I haven’t had a chance to edit this latest part properly, since I’ve been so busy with flatmates moving in and putting things into storage. However, I didn’t want to deprive Loonyliterature’s Michelle of the continuation to the cliffhanger from last week! Hope you’ll enjoy this next bit…
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 beast took another giant leap and was now facing them from the next level up. Arthur’s hand shook for a moment, but he clearly forced himself to regain control. Before he had a chance to strike, however, Merlin had sidled past him. “There’s a good doggy, look, some nice bread for you, how about that?”
The dog leaped down and sniffed Merlin’s outstretched hand. Baring all his teeth the beast gingerly took the offered bread and tore it out of the boy’s grasp. The first head dropped the chunk of bread; the second snatched it up again and began to chew. Merlin reached out and patted the first head cautiously. The dog stopped chewing, whimpered and submitted to the caress with both heads.
“He likes his ears scratched.” Marigold’s face had appeared on the uppermost level. She’d not had a good morning either, Merlin reckoned, when he glanced up into her tear-stained face. Marigold sniffed dismissively. “Your friends have escaped again. I think they’ve locked themselves into the tower of falconry. As if that would do any good.”
Behind her Unding’s head had appeared. “Best place for them, if you ask me, my lady. They’ll be turning soon. The first few hours can be rather…disorientating for a man not used to being a troll. I’m surprised their friend’s held up so well. His transformation should be complete by now.” Unding was pressing a blood-stained handkerchief to his nose. Noticing Arthur for the first time, he growled as ferociously as the dog had just done. “YOU! Mistress Marigold, he’s the stranger I told you about, the one I found up by the mangonel. Isn’t that my coat of mail the scoundrel’s wearing?”
Arthur shifted his position on the stairs a little to hide behind Merlin. Being caught by your servant wearing a girl’s blouse was one thing, being unmasked as a thief by the owner of a coat of mail quite another.
“If you’ve come to rescue your friends, you’re too late, I’m afraid. They’ll soon be just like him.” Oblivious to the brewing dispute over Arthur’s clothes, Marigold pointed at Gawain. The knight under review took one look at her, emitted a delighted squeal and raced up the stairs, pushing Merlin and the two-headed hound out of the way. Arthur tried to hold his bewitched friend back, but failed.
At the top of the stairs Gawain shoved the troll to one side and threw his arms around Marigold’s neck. “Lllleeeeeegggge Daaarrrlllinnnggg!” He planted a wet kiss on her mouth, which earned him a punch in the snout from Marigold and a kick in the backside from Unding, who clearly wasn’t impressed by a newcomer taking such liberties with his mistress.
Arthur rolled his eyes. “Great! Now we have a jealous troll, a two-headed father-in-law AND a wild boar in love guarding the stairs. Could any damsel’s virtue be more protected?”
“You’re already spoken for, remember?” Merlin grinned from ear to ear, feeding the last morsel of bread to the hound. “Mistress Marigold, please tell me who bakes this delicious bread?”
Arthur boxed Merlin’s ears. “Who cares? We’re not here to unravel the secrets of their kitchens! We’re here to free our friends, so I can get back to my bride whom I remember with great clarity, thank you very much.”
“The way to a woman’s heart is to compliment her on her womanly skills.” Merlin muttered. “You might want to remember that, Sire. Women appreciate delicacy in a man.”
“Oh, really? Is this speaking from experience as a notorious heartbreaker in Ealdor, where you lived with your mother and two chickens and the only single girl was seventy-years-old?”
“You’re the one who needed four years of practice to propose to Gwen,” Merlin grinned. “I’m trying to create a distraction here!” Ignoring Arthur, Merlin took a few steps upwards the stairs, keeping his eye on the dog. “Am I right in thinking that overseeing the kitchens is your responsibility, my lady? Perhaps you are the expert baker yourself?”
Above him, Marigold nodded so enthusiastically, her greying hair tumbled out of its golden net. “I’ve always been fond of baking. You should try my brioche. Father used to scold me for sneaking down to Cook, saying it was unbecoming for a lady of noble birth to loiter in the kitchens.” She coyly wrapped a strand of hair around her fingers. “My one ambition was to be a good wife. You can’t run a household as large as this one and not know how much grain is being used. The servants might rob you blind!”
Squeezing past the dog, Arthur joined Merlin on the next step up. His servant’s elbow nudged him in the ribs, cautioning him to silence. Merlin beamed at Marigold. “Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. It’s just the same at Camelot. My household servants would have the very shirt from my back, given half a chance.” Merlin stopped himself from laughing, when he saw Arthur’s eyebrows go up and realised he’d gone too far.
