A Homely Northern Castle Revisited


Come and warm yourself by the fire

Come and warm yourself by the fire

I redesigned and renamed this blog to honour the age-old Welsh tradition of storytelling, usually done when the harvest was in and people gathered by the fireside or hearth after a good feast. Where’s this particular splendid fireplace from?

Ages ago I promised you a return visit to this castle because the pictures I’d found at the time didn’t really get across how vast the site and castle really are. This is a fireplace from one of the master chambers and I guess it’s big enough to roast a medium sized wild boar or goat, if you don’t fancy climbing down draughty stairs to reach the kitchens (right next to the smelly dungeons).

It was just fantastic to see the room proportions, the height of the ceiling, the narrow winding staircases and enormous fire places – it will all find its way into my very own take on the Arthurian legends soon, so watch out for those to appear at a Jukepopserials outlet near you!

For once we actually had a summer in Wales so one fine day in early September I went happy-snappy to one of the largest castle-moat complexes in the world (the largest in Britain, if I’m not mistaken): Caerphilly in Wales.

I won’t bore you with the background data in this post – just feast your eyes on medieval architecture that’s just so “awesome” as our American friends would say. And yes, bits and pieces from the BBC’s hit series “Merlin” were filmed here!

Approach from the townside

Approach from the townside

The castle complex may look abandoned, but you’ll soon find it’s not unprotected:

Castle guards asking for your credentials

Castle guards asking for your credentials

If you cannot prove to these sentinels that you are there for entirely honest purposes (such as feeding them titbits of tasty bread or taking pictures of their glorious feathered-ness), you’d better buck up your ideas.

WHAT - No Bread? Let's get the castellan at once!

WHAT – No Bread? Let’s get the castellan at once!

Having committed the grave sin of not arriving with bribes, I watched these sturdy Canada geese rush off in search of the castellan.

Should I risk a swim across the moat before the guards return?

Should I risk a swim across the moat before the guards return?

I didn’t hang around and hurried along the path through the park, snapping away at the castle as I went.

Quick, there's nobody manning the bridge!

Quick, there’s nobody manning the bridge!

Finding one of the entrances unguarded – it was fairly early in the morning, the castle guards were probably still enjoying their bacon and eggs – I rushed through the park and up to the gate.

Sneaking past the guards and their breakfast kippers I stole up the tower

Sneaking past the guards and their breakfast kippers I stole up the tower

To show you how vast the complex is, here’s a picture taken from top of the tower:

View towards the town

View towards the town

Deciding that perhaps I might be allowed in if I paid my dues, I strolled confidently up to the main gate and demanded entry. Here you can clearly see the famous “leaning” tower.

Eat your heart out, Pisa!

Eat your heart out, Pisa!

An honest traveller with a bona fide ticket is eventually allowed into the great hall – sadly, the breakfast feasting was already over and a servant was clearing away the debris (NOT Merlin, before all you Merlinians get over-excited).

Great Hall as seen from the ramparts

Great Hall as seen from the ramparts

Great hall after the first breakfast sitting

Great hall after the first breakfast sitting

A harassed servant clears away the left-over baked beans

A harassed servant clears away the left-over baked beans

Next time I’ll show you a few of the fortifications, reconstruction war machines and chambers reserved for lesser members of the household. Hope you didn’t mind revisiting this homely Welsh castle:)

Merlin Fan Fiction; Let the Questing begin! (Part 22)


yellow dragon with waving tailYes, I know, this could be classed as torture, since I’m breaking up the ending into bite-sized little chunks for you instead of finishing the story and the great battle. What else would I do on a miserable, cold and rainy Sunday afternoon in Wales? Just think of me as a wicked sorceress, feeding you morsel after morsel of magically enhanced blog posts (she grins) to put a smile on your face but no extra pounds on your hips with my medieval fare.

Congratulations to actor Colin Morgan finally winning at the National Television Awards – about time too this fabulous young actor got universally recognised for his acting skills. As usual Downton Abbey won instead of Merlin as best drama show…but …had the writing been better in Merlin’s Season 5, I have no doubt King Arthur and his knights would have beaten Sir Julian Fellow’s own little kingdom.

Here at my own  version of Camelot things are about to get darker and more dangerous. The stakes are high, there are not one but two queens’  lives at stake now. Hope you’ll enjoy your Sunday afternoon morsel of Merlin fan fiction!

How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival wer...

How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival were Fed with the Sanc Grael; But Sir Percival’s Sister Died by the Way, a watercolour by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin! (Part 22)

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 sunset…in a field to the east of the citadel…the King of Bres’ tent…

“What a magnificent gift!” Walter the Ponderous held the sword in his hands up to the fading light of the sun. “The craftsmanship on the pommel and cross is second to none and as for the gem-stones on the scabbard…words fail me! Truly, a sword fit for a king.”

“Please, don’t mention it.” Prince Urien’s cheeks coloured slightly. “It’s the least I can do to show my gratitude, my friend. Segovia shall be forever in your debt. Thank you for taking care of my sister. I know she won’t come to harm in your niece’s care.” Urien stopped pacing around the tent and faced Walter’s grizzled head. “Without the King of Bres’ courage and conviction we would face our doom today.”

“It was a mere stroke of luck that we should happen across the rear guard your father had left to cover the eastern flank. Clever of your father to assemble his army into a five-pronged attack pattern. He’s quite the tactical genius. Not that it seems to have done him much good in the case of his rear guard. Phew, the way they fled out of those tunnels…as if the hounds of hell were after them.”

Prince Urien sank into a chair opposite Walter and held his hands out to a lusty fire burning in a brazier. “If only they were hounds of hell…we could deal with them, no question,” he sighed.

Walter rested his chin upon the palm of his right hand and reached for a goblet on the table in front of him with his left. “Ye-es; the arrival of a fully grown dragon complicates matters somewhat but I doubt the beastie will interfere with our ultimate plans for long.”

Urien raised an eyebrow. “Complicates matters? I’m glad you think that beastie is all that stands between me and the throne!” He got up and tore back the flap of Walter’s tent. “Oh look how pretty, the sun’s setting over Camelot…or rather what’s left of it. And over there by the burning citadel are my father’s troops…about thirty thousand men, last time I counted. You haven’t forgotten about THEM, have you?”

Startled, the guard outside turned with an enquiring look, but Walter just waved him off. Urien let the tent flap slide back and returned to the table. Walter filled a silver goblet with wine and slid it across the table to his young friend.

“Here, drink this, it’ll calm your mind and drown your scruples! Whatever happens, you’ll be the winner today, my son!” Walter smiled benignly at his young comrade-in-arms. For a fleeting moment Urien couldn’t shake the feeling he had stared into the eyes of a snake. Disbelieving his ears, he shook his head but gulped down the proffered wine.

“Your father brought this on his own head, Urien. The kingdoms of Lot and Bres have lived peacefully and in friendship for generations; when your father took power and threatened everything we hold dear, we had no choice but to enter into this senseless war. If Leofwine’s army is destroyed at Arthur’s hands today, you’ll be the winner as you take your father’s throne with your step-sister by your side. If, on the other hand, Camelot should fall –“

“Then you’ll see to it that I’ll be sitting on the throne of Camelot and not my father!”

“My friend King Lot and I are in perfect agreement on this matter. Leofwine will find himself surrounded on all sides with nowhere to run.”

“I’ll drink to that, my old friend! Here’s to slaying bloodthirsty beasts before the day is out!”

A smile stole across Walter’s face as he turned his silver goblet thoughtfully in his hands. “Ye-es…and we both know which one of the dragons we’d like to skin alive first.”

Catching just a hint of vengefulness in Walter’s voice, Urien raised his own goblet. “You have my blessing, old friend! I’d say the lady’s outlived her usefulness.”

Laughing, both men clanged their goblets together, a silvery note filling the tent. They drank deeply, blood-red liquid spilling down Walter’s embroidered shirtfront and staining Urien’s chin. They put their goblets down in unison and Walter refilled Urien’s generously, keeping his twinkling eyes firmly on an oak casket in the farthest corner of the tent.

“To the victor the spoils!”

“Urgh-exactly!” Urien burped, wiping his chin with the back of his hand. He smacked his lips with gusto and sniffed the contents of his goblet. “Say what you will about my father, but he keeps a good vintage in his cellar!”

As the last rays of the sun set over Camelot and Gytha’s Meadow, Walter and Urien drank to each other’s health from the wine Walter’s men had confiscated earlier that day, when they came across a small contingent of Segovia’s men guarding a camp close to Camelot’s tunnels.

English: Actor Colin Morgan after the premiere...

…to be continued…

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin! (21)


knight on drawbridgeI know, I know, you’re having to wait far too long for the end and I had promised to post this “shortly”. After I’d written the battle ending, I suddenly got this idea for a different twist…aaaand changed everything round. Aaaaarrrgggh, I hear you cry, now she’s written such a long “final” part, it’s going to be split over two more posts!

Never mind, I’m feeling somewhat flushed with success, having lured fab fantasy writer and WordPress blogger William Stadler into our Merlin Family. Yep, an otherwise sensible and business-like writer like William is now watching Merlin episodes as we speak, which just goes to show that resistance is futile – you might as well join the Merlin fandom now and have done with it (here’s looking at you, Michelle Barber from LoonyLiterature)!

From left to right: Guinevere, Gaius, Morgana,...

Part 21.

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.

 

In tunnels leading to the Great Cave below Camelot’s citadel…

 

Arthur hurried past the long line of soldiers and trolls making their way through the damp tunnel to join Lady Dragonara, Ethelgunda and Yolanda at the top of the column. Merlin, hampered by carrying Arthur’s lance and shield, had trouble keeping up. While the ladies had ridden into the tunnel, Arthur and his men were mainly on foot, their horses left behind in the forest, where Kai and Siward, Urien’s faithful servants, would tend them until their master gave new orders. Merlin could not quite fathom the wisdom of taking horses into the caves, but the ladies had insisted on riding ahead.

“Can’t say I blame them,” Arthur panted beside him, “if Gwen and Gaius really managed to persuade a dragon to take up residence in our Great Cave, the ladies want to find their way out of here as fast as they can. Horses hate fire, so horses bolt for the nearest exit. I get that. Ladies are made for banqueting halls, singing and dancing. Men are made for war…aaaaand for slipping on slimy stuff in tunnels apparently!” Arthur clung to a crevice in the roughly hewn wall; his feet were trying to find purchase on the slippery ground before the king was forced to suffer the indignity of landing on his behind. He pulled himself into an upright position and inspected the sole of his left boot.  “What in the name of Camelot is THAT? It stinks worse than Gawain’s feet after a full day’s training.” Arthur sidled past a sticky patch of slime on the ground of the rat infested tunnel.

“Dragon dung?” suggested Merlin unhelpfully. He sighed and shifted the heavy shield to his right arm to give his left a rest. “You’re doing the ladies an injustice. Your godmother tells me dragons are fond of horseflesh. The ladies are merely using their horses as bait.” Merlin examined the sticky stain on Arthur’s boot. “Arthur, there’s every likelihood we’ll get out of this alive…can’t you stay clear of stinky mess just this once? I don’t want to spend the day of our liberation cleaning boots while everyone else is dancing and singing in the banqueting hall!”

“What makes you think you’d get an invitation?” Arthur snatched the oak shield from him and set off at a trot. “Speaking of banqueting halls, how did you persuade the Segovia soldiers to drink that enchanted wine? I’m surprised it still worked after Dragonara’s treatment.” Arthur glanced at the column of troll-soldiers ahead and frowned. “Did my godmother use sorcery to enhance its potency?”

“Not a bit!” An air of innocence spread across Merlin’s face. He reached into his pocket and produced a purse heavy with silver coins. “We pretended to be traders fleeing from Camelot. After a long day’s marching Leofwine’s men were thirsty and gulped the whole lot down without a second thought.” He shrugged his shoulders. “The spell is bound to work better on Segovia’s own men. We told them we had seen Leofwine’s beautiful queen heading for Camelot. They’ve had years to lust after your godmother…stands to reason they’re even more susceptible to her charms after drinking the wine.”

“I didn’t know you had developed an eye for the ladies…and older ladies at that!” A grin spread across Arthur’s face, when he noticed his servant’s embarrassment. “Now I know why you’re always hanging around Camelot’s kitchens…you can’t resist the lure of our cook’s dumplings! You’re braver than you look, Merlin.” Arthur laughed out loud. “Mind you, they do say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

In the dark next to him Merlin snorted. “Trust me Arthur; I can do a lot better than that old crow!”

Arthur chuckled good-naturedly. “Who’d have guessed there’s a whole different you? Merlin: Camelot’s very own duster-wielding seducer of fair maidens! Gawain’s corrupting influence is to blame, no doubt. A word of advice, you might want to change your appearance, if you’re hoping to better his record of success with tavern wenches. Ladies like a man who shows strength of mind and has some muscle in his arms.”  Arthur tried to squeeze Merlin’s biceps, but his servant held up the lance and blocked his king’s move. He quickened his pace and now it was Arthur’s turn to hurry after him.

“Why would I want to win the hearts of tavern girls? A man likes to better himself, not trade down.” Merlin panted moments later, trying to run while carrying the lance. There was always the risk of accidentally impaling his comrades-in-arms in the dark. They had reached the top of the column and were just a few paces behind Dragonara and her magnificent horse. Merlin slowed his pace to match Arthur’s. “I heard when you first happened across Dragonara out there in the forest you tried to make an impression by appearing in your birthday suit. Let me guess, you were trying to win your beautiful godmother’s admiration but the lady just took pity on you?”

Ignoring the taunt, Arthur stopped abruptly and turned to face his servant with an air of suspicion. “I see where this is leading…I married a serving girl and now you’re hoping to climb up the ladder, too.” Arthur grabbed Merlin’s arm roughly. “I have nothing against a servant making the most of his chances by pursuing a wealthy older woman but you’d better not set your sights at winning my godmother’s heart!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Merlin tore his arm out of the king’s grasp and scolded one of the torch bearing squires to keep up with the rest of the men. “My kind isn’t good enough for your godmother? I’m a servant and should know my place?” Merlin hissed at the king, when the hapless young squire was out of earshot.

“No, dollop-head!” Arthur slapped Merlin’s head. “I’m saying she’s an enchantress and not just in the usual sense of a beguiling face that turns a fellow’s head. She spells trouble…like all of her kind. When this idiotic war is over, she’ll answer to the laws of Camelot…there’s no place for sorcerers in my realm!”

Mistaking the dismay on Merlin’s face for hurt pride, Arthur reached out, giving his servant’s shoulder an affectionate, if painful squeeze. “Honestly, Merlin, lighten up. I didn’t really think you were setting your hopes on my godmother. She’d be flattered by the attentions of a young and…uh…not exactly repulsive fellow like yourself, no doubt, but she’s more trouble than she’s worth.” Arthur’s fingers reached for the broach that fastened the cloak under his chin. “Damn this thing’s far too tight; I feel I’m being throttled before the battle has even started. Does the tunnel feel hotter to you, too?”

Merlin ignored both the plea for help and his king’s discomfiture, preferring to march on at a faster pace. Arthur fell into a companionable trot by his side, playfully trying to match his servant’s gait. When Merlin continued to blank him, he dug his elbow into his servant’s ribs.

Merlin fastened his step. “I don’t recall you complaining when your godmother lifted the curse off everyone at Deira! You can’t have it both ways. Accept it, Arthur, not everyone who has magic is worthless or evil!”

“Oh, come on, don’t be like that! You know, we’ll never see eye to eye on this. We’re about to go into battle; let’s not quarrel.” Arthur slung an arm around Merlin’s neck and half wrestled him to the ground, before releasing him and ruffling his hair far more tenderly than Merlin had expected. Seeing Merlin’s surprise, Arthur relented. “If you must know, I’d wish for something far better for my…friend than losing his heart to a woman with a jilted lover on the throne of every realm.” Encouraged by the look of wonder on Merlin’s face, Arthur hurried on:” Even without magic, she’d still be a woman as untrustworthy as a goat in charge of Gaius’ herb garden, right?”

Before Merlin had a chance to reply, Arthur’s attention was distracted by a scout, who’d just arrived. The ladies were forced to dismount, when the horses refused to take another step into the darkness ahead. Arthur gathered his knights around him, while Merlin leaned against a large rock to catch his breath. They had reached the part of the underground vaults where two main tunnels intersected, the tunnel from Geoffrey’s Rest met up with the tunnel from Rowan in a smallish cave. Ahead of them a silent mouth gaped, tempting them into impenetrable darkness and onwards to the Great Cave.

Eying the entrance suspiciously, Dragonara gently stroked her horse’s nose. Arthur turned to her. “That’s odd…the horses are nervous, but not scared out of their wits…they should be, if we faced a dragon ahead. The smoke and flames we saw coming from the air shafts earlier must have been from fires within the citadel, courtesy of Leofwine’s men. All seems quiet now; Gwen must have ordered our men to put out the flames. Still, we’d better hurry.”

Arthur was proven wrong much sooner than anticipated when a flash of bright light shot through one of the air vents and exploded with a bang in the passage to their right. Knowing that it couldn’t possibly be a dragon, Merlin suspected foul play from Leofwine’s quarter. For a moment Merlin thought he had seen a man crouching in the shadows of the tunnel…the Rowan tunnel. He turned and stared with glowing eyes into the dying light but the man had disappeared. Merlin cast a spell into the passage, forcing all living things to reveal themselves only to him. Cowering on the ground, their dark purple cloaks blending in with the bluish rock formations all around them, Leofwine’s warriors had flattened themselves to the ground and into crevices, no doubt hoping to ambush Arthur and his men as soon as they had passed.

“Arthur, the Rowan tunnel is full of Segovia’s men!” Merlin cried and charged ahead with only Arthur’s lance as a weapon. Merlin’s eyes glowed fiercely, as his magic knocked out the first three warriors heading his way and he impaled the fourth on his lance. The man squealed, doubled up with his hands clutching his chest, where his blood was already drowning the golden crest of Segovia.

In no time the tunnels filled with the clashing of swords, the neighing of terrified horses and the cries of men falling under prey to the onslaught of Excalibur and Arthur’s knights. A second wave of Leofwine’s men thrust forward and into the affray, driving Camelot’s king and his men back into the small cave, where they ended up fighting back to back against Leofwine’s determined forces. Merlin dealt out magical blows left and right, but managed to keep an eye on Dragonara, who had unaccountably mounted again, clearly urging the other two ladies to do the same. Forcing their way through the melee of fighting men, the horses and their riders knocked over several of Leofwine’s men before charging ahead into the third tunnel, the one that lead to the Great Cave. The trolls abandoned the fighting and followed the women into the dark.

Strangely, as if a secret password had been spoken, Leofwine’s men also abandoned their attack and disappeared as noiselessly as they had come. Sir Percival advised pursuit and chasing after them in the Rowan tunnel, but Merlin urged Arthur to head for the Great Cave on the shortest possible route…the tunnel straight ahead. Arthur hesitated and laid a restraining hand on his servant’s shoulder.

“Merlin, I know you like my godmother…but she’s leading us into a trap. When all’s said and done…she’s a sorceress and they can’t be trusted. No way is that a dragon ahead of us. Even if Gwen had managed to find and trap one, how on earth could we slay the beast in this confined space? We’d be incinerated before we’d struck the first blow!”

“Arthur is right, Merlin. We drugged Leofwine’s raiding party at Rowan, yet here he is, lying in wait with a second contingent of men in the Rowan tunnel. That can’t be a coincidence, surely?” Percival towered over Merlin, urging him to see reason, his face full of concern.

“You’re both wrong. She’d never harm Arthur or Camelot! You’re just prejudiced because she’s got magic.”

“I’m not saying Dragonara’s planning to usurp Camelot’s throne like her husband’s done with some of his neighbouring realms…but we should proceed with the utmost caution and perhaps follow Leofwine’s men rather than charging ahead. We can decimate them one by one as we go along,” Percival pointed at the lance in Merlin’s hand. “Now that you’ve discovered the business end of that thing you might as well put it to good use.”

“What about the queen and the Citadel? If we get held up fighting skirmishes here in the tunnels, there might not be a Camelot left for us to save! Just look at the extent of the fires already raging under the citadel. Here, what’s this?” Merlin bent down and picked up a diamond shaped object from the ground. He held the thing under Arthur’s nose. “Where there’s dung…dragon scales won’t be far! Now do you believe in Queen Gwen’s beastie?”

Without waiting for an answer, Merlin pushed his way past Percival and Arthur and ran into the gaping mouth ahead. The darkness swallowed him up, but his arrival was greeted with a deep rumble and thunder that shook the small cave.

“Why can’t that dollop-head ever do as he’s told?” Arthur growled and sprinted after his errant underling.

“The words pot, kettle and black spring to mind!” Percival sighed and followed his friends into the abyss. Gawain and Elyan were hot on his heels. Sir Leon directed a small contingent of his men to follow Leofwine’s soldiers into the Rowan tunnel and wipe out as many of them as they could. Then Sir Leon led the remaining men into the tunnel that headed towards the Great Cave.

 

In the Great Cave under Camelot…

 

With Gwen’s assistance Gaius managed to break off the arrow’s shaft and bind Hueil’s shoulder as best as possible, but the man was losing a lot of blood. Weakened but undeterred to be of use, Hueil shook off Gwen’s ministering hands and drew his sword, joining the throng of knights and guards that surrounded the queen under Sir Edward’s command. Ahead of them the make-shift dragon had been set ablaze and all around them the air shafts fanned the small fire baskets the servants had placed around the Great Cave. Kilgharrah’s enormous chain led from the Rowan tunnel exit directly to the fake dragon and Gaius hoped together with the trail of dragon scales they had scattered in all the tunnels it would be enough to lure Leofwine’s men straight into Gwen’s trap.

When the first of Segovia’s warriors tumbled into the Great Cave, Gwen gave the command to throw the small leather pouches Gaius had made earlier into the fire baskets. The explosions knocked Leofwine’s men off their feet and to the ground, where Camelot’s soldiers made short work of them. The hunters and beaters kept up their drumming, producing a fairly realistic dragon roar. Unfortunately, Leofwine’s men kept on coming, there seemed no end to their numbers. Gwen gave the command for a second salve of explosives to be used and more skirmishes broke out, now engulfing the whole cave in fighting.

To her dismay Gwen spotted another purple clad wave of Segovia’s warriors charging through one of the tunnel exits but they were joined by a tall, skinny man dressed in blue shirt and brown hose. Merlin shot into the Great Cave like an arrow from a bow, wielding his lance with the intention to encourage the troll-soldiers rather than actually harming anyone. Their shaggy manes and hog-like features terrified Leofwine’s men and the supernatural strength of the trolls helped to drive part of the throng back into the tunnel, where Sir Leon’s men were already waiting for them. When a fresh wave of warriors spilled from the tunnels, this time from the one that led to Geoffrey’s Rest, Gaius broke out in a loud cheer, for they were wearing the red cloaks of Camelot and Arthur was leading them.

Before Gwen and Gaius had a chance to digest this new development and greet Arthur’s arrival, three women on horseback rode at full speed into the Great Cave. Petrified by the fires and explosions all around them, the horses bolted and threw off two of the horse-women. Ethelgunda and Yolanda were immediately surrounded by their loyal and utterly besotted troll guards, but the ladies clearly had no desire to be rescued and drew their daggers to hurl themselves at Leofwine’s men. Only the Lady Dragonara was still on horseback, her blonde mane glowing like a halo in the red flames. She charged at Leofwine’s men, her brave war horse scattering them like chickens in a farm yard. Leofwine’s soldiers were clearly unwilling to harm their queen and sought refuge rather than raise their weapons against her. Merlin clapped his hands over his ears in an effort to get his bearings. The Great Cave was thick with the stench of burning furniture and singed tapestries; the din of whinnying horses and the cries of dying men rose up into the dome and rang through the tunnels.

Leofwine had fought his way through various skirmishes and had reached the cave unscathed. From across the cave Merlin watched the sorcerer-king sneak out of a tunnel mouth. Raising his sword with one hand and the clutching the magical crystal in the other, Leofwine stayed well behind the lines of his fighting men, clinging to the rock face of the walls. Merlin’s eyes followed Leofwine’s gaze. The sight of his own warriors dressed in Segovia’s livery but fighting for Camelot seemed to pierce Leofwine’s heart like a dagger for he stared at his former lover and helpmate Dragonara with a face that was distorted by rage and hatred. Dragonara had dismounted and was now fighting back to back with Arthur, their height perfectly matched, their sword arms dealing out blows in harmony, their blonde heads and illuminated profiles betraying a kinship that went deeper than oaths made over holy water or promises made on the deathbed of erstwhile friends. With a pang Merlin remembered her words: I recognise all my children by the kindness they hold in their hearts!

