What a great return Merlin made to the BBC’s Saturday night family viewing slot – part one of “Arthur’s Bane” was a cracking story with far more emotional depth than any other episodes gone before in the previous 4 series.
With a referential nod to “Game of Thrones” and “Indiana Jones” the writers have given us a great, multi-stranded story that is set three years after Series 4 finished and four years into Arthur’s reign as king. Gwen has grown beyond recognition – no longer the pathetic and utterly irritating domestic, but a self-assured queen to be reckoned with. Sadly, the new wig they’ve given to the wonderful Richard Wilson somehow “out-acted” him on this episode, but hopefully he’ll have more meatier scenes in the upcoming episodes.
Morgana has found a new ally and is even madder than before – wearing that skimpy dress in the snow-covered north of Britain without a hot water bottle attached to your back? Come off it girl, you’re using magic to keep the frostbite out of your face, aren’t you, your ladyship?
Merlin and Arthur are still bickering as before and Arthur’s face is priceless, when he discovers his servant can actually juggle – but their bond is no longer just that of master and servant; it has grown into something like brotherhood, their bromance still carrying the lighter moments of the show and their rock-solid friendship underpinning the darker ones.
Good to see more of the knights, too…literally, since they spent much of their time shirtless, wowing fangirls across Britain and setting Twitter nearly on fire. The writers clearly decided it was time Arthur kept his shirt on for an episode, while Tom Hopper and Eoin Macken used their combined acting muscle to lend that “dramatic” element to the story (or do I mean “bulging”? Damn the complexity of the English language!).
My only criticism: the ending of episode one had this writer rather alarmed – are we to be treated to a spot of Prometheus and ET in part 2 of Arthur’s Bane?
There’s no naked knightly flesh in this next installment of my fan fiction – but I hope you’ll enjoy it nonetheless.
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 again in the UK on 13th October 2012 at 7.45 pm. Latest BBC trailers and pictures are available at:
On a hill close to Castle Deira…
“It was too easy! Where were the guards, the soldiers, the servants? Castle Deira can’t be completely deserted, surely?” Siward shook his head, while his master paced up and down, leaving heavy foot prints in the leaf-strewn soil.
They had made halt on the summit of a hill overlooking the fields that surrounded Castle Deira. In the distance, they could see the moat glisten in the last rays of the sun, as a heron took flight, no doubt in search of better hunting grounds. Another summer’s day had baked the earth to such an extent, the leaves in the trees and shrubs around them were whispering in the wind as if autumn had already set in and deprived them of their life force.
“I hear you, Siward. We escaped unchallenged by man, troll or beast. Makes me wonder what horrors lie beyond this hill – we’ll pay for our theft one way or another, that’s for sure!” Urien sank down on the cart that held the kegs of wine they had “liberated” from Castle Deira’s wine cellar and mopped his neck and face with his scarf. Finally, the prince pulled off his gloves and let his cloak slide to the ground. He stretched his long legs and yawned luxuriously. “I don’t know about you, my friends, but I could do with a tankard to wash away the aftertaste of that troll-infested castle! This is as good a spot as any to make camp.”
“Now you’re talking our language, Sire!” Siward, Urien’s servant, patted the kegs lovingly. “Fine vintage, your father said. Perhaps we should make sure it’s actually the right vintage in these barrels, before we present them to our liege? We wouldn’t want to disappoint his Majesty, would we now?” The man grinned from ear to ear, nudging his comrade in arms and equally parched friend Kai. “Help me get one of these little beauties down from the cart, my friend.” The two servants heaved the keg down and placed it lovingly at the feet of their master.
Urien smiled and got up. He drew out his dagger and began to loosen the stopper. “Hand me the goblets from my saddle bag, Siward. If we must face the music and dance to death’s tune…well, at least we’ll do so with a song on our lips and a belly full of fine wine.”
The stopper came loose with a loud POP and fell into the tall grass around them. Siward bent down and picked it up. He sniffed the cork like a true expert. “Hm, nice aroma. Those barrels have been down in that wine cellar for twenty years or more. There’s not going to be a finer vintage at your father’s table, Sire.” The man poured a liberal quantity into a wooden goblet. “To your very good health, Sire.” Siward raised his goblet and drank deeply; Kai followed his example. Only Urien held back.
