Merlin Fanfiction: Let the Questing begin! (Part 3)

To celebrate Merlin trending on Twitter yesterday, here’s part three of my fanfiction. Hope you’ll enjoy it.

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 Morgin (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. Series 5 to be aired this autumn in the UK.

Part Three was created on 9th July 2012

The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin! (Part Three)

Dragonara raised the burning branch and blew once more. A second knight appeared and the tiny, glowing riders instantly engaged in a joust. Arthur held his breath, as Dragonara began her tale.

“In a distant realm, there once lived a king, cruel and heartless, the world around him trembled and most of his people fled. He had not always been so, for when he was young, his lands prospered and his lady wife gave him all the happiness he craved. But when their union was not blessed with a child, the king became obsessed with producing an heir,” Dragonara said softly, not looking at anyone in particular. Arthur felt the hair on the back of his head tingle, as if the story was purely meant for him. Urien and his men continued to stare out into the silent mass of the trees. Their comrade was still missing.

“In the end the king turned to sorcery to bring the desired child into their midst. No ordinary child, no, the king demanded the bravest of the brave, a champion for his people, a future leader to unite all the lands, a ruler to become legend for generations to come. The king was warned such a child would cost the realm dearly, for the rules of magic demanded a life for a life. Was the king really willing to make such a sacrifice? Blind to everything but his own lust for power, the king entered into the bargain, the child was born and the king lost a most beloved queen.” With a sad face Dragonara dropped the burning branch back into the fire and leaned back into her saddle and blanket, seemingly no longer concerned whether her audience listened or not. Arthur shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The jousting flame-knights rode back and forth through the air, Eliffer’s round eyes following their every move.

Dragonara cleared her throat, lifting a tankard of water to her lips. “A life for a life! That was the price for the miracle child! Whose life had the king been willing to sacrifice? We’ll probably never know. Certainly not his own! After the death of the queen, the king became bitter, he turned against the world. Blaming the child for the mother’s death, he had little affection for his magical offspring, but merely valued the child as his heir.”

Urien who, to Arthur’s surprise, looked just as uncomfortable as the King of Camelot did himself stared silently into the fire. Eliffer’s blue eyes followed the tiny flame-knights and horses sailing up into the night sky. “What became of the child?” Eliffer whispered.

Arthur’s gaze turned back to Dragonara’s face, but the lady simply laughed and looked around the camp’s sleepy occupants. “It’s late; you’ll have to wait and see how the story turns out when we get to Camelot.”

Arthur avoided Dragonara’s searching eyes and busied himself with polishing her armour instead. Urien and his men were about to settle down into their blankets for the night, when their bulky comrade returned and whispered something into Urien’s ear. Arthur watched them closely, when they settled down for the night. One by one, Urien and his men appeared to fall asleep, apart from a couple of look-outs protecting the camp. On the other side of the fire, Eliffer’s chin dropped and his head lolled back. Dragonara settled him gently into a sleeping position and covered him with a blanket. Arthur raised an eyebrow. She was no longer the proud queen, but a gentle mother, full of concern. Not exactly matching the picture Arthur had of sorcerers who, according to his father were, without exception, evil and cruel.

When Arthur believed it to be safe, he crept closer to Dragonara and hurriedly gave her Eleanor’s message. She frowned, cursing under her breath. “Silly girl! We must rest; the horses are exhausted and cannot carry all three of us to Camelot. By the way, where are Urien’s beasts?”

“Good question! None came with them tonight. I saw no tracks by the lake earlier today,” Arthur whispered into her ear; a delicate wisp of red-gold hair was lifted by the king’s breath. His godmother smelled of rose petals and her cheek felt warm against his. Arthur inhaled deeply, savouring the scent for a second, before hurriedly continuing his report with burning ears. “There were twelve trolls; surely they’d have spotted riders leaving the lake before we arrived to have our bath!”

“My thoughts exactly,” Dragonara nodded approvingly. “Urien’s up to something, but what? If he wasn’t in league with the trolls, then where did they come from and what did they want with you and your men? He must keep his beasts hidden somewhere…perhaps with even more of his guards?”

With a pang Arthur realised Dragonara’s inference “you and your men” suggested she didn’t believe him to be a servant any more than he believed in Urien’s concern for her safe return to Leofwine’s realm.

“May I ask why you are travelling to Camelot?” Arthur feigned complete ignorance. When he saw the lady’s eyebrows rise, he quickly added: “Erm…why not go to King Odin’s court, it’s much closer…and practicing magic’s not forbidden there?”

