So far I haven’t plucked up my courage to watch the final three episodes of the BBC’s Merlin, partly because then I won’t be able to remain in denial and must accept the show’s finally over and partly, because I made the fatal mistake of reading Twitter messages distraught Merlin fans had posted on Christmas Eve. They were clearly unhappy with the way the show ends and if what I read is true one can only assume amateur writers putting together their first short story for a local magazine competition could have done better than the Merlin/Shine Ltd team did…which would have spoiled my Christmas and my writing experience even more.
I also didn’t want to be influenced by what the Shine Ltd writers had concocted while I was still writing the ending to my own first fan fiction adventure. Initially I had planned to make part 20 the final part, but it was still so much fun writing it, I eventually expanded the battle for Camelot and stretched it out over two parts instead. Part 21. will follow shortly and will conclude the adventure nicely, methinks.
So here’s the penultimate episode for my own Merlin adventure – relax my dear Merlinians, my story will have a happy ending…of sorts…I cannot guarantee you won’t shed a tear but Arthur and Merlin will certainly live to fight another day!
The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin! (Part 20)
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.
At the Rowan entrance to secret tunnels leading into the caves under Camelot…
Arthur’s party had passed through Osthryth’s Fort unchallenged. Now his men were watching the entrance to the tunnels from the safe distance of a clearing in the forest. A small movement in the trees above signalled the return of Urien’s falcon. The prince held out his arm and the graceful animal swooped down from its perch. The falcon raised his leg and Urien detached a tiny silver cylinder, taking out the miniscule cork that stoppered it.
“How long do you think before Lot’s and Bres’ men get here, Urien?” Arthur whispered, thoughtfully turning Excalibur in his hands. He cast an anxious glance at the parchment in the prince’s hands. “We could do with some good news.”
“It’s from my friends in Bres!” Urien squinted at the piece of parchment and motioned Arthur and Merlin to come closer. Merlin raised the burning log he had picked up from a rather miserable fire that was struggling to bring a little warmth and comfort to their make-shift camp. The flickering light fell across Urien’s hands and lit up Arthur’s worried face.
Urien sighed. “Well, I guess you could call it good news of sorts. We must hold out until tomorrow evening. Even if they take the short cut through the Valley of Doom in Odin’s lands they can’t possibly arrive before sun set.” The prince looked up and sniffed the air. “Hm…camp fires…and close by. Stop tugging at my cloak, Siward, what do you want?”
Urien’s servant hastily retreated a couple of steps, when he saw the frown on his master’s face. “My lord, Kai and a couple of King Arthur’s scouts have just returned. A raiding party lead by one of King Leofwine’s most loyal knights has set up camp less than quarter of a league from here. At least two hundred men by Kai’s reckoning.”
“Then it’s closer to three hundred! That boy was never any good with sums!” Urien stamped his cold feet. “Damn, that’s three hundred men just waiting to sneak into the citadel through these tunnels. How on earth did Leofwine find out about them?”
“Probably the same way everybody else does who sneaks in and out of Camelot! Gaius thinks one of the dungeon’s guards is taking bribes,” Merlin sidled up to his king’s side. “Arthur, I have an idea how we can eliminate the threat from Leofwine’s men.”
Arthur turned and stared. “You…an idea?” He snorted dismissively, but Merlin’s serious face prevented him from teasing his servant further. “Go on surprise me…I’m willing to listen to anything…as long as it doesn’t involve herb salad and rabbits again.”
Merlin pulled a face. “No, but you’re on the right track. Our friends in the encampment have had such a long walk. Thirsty work, marching all day, don’t you think?”
“They’re camping by the Fort, plenty of water for horses and men,” Arthur frowned. “Merlin, don’t waste my time with riddles.”
“Why not let them have a small reward for their troubles?” Merlin jerked his head into the direction of the wine barrels, which a thoughtful Kai had managed to retrieve and smuggled back with their retinue. “I know strictly speaking this would involve the use of magic…but the wine’s enchantment is still powerful and…we have the pleasure of entertaining several ladies in our party.” Merlin pointed with a grin at Ethelgunda, Yolanda and a restless Lady Dragonara, who was pacing up and down in front of a palisade, where Gawain had tied up the horses.
“A honey trap! I like it! Good thinking, Merlin. Let Leofwine enjoy the taste of his own medicine.” Arthur called over two of his men. “I cannot spare any of my knights. Merlin, do you think you, Kai and Siward here can manage with one of my scouts?”
