The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin! (Part 9)
Part 9 was created on 11th and 12th August 2012
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:
The hooded stranger crawled out from under bed and burst out laughing. “Remind me never to take you into battle with me. You’d wipe out all my best knights with that thing!” He scrambled up and fell back on the bed, where he helped himself to a chunk of bread and an onion from the plate on the small wooden chest. He savoured his food wordlessly, before holding up his sword into the light and turning it thoughtfully. Excalibur!
Merlin gasped, allowing the stranger’s friend to hoist him up and put him back onto his feet. Unexpectedly, the bear-like companion released Merlin rather abruptly and propelled him into the stranger’s open arms. Merlin reached out and pulled the hood from the man’s face.
“The very same! Minus his own breeches and armour thanks to a certain useless toad of a servant for whom I truly wouldn’t give a silver penny.” Arthur pulled his servant close and embraced Merlin heartily. “After leaving me stark naked at the lake, you deserve being handed over to the ladies of the house!”
“No thanks, I’ve met them. I’d rather romance a bear!”
“Be careful what you wish for, Merlin.” A wide grin spread across Arthur’s face. “Let me introduce you to my furry friend.”
“Lllleeeeeegggge Mmmmmrrrrlllleeennn!” Arthur’s companion stepped out into the candle light and clouted Merlin on the back. Merlin’s knees gave way and he fell onto the bed, landing half-way across Arthur’s lap.
“On second thought, I might be persuaded to join the ladies upstairs,” Merlin panted and scrabbled back on his feet. “Your woolly friend is a fraction too affectionate for my taste.”
Arthur burst out laughing. “That’s just what the ladies must have said! I found our friend tied to the four-poster bed.”
Merlin rubbed his shoulder. “That’s probably not a bad idea.” He turned and caught a whiff of the creature’s fur. “Phew! I thought the troll leader was pretty fragrant, but THIS – what exactly is THIS, when it’s at home in its own natural habitat? Troll, wild boar or plain old hearth rug on legs?“
Arthur held his belly, roaring with laughter. Merlin couldn’t help himself and burst out laughing, too. Their hairy companion shook his fist at them.
“Good heavens, it speaks!” Merlin wiped a tear from the corner of his eye and cleared his throat. “Did he just call us clot-pole?”
“He’s a fast learner,” Arthur hiccupped between bouts of laughter. “By this afternoon he’ll be calling us dollop-head and know how to hold a sword.”
“Wwwwitcheeees, Aaarrrgggguuurrr.” The creature tore the lady’s scarf from the washstand and started whipping the two friends with it, but it only served to increase their merriment.
“After I had dealt with the lead troll I had a brief look around – the ladies of the house were busy picking herbs in the kitchen garden. No doubt they were trying to make themselves even more appealing for our amorous friend.” Arthur managed to say, when he had relieved Gawain of the scarf. He tied the pretty accessory around his face and pouted, enraging Gawain even more and sending Merlin into fits of helpless laughter.
They stopped laughing when the door was torn open; the three men fell silent instantly. The companion and Arthur sprang to their feet and grabbed hold of their swords, while Merlin pounced on the mace Arthur’s furry companion had taken off him earlier.
“Why don’t we announce our arrival more formally? Let’s blow fanfares and set off fire crackers, shall we?” Dragonara appeared in the doorframe. “You’ve probably alerted the guards from castles in the neighbourhood by now, never mind the trolls of this establishment!”
Two swords and one mace sank to the ground. Dragonara’s stern look did not relent. Arthur regained his wits more quickly than his companions. “We were just…uhm…holding a council of war. Won’t you join us?” He invited her into the chamber and motioned her to take a seat on the bed. “I know this chamber isn’t exactly fit for a queen, but there’s wine and bread!” Arthur held out the tankard to her. She shook her head, but accepted a place on the bed.
“I’ve counted around one hundred trolls guarding this castle. There are no servants or grooms as far as I can tell, just guards. Doesn’t that strike you as strange?” Arthur sat down next to Dragonara and sniffed the tankard’s contents. “Who baked this bread and who fetched the wine?”