“Your master didn’t tell you? I’m Arthur’s godmother; shouldn’t that guarantee me a welcome and a bed for the night?”

Arthur was amazed at how blithely Dragonara glossed over his warning about sorcery at Camelot. “His godmother? Were you a friend of his father, King Uther? I don’t recall him ever mentioning you.”

“That’s hardly surprising, given your position at court!” Dragonara grinned. “The Uther I remember wasn’t given to passing the time with his servants!”

“Of course not, I just meant, if Uther had, then my master would have mentioned it to me…your visit, naturally, would mean a great deal to him. Did you send word of your arrival?”

“Merlin, why do you think your master dragged you out into the forest when he should be at home with his bride? Of course I did, you toad-headed fool!”

Swallowing his pride and the urge to give her piece of his mind, Arthur hurried to press the lady further, before she clammed up again and rose to leave. “No wonder we didn’t stop to hunt for our supper! So Arthur’s expecting his father’s friend to arrive at a meeting point nearby?”

“We were to meet by the oak where I’d left my companions earlier today. I shan’t deceive you, boy. Uther was no favourite of mine. It was Ygraine, who was my dearest friend.” Without noticing Arthur’s sharp intake of breath, Dragonara began packing a few things into her saddle bags. “We only need a few days’ rest, which Arthur surely won’t begrudge us. Eleanor and I have somewhere to go to. Camelot’s physician Gaius is famous throughout the lands. I wish for Eliffer to stay at Camelot and learn from the great man. I haven’t the heart to wake the lad. Merlin, carry Eliffer to his horse!”

Arthur nodded resignedly and suppressed a yawn. As quietly as possible Arthur deposited the sleeping boy on one of the saddles, secured him with rope and they stole out of the camp. Looking back over his shoulder, Arthur saw the large knight twitch in his sleep, but Urien and the rest of the men didn’t stir. Carefully avoiding the two look-outs Urien had left, Dragonara and Arthur searched for the path leading back to the lake.

Gawain awoke with a start. He was drowsy after what appeared to have been a very long sleep. Dawn was already peeping through the half-open window. To his surprise he found himself deposited in the soft pillows of a four-poster bed. Gawain looked around the spacious room. Although comfortably furnished, everything looked a little shabby and run down. The once richly decorated wall-hangings in hues of green, gold and red matched the hangings on the bed, but the colours were faded by sunlight and age, the fabric covered in dust and rather moth-eaten in places. Despite the heat of summer, somebody had lit a fire in the bedchamber, causing Gawain to break out in a sweat.

Mopping his forehead with the back of his hand, Gawain tried to recall what had happened the night before, but his head seemed to be filled with sheep’s wool and gave up resignedly. He shook his head in an attempt to clear his vision and kick-start his memory. The last thing he remembered was being pushed down a flight of stairs by a couple of trolls. They had bundled him into a cell in the dungeons and tied him to a chair.

He tried to get up, but found his legs wouldn’t obey him. With a supreme effort he managed to climb out of bed and staggered over to the window. He pushed it open and the fresh air revived him. He looked down at himself and realised he was wearing a night shirt instead of his own clothes…hadn’t he been dressed in a red, green and gold tunic with a splendid cloak last night?

Memories began drifting back to him. There’d been a fire, a loud bang and the hearth had exploded. After that…nothing but fog…Gawain groaned and shook his head once more. An image started to emerge out of the fog. When the haze began to clear, his stomach nearly turned. A vision of three ugly crones with a hideous dog reared up in his mind. One of the weird sisters, a fat one in a food-stained dress, had fondled his cheeks and had tried to kiss him repeatedly.

“Eurgh! There isn’t enough ale in the world to make me fancy her!” Gawain buried his face in his hands.

The thought of drink made him only more determined to get out of the chamber. His throat was aching for refreshment…a tankard of ale to wash away the strange taste in his mouth. He stuck his head out of the window once more and took a deep breath. With a much clearer mind Gawain surveyed the forest below which stretched as far as the horizon. He was being held prisoner in the highest part of the castle, one of the flanking towers, not in the castle keep. For a moment he contemplated climbing down the tower’s curtain, but it seemed a recipe for breaking one’s neck and when he crossed through the small antechamber and rattled on the door handle, there was apparently no way out either in the conventional way.