Merlin nodded. “Absolutely, but we will need at least one of the ladies to come with us.”
“You couldn’t make it my godmother, could you? She’s spooking the horses with her pacing and we really don’t want to draw any more attention to our presence here.” Arthur’s thumb pointed to the palisade, where two of the horses had started whinnying and stamping the ground with their hooves. “Merlin, don’t return to this place. Meet us at –“
Merlin raised an index finger to his lips and urged his king to caution. “I’ll find you, Arthur, never fear. Today is not the day where you’ll need to advertise for a new servant.”
“I shall, if your plan fails and a raiding party of Leofwine’s men overruns us!” Arthur clapped a hand on his servant’s shoulder and let it rest there for a moment. The two young men looked at each other briefly; then the king let his hand slide from Merlin’s shoulder and smiled wanly. “Come back in one piece, will you.”
Merlin’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know you cared.”
“Of course I care…you were supposed to darn my socks and there’s still a tear in my cloak you promised to mend.” A grin spread across Arthur’s face, when he saw the hurt on Merlin’s face. He reached out and ruffled his servant’s dark curls. Merlin wrinkled his nose and pulled away from his king’s caress, knowing that any show of royal affection would invariably be followed by a knightly clout on the back.
Shortly afterwards Merlin, Kai and Siward together with one of the scouts and the Lady Dragonara sneaked out of the forest and made their way to the enemy’s camp. It was hard work pulling a cart containing heavy wine barrels across undulating forest ground, through dense undergrowth of fern and bracken, over rocks and fallen branches, but if Merlin’s arms ached at all, he ignored it and pressed his companions for greater haste instead.
Merlin bid Siward and Kai to take over his cart duties for a moment so he could hasten to Dragonara’s side.
“Foolish boy! What do you think this mission will accomplish? The wine’s enchantment is no longer strong enough, my earlier spell saw to that. Even if it were the same potion it once was it takes several hours for a full transformation to take place. You’re not going to lead an army of battle hungry trolls back to Arthur, but a garrison of love-sick puppies. We should be at his side right now, not gallivanting through the forest.”
“My lady, together we can enhance the potency of the wine. A three hundred-strong raiding party of trolls commanded by the ladies in our camp might prompt King Leofwine to enter into more civil negotiations with Camelot. Surely that’s worth a shot?”
“It’ll buy us time, I grant you, but the outcome will be just the same. There are simply not enough warriors protecting the citadel. A dragon’s heart must be handed over or Camelot and all its allies will fall.” Dragonara breathed in deeply, turned and stared back over her shoulder. A red glow had appeared on the horizon. She pointed to a column of smoke rising from the hills beyond the forest. “Look, my fate is sealed, Merlin, there’s nothing you can do.”
Merlin spun around and what he saw made him shudder. “The citadel is burning! You’re right! Camelot will fall if we don’t hurry.” He raced back to the cart and helped Kai and Siward pull the wine barrels with renewed vigour.
In another encampment in the forest surrounding Camelot…
“Where the hell have you been?” King Leofwine paced up and down at the tunnel’s entrance, scowling at one of his men.
The scout, who had just returned, fell down on one knee. “My liege! I did as you asked and rode to our encampment at Rowan to give them your signal to storm the tunnels as soon as Arthur’s party had entered.” The scout inhaled sharply and straightened his shoulders before continuing. “Sire…they’ve disappeared.”
“What do you mean…disappeared? My men entered the tunnels before you gave word, is that what you mean?”
“No, Sire.” The scout puffed up his cheeks and released air through his pursed lips with a hiss. “Puff…and vanished, is what I mean! Arthur’s party is gone…and what’s worse, Sire, so are our men! There is no sign they ever entered the tunnels at Rowan. The raiding party’s encampment was deserted, no horses, no weapons, no men. Do you think Arthur’s got magic?”
Leofwine stared at the smoke clouds swirling up from the air shafts under the citadel. He raised his fist into the air. “They must have entered the tunnels before we were ready! Fools, don’t just stand there, give the signal, we’re going in!”
The captain of Leofwine’s personal guards intervened. “Sire, without our raiding party at Rowan we are three hundred men short and have no idea where Arthur and his men are hiding. The King of Camelot will know these tunnels and caves like the back of his hand. If there really is a dragon living in the great cave –“
“Look for yourself, fool! It’s there alright.” Leofwine pointed to the red glow of flames that shot out from cracks in the rocks of the bluff on which Camelot had been built. He pulled a large crystal from a leather satchel dangling from his belt. “I saw it. My crystal doesn’t lie!” The king waived the stone wildly towards the tunnel entrance, where ringlets of smoke drifted up into the cold night air and joined the clouds of white smoke billowing from the citadel’s many fires.
“Just listen to that rumbling sound…like distant thunder. Can’t you tell, man…it’s the beast’s last goodbye?” A smile stole across Leofwine’s grey face and he bared his teeth like a wolf about to pounce. “Mark my words, at dawn I shall carve out her cheating heart.” Leofwine dropped the crystal back into his satchel and tore out a piece of parchment instead.
“Listen to this: Camelot’s impudent Queen Guinevere dared to send me an ultimatum! A servant girl dictating terms to me! She’ll soon learn what makes a real king.” Leofwine laughed unpleasantly. “Who knows, if she apologises nicely…I might overlook her youthful arrogance and make her my future queen. I hear she’s rather pleasing to the eye and she might bear me many sons.”
The captain of the guard took the parchment Leofwine held out to him and read out loud. “Come and get your prize from the great cave if you dare. It was Arthur who captured the dragon and put her in chains. If you are a worthier warrior than the king of Camelot himself, I have no doubt the beast will be happy to oblige,” the captain shook his head. “Sire, this has all the hallmarks of a trap. Beware beautiful women who are too obliging is what my mother always used to say and I’ve always found her advice to be sound in this regard.”
But Leofwine no longer listened to his men. “Your mother, if I recall, also foretold the crown of Segovia would be worn by a servant’s offspring one day and her prediction was made more than forty years ago…as you can see, Segovia’s crown still sits firmly on my head and I promise you, only a man of royal blood will wed my Eleanor!” Leofwine selected an elaborately decorated sword from a row of weapons on a stand by the side of his tent. “Tell your mother to mind her own business – which is baking pies and dumplings, my friend, while mine is to rule and be a leader of men!”
The captain of the guards stared wordlessly at his hands, folding the parchment into ever smaller pieces, before handing it back to his king. The seasoned warrior’s grizzled head bowed in a silent salute and he turned on his heal to signal to his men.
Disregarding him, King Leofwine draped a fur-lined cloak around his shoulders and fastened it under his chin. “Let’s not keep Queen Guinevere waiting. If we can trap Arthur and his men between us and the dragon, the beast will decide who lives and who dies today.” Leofwine raised his sword and hurried into the dark abyss, his cloak billowing behind him in the wind, Segovia’s crown glittering in the light of the flames that had sprung up all around the tunnel entrance and further up on the bluff, where the citadel stood in blazing in the night and the screams of the men and women inside could be heard across the realm.
The captain sighed and drew his sword, following the leader of men into the tunnel, at the end of which he suspected nothing good would emerge. Had not his mother always said how those who ruled today would find out tomorrow there was always a power greater than theirs?
In a forest clearing by the tunnel entrance at Geoffrey’s Rest…
“Merlin, where have you been? Arthur’s been spitting nails and hell fire.” Gawain clouted his friend’s ears with rough affection the moment the young sorcerer appeared in the camp. “You were gone for hours! What happened? You’re not telling me Leofwine’s soldiers refused wine and song in favour of water and bread?”
Merlin raised his arms to protect his head and dived behind the relative safety of Percival’s bulk suddenly rearing up behind the friends. Merlin’s hiding place didn’t save him for Percival pulled him out and shoved him gently but firmly into the centre of an emerging circle of friends. Sir Leon, Percival and Elyan had joined them noiselessly. Gawain eyed Merlin anxiously. “Did your plan succeed?”
Merlin beamed. “Look for yourself, my friends.” He inclined his head to the left, where to Gawain’s astonishment a single file of trolls followed the Lady Dragonara through the forest like a herd of mild-mannered sheep.
“By all the fair maidens you’ve kissed in taverns and all the beer in we’ve had in Arthur’s realm…those trolls are even uglier than you were…and that’s saying something, Gawaine!” Sir Leon watched the line of lovelorn trolls with appreciation before remarking with a grin: “A sight to warm my heart. Armed to the teeth and ready to do mischief in the name of their beautiful captain! Makes me wonder, if I shouldn’t appoint a woman to lead our future castle guards.”
“Appoint Dragonara as the captain and I promise none of us will be late for guard duty or grumble at having to sit through night watch ever again!” Gawaine inclined his head to stare open mouthed at Dragonara’s retreating rear as the next column of warriors rode by. Sir Leon dug his elbows into Gawaine’s ribs, alerting him to Arthur’s approach. “Erm…she’s a fine horsewoman, and probably handy with a sword. Just look at the way her body moves with the gait of the horse.” Gawaine said hurriedly, rubbing his side where Sir Leon’s disapproving elbow had left a bruise.
“Oy, that’s my godmother you’re eyeballing!” The last remark had not escaped Arthur and he grabbed Gawaine forcefully by the ear. “Isn’t there a battle you should be preparing for, my lusty knight?”
“Who needs an enemy army, when my friends can inflict so much more pain?” Gawaine’s watering eyes couldn’t resist following in admiration as the throng of Segovia’s enchanted warriors rode by. “I’m just glad Sir Leon thinks there’s going to be a future castle guard a woman could lead. What are our chances getting out of this alive, Arthur?”
Arthur let go off his knight’s ear and inhaled sharply. “Unless we can hold off Leofwine’s men until sunset…pretty much none, I fear.” He motioned to his knights to gather around and his loyal troops followed suit.
“You know what is at stake – Camelot’s very future will be decided tonight. By the flames coming from the bluff under the citadel I’d say the fires from Leofwine’s bombardment have already spread throughout the castle. We haven’t a moment to lose.” Arthur drew Excalibur and raised the sword into the air. “Each man must decide for himself, where he stands. That decision none can make for you. I know where I make my stand…for my heart, my soul and the hand that wields this sword are here for the love of Camelot!” He looked into the pale faces surrounding him and realised the forest around them had grown utterly still. “For the future of Albion!” Arthur cried, his voice ringing out into the night.
“For the love of Camelot!” The corresponding roar of his men echoed through the trees, seemingly bouncing off the hills and filling every heart with verve. “For the future of Albion!”
The horses began to whinny impatiently, their decorated harnesses gleaming in the light of the torches Segovia’s troll warriors held up to guide the way into the tunnel. To everyone’s surprise, it was not Arthur who led the knights into the mouth of the tunnel at Geoffrey’s Rest, the alternative entrance they had chosen to outwit Leofwine’s scouts.
Three women warriors headed the column of riders now streaming into the maze of caves. Merlin appeared at Arthur’s side and watched Dragonara’s horse enter the tunnel first.
“Do you think she’s still alive?” Arthur whispered and his blue eyes widened as he turned his pale face towards his servant. “How could I be so foolish and leave her unprotected without at least Sir Leon by her side? She’s never had to deal with a threat like this…and how could she, given her upbringing? If she dies because of my folly -”
Merlin rested his hand on Arthur’s sleeve. “If I know Gaius and his trusted friend Sir Edward, they’re concocting a surprise welcome for King Leofwine as we speak. Never fear, Sire, the queen’s well protected and awaiting your return.”
Startled by strange sounds coming from the citadel above, Merlin looked up and squinted at the blazing battlements, where one of the siege ladders had just crashed into the attackers below, burning men falling to their death on the raised lances and swords of their own comrades. He smiled wanly. “You forget Gwen’s used to sweeping intrusive dirt from Camelot’s steps.” Merlin was rather pleased about his little joke at Leofwine’s expense, but it fell on deaf ears.
Arthur just nodded absentmindedly; his unseeing eyes following Merlin’s fingers as they hurriedly tightened the leather straps that fastened plate armour and assemblies to the king’s arms and legs. “You’re right, Merlin. I should have more faith in Gwen’s ability to be queen…let’s not keep her waiting though. I don’t like the look of that smoke coming from the air shafts of the Great Cave.“ Arthur pulled his arm abruptly away, just as Merlin was trying to hand him his gloves. “Heavens above, did you hear that roar? That sounded just like a –“
“Dragon!” Merlin gasped, his eyes scanning the dark clouds in the sky. He felt his heart miss a beat and expected to see the wings and serpent head of his old friend Kilgharrah appear at any moment.
“You don’t think Gaius could have actually found a dragon, do you?”
Not waiting for an answer, Arthur ran towards the tunnel entrance where the last of Segovia’s troll warriors had just disappeared into the silent mouth of Geoffrey’s Rest. Merlin sprinted after him, elbowing his way through a swarm of Camelot’s soldiers heading for the same fate.
…to be continued…