Dragonara shook her head. “There’s nothing strange in that. The castle is bewitched.”
“Hm, you seem very certain of your case? Since you brought up the subject of sorcery, you wouldn’t happen to know how I got out of the water and landed in the claw of the catapult on the upper gallery, would you, Godmother dearest? I’m a strong swimmer, but even I can’t propel my body up a tower like a flying fish.”
“Probably all that hot air in your head,” Dragonara reached across him and grabbed the loaf of bread. “It happens a lot to newly crowned kings.” She winked at Merlin and took a bite out of the loaf. “Hmmmm, this is fine bread indeed. Fit for a queen!”
She tore off a chunk and handed it to Merlin. He took it, hesitated and then offered it to the creature, but it shook its head. “Won’t you introduce us to your new friend?”
Arthur cleared his throat and got up. He bowed first to the creature, then to the lady and Merlin. “Apology, m’lady. Let me introduce you to one of Camelot’s finest. The honourable knight, Sir Gawain.”
“Lllleeeeeegggge Mmmmmrrrrlllleeennn!” The honourable monster bowed deeply to Queen Dragonara, before turning to his young servant-friend.
Merlin stared open-mouthed. “Gawain? I don’t believe it! We came to rescue him from torture and all the time he was tied up in a lady’s bedchamber? He was screaming like a…uhm…proverbial stuck pig. Goose feather pillows too hard on your hide, were they?” Merlin exhaled with a grunt, tore into the chunk of bread and chewed with bulging cheeks. Gawain shrugged his shoulders and attempted a grin.
“Has he always been like this or is this a recent development,” Dragonara pointed to Gawain’s bat-like ears and wild-boar snout.
“The jury’s still out on that one,” Arthur grinned. He picked up the tankard once more and was about to drink deeply, when Gawain lunged at him and snatched the tankard out of his hand.
“Oy, get your own, greedy beggar!”
Gawain sniffed the wine, before pronouncing his expert opinion on the vintage: “Wwwwitcheeees, Aaarrrgggguuurrr.”
Dragonara took the wine from him and stuck her nose into the tankard. “He’s right, Arthur, the wine is bewitched. Everyone drinking from it will turn into a creature just like him.”
“Can’t you undo the enchantment…turn him back into Gawain?”
Dragonara shifted uncomfortably on the bed next to him and stared at her feet. “I’m sorry Arthur, I’m not sure that I can.”
“Meaning you can produce spells that send me flying a hundred yards up into the air but you cannot – or will not – help my friend! Sorcerers, you are all the same…self-serving, untrustworthy –“
Dragonara shot up from the bed. “Now wait a minute! Did I say I wouldn’t try?” She glowered at her godson. “Don’t be so quick to judge, it is unbecoming in a king. This whole castle is protected by an incredibly powerful spell, so powerful it may take more than my sorcery to break it.”
Arthur searched her face. “How do you know? Have you already tried?”
Dragonara’s face darkened and she sunk back onto the bed looking like a picture of personified misery. “I know because I was the one who cast the spell with Leofwine’s help.”
Arthur and Merlin stared at her. Gawain growled. She got up and started pacing around the room, wringing her hands and picking at the chunk of bread as she circled the chamber. “It was Leofwine. He tricked me…just like he had tricked the poor girls and their father whose castle this is. You see, he wanted an heir, but his wife was barren. He’d learned that sorcery might help his wife to conceive, so he turned to me…he promised to help me. I was in rather a fix at the time.”
Arthur gasped. “The story you told to the children…I thought you were talking about –“
“I know, you thought I was talking about you and Ygraine…well, that is another story for which now is not the right time. Leofwine had learned that there were three sisters living at the edge of his realm, who dabbled in magic. He tricked Yolanda, the prettiest of the three girls. The girl’s father had kept them not exactly isolated, but well, they were quite innocent and Yolanda believed Leofwine when he told her he’d send his first wife away into exile and marry Yolanda instead. The truth is he needed a woman of noble blood for the spell and he didn’t want to risk his wife’s life. I was the one who was to perform the actual spell to bring about the birth of his heir. In order to create the kind of son he wanted, I needed the blood of true nobility.”