The main door, a carved oak affair, was far too strong for him to break down by himself. Another doorway led into a chamber clearly being used as a dressing room. Robes and women’s shoes lay strewn across the floor. Rifling through the mess Gawain finally recognised his own trousers and snatched them up gratefully. For some reason his legs still wouldn’t obey him properly, but after falling over twice he finally managed to stick his legs through the trouser legs. All he needed now was his shirt and boots!

On an oak table standing next to an ivory chest Gawain discovered a flagon of wine and he helped himself to a liberal draught. He cursed his trembling hands holding the carafe and tried to regain control over his limbs. Fortunately, the sweetness of the wine took away the peculiar taste in his mouth and with it memories flooded back. The three harpies had forced him to drink something that had tasted foul…then somebody had dressed him in a rich man’s robes. Gawain took another swig of wine and remembered being led to a great hall, where three comely maidens, one tall and commanding with a sparkling crown, one blessed with great beauty and golden tresses, one dark with sparkling eyes and raven hair, had waited for him. The tables had been dressed as if for a banquet, candles had flickered in candelabras and sconces had been lit along the walls. The air had been filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread, roasted capon, succulent pheasants and spiced wine.

“That must have been quite some feast last night! I’m on the last whole of my belt!” Gawain patted his belly, which unaccountably seemed far hairier than he recalled.

The sweet, high notes of a flute came drifting back to him. He felt a slight panic set in when a picture of a singing troll with a harp rose up before his mind’s eye. Surely Gawain’s memory was playing tricks on him? When he saw himself dancing with one of the maidens…ruby red lips and eyes so blue a man could happily drown in them. An involuntary squeal escaped Gawain’s lips and he hurriedly ransacked his prison for anything that might serve as a weapon.

“Uh, uh, knowing my luck, there’ll be an outraged father or brother waiting instead of breakfast and a cheerful farewell!” Continuing to hunt for the remainder of his belongings, Gawain crawled into carved chests, stood on a chair to try the top of a wardrobe and finally returned to the bed. He slumped down and took stock of his situation.

There was no way down out of the window and no escape through the door. Even if there had been, he didn’t fancy making the long journey back to Camelot barefoot, wearing nothing but a nightshirt and his trousers, which seemed intent on pinching him. He undid his belt and inhaled deeply, his belly flopping over his trousers to his dismay. Gawain slapped his forehead with some force. Camelot! For the first time he’d remembered his travel companions! Arthur…Merlin…Elyan…how could he possibly have forgotten them? They might be in trouble…Gawain snorted. Naturally! Arthur was always in some sort of trouble and Merlin was never far behind.

Gawain had to get out of this chamber, no matter what! He lifted the pillows beside him in the vain hope of finding at least his dagger, but there was nothing. The blankets and rich covers beside him seemed rather bulky, perhaps his chainmail, sword and clothes were underneath? Looking at the pile of sheets, pillows and blankets more closely for the first time, he noticed the vague outline of a figure. Gawain took a deep breath and prodded the sheets. No answer. He ran his hands softly down the outline. The body felt warm and small; at least he hadn’t woken up next to a troll! Picking up a heavy book from the bedside cabinet with his right, he withdrew the sheets abruptly with his left, ready to strike a blow to whatever was lurking under the bedclothes. To his surprise he had uncovered a buxom girl, sleeping soundly. He stared at the blonde, whose long tresses covered her face. Her head was turned to the wall. Was she the dancing beauty with the ruby lips? Gawain bent over her, the heavy book still in his hand. The girl didn’t move and he dared to lean closer still. Gently, his fingers removed each tendril of hair covering her face, eager to free the rose-blossomed cheeks of this maiden. Her tresses smelled of lavender and primroses, her slender limbs stirred at his touch. The girl sighed, lifting one sleepy arm to clasp him to her chest.

Gawain tried to gently extricate himself from her embrace, but when he attempted to remove her arm, it turned into a vice-like grip around his neck. “My, you’re pretty strong for one so delicate!”

The beauty giggled drowsily and lifted her head to nuzzle his stubbly chin. “You rather liked that last night, if I recall. What’s the matter, did I wear you out with my charms?”

“I really hate to wake you, my snoring beauty, but I must be on my way. Where are my clothes and weapons?” Gawain shook her gently by the shoulders, but she wouldn’t let go. Finally, he slapped her wrists with the book and she let reluctantly released his neck. “Never let it be said, reading doesn’t educate! Tell me Blondie, how do we get out of here?”