In an instant Merlin understood. All creatures born of magic were part of the very fabric that held together the universe and made Earth what it was for the children of men. Uther’s plea to Nimueh had been answered – he had received the son and heir he craved but Nimueh was merely a high priestess, a woman initiated into the mysteries but lacking the magical power necessary to create such a son…not just a boy or common princeling but a king who would bring about Albion and unite the lands, a son honourable, tolerant and true of heart, a king whose memory would last into the mists of time. Arthur wasn’t just born of magic. Nimueh had taken credit for something another had accomplished. Arthur truly was a Pendragon…a dragon’s son…just like Eliffer and Eleanor!

To bring harmony to the children of men the dragon queen had created dragon lords giving them magic. Merlin caught his breath; his heart missed a beat when he understood the full implications of his reasoning. Magical beings were connected…and that meant…Merlin felt tears rise to his eyes…all magical beings like him shared a kinship with Dragonara and, in a manner of speaking, Arthur was his brother and just as magical in his own way!

Recalling where he was and what was at stake, Merlin wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand and decided it was about time he dealt with Leofwine. On the other side of the cave the sorcerer-king slowly made his way towards his intended prize: Queen Guinevere. All around them, fires blazed; the putrid odour of rat droppings, mould and rotting leaves mingled with the rancid smell of burnt flesh and stung Merlin’s nostrils. This time it was the smoke that made Merlin’s eyes water and he squinted across the flames towards the Camelot quarter, where Gwen’s shape was flitting here and there, as she tended the wounded, hurrying to Gaius’ and then to Emma’s side to fetch water or more bandages for Camelot’s injured men, women and children.

In the centre of the cave Gwen’s fake dragon was beginning to fade, consumed by flames and hacked to pieces by Leofwine’s men. His soldiers had begun to drag smouldering chairs and trestle tables away from the fires, diminishing the dragon’s power to shield Gwen’s sanctuary. Stealing past a large boulder, Leofwine kept an eye on the flitting queen, while apparently assessing the cave. Merlin’s eyes followed the sorcerer-king’s. Above them in the cathedral like vault, the ceiling was studded with stalactites that dropped from the roof like gigantic icicles. All around them stalagmites rose up like pillars in a great hall. In some places the columns had been shattered by a great force, the rock face still showing recent scars, where lichen and moss had not had sufficient time to cover the breaks. Watching closely, Merlin saw how a mirthless smile lit up Leofwine’s face. He’d been right all along: a real dragon had lived here until fairly recently. Undoubtedly, Leofwine pondered if the queen had either secreted the beast in one of the many tunnels or hidden the creature elsewhere.

The sorcerer-king had raised his crystal and summoned a spell before Merlin could stop him, bringing down an enormous stalactite that crashed onto the heads of the troops below. Realising too late that he had chosen the wrong hiding place, Merlin was forced to dive for better cover or be trampled by the wave of fleeing trolls and men. A large fragment of the rock forced Arthur and Dragonara apart. Merlin lost sight of Arthur when a second spell illuminated the vault and brought down an even larger icicle, this time causing devastation among Gwen’s wounded.

Leofwine did not waste time; dazed by the noise and dust, Merlin tried to scramble over fallen debris and towards Gwen, guessing Leofwine’s intent. However, he was too late. Leofwine took one huge leap and reached the queen before Merlin did, but the sorcerer-king hadn’t reckoned with Hueil, who darted across and put his bulk between Leofwine and the queen.  Despite his wound, he challenged Leofwine, exchanging blow after blow, before Leofwine lost his patience and simply raised his crystal, removing Hueil with a spell that sent Urien’s favourite servant into the nearest wall with a skull-shattering force. Gwen cried out and tried to flee back into the circle of her guards with Sir Edward’s sword trying to protect her this time, but Leofwine was faster. He caught her by the wrist and dragged her towards him, holding on to her like a falcon unwilling to give up his prey.

“Bring me the ransom I was promised, Arthur Pendragon, and I’ll return your queen unharmed!” Casting another spell, Leofwine raised the crystal once more and Gwen disappeared in a cloud of golden dust. Leofwine grabbed the bridle of a fleeing horse and jumped on the animal’s back, charging into the Rowan tunnel without heeding the injuries he caused to his own men or any of Arthur’s soldiers being able to stop him.

Howling with rage, Arthur and his knights decimated Segovia’s men, the trolls fighting on Camelot’s side harder than before. Leofwine’s remaining garrison fled back into the Rowan tunnel and out of the caves to reassemble outside the citadel.

A strange calm was beginning to settle on the cave. Sir Leon was rounding up the remaining guards, Arthur and Gaius saw to the wounded, while Percival, Gawain and Elyan dispatched the last of Segovia’s warriors. Ethelgunda, aided by her sister Yolanda, limped towards Camelot’s women and children. They were strangely silent; instead of crying, the children who were unharmed brought cups of water to Gwen’s guards, who were crestfallen and desolate having lost their beloved queen. Under Gaius command the women rushed to the wounded and tried to help them as best as they could. Exhausted, Geoffrey of Monmouth scrambled out from his hiding place and knelt by Hueil’s side; he fingered the back of Hueil’s skull gently, but the man was dead, there was nothing left but to carry him off and lay him out tenderly with the other who had given their lives for Camelot and freedom to live as they chose. Merlin crawled out from behind the rock that had given him shelter and tried to find his bearings in the dust and billowing smoke. To his surprise, someone took him by the hand and pulled him back down. When Merlin looked up, he was confronted by a pair of emerald green eyes.

“It’s time for the real dragon to appear! Don’t argue with me, young warlock. Here, hold my hand and don’t let go.” Dragonara squeezed his fingers hard and he could feel his magical power drain from him, as if an arrow had pierced a vein. “My strength has not fully returned after reviving Eliffer and Marigold. About time you made yourself useful today!”

Dragonara’s skin changed from smooth to rough and he sensed how her blood turned from warm to cold. Her neck grew longer and scaly; her beautiful face transformed into that of a reptile and her clothing began to tear and fall off her in shreds.

“There must be another way!” Merlin looked on in horror as her fingers began to transform into a dragon’s talons. “I’ll think of something. We’ll get Gwen back, I promise!” Merlin clung to her claw with both hands. “Please, you’re the last of your kind!”

“Look after Aithusa for me, young warlock. It’s been a pleasure knowing you.” Dragonara smiled, gradually transforming into her dragon shape, her elongated face now graced by several rows of razor-sharp teeth, her emerald eyes changing into snake-like pupils.

With his own powers gone completely, Merlin felt his fingers slipping and she gradually escaped his grasp. Unable to hold her, he rose with tears streaming down his cheeks. Her golden body reared up in front of him; one of her gigantic paws pushed the rock that had sheltered them out of the way as if it were a pebble. She unfurled her wings and launched into flight, causing the fighting all around them to stop as everyone dived for cover, terrified of a fire blast from above. Before taking off into the vault, Dragonara turned and addressed Merlin one last time, but her voice only made sense to a dragon lord. To everyone else she emitted an ear-shattering roar.

“I’ll await my fate at sunset…on the field called Gytha’s Meadow, just below the town. Don’t forget: it must be Arthur who cuts out my heart! It won’t be hard to convince my darling husband; trust me, Leofwine will relish the thought. He’s a coward at heart.”

“I won’t allow it! Come back here, you’ve got to obey your lord and master,” Merlin said, barely able to stand on his own two feet. She merely chuckled and extended her wings, soaring up into the cupola, where a rose-tinted dawn was already showing in the skylight hundreds of feet above his head.

golden dragon flying into sunset…/to be continued

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin! (Part 20)


castle attacked by dragonsSo 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!

From left to right: Guinevere, Gaius, Morgana,...

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.

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

Merlin (Falco columbarius) (Photo credit: Larry Meade)

…to be continued…

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin (Part 19)


slowly riding knightDear Merlin fans, we now the end is nearing and the great battle is soon to take place…this chapter of my fan fiction could best be described as a filler chapter where I’m setting up a few characters for you to like a little more…so I can kill them off with a greater emotional impact in the next and final chapter…

 

On TV there are, of course, only two more episodes left before the whole show comes to an end, but here at my blog I will write more Merlin fan fiction in the not so distant future. One reason Morgana didn’t feature in “Let the Questing begin” was because she had such over-exposure on TV…the other reason was that I’m planning the next fan fiction piece in which she will feature, so hopefully you’ve enjoyed my take on the Merlin sagas enough to return for more!

 

The Honeymoon is over: Let the Questing begin!

 

Part 19.

 

From left to right: Guinevere, Gaius, Morgana,...

From left to right: Guinevere, Gaius, Morgana, Merlin, Arthur, Uther and the Great Dragon in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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 (Gwain), Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan), John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon Kilgharrah and Anthony Head as King Uther.

 

 

 

Outside Gaius’ chambers in burning Camelot…

 

 

 

Geoffrey of Monmouth crawled on all fours through the dust and debris to reach his queen, who was clutching her aching head, her ears still ringing from the explosion. Tears streamed down her dusty face, as she scrambled up. She stared at the smoke billowing through the open door. “Gaius, my old friend…Sir Edward and brave Hueil gone, too. Now all’s lost!”

 

Geoffrey held out a hand to his queen, raising her to her feet. “Don’t upset yourself, my lady, Gaius wouldn’t want that…he lived a long and fairly content life; I’m sure his last years were made all the happier for sharing them with young Merlin and finally seeing Arthur succeed to the throne. He was so proud of –“

 

“I wished you wouldn’t talk about me as if I were already in my grave, Geoffrey,” Gaius spluttered as he emerged from the smoke, Hueil’s steadying hand beneath his elbow. “I assure you there’s plenty of fight left in this particular court physician.”

 

Never one for court etiquette, Gwen threw her arms around Gaius and hugged him tight, before bestowing a grateful kiss on the noses of Hueil and Sir Edward, who came staggering through the door after his friends, both hands still firmly clapped over his ears.

 

“My dear old friend!” Geoffrey of Monmouth grabbed Gaius’ hands and shook them enthusiastically. “I thought you were dead!”

 

The old court physician raised an eyebrow and peered at the wall opposite his door. “I certainly shall be when Merlin discovers his favourite painting’s gone. Why that boy should be so attached to the subject of mountain lakes is beyond me. I find him staring at that picture of Lake Avalon quite often.” Gaius shook his head, dislodging a squashed leach from his long, grey hair. It landed at his feet, where it squirmed in the dust until Gaius took his revenge and kicked it back into the burning chamber.

 

“Perhaps it reminded Merlin of Ealdor, his mother’s village?” Gwen squinted at the burned remains on the wall.

 

“You’d think tavern signs would be more to his liking or pictures of nubile young maidens.” Gaius felt the heat rise to his cheeks when Gwen snorted, the only possible response to such an outrageous notion. Gaius clearly felt it politic to correct the impression he had just created for he hurried to add: “Purely in the interest of healing, you understand, Your Majesty. I am training him to be a good physician and knowledge of female anatomy is important, is it not?”

 

Hueil laughed out loud and clapped him on the back. “It certainly is in my experience, dear man!”

 

Blushing, Gaius sidled past his queen and scurried down the corridor as fast as his shaky legs would carry him. “You have no idea what ailments young maidens can report in the space of a day…and don’t even get me started on those drinkers in The Rising Sun tavern…and then there’s the bewildering subject of babies and childbirth! Erm…we’ll be safer down below, let’s head for the dungeons, my lady,” he cried over his shoulder, the queen following him with an amused expression on her face.

 

“Yes, let’s Gaius, and while we’re walking I shall enlighten you on the subject of dragons…babies and childbirth included.”

 

Gaius stopped in his tracks and turned on his heel. “Erm…what, my lady? What dragons would that be?”

 

“The one you and I shall conjure up, old friend.” Gwen beamed. She half-turned towards the smoking chamber behind her. “Do you think any of your…erm…more disagreeable supplies might still be intact?”

 

Gaius raised an eyebrow. “Now what are you up to, my girl?”

 

The queen had caught up with Gaius, who was still unsteady on his feet after his brush with poisonous death and greedy leaches. “One or two of your more temperamental ingredients might come in useful, don’t you think?”

 

She hooked her arm through his with a grip far stronger than the old physician had expected from such a petite lady and more or less dragged him back to his smouldering chambers, where she picked up an iron cauldron and shoved it rather unceremoniously into Hueil’s arms. “Hold this, will you, while Gaius prepares some Camelot magic that will make Leofwine’s ears ring for a long, long while.”

 

Most of the physician’s supplies had been incinerated but the odd temperamental ingredient still snoozed safely in its earthen-wear pot or leather pouch. He collected what was usable and could easily be found in the smoke-filled chamber, flung the stuff into the cauldron, only half understanding what his queen had in mind. When nothing more useful could be gathered, they hurried back into the corridor and down towards the main stair case to the dungeons, until Gwen stopped abruptly at a particularly gruesome tapestry that depicted one of King Uther’s raids on the local druid population. Gwen wrinkled her nose in distaste, instantly letting go off Gaius’ arm. She picked up a corner of the tapestry with both hands and tore down Uther’s shameful reminder. When the dust cloud had subsided a secret door was revealed.

 

The queen turned to one of the wall sconces in the corridor and lifted a torch out of its wrought iron bracket. “Arthur once showed me this route. It’s much quicker and takes us straight to the entrance of the great cave, the dragon’s lair.”

 

“My lady, I don’t understand…you’d dare practicing sorcery…right here at Camelot under Arthur’s nose?” Gaius squeaked, mindful of the torch, it being within dangerous proximity of his long grey hair.

 

“Arthur’s nose is leagues away, probably stuck knee-deep in whatever mess his royal pig-headedness has landed him in. Besides, I have a feeling he won’t object to the type of sorcery we’ll be employing here today!”

 

The trained physician in Gaius shook his head at the thought of noses with knees, while Geoffrey, his fingers still trying to unclog plaster dust from his ears, finally caught up with them. “Is this wise, my lady? Shouldn’t we wait for King Arthur’s return?”

 

The queen flung Uther’s tapestry over Geoffrey’s head, pulled open the secret door and pointed resolutely down a stair case, before plunging into the silent darkness that lay beyond the door. “Gentlemen, you swore allegiance to Camelot, not just to the man sitting on the throne. At this moment in time, I represent the king. So quit moaning!”

 

Gaius sighed deeply, reluctantly following his queen down into the citadel’s bowels. Hueil and Sir Edward cluttered down the spiralling steps after them, each clearly dubious what this new scheme might possibly achieve in the coming battle. Geoffrey of Monmouth disentangled his head from the tapestry and trotted down the stairs, still muttering they should wait for Arthur to arrive.

 

When they reached the bottom of the stair case, Gaius had to rest. He held on to the damp wall beside him and puffed. “My lady, I fear on this occasion Geoffrey may be right. I cannot see what we could possibly do that Sir Edward and his knights haven’t already done in defence of the citadel?”

 

Gwen turned and pulled a face, the flickering light adding two little horns to her shadow’s hair, as she faced her old friend. “Since Arthur has put me in charge of the citadel…you can jolly well watch me defend his realm as I see fit!”

 

“But my lady, if Arthur finds out we’ve used magic to defend his realm –“

 

“Gaius, none of this would have happened, if Arthur had stayed at home with me and not set out on yet another ill-advised quest. You’re a physician! Find a cure for his pig-headedness and leave me to worry about the sorcery!”

 

Shivering in the icy cold tunnel, Gaius snatched the tapestry from Geoffrey and wrapped it around his shoulders. “How exactly, with your Majesty’s gracious permission, should I cure Arthur of his wanderlust and you of your eternal fear for his safety without the use of sorcery? That boy was born with ants in his breeches and nothing but jousting on his mind. He’ll never be a stay-at-home husband and well you know it. Now, what about that dragon-beastie you want us to conjure up? Isn’t there something in Aurelius’ dragon book…I seem to recall a chapter on magical tincture?”

 

“Aurelius’ tinctures!” Gwen snorted and headed back into the darkness with a grim expression on her face. “You won’t conjure up a fully grown dragon with tincture of honey and lemon balm…but you never know…it might cure the beastie’s chesty cough before Leofwine gets around to carving out its heart!”

 

Her fingers gliding along the damp and moss-covered wall on her left, Gwen plunged into the gloom, raising her torch with her right hand to guide her party. The long tunnel ahead of them was lit up by just one wall sconce every twenty yards and sloped downwards, heading to the very bowels of the castle. Gaius had trouble keeping up with the lithe young queen. Above them, the bombardment never ceased, explosions and screams followed their descent, the stench of burning flesh already pervaded the citadel and spurned Gwen on to hurry even more. Hueil easily overtook Gaius with his long strides and fell in beside the queen, urging her to explain her plan, while her aged fellow conspirators tramped reluctantly behind them, trying to keep up.

 

They finally reached a small, cave-like chamber, where they came to a halt at the outer dungeon gates. Gaius caught his breath and peered through the lattice work, where a heavily studded oak door led into the inner most secrets of the citadel.

 

“How are we going to conjure up a dragon? I haven’t enough puff left in my lungs to conjure up a squirrel…erm…I mean if I did have magic…which I don’t, Your Majesty!” Sir Edward cried in a loud voice, causing everyone to jump out of their skin. He leant against the roughly hewn stone work lining the chamber and mopped his brow. “Has one of you any practical experience in such matters?”

 

“It’s no use looking at me, there are no more spell books left in my library; Uther burned the lot.” Geoffrey panted. He rattled the bars of the outer dungeon gates, his breath finally catching up with his lungs.

 

“Does anyone else hear this ringing noise?” Sir Edward asked nervously, his head cocked to one side like a bird’s. “I fear there must be sorcery at play. All I can hear is a strange ringing.” He clapped his hands to his ears and frowned.

 

Hueil lifted the old knight’s hands and pronounced his words slowly and with care. “There was an explosion, my good knight…sulphur Gaius said, I believe. It’s highly flammable and doesn’t agree with the other fragrant ingredients of your physician’s chamber. Help us stir the queen’s pet dragon into action, Sir Edward; the ringing in your ears will soon subside.”

 

Hueil flashed a smile at the queen, when Sir Edward’s enlightened face showed them he had at last regained his wits. Sir Edward nodded enthusiastically. “A pet dragon…yes, I understand,” he cried, pointing to the dungeon’s doors. “I’d love to see Leofwine’s face when he finds out!”

 

Gaius scratched his head. “Have you all gone mad?”

 

Gwen giggled and unlocked the gates with a huge key from the set dangling off the embroidered belt gathering her gown at her waist. She tripped lightly through the gates, the others following her less lightly, and pushed open the studded doors. Bright lights flooded the small cave-like entrance, causing everyone to squint. The clamour of many voices drifted up from the innards of the citadel and when Gaius sidled pasts the queen to cast an enquiring look down yet another set of stairs, he noted a long line of servants hurrying along the tunnels below, each servant laden with household furniture, a stream of ants on their way to a gigantic nest.

 

Gaius’ eyes widened. “That’s your cunning plan? We’re moving into the dungeons! I don’t think that’s going to save our skins for very long. It won’t take Leofwine long to discover us, you know.”

 

“But I want him to find us!” Gwen turned to him, a wide grin spreading across her face. “Leofwine wants a dragon queen’s heart, so he shall have one. He’ll have to cut it out first, though! Let Leofwine show us that he’s the mighty warrior he claims to be…a dragon slayer and worthy King of Camelot!” She raised her hands playfully and turned them into claws. “I’ll give him a fire-breathing, smoke-spewing beastie, a gigantic scaly worm that’s lurking in the tunnels just waiting to do battle. Grrrrrrrr. May the smoke from his fiery nostrils rise to the heavens like a beacon and bring my Arthur home!”

 

Hueil slapped his forehead and burst out laughing. “Why, of course, that’s brilliant!”

 

Gaius looked bewildered from his queen to his enemy’s servant. “This…erm…scaly worm…if it’s not going to live long…does it really need all this furniture for its comforts? I mean, if it’s all the same to you, but that was my favourite arm chair I just saw Emma carrying into the cave.”

 

Gwen’s silvery laugh rang through the corridors and bounced off the cave’s domed ceiling. “Show me the Great Dragon’s broken chain, Gaius, and I promise to explain. The poisoned arrow must still be addling your brain.”

 

“I thought the arrow hit his chest,” Geoffrey muttered, shaking his head as they walked down the steep stairs to join the throng of huntsmen, beaters, servants and maids, who streamed into the great cave that had been the Great Dragon’s prison for more than twenty years.

 

In the centre, just under a natural sky light hundreds of feet above their heads, the servants had erected a huge pile of every flammable thing Camelot could spare. The conspirators found the severed end of the enormous chain that had once held the Great Dragon Kilgharrah prisoner and with the help of a couple of servants and with much huffing and puffing, Sir Edward and Hueil finally heaved the massive chain into position; it now led from the darkest part of the cave to the centre, where a rather oddly shaped pile of furniture grew with every new arrival of servants.

 

Gwen watched the men carry the enormous instrument of Kilgharrah’s imprisonment. She turned to Sir Edward. “Look, over there! How generous of our old friend the Great Dragon. He’s left us a souvenir of his time at Camelot. Gather the scales together and scatter them in the tunnels on the other side of the cave. Take a scouting party with you. When Leofwine’s warriors enter the tunnels, they’ll find a dragon’s heartbeat that’s far fiercer than anything the sorcerer king has ever dreamt possible!”

 

“And if Arthur enters the tunnels first?”

 

“Sir Edward, we must make sure it’s Leofwine who enters first! Any ideas?”

 

“Leave it to us, my lady. I think I’ve got an idea how to lure him and his men into the tunnels.” Hueil grinned, already setting off at a trot with Sir Edward and several guards hot on his heels.

 

Gwen turned to Geoffrey and Gaius. “Now for a little dragon magic, my friends! Show me what’s in that cauldron of yours, Gaius, and we’ll see if our fire-breather can’t greet King Leofwine with a little snap, sparkle and pop.”

 

Gaius looked around the enormous cave and spotted several strategically placed fire baskets under the most important air shafts. Finally catching on to Gwen’s brilliant plan, he chuckled and slid the moth-eaten tapestry from his shoulders, handing it to Emma, who had just appeared with an arm full of old cushions by his side. “Here, take this my girl, it’ll be perfect for the dragon’s head.”

 

Emma looked up anxiously, when another attack from Leofwine’s mangonels made short work of demolishing the turrets of the middle tower. “I’ll get the wall hangings from King Uther’s former chambers, shall I? Those gloomy purple ones with the severed Saxon heads?”

 

“Splendid idea, Emma! And get the old rascal’s robes whilst you’re at it. He won’t need them anymore and this beastie of ours requires an awful lot of skin!” Gaius nodded encouragingly and strolled over to the ever increasing furniture pile.

 

Emma handed tapestry and cushions over to a young lad, who scrambled up on the pile and stuffed the cushions into a tangle of chairs, before draping the tapestry over the arrangement.

 

“Try to make it bulge out a bit more…yes, that’s it…just like a dragon’s brow. Well done!” Gaius encouraged the young squire. The boy flashed a shy smile at the old physician, before starting to drape blankets and sheets over a long line of upturned armchairs that sat on top of a pile of tables. The furniture-beastie wobbled dangerously, but the lithe young squire sprang from chair to chair with the agility of a squirrel without causing the pile to collapse.

 

Gwen watched the creation of her very own dragon with pride. Every available servant, guard, hunter and squire had answered her call and was determined to defend Camelot. The royal guards and knights had taken up their positions by the cave’s various entrances, the kitchen servants were manning the fire baskets and Gaius skipped between all of them, handing out small leather pouches containing plenty of snap, crackle and pop to greet their unwelcome guests.

 

“Arthur has truly created a realm worth dying for. I wonder if Leofwine’s men feel quite the same about their’s,” she muttered absentmindedly, when an exhausted messenger arrived and handed her a small piece of parchment. The man collapsed at her feet and had to be carried off.

 

She unfolded the blood-stained, crumpled message and gasped. “It’s from Arthur! He’s finally coming home…and he’s not alone!”

 

Before she had time to hug Gaius, who had hurried over to her, Hueil returned, one of his cheeks was bleeding and an arrow protruded from his right shoulder. He sunk to his knees before the queen. “Sir Edward and his men are luring Leofwine’s men into the tunnels. They’ll be here any moment. Prepare the beast, my lady, or all is lost!”

 

“Gaius, help Hueil! Geoffrey, now would be a good time to start lighting the fires!” Gwen stopped a passing knight and drew his sword. “For Camelot!”

 

“For Camelot!” Every man, woman and child in the cave responded to the queen’s rallying cry, but their voices were drowned by the roar approaching from the tunnels; the onslaught of enemy shouts and taunts was accompanied by trumpet fanfares and drums and the unmistakable sound of clashing swords.

 

 

 

English: Statue of King Arthur, Hofkirche, Inn...

English: Statue of King Arthur, Hofkirche, Innsbruck, designed by Albrecht Dürer and cast by Peter Vischer the Elder, 1520s. This statue is old enough so that it is not covered by any copyright. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

/to be continued…before the end of this year!

 

Merry Christmas to Arthur, Merlin, Gandalf and all the other magical Pranksters


Till Eulenspiegel

Till Eulenspiegel (Photo credit: pipebär)

After watching the utterly amazing, epic and awe-inspiring The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last week, a movie directed by Peter Jackson and filmed in New Zealand, a country made for epic story-telling, I was once again reminded how important location is for writers to set a scene.