Merlin slapped his forehead. “Now I understand! When Leofwine took his revenge, he also used noble blood for the spell to enchant the castle and its inhabitants. That explains why the sisters sent out their trolls to capture Urien but the guards stupidly abducted us instead. The sisters have been trying to break the spell ever since.”
Arthur got up and joined his godmother in her rounds of the chamber, following her shadow. “Go on, how come his wife ended up dead?”
Merlin interrupted. “A life for a life. That’s the law of magic, remember what the High Priestess Nimueh told Uther?”
“Everything was set up and we were ready to perform the spell. I had certain problems of my own at the time,” Dragonara turned abruptly and eyed Arthur from under her eyelashes, “which we don’t need to go into right now. When Leofwine offered me sanctuary in exchange for the spell, I jumped at the chance. At the last minute, Yolanda’s father found out what Leofwine was planning and intervened, fearing the price for the spell would be his daughter’s life. She withdrew her offer of help. Leofwine tried to persuade the other two sisters, but they laughed in his face, mocking him, saying they wouldn’t want to be his wife if he was the last man on earth.”
She stopped pacing and faced Arthur. “Leofwine was so desperate for an heir; his wars with his neighbours were going badly, he feared without an heir his realm would be vulnerable; he eventually used his beloved wife in the spell. She died giving birth to Urien. Leofwine was beside himself with rage and vowed to take terrible revenge on the three sisters and their father.”
“Why do you think the laws of Camelot forbid the practice of magic?” Arthur had also stopped pacing and challenged his godmother face to face. “Because nothing good’s ever come from using sorcery!”
Dragonara raised her hands and gently cupped his face in her palms. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that, my dear boy.”
Surprised, Arthur submitted to the caress before turning brusquely away. Seeing godmother and god-son standing so closely together, Merlin thought they could have passed for mother and son, they were so similar in their colouring, height and demeanour. Merlin looked from Dragonara to Arthur’s face. For a brief moment he thought two sets of cornflower-blue eyes were gazing back at him. Merlin tried to recall a distant memory involving Morgause and the ghost of Ygraine, but the memory remained as elusive as Dragonara herself, who stood lost in her own thoughts in the middle of the chamber.
He cleared his throat to catch her attention and she turned her face towards him, her eyes as before a deep emerald green. “How do we break the spell that’s enchanted Gawain and this castle, my lady?”
Dragonara opened her mouth to speak but at that very moment an explosion in the chambers above them shattered the peace. Their own chamber shook with the impact of the explosion and several small pieces of masonry fell from the ceiling. They rushed out into the hallway trying to determine where the noise was coming from.
“What’s immediately above us, Merlin, you’ve been up there?”
“It must be the great hall,” Merlin stared at Arthur. “That can only mean one thing, they’ve recaptured Sir Leon and the others and now the women…oh no, crazy old Ethelgunda’s tried to make another brew with my hair.”
Arthur stared at his servant. In the flickering light of Arthur’s candle the two of them looked rather comical, a king wearing troll’s clothing several sizes too large and a servant in a king’s robes that were just as ill-fitting. “Why on earth would the women perform sorcery using your hair? Wearing my cloak and mail shirt seems to have gone to your head, Merlin!”
“If it had, the spell would have been broken by now, wouldn’t it?” Merlin pulled a face and rubbed the spot where Ethelgunda had ripped out his hair. “My blood’s just too rich in natural nobility, that’s why Ethelgunda’s brew hasn’t worked.”
Arthur snorted. “It’s certainly full of something, but I doubt it’s nobility. Horse dung more like it.” He grabbed Merlin’s arm and pushed him in front. “Here, take the candle. Wearing a king’s robes brings not just privileges but also obligations with it. Why don’t you go to the end of this passage and see, if it’s safe to proceed?”
A second explosion rocked the castle, throwing Arthur and Dragonara off their feet and sending Gawain crashing into the wall. Merlin remained upright but dropped the candle, plunging them all into momentary darkness.