Unding pointed at Arthur’s chest. “And when he can’t get Your Majesty’s shirt, your servant helps himself to mine? I’d know that collar anywhere. I darned the tear myself. Look, there on the cloak, my lady, it bears the Wulfgar arms!” Unding gesticulated wildly. “The thieving rat! We may not hold much land, but we are of noble birth. How dare he besmirch my honour! Let me at the scoundrel, Mistress Marigold, I’ll soon teach him some manners.” Unding tried to get past his mistress and reached down over her shoulder to feel Arthur’s collar, but Merlin blocked the way and slapped his wrist.
“We may be your prisoners but if he’s stolen, he’ll answer to me, not you! His hide is mine to do with as I please.” Merlin grabbed Arthur by the ear and said in his most Arthur-like voice. “Did you take the guard’s clothes, peasant? He may look like a bear with a swine’s snout, but underneath that fur he’s still a man of noble birth and therefore not to be insulted by the likes of you.”
Unding growled, but Marigold merely giggled. “You know, it’s so nice talking to someone who understands. Now that I take a closer look at you, you’re not nearly as puny as I thought.” She risked placing a foot on the next step down, to the consternation of Unding and Gawain, who tried to hold her back. She was now on the step just above Merlin’s. “It’s strange you know, the cauldron exploding the way it did when Ethelgunda added your hair to the brew. We’ve been trying to find a counter-spell to this wretched curse for ages. You must be ever so noble, Arthur dear. Ethelgunda probably used too much of your hair.”
She reached down and felt Merlin’s upper arm. “Oh my, how very pleasing! Is that from jousting every day?”
“No, it’s from carrying all that nobility on his shoulders.” Arthur gave his servant a little shove, propelling him into Marigold’s arms. “It’s inflating his royal pretensions.” Merlin wriggled like a worm on a hook, but Marigold held on to her prize with a surprisingly strong grasp.
“Marigold! What do you think you’re doing? Father, come away at once!” Ethelgunda had appeared at the top of the stairs. A rather out-of-breath Unding popped up next to her. “Heaven knows what you’d get up to, if I didn’t keep constant vigil over you, Marigold. Thankfully Unding alerted me.”
“And me. Don’t forget your Gawain, Mistress Marigold. He’s coming to your rescue, don’t you fret, my little raven.”
Merlin’s eyes widened. “Arthur, did you hear that? Our hog-nosed friend talks like a human!”
“Yes, and as usual he makes no sense at all!”
A horde of trolls, led by Gawain, ran down the stairs to take charge of the prisoners. Arthur was able to hold them off for a while and Dragonara’s sword managed to deal with several attackers, but they were soon overwhelmed and Marigold dragged the protesting Merlin up the stairs. The final insult came when Gawain engaged Arthur in a wrestling match, having successfully taken Excalibur from the king, who did not wish to harm his friend. Merlin muttered an incantation over his shoulder and Gawain was forced to drop the now red-hot sword with a howl. Excalibur tumbled down the stairs, but Arthur, clearly enraged at Gawain’s woolly-headed betrayal, dived after it, causing both king and knight to roll down the spiral stair case in a jumble of arms, legs and ill-fitting garments.
Fearing his cloak and coat of mail might come to harm, Unding cursed and ran down to catch up with them, closely followed by Merlin and the dog, which clearly thought this was a lot of fun. It snapped at Merlin’s heels and bounded down the stairs to flatten both combatants. With a little magic Merlin persuaded the dog to let go off its new playmates; judging by the language he used, when Arthur finally got back on his feet, Merlin doubted he’d get much gratitude from his king, whose sense of honour would undeniably have been dented by a dog’s backside. Unding hoisted up Gawain and put him back on his feet. Gawain now sported a deep cut above his left eye and Arthur clutched a bloody nose between his fingers. Merlin held out a handkerchief for Arthur, but Gawain snatched it and pressed it to his forehead instead. In the ensuing second scuffle Merlin got the chance to kick Excalibur out of sight and the dog got an opportunity to bite Unding, which appeared to satisfy the beast beyond measure.
Before Unding ordered his prisoners to walk up the stairs in single file, he clouted both Arthur and Gawain on the head with his fist. This foresight enabled the troll to bring in two rather subdued men without too much trouble. Merlin was allowed to bring up the rear with the dog, which seemed far less enthusiastic going up the stairs than it had going down, forcing Merlin to push it up the final steps. At the top of the stairs Merlin spotted Dragonara, who was staying out of sight by ducking behind a particularly bulky guard. Catching Merlin’s eye, she put a finger to her lips and inclined her head towards Ethelgunda and Marigold, who seemed blissfully unaware of Dragonara’s existence, having only eyes for Arthur’s golden head coming up the stairs.
“He came here all on his own to rescue his master, now isn’t that noble?” Marigold said when Arthur was being led past her. She eyed him keenly and, noticing her roving eye, he hurried to catch up with the others.
