he brave enough for what lies ahead? We’ll see!” Cackling unpleasantly, the lead troll lumbered towards Merlin, picked up the branch Sir Elyan had used earlier and struck Merlin’s sword with such force, the young sorcerer had no choice but to let go or his wrists would break.
A few minutes later the trolls made ready to leave the camp with their captives. One of them had collected all the knights’ weapons and belongings, stuffing everything into a huge sack, which he now carried over one shoulder. Pinned down into the saddle by the mighty paw of the lead troll behind him, Merlin risked a glance towards the undergrowth, where Arthur had been hiding only moments earlier. There was no sign of him now and Merlin’s only hope was that Arthur had found Excalibur and was now on his way to get help from Camelot. However, Merlin’s hopes were dashed, when he saw four trolls detach from the group and head for the path Arthur and the knights had taken earlier that evening.
Merlin’s group of mounted captors headed into the opposite direction, but when Merlin cast one final glance towards the camp and the lake, he caught a flash of blonde hair and a princely backside quietly vanishing into the darkness of the forest. At least he’s safe, Merlin muttered, abandoning himself to his fate. There would be plenty of time during the ride to come up with an escape plan. He made himself as comfortable as the chainmail and smelly troll behind him would permit, settled into the slow gait of a horse carrying far too great a load and hoped he wouldn’t be sick.
Arthur smelled them before he actually saw them. The stench of their skins, the odour of rotten meat coming from their mouths and the sweat from their armpits made him want to retch. They were close, very close. He peeped out from his hiding place under the roots of an upturned tree. It was now or never! A troll with a patch of ginger fur on his forehead had already gestured towards Arthur’s fallen tree.
The king jumped up, turned in mid-air and made for the opposite direction of his tree. Arthur ran as fast as his bare feet would permit up an incline, hurled himself down the other side, rolling over tree roots, sliding down on slimy leaves, finally jittering to a halt at the bottom of a water-filled ditch. He got up without stopping to check for injuries and jumped over a clump of ferns, narrowly avoiding a cluster of stinging nettles. He could hear but not see the angry trolls rushing up the slope, sliding down the other side and falling into the ditch with a splash. Their heavy armour plated bodies were not made for running, Arthur noted with satisfaction.
Changing direction as fast as a hare, Arthur dived into a hollow tree. Looking out from behind his hiding place, he could feel his leg muscles seize up with the strain of running at such speed for such a distance. He dared not breathe, but his lungs were flapping against his sides and sweat was pouring down his forehead. He reviewed his options. On the plus side, he was much faster than they were, he had Excalibur and he was the superior warrior. On the down side, there were four of them, they were huge and he was exhausted…and butt naked.
They were searching the undergrowth far more methodically than he would have given them credit for; Arthur wished he’d had a chance to grab his cloak before one of the trolls had gathered up all the knight’s clothes. No point crying over spilt milk, he had to make due with whatever he’d find in the forest before he could return to Camelot. He felt behind him in the dark, warm hollow of the tree, the musky smell of rotting leaves strangely comforting to him.
A root of some sort was growing upwards inside the hollow. Arthur tore at it, hoping it wouldn’t make a noise when it broke and detached from the inside of the tree. It came away silently and smoothly though and his trained soldier’s hands examined it for its usefulness. It was supple and bent easily to his touch. Arthur grimaced. Strangulation was an unmanly way of doing away with an opponent. He had no choice. Sneaking out of his hiding place undetected, he circled around the group of trolls, picked up a pebble and threw it a distance of some yards into the opposite direction from where he crouched.
As expected, one of the trolls remained behind to continue searching the woodland, while the other three ran off to where they had heard the noise. Arthur launched himself onto the back of the lone troll the very moment his comrades had disappeared into the density of forest.
He wrapped the root around the troll’s thick neck and pulled hard. The troll’s rasping breath was filled with stench and spittle. Arthur recoiled for the fraction of a second, but rallied and now pulled even harder. The troll tried to throw his attacker off, but the root cut mercilessly into his grey skin and crushed his windpipe. Falling down onto his knees, the troll’s arms thrashed around helplessly, but Arthur pulled harder still. When his tormentor had tightened the noose as much as he could, the troll turned sideways and slid down to the ground, doubtless hoping to crush Arthur in the fall and throw him off that way.