“Lunare,” Merlin whispered and the candle’s flame relit instantly. He picked it up and cautiously walked to the end of the passage. The next corridor was deserted. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Come, it’s quite safe.” Merlin stepped into the passageway and disappeared into the darkness. His companions hurried to keep up with him.
“He’s certainly got natural optimism coursing through his veins, I give him that,” Arthur conceded and followed at speed. Above them running feet could be heard and cries echoing along the deserted corridors. “What do the women want with my knights? Try them out one by one for the right degree of noble blood?”
Gawain snorted and Dragonara burst out in a mirthless laugh. “If only, Arthur! Leofwine’s enchantment means the women have to each find a man willing to take their hand in marriage when the sun is up. For a few hours each night the women turn back to their beautiful selves, but when the sun rises they become hags again. The more a man mocks them, the worse the effect of the enchantment will be when they drink the wine.” She pointed at Gawain, whose bat-ears had grown at an alarming speed. “I’m afraid that’s not all. Leofwine’s enchantment means the men eventually become besotted with the hags. He enchanted all the wine in the cellar to make sure the castle guards keep topping up on the magical brew with every meal they take.”
“While the women don’t give two straws for the men!” Merlin had stopped in his tracks to allow the others to catch up. “Now I understand why the trolls stay despite the rough treatment they get. Leofwine wanted to make sure the poor women would never find love…you know, in case one of the trolls falls in love with a hag and vice versa.”
Gawain stood sniffing the stale air in the passage. He pointed excitedly upwards. “Wwwwitcheeees, Aaarrrgggguuurrr.”
Arthur pushed past him, firmly taking Dragonara by the arm. “I don’t fancy seeing another of my knights being turned into a bridegroom with the features of a hog. If truly noble blood can undo the enchantment, the women can have a whole fistful of my hair.”
Dragonara raised an eyebrow. “How very generous of you, my liege. Undoubtedly just one hair from the scalp of Uther’s son will surpass everyone else’s nobility.”
“Don’t take it to heart if yours turns the brew to syrup,” Merlin beamed. “You may be the new king of Camelot, but you’re still the same arrogant dollop-head you always were.”
Arthur clouted his servant’s ears. “Get going, before Gawain here gets engaged to one of those hags.”
The friends raced along the corridors, following the noise. They heard trampling of boots above them, guessing the guards were in hot pursuit of somebody, presumably their friends.
When they reached the great spiral stair case that linked the lower domestic quarters and great hall with the upper floor apartments and turrets, Arthur pushed Dragonara in front of him. “Up you go, godmother dearest. No doubt your magical skin will protect you from anything the sisters might throw at us.”
Dragonara reluctantly set a foot on the stairs and Arthur shoved her up more forcefully. “You and your fine husband got us into this mess. Now that you experience the results of your own sorcery, you don’t seem quite so keen. Afraid to meet with the sisters’ wrath, are you?”
“It’s not that, Arthur. It’s just the dog at the top of the stairs. I’ve always been a cat-person myself.”
Arthur looked up and was greeted by something dribbling on his face. The two-headed beast guarding the top of the great stair case stared down at them with glowing eyes and bared teeth. Arthur sighed. “Just once I’d like to meet a magical creature that doesn’t drool and doesn’t have stinky breath! What I wouldn’t give for something friendly and pretty for a change.”
“Last time you met one of those you shot it, remember?” Merlin was bringing up the rear, making sure Gawain didn’t wander off. “What could possibly be friendlier than a unicorn? This dog is your just reward.”
Arthur grimaced and wiped the snot from his face. He drew Excalibur and pushed past Dragonara, but she held him back. “Don’t kill him. It’s the girls’ father.”
“You’re joking? Fancy having that for a father-in-law!”
Arthur shuddered and set a cautious foot on the next step. The beast growled and took one huge leap onto the next level down. Behind him Merlin clung onto the banisters for support and Gawain raised his sword. Dragonara put her hand on Arthur’s sword arm. “I know I said don’t kill him, but if he comes any closer –“
(source of animation: heathersanimations.com; photo credit Merlin BBC official facebook page)