Just like Pierrefonds Castle became another character in the BBC’s Merlin series and J K Rowling’s Hogwarts was instrumental in luring us into Harry Potter’s magical world, the various locations Tolkien uses on Bilbo’s journey all signify different stages of the hobbit’s “inner” journey, showing us where young hobbit Bilbo’s at in his development to become a bona fide hero.

The opening sequences of the beautiful “shire”, where the hobbits live, are reminiscent of a brief and blissful time in Tolkien’s childhood. At dream-like Rivendale, where wise elves rule, Bilbo reaches adulthood, realising for the first time, there’s so much more to the world than just the little shire outside his own windows. However, the landscapes soon turn into a nightmarish labyrinth of inhospitable terrain, alternating between mysterious forests, bleak rocky deserts, harsh snow-capped mountain terrain where giants rage against one another and dark caves where cruel orks prowl. In other words, adulthood and the dangers all around us besiege our young hobbit – in Tolkien’s own life the arrival of a senseless world war put an end to the joys of his youth.

The Pinnsee lake near Mölln in Schleswig-Holst...

The Pinnsee lake near Mölln in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It also struck me how great authors can weave history, in particular “legendary” characters, into a tale without disrupting the fantasy world they have created. Merlin may or may not have spun his magic to impress guileless ancient Britons but he became the inspiration for Tolkien’s Gandalf and therefore we no longer care whether or not Merlin really lived.

King Arthur may or may not have fought at Camlin and in the process inspired every heroic sword-fighting battle scene ever written; dwarves may or may not have been famous miners throughout the medieval world, prompting countless tales of underground wealth, but in a carefully crafted fantasy story, real history and invented “historical” figures can blend successfully to draw on our combined cultural references and make us believe that all these legendary figures actually existed.

One such “legendary” character has fascinated me since childhood. On my father’s side of the family, people came from Mecklenburg and the Duchy of Lauenburg in Schleswig Holstein in Germany, where the medieval town of Mölln is another good example of how location and local historic characters make for a brilliant setting for a fantasy novel. The town was founded in the early 12th century and is another one of those medieval towns with a natural moat surrounding it.

Eulenspiegelmuseum Mölln

Eulenspiegelmuseum Mölln (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ring-fenced by several small lakes (to whit the States, Schulte, Ziegelsee, Hegesee, Schmalsee, Lütauer See, Drüsensee and Pinnsee) and traversed by the Elbe-Lübeck Canal, Mölln was once part of the famous Old Salt Route, on which salt produced in the salt mines of Lüneburg in Lower-Saxony was transported on horse-drawn carts to the Baltic Sea, namely to the harbour in my home town Lübeck.

While salt may be a cheap ingredient to flavour your chips today, it was once as valuable as gold and any town along the medieval Salt Route was as rich as a Middle Eastern oil state by modern standards. Hence the enormous number of monuments such as vast cathedrals and imposing town halls that can be found in relatively small towns like Mölln. Think Dubai architecture and more oil money than sense and you’ll get the medieval picture.

Although located in the middle of the Duchy of Lauenburg, medieval Mölln was mortgaged to the Free Hanseatic City of Lübeck, which legislated and ruled Mölln from 1359 to 1683 with an iron merchant fist.

However, the town’s most famous inhabitant is not a rich merchant or romantic highway robber attacking carts on the Old Salt Route but lowly Till Eulenspiegel, who wasn’t actually born there, but came to Mölln to “retire” from his duties as court jester, charlatan and medieval prankster.

Deutsch: Braunschweig: Detail des Till Eulensp...

Deutsch: Braunschweig: Detail des Till Eulenspiegel-Brunnens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Till Eulenspiegel reputedly lived in Brunswick (Braunschweig in Germany), before moving to Mölln, where he allegedly died of the plague in 1350. There is no actual proof he existed or even lived in Mölln, but throughout the centuries various documents appeared that related to him and today an entire museum is devoted to the antics of this medieval confidence trickster, juggler, comedian and irresistible charmer.

Till Eulenspiegel Mölln

Till Eulenspiegel Mölln (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the town there are several statues commemorating his pranks and colourful life. Here are some Google pictures of the town:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=molln+germany&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=mKZ&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=BDqGUJmSOoyo0AXh_4D4DQ&ved=0CCYQsAQ&biw=1283&bih=551

Till’s career as a prankster reputedly flourished in the rich medieval merchant towns of Germany, the Low Countries (Flanders) and France. Today, most historians believe Eulenspiegel was just a literary figure that populated stories in medieval cities like Braunschweig, Cologne, Bremen, Marburg and Rostock – or indeed anywhere, where rich burghers had been the victim of a prankster and felt enraged enough to report such misdeeds to the authorities.

Such pranksters soon entered local folklore and if you can’t remember the name of the chap who pulled wool over your eyes and a purse out of your waistcoat, you might as well call him Eulenspiegel and pass the warning on to your wealthy friends.

Stroll through Mölln and wherever you look, you’ll see Till Eulenspiegel holding up his mirror, reminding us who we pretend to be and who we really are. In Welsh tradition those who master “the word” and can “read” people are deemed to be magicians or sorcerers like Gandalf or Merlin. The modern day equivalent are perhaps genius tricksters like Simon Baker’s The Mentalist, a man who solves crimes by noticing even the tiniest things about people, thus unmasking their real motives and manipulating them into revealing their guilt.

Deutsch: Eulenspiegel

Deutsch: Eulenspiegel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Till Eulenspiegel strikes me as just such a character, someone who knows instinctively where society is going wrong and what makes people tick. Interestingly, like the aforementioned sorcerers, Till uses communication to make fools of his contemporaries, although occasionally he can’t resist employing slapstick humour such as tricking a priest to voluntarily cover his hands with poo or by causing a medieval traffic jam with horse-drawn carts.

Despite historians telling us Till never existed, a gravestone emerged in the itinerary of one Fynes Moryson in 1591 that proclaimed in its epitaph Don’t move this stone, let that be clear – Eulenspiegel’s buried here” in Low German dialect – reminding us that Till is still a force to be reckoned with even after death. Or as Mulder and Scully would say…the truth is out there…and no matter how hard you try to cover up your misdeeds, eventually truth will bite you in the rear and your secrets will be outed.

Till’s practical jokes aimed to expose his contemporaries’ vices such as greed, hypocrisy and folly and in Till’s pranks, literally anything that can go wrong, when people communicate, does go wrong and with spectacularly funny results. Till is a master of communication, and acts as the intrinsic trigger, the unpredictable factor of complication that can throw any communication totally off course. I’ve always loved the list of his pranks that highlight our narrow-minded outlook on the world and show us how this outlook can be subverted and turned up-side-down: he reveals a universal truth to us…

…just like any gifted fantasy author would do.

Deutsch: „Eulenspiegel Gedenkstein“ an der Kir...

Deutsch: „Eulenspiegel Gedenkstein“ an der Kirche Sankt Nicolai in Mölln. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some Eulenspiegel Museum pictures and information on Till and the town of Mölln, where he reputedly died after playing his final prank on the priest who read him his last rights:

http://www.eulenspiegel-museum.de/english/english.htm

If your feet are aching as much as your credit card, perhaps it’s time to leave the shopping to somebody else and take a critical look in the mirror instead; why no adopt the Eulenspiegel view of Christmas and play a prank on your nearest and dearest?

Dear Word Press children, this year our stockings only appear to be empty…for Santa’s blessing us with the gift of “air”!

 

 

 

 

The Kindness of Bradley James


From left to right: Guinevere, Gaius, Morgana,...

When you love someone, set them free – or words to that effect, according to a song by Sting. More to the point, when you love somebody, you want to keep them safe, even if that means sacrificing yourself. It is our most “human” quality, the thing that truly sets us apart from other animals. Hyenas may laugh and chimps may chuckle, but they do not volunteer in a life-or-death crisis to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, so their family and friends can live.

Speculation is rife on Twitter and Facebook how the final Merlin series is going to end – bearing in mind the producers never bothered showing us Camelot’s glory days nor Albion coming to pass and that the show was supposed to be a “before they were famous snap shot”, it is rather silly they want to show us what happens at Arthur’s final battle – this was never supposed to be part of the show according to many interviews with Capps and Murphy.

Colin Morgan said in a recent BBC interview, he was pleased as well as shocked, when he read the script for the final two episodes; he believes fans will be pleased with how the show ends. So far I am rather miffed about everything’s that’s gone on, so “pleased” is rather an optimistic term to use, young Master Colin.

piebald horseThanks to the kindness of Bradley James, who finally came clean, it was revealed the show’s coming to an end because King Arthur himself could no longer be bothered with it. I suspect this was true for all four young actors, who must have been fed up to the back teeth when they saw the first half of season 5 scripts and realised that once again the show’s producers had ignored everyone’s criticism and were carrying on as before.

How then would this writer end the BBC’s hit series Merlin, if she were allowed to write a script?

1. If Merlin can transform into an old man or old crone, he is also able to transform into another young man, far less draining than opting for an old person! Remember he swore he’d die for his king, should this be necessary? This is his chance!

When Arthur’s besieged on all sides in a hopeless war and there’s no other way out, the logical conclusion is for Merlin to open the portals to Avalon and allow Arthur to pass through into eternal safety with the proviso Arthur can return when Albion needs him most. This will be the magic reveal, as Arthur will never see Merlin again, so neither of them will have to deal with the consequences of the discovery.

Arthur won’t want to go willingly, so his faithful servant will use some trickery. Merlin will ask the lady of the lake (Freya) for help, as she promised him. He gives Excalibur into Freya’s safekeeping for Arthur’s eventual use, when the once and future king returns to the world of men.

golden dragon head with fire2. Merlin then transforms into Arthur and “allows” Mordred to wound him mortally. Mordred believes he’s in a position to seize the throne for the greater good of Camelot and wants to re-introduce sorcery (banning only the practice of evil magic); he has already secretly proposed this to the rulers of the other kingdoms.

When mad Morgana finds out, she’s furious and she falls out with Mordred; he taunts her she won’t be getting the throne after all and when she gets that murderous look in her eye, Mordred knocks her out during battle, wounding her fatally.

For Mordred has been playing the long game and always planned to ingratiate himself into Camelot’s throne room, but when his plans goes wrong and his true motives are discovered by Merlin/Arthur, he has no choice but to align with Morgana to fulfil his dream. He wants the same thing as Merlin, but goes about it in the wrong way, because he is rather fond of power, as we saw when he was still a child and killed a large number of men with his scream.

3. Merlin, adopting the guise of Emrys with his last strength, finishes off a dying Morgana in a final showdown, when she mocks him over the bloodied remains of Camelot’s knights on the battlefield.

4. With a true-to-his-word Mordred as temporary regent of Camelot and with Gwen as rightful queen by his side, the five kingdoms will unite to prevent further bloodshed and Albion is finally created. Uther’s 20 year reign of terror has cast such a long and dark shadow over Camelot and the five kingdoms that, no matter how good Arthur’s intentions were, no Pendragon would ever have succeeded in remaining on the throne of a united Albion.

h78 fighting knightsWith the removal of the Pendragon blood line, Albion is created…however, Gwen is pregnant and her son Arthur will eventually rule…prolonging the Arthurian legend for ever.

5. If I recall rightly, the great Dragon Kilgharrah never actually said that our Arthur had to be around/alive to rule Albion, he just said that with Merlin’s help Arthur would bring it about.

And that’s my potted version of the final two episodes as I would write them.

Oh, I almost forgot: Gaius will get his well-deserved retirement in medieval Bournemouth, where he opens an olde tea shoppe with Camelot’s cook, but she must promise never to bake her pies or try to tempt people with her dumplings again or Gaius will use what little of his magic remains and turn her into a warty scullery maid at a local burger bar.

golden dragon flying into sunsetAithusa’s dragon breath keeps the hearth fires glowing. When Aithusa gets too big for the shoppe, they all retire to Tintagel, where they meet up with Kilgharrah, and together they start a thriving clotted cream and scones business with deliveries by air made all over Cornwall.

As for King Arthur in Avalon, he finally finds a sexy blonde girl-elf he really fancies and they have zillions of changeling kids, who eventually escape Avalon and wreak havoc on Camelot in a good but mischievous way.

Ep. 9 Review & Merlin’s Liars, Liars, Pants on Fire Press Day


 

Ep. 9 “With all my Heart” (contains spoilers)

 

 

From left to right: Guinevere, Gaius, Morgana,...

Producers Capps & Murphy must have insisted once again on playing to a “slapstick audience”, as actor Bradley James (Arthur) referred to it in a recent BBC radio interview.

 

 

With a final international press day over for the Merlin cast, many of their fans feel betrayed that the actors have suddenly developed collective amnesia about all the promises made for a sixth series and Merlin movies they talked about until just a few months ago – now they all claim it was only ever going to be five series and NO movies at all were ever in the pipeline for them.

 

 

It had been “political” Bradley James said in interviews: nobody should find out before 26th November the actors had decided months ago they would not carry on.

 

 

Liars, liars, pants on fire, is all one can say to BBC, Shine Ltd and yes, the acting team, who have gone down in my esteem thanks to these manipulations and outright lies.

 

 

English: Actor Colin Morgan after the premiere...

So, “with all my heart” I’d like to state that I detest being  manipulated into buying “the last ever Merlin series on DVD box set in the rush towards Christmas”, thank you very much.

 

 

Frankly, after watching episode 9, without doubt the worst Merlin episode ever made, I’m now relieved they’re not carrying on with movies and more TV. Nil point for this cheap and awful Panto episode, where Colin Morgan and Bradley James are practically phoning in their performances and everyone else is finding it hard to keep a straight face.

 

 

The episode never reaches the emotional climax it should do, given Arthur’s fighting for the life of his beloved wife Gwen and Merlin manages to obtain the king’s acceptance that not all magic is bad.

 

 

For every time a scene arrives requiring dialogue & action that engages us on a deeper level, Merlin’s either dressed up as a man in drag (nooooooo, even Colin Morgan’s exceptional acting skills cannot make him move and talk like a woman let alone look like one!) or the cast are asked to perform slapstick comedy with bread rolls or Gwen’s being carted around like a sack of potatoes, making an absolute mockery of everything that went on before and the threat she poses to Camelot.

 

 

This is playing to an audience of 5-year-olds and is hardly the “darker, more grown-up” show we were promised over and over again by Capps & Murphy, and yes, by every actor on the show.

 

 

The scene by the “cauldron”, which turns out to be a loch or lake in the mountains, is cheapened and made ridiculous by Colin Morgan in drag. The lame “glowy light” effect surrounding Gwen, when she’s transformed into her old loving self, ruined the entire emotional build up, such as it was.

 

 

SDCC 2010: Merlin

SDCC 2010: Merlin (Photo credit: shine_blitz_on)

Real onscreen magic comes not from cheap CGI trickery, but from using imagination, originality and making the most of the charisma and skills the actors bring to the show. Judging by episode 9, Uther has at last fulfilled his dearest wish: both Camelot and our TV screens are entirely devoid of magic and sorcery!

 

 

Full marks go to young Alexander Vlahos for his multi-layered performance as Mordred, the only highlight in this dismal episode. Morgana (Katie McGrath) has accepted her role as evil panto-queen rather than insisting her considerable acting talents be allowed to shine. Shame on you, Shine Ltd, for spoiling our last Merlin season with such poor fare and robbing us of the magic it could and should have been!

 

 

Merlin prancing around in a dress performing the lamest CGI magic on record is hardly going to convince critics to bestow a BAFTA on the show. Please stick to the day job Colin; you’re hopeless as a woman!

 

 

What would have happened if ITV’s Downton Abbey’s actors had never agreed to be part of the show – would a different set of actors have made any difference to the critical acclaim and commercial success of the show? Nope, not one bit. Why?

 

 

Because Julian Fellow’s scripts are excellent and his overall story arc is always extremely well researched and spot on; we get a consistent story and character progression for every member of cast. It may be more subtle in the case of say the butler or housekeeper for example, but it is there nonetheless, the moving with the times and circumstances, the acceptance of loss, of change and modernity, of growing up and finding one’s place in the world, of social upheaval and barriers being broken.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love Downton Abbey and hugely enjoy the current cast…but they are interchangeable with other actors (Dame Maggie for Dame Judy for example) and having a different set of actors would make no difference to the success of the show.

 

 

Both Downton Abbey and Merlin are family viewing, prime time shows, appealing to a wide range of people of all ages and gender. But Downton Abbey wins all the prizes…why? Is it because it’s not a fantasy show? Nope, not at all. Dr Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fall broadly into the fantasy genre, yet both shows can boast a plethora of prizes. These are shows where the writing’s great and the producers know what they are doing.

 

 

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Incidentally, the setting of “Downton” (Highclere Castle) is as integral to the show as Pierrefonds Castle is to Merlin…BUT –

 

 

the BBC’s Merlin would never have worked without the current set of actors. The show became successful without ever receiving any critical acclaim simply because of the fine ensemble acting the handsome and mainly youthful cast provided and, more to the point, the sensational acting talent of Colin Morgan – we fell in love with this young boy who carried such a responsibility, both as the character Merlin and as an unknown young actor, on whose shoulders the weight of the show’s fate and success rested. It’s therefore particularly hard to accept that the actors cheerfully told a load of porkies with regard to carrying on with the show and the possibility of movies.

 

 

Back to ep. 9: Where was the gut-wrenching, heart-breaking impact on Arthur, after discovering the love of his life is a traitor and tried to murder him? We are not shown this, just a brief scene at the breakfast table where a monosyllabic Arthur plays with his food rather than talk to his murderous queen. We are not shown either how on earth Merlin managed to persuade the king in the first place to spy on his wife and entertain the notion she might be the traitor Camelot’s knights have been hunting for.

 

 

As soon as a little in-depth analysis of the emotional and psychological impact of events or the motivation for a character’s actions are required – and therefore quality dialogue and subtlety – the show’s writers and producers are like fish out of water and cannot deliver; let’s have some slapstick comedy instead, why don’t we?

 

 

Critical acclaim would have made all the difference to the acting ensemble and to us…I have no doubt the series would have continued, had a few BAFTAs littered their way.

 

 

“With all my Heart” is a dismal episode and I for one could have done without the horrible image of Colin Morgan in drag, even if we are entering the Panto season!

Don’t worry Merlinians, I shan’t bother writing any more reviews – this final series is just too disappointing to bother with.

 

 

Merlin Ep. 8 Review & A Call to Arms


English: The Lamentation of King Arthur

Merlin Ep 8 Review and A Call to Arms

(Fairly spoiler free…except…)

Episode 8, titled “The Hollow Queen”, is one of those filler episodes that do not advance the story arc one bit and do little to tie up loose ends. It’s enjoyable enough, I guess, but bears the usual hallmarks of muddle-headed writing, I’m afraid.

Oddly enough, the title might as well have been “Hollow Promises”, since we were told at the outset of series 5 the story would progress by leaps and bounds, that Merlin would finally take centre stage – always bearing in mind the show’s supposed to be about him…

The knights were also meant to see more action independent of Arthur and Camelot, but as you might have guessed, once again Capps and Murphy, the exec producers and creators of the show, stuck to their old formula of one main character being poisoned and then Merlin, with the minimum amount of magic and CGI production cost, saves Arthur’s life once more.

King Arthur, who is supposed to shine as a statesman in this episode, is suddenly thrown back in time to series one, episode 1, where he acts just like an infantile bully boy. In ep. 8 we see him bawling for Merlin at every occasion – it seems the king is incapable of putting on his own shirt and breeches, let alone find his own comb without help.

When it turns out Merlin’s not available, Gaius must come to rescue. Next time, when Gaius is not available, we see a playful king very much “in lurve” who is being dressed by his wife, a mummy’s boy, pampered and cosseted. Hmm…Murphy and Capps have never excelled at writing dialogue, therefore expressing love and intimacy between a married couple couldn’t be done in a more “statesman-like” fashion but had to resort once more to slap-stick comedy. I guess it saved a bit of money, since the producers didn’t have to pay jobbing writers for a better scene with dialogue.

Merlin, who is probably by now regarded as the most slow-witted warlock in history by his medieval contemporaries, falls for yet another Morgana trap; as a consequence, he gets himself poisoned, then rescued by his temporary sidekick and then Merlin runs like a weasel to save Arthur once more at the end.

Why oh why can’t these wretched writers keep their promises – or stick to the letter of the advertisement, namely a show about a WARLOCK – and give us a Merlin-stand-alone adventure, where young Merlin can show he’s heroic, resourceful and wise beyond his years without any Camelot related shenanigans? Simples, as the little TV-meerkat would say.

Capps and Murphy cannot deviate from a winning formula, because they lack the necessary vision to produce a show about the supposedly wisest and most powerful sorcerers of all time and they clearly cannot stick to their promise of truly multi-stranded stories either.

Why or why can Arthur never be shown GOOD MAGIC in an episode? Elementary, my dear Watson (to misquote Mr S. Holmes), because doing so would introduce some REAL conflict and produce a thought-provoking conundrum into the show.

I must say, perhaps the best part of the entire episode comes at the very end, when Merlin stands high up on a gallery above the stunningly beautiful throne room and looks down on King and Camelot…I couldn’t help but feel that he had finally assumed the place and position owed to him at court and already granted to him in our Merlinian hearts.

Castle Pierrefonds, as always one of my favourite characters in the show, shines and sparkles with the corridors, chapel and throne room taking on partly imposing, partly sinister roles. Unfortunately, the writers forget the citadel is more heavily guarded this time round, not just by Camelot’s own armoured division of knights, but also by the visiting king Sarrum and his warriors. Despite this increased protection detail, plucky Queen Gwen not only sneaks out on foot one night to hide a key for Morgana, no – she RIDES OUT ON A WHITE HORSE to meet up with the arch-villainess. Very inconspicuous. Frankly, Camelot’s guards should all be given 125 lashes, methinks. A bunch of sleepy OAPs could do better than that.

Queen Gwen rather enjoys her gorgeous young husband’s wandering hands in this episode, but still wants to form an alliance with old and balding King Sarrum. Is this credible, fangirls? Nope! Not even J K Rowling’s Confundus Curse would be capable of that!

Please Merlin-writers, no amount of sorcery would cause any red-blooded, young heterosexual woman to throw in her lot with Mr Blobby-Sarrum (no offence, Mr John Shrapnel, sir), if lusty King Arthur’s making himself available as a plaything. This really stretches credibility to breaking point for women around the globe.

“The Hollow Queen” was incidentally the first episode where we see young Arthur showing any kind of sexual attraction to his wife – must be the stress of the Sarrum arriving, usually Arthur avoids meeting his wee Gwennie in the bedchamber by taking to a quest elsewhere. Is this Capps and Murphy responding to criticism about the lack of bedchamber action between the royal couple, when there’s been so much bromantic hands-on banter between Merlin and his king?

As a Queen in medieval times, Gwen would obviously be on the way to the executioner’s chamber by now…she has failed to produce an heir after three years of marriage. Would this not have been a credible reason for Sarrum to believe in her treachery rather than him falling for a few smiles and eye-lash flutterings of Gwen? Not according to the writers of the show, who allow a ruthless and cunning King Sarrum to fall for the charms of the first serving-wench-cum-queen that crosses his path.

A Call to Arms

Around the world Merlinians are mourning the BBC’s announcement that their favourite show will end after series 5. On Facebook we are being fobbed off with nonsense about three films “which would inevitably be a reboot of the show”, according to Messrs Murphy and Capps.

Trouble is, we’ve been fed this line for several months now…and this kind of talk started way back when the actors were still referring to the possibility of season 6 and fans were demanding the hit show to continue…only for all of us to be ignored. By the time any movie script would be ready, the current ensemble of fine young and older actors would have been snapped up by Hollywood or be engaged in long running BBC/ITV sagas of a different kind, given how high profile these actors are now.

One has to conclude that Messrs Capps and Murphy or their investors Freemantle are content to deprive the wonderful Merlin actors of their chance to grace our movie screens with the roles they have made their own over the past 5 years; I for one will boycott any Merlin rebooted film or TV show that does not star the original cast. I can only hope all other Merlinians will do the same, ensuring the Merlin movies that do not feature the current ensemble will flop miserably.

The other startling announcement was that Capps and Murphy are leaving Shine Ltd to start their own TV channel. Either this was long in the planning – in which case the uneven production of the so far shown 8 episodes are explained by the exec producers’ lack of attention to a project they are about to leave – or this came about because of a potential falling-out between Shine, the producers and their investors Freemantle. Whatever the underlying reasons for their departure, I feel rather angry at how this has been handled.

In various interviews this year the two exec producers and the actors were still implying there would be room for another series and follow on movies, yet now everyone’s suddenly saying, oh no, there were only ever supposed to be five and the movies…well, they are a long way off and may be with different people. Erm…that’s actually quite insulting to all of us who have followed the show, bought the DVDs and therefore brought about the financial success of the production company, Messrs Capps and Murphy, the actors and not least, the BBC.

