For those of you who are keen to read the next chapter in this epic adventure…here’s chapter eight!
BTW, for people who haven’t watched the BBC’s hit show before: the writers made up some harmless swearwords for Merlin to use, so the show could be aired at 6pm for kids to watch with their parents…dollop-head and clot-pole being two of them:)
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. Series 5 to be aired in the UK on 29th September. Latest BBC trailers and pictures are available at:
part 8 created 8th and 9th August 2012
The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin (Part 8)
Startled by the noise, Eliffer awoke and rubbed his eyes. “Where are we? Where’s Eleanor?” Yawning, he used the stirrup to balance himself and slid from the saddle like an eel trying to escape from a fisherman’s basket. He landed head first on the ground next to Hengist and the animal, now free to do as it pleased, began to graze on the embankment.
Dragonara stood at the outer edge of the reed bed and stared into the water. On the drawbridge across the moat a dark-haired boy was doing just the same. Eliffer ran to his protector and put an arm around her waist. “Who’s that boy over there?”
Absentmindedly, Dragonara wrapped her arm around Eliffer’s shoulders and sighed. “THAT’s no boy, Eliffer. THAT, if I’m not very much mistaken, is none other than Merlin.”
“Erm…are there two?” Eliffer’s eyes widened. “A blonde and a dark-haired one…does the King of Camelot call all his servants Merlin to keep things simple?”
Dragonara threw her head back and laughed. “I bet Arthur wished he’d thought of that!”
“In that case, our Merlins are either two sides of the same coin or a famous double act from Odin’s court!” Eliffer grinned. “Eleanor tells me some courts keep excellent jesters.”
“Don’t you mean master and servant from Camelot?”
“But which is which, my lady?”
“Good question, Eliffer,” Dragonara finally detached her gaze from the water’s edge and directed it towards the drawbridge, where Merlin had picked up a lance and attempted to fish for the embroidered shirt still floating in the moat. The dark-haired boy managed to impale the garment and lifted the dripping shirt out onto the bridge where it landed with splash.
“He’s got Eleanor’s blouse! But…didn’t the other Merlin wear it earlier?”
“Yes Eliffer; I fear King Arthur’s as slippery as a snake. Now he’s shed his unwanted servile skin, he’s slithered off somewhere…but where?”
The goings-on at the water’s edge enraged a kingfisher trying to hunt for fish on the other side of the moat. An azure flash of light shot through the air and he was gone – to the obvious relief of a dragonfly, which soared up from the morning mist among the reeds, its incandescent wings reflecting the shimmering water below and the blue sky above.
Becoming fully aware of woman and boy for the first time, Merlin gave a hesitant wave and Dragonara waved back. Uncertain, if he should go to her or return to the castle to search for Arthur, whose pale body he’d seen shoot through the moat as fast as a pike pursuing a juicy three-spine stickling, Merlin decided to stay where he was and let the lady come to him. Unfortunately, the lady had just decided on the same cautious action and they’d reached a stalemate before introductions had even begun.
It was Hengist who took the initiative. He had detected the scent of freshly baked bread on the morning breeze. Unable to resist the temptation, Hengist erroneously identified Merlin as the source of such culinary delights and galloped towards the drawbridge. Merlin saved himself from being trampled by jumping over the railing and clinging on to the sides, where he remained dangling just a couple of feet above the water, while above him Hengist whinnied to express his disappointment and raced off on his quest for food. The horse’s hooves cluttered across the drawbridge, through the gate and past the raised portcullis into the outer courtyard.
“Noooooo! Hengist, stupid boy, come here!” Eliffer ran onto the drawbridge in pursuit of his horse. Dragonara had no choice but to follow.
“Now what?” Merlin scratched his thatch of hair and gawped after the boy. When he saw the lady approach at some speed, he hoisted himself up and over the railing. She had been faster than he had anticipated and they collided. He landed with a thud at Dragonara’s feet, while the lady had to steady herself by holding on to the bridge’s palings. Merlin scrambled up and bowed deeply, but the lady seemed oblivious to his presence. She stared at a point beyond his prostrate figure and the soggy shirt he was still holding in his hand. Merlin flashed a radiant smile up at her and hoped for the best. Time seemed to stand still; the shirt made a puddle on the bridge, the sun rose a little higher, the mist across the moat vanished, while Dragonara’s green eyes kept staring into space.
Merlin coughed politely, straightened to his full height and this time held out his hand to assist the lady across the bridge. “You must be Arthur’s godmother. I’m his servant Merlin. At your service, Your Majesty.” Dragonara ignored both hand and servant.