“It does have a distinct aroma! Reminds me of something, but I can’t think of what…I don’t think you should drink any more of this stuff,” Urien sniffed the wine in his own goblet once more. “My father’s generosity usually comes at a heavy price.”
Siward scratched his belly thoughtfully and smacked his lips. “Hm, perhaps you’re right. There’s a funny aftertaste to this wine.”
“That’ll be the troll dung they use to flavour it.” Gawain stepped out from behind a dense cluster of oak saplings and faced Siward with a drawn sword. “Believe me, another goblet of this and your ears will grow, your legs will shrink, your belly will bulge…in short, you’ll turn into a troll…not that one could actually tell the difference with a face like yours, mind.”
Prince Urien reached for his own sword. “And who might you be that you should make fun of my servants?”
“My, the thieves in these parts must be doing well, if they can afford to keep servants!” Gawaine pointed to the illicit barrels. “What makes you think I was referring to your servants’ features?” He turned one of the kegs around and sniffed dismissively. “That’s the crest of our lady Marigold’s family. Explain to me how this comes to be in your possession, Sir Robber Baron.”
Gawaine was joined by Unding, who shot out from his hiding place in the shrubs, when he heard his dead mistress’ name. Merlin and Arthur followed him reluctantly, Sir Leon and Percival at their side.
Prince Urien smiled. “I think you’ll find my own crest depicting the house of Segovia is painted on the other side of these barrels, Sir Nosey-parker.” Urien sauntered to one of the barrels and turned it over casually, allowing Unding to inspect the crest.
“These barrels were stolen from my father’s encampment en route to Camelot, which that young knave Merlin over there knows only too well.” Urien pointed his sword at Arthur, who had at that moment appeared from behind a Hawthorne shrub. “It’s no use pretending you don’t know me, we met in the woods by Lake Merthur when you appointed yourself my lady Dragonara’s protector.” Urien snorted. “Her armed escort indeed – you couldn’t even skin a rabbit for our evening meal!” The collective eyes of Camelot’s round table focused on Arthur, who greeted the knights’ bemused scrutiny with a frown.
“Rabbits?” The real Merlin’s eyebrows shot up. He had appeared like the said rabbit out of a hat behind his master and now clapped a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “Don’t tell me you were actually forced to do some work for a change? I hope you haven’t been ruining my reputation as a master of the cooking pot!” Merlin grinned from ear to ear, but Arthur’s face darkened and he wriggled out from under his servant’s hand.
“I guess I cooked a stew to match your skills as royal protector,” Arthur said. “Tell me, how’s young Eleanor doing these days?” Pretending to search the camp, Arthur’s head turned first left, then right. By way of a reply, Urien spat luxuriously at their feet.
“Foulest stew I’ve ever tasted. I can still feel the bits of fur between by teeth.” Urien finally said in a voice that contained generosity and contempt in equal measure. He made a show of cleaning his teeth with the nail of his little finger. Noticing Arthur’s discomfort, he broke into a wide grin, sheathed his sword and sat down on one of the kegs.
Merlin couldn’t stop himself and smiled back. “Good servants are hard to come by. I gather we are talking to Prince Urien? I’m trying to break mine in gently; he’s still got a lot to learn tough,” the real Merlin chuckled. “I apologise for the stew. Cooking has never been his strong point.” From somewhere behind him he heard Gawain and Percival snigger. Meanwhile, Arthur’s patience had clearly been tested to the limit and he clouted Merlin’s ear before pushing him aside.
“What this idiot is trying to say is…what possible reason could King Leofwine have to travel to Camelot?” Arthur challenged Urien. “I don’t want to sound inhospitable, but our guests don’t usually set off with a cart load of enchanted wine and an army as a welcome gift for the king and queen.”
Urien slapped his forehead and laughed. “I had forgotten how forward Camelot’s servants are. It may be common practice at Arthur’s court to divulge the king’s business to common kitchen cockroaches, but at Segovia my father’s business his own concern.”
Arthur had hurled himself at Urien before anyone could stop him. His fist collided with Urien’s chin and the prince was thrown off his perch. The keg rolled away from under him and would have tumbled all the way down the hill had Siward not intercepted it. The two young men thrashed around on the ground and were pummelling each other with their fists. The knights stood around watching them, while Unding concentrated on the kegs of wine, inspecting one by one and Merlin tried to separate the two combatants – without much success. He was thrown off his feet twice, before Gawaine came to his aid and with their combined strength finally managed to pull Arthur off the princeling.