It’s a sad end to an overall great show – great not because of the uneven storytelling, but because of the exceptionally high production values that have shown us where TV is headed in the future and the outstanding acting from a much-put upon cast consisting of Richard Wilson, Anthony Head, Bradley James, Colin Morgan, Angel Coulby, Katie McGrath, Eoin Macken, Rubert Young, Tom Hopper, Adetomiwa Edun and John Hurt plus all their many wonderful guest stars.

They deserved to have the finest dialogue written for them, but were more often than not let down. The present actors made this show what it is…you may want to remember that Messrs Freemantle, Shine and Co, before hiring a bunch of snotty nosed 14-year-olds to “reboot” the series for the silver screen.

R.I.P. Merlin, Arthur, Gaius, Gwen, Morgana, the knights of Camelot, Aithusa and Kilgharrah! You will be greatly missed.

Merlin Mash


As promised, here is a quick overview of the last three Merlin episodes of the current Series 5 shown on Saturday evenings on BBC 1 television in the UK.

What strikes me with all three episodes is that

a) Merlin, who is supposed to be the most powerful warlock of all time, hasn’t used the 3 intervening years to learn anything about magic, anything about druids and anything at all about the ancient legends of Camelot. What’s he been doing for three long years? Darning Arthur’s socks?

King Arthur knows more about magic and the legend of the dark tower than Merlin the would-be warlock does! Yet, Merlin found a secret library full of books about magic and has a dragon at his disposal whom he can ask. Does this make sense?

b) having squandered their chance earlier on in a previous series, when the whole Lancelot/Gwen romance fizzled out and Lancelot got bumped off, the producers were clearly at a loss of what to do with the newly crowned queen. Hey, why not make her evil for a laugh and let her fall into the hands of Morgana? (The Dark Tower, A Lesson in Vengence) Not exactly the most original idea the series has produced so far.

c) as one Twitter fan observed, “Arthur’s Bane” may well turn out to be Merlin himself, since he’s constantly making the wrong decisions (see The Desir). Heart-breaking decisions must be made by Merlin and Arthur that will have far-reaching consequences – for once a well written episode that ticked most of the boxes for me and was immensely thought provoking.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I can say that the many inconsistencies and illogical plot twists in The Dark Tower and A Lesson in Vengence really got on my nerves. For example, Morgana, who was Uther’s favourite child and lived a pampered existence all her life, is supposed to utterly hate Arthur, so much so, she never stops searching for new and twisted ways to kill him and even goes so far as to turn his own wife against him. Why, what possible reason has Arthur given her for her immense hatred of him? None.

While Uther deserved her hatred, her half-brother’s sole crime seems to be that he’s the heir to the throne. This, my dears, is supposed to be a medieval setting, when girlies like Morgana would have expected to be overlooked when it comes to handing out thrones after daddy’s demise. Not getting the crown handed to her on a silver-encrusted platter was therefore very much an everyday occurrence. Worse, when Morgana had the crown briefly, she didn’t know what to do with it and spend her entire time slaughtering the local population. She sucks at being a ruler and she knows it, so would she go on with this farce?

She is supposed to be a powerful witch, yet every time she plots an attack on Camelot she has to enlist the help of some bloke and his army. Worse, in the latest episode she’s forced to BUY poison at a chemist’s, instead of brewing or conjuring up the stuff herself! Looking increasingly dishevelled and wearing more rags than riches, she’s hardly likely to turn the head of passing kings and princes with a grudge against Camelot, no matter how pretty Katie McGraw might be under all that pale make-up.

Answer: having done away with the original legends that deal with incest and Mordred being Arthur’s and Morgana’s love child, the producers couldn’t think of a plausible plot twist that would have really turned Morgana against Arthur…so they just didn’t bother writing anything and blame Morgana’s hatred of Arthur purely on his refusal to let magic reign in Camelot and on parking his bottom on the throne. Bad writing, guys.

Arthur, who sends out his knights to hunt down every harmless warlock called Osgar, Fritz or Taliesin, does nothing about his murderous half-sister and just lets her get away on every occasion – so, oddly enough, does Merlin, who has been told by Kilgharrah the Great Dragon that he should use every opportunity to kill the damn witch. Why would neither king nor servant even try to hunt her down? Answer: Bad writing, guys.

In The Dark Tower, we see Gwen being held in a room full of mandrake roots (about 100 of them dangling off the ceiling). In a previous series, Uther needed only ONE mandrake root treatment to lose his marbles completely…Uther, a strong, powerful warrior dude struck down with madness after sniffing just one mandrake’s magical odours…and wee little Gwennie needs 100 times that dose? Balderdash!

Having previously established Gwen as this strong, statesman-like ruler who can hold her own during Arthur’s frequent sojourns from Camelot, Gwen’s suddenly shown as this weepy damsel in distress after spending just a couple of days with the mandrakes. Not only does she know her Arthur and his knights will come to her rescue – they’ve done it often enough in the past – she nursed Uther and therefore knows about mandrakes generating hallucinations. Why on earth would she fall for Morgana’s lies? Utter nonsense and really badly written, guys.

Even if we are in a fantasy setting, logical sequences of cause and effect must still apply to the behaviour of our protagonists. Constantly twisting the characters like leaves in the wind from one extreme to the other really doesn’t do it for me and seems to have irritated quite a few critics so far. The whole series seems rushed so the producers can get to the very end of the Arthur legends.

On the plus side, the knights are finally being allowed to speak and get more involved in the story. About time, too!

A Lesson in Vengence was what exactly? Gwen’s taking vengence for what? A misleading title if ever there was one. Beautifully played though by Angel Coulby and Colin Morgan – I am not sure about the constant switch between drama and comedy in this episode, no matter how hilariously funny the scene between Merlin/Dragoon the Great and the dungeon guards was or the kitchen scene between Merlin/Dragoon the Great and the cook.

From left to right: Guinevere, Gaius, Morgana,...

Some fine comedy moments from Bradley James’ King Arthur (Arthur pretending to remember his wedding anniversary) and finally Eoin Macken’s Gwain and Rupert Young’s Sir Leon get to do some lovely scenes.

On the whole, Colin Morgan’s superb acting stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, even out-acting the Great Richard Wilson himself, but it is not enough to gloss over the inconsistencies, entirely down to some of the writers not doing their job properly.

If I had to give a star rating, I’d give 5 stars to The Desir, and 3 stars each to the other two episodes (but only because young Mr Morgan’s so great in them).

My own Merlin fan fiction will resume next week, when I’ve managed to get my client work out of the way.

Ep 4 Review and Merlin Fan Fiction Part 17


From left to right: Guinevere, Gaius, Morgana,...

Ep. 4 Review (“Another’s Sorrow”), contains some spoilers

 

The trouble with this episode is that it seems like the “calm before the storm”, namely a filler episode that is to cover the time elapsing between the amazing turn of events in episode 3 and what is to come in episode 5 (“The Desir, which was broadcast last night and which I’ve yet to see).

According to SFX Magazine’s review “The Desir” deserves a 5 star rating and is a truly great episode that catapults the story forward in leaps and bounds. Episode 4 on the other hand would only get a 2-star rating from me.

Last week’s episode 4 exposed yet again that Arthur’s Bane, as we discovered in the first two episodes, is really Arthur himself. Headstrong and often arrogant, he may profess that “listening to advice is a sign of strength not weakness” (Arthur arguing with dead King Uther, his ghostly dad, in ep. 3) but Arthur rarely acts upon his own advice. In this episode we see him ride to his near doom because he once again ignores the advice Merlin and Gwen give him.

Worse, three years into his marriage with Gwen, he has not produced an heir to secure his throne and Camelot’s survival. There are many marriages that are more platonic than passionate in real life – and Arthur’s seems to be one of those. Gwen is his “female knight”, a helpmate and friend, but someone who stirs clearly no passions in the royal breast. A chaste kiss on the forehead is all she gets – and Gwen herself is not the slightest bit jealous, when utterly gorgeous Princess Mithian rides into Camelot to ask Arthur’s help in freeing her father, after vicious King Odin has devastated the realm of Mithian’s father. Naturally, this is a trap cooked up by the increasingly mad, bad and dangerous Morgana, who unaccountably is suddenly sporting red hair instead of her usual black.

The complete lack of sexual attraction between Arthur and his queen (and if the commentaries on earlier DVDs are anything to go by, the apparent lack of attraction and even liking between Bradley James and his co-star Angel Coulby) is really beginning to get on my nerves. While the bromance between Merlin and Arthur has been sweet and often hilariously funny, it is time to put it aside to let the man and husband Arthur emerge.

The series’ producers clearly have an obsession with making the show entirely sex-free – there aren’t any children at Camelot at all, never mind a royal heir. The closest we got to the subject of procreation was a blue dragon’s egg. Given that this fifth series is supposed to be darker and more grown up, are we to understand that Arthur’s Bane is not just his stubborn refusal to accept magic in his realm but marital relations? Does this childless court stem from the fact that the king’s more drawn to his knights and Merlin than to his queen, a woman for whom he was prepared to give up his kingdom in earlier episodes?

This show may have started out as a kids’ show, but as Russell T Davies showed us with Dr Who and the Sarah Jane Smith adventures, it is possible to produce a kids’ TV show that includes sexiness and romance without ever overstepping the bounds of what is acceptable viewing for kids; doing so makes for much more rounded, real characters who truly stay with us, because they touch our hearts.

Rose Tyler

Who could ever forget Rose Tyler’s and the Doctor’s heartbreak when they were trapped in different dimensions, destined never to meet again? Or the first episode when the Doctor takes Rose’s hand and tells her to “run”…and then they take off like two kids chased by a shop owner who’s caught them pinching sweets, when they’re really being faced with a massive explosion that could wipe out half of Oxford Street?

Do we therefore believe a queen largely neglected by her quest-obsessed husband would not be turning green with jealousy at the sight of Princess Mithian? Nope, we cannot believe it for a moment and it spoiled the episode for me. Gwen, who is pretty but not exceptional, should not be foaming at the mouth when a beauty Arthur was previously engaged to – no matter how briefly – turns up fluttering her eyelashes, being all “vulnerable and helpless”? Naaaaaah…frankly, it goes against all that is feminine and illogical! We love a good cat-fight, sisters, and here we are deprived of it.

Worse to come: Mithian, who was in a previous series portrayed as a spirited young woman who can hold her own has now been turned into the typically useless, frail damsel in distress. The Princess Mithian from series 4 would have put the silver comb with its dagger-like handle to a very different use, that’s for sure, giving Morgana a headache she’d not be so quick to get over – even if she’s apparently able to heal overnight from the stab in the back dealt to her by Mordred in ep. 2. Actually, this was another incredible turn of events that leaves this viewer gasping “do the show’s writers ever bother reading each other’s scripts?”

It is a dissatisfying episode that also shows up another great flaw: we are to believe that Arthur’s knights would do anything for him and Camelot – and after assembling a fine cast of delicious young men with biceps the size of Wales, who have shown their acting talent on other shows, the producers then shamefully underuse them and hardly ever permit them to engage in dialogue or do more than wield the occasional sword. Why on earth did they assemble such a large regular cast, when this cast is just used like props and extras? We were promised that this season would see multi-stranded stories in which the knights go off and have their own adventures – so far this has not really come true, even if the opening episode of season 5 showed Gwain leading some men through the snow.

According to several tweets, the BBC has cancelled the show and there is not going to be another series. Eoin Macken, who plays Gwain, has apparently accepted a role in a USA pilot film and has tweeted to a fan that this will be the end of Gwain as far as the BBC’s Merlin is concerned. Who could blame the young actors for wanting to move on, when the show so overlooks their talents?

It seems inconceivable that such a successful and lucrative venture should be cancelled, but then again, the BBC, who we finance with our licence fees, has a long history of making dumb and utterly incomprehensible decisions…like showering presenter Jonathan Ross with money and air time, when he was still working for them, while making news reporters redundant and bombarding us with nothing but cheap reality shows…not to mention the BBC’s current woes over child abuse claims relating to presenter J Saville and others connected with the BBC over a period of 40 years.

A lot may be rotten in the realm of unhinged King Odin, even at the heart of Camelot itself thanks to Arthur’s Bane, but no realm is more in need of magical transformation at present than the BBC itself.

Ep. 4 “Another’s Sorrow” is an unconvincing episode in every respect. From Morgana’s ridiculous “disguise” that a three-year-old would recognise as such but which apparently fools everyone, including Merlin, at Camelot to the silly premise that Arthur would ride out to help a princess for whom he clearly couldn’t care less. A king who has been portrayed throughout 4 years as being astute when it comes to choosing his knights (with the exception of Mordred) would surely see through such a thinly disguised entrapment as the one we were shown last week.

I’m looking nonetheless forward to watching ep. 5 “The Desir”, which according to Twitterings, is a stunner in line with ep. 3.

My very own take on Merlin’s world is here for those of you who like multi-stranded stories: –

The honeymoon is over – Let the Questing Begin (Part 17)

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 (Gwain), Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan), John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon Kilgharrah and Anthony Head as King Uther.

 

A meadow in Deira, Wulfric’s lands…

 

When Unding and his men returned a couple of hours later, Eleanor had just fallen into an uneasy sleep. With the help of Merlin’s cold compresses the swelling of her face was less pronounced now, but Merlin feared the wound left in her mind would take far longer to heal. Urien seemed to have undergone a change of personality; he had become a solicitous brother and seemed no longer the arrogant princeling they had known him to be. Dragonara was pacing the camp restlessly and kept looking up to the stars at regular intervals.

They had settled on a plan to take lady Marigold and Eliffer’s bodies to the old burial grounds near Osthryth’s Fort instead of the ones closer to Castle Deira. That way they could leave almost at once, as soon as the company was fully assembled. Wulfric had caused a certain amount of unpleasantness but in the end he’d had no choice, as both Yolanda and Ethelgunda had ridden out with Unding, now they were free to leave Castle Deira after the spell had been broken. They had left Wulfric in this ruined great hall, alone on his throne, without as much as a man servant to cook his breakfast. Merlin doubted the two women or any of the men would ever return to a lord who had so cruelly betrayed his daughters’ affection and who had ruined his men’s lives into the bargain. Twenty years was far more loyalty and service than any overlord could claim under the universal laws of knighthood that applied to the five kingdoms.

It was pitch-dark when they arrived at the burial grounds. In the distance they could hear an owl hoot with its mate calling out a reply at regular intervals. In an ancient sacred grove by the river the riders deposited the bodies of Marigold and Eliffer, using the cart as a funeral pyre. The stars lit up the sky just enough for Merlin to take in the beauty of the place, the gentle slope of the river banks, the swaying branches of the weeping willow trees against the backdrop of the shimmering river, the scent of wild flowers and the motionless silhouette of a night heron stalking his prey in the reed bed on the opposite bank of the river. Arthur cautioned the men to make haste, undoubtedly driven by his impatience to set off for Camelot, but Dragonara asked for his indulgence as she wanted to hold vigil for the dead for a while. Arthur reluctantly agreed, admitting that everyone needed more rest to face what might well be a day of battle upon the morrow. They were to leave an hour after midnight.

Merlin watched Dragonara closely, while everyone else went to sleep. She appeared restless, unable to sit or stand still. Believing herself unobserved, she finally turned and walked over to the cart; she lifted the boy gently from his pyre and onto her shoulder. With heavy steps she made her way down the slope and had almost reached the water’s edge, when Merlin caught up with her.

“You can’t possibly rip out Eliffer’s heart and give it to Leofwine! Think what a powerful weapon a dragon’s heart will be in the hands of a madman. I don’t quite understand how Eliffer could be a dragon in the first place or how you managed to transform him…if it was you who performed such magic…but I do know, Eleanor would never forgive you…nor do I believe you’d ever forgive yourself.”

“Go away; this does not concern you, dragon lord.”

Merlin gave an involuntary start. “How did you know – “

“I recognise you in the same way I know all my children.” A tear formed in the corner of Dragonara’s eye and rolled down her cheek, when she noticed the look of incomprehension on Merlin’s face. “By your gentle heart, you fool! You and every other child created by dragon magic has a gentle heart and a wise soul. Eliffer was my son; do you really think I’d give my baby’s heart to that monster?”

“But if you’re not going to sacrifice Eliffer…then what are you going to give to Leofwine?”

“What I promised Arthur! A dragon’s heart…one that is glad to be released from the burden of living.”

With Eliffer’s limbs dangling off her shoulder, she entered the river and didn’t stop ploughing through the waves until she was immersed up to her waist. She hoisted the boy carefully off her shoulder and let him slide into the water, where at first he sank but then re-emerged, his slender limbs gently bobbing on the waves.

Merlin stared after her, digesting the full meaning of her words. “It was you who told Leofwine about Kilgharrah in the first place! How else could he possibly know there’s still a living dragon in Camelot! I won’t allow it. If you want Kilgharrah’s heart, you’ve got to kill me first!”

Dragonara snorted. “Old scaly head? I doubt my brother is worth such a sacrifice!”

Merlin followed her to the very edge of the water but shrank back, when the water around Eliffer began to glow and churn. A light sprang up around Dragonara and enveloped her like a cloud that had come down from the very heavens. She seemed illuminated by an inner light that vied with the stars in its intensity. Dragonara dropped into the water next to the boy and allowed the waves to swallow her whole; for a moment she disappeared from Merlin’s view, only to rise from the water like a sea serpent, gigantic, with shimmering wings, their rainbow colours reminding Merlin of a dragonfly; a silver crest ran down the full length of her spine contrasting with the golden shine of her scales. There seemed no end to the expanse of gold that rose up before Merlin; sixty feet or more in height, she towered over him, dwarfing him, her head now turning to fix emerald eyes on his face, her nostrils flaring, bursts of fire and puffs of smoke sailing forth into the night.

“You are…the Great Dragon’s sister? How could you possibly expose him to Leofwine?”

From deep inside her, the dragon’s voice lulled Merlin into a trance…an alluring voice…bewitching…soothing…yet cutting him like a knife.

“Emrys, you are allowing your feelings for Kilgharrah to cloud your judgement. Albion and Arthur…that is the future. With Arthur the old religion will eventually triumph and magical beings will live side by side with children of men…in harmony as they once did…when I was young. Leofwine’s army is already at the citadel. Are you going to sacrifice all you hold dear for one decrepit old reptile?”

Merlin fought hard against the dragon’s beguiling voice. From deep within him he conjured up the dragon lord’s power to respond in the beast’s own language. “You shall not harm him! You will not betray your own kind! I forbid it!”

“How dare you abuse your power? A dragon lord who’s trying to command…ME? It was I who gave the children of men their magic and the gift to speak with dragons. A dragon queen’s magic is more powerful than anything else on earth –“

“I don’t care how powerful you think you are. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO HARM KILGHARRAH!” Merlin raised his arm and shook his fist at her. “I forbid it.”

Her snake-like head plunged down and he felt her searing breath before the burst of flames had even left her throat. With his hands held high above his head he warded off the flames and stood his ground, sending the inferno right back to her with a force she had clearly not expected. She hissed as the flames engulfed her and her swishing tail churned up the water until it seemed to boil. When the last flame had evaporated he looked up defiantly, lowering his hands slowly, unsure if he could withstand another outburst like the first; above him Dragonara seemed just as reluctant to engage in a second round of magical contest; she withdrew her fire-breathing nostrils to a safe distance and stared just as defiantly back at the young sorcerer.

“You must find another way, Dragonara. No dragon hearts…nor any other bits of their anatomy. Couldn’t you just go to Leofwine and say…that you’re sorry? You married him…and you betrayed him. Frankly, he does have every reason to be angry with you. He is old and alone…perhaps all this is just his way to show you he still cares.”

To his surprise his words did not provoke another jet of flames but prompted a complete change in her. Looking less like a serpent and more like her old self, Dragonara bent her long neck and lowered her face close to his. Her emerald eyes sparkled and the golden scales on her nose twinkled as she looked deep into his eyes. Merlin was overcome with the desire to touch her, but when he lifted his hand to reach out, she emitted a growl, a sound not unlike an eruption by an otherwise friendly volcano. Merlin realised with a pang that the dragon was laughing at him.

“Spoken like a man, Emrys! Leofwine cares very much to get me back…but not for the reasons your young, romantic heart takes for granted. My Lord never loved me…he simply wanted to produce an heir born of woman…because the son he obtained by magic did not please him. He chose me as his breeding mare…not as his beloved wife and queen. Why should I care about his finer feelings? It’s his pride that is hurt, nothing more! Would you respect Arthur as your lord, if he had treated Gwen like Leofwine dealt with me?”

“No…but I still think you must do right by him, my lady. From what I hear he is fond of Eleanor…forgive me but you don’t seem to care too much for her and she not for you either. Can’t she go back and be at Leofwine’s side? She might have a softening influence over him…and if not, Urien is ready to be her protector.”

The dragon queen inclined her head to one side and eyed him keenly. A smile spread over her scaly face, exposing her long fangs. “You are as wise as you are brave…now I know my children’s future will be safe with you. One day you will have need of dragons to save Albion and Arthur’s reign, but without Eliffer there won’t be a new generation. I’m old…so very old…and Eleanor is not mature enough to carry my burden.”

Merlin’s eyes widened. “Eleanor is a dragon, too?”

Dragonara shook her head sadly. “No…she’s been such a disappointment…she turned out human; Eliffer her half-brother must carry on my ancient bloodline. When the time comes, you must introduce him to Aithusa.”

Merlin gazed up at her golden features, unable to take it all in. “Aithusa is a girl?” He finally asked breathlessly. “But the egg I rescued was blue!”

Dragonara frowned. “Really, Kilgharrah could have told you at least the basics!” When she saw the expression on Merlin’s face, she relented. “Dragon females can be whatever they choose.” She chuckled and with every intake of breath the soil under Merlin’s feet trembled. “We’re not that different from human women! We like to wear more colourful plumage than the male.”

A smile stole across Merlin’s face and she lowered her head, her long lashes briefly brushing his cheek. He raised his hand and ran his fingers slowly over her crest. “I fear on the subject of women I still have a lot to learn.”

“A little less time spent running after Arthur’s every whim would take care of that, my son!” The dragon’s huge eye winked at him. “Pity, I had rather hoped you’d be a mentor for Eliffer when his time comes to woo his girl. Just as well I have the gift of seeing the future! Aithusa’s first egg will be a new dragon queen. You must take care of her…and see to it that a new generation of dragon lords is born!”

“How do I do that?”

“Really Merlin, it doesn’t take the powers of a warlock to figure that one out! Have you never kissed a serving girl under the mistletoe?”

“Oh…I see what you mean.” Merlin dropped his hand abruptly. “I hate to point out the obvious flaw in your little reptile romance…but Eliffer’s gone…how could he possibly carry on your bloodline?”

Dragonara snorted and a puff of smoke escaped her lips. “You really are the most ignorant dragon lord I’ve seen in over a thousand years. Ingwaz the Fat knew more about dragons than you do…and THAT’s saying something! Come to think of it…he knew more about girls, too.”

“I may be ignorant on the subject of girls and dragons…but a dead Eliffer’s not going to be the father of your grandchild, I know that much!”

Dragonara chuckled. “Then my little party trick will come as a bit of a surprise to you, won’t it, young warlock?”

She lowered her head and breathed gently over the surface of the water, where Eliffer’s body floated on the waves. A golden cloud enveloped the boy and for a moment Merlin thought he saw Eliffer’s eyelids flutter and his lips tremble. Dragonara lifted her head again and inhaled deeply, before exhaling another cloud of shimmering dust that spread over the river, the soil and the dry vegetation that lay flat and exhausted from the day’s heat against the embankment. The grasses turned succulent once more, their stems rising up in a welcome to the moon.

“Dragon queens have the power to restore life and return the dead to the living. Why else do you think Leofwine asked for a heart? He doesn’t want any old dragon’s heart…he wants MY HEART, Merlin! To cut it out and use it to bring back his first wife…with a dragon’s heart Leofwine can bring back all his fallen warriors, raising a gigantic army to wipe out his neighbour’s kingdoms. He can restore his lands to their former glory…what better revenge could he exact against his unfaithful wife…the one who cuckolded him with a lowly court physician? He knows I shan’t let any other dragon suffer for my mistakes.”

“But how did he find out…about you being a dragon queen…your disguise as a human was so perfect?”

The dragon closed her eyes. “Urien…a jealous boy who followed my every move from the moment little Eleanor and I set foot in Segovia. Only once in all those long, lonely years I dared to show my real self to someone I trusted…my beloved Nechtan. Urien must have spied on us…and told his father everything he saw that day. I have no ill will towards the boy, he craves his father’s approval too much and that lead to his error of judgement.”

Merlin whistled. “And now that Eleanor is…hurt…he feels guilty and wants to make up for his betrayal.” Dragonara opened her eyes again and nodded sadly.