“Trust me, there’s no escape! You might as well come back to bed.” The girl grunted, reaching down to recover the sheets and continue her sleep.

“I hate to disappoint you, Sleepy Head, but I’ve got places to be.” Gawain tried to prod her awake more forcefully now. “Did those three ugly sisters lock us in here? If only I had my sword, I’d soon teach those harpies some manners. This is no way to treat a knight!”

“And it’s no way to treat a lady either. Harpies indeed! Last night you called me your little cherry blossom. Now you’ve had your fun, you can’t wait to be on your way.” The girl began sobbing into her pillow. “Take a good look at yourself, Knight, and tell me if we’re not perfectly matched!”

Through the mullioned window the first rays of sun streamed into the chamber and kissed the outline of the sleeper in the bed. Gawain rubbed his eyes. Had her rosy skin begun to change colour? Was her hair turning…grey? His eyes travelled around the chamber but what he expected to see was evidently missing. No mirror…in a lady’s bed chamber?

His sluggish mind tried to work out the implications. He simply had to clear his head! He jumped up but his legs wouldn’t carry him and he fell down on the moth eaten rug in front of the bed. Crawling on all fours, Gawain eventually reached the smaller chamber and the washstand. He pulled himself up and poured water from a pitcher into an earthenware bowl. Taking a deep breath, he plunged his head into the cold water and came up spluttering and coughing. He stared hard into the bowl, water running down his hair and nose. The surface began to settle. Disbelieving his own eyes, Gawain recoiled from his reflection in the bowl.

“You’ve got to be kidding me! AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHH!”

He staggered back into the bedchamber, where the girl sat up in the four-poster bed, her arms crossed above her chest. “Serves you right, you shouldn’t have been so mean to me!”

“AAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!” Gawain rushed towards her with outstretched arms, the pitcher in his hand, ready to smash it over her head.

She aimed a pillow at Gawain. “Don’t even think about getting back into bed! Eurgh, there’s not enough ale in the world to make me fancy you looking like that!”

“Did you hear that scream? They’re torturing Gawain!” Sir Leon’s face had turned pale. “We must find a way to get up that tower. Can’t we create some diversion to draw those guard trolls away from the entrance?”

Sir Percival lifted up his shackled wrists. “If Merlin can find a cure for these, you can count me in.”

At the mention of his name Merlin looked up distractedly. He was trying to bend a nail into the right shape to undo Percival’s chains, so far without success. “Look, one of the trolls has nodded off; perhaps the other will, too?” The knights’ heads turned back towards the courtyard instantly and Merlin’s attempt to divert his companions’ attention had succeeded. He cast a hurried spell, finally curling the nail into the required shape. The lock on Percival’s shackles sprang open and the knight was free.

The friends stole across the courtyard, using the shadows under the buttress to mask their approach. The sleepy trolls were soon dispatched with a left hook by Percival and a clout on the head from Sir Elyan. The friends hurried up the spiral staircase, careful not to make a sound. At the top of the stairs they reached an impregnable oak door. Percival glued his ear to the door. No sound came from the interior.

“It’s got to be the right place, what do you think?” Merlin whispered.

“Of course it’s the right place!” Sir Leon snapped. “What else would those infernal trolls be guarding behind such a heavy door, if not Gawain?”

“A loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese?” Elyan sympathised. Lack of sleep and an empty stomach weren’t exactly a recipe for early morning cheerfulness.

Sir Leon pushed his way past Merlin and took up position next to Percival. “Together we might be able to break it down. If only we had something to use as a battering ram.” Sir Leon turned to search for a useful implement and his gaze fell on Merlin, standing idly at the top of the stairs.

“Don’t even think about it! I like Gawain, but there’s a limit to my loyalty!” Merlin hurriedly took a step back, nearly tumbling down the staircase. Sir Leon grinned and took up searching in a small chamber to their right instead.

Hoping for another distraction so he could magically open the door, Merlin peered through one of the arrow slits in the tower’s curtain and found he was in luck. He discovered two small figures hovering by the drawbridge, one of them seemed familiar, despite his peculiar attire. Uttering an exclamation, Merlin hopped up and down excitedly, attracting everyone’s attention. Sir Leon poked his head out of the little chamber to see what the commotion was about.

“Look, it’s Arthur!” Merlin grabbed Sir Leon’s arm and drew him over to the opening. Percival and Elyan hurried to their side to watch their king walk down the embankment and enter the moat.