After a fairly equal scuffle neither of the regal heads had emerged victoriously and, seeing a black eye in Urien’s camp and a bloody nose in the Camelot quarter, Merlin took a goblet from Kai’s hand and threw wine over both combatants. The two men jumped, spluttering and protesting, now rounding on Merlin instead.
“What the hell were you thinking, Merlin?” Arthur wiped the wine and blood of his dripping face. “The stuff’s enchanted, remember?”
“You’ll never know – Gwen might prefer you with a paunch and longer ears!” Merlin took a step backwards to avoid Camelot’s long arm of the law boxing his ears. “You know what they say, there’s no accounting for taste, Sire.”
Urien’s eyes widened. “Sire? Did I hear right, this feeble sprog with the purple nose is the King of Camelot?”
Before Arthur had a chance to make his feelings on the subjects “sprog” and “feeble” known, Unding had grabbed each of the combatants by the scruff of the neck. “We were on our way to bury my beloved lady Marigold, remember? The ancient burial grounds are that way, Sire.” Unding hoisted Arthur unceremoniously up into the air before dropping him into the general direction of the wood, while the unfortunate Urien was left dangling from Unding’s other arm. “As for these kegs, they do come from our cellar…but Prince Urien, if that is indeed this knave’s name, is correct in saying they carry his father’s crest. More than twenty years ago King Leofwine rode across our drawbridge and presented Wulfric with these kegs as part of his “wedding gifts”, should Wulfric agree to such a match…and his lapse of judgement has held us in enchanted imprisonment ever since!”
Urien’s face was turning red for lack of air. “I’m truly sorry you should have fallen for one of my father’s less amusing practical jokes. Let me down and we’ll discuss reparations,” he gasped. Unding grunted and let go off the princely neck. Urien fell to the floor hard, but gathered his wits and his limbs quickly. “Let me untangle this web,” His dirt encrusted hand pointed at Arthur. “You are not a servant but some pretender for the throne of Camelot, calling yourself Merlin for reasons best known to yourself and you,” Urien grinned at the real Merlin, “are permitted by His Royal Camelotness to impersonate the king in your spare time.”
Urien rose and dusted himself down. He looked up at Unding, who was still glowering at him. “You on the other hand, strong man with the aroma of a wild boar, were in the employ of someone called Marigold, who my father once wooed? I gather the match didn’t happen and twenty years on the lady still pined for him…and now she’s faded away?”
Dragonara stepped blithely into the circle of men before Unding could flatten Urien with a single blow. “Mind your manners, Urien; you are addressing the King of Camelot. Lady Marigold was a good soul who deserves your respect, not your ridicule! Arthur’s faithful servant Merlin here,” she pointed to the real Merlin with a smile, “impersonated his master to keep him safe during a troll raid, leaving King Arthur no choice but to take on his servant’s role until he knew who and what he was dealing with, when he met me.”
Urien snorted. “He has my sympathy – for the past twenty years I’ve been trying to figure out what you are, my lady!”
Her eyes blazing and her chest heaving with scorn, Dragonara flew at him. “Tell me at once, what is your wretched father doing at Camelot?”
By way of an answer Urien pressed his lips firmly together and folded his arms. Kai and Siward stared at their feet and looked distinctly uncomfortable. Dragonara thumped Urien’s chest. “I’m waiting! Why did your father march on Camelot?”
A refreshing breeze rushed through the bushes and shrubs surrounding them. A couple of sparrows, startled by the movement in the branches, launched into the air and flew off, their flight accompanied by angry tweets and chatter. Merlin watched the young man’s face closely. Prince Urien clearly hoped the small distraction would give him time to gather his thoughts and come up with a satisfactory answer, one that wouldn’t strictly speaking be a lie and yet, would not betray his father either.
Dragonara drew her sword and stuck its tip roughly under her step-son’s chin. “Allow me to refresh your memory, dearest.”
Urien stared cross-eyed at the trickle of blood reddening the blade. He gulped, opened his mouth and turned with playful servility towards his step-mother, but before he could speak, the breeze carried another sound with it that made everyone’s hair stand on end.