Merlin had a thousand questions but they had to wait, for at that moment Eliffer’s arms and legs stopped bobbing along with the waves and began to move on their own accord. Merlin held his breath as the boy opened first one and then another eye. Eliffer’s pale lips gasped for air and within moments he had been revived, standing before Merlin as if nothing had happened. The terrible wound on his chest had closed and the waves had washed the blood from his shirt. The boy stood in the middle of the river, Dragonara’s golden body rising up behind him like the sun at dawn, and he smiled; the water dripped from his face and hair, while he tried to take his first bewildered steps towards the slope of the river bank, where Merlin stood with swimming eyes.

“The boy lives! This is the greatest magic I’ve ever –“

“Merlin, bring me the lady Marigold! Quickly now, Eliffer can help you.” Dragonara’s serpent head shot down so close, the breath from her nostrils threatened to sear off Merlin’s black fringe. Merlin recoiled and hurried to fulfil her wishes, with Eliffer at his heels.

Together they managed to heave Lady Marigold from the cart and dragging her more than carrying her, they finally got her into the water without waking the others in the camp. Dragonara’s voice sank to a gentle whisper, as she bent her head over the floating body and performed another miracle.

Just as Eliffer had done before her, Marigold opened her eyes and blinked at the stars above her with mild astonishment. She followed Eliffer onto the river bank and waited without a word. Dragonara’s serpent body began to shrink, her enormous neck got shorter, her swishing tail ceased wrapping itself around the weeping willow at the edge of the water and the river stopped churning. Within moments, Dragonara was once again what by any one’s standards was not just a very beautiful woman but a rather unusual godmother.

“Earlier…you called me your child…what did you mean by that?” Merlin ventured to say when Dragonara ploughed through the water towards him. “I do have a mother and father…I mean…he’s no longer with us…but I’m human, definitely. I think I’d have noticed if I’d sprouted some scales…although the other day there was that patch of dried skin on my belly that Gaius couldn’t explain -”

“Were you not born with magic, Merlin? Who do you think gave you that precious gift?” She interrupted him impatiently. She had reached the water’s edge and held out her hand to him. “Stop rambling, boy, and help me out of the water.” Dragonara’s exhausted faced frowned at him.

Astonished, he took the offered hand, while trying to digest the fact that she was completely naked. He helped her back on dry land, where she shook herself dry like a dog, a golden glow briefly lighting up her eyes. Instantly, droplets of water rolled off her shimmering body and richly embroidered clothing arranged itself neatly over her curves; her blonde tresses were no longer wet or tangled, but piled up in neat ringlets which now framed her pale face. The glow that had permeated her body gradually disappeared. Merlin couldn’t keep his eyes off her. She raised a quizzical eyebrow and directed her gaze downwards, coughing discretely at the same time. Merlin felt the blood rise to his cheeks, when he realised he was still holding her hand. He immediately released it and Dragonara strode past him and up the river bank to return to the sacred grove.

Merlin busied himself ushering Eliffer and Marigold up the embankment, where Dragonara waited for them beneath the weeping willows.

“The m-m-magic we’re b-b-born with comes from…d-d-dragons?” Merlin finally managed to say, inwardly cursing his burning cheeks, which he blamed entirely on the discovery of Aithusa’s secret and his lack of sleep. “But how…am I a part of you?”

Dragonara ignored his question. “Go and fetch Unding. Eliffer and Marigold have to return to Castle Deira. Never mind Wulfric, he won’t be a problem for much longer. NOW, if you don’t mind, Merlin,” she added, when the young sorcerer planted his feet firmly into the soft soil and crossed his arms in defiance. Dragonara smiled sweetly. “I could always tell Arthur there’s a servant with magic lurking under his roof?”

“I never lurk!” Merlin uncrossed his arms but remained rooted to the spot. “And I’m Arthur’s servant, not yours! Why can’t you get Unding while I take the weight of my feet for a bit?”

By way of a reply she laid her hands on his shoulders and turned him gently, but firmly towards the camp, finally giving him a slap on his rump. “Whatever you do, just do it somewhere else, my little dragon lord. I must talk with Eliffer and Marigold alone.”

A sleepy and at first rather grumpy Unding followed Merlin to the water’s edge, where Marigold threw her arms around him and wept. Bewildered, frightened and finally mollified by her kisses, he agreed to take her and the boy back to Castle Deira.

“Unding, you have nothing to fear. Please look after Eliffer, for his life is precious…as dear to me as Marigold is to you. My great healing powers have restored her to you; now show your gratitude by looking after this boy for me. When all is over, you will rule over Deira and its lands together, as Lady Marigold and Lord Unding. In time, Eliffer will grow up to be a fine man…perhaps a court physician?” She smiled sadly at her son, cupping his face in her hands. “These are good people, Eliffer, and you must obey them. When Eleanor and Urien sit on the throne of Dunadd, it will be time for you to return, but not before.” She embraced first the boy, then Marigold, who couldn’t stop sobbing. “Now GO!”

Unding laid his arm around the boy and frowned. “What about Gawain? He’ll think I abandoned him.”

“Not if you leave him your men to help Arthur. They’ll return to you, never fear.” Dragonara ushered them up the slope. “Go, there’s not much time.”

Merlin and Dragonara watched the three fugitives as they lead their horses quietly out of the camp. By sunrise they would be back at Castle Deira.

Merlin yawned and stretched his tired limbs. “Poor old Unding. He started his day as a troll, then lost the love of his life, now found her again only to face Wulfric’s wrath upon his return. This has been the longest day ever!”

“Never fret about old Wulfric, he’s dead.”

Merlin stared. “Dead? How…when?”

“Died by his own hand shortly after Unding and his men left.”

“How do you know? Female dragon intuition or magic?”

“Neither. Just knowledge of those who believe they are rulers of men. A despot without a people to terrorise…he won’t live down the shame of their desertion. By now he’ll have taken the easy way out, trust me.”

Merlin shrugged his shoulders and turned wearily to the dragon queen. “If Gwen can’t give him a dragon heart Leofwine will attack the citadel before we get there on horseback. You’re a dragon, you could fly there and with Kilgharrah’s help –“

“No, I couldn’t possibly.”

“You must. Gwen is all alone at Camelot! It would break Arthur’s heart, if anything happened to her.”

“Merlin, I cannot do as you ask.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Merlin pulled himself up to his full height. “You made me a dragon lord! I command you to fly to Gwen’s aid…at once. You won’t have to sacrifice yourself. I won’t allow it! I’ll come with you. With two dragons and one sorcerer Leofwine won’t stand a chance –“

He began to summon his dragon lord power and reached out to her, ready to cling to her neck with both hands, should she transform once more, but Dragonara simply lifted her arms and started flapping them as if to take off into the heavens.

“I’m your master! Obey!” Merlin fumed. Dragonara lifted one leg and increased the flapping. Merlin let go off her neck. “Are you making fun of me again?”

“No, Merlin. Restoring life to two people…even miracle makers must rest once in a while. Until then, I shan’t be doing any flying. I’m fresh out of magic.”

Merlin was about to remonstrate with her but she threw an arm around his shoulders and drew him close. “Speaking of miracles, my son…you couldn’t conjure us a cauldron full of rabbit stew for breakfast by any chance? Arthur tells me you’re a very capable cook. At any rate, it can’t be worse than Arthur’s first attempt! I can still feel the bits of fur between my teeth!”

Merlin turned to her with swimming eyes. “Are you asking me to cook the condemned dragon a last meal?”

“No, I’m asking you to feed a famished friend so she can gather strength for the coming battle!”

Merlin beamed and raised his hand to summon his powers. “My best rabbit stew with dumplings coming up!”

 

…to be continued…

Merlin Review Ep.3 & Fan Fiction (Part 16)


Review of last week’s episode (contains some spoilers):

Episode three delivered “with bells on” what many of us have been waiting for since the show began: a self-assured, confident Merlin and a king Arthur who not only questions his father’s legacy, but uses magic for his own ends without judging it to be either good or evil.

Despite many inconsistences and down-right errors such as the writers confusing the festival of Samhain with Beltane and Uther threatening his own son’s life, when he knows Camelot will most certainly fall, if Arthur dies without leaving an heir, this well-balanced mix of comedy and ghostly goings-on was thrilling to watch. Anthony Head’s brilliant as the vengeful king who comes back from the dead.

His venomous portrayal of a despot dissatisfied with the way his son is shaping up as king serves as a timely reminder for Halloween: ghosts are rarely like our loved ones were in life but are spirits with their own agenda. The episode also boasts some genuinely funny moments; one is delivered by Richard Wilson’s Gaius, who scared the life out of me with his jack-out-of-a-box trick, and the scene with Sir Leon, Arthur and Merlin in the closet was hilarious, light relief in an otherwise dark episode.

Bradley James (Arthur) handles the emotional scenes very well, which must be difficult when going up against Colin Morgan (Merlin) who can out-act even the most seasoned of colleagues and would still be brilliant if he wore a potato sack over his head. Just watch the way in which his face changes when he drinks the potion before Arthur does and later, when Uther is recalled to the realm of the dead, intent on revealing to Arthur that Merlin has magic, before the portal closes. Quick, give that man a BAFTA or better still, make it one for every minute he graces our screens!

While young Mr James normally has to carry all the action scenes, Mr Morgan is typically responsible for the emotional part of the script. This time we see a role reversal, where Merlin rescues Gwen (actually slinging her over his shoulder in true Hollywood-hero style) and fights a duel with Uther, while Arthur does the soul searching for a change.

Finally, Arthur is allowed to undergo huge emotional transformation, winning true insight into his father’s kingship and character, while at the same time defining himself as a man, husband and king. Arthur’s face, when he is forced to send back his father while leaving so many issues unresolved, is filled with pain and sorrow – at this moment Mr James’ dramatic acting skills are allowed to shine through, whereas normally he is confined to lending just his (considerable) comic talents to the show. When the portal closes and the ghost of Uther disappears, we see a young man finally cutting apron strings that tied him to a father he was never destined to please. No words necessary, the eyes say it all.

Almost at the very end of the episode the script is at its most revealing with regard to character development. Seeing a mirror image of tears in the eyes of both young men was very moving – we understand they are far more than king and servant, comrade-in-arms and bickering friends: they are two fatherless young men bound together by destiny, yes, but far more than that they are bound by trust and loyalty borne out of love, not medieval convention of the day.

Finally, the last scene shows an assertive Merlin, who dares to stand up to his king in a way we’d never have imagined at the beginning of the show. Arthur is forced to admit…they are both equals, even if Arthur still thinks of himself as being more “equal” than a man who cannot hold a sword without slicing off his own toe.

For me – and it seems also for lots of Merlin followers on Twitter – this was the best episode of the entire five years, despite its inconsistencies (the writers would do well to occasionally read earlier scripts!).

The fifth series of Merlin asks fundamental questions about leadership and loyalty, true justice, personal fulfilment and duty, love and friendship and how we define ourselves in a hostile world – greatly outshining the mixed bag of sentimental clap-trap that Dr Who with Steven Moffat at the helm has delivered since Russell T Davies and David Tennant’s departure. Should series 5 indeed be the last we’ll ever see of Merlin on our screens, I for one will miss it greatly. Perhaps some of the money wasted on Dr Who hype could be spent on series 6 of Merlin instead?

Gustave Doré's illustration of Arthur and Merl...

And now…for something completely different…here’s my own take on Merlin’s world:

The Honeymoon is over: Let the Questing begin! (Part 16)

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 (Gwain), 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 foot of a hill near Castle Deira…

Merlin raised his hand, his fingers shaking slightly, and the very air seemed to tremble with the intensity of his gaze. Oswiu’s shoulders were yanked backwards; Merlin could almost hear the bones crack from the force of his spell. The man fought against the incantation with every fibre of his being; straining against the force he leaned forward and grabbed Eleanor’s arms, but the power of Merlin’s words released the girl from Oswiu’s hands, breaking the man’s fingers one by one. Oswiu cried out in pain, turning to Merlin for mercy, but the sorcerer’s eyes burned too brightly with pity for the girl, clouding any compassion for the man. Oswiu’s body rose up into the air, where he hovered above the girl, a writhing, screaming puppet unable to escape its master.

All around them the meadow began to whisper and tremble; the tall grass turned into a churning, bubbling sea; the breeze tore at the poppies and scattered their scarlet blossoms like blood drops at a lion’s feast over the man and girl, before plucking the cornflowers from the earth and lining them up alongside a deep gash in the soil opening up just a few feet away from the body of the horse.

A gust of wind picked up the child’s dagger and sliced the air in one swift motion, its high-pitched scream piercing the sorcerer’s conscience, urging him to do what was right. When Merlin dropped his hand, the dagger found its aim. Oswiu’s hands rose up to his forehead for an instant, as if to yank out the blade trembling between his eyes; the expression on his face bore more surprise than rage, when his hands no longer had the strength to touch the blade. With his final breath Oswiu’s body dropped from the air like a stone, drenching the girl underneath in a pool of blood.

Merlin hurried over to Eleanor. He rolled Oswiu’s corpse off her, mumbling another spell as he did so. Eleanor’s shift slid down to her ankles instantly, hiding the bruises on her legs and allowing her to get up with some dignity.

“Leave the talking to me,” Merlin hissed, when they heard Urien and Dragonara call out to them from further up the hill. Already, they could see Arthur’s blonde head appear above the clumps of hazel and gorse at the bottom of the hill; any moment now the others would be upon them.

Eleanor was too weak to stand; she held on to Merlin’s arm and stared down at her attacker. “Father trusted him…his most loyal servant.” She could say no more and buried her face in Merlin’s tunic.

“Crying is good after hand-to-hand combat.” Merlin said and laid an arm around her shoulders; she clung to him like a child. He buried his face in her hair and shut his eyes, trying hard to stop his own feelings from overwhelming him. ”Even the great warrior Arthur sheds a tear now and then…clears the nasal passages apparently,” he muttered, when he felt her strength failing her. He helped her sit down on a nearby tree stump, where she buried her face in her hands and wept freely.

MERLIN, where the hell are you?” Arthur’s voice roared from somewhere among the gorse bushes up ahead. “If you’ve allowed yourself to be captured by Leofwine’s scouts, I’ll kill you myself!”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Sire, you’ll have to put up with me for a while longer!” Merlin cleared his throat and dried his face with the sleeve of his tunic. He squinted up at the lush vegetation ahead of him, trying to assess by the sound of Arthur’s voice how quickly the others would be upon them. He realised there wasn’t a moment to lose and raised his hand once more; his eyes flashed up golden, but this time nothing happened. He frowned and, raising both his hand towards the dead dragon, he tried again, concentrating harder this time. Searching his mind for even more ancient magic than the one he had used before, he was finally rewarded when a gentle mist enveloped the baby dragon, before the body of Eliffer reappeared. It had taken all of Merlin’s power to bring the transformation about. He felt his knees give way and he sank to the ground. Something warm and sticky began to run down his nose and across his lips. He touched his mouth and stared with disbelief at his fingertips which were stained by a red substance. Merlin’s nose was bleeding badly. He lowered his head between his knees and tried hard not to blow blood-bubbles, but the stream would not stop. Across the meadow, Arthur had made it past the gorse and hazel and had almost reached the foot of the hill. Left with little choice, Merlin pulled himself together and mumbled one final spell. The blood stopped flowing instantly but now he felt completely drained.

Merlin glanced over his shoulder at Eleanor, who was sitting up in a more composed manner than before. The first wave of sorrow had swept over her, now it was time to deal with the consequences. Merlin approved of her resolve. She pointed at the dead boy’s small figure and said in a barely audible voice. “You’ve got magic!”

“I beg of you…don’t mention to anyone what I just did. Eleanor, someone weaved an incredibly powerful spell to transform this dragon into a human being…I’ve never encountered such strong magic before. Did you…know what the boy was?”

“Of course! He was sweet and gentle…and…I loved him,” she raised her tear-stained, swollen face defiantly. “He was my brother.”

Merlin managed a weak smile. “That makes him mine, too.” He eyed her keenly. “Tell me…did Dragonara find both of you when you were eggs and save you…hide you from persecution by transforming you…she must be an extraordinarily powerful sorceress, if she did?”

Before Eleanor could answer, Arthur and Urien crashed through the cornflowers and poppies simultaneously, both coming to an abrupt halt when they saw the dead man and Eleanor’s torn dress. Urien darted forward and tried to gather Eleanor up in his arms but she pushed him away, not unkindly or distrustful, rather full of resolve not to lean on him. Behind them, Siward and Dragonara arrived out of breath, each freezing on the spot, when the whole horror of the scene before them unfolded. Kai brought up the rear, gawping open-mouthed at his mistress’ bare shoulders before turning his stare to his overlord’s dead squire.

Seeing Eleanor taken care of by her step-son, Dragonara turned to Merlin and pointed at Oswiu’s corpse, but at that moment she caught a glimpse of Eliffer and cried out in horror; she rushed over and threw herself over his motionless body, gathering him up in her arms and pressing his pale face to her lips.

Arthur pulled a blood-stained Merlin to one side. “I know my head took a knock up there on the hill…but I distinctly remember saying find Eleanor, not start a massacre!” The king pointed to a discarded cloak that carried Segovia’s coat of arms. “How am I supposed to negotiate Leofwine’s retreat from Camelot, when you slaughter members of his household?”

“Trust me, Sire…had Urien found them before I did – ” Merlin inclined his head towards Eleanor. “It was better this way.”

Arthur’s eyes widened at the sight of the dagger between Oswiu’s eyes. “You don’t mean to say that man tried to…?” Arthur’s gaze travelled from his man servant’s tear-stained face to Eleanor’s bruised shoulders and back to Oswiu’s twisted body and he finally comprehended.

Merlin dropped his own gaze, staring at his boots rather than meeting Arthur’s inquisitive eye. “He did more than just trying, my lord…he succeeded.”

“Then you did right and he got what he deserved.” Arthur finally managed to say with a look of pity aimed at the girl. He held out his hand and Merlin took it hesitantly, expecting the usual liberty to be taken with his person; instead of having his hand crushed as expected, he felt Arthur’s battle-hardened fingers enclose his own hand with warmth and feeling. Surprised, Merlin lifted his head and met Arthur’s steady gaze. The king’s cornflower blue eyes searched Merlin’s face and, apparently finding exactly what he had expected to see there, Arthur pulled his servant closer and whispered in his ear: “Merlin, I didn’t know you had it in you! I’d better watch my step or you’ll be challenging me at the tournament next!”

Letting go of Merlin’s hand abruptly, Arthur turned, loosened the broach that fastened his cloak and slid the garment from his shoulders. He approached the girl wordlessly and wrapped his cloak gently around Eleanor’s grazed and bruised shoulders. Urien helped her to cover her torn dress and shift, keeping her as close to him as she would allow.

Dragonara rose with tears streaming down her face. Merlin could sense her pain as if it were a branding iron searing his skin. He felt connected to her in some peculiar way; an invisible umbilical cord linked him to this mysterious queen. This was far more intense than anything he had ever experienced before when meeting another member of the old religion. He looked into her face and realised the sorrow and rage he saw there surpassed his own a thousand times. He caught a glimpse of a soul that had witnessed human evil for centuries, a once gentle soul that was now in short supply of mercy. Instinctively, he withdrew, protecting his innermost self from coming into contact with such limitless fury.

Dragonara roused herself and turned on her step-son. “Urien, in the light of what has happened here perhaps you will dispense with your usual flippancy and tell us what Leofwine is really doing in Camelot? It cannot be merely to avenge his hurt pride and restore me to Dunadd! Those would be the actions of a husband who still cares for his wife. Alas, there has never been any great love between your father and me. You may not approve of my actions but you cannot accuse me of ever doing anything that has harmed you or your kingdom. If Leofwine starts a war with Camelot, the other four kingdoms will be drawn into it, whether they like it or not. They must adhere to their obligations under the treaty they have with Arthur.” Dragonara planted her feet firmly in front of her step-son and glared at him. “Thousands of innocent people will die on all sides! Do you want the armies of five kingdoms to lay waste to your beloved Dunadd?”

Urien drew Eleanor closer to him and sighed. “No, of course not! Father has turned on Camelot in the mistaken belief Arthur would grant you sanctuary, allowing you to carry on cuckolding Father from the safety of Camelot. I’m not in Father’s confidence, but I do know he has given Queen Guinevere an ultimatum. She must give him –“ Urien shifted his weight from one leg to the other and stared at his boots rather than meet Dragonara’s fierce gaze. Her sharp intake of breath prompted him to continue. “Begging you pardon…it’s just too fantastical for words! Queen Guinevere must produce a dragon’s heart by sunrise.” Urien raised his eyes defiantly and met Dragonara’s stare.

“And who told you that…when exactly? From what I hear you’ve been busy pilfering in Castle Deira’s wine cellars. How could a dragon’s heart restore your father’s honour and reputation…not that he’s ever had much of that in the first place?”

“My faithful servant Hueil has kept me informed through our most trusted messenger.” Urien smiled wanly and pointed upwards at a falcon circling above their heads. “Beats me what Father might want with such a beastly thing, but there it is, he demands a dragon heart or else.”

Arthur pulled a face. “He’ll have a long wait. There are no dragons left in Camelot or in any of the other four kingdoms. My father saw to that. We slayed the last dragon a few years ago. I must get back to Gwen. Perhaps we can reason with Leofwine.”

“Nobody reasons with Leofwine. He’s quite mad.”

“Then what do you suggest I should do, Dragonara? Let my wife face the full force of Leofwine’s army and do nothing?”

“No.” Dragonara turned away abruptly and took a long, hard look at Eliffer’s lifeless body. “You would never do that…you love your wife. Madmen are best caught by humouring them. Leofwine demands a dragon’s heart and he shall have one.” She glanced at Merlin, who shook his head in horror, but she ignored him, laying a hand on Arthur’s arm instead. “Before we return to Camelot, there is the matter of giving Lady Marigold and Eliffer a decent burial. May I borrow your servant, Arthur?”

Arthur consented and as a consequence Merlin found himself scrambling up the hill with Siward and Kai to fetch the cart and Urien’s horses. When they reached the peak of the hill they found Unding, who was still guarding the cart and wine barrels, as well as keeping a sorrowful eye on lady Marigold’s body; they told him what had happened and he made haste to unload the remainder of the barrels. They left the spoilt wine on the summit of the hill and used the cart to transport Marigold down to the meadow.

When Merlin got back, the scene that greeted him was quite changed, a camp of sorts had been erected, a fire burned and the knight’s horses had been lead to the brook to drink. It had taken Elyan quite some time to persuade the mounts past Bede’s body. The beasts smelled their fallen friend’s blood and were filled with terror. Arthur sat by Urien’s side, studying maps and discussing the best course of action. Dragonara and Eleanor sat silently a short way off, neither of them talking nor looking at the other woman.

Percival stood over Oswiu’s body and stared with unseeing eyes at the blade in the man’s forehead. He blinked, when Gawain joined him. “How could he…look at her…she’s just a child!”

Gawain pointed to the deep hollow in the soil next to the dead Bede. “It’s weird, don’t you think? All those cornflowers lined up…like a grave just waiting for its occupant.”

“I don’t think this one will find his eternal resting place in it, do you?” Percival pointed at the dead body by his feet. “The meadow is far too pleasant a place for a traitor of his ilk.”

Gawain lifted a finger into the breeze. “Hm, a gentle south-easterly, plenty of water nearby and a meadow full of juicy hay in autumn. Now that you mention it…the hole is exactly right for the piebald. Seems the good horse was Lady Eleanor’s childhood friend and a brave defender of her honour to the last. What do you say…shall we?”

Percival nodded his head wordlessly; they enlisted the help of Sir Elyan and Sir Leon to roll, drag and pull the Friesian piebald into the hole. When Bede was finally in his grave, Eleanor tore away from Dragonara’s side and hurried over to the circle of knights. Picking up a handful of grass, she sprinkled it into the open grave and whispered her goodbye before the knights covered the horse with earth and stones. She gazed at the circle of solemn faces, where dust, lack of sleep and worry of the last few days seemed to have aged the usually so cheerful men.

“Thank you for your kindness, my lords.”

Sir Leon spoke for all of them. “Please…you only have to say, if there’s anything else we can do.”

She inclined her head towards Oswiu’s corpse; Sir Leon nodded slowly. “Yes, of course, my lady. We will take care of…it.”

Throwing the cloak with the Segovia emblem over the dead man, Gawain and Percival didn’t take long to dispose of Leofwine’s most loyal squire. They dragged him into the wood, as far away from the meadow as possible and threw him into a pit, conveniently left by an uprooted oak.

“The foxes will get to him, if we don’t cover him with rocks,” Percival hurled a large specimen down into the pit, where it crushed Oswui’s skull. A second rock aimed at the head rolled across the corpse’s chest and came to a shuddering halt at Segovia’s crest, where it obliterated the crown an industrious seamstress from Dunadd had embroidered there.

“Who cares? Let them; a fitting end for him, don’t you think?” Gawain dusted off his hands and knees. He kicked some loose soil into the pit and turned to leave, but Percival stopped him. Together they hoisted the fallen oak trunk up into the air, rotated it 180 degrees, before dropping it on the pit, where it obscured all traces of the man beneath.