“Marigold, pull yourself together! He’s only a servant. Even Unding’s got more nobility in his veins than that scruffy boy.” Ethelgunda scolded her younger sister. However, she couldn’t resist reaching for Arthur’s hair, when he walked past her; Arthur slapped her wrists and followed Unding’s men and Merlin up the corridor, leaving Ethelgunda, Gawain and Mistress Marigold to hurry after them.
Unding ushered his prisoners triumphantly into the great hall, where a group of trolls were still performing clear-up duties, sweeping rubble aside and dusting the only remaining chair to within an inch of its upholstery’s life. Dragonara had managed to keep out of Ethelgunda and Marigold’s sight by selecting different guards for every section of their way. Now she stood at the very rear of the group, close to the entrance, where Merlin could just make out the top of Dragonara’s fair hair. She seemed to have engaged the troll in charge of her in a lively conversation about the merits of goose fat. Merlin’s keen ear heard the troll praise its use for keeping leather supple and saddle sores at bay. Merlin wondered briefly what would happen, when the three sisters finally caught up with Dragonara, the very source of all their misery.
The remaining guards were filing into the great hall, when Yolanda appeared through a small trap door in one of the few oak panels that still clung to the walls. She climbed over several large pieces of fallen masonry to reach the dilapidated hearth, where she sprinkled a few drops of belladonna into the apparently indestructible cauldron and prepared a fresh supply of broth.
Marigold, who was being led into the great hall hanging on Gawain’s arm, beamed at everyone, while Yolanda stopped and stared open-mouthed at the newcomers. Gawain waved at her causally, tossing his bloodied handkerchief into her direction, but it missed the fire in the hearth and landed in the cauldron with a splash instead. Yolanda was too distracted by the sight of Marigold’s head on Gawain’s shoulder to take notice of the prisoners.
“YOU!” Yolanda pointed an accusing finger at Gawain. “How dare you spoil my brew with your filthy rag!” Yolanda shook with rage, her grey face turning an even less becoming purple. Merlin noted with dismay the colour was beginning to match the wart on her chin.
“You come here flirting with my youngest sister, when you slept in MY arms last night?” Yolanda pressed her fists to her cart-horse hips and stamped her foot. “You even called me your little Blondie Mouse this morning! I’ll show you what I think of your treacherous tongue. You are my servant; I claimed you and therefore demand your loyalty.” Yolanda reached for her ladle and hurled it at Gawain. Unable to get out of the way fast enough thanks to Marigold’s arm around his neck, he took the ladle full in the face, steaming broth covering his stubbly cheeks, chin and neck.
Marigold’s arm slid from Gawain’s neck instantly and she turned on him. “You called me your ebony-haired love dove when we kissed in the corridor just now! You rat! I thought you were different than the other trolls.”
Gawain grimaced and took several brisk paces into the centre of the hall. He attempted to wipe the brew from his face, but succeeded only in spreading the syrup all over his furry paws. “Listen lady, last night I was drunk which made you look,” Gawain fingered the tip of his sore snout and savoured the broth, “a lot less like a wild boar. Besides, you tricked me, Yolanda. If things had gone according to plan, I’d have woken up next to little Marigold here.”
“She shouldn’t have run off like that. First come, first served!”
“It was nearly dawn, Yolanda, and I didn’t want him to see me turn into –, “ Marigold’s eyes began to swim.
Gawain smiled. “A fabulous cook? Mistress Marigold, you’ll always be a good match for any knight not to mention this prize specimen. I’m afraid your sisters are too much of an acquired taste.”
Yolanda snapped for air. “What a nerve! Just look who’s talking! I suppose you think you’re as handsome as your princeling friend over there.” She pointed at Merlin, who grinned back sheepishly, avoiding Arthur’s eye.
Unperturbed by Yolanda’s increasingly hostile demeanour, Gawain began licking broth from the digits on his right paw. “If I must choose, I’ll take Marigold. Just look at her! Her bread is by far the sweetest. Yolanda, you’re just too conceited for my liking and besides, all you ever do is play with that exploding cauldron over there.” He started on his left paw and savoured the remaining brew. “A man likes to come first in his lady’s affections, if you know what I mean. I say, this broth would taste even better with a pinch of salt and a morsel of beef, if you ask me.”
“Nobody’s asking you – and since when do trolls get to choose? I’m the eldest, by rights your hide’s mine.” Ethelgunda asserted her rights of seniority by pinching Gawain’s bottom.
Turning briskly, Gawain threw up his paws. “Ladies, please, no fighting, there’s enough cheek to go round. I’d marry the three of you, if I could, honest I would, but I think your father might have something to say about that.” Gawain patted his potential father-in-law’s two heads, both of which bared their teeth and growled, forcing Gawain to beat a hasty retreat and appeal to the ladies again. “Put down that spoon, Yolanda, no more broth, there’s a good girl. Marigold, that boot is far more becoming on a lady’s ankle than it is in a knight’s face. Ethelgunda, I promise I’ll stay, if you let my friends go. We had such a nice time last night, girls, why can’t it be like that again?”