With one last effort the experienced warrior yanked the root into the opposite direction of the troll’s body until he heard the neck bones break. A couple of woodcocks flew up, startled by the deadly disturbance in their ferns, but no noise had escaped the troll’s throat and Arthur remained undetected. He returned to his hiding place in the hollow tree and waited.
When their comrade didn’t answer their calls, the three remaining trolls came back to look for him. Arthur watched them strut around the clearing, parting the surrounding clumps of ferns and nettles with their swords. Any moment now, they would discover the body. Arthur barely inhaled, not daring to make a sound. One down, three to go…much better odds though and he’d recovered his strength sufficiently to give them a demonstration of how much damage Excalibur could actually do.
Before there was a chance to demonstrate his skills as Camelot’s best swordsman, his keen hearing picked up the sound of a galloping horse. Merlin’s ruse hadn’t worked! The mounted trolls had changed course and were coming to get him.
Two of the trolls were now so close to his hiding place, he could almost touch them. They were sniffing the air, trying to pick up his scent. The third troll stood still, listening intently to the clutter of hooves. Strangely, his squat face expressed alarm rather than joyful recognition.
Arthur realised his sweat might give him away any moment and quietly bent down to pick up rotting leaves to cover his own scent. He rubbed his face, chest and arms with the crumbling leaf mulch, wincing slightly when the mixture touched his open sores from his tumble down the slope earlier. The horses’ hooves were coming closer. Any second now, the riders would be here!
A horse whinnied. A second one answered. The three trolls were shouting something he couldn’t understand. The two standing closest to his hiding place turned and…fled!
Encouraged, Arthur stepped out of his hollow tree to get a closer look. He caught a glimpse of a purple and gold cloak, half obscured by trees and the furry backs of retreating trolls. A tall black horse and rider came crashing into the clearing. The knight was in full battle armour, his arm raised, his sword drawn, the shield carrying a crest Arthur had never seen before. Through the slits in the helmet Arthur could see two fierce eyes glittering. Two more riders appeared on the opposite side of the clearing. Cornered, the trolls turned and hurled themselves at the first rider and horse. Arthur’s warrior instinct told him the other two riders, who were far smaller than the first, were nothing more than young squires, but their swords were raised and they seemed ready to go to battle.
Without hesitation the purple and gold knight struck the first blow. It hit the first troll hard on the forehead and he fell to the ground with a nasty gash on his forehead. The rider wheeled the horse around for the second wave of attack, but his horse stumbled and the rider was thrown off.
The two remaining trolls immediately lunged at the fallen knight. Arthur ran straight into the melee and came to the knight’s aid, slashing a troll arm in the process. Excalibur glinted in the failing light and the wounded troll howled with pain and rage. His comrade turned on Arthur, but the purple and gold knight sprang up, raising his sword. Back to back, Arthur and the stranger fought against the trolls, both working in unison, their sword arms dealing out precision blows in perfect harmony. The two squires kept their distance, leaving the far more experienced knights to do battle.
Finally, when the two trolls lay slain among the bloodied leaves, the stranger sheathed his sword once more, removed his gloves and stood motionless opposite Arthur for a while; both warriors studied each other with interest. The purple and gold embroidered cloak was slung back loosely, hanging rakishly over one shoulder. The helmet had its visor still down, no way of knowing what lay behind the metal grid. The chainmail was of the finest quality Arthur had ever seen, light and still strong, no doubt never hindering its wearer…not like Arthur’s chainmail, which chafed and lay heavy on his shoulders, irritating him every day; the breast plate and armour covering the stranger’s arms and legs were richly decorated, the boots made from beautifully worked black leather with silver spurs at the back.
Arthur and his counterpart were the same height, one warrior blue eyed, the other green eyed, one lissom and young, the other clearly older judging by his gait and the pigmentation of his hands…
Those hands…Arthur took a deep breath. Apart from the ring finger that clearly displayed a ring not dissimilar to the one Uther had worn before his death there was something else about the hands that was rather remarkable. They were slender and white…almost like…a woman’s!