“Let him be compost for the new oak, Gawain. Perhaps in Deira he will finally do what he failed to do for his lord in Dunadd.”

“What, be a loyal supporter? Not this one, not in a lifetime!”

“Perhaps you’re right. He’ll make a fine set of roof beams for Wulfric’s great hall though!”

Upon their return, everyone gathered for a council of war. When Merlin re-entered their temporary camp after gathering more firewood as part of his chores, he came across Urien, whose trusted falcon perched on its master’s gloved hand and was about to set off into the night. Merlin watched as Urien lifted the tiny skull cap that had blinded the falcon and detached the leather strap that had fastened the bird’s leg and talon to the gloved hand. The bird’s bright eyes twinkled with pleasure and it spread its wings and took off into the sky with an eerie cry. It rose so fast into the deep blue that they had already lost sight of it, when the wind in its wings could still be heard. Moments later the falcon re-emerged briefly as a shadow against the backdrop of the first stars appearing the sky.

“Was that a message to Hueil…or to your father?”

Startled, Urien turned and found Merlin by his side, scrutinizing him. Urien shrugged his shoulders. “Neither. I have burned by bridges. Tell your master I’ve done all I could. Let us hope the rulers of Bres and Lot still hold Dragonara in the same regard as they did in her younger days, when she was more discerning in the male company she kept.”

Surprised at Urien’s harsh words, Merlin left and joined the others by the fire, where he accepted gratefully a morsel of bread from Siward’s saddle bag. He told Arthur of Urien’s message, when the sound of hooves caused him to turn around abruptly. Unding had saddled his horse and was leaving for Castle Deira.

“Where’s he going? It thought he wanted to be present at Lady Marigold’s funeral?” Merlin said when Gawain sauntered over to join him by the fire.

Taking the offered chunk of bread from Merlin, Gawain gazed after Unding’s galloping horse. “He will be…he’s just going back for something he forgot earlier.”

“Oh, what’s that? A favourite keepsake of Lady Marigold’s? Don’t tell me…it’s that indestructible cauldron!”

Gawain threw another log on the fire and smiled grimly. “His men! He’s fetching the castle guards and any other men he can find in the neighbourhood. It’s about time my lord Wulfric learned to fend for himself, were Unding’s exact words.”

Sir Leon pursed his lips and whistled. “A castle revolt! I guess Master Wulfric’s got it coming to him.”

Percival joined them. “I’m not sure we can trust that young princeling. Urien claims he has sent word to the kingdoms of Bres and Lot, old King Bicoir’s realm.” Percival pulled a face as if his taste buds had been assaulted by one of Gaius’ bitter tinctures. “If you believe that…you’ll believe anything. Bres is Leofwine’s sworn enemy and has been so for many years.” He scratched his belly thoughtfully and lowered his huge body onto the blankets Siward had spread out for the knights earlier. “I know I shouldn’t speak ill of Arthur’s godmother…but if Urien’s servants are to be believed…the lady Dragonara has a long list of former lovers apparently still loyal to her. I’m surprised she found time to marry Leofwine, truth be told.”

“Let’s hope the lady parted from her lovers as good friends…or there’ll be two more armies marching on Camelot.” Gawain grinned from ear to ear. “Trust Arthur to have a godmother, who’s a determined flirt!” He pointed discretely with his thumb into Dragonara’s direction. She was sitting next to Arthur, their golden heads bowed over a map, their long limbs stretched out comfortably on a rug. Gawain’s hands outlined the curvature of a woman. “Not what you might call the standard specimen, is she? I bet if my godmother turned up after a twenty year absence, she’d look like an old warthog with the body of a bear.”

“Run in the family, your warthog features?” Percival said innocently. “If she does turn up unexpectedly, we’ll have no difficulty recognising her…now that we’ve seen you at your troll-ish best.”

“Very funny. Why don’t you and Arthur find us something to eat…oh no, I forgot, Arthur’s off his aim and you couldn’t bag a rabbit if you sat on it, Sir Percival of Clueless!”

It seemed the subject of rabbits was as unwelcome to Percival as it was to Arthur. Percival clouted Gawain’s back with such force he winded the much smaller man. Gawain fell backwards over a pile of logs. Despite his heavy heart, Merlin had to laugh at the knights’ horseplay and banter. He held out his hand and helped Gawain up.

Alerted by the commotion, Arthur looked up from his maps. “Merlin, remind me to issue a royal decree upon our return to Camelot: anyone mentioning the subject of rabbits will spend twenty days in our dungeons!”

Merlin beamed at his king. “And anyone convicted of this terrible crime will escape down a rabbit hole on the very first day of their incarceration! Camelot’s dungeons are the worst in the five kingdoms!”

“Nonsense, we’ve doubled the guards on the stairs and in the corridors. Sir Leon assures me nobody passes through the gates unchallenged.”

“Arthur, a rabbit could outwit Sir Leon’s guards…not to mention break in through the old tunnels! We’ve done it often enough.” Merlin shot a nervous glance at Sir Leon, who had fortunately only caught the last part of his words, as he was too busy inspecting the saddle bags for food.

“The old tunnels, of course, well remembered, Merlin!” Leon unearthed a dried up rind of cheese, which he tossed to Merlin as a reward. “If we approach Camelot from Osthryth’s Fort instead of Lake Merthur we can enter the tunnels at their farthest end…you know…the old entrance at Rowan.”

Arthur frowned and threw another log on the fire. “Do you think the Rowan entrance is passable? It’s a long time since anyone has used that tunnel, it may have collapsed.”

“It’s worth a try and if that entrance is no longer open, we cut round to the entrance at Geoffrey’s Rest, that one’s definitely passable, my lord.”

Dragonara left Arthur’s side and selected a place next to Eleanor. The queen tried to lay her arm around her daughter, but Eleanor flinched from her touch and turned away. Dragonara sighed and turned to Sir Leon. “It sounds like an excellent plan. You could create a diversion.”

“Alright Leon, we’ll do as you suggest. Let’s all get some rest until Unding’s men get here.” Arthur yawned, stretched his tired limbs and curled up on his blanket. “Urien has asked Lot’s and Bres’ rulers for help. Whether they’ll respond remains to be seen. In the meantime, we’ll have to stall that madman Leofwine for as long as it takes. Dragonara, if you really know of a dragon’s heart…I hope it belongs to an old and feeble beastie that’s grateful to be slain. I don’t think I’ve got the energy for a fire-breather with an attitude.”

“You have my word it will jump on your blade as tamely as a toothless lapdog.” The queen suppressed a yawn, unfastened her cloak and rolled herself into it, settling down next to her daughter. Merlin’s heart began to race at her last words. He glanced in her direction but was unable to catch her eye. The camp fell silent as knights and servants also retired for the night, one by one finding their place by the fire. A single watchman in the form of Kai was patrolling the camp.

For several minutes Merlin watched a couple of fire flies dancing above their encampment. He followed their antics with his eyes, trying hard to recall all the events of the day without glossing over his own role in the outcome. Above him bats flew here and there, chasing after insects in the balmy night air. A gust of wind rushed through the branches of the surrounding trees, causing them to twist and turn, crack and splinter. He listened to the night music of owl, cricket, mouse and nightingale and wondered briefly, if he’d ever see his mother and his old village again.

When he had sorted the various things people had said and done in his head, Merlin crawled over to Arthur, who had shut his eyes tightly against the brightness of the flames. Merlin laid a hand on the king’s shoulder and shook him gently. “Arthur!”

The king grunted. “Go away!”

“Arthur, you cannot kill a dragon just to satisfy this madman. Who knows what he’ll do once he’s got the heart.”

“For all I care he can roast it and feed it to his dogs. He can fashion a winter coat out of it! Let me sleep, Merlin!” Arthur rolled over onto his other side, snuggled into his blankets and dozed off.

“Arthur!”

Merlin shook his lord awake for the second time. The king opened one eye. It glittered dangerously. “Unless you’ve come to tell me there’ll be eggs and freshly baked bread for breakfast, I’m not interested, Merlin.”

“Dragons are powerful beings with long memories.”

“So are kings deprived of their sleep!”

“I’m just saying…if there’s really a dragon and we fail to slay it…it won’t take kindly to having a lance stuck into its chest.”

Arthur’s other eye opened. It glittered even more dangerously than the first. “Do you doubt your king’s ability to slay another dragon?”

“Well, you did pass out the last time…and you’ve been off your aim ever since you married Gwen.” Merlin said hurriedly, retreating a safe distance of five paces before the long arm of Camelot’s law could grab him by the ear on the charge of treason. With a grunt Arthur sat up again and shot a malevolent glance at his servant.

“Care to explain that?”

Merlin hesitated. “Actually, I can’t. Gaius might know. I only know that every bit of wildlife we’ve encountered so far as walked, hopped and flown away without a scratch.”

Arthur let himself fall back into his blankets. “In that case, I’ll stick to fishing. Just ask the dragon to go for a swim and I’ll deal with it.” He snorted, curled up and this time even Merlin’s most determined efforts at shaking him awake were left unrewarded.

The truth began to dawn on the young sorcerer. Merlin slapped his own forehead with some force. “You being off your aim is exactly what we need!” He settled down next to his king and pulled a blanket over his tired limbs. “I have a horrible feeling Dragonara plans to serve Kilgharrah’s heart to her jilted madman on a plate…but why would she want to do such a terrible thing?” He closed his eyes and the image of his friend the Great Dragon rose up in his head.

Merlin sat up again and rubbed the sleep form his eyes. “Maybe they’re in it together…and all this godmother fleeing from cuckolded husband story is just a ruse…to get Arthur to slay a dragon for them…but why…what do they want with Kilgharrah’s heart?”

Illustration from page 4 of The Boy's King Art...

Illustration from page 4 of The Boy’s King Arthur: Merlin taking away the infant Arthur – “So the child was delivered unto Merlin, and so he bare it forth.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…/to be continued…

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin (Part 13)


English: Actor Colin Morgan after the premiere...

English: Actor Colin Morgan after the premiere of film Island. Cineworld Glasgow Sunday 20th February 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At long last the continuation of my fan fiction story – just a short snippet this time, as I’ve been too busy with client work to do write more.

This weekend sees the long-awaited return of the BBC’s hit show Merlin and Twitter is alight with the new trailer and the fabulous photoshoot the four main characters did with a British magazine.

I hope the Merlin and fantasy fans among you will enjoy this latest instalment of my own story and no doubt we’ll be joining the Facebook and Twitter Merlin Returns party online, after the show has aired on Saturday.

The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin! (Part 13)

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.

Merlin series 4 premiere at BFI

Merlin series 4 premiere at BFI (Photo credit: Rev Stan)

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 6th October 2012 at 7.45 pm. Latest BBC trailers and pictures are available at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBeXGcu6oQY&feature=youtu.be

http://radiotimes.com/merlin

https://www.facebook.com/MerlinOfficial/photos

A bed chamber in Camelot…

The dawn rose in shades of amber, dusty pink and lavender over Camelot. A cold breeze entered the royal bed chamber, causing the red velvet curtains to stir. It blew a parchment off the central table and toyed with it for a moment, before returning to tug at the heavy curtains.

Gwen shivered and stooped to pick up the parchment. “By royal decree I, Queen Guinevere, in the absence of His Royal Majesty King Arthur Pendragon, as the regent and protector of Camelot…,” she sighed and returned the parchment to the table.

The Queen wrapped her woollen shawl tightly around her shoulders and closed the window to return to her princely four-poster bed…a bed that seemed far too large of late. She stretched out her legs, plumped up one of the pillows and rested her aching head. With a brief glance at the empty pillow next to her, she picked up Aurelius Smarticus’ book on dragons and re-read the passage Gaius had marked for her.

Today was the day of reckoning. Any moment now a messenger from King Leofwine’s camp would be riding up the ramparts and demand an audience with the Queen, the regent and protector of the citadel. Would she be handing over the dragon heart, the price for safe deliverance of Camelot and its people?

The Queen sighed and wiped away a tear that had stolen into the corner of her eye. How could she possibly protect the citadel from total destruction? Leofwine was a mad-man, obsessed and jealous, deaf to reason. She looked down on her work-worn hands and shook her head resignedly. How could a servant maid pit her wits against a king?

Unable to get back to sleep, Gwen rose, washed and dressed without rousing her maid. She sat down at her table and picked up the parchment again. All that was missing was her signature. If only she knew what Arthur would do in her shoes – would he sacrifice one living being for the greater good of Camelot?

Uncomfortable as the truth might be, she realised with a pang that the answer would be an unequivocal YES. Arthur would have no hesitation laying down his own life, let alone that of some troublesome magical creature, if it meant saving his people. Gwen took up the goose feather next to her and dipped it in ink. Wasn’t it her role to stop Arthur from making such decisions, if an alternative could be found? She watched the dark fluid drip off the sharp end of her goose feather, a droplet staining the parchment’s header. Gwen watched with morbid fascination as the dark liquid spread and the stain grew on the pale surface of the scroll…like blood seeping through a shirt, like a wound festering, like poison spreading through a hardened heart.

If only she could find another solution – but Aurelius’ book had left her in no doubt, this was the only way to save Camelot. Gwen took a deep breath and realised she had never felt so alone in her entire life, not even when her father Tom had been cruelly executed by Uther Pendragon for a crime he had not committed.

She raised the goose feather and signed her name on the parchment in the knowledge that Arthur would approve, but her own heart would never be quite the same again.

Gwen was called back to her surroundings by a commotion in the corridor outside her chamber. The door was torn open and one of the guards appeared.

“Beggin’ your pardon, my lady, King Leofwine himself is at the gate…with about half his army at his heels. What message, my lady?”

Gwen rose quietly, disregarding the parchment in front of her. “Tell him, we have located a dragon’s heart, but it will take another day to secure it. If he will grant us one more day, Arthur himself will hand him the heart King Leofwine so desires.”

The guard saluted and turned on the spot, marching out of his lady’s bedchamber as quickly as he had entered. Gwen sank back onto her wooden bench and turned over the parchment, unable to bear the sight of her own signature. Had she done the right thing? Playing for time was a dangerous business.

A moment later, she had her answer. Two fanfares sounded down below in the encampment. Shortly afterwards shouts and screams followed. Gwen rose reluctantly and returned to her window. She unfastened the clasp and opened the small lead-glass door into the world beyond. The lavender sky was streaked with glowing yellow now…glowing shooting stars coming straight at the citadel.

She swallowed hard and faced what she knew to be the result of her weakness and indecision. The encampment had sprung to life; torches were marching up towards the ramparts of the citadel, teams of oxen were pulling heavy equipment up the hill; archers had already gathered in formations to join the throng of crossbowmen and knights. The first burning arrows hit the outer ramparts. The second salve reached its target. A strangled scream rose up to the Queen’s window; she leant out to see a man collapse on the guard’s walkway below her lofty lookout. An arrow stuck out of his chest. She gasped in horror.

“Gaius!”

The spectacle of war unfolded under the lavender sky, where the first war machines were appearing on the horizon. Down below, at the edge of his encampment, King Leofwine rubbed his hands together, glee lighting up his face.

“How’s that for a taste of kingship, my lady Guinevere? I shall have my revenge and my honour shall be restored. Camelot’s fields will be drenched by her soldiers’ blood.” Laughing, Leofwine raised his arm and shook his fist towards Gwen’s window. “Once I have the dragon’s heart, nothing will stop me!”

Merlin (series 1)

Merlin (series 1) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…/to be continued…

(source of photographs Wikipedia)

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin! (Part 12)


The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin! (Part 12)

Part 12 was created on 20th to 23rd 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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBeXGcu6oQY&feature=youtu.be

https://www.facebook.com/MerlinOfficial/photos

The ruined great hall at Castle Deira…

Everyone turned to Yolanda, who stood motionless by the hearth, staring at her waif-like hips. Merlin dug his ribs into Arthur’s side. “Look, no wart on her chin and her hair’s turning from grey to blonde. The curse is lifting!”

Instinctively, Arthur turned to look for his godmother, but she seemed to have vanished. Next to them their friend Gawain was beginning to moult at an alarming speed. He had begun to scratch his ears and neck, spreading fluff everywhere. Merlin sneezed, sending tufts of fur up into the air.

Arthur’s face lit up at the sight of his friend’s familiar features emerging from the fur. “Look Merlin, even the tavern-bags under his eyes are gone!”

“So they are, but I bet his feet still stink like a bear’s behind!”

“I can break curses and spells, but I cannot perform miracles, Merlin.” Dragonara waved across the crowded hall. Merlin beamed at her through clouds of fur. Every troll had started to moult. All around them the great hall was gradually filling up with handsome young knights – with the exception of one particularly bulky guard. He was still talking goose fat and still looked very much like a troll. Dragonara shrugged her shoulders. “Some battles are doomed to failure.” Merlin laughed and waved to her. She smiled and waggled her hand in a regal gesture.

Within moments Gawain had transformed into his old self. He threw his arms around Merlin’s and Arthur’s neck, hugging them close.

“But how is this p-p-possible?” Ethelgunda took a fresh ladle from a hook on the wall and stirred the caldron. She sniffed the bubbling contents and shook her head; her gaze fell on Arthur, who grinned back at her.

“Sorry my lady, I’m very much attached to my hair. You’ll have to find another noble scalp to spice up your soup. I thought to break the spell you needed high born blood?”

“It wouldn’t have bothered Yolanda or me, but Marigold was always so squeamish, we had to use hair.” Ethelgunda eyed Gawain keenly. “None of the others ever managed to resist a spell this powerful. Who is that man? And, come to think of it, who the hell are you?”

“Simple, I’m Arthur and this is my friend Gawain, the finest knight at Camelot. You wanted noble blood and he supplied it! Now be content and let us go.”

“But if you’re Arthur, who’s that?” Ethelgunda’s hand pointed first at Merlin and then at her ruined hall. “He’s responsible for all this mess and I have a good mind to make somebody pay.”

Arthur gazed at the remnants of her ancestral home and sympathized – to a degree. “This is nothing; you should see what Merlin does to my chambers at Camelot. Still, loyal servants are hard to come by and you’ll not find one more loyal than him.”

“A servant?” Ethelgunda screeched. “But…the brew seemed to work for a while…we all stayed young and hale for far longer than the usual hour…and then there were all those explosions…is he the natural son of an emperor that his blood should carry so much nobility?”

Arthur shrugged his shoulders. ”Nobility is not defined by birth; it’s a man’s choices and his actions that prove his worth…or hers.” He glanced over his shoulder at a point by the door, where Dragonara’s blonde head was bopping up and down in lively conversation with a handsome guard.

Meanwhile, Marigold and Yolanda had started to investigate the cauldron, too. Yolanda snatched the ladle from Ethelgunda’s hand and began fishing in the broth. “Look!” She caught Gawain’s handkerchief and held it up to the light. “The blood’s washed out.”

Marigold clapped her hands. “I told you so! The noble Gawain has set us free.”

A growl as loud as thunder silenced the hall. Everyone turned towards the entrance, where the two-headed dog had just entered and pounced on a member of their party. Merlin tried to get closer but several troll-turned-knight guards got in his way. He called out to Arthur, who snatched a sword from one of the knights and made his way across the hall to see his godmother prostrate, the dog’s mighty paws pinning her to the flagstones.

“Get your filthy paws off her!” Arthur pointed his sword at the dog’s throat.

The beast did not budge; instead, it began to tremble and shake. Slowly the paws turned to muscular hands, the fore and hind legs transformed into powerful arms and legs. The creature lifted both its heads and stared with four yellow eyes at Arthur, who dug the tip of his sword deeper into the beast’s broad neck. The creature’s transformation was almost complete. Two heads merged into one silver-haired crown. Finally, a crouching man peered down at Arthur’s sword, his eyes full of contempt.

With a swipe of his hand he pushed Arthur’s sword out of the way and rose to his full height. He spat on Dragonara, who tried to get up but was flattened by his boot on her small back. “You dare show your face here, you harlot? I should have you horse-whipped for what you did to me.”

Arthur took a step forward and raised his sword to the man’s chest. “Let her go or you’ll get acquainted with my blade!”

“Who’s this whelp, Dragonara? Your latest bed-fellow, I shouldn’t wonder.”

“He’s Arthur, King of Camelot. The lady Dragonara is his godmother.” Merlin stepped out from a crowd of onlookers. Arthur’s servant also pointed a sword at the old man.

Merlin’s gaze searched the onlookers’ faces. None of the knights around them was lifting a finger to assist their lord. Castle Deira’s owner didn’t appear to have the respect he took for granted. Merlin scrutinised the old knight’s features; he was a man of about sixty, with a long nose and deep-set dark eyes. He wore old-fashioned robes, the type a noble man would have worn before Merlin was born. There were pearls and semi-precious stones sewn around the hem of his cloak and embroidery decorated the sleeves of the old man’s tunic. The man’s face was full of contempt.

“Why should I believe anything you say, boy? Yesterday you told us your name was Arthur and you were the king of Camelot.”

“He speaks the truth today; Merlin was just trying to protect my godson, his lord. Let them go, Wulfric. Your quarrel is with me.” Dragonara tried to get up but he kicked her hard and the blow winded her.

“I was talking to the boy!” Wulfric kicked her viciously. “Leofwine’s throne wasn’t enough for you, Madam? You had to insinuate yourself into Uther’s court as well as this one?” He laughed wildly. “But where are my manners! We have guests from abroad! Let’s have a little celebration in honour of Castle Deira’s deliverance. We shall have a bonfire this lady and her friends won’t forget in a hurry. Unding, fetch wood and kindling. I shall end this enchantment once and for all.”

Merlin stared at the person Wulfric had just addressed. The handsome officer standing just behind Arthur met Merlin’s gaze and shrugged his shoulders. Wulfric turned on him ferociously. “Stir your limbs, idle fellow, unless you want to feel my whip on your back. My daughters are no longer giving the orders around here. You’d better get used to it – I’m lord and master of this house.”

Unding remained rooted to the spot, so did his men. Wulfric evaded Arthur’s blade and slapped Unding’s face hard, but the guard neither retaliated nor moved a muscle.

The crowd of onlookers parted wordlessly to admit Gawain, who strode up to the old man and pointed his sword at Wulfric’s chest. “A fire in July? I wouldn’t recommend it, Sire, far too stuffy in my lady’s bed chamber.” The old man stared coldly at the three blades pointed at his body and snarled.

Marigold’s anxious face appeared at Gawain’s side. He raised his sword higher offering Wulfric the chance to have his throat cut three ways. “Here’s the thing, you flea-bitten old knave: harm one hair on Unding’s back and your hide will get such a lashing, you’ll look back fondly on your days as a two-headed hearth rug. You heard my liege, let his godmother go, she came here to help.”

“We don’t need her kind of help. You fool! I have no doubt this latest enchantment will vanish at dawn and you’ll turn back into the worthless hog you’ve always been.” The old man’s hand crept slowly up to his belt; he drew a silver dagger and lashed out at the nearest target, which just happened to be Gawain.

Marigold screamed and threw herself into the path of the knife. Gawain caught her in his arms, but he was not fast enough; her slender body slid down to the floor and he dropped to his knees, her head resting on his chest.

“Little Marigold, what have you done? Your father’s right, I’m not worth losing your life over. I spent the night with your sister, when I should have slept in your arms.”

She smiled up at Gawain’s pale face. “Don’t fret, it doesn’t hurt. My turn to shed a little blood, dear knight. I couldn’t let him harm you…not after all you’ve done.”

“But I didn’t do anything, not really –“

“Yes, you did. You offered to marry all three of us, remember? You lifted the curse and now everyone’s free. And you were kind to me last night…when I turned back into a hag before my sisters did…I drank more brew to make myself beautiful for you again in the morning…but you didn’t mock when I was old and shrivelled, you took another turn around the dance floor with me and gave me a kiss.”

Gawain blinked and stared at the dagger in her chest. He shook his head, when Arthur bent down over them to offer his help. Marigold’s blood was beginning to seep through her gown and form a puddle on the ground.

Unding sank down beside her and folded his hands over hers. “My lady, please don’t leave us. I couldn’t bear to lose you…not now…after all we’ve been through.” He raised her hands to his lips and kissed her fingers.

“You mustn’t do that, Unding.” Marigold tried to withdraw her hands from his, but he wouldn’t let her. “My hands…so rough from all that baking and roasting…the hands of an old scullery maid…dear Unding, you’ve served us so loyally all these years…even when father mistreated you, you didn’t leave. I was so horrible to you…I teased you when we were growing up…I’d noticed you looking at Yolanda…she was always so beautiful…silly jealousy…you deserve a true lady as your mistress, one who treats you the way you deserve.” She freed one of her hands and touched his face gently, wiping away his tears.