Yolanda dropped her spoon and buried her hands in her face. Marigold hung her head and began to sob. Gawain took a step back and stared. “Why, what have I said? We had a whole lot of fun, you said so when we danced, drank and made merry.”
“It won’t ever be like that again, my friend. You’re able to talk, which means your transformation is almost complete…and that means the sisters will no longer have feelings for you.” Unding had stepped out quietly from the number of guards. “Trust me, over time they will break your heart.”
Gawain snorted. “Who said anything about feelings? Give a knight a break! A flagon of wine, a dance and a cuddle, that’s all I ask!” Gawain winked at Unding and performed a little pirouette. “It’s a comfortable enough castle and I won’t insist on a dowry, although frankly, it would sweeten the blow, if I had to marry those two bossy sisters.”
Marigold stared at him open-mouthed; the tears stopped streaming across her wrinkly, grey face.
“Did I hear right or were my ears deceiving me? Did that hog-nosed, ill-bred son-of-a- “ Yolanda’s face was now the same shade as elderberry juice.
“Yes, dear. I believe he did. He spurned us. Us!” Ethelgunda gasped. “He talks as if we were common tavern maids, the scoundrel!” Next to her, Mistress Marigold emitted a faint squeak. Unding growled and the canine father-in-law let off a howl.
Merlin sidled up to Arthur and shoved his elbow into his liege’s ribs. “Did you hear that?”
“Of course I did, Merlin! That hound’s got a terrific set of lungs on him. My ears are still ringing.”
“No, not the dog, you cloth-eared…I meant Gawain. He’s transformed, but he’s not their devoted servant, Sire.”
“Of course not! He’s never been anyone’s devoted servant, Merlin. Gawain’s a knight, born and bred.”
“So were you, Sire, but that didn’t stop Dragonara from telling you what to do on your way to Castle Deira, I’d wager.”
“Why, what has she told you?” Arthur cut his servant short. “If it’s about that damn rabbit stew I can explain –“
Oblivious to the consternation he was causing in the Castle Deira household, the dancing Gawain had spotted his friend Arthur in the crowd and was making a beeline for him. Gawain pointed to his own hog features. “I kept telling you it’s me, Arthur when you dropped by Yolanda’s bedchamber. You knew it was me all along, didn’t you? You recognised me when I balanced that crab on my toe, just like I did by Lake Merthur, but you couldn’t resist teasing me, could you, Sire?”
Arthur slapped his forehead. “Of course! How could I forget the crab! Sorry, my friend, it’s just you look rather –“
“Like Merlin after a day in the stocks? Haha, yes, you’re quite right. I’m not surprised Leon and Elyan tied me up. It must have come as a bit of a shock, after all the trouble they had breaking down that heavy door to rescue a friend and finding hairy old me instead. No hard feelings about our little misunderstanding earlier, I trust? Don’t know what came over me on that stair case. For some unfathomable reason I thought you were after little Marigold!”
Arthur’s eyebrows rose and he took a cautious step backwards. “I assure you, Marigold or any other lady of this household is entirely yours…if that’s what you really want.”
“Oh, it’s alright, I’ll stand aside, if you’ve got feelings for Marigold, Sire; although speaking as one man to another, I don’t think Gwen will approve. Just promise you won’t take Marigold away from her home, when you leave. She’s quite a sensitive little soul and would only be homesick.”
“I’m feeling rather homesick myself…we’re their prisoners, remember?” Arthur leant forward and peered into the knight’s face. “Gawain, are you alright?”
Unding pushed Gawain out of the way and confronted Arthur. “Shut up, servant boy! Just because our ladies don’t resemble your tavern wench Gwen doesn’t mean a man has to be mad if he fancies –“
“Exactly, Arthur. Some people said you were quite mad marrying your Gwen, but I say each troll to his ow–“
“Oh shut up, Gawain! I just meant your snout looks pale and your ears –“
“What about them, Arthur?” Gawain’s pawed his ears. The tufts on their pointed tips came off and he stared at the strands of fur in his open palms. “Will you look at that? We’re hardly through July and I’ve started to moult. I thought you said trolls only did that in October, Mistress Marigold?”
Unding came closer and fingered Gawain’s ears. A small patch of fur came loose and drifted to the ground. “Well, I never! What’s with this fellow? None of the others have ever fought against the transformation as long as this one has and now he’s turning back – “ Unding stopped in mid-sentence and gasped. “My lady Yolanda…goodness…your face…what’s happening to you?”
A ripple of astonishment swept through the assembled trolls. The guards came closer and stared at their mistress; even the dog stopped yawning and sat up.
/to be continued…
(source of animation: heathersanimations.com)