A high-pitched scream filled the air, a cry full of loss and sorrow from a soul in despair, a person in deadly peril. Something in that voice forced Urien to turn around abruptly, disregarding the sword edge and the pain the blade inflicted upon him. His face drained of all colour except for a few drops of blood dripping from his chin. “Eleanor!”
Dragonara caught her breath. “Eliffer!”
“Quick, it’s coming from the woodland by the moat!” Arthur raced off with Merlin hurtling after him.
His longer legs gave Merlin usually the advantage, but Arthur was trained in combat and tracking an opponent was second nature to him. He dived down the hill and only stopped once to get his bearings, which Merlin used to his benefit. He gained on Arthur, leaving the knights well behind. Arthur had reached mid-point on his descent, when another scream filled the valley below and its pain and horror rose up to spur him on. Merlin could hear Gawain and Percival pelt after them, but felt rather than saw Urien follow hard on Arthur’s heels. Merlin feared his chest would burst with the effort, but he carried on running, running, not minding the twigs scratching his face, just running, running, following his king, no matter where it might lead him.
Nearing the bottom of the hill, Arthur lost his footing and tumbled, rising briefly but falling down again, holding his head. Merlin caught up with him and laid a solicitous hand on his liege’s dented forehead, but Arthur shook him off and urged him on his way. His head was used to knocks and the king was merely winded. Leaving his king and the others behind, Merlin raced on, now and again slipping on loose soil and pebbles, falling over a bushel of dry grass, but scrambling up again with dust and twigs clinging to his shirt, his knees smarting from the blow.
He carried on his descent, changing direction more often than a hare escaping from a fox, before finally crashing through a row of yellow gorse bushes, where he came to an abrupt halt at the bottom of the hill. Here scorched earth gradually turned into a lush meadow with wild flowers swaying gently in the breeze, before the land began falling away into a bubbling brook that fed the moat at Castle Deira. The sight greeting him took Merlin’s breath away and nearly turned his stomach. Tears rose to his eyes and a sob escaped his lips.
There wasn’t a moment to lose – he could hear Arthur and the others following him further up the hill. It wouldn’t take them long to reach him. He stooped and bent over the lifeless body of the small dragon by his feet. Merlin gently closed its staring eyes and stroked the golden crest on its neck, still warm to the touch. He took a deep breath, rose and turned towards the twisted body of a young girl, her face swollen, bloodied, and her eyes wide with fear. Merlin stood rooted to the spot, the horror of the meadow etched forever in his mind.
Oswiu’s left hand was firmly pressed over the girl’s mouth, while his other hand was eagerly tearing at her white shift, the nakedness of her legs shaming him, not her. His bodyweight had pinned her down, where her struggle against his betrayal had dislodged a clump of poppies and cornflowers in the meadow, their mournful heads bopping gently up and down in tune with the breeze.
For a moment all Merlin could focus on where the blood red blossoms and the azure sparkle next to them. He forced the tears from his lashes and a deep golden glow began to fill his eyes. Merlin’s gaze took in the trampled grass and the torn dress, the pleading in the girl’s face that was now turned towards him. He saw the man’s sweat stain his bare back and shoulders and took in the glistening, child-size sword lying next to the baby dragon. Time stood still, allowing Merlin’s senses to catch up, permitting his heart to record the loss he would feel for the rest of his days.
At the edge of the treeline a horse had collapsed, its legs lay crumpled under its magnificent body. He closed his eyes, but he could not shut out the knights’ whinnying mounts under the great oak, where Eliffer had tied up the animals, before rushing to his sister’s aid. Wearily, Merlin opened his eyes again; blood was still oozing, where Oswiu had stuck his dagger into the centre of Bede’s forehead to prevent the children’s flight.
Merlin felt a wave of rage taking hold of his whole being, a feeling he had never experienced before. He tried to suppress it, tried to calm himself and leave the fate of this man to Arthur and the laws of Camelot, but his eyes fell upon the girl’s grazed feet and the blood in the baked earth, where Oswiu had dragged her across the ground.
Merlin raised his hand as if that small gesture could block out the disgust he felt for the man or the pity swelling up inside him for the girl, the dragon Eliffer and gentle Bede. From deep within Merlin’s heart words rose to his throat and burst through his lips, words so terrifying in their intensity and force, they seemed to split the air like lightning following thunder.
…to be continued…
(source of animation: heathersanimations.com)