“What does he think he’s doing? He’s going to get himself killed!” Elyan peered through the arrow slit, frowning in disbelief. Sir Leon nudged him out of the way to get a better look.

“Is the twilight playing tricks on me or is Arthur wearing a girl’s blouse?” Sir Leon squinted into the early morning sun with tired eyes. Behind the knights, Merlin aimed a spell at the door and the lock cracked with a soft POP. Everyone turned round instantly to the source of the sound, but at that very moment the air was shattered by another terrible cry from the chamber beyond the oak door.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! No more, I beg you, PLEASE!” A loud bang followed that sounded as if somebody had fallen over and they heard a muffled squeak and fighting.

“That was Gawain! Let’s get the poor fellow out of there!” Percival tried to rip the door off its hinges, when in the courtyard below them the portcullis was lifted, the rusty chains screeching in protest.

Merlin spied through the arrow slit again. A group of trolls streamed out of the open gate onto the drawbridge, unleashing a volley of arrows in the process. Merlin held his breath, biting his lip. He couldn’t possibly perform magic spells from this distance without running the risk of the king getting hurt. Across the drawbridge, on the other side of the moat, Arthur’s companion seemed to be gesturing. Aiming at the swimmer in the moat, the troll’s arrows hit the surface of the water in ever increasing volleys, but strangely without injuring Arthur, who was now diving below the surface, temporarily disappearing from view.

Noticing Merlin turn pale at what he saw down below, Sir Leon pulled him aside to take a look. “Merlin, Elyan, go and help Gawain! Percival, come with me, we must rescue Arthur!” Sir Leon tried to hurry down the stairs but Merlin held him back.

“No, you’re not well enough to face so many attackers. Let me go with Percival, you stay and rescue Gawain, far better odds.” Merlin was running down the spiral stairs before Sir Leon had a chance to protest.

“Merlin! What on earth can you do against an army of trolls? Polish them until they yield?” Sir Leon shouted after him.

Merlin called out over his shoulder without slowing down his descent. “Ha, you’ve never seen my polishing! I’m lethal with a brush and bucket!”

“That’s not what Arthur says,” Sir Percival muttered, shrugging his shoulders. “Leon, look after Gawain, I’d better go after Merlin, before the trolls rip off his impetuous head.”

Out of breath, Merlin reached the final step and bounded into the courtyard. The trolls were concentrating on the attackers on the drawbridge and didn’t notice his approach. Merlin searched the courtyard for anything useful. In a dark corner by the guardhouse he found a broom, bucket and wire brush. He aimed a spell at them; they instantly shot up, flew through the air and knocked out three trolls at once.

“If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s mopping up after Arthur’s mess,” Merlin grinned and aimed another spell at the rusty armour in the courtyard. It awoke, made ready for battle and with a swish of his hand Merlin sent the living armour towards the attackers on the drawbridge. Behind him, he heard Percival cluttering down the stairs. Merlin picked up a heavy club and ran over to the stricken trolls on the ground.

“That’ll teach you to be more hospitable to my king!” Merlin was busy clouting a troll over the head, when Percival entered the courtyard.

Grabbing one of the swords from the unconscious trolls, Percival ran out onto the drawbridge, where he was able to dispatch the last of the attackers still standing. Rusty armour lay everywhere among the fallen bodies. Baffled, Percival surveyed the carnage on the bridge and stared back over his shoulder into the courtyard, where Merlin was just aiming a final kick at an already beaten troll.

“Remind me never to doubt your polishing again!” Percival pointed at the bruised and battered trolls. “How on earth did you…?”

Merlin hurtled past him. “Never mind that now! Where’s Arthur?” he panted, searching the shore and the moat. The surface of the water was littered with floating arrows and the embankment on the other side of the castle was covered in spears still vibrating with the force of the impact.

English: Statue of King Arthur, Hofkirche, Inn...

English: Statue of King Arthur, Hofkirche, Innsbruck, designed by Albrecht Dürer and cast by Peter Vischer the Elder, 1520s. This statue is old enough so that it is not covered by any copyright. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Looking over the railing of the bridge he spotted something floating in the water…a garment of some sort…a girl’s embroidered blouse? Merlin cursed under his breath. Had it all been for nothing? He stared at the dark water but no matter how hard he looked, there was no sign of the king and his companion anywhere!

…/to be continued…

(source of animation: