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:)

Cardiff