Unding shut his eyes. “Oh no, my lady. You’ll always be my mistress; there’ll never be anyone else.” Her fingers slid down his mouth and chin and finally to the floor, where her small, white hand came to rest in the pool of blood that had gathered beside her. Gawain lifted her hand gently and crossed her arm over her motionless chest. He tried to detach Unding from her other hand, but the guard wouldn’t let go; her fingers were still curled around his. Yolanda cried out and rushed over to her youngest sister. Ethelgunda staggered to the one and only chair and sank down. Unding’s face had turned pale and his lips trembled.

Gawain placed his hand on the guard’s shoulder. “She was the finest baker and your devoted friend.” He looked down at her face, the skin smooth again, her hair as black as a raven’s coat, her limbs slender and youthful, as if the past twenty years had never occurred. “And the sweetest lady I’ve ever met.”

Beside them Wulfric stared down coldly. “Never was a father so burdened with a child as I was with this silly girl. No sense of decorum, no idea of obligation, not an ounce of nobility.”

“You flea-bitten monster! You shall pay for that!” Unding shot up and hurled himself at Wulfric; he punched his former master hard in the face. Surprised by the ferocity of the attack, Wulfric stumbled over Dragonara and fell. The old man had no chance of fighting back, Unding’s fists landed blow after blow, his boots kicked without mercy.

Arthur, Gawain and Merlin eventually managed to pull Unding off the old man. Arthur lifted him to his feet and Gawain searched him for any more concealed weapons, but found none. Gawain bound his wrists and pushed him into the centre of the hall, while Arthur held on to Unding, who snarled and fought to get free again.

The old knight spat contemptuously on the floor: “Had she lived, you could have had her and be welcome to the stupid mare. In fact, take your pick from the remaining two idiots; they have cost me dearly, so take them both away, if they please you! I even give you a dowry, provided I don’t have to see their faces ever again. I paid for their stupidity with twenty years of my life. No suitor was ever good enough for my conceited daughters – not until Leofwine came along and Yolanda fell for his charms.”

Arthur relieved one of the guards off his duster and rammed it into Wulfric’s mouth. “I liked you better when you were a two-headed hound. You smelled better and there was less noise.” He looked around for his godmother. “Merlin, go find my sword. It’s about time we found the others and returned to Camelot. I’ve had my fill of foreign hospitality and can’t wait to get back home.”

“With pleasure, Sire.” Merlin headed out of the hall, but stopped, when he found Dragonara hunched over Marigold’s lifeless form. Yolanda and Ethelgunda were by her side, one sobbing quietly; the other outwardly composed but clearly shocked to her core.

Dragonara had placed her hand on Marigold’s chest and was about to remove the dagger. Arthur stopped her. “Come, it’s time to leave. There’s nothing you could have done to prevent this. It is not your fault.” He laid his hands on her shoulders and tried to lift her up gently, but she resisted.

Her stern face looked up at him. “Nothing you can say will console me.” She stared at the substance clinging to her fingers. “This was my doing.”

“But you undid your sorcery! You helped break the spell. Wulfric caused her death, he’s to blame. I wouldn’t be surprised, if he didn’t offer his daughters to Leofwine in the first place.” Arthur bent down closer to his godmother’s ear. “If you feel the urge to turn him back into a hound, don’t hold back on my account, will you?”

Merlin blinked. Had Arthur just given his blessing to the use of magic for a good cause?

…/to be continued…

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com, photo credit Merlin Official Facebook)

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin (Part 11)


The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin Part 11, created 19th to 20th August 2012 .

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBeXGcu6oQY&feature=youtu.be

https://www.facebook.com/MerlinOfficial/photos

The bowels of Castle Deira…

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.

English: Angel Coulby and Katie McGrath's lect...

English: Angel Coulby and Katie McGrath’s lecture at Japan Expo 2010 (Paris, France). Français : Conférence avec Angel Coulby et Katie McGrath à Japan Expo 2010 (Paris, France). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

/to be continued…

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com)

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin (Part 9)


 

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBeXGcu6oQY&feature=youtu.be

https://www.facebook.com/MerlinOfficial/photos

In the dungeons at Castle Deira; a small chamber…

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.

“Arthur!”

“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.

“Clllltttpppplllls!”

“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 –“

…/to be continued…

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com; photo credit Merlin BBC official facebook page)

 

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin! (Part 6)


Since I won’t have much time for blogging this weekend, here’s the latest instalment of my multi-stranded, epic Merlin and King Arthur Adventure a little earlier than usual. Hope you’ll enjoy it.

Next blog  will be about ” How to build your own Castle”! Relax, it’s not Pierrefonds Castle as a flatpack from IKEA!

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 this autumn in the UK, trailer already running on BBC.

Part 6 was created on 1st August 2012.

The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin!

If it hadn’t been for the ancient arrow slit, he’d be dead now! Only a few more lengths and Arthur would have made it to the top floor window, but the old flag had given way with a protesting screech. Arthur had only just managed to cling to the side of the tower. He watched the torn flag flutter down into the moat below, upsetting a couple of rooks on the way down.

“Lllleeeeeegggge Aaarrrgggguuurrr!” The taunts from the strange creature above kept coming, but Arthur continued his ascent, disregarding the monstrous head hovering above him. The thing looked like a cross between a boar and a Behemoth!

When he was only a few lengths from the monster’s head, Arthur clamped both his feet into an arrow slit and drew Excalibur. He pointed his sword at the creature, while the fingers of his other hand tested the tower’s surface for any kind of opening or crack that would give him some leverage. After a few moments Arthur admitted defeat. At this upper part of the tower, there were no more cracks or openings, where a strong hand could find leverage and pull up the body of a man. Clinging to the side of a tower while wearing nothing more than a boy’s hose and a lady’s scarf was bad enough, but being insulted by a woolly-headed monster at the same time was taking things a step too far. Arthur sighed and thought of Gwen, who’d probably be highly amused by the situation. He wondered briefly, if he’d ever see her again. Now that the sun was up, the force of the rays was beginning to take its toll and he grunted with the effort of holding on to the side of the tower. With the back of his sword hand Arthur managed to wipe a few beads of sweat of his brow and squinted into the bright sky. The silence from above caught his attention. The monstrous head had disappeared!

Arthur’s relief was short-lived, for the monster reappeared presently and hurled something out of the window. Arthur tried to duck but the missile hit him squarely in the face without knocking him off his perch. To his surprise Arthur discovered the thing was a makeshift rope, made from a couple of sheets that someone had tied together.

Surely the monster wasn’t trying to help him reach the chamber beyond the window? He hoped one of his friends was responsible for this rescue attempt. Had he found Gawain? The sheets dangled invitingly in front of Arthur’s nose. Half bemused by this act of chivalry and half suspicious it might turn out to be a trap Arthur grabbed hold off the makeshift rope, climbed up and scrambled through the open window. Strong paws grabbed his shoulders and pulled him into the chamber, where he landed with a thump on the floor. He sprang up and swished Excalibur through the air to dissuade rather than injure any inmate within the chamber, forcing the monster to retreat by a few paces.

A quick survey revealed the chamber was empty apart from the monster and a few items of furniture. The room was a shabby but comfortable lady’s bedchamber with a four-poster bed and some old-fashioned, carved chairs, chests and tables. On a sideboard close to the window Arthur discovered a plate with food. He sniffed it and found it to be fresh. In fact, it was a breakfast fit for a prince! There was a loaf of white bread and a hunk of goat’s cheese, a dressed crab and some radishes. With a pang he realised it was ages since he’d eaten anything. He tore a chunk out of the loaf and chewed the bread gratefully, before continuing his prowl around the chamber. The bed was unmade and now missing its sheets, the heavy oak door had been forced open and was hanging off its hinges. Occasional tables and chairs had been tossed aside; the floor was littered with clothes, shoes and the shards of a broken water pitcher. The rug on the floor showed a fresh bloodstain: this was the scene of a recent struggle!

“Lllleeeeeegggge Aaarrrgggguuurrr!” The monster was clearly determined to communicate.

Arthur couldn’t help but smile, when he saw the state his new-found friend was in. Apart from a torn mail shirt, dirty linen, hose and one boot, the creature was wearing shackles and chains, which had been tied around his ankles and secured to the oak beams of the four-poster. Arthur looked around, but saw no sign of socks or the second boot. He sidled past his woolly-headed rescuer and made for the door. The creature darted forward to stop him but was instantly pulled back by the limitations of the chain. It allowed the creature to reach the sideboard and window, but not the doorway, where Arthur stood surveying the room. Seeing the relief on Arthur’s face, the monster began to frantically wave its furry arms around, its huge paws first pointing at the window, then at the bed.

Arthur shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry, I don’t speak Behemoth. I’m not ungrateful, but if you think I’m going to release you, you must be even stupider than you look.”

The monster growled and tore at its chains, pointing at Excalibur. “Lllleeeeeegggge Aaarrrgggguuurrr!”

“No matter how often you repeat this, Friend, I’m not going to set you free. There’s a good reason why somebody chained you. It’s your striking features, my Friend! I don’t wonder the lady of the house tied a fine looking fellow like you to that bedpost over there. It’s not very chivalrous to interfere with a lady’s plans, so I’m bidding you good day and take my leave. Thank you for your help with the rope, though. Oh, I must thank you for the food, too.” Arthur said with bulging cheeks. He waved a cheerful goodbye and headed once more for the door. “Fine bread…thank the lady of the house for me, there’s a good chap. Oh, don’t bother seeing me out.” He grinned and turned to leave.

“Lllleeeeeegggge Aaarrrgggguuurrr!” The first radish hit Arthur right between the shoulder blades. The second caught his left ear. He wheeled around and faced the disgruntled occupant of the bedchamber, about to strike again. The monster raised its furry paw, aimed and had fired the next missile before Arthur could dive out of the way. The third radish hit Arthur squarely between his nipples. He squinted down at the angry red patch on his chest and took a deep breath.

“Ouch, that hurt! Stop playing with your food, will you?”

“Lllleeeeeegggge Aaarrrgggguuurrr!” The fourth radish caught Arthur on the nose.

“Now look here! I haven’t got time to play,” Arthur gingerly fingered the tip of his nose. “Behave until the lady comes back. No doubt she’ll know how to tame you.” When his eyes had stopped welling up with the pain, Arthur realised there was something strangely familiar about the beast. Where on earth had he seen that tattered piece of chainmail before?

“Lllleeeeeegggge Aaarrrgggguuurrr!”The creature threw its arms in the air and started to wail, when Arthur took one step across the threshold. Sinking to the floor, the monster kept pointing at Excalibur, before hugging its knees tightly and starting to wail. Arthur merely shrugged his shoulders, but the creature shot up, darted over to the sideboard and snatched the dressed crab.

“Don’t you dare!” Arthur raised his arms to shield his face. To his surprise no fishy missile arrived. He peered cautiously through his fingers and gasped.

Balancing on one leg, the monster had stuck the crab to its big toe and held its fishy foot up into the air! “Lllleeeeeegggge Aaarrrgggguuurrr!”

“Whatever next? Juggling? You’re quite the entertainer, aren’t you?”

By way of a reply his new friend hurled the crab at the wall, where it left a greasy stain before sliding down to the sideboard below and landing with a clang on the platter. The creature sank back to the floor and started to tear out its fur from an abundant supply on its head and bat-like ears, letting the tufts drift through the open window on a current of fresh air. Temporarily disarmed by the picture of misery before him, Arthur risked a step closer. The creature immediately lunged at him, grabbed his legs and brought him down, before wrestling Excalibur from his hands. The woolly-headed rescuer shot up and backed away towards the bed, holding the sword with the expertise of a man at arms. Instead of slicing his head off as expected, Arthur discovered the creature was swishing the sword through the air in a fashion that was as familiar to Arthur as his own daily gripe concerning the lack of attention paid to His Majesty’s bath water was to his servant Merlin. There was only ONE knight in all of Camelot who held a sword like that!

“No! It can’t be…Gawain? Is that you?”

“Lllleeeeeegggge Aaarrrgggguuurrr!” The creature dropped Excalibur, thumped its barrel chest and opened its arms to give Arthur a bear hug that squeezed the air from his lungs and left him gasping. It took Arthur a moment or two to recover. Holding him at arms’ length, the hog-nosed Gawain eyed Arthur keenly and pointed at the shackles around his furry feet.

“You’re right. It’s obvious when I think about it.” Arthur grinned from ear to ear. “Chained to a lady’s bedpost…that could only happen to you!” He struck at Gawain’s chains and Excalibur set the woolly-headed knight free. “Who did this to you? No, forget I asked. A knight of the round table doesn’t kiss and tell.” Arthur’s hand clamped Gawain’s snout shut, before the knight could utter another wail. “Show me, where have the trolls taken the others?”

By way of a reply Gawain grabbed Arthur’s hand and shook it solemnly, before dragging him through the doorway and down the spiral staircase at tremendous speed.

“Wwwwitcheeees, Aaarrrgggguuurrr.” Gawain growled, taking three steps at once.

“Please, let’s not have another lesson in Behemoth!”

“Mmmmmrrrrlllleeennn!”

“Who needs lessons? I’m fluent already!” Arthur panted after his friend. “Don’t tell me, my dollop-headed servant’s in trouble again.” They reached the final step of the spiral stair case and shrank into a dark niche. “Just wait until I get my hands on him! Merlin left me without a stitch to wear at that lake,” Arthur pointed at his inadequate hose. “You wouldn’t happen to know where the trolls left my breeches?”

Gawain snorted and put two fat, furry digits to what passed as his lips, urging Arthur to silence.

Two guards watched the entrance from across the courtyard. “What we need is a little distraction.” Grinning, Arthur pushed Gawain out into the yard, where the startled guards first eyed the creature with alarm, then with unbridled amusement.

“Bless me, they’ve certainly done for you, mate! Not up to the ladies’ standards, were you? Don’t take it to heart, Friend, rumour has it our leader Unding got his fine looks for the same reason!” The guards burst out laughing, pointing their fingers at Gawain’s bat-ears and wild boar snout. They came closer and tried to finger the tufty tips of his ears. Coyly, Gawain tried to evade their advances, covering his ears with his paws. Roaring with laughter, the men tried to tickle Gawain’s woolly chin instead, but he fought them off and they started to chase him around the courtyard.

When the merry gang came hurtling past his hidey-hole for the second time, Arthur stepped out of his niche and rapped the guards smartly on the head with Excalibur’s broadside, while Gawain finished them off with a left hook on the chin.

“Clllltttpppplllls!”

“I couldn’t have put it better myself, Gawain!”

A loud BANG like an explosion shattered the peace of the quiet courtyard. Gawain dragged the two guards into the niche by the stairs and raced after Arthur into the castle’s interior where the echo of cries and the clamour of battle threatened to drown out the tremor and noise of a second explosion.

English: John Hurt at the Cannes film festival

English: The Lamentation of King Arthur

English: The Lamentation of King Arthur (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…/to be continued…

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin (Part 4)


From left to right: Guinevere, Gaius, Morgana,...

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 Morgin (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 this autumn in the UK.

The object of this fun writing exercise is to try out multi-stranded stories and to use different points of view for my characters. My 2nd Willow the Vampire novel will be using these techniques, which makes this good writing practice for me.

Part 4 was created on 22nd July 2012.

The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin! (Part 4)

While Merlin and the knights were attempting to rescue their friend Gawain, Arthur was trying to fathom his mysterious godmother Dragonara’s motives.

Leading their tired horses through brambles and straggling ferns, they were always on the lookout for Urien’s men. The boy Eliffer was seemingly still asleep on the back of his rather magnificent Friesian and Arthur began to wonder, if the boy merely feigned his slumber in order to eavesdrop on their conversation. Surely, nobody could sleep through a journey in such difficult terrain, especially when slung across the back of a horse like a sack of grain?

Yawning, Arthur tramped through the forest, keeping one eye on his godmother while trying to keep alert for any attackers coming at him from the dense undergrowth of fledgling oak, pine and beech. His hand on Excalibur, he expected to be ambushed by the princeling and his men at any moment.

“Where will you go?” Arthur asked quietly, when they had reached the lake; he looked around, but there was no sign of Eleanor. “Camelot is no place for your kind.”

Dragonara’s face showed concern. “I have my own lands and castle waiting for me at Dunum,” she said absentmindedly. “Where’s that girl got to? Eleanor!” She called out into the night. The only response they received was the quacking of a duck clumsily landing on the lake. A careful search of the wider area surrounding the lake produced no Eleanor. Arthur prevented Dragonara from breaking cover and they crouched down by a clump of brambles and listened. Nothing! Not a sound!

“Eleanor, show yourself or I swear you’ll be assigned to Camelot kitchen duties for a month!” Dragonara hissed, risking a step towards the lake. “Youngsters! Why can’t they ever do as they’re told?”

Arthur couldn’t help it, a broad grin stole across his face; his godmother sounded just like Gaius, whenever he discovered Merlin was in the tavern instead of cleaning the court physician’s leech tank as promised. If anybody had planned to attack them, surely they would have done so by now. Arthur risked breaking cover; the moon glittering on the surface of the lake showed him they were utterly alone. Dragonara drew her sword and started to coombe the shrubs closer to the shore, while Arthur began examining the ground for clues.

“Look, over there!” Arthur hurried over to the edge of the water. He picked up a scarf. “It’s hers! The ground is trampled; I count at least ten knights and their mounts!”

“Could they be troll tracks?”

“No, their horses never came up to the lake’s shore. These boot prints are deep, but not nearly as deep as those armour-plated trolls would have left with their huge feet.”

“Damn you, Urien!” Dragonara punched the air with her fist. “If we try riding to Camelot now, our tired horses will probably collapse. If we wait until morning, Urien and his men will be back with their raiding party and we will be so outnumbered, there’s no hope of freeing the girl!”

“You think Urien snatched his sister? Why, what does he want with her?”

Ignoring his question, Dragonara paced back and forth, mumbling to herself, clearly trying to come up with a plan, while Arthur‘s unseeing eyes glanced at the trees, the stars in the sky and the moon lighting up the lake. It seemed days since he had last slept. He stirred, when a cold breeze caught his hair and thin shirt. He bent down and scooped up a handful of water from the lake, splashing his face and neck. The cold water revived him and Arthur began following the tracks the troll brigands had left in the soft woodland soil; the tracks were leading him away from the lake. They headed east and the riders had clearly carried a heavy load – Arthur’s men! Retracing his steps to the lake’s shore, Arthur picked up the trail Urien’s raiding party had left. He followed the tracks further into the forest and stopped abruptly. Strangely, the tracks headed west…towards the path he and his own men had taken that very morning…Urien’s trail led directly to Camelot!

With a sense of foreboding Arthur followed the imprints of the horses’ hooves until they began to mingle with the tracks he and his knights had left that same day. An idea formed in Arthur’s mind and he turned to find Dragonara gazing at him intently. He hadn’t heard her sneak up! Was this a trap? Arthur mulled over the idea. If Dragonara had wanted to lead him into an ambush, she’d had ample opportunity to take him prisoner with the help of Urien’s men earlier that night. Whatever that young blister was up to, Dragonara was clearly not in the prince’s confidence. Perhaps Urien and Leofwine had taken the girl hostage, in case Arthur rode to Leofwine’s court to challenge him. Arthur had been asking himself ever since they’d met the young prince, why exactly Dragonara had left her king. Was Eleanor a bargaining chip between two unrelenting monarchs and now he, Arthur was caught in the middle of two warring factions?

If his godmother really was who she claimed to be and her sorcery was not aiming to harm him, then where were his knights? Had the troll ambush been of Dragonara’s making? It might have been a test of his kingship and compassion for his men! The harsh words she had spoken earlier about the reign of Uther still echoed in Arthur’s mind. Yes, if she really had been his mother’s dearest friend and was indeed his godmother, testing his skills as a leader of men would make sense…but whatever the answer might be, one thing was certain, she was a sorceress and therefore not to be trusted!

What if the troll abduction of his men and the kidnapping of Eleanor served one and the same purpose: namely to keep the king of Camelot away from his realm, leaving the citadel unprotected? Arthur ran his fingers through his hair and groaned. So many questions! He had to get back to Guinevere; perhaps she’d know what to do!

“Have you picked up their trail?” Dragonara interrupted his thoughts, puzzled by the intense frown on Arthur’s face. Arthur didn’t reply at once, but chose his words carefully, weighing up in his mind, whether or not he should come clean about his true identity. A cloud drifted across the moon, but when it passed the light fell full on the lady’s face and with sudden relief Arthur recognised the look on her face for what it truly was. He’d seen that very expression on Gaius’ face many times, mostly when Merlin, as dear as a son to the old physician, had been in some kind of trouble. Arthur made up his mind.

“Let us free my men! Together we’ll be able to retrieve Eleanor safely,” Arthur said. “Urien’s horses are just as tired as ours; he must make camp somewhere, before returning to Leofwine. We’ll catch up with him, yet!”

At the words my men Dragonara’s eyebrows rose by an inch, but she merely nodded her approval. “Tell me how I can help.”

“If your magic tricks cannot transport us to the trolls’ lair, we’ll have to walk to save our horses’ energy.”

“My magical powers are restricted to children’s amusements, I’m afraid.” Ignoring the intense scrutiny with which Arthur studied her face Dragonara began to remove the saddle from her horse. She hoisted it over her shoulder and handed him the saddle bags from Hengist’s back also. “Here, we might as well lighten their load. Let Eliffer sleep for a while, his slight weight will not inconvenience a brute of Hengist’s size.”

Leading both Frisians with a steady hand, she followed Arthur into the forest. With his blonde head bowed low so he would not lose the tracks left by the trolls, he could have almost passed for Urien. Eliffer slept soundly across the saddle, perhaps dreaming he was still in the camp. Meanwhile, Arthur had given up hope of ever being allowed to close his eyes again. Trying to concentrate on the path ahead, he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and was able to follow the troll’s tracks with relative ease; the riders’ heavy load had left deep impressions in the forest soil.

Emboldened by their earlier exchange and as a means to keep awake, Arthur turned and said:” Tell me, how do you know Uther’s queen?”

“I knew her from a child, when I was living in these parts. She was like a little sister to me and I bitterly regret not having spoken out against her marriage. Uther was a most unsuitable match for such a gentle lady.”

Arthur tried to suppress the anger rising in him, but didn’t quite succeed. “I doubt the word of a sorceress would have had much influence at Uther’s court!”

“Merlin, there was a time when Uther was as keen as anybody to exploit sorcery for his own ends. It wasn’t Ygraine’s death that turned him against magic; it was his own guilty conscience.”

“That’s a lie, witch! My father had nothing to do with her death!”

Having finally betrayed his true identity, Arthur’s blazing eyes challenged her, his hand reaching for his sword. Ignoring his blustering and the revelation, Dragonara went blithely on. “How do you know? Is that what he told you, the noble king?”

“He didn’t have to! I’ve seen with my own eyes what harm sorcery can do. You may be my godmother and you may have deceived my mother, but you’re not fooling me. As far as Camelot is concerned, magic is still banned and as long as I’m king that will never change.”

“In other words, your godmother isn’t welcome at court. So much for your word! You’re truly your father’s son. Uther, the hypocrite and liar! Uther, the murderer of innocent men, women and children! You told Urien, the king of Camelot would protect us and see me and my children safely home. At the first opportunity you’re reneging on your promise.” Dragonara’s nostrils flared. “Why pretend you’re a servant? Are you ashamed of the name Pendragon? You certainly should be!”

Taken aback by this rebuke, Arthur’s hand stole away from the hilt of his sword. He dropped his chin and blinked. “Nobody in need of protection will be turned away from Camelot.”

“I’m glad to hear it!” Dragonara said with a much softer tone of voice. “There was a time when godmothers could rely on a welcome hug, a hearty meal and a place by the fire!” She opened her arms and tried to embrace him, but he was too quick for her. He slid past her as agile as an eel. Her arms dropped to her side and she sighed. She hung her head, her blonde mane covering her face, so he wouldn’t see her tears.

Arthur’s face had taken on a rather mulish expression. “Times change!”

“Precisely! Arthur my boy, one of these days you’ll have to accept not all sorcerers are out to get you. Some have nothing more sinister on their minds than conjuring up a pair of woolly socks.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “On their days off, when they’re not trying to kill me?”

“Try godmothers, who saved your naked royal behind from being served up as troll dinner!” Dragonara wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and whispered:”Nantosuelta!”

Startled, Arthur took a few paces back and raised his arms in defence. His godmother merely pointed to the ground, where a small brook had appeared. “Now we won’t lose the trail in the dark,” she said.

Arthur stared at his feet, where the brook wound its way through the trampled soil and followed the trolls’ tracks. He lowered his defences and looked at her. “Uuhm…what’s your stance on turning ungrateful godchildren into toads?”

“It’s not my humble magic you need to be wary of. It’s Leofwine’s!” She reached out to her godson and ruffled his hair, before Arthur had a chance to duck. While the horses took a few sips from the brook, Arthur’s mind raced. His regal dignity demanded an immediate retreat, but he endured her caress manfully, until her last remark began to sink in. He grabbed hold of her shoulders and pushed her gently, but firmly back.

“King Leofwine’s a sorcerer? This gets better and better! When exactly were you planning to tell me? Before or after Leofwine’s army of trolls had breached the walls of Camelot?”