The knight’s shoulders seemed to tremble a little…then the whole body began to shake with mirth. The knight was laughing! With a pang Arthur realised the stranger’s eyes were twinkling mischievously behind the visor. Looking swiftly over his shoulder to his right and to his left, Arthur assessed the situation.
To his right stood a rhubarb type plant, large leaves prone to shift and sway in the wind. To his left he spotted a small pine tree, a trustworthy, far more static friend. Arthur stepped behind the miniature pine and cleared his throat: “I realise I’m not exactly wearing the right…erm…attire for a formal introduction, but perhaps you have the goodness to take off your helmet and tell me your name, so I can thank you?”
“No need to thank me, Damsel. It was…still is my pleasure,” the stranger chuckled and removed the offending helmet slowly. A mane of strawberry blonde hair tumbled out and a few seconds later Arthur looked his rescuer in the face. “My name’s Dragonara. I’m on my way to Camelot. You’re pretty handy with a sword!”
His godmother! She was smiling at him, her face slightly wet with perspiration from the fight, a strand of hair glued to her left cheek. Arthur bit his lip.
She might be exactly who she claimed to be…on the other hand…if he told her his name and she was not who she said she was, he’d have walked straight into another trap. Temporarily rendered speechless, Arthur stood behind his pine tree and grinned from ear to ear to hide his embarrassment. Dragonara must take him for a simpleton. Why wouldn’t Merlin ever do as he was told? If only his idiot servant had handed him his cloak!
Dragonara was clearly amused by Arthur’s predicament. He couldn’t stay behind the pine tree forever. However, facing his godmother in his birthday suit was out of the question. Dragonara was not only a queen and therefore deserved respect – she was also rather beautiful and far younger than he had expected. She seemed barely forty, if the laughter lines around her eyes were anything to go by. Noting his gaze with approval, the woman smiled and released the pin holding her cloak.
“Here, have this. What’s your name?”
Arthur gratefully took the cloak and wrapped it around him, trying hard to come up with a name a peasant might use. To his own surprise he heard himself declare: “I’m Merlin, a servant at Camelot.”
Irritated at his own lack of imagination, he bowed rather awkwardly and accidentally struck the right note between bashfulness and servility. “My master and his knights got attacked by the lake. We need to go after them, before they come to harm.” Arthur the servant gestured wildly with his sword towards the lake, before noticing Dragonara’s gaze had left his own comely countenance and was now eyeing Excalibur with considerable interest. Arthur quickly withdrew Excalibur under the cloak and fell silent.
“I’d love to help, alas, I cannot. My two companions are waiting by the great oak over there.” Dargonara pointed towards the two young squires in the background. “They are under my protection and I must get them to the safety of Camelot.”
She strode back to her horse, stepping lightly over the corpse of a slain troll, before turning back to face Arthur the servant. “Since you are for the moment master-less as it were, you can serve me, until we get to Camelot. Lead the way, Merlin!”
Arthur nodded helplessly. What else could he do? It was a long journey back to Camelot for a man wearing little else than leaf-mulch and a lady’s cloak. He had to join her and get help from his castle before he could rescue his men.
Dragonara mounted her horse and handed him her shield with her emblem. A golden dragon with green eyes stared at Arthur. For a brief moment, Arthur thought he saw one eye wink back at him! He shook his head in disbelief and held the shield further away from his face to get a better look.
“Pick up my gloves and helmet, boy. When we get to the oak, we might as well camp there for the night. We ride for Camelot at dawn.”
Arthur followed her reluctantly on foot; his feet were blistered, the woman’s cloak inadequately covered his scratched, sweaty, leaf-mulched body and to top it all, he had told her his name was MERLIN. Could things possibly get any worse? They could! Had he called himself Sir Elyan, he’d be riding with Dragonara now, instead of trailing behind her through the dust, where the horse’s rear had just farted.
Dragonara looked down and summed up her new servant quite accurately. He was the very picture of royal misery! “Don’t dawdle. I’m not as patient as your master! My chainmail needs cleaning, my armour needs polishing and there’s a heap of washing to do. Can’t arrive at Camelot looking like a troll, can I?”