“Be still, you worm!” She cried. Two reed-warblers nesting in the reed bed below Merlin discontinued their chirpy song; a couple of sedge warblers darted up into the air and tweeted excitedly. Merlin started and dropped his outstretched hand. The lady’s response was not what he had expected. Instead of a polite nod or queenly hand gesture Merlin was greeted by blazing eyes and flaring nostrils. Had he offended her in some way?
She raised her hand and he was about to duck a blow, when he realised, she was aiming at a spot behind him. He turned quickly and caught his breath when he spotted an outstretched arm clutching a dagger.
One of the semi-conscious trolls littering the bridge behind him had reached up to stab Merlin’s thigh. Dragonara’s eyes lit up as she muttered her incantation. “Time to rest your eyes, little worm.” The troll’s head sank back on his chest and he fell asleep instantly, collapsing in a heap.
“You’ve got magic!”
“So do you, boy!” Dragonara inclined her head towards the sleeping troll and the bump growing on his forehead. “I saw how you made the armour dance to save your master.”
Merlin shook his head. “That was child’s play. You saved Arthur! He’d have drowned, if you hadn’t –“
“Don’t count your princelings before they’re safely back at home. We’ve no idea if Arthur’s safe. For all I know my spell might have transported him straight into that catapult’s claw up there on the gallery.” Dragonara ducked with an expression of mock consternation. “If the uppermost gallery was guarded, your king could be hurtling past our ears at any moment.”
Merlin shaded his eyes and gazed up to the castle’s mangonel. After a moment’s contemplation he shook his head decisively. “Nope, Arthur hasn’t discovered the joys of air travel, yet. Seriously though, thank you! I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t –“
“From what I hear you’re quite a resourceful young man; I’m sure you would have thought of something to save Arthur’s hide, no matter how ungrateful my godson might be in his response.”
Merlin grimaced. “Ah, he knows about your magic?”
“If he wasn’t sure before, he is now! Heavens above, I haven’t performed such a powerful spell for years. He shot through the water with the speed of a lightning bolt. Can’t have done his handsome features any good! Perhaps it would’ve been kinder to let him drown?”
“Arthur’s got a hard head on his shoulders; I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Merlin scratched his nose. “You won’t…I mean…he doesn’t know about my practicing –“
“What? Washing my daughter’s shirts in the moat?” Dragonara smiled and took the dripping blouse from his hands. “Your secret’s safe with me, Merlin. On that you have my word. Which reminds me, our other mutual and equally magical secret…did he send word? I assumed Kilgharrah had arranged for an official escort from Camelot to meet me by the lake, when Arthur turned up.” Her face assumed an air of joyful reminiscence. “Not quite the formal rescue party I had expected. Of course, it’s not the first time a king has greeted me in his birthday suit, but it’s usually after and not before we’ve had dinner.” Dragonara giggled, when Merlin’s eyebrows disappeared into his fringe.
He felt blood rising to his cheeks and hastily fished for the scroll of parchment in his – or rather Arthur’s – cloak. He handed the scroll to Dragonara. “Arthur received this. You know of Kilgharrah?”
“Oh yes, scaly head and I are old, old friends.”
Merlin’s eyes widened. “You’ve been to Camelot…before or after Ygraine’s death? Forgive my curiosity. It’s just…nobody’s ever mentioned you since I’ve been at court.”
“You mean, how could a sorceress walk away unscathed from Uther’s kingdom? Ask your friend Kilgharrah. I last saw Arthur on the day he was born. He’s not turned out too badly considering his paternal credentials. Guinevere’s a lucky girl. None of my royal husbands were ever blessed with such…uuhm…regalia.”
She threw back her head and laughed so heartily, the silver hair pin holding her red-blonde mane fell out and her long hair began tumbling down over her shoulders and purple cloak. Merlin hurriedly bent down to pick up the hair pin and held it out to her with an unsteady hand. She dropped her daughter’s wet shirt and took the richly decorated pin from him with an amused air, her fingers brushing his for a moment. He withdrew respectfully and she lifted her arms, twisting her long tresses into a bun before securing her unruly mane with the pin. Merlin followed the graceful, upward motion of her slender arms with his eyes and wondered briefly, what she might look like in her queenly robes and wimple, sitting on a throne. He’d never met anyone who looked less like a godmother, let alone a mother and stay-at-home wife. To his astonishment he felt her gaze travelling up and down on his own person and realised she was assessing him just as much as he was trying to gauge her. When their gaze met, Merlin felt his ears burn. Dragonara flashed a smile at him and strode off to the other side of the bridge.
He picked up the dripping shirt once more and quickly turned around to wring out the garment. Eyeing her over his shoulder, he could see she was highly diverted by his embarrassment. Dragonara started to uncurl the scroll, but before she had a chance to look at the message, Eliffer had re-appeared at the gate and asked them to hurry. She handed the parchment back to Merlin, who stuffed wet blouse and parchment into his shirt and they ran as fast as the scattered bodies on the bridge would allow them. Out of breath, they joined Eliffer at the foot of the gatehouse.
The boy pointed excitedly to one of the flanking towers. “Up there by that tower, where the flag was just a moment ago! I saw him! The other Merlin’s safe!”
Doubtful of Eliffer’s interpretation of the word “safe”, Merlin squinted upwards, but the flag and whoever the boy had seen were no longer there.
“You’ve been imagining things, boy. There’s nobody there.” Dragonara laid an arm around the boy’s shoulder and sighed. “Let’s find Hengist and see what kind of welcome we’ll get inside.”
“Judging by the look of them,” Eliffer pointed at the stricken trolls littering the outer courtyard, “the welcome might be a little subdued.”
Hengist waited patiently for them in the stables. He had discovered a stack of hay and was contently munching his way through a considerable amount of it. When they entered, he swiped away a fly with his long tail and whinnied a greeting. Merlin couldn’t help but admire the black beast. He ran his hands over Hengist’s sweaty back and vaguely regretted having knocked out the trolls earlier. The stables were full to bursting point with the guards’ and the knights’ horses. Having a groom would be handy, even if he was a troll and stank to high heaven!
As if reading his mind, Dragonara instructed Eliffer to take care of Hengist and to secure the knights’ horses. She told him of a hiding place nearby and left him in possession of her own sword. After some initial protests at not being allowed to join the quest for Arthur and his men, Eliffer acknowledged the advantages of her scheme. He had discovered the stables were adjacent to animal pens, where happy chickens had produced a considerable number of eggs just waiting to be turned into breakfast.
Pressing his body into a spot of shade by the gatehouse wall, Merlin waited in the outer courtyard. He squinted up into the bright sky and wondered how long the weather would hold. It was only an hour past dawn, but the sun’s rays had already burned off the mist rising up from the moat and surrounding fields. He wiped a bead of sweat from his upper lip and turned to find suitable weapons for the lady and himself. Selecting an old-fashioned broad sword and a mace from an unconscious guard, Merlin and Dragonara hurried across the courtyard and dived into the nearest dark entrance and down a set of stairs in search of Arthur and his men.
They found themselves in a long, badly-lit corridor which was in as bad a condition as the courtyard and towers. Dust reigned everywhere and cobwebs clung to the moth-eaten tapestries on the walls. Merlin managed to suppress the urge to sneeze, but was eventually startled into a loud nasal explosion, when a rat raced across his feet and shot down a gap in the flagstones. Dragonara shook her head, raising a finger to her lips. “Do you want the guards to find us?”
“I couldn’t help it. There was a rat.” Merlin whispered back and followed her down the stairs into the next gloomy corridor. “Haven’t they heard of wall sconces or torches? The death rate among their servants must be high; you could break your neck on these rotten stairs.”
His companion answered with a stifled squeal. “Why don’t we just holler for the guards?” Merlin snorted. Dragonara grimaced and lifted her foot; she’d trodden on an enormous bug, its slimy entrails stuck to the sole of her boot.
“Lunare.” She pointed a finger at a couple of lances hanging on an adjacent wall. They lit up like torches and Dragonara handed one to Merlin, who took the torch with a frown.
“The one time I can practice magic openly and I forget!”
“I guess you were too busy playing with rats.”
“No, I got distracted by somebody squealing like a little girl at the sight of a bug.”
Progressing more quickly than Merlin, who kept his eyes to the ground in case anymore rats or giant bugs made an appearance, Dragonara won the lead and disappeared down an even narrower hallway, before Merlin could catch up with her. Merlin shuddered. The passage stank of rat urine and he called after Dragonara to turn back, but he saw her torch disappear at the end of the corridor and turn left. Disregarding the threat of rat attack, he hurried after her, squishing several prize specimens of bugs under his boots as he made his way along the hallway.
He was just passing a heavily studded door at the far end of the corridor, when a strong arm shot out and grabbed Merlin’s wrist, forcing him to follow the arm’s owner into a small chamber. Before Merlin could turn or call out, somebody had clamped a hand over his mouth; Merlin struggled for breath. He tried to wriggle free but succeeded merely in the man pinching his nose between index finger and thumb, bringing tears to Merlin’s eyes and cutting off his air completely.
When the man finally released his nose, Merlin wasn’t sure, if he should be grateful or not. The chamber stank of sweat, rat droppings and ale. Across the room somebody lit a candle and placed it on the floor. The faint light revealed an unmade bed and a couple of over-sized slippers together with a small opening that doubled up as a window into the next corridor. It appeared to be the only source of ventilation. A tattered mail shirt and hose had been flung across the bed and on the wash stand by the door Merlin noticed a water pitcher, bowl and something that looked very much like a lady’s scarf. On a small wooden chest, next to the bed, Merlin spotted a plate with bread, onions and cheese. His stomach gave an involuntary growl. A half-full tankard of wine and a flask had been left behind by the rightful occupant of the chamber, too. In the furthest corner of the room a shadow detached itself from the wall and came slowly towards Merlin. Were these Unding’s private quarters? Had the lead troll finally caught up with him?
The shadow came closer, temporarily blocking out the candle. The man holding him tightened his grip across Merlin’s mouth. Merlin grunted with the effort to break free. The man’s other arm reached across Merlin’s chest and held him with such force, it threatened to squeeze the remaining air out of his lungs.
“I’ll remove my hand, if you keep quiet. Make a sound and you’ll regret it.” A muffled voice hissed into his ear. He felt the man’s hot breath on his neck. Merlin managed to nod his head. The man removed his hand and pushed Merlin roughly into the middle of the chamber, where the dark shadow caught him and held him with a bear-like grip that could have crushed Merlin at any moment. Merlin raised his chin defiantly and peered into the darkness.
“Now what? Your feisty friend breaks my spine?” Merlin felt his limbs go numb. “Or is he going to hand me over to the three fat women in the hall?”
“Not unless you want him to!” The man, who had nearly choked him, now stood with his back to the door. He was wearing an oversized cloak and a coat of mail beneath; his features were hidden by a hood. “Before I decide what to do with you, my friend here will help you to decide what’s good for you. I’m looking for something and you look like the fellow with all the answers.”
“Can’t be much fun working for the three crones?” Merlin took another approach. “My master’s rich, if it’s gold you want in exchange for my life? I’m his favourite servant. You could leave this place and start over somewhere else.”
The man snorted. Merlin tried to get a better look, but his attacker had drawn the hood over his face. The stranger took a step towards Merlin, who shrank back, only to be gripped even tighter by the stranger’s companion. When the two sides of the stranger’s cloak parted, Merlin caught the gleam of a sword. The man came closer still and pointed his gloved finger at Merlin’s face.
“A favourite servant, you don’t say!” The man tapped Merlin’s forehead with his finger. “You’ve got the words LAZY and USELESS written all over your face. No master would give a single penny for such an underling! Then again, who knows, the ladies upstairs might find a use for you!”
Something in the tone of that hoarse voice caught Merlin’s ear. “I’m not really in the mood for romance right now; perhaps introductions to your three ugly sisters could wait?”
“I’ve only got one sister and she’s far too much of a handful for the likes of you!”
“You’d be surprised what I can handle!” Merlin muttered under his breath. As if to prove him wrong, the man’s silent companion pushed Merlin back into the stranger’s arms and the two men found some amusement tossing Merlin back and forth between them, until Merlin used his full weight to step on the man’s toes. Merlin shot across the room and tried to get to the door, but the stranger’s companion was too quick and blocked his way.
“Aw, it fights back!” The hooded stranger hobbled across the room and dropped onto the bed. He rubbed his foot and grunted. “We’d better watch our step, my friend. He might be pulling our hair next.”
The companion by the door emitted a howl, which Merlin assumed was meant to be laughter. Standing in the middle of the chamber, Merlin looked around hoping to spot the mace he’d had earlier, which the stranger had confiscated, when he’d drawn him into the room. Trying to gain time, Merlin pointed at the stranger’s silent companion. “He doesn’t say much, does he?”
“Don’t you believe it! Given half a chance, there’s no shutting him up. Now, listen. There’s something I’ve lost and I want it back. Are you going to help me or do I have to apply a suitable inducement first?” The hooded stranger’s voice had become menacing again. He drew his sword and placed it on the bed next to him. “What would your master say if he saw you now? Idling away the day in a castle full to bursting point with eager ladies…when you should be polishing his armour and sharpen his sword.”
“My master would say you talk too much, you puffed up dollop-head!” Merlin had spotted the mace and pounced on it, before the silent companion had a chance to dash across the room. Merlin raised his arm and swung the mace around. Alarmed, the stranger dropped to the flagstones and dived under the bed. The silent companion lunged at Merlin, who brought down the mace with force, but missed his intended target. He had smashed the washstand in half instead of hitting the bed. There was no chance of swinging the mace again – the bear-like grip of the silent companion wrought the mace from Merlin’s hands and sent him crashing down to join the hooded man on the floor.
(source of animation: heathersanimation.com, BBC photograph from Facebook Official Merlin site)