“Don’t be so melodramatic! Leofwine’s heard how Cenred’s army failed against the citadel. He’s not going to attack just to capture me and my children. He’s far too cowardly for that.”

“Tell me, what did Leofwine do to drive you away? Conjure up too many socks? ” Arthur ventured, noting the pained expression on Dragonara’s face. “Bringing your daughter on this journey, I can understand, but why did you bother with the boy? He clearly went to the same servant school as Merlin did!” Arthur cast an accusing glance into Eliffer’s direction and was treated to a snort by the sleeping boy. “Wait a minute…what did you just…MY CHILDREN?” Arthur gasped. “Eliffer’s your son!”

“Quiet, he’ll hear you!” Dragonara hurried over to the brute Hengist, who was nibbling on a bushel of grass. She caressed Eliffer’s pale forehead. The boy mumbled something in his sleep, but didn’t awake. “He doesn’t know, I beg of you, he must never know.” Dragonara’s green eyes filled with tears again.

“It’s not brotherly love that’s prompted Urien to snatch the girl, is it?”

Dragonara shook her head and gripped the saddle across her shoulder so tightly Arthur could see her knuckles turn white. She took a deep breath. “I once loved Leofwine, but his jealousy and cruelty towards his subjects grew worse with every year that passed. The death of his first wife…rather unhinged his mind…I should never have married such a man…my passion sooner or later always gets the better of me! I grew lonely and fell in love with our court physician Nechtan, a wonderful man. For years we all lived far happier as three than we had been as two…until Urien took to spying on me. When Leofwine found out about Nechtan, he had him killed, but he did not dare an open quarrel – too many of his knights are loyal to me! Leofwine suspects Eliffer’s my son, but he doesn’t know for sure. The boy was born when the king was making war on his neighbours, far away from his own citadel.”

Having just accepted her as a potentially harmless sorceress, Arthur was now trying to digest the news of her adultery. “Your court physician? You’re a queen, for goodness sake! Couldn’t you at least have found a knight for your courtly romance –“

“What? Fall in love with a passing princeling or a king from a respectable neighbourhood? Honestly Arthur, you’re a fine one to talk! From what I hear, your bride isn’t exactly top drawer either!” Dragonara interrupted him angrily. “Tell me, should I present Guinevere with a new broom and bucket for her wedding gift or will your queen prefer a mop and duster?”

“You leave Guinevere out of this!” Arthur turned on his godmother, his cheeks red and his nostrils flaring like Hengist’s the brute. “What does Urien hope to achieve by abducting his half-sister? Force you to return to…what fate exactly?”

Dragonara looked distinctly uncomfortable. “Leofwine only wants me back for one reason…to punish me…he won’t kill me…that’s far too kind by his standards; no, by making me perform sorcery that he’s not capable of himself he hopes to torment me. Nechtan was from the neighbouring kingdom…the very realm Leofwine’s been at war with for years. In his jealousy and rage, he wants to avenge my betrayal on the entire kingdom of Bres.”

“Is Leofwine likely to turn up at Camelot demanding the return of his wife?”

Dragonara pointed towards the watery line at their feet. “Let’s not wait to find out. It’s about time we freed your men. The real Merlin is among them, I take it?”

Arthur nodded miserably. “When the trolls attacked, he pretended to be me.”

Dragonara followed the brook into the forest. Turning her head, she said over her shoulder: “He’s very brave…and loyal, that servant of yours.”

“And daft as a brush, most of the time!” Arthur said, but not unkindly. He tugged at Hengist’s mane and the huge horse reluctantly relinquished the succulent herbs it had been guzzling. Arthur followed his godmother’s magical guide just as reluctantly into the forest.

Just before dawn, Arthur, Dragonara and the sleeping Eliffer reached a wider path, a road in fact, lined by trees on either side. The tracks became faint now that the ground was harder. The brook began to form a puddle to the delight of the horses, which drank eagerly, before the puddle finally dispersed into the scorched earth. Journey’s end! They rested under a tree, each too tired to speak, while the horses began grazing again. His godmother reasoned with him to lie down and rest, while Dragonara kept watch. Reluctantly, he agreed and fell into an uneasy slumber. After what seemed mere moments of sleep to him, Arthur felt himself being raised to his feet and dusted down by gentle hands. He stretched and shook his head, trying to get the buzzing noise out of his mind. He put one foot in front of the other, too tired to make out exactly where his feet were leading him and followed his godmother and the horses with unseeing eyes. Eventually, they came upon the castle, the ruined towers rising up out of the early morning mist. There was no adequate tree cover, so they had no choice but to walk right up to the drawbridge and moat.

“I have the strangest feeling, I’ve been here before,” Dragonara rubbed her eyes and yawned. “Perhaps I’m dreaming. What now? We can’t just walk across the bridge!”

“Why don’t you magic us a boat?” Arthur snapped. His exhaustion and concern over his men were finally getting the better of him.

To his surprise Dragonara simply sat down and buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders began to heave and Arthur realised she was sobbing. Startled, he drew closer and was about to lay a hand on her shoulder, when Dragonara lifted her head. “Until today, I hadn’t used magic for nearly twenty years! A small trick to comfort or amuse a child, nothing more…but this place…I remember now…I’ve been here before. By what foul design were we brought here?”

Arthur’s eyes travelled from her tear-stained face to the moat and back again. If Dragonara’s cuckolded husband had not sent the trolls, then who had? The castle ahead showed no sign of life; no archers paraded on the galleries, no guards appeared at the gate. Arthur listened intently into the fading night and frowned. His teeth had started to chatter. Irritated by his own weakness, he began stamping his feet and hugging his waist with his arms. He missed his chainmail and armour, although they weren’t adequate protection against the chill of the early morning damp; he simply wished they’d be a little better equipped for their three-man siege. As if reading his thoughts, Dragonara got up, wiped her face with the back of her wrist and handed him her own chainmail and helmet.

“It probably won’t fit, but it’s all we’ve got,” she whispered, when Arthur looked at her incredulously.

“What about you? I can’t take this!”

Dragonara managed a weak smile and pressed the armour back into his arms. “Instead of all the woolly socks my godson would have had over the years! I’ll be fine.”

She was not to be dissuaded; he took the armour and tried to squeeze into her chainmail, cursing Merlin as he did so. Once inside the shirt, he could barely move. A red-faced Arthur gasped. “I won’t even make it as far as the gate in this.”

Dragonara snorted. “Try wearing my corset! Perhaps we’d better loose the chainmail. No point impressing the guards with an improved waistline anyway; I hear trolls like their playmates to be fat.”

Arthur gratefully dropped the armour to the ground and tried the helmet. “Amazing how a blacksmith can fit Camelot’s royal heads onto those tiny coins, isn’t it?” Dragonara said when Arthur repeatedly failed to accommodate his lantern chin under the visor. “You’ll have better vision without the visor down, you know.” The corners of Dragonara’s mouth were twitching dangerously, but she refrained from further comment and handed him her shield.

Arthur handed the shield wordlessly back and pointed at the sleeping boy. Dragonara nodded sadly and accepted the shield, before drawing her own sword.

“Wait, until I give the signal. Stay out of trouble. You may not be the godmother I would have wished for, but you’re all I’ve got.”

His godmother pulled a face. “Don’t fail me, Arthur Pendragon! I might be tempted to bury Camelot under a mountain of woolly socks!”

Arthur grinned and ran off to make a survey of the moat’s edge, hoping to find a boat moored among the reeds that would take them across to an open access point below the bridge, namely the point where many castles keep a chute for their refuse. Climbing through it would not be pleasant, but they were less likely to be detected that way.

The sky was gradually fading from indigo to purple, from purple to mauve. A first sliver of sun might appear at any moment. Birds came out of their nests and started their day’s work. A fox hurried past the exhausted would-be invaders and from somewhere within the castle a horse whinnied.

“That’s my horse! We’re at the right place!” Arthur said. He instantly regretted his cheerfulness, when the morning’s tranquillity was shattered by a terrifying scream.

“That’s Gawain!” Not waiting for a boat or raft to magically appear, Arthur rushed into the waves, ignoring Dragonara’s warning cry. In front of them, the portcullis slowly lifted and trolls started streaming out onto the bridge. The first archers appeared and aimed their arrows at the swimmer trying to cross the moat. Arthur dived briefly and when he resurfaced, his shirt was missing. A few arrows were aimed at the shirt, before dull troll minds realised the deception. Arthur gave his attackers a friendly wave with Dragonara’s helmet and swam half-way across the moat. Another volley of arrows forced him to stop. He clapped the helmet back on his head and took a deep breath, ready to dive once more, but up on the drawbridge the magical armour clubbed a fat troll on the head just when he was trying to aim a spear at his attacker on the bridge. The missile missed its intended target and landed with a loud clang on the swimmer’s helmet instead. Instantly, Arthur sank below the surface and disappeared from view.

Dragonara’s hands flew up to her mouth and she cried out.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the castle…

Marigold gave a twirl in her new dress. The polished silver platter didn’t lie. No doubt about it, her hair had regained its raven gloss and her skin was as rosy as it had once been. She ran an appreciative hand over her re-discovered curves. Everything was firm again and her waist was so tiny, the silver girdle her father had given when she was a girl fitted her once again. She applauded her mirror image delightedly and turned to her sister. “The Arthur boy didn’t lie. He’s of royal blood. The spell finally worked!”

Ethelgunda frowned at the liver spots re-emerging on her hands. “Marigold, I don’t think it did.” She held up a strand of Marigold’s hair against the candle’s flame. “Look, there’s silver mingling with the black.”

Marigold ended her dance abruptly and sank down onto a cushion-covered chest. “Please don’t say such things! We both saw…when she drank the brew, Yolanda returned to her former beauty. The young knight couldn’t keep his eyes off her.” Marigold said quietly.

“That’s not all he failed to keep to himself last night,” said Ethelgunda wryly, picking up a pair of socks from the floor.  “He practically mauled us during the dance.”

Marigold giggled and rubbed her behind. “I know what you mean. Parts of me are black and blue.”

Ethelgunda frowned and held the offending garments at arm’s length. “Phew, what a stink! No wonder I passed out after the sixth round,” she hurled the socks into the miserable fire they had lit in the remnants of the hearth. Ethelgunda got up and pulled impatiently at a bell rope. Unding, her favourite troll, appeared presently. He surveyed the ruined hall with obvious distaste. “Tidy up this mess, will you. Bring me the prisoners. I must have a word with that young rat of a king.”

“Uum, the prisoners, yes. Not entirely sure, where…at this exact moment…I know, they’re somewhere in the castle,” Unding said. He risked a glance at Marigold, whose much reduced frame was currently draping itself over a scorched armchair by the fire.

Ethelgunda stared open-mouthed at her subordinate’s face. “What do you mean…they’re SOMEWHERE in the castle? Aren’t they in the dungeons, where they’re supposed to be?”

Unding shifted uncomfortably in his chainmail. “Fact is, they…uhm…not exactly scarpered…we just mislaid them…temporarily,” he added, when Ethelgunda’s eyebrows rose to a dangerous level. “My men are keeping an eye out. Mistress Yolanda’s got one of them up in the tower, no doubt she’s…erm…interrogating him as we speak.” Unding’s ears turned scarlet. “May I say how…erm…lovely you both look on this fine morning?”

Ethelgunda positioned herself directly in front of him and peered into his yellow eyes. “Unding, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’d just taken a liberty with my sister’s honour. I want those men found, do you hear? Especially that lying little brat who called himself a king! Bring them to me and tell my sister to control her thirst for…erm…knowledge! I want to see those knights crawling in here on all fours.”

Unding blinked. “Beggin’ your pardon, Mistress Ethelgunda, but your sister’s locked the door and won’t let anyone in. My men have tried.”

“Then break it down, Unding! Take a battering ram, if you have to! Do I have to think of everything?” Ethelgunda stamped her foot so hard on Unding’s toes, he cried out with pain and doubled up. She pushed him towards the open door and propelled him towards the stairs by clouting him his head. Marigold followed them out into the corridor and honoured him with a friendly wave, but did nothing to stop the maltreatment of their subordinate.

Trying to regain his composure, Unding straightened and mopped his sweaty brow. His foot hurt and he felt a little dizzy. He hobbled out to the guard room, where a contingent of his men sat idly playing cards. Barking out his orders, he clouted one of them on the head with his fist and punched another in the gut. He felt better after that…well, almost. The thought of breaking down Mistress Yolanda’s door perturbed him. It went against his sensibilities to intrude on a lady’s privacy.

He remembered her from the days, when she’d been a girl. She’d often come to the guard’s mess hall to play the lute for the men during long winter evenings. Her disposition had been as lively as her beauty and she had sometimes graced their numbers by singing a romantic tune or two. Unding sighed and scratched his scaly belly. It seemed a lifetime ago, perhaps it was. He watched the guards hurry out into the courtyard, where half of them took up position, while some of the others streamed up the stairs to the towers. Another group scoured the dark corridors for the prisoners. Unding held back his two favourite men.

“You two come with me. Let’s patrol the outer fortifications and the moat. We’d better check the refuse chute, too. Last time we had guests, one of them tried to make it out that way.”

Before Unding got a chance to leave for his appointed task, one of the lookouts came back running across the courtyard. The fat troll stopped breathlessly in front of Unding. “Intruders! Out by the moat! Two knights on horseback, perhaps three, hard to tell in this infernal twilight.”

“Two measly knights? For that you wake up the entire castle with your clamouring? Send out a few archers and deal with it. Do I have to think of everything?” Unding punched the man’s belly. “If you paid more attention to your guard duties and less to your grub, you’d make a half-way decent sentry!”

The troll winced and sucked in his bulge. Saluting his superior, he turned and panted back to the portcullis. Unding heard the man bark his orders and the guards began lifting the heavy portcullis to open the gate. The sound of heavy boots in the courtyard announced the arrival of the archers.

Appeased, Unding and his two companions searched the galleries that lined the defensive walls, in case anyone had tried to climb up with ropes or ladders, unlikely as it seemed. They passed a giant mangonel standing on an upper gallery; once used to catapult severed enemy heads into besieging armies gathered outside the castle walls, the mangonel was now sitting harmless and bloodless in the early dawn gathering cobwebs and dust. Unding patted the instrument fondly, while his men headed for the rubbish chute by the old kitchens. From the drawbridge shouting and cursing drifted up to his lofty perch, but Unding ignored it, preferring to linger in the first warm rays of the sun instead.

Unding recalled the days of his old master, the days when the castle had been in good repair and the mangonel in frequent use. He leaned his back against the catapult and chuckled. “It must be twenty years or more, since we last filled this thing with rocks and heaped a load of trouble on King Leofwine’s head!”

The sound had been miniscule but a troll’s hearing was superior to a human’s. Despite the clamour rising up from the moat, the gasp had clearly originated from very close by. Unding sniffed the cool morning air and a pleasurable thrill ran down his spine. His nostrils had detected the unmistakable aroma of the moat. This early in the day the stench never came up to the galleries, no matter how hot the day before had been. He listened closely. No mistake! The ground under the siege engine was wet. Water was dripping from somewhere on the catapult. This could only mean one thing…

He turned abruptly and pounced on the bedraggled figure cowering in the giant claw of the siege engine. Shaped like the open paw of a hellish beast, the instrument that normally held rocks now contained a half-naked man, drenched and covered in algae. Unding grabbed the man by the throat and lifted him out in one swift motion. The man was dressed in a hose that was far too short and instead of a belt he wore, what looked like a lady’s scarf tied around his waist. Unding laughed unpleasantly and squeezed a little harder. The blonde man’s eyes began to bulge, nearly popping out of his head. Unding shifted his position slightly, lowering the man as he did so and the man’s face levelled with the troll’s. Unding’s yellow eyes squinted at the intruder.

“Now who might you be, friend? I don’t recall putting you across my saddle last night.” The troll patted the colourful bow at the man’s waist. “And I’m sure I’d have remembered such a pretty one as you!”

“Likewise, friend!” The man reached over his shoulder and grabbed the hilt of the sword he’d secured to his back with the help of Eleanor’s scarf, treating Unding to a blow to the head. The troll let go off Arthur instantly and staggered back. Arthur helpfully held out one leg and Unding tripped, knocking himself out on the mangonel. Arthur rolled the troll’s unconscious body out of sight behind the siege engine and followed the machicolation towards the highest tower, from where the scream had originated earlier. Down below, on the other side of the moat, he spotted the two Frisians, but there was no sign of the lady or the boy. Hengist lifted his powerful black head and whinnied, stirring his huge body into a gallop that headed straight for the drawbridge at full speed. Arthur’s eyes followed the horse and to his amazement he saw a set of armour march out of the castle – minus the man inside – to fight a couple of trolls on the bridge. An unseen hand lifted a cudgel and hit one of the guards on the head. Dragonara was practicing magic right under Arthur’s nose! A few harmless magic tricks to comfort a child, she’d said! He was still trying to work out, how he’d come to be on the gallery. The last thing he remembered was being hit on the head by a heavy object, before sinking down into the moat. Dragonara was a liar, like all sorcerers!

Down below, he caught a glimpse of Percival emerging into the courtyard. To his astonishment, Arthur spotted Merlin repeatedly clubbing a troll over the head. His men were certainly alive and well! Breathing a sigh of relief, Arthur hurried along the machicolation and dived through an open door into a dark antechamber. He crossed into a larger room, dusty and neglected, ran down a set of stairs and followed the next gallery south, where he came to a dead end. The heavy door into the tower was locked and no amount of hammering with his fists was going to shift it. He looked up and down the tower, hoping to find an open window, but there seemed to be only arrow slits, far too small for a man to crawl through. Finally, at the very top, he noticed an opening. A faded banner dangled down from the window above and flapped in the wind. Cursing his luck, Arthur lowered himself over the balustrade of the gallery and grabbed hold of the banner. He tested it – the fabric was old and worn but seemed strong enough to hold his weight.

“For Camelot!” He sighed and had just started his slow ascent up the tower, when a head popped out of the window above and shouted something incomprehensible at him. Arthur shuddered. That was the most hideous face he’d ever seen! What kind of a ghoul was holding his friends prisoner?

Meanwhile, across the forest in another castle…

Gaius peered out of the council chamber window and shut it rapidly, before the glow of the fires and noise from the tents below could alarm the queen. “Isn’t it a godmother’s duty to bless her young charges, while sprinkling a little happiness? Frankly, I can’t see Arthur being over the moon to find an army on his doorstep, when he expected two decades worth of birthday presents to be dropped at his feet!”

“Neither can I! Let’s hope the men camping outside are well-wishers bringing frankincense and myrrh. If only we knew, where Arthur is! He must have met with his troublesome godmother and this is the result. Has there been no word?” Queen Guinevere picked up her sceptre and used it to scratch her ankle.

Gaius shook his head. “The scouts were unable to leave the citadel, but a few refugees from the outlying villages made it through. Their homes are burned, their crops destroyed. Nobody has seen Arthur or his men. What is Merlin playing at, not sending word! There must be at least 10,000 men stationed out there. What beats me is why they don’t attack. With our king and best knights gone, we’re sitting ducks.” The old physician opened his satchel and produced a phial containing a bright blue elixir. He held it up to the candlelight and the liquid began to sparkle. “Here, you’ll find that far more effective.”

“Thank you, this infernal sprain is driving me mad.” Guinevere sat with her leg propped up on a chair across from him. The table between them was strewn with leather-bound books and parchments. Sitting at the far end of the table, the king’s old librarian, Geoffrey of Monmouth, had rested his head on his arms and was snoring quietly. The two guards by the door were softly swaying back and forth, leaning half asleep on their lances.

Gwen’s right ankle was covered in swathes of bandages. “My first official engagement as queen and I trip over a bucket! It wouldn’t be so bad, if I could blame my new maid, but it was entirely my own fault.” Guinevere sighed and adjusted her foot on the embroidered cushion her maid had placed there. Gaius wholeheartedly approved of Arthur’s choice. The maid had been gentle but firm in her administrations following the incident with the bucket and broom. “I’m not even allowed to dust in Arthur’s chambers. Merlin has practically banned me from entering during the day,” Gwen complained.

“What did you expect? It’s tough being queen,” Gaius grinned from ear to ear.

Gwen stopped scratching her ankle and balanced the sceptre across her lap. “Not very regal, is it, competing with my maid for the honour of producing the shiniest floor, when I should be greeting visiting monarchs?”

Gaius smiled and crossed the room. “You’re still adjusting. A few hick-ups are to be expected.” He unwrapped her foot and dribbled a few drops of the bright blue liquid onto her ankle. “Here, that should stop the itching. It’s good news; it means the swelling’s going down.”

Gwen pulled a face and held her nose. “Is there any danger of you ever concocting a medicine that doesn’t stink to high heaven?”

“None whatsoever,” Gaius said. He rewound her bandages and wiped his hands. “Let me see that parchment again.” Gwen reached across the untidy table and handed him a scroll. He consulted it with a frown, drew up a chair next to Gwen’s and sat down so abruptly, the draft caused the sole candle on the table to gutter. Gwen buried her face in her hands.

“What are we going to do, Gaius?”

“I really have no idea, but unless we produce a dragon’s heart two nights from now, Leofwine’s army will lay waste to Camelot!”

“But there aren’t any dragons left in Camelot! Uther saw to it.”

“Which makes obtaining a dragon’s heart a trifle difficult, I can see that,” Gaius said. He raised an eyebrow, when he realised what his fingers had been playing with. Surely, it was just another book from the pile on the table…but why were his fingertips tingling with excitement? He turned the dusty, leather-bound tome around and read the title on the flysheet. “Dragons and their Ladies by Aurelius Smarticus the Younger,” the court physician read out loud. “Maybe the good Aurelius can tell us how dragons lose their hearts!”

“Be serious, Gaius! There’s no such thing as a female dragon. That man Aurelius is a fool. Dragons reproduce by magic, everybody knows that.”

Gaius weighed the book in his hands. “Hm, he’s not called Smarticus for nothing…and he’s devoted a staggering 500 handwritten pages to the subject.” Gaius started reading the first paragraph, but Gwen snatched the book away and shut it firmly.

“If you can drag yourself away from dragons’ romantic entanglements for a moment, perhaps you can tell me how we’re supposed to protect Camelot. Even if we were able and willing to comply with his request, there’s no guarantee Leofwine won’t attack just to prove a point.” Gwen picked up Smarticus’ tome and struck the table so forcefully the two guards raised their sleepy heads. “If Leofwine thinks I’m sending a hunting party of knights into Odin’s realm to search for dragons, he’s got another thing coming. I’d risk offending Odin by crossing his borders and we’d have war on two fronts!”

“Perhaps that’s what Leofwine’s after! He must know there aren’t any dragons left in Camelot. It’s a ruse to draw Odin into a war against Arthur.”

“Getting Odin to do Leofwine’s dirty work, you mean?” Gwen sighed. “I wished Merlin was here, he’s such a comfort in a crisis.”

Gaius patted her shoulder gently. “You miss Arthur, don’t you?”

“Why is he doing this, Gaius? We’ve been married for less than a month and he’s off on one of his infernal quests!” Gaius managed to stop her from hurling Aurelius’ book across the table. Absentmindedly, Gwen picked up her sceptre again.

The old physician shrugged his shoulders. “He’s Arthur; you can hardly expect him to remain in your bedchamber forever, no matter how much you want to protect him, Gwen!”

“He’s king, Gaius, and should be here to protect his people!”

“His people…or his queen? In the king’s absence it falls to you to save the citadel.”

Gwen gave him a long stare. “Is the servant girl up to the challenge – is that what you’re implying?”

“Arthur wouldn’t have chosen you for his queen, if he didn’t think you were destined to be one.”

A faint smile spread across the queen’s face. “Then I shall sweep away Leofwine’s army with my little broom and wash away the stain of my temporary cowardice, I trust.”

“Good girl!” Gaius leaned forward and kissed Gwen’s forehead. “Let’s give Leofwine some medicine he won’t forget in a hurry.”

“If only we knew what Leofwine wants with the dragon heart, perhaps we could find a substitute or dissuade him from this lunacy altogether.” Gwen gave her ankle another rigorous scratching, until Gaius detached the sceptre from her hands and put it out of her reach.

“We’re in for an interesting couple of days, that’s for sure,” Gaius nodded at the snoring head across the table. “I’m glad Geoffrey’s getting some sleep, I know I shan’t rest until Camelot’s safe again.”

“Neither shall I.” Gwen stood up and tested her right foot gingerly. It finally held her weight again. “Hand me the three books over there. You take the pile in front of you. There must be something in Geoffrey’s library that’ll tell us where to find a dragon’s heart!”

“It’s not the finding that worries me – it’s what happens next that’ll keep me awake.” Gaius said and began turning the pages of Dragons and their Ladies.

Illustration from page 214 of The Boy's King A...

Illustration from page 214 of The Boy’s King Arthur: “When Sir Percival came nigh unto the brim, and saw the water so boisterous, he doubted to overpass it.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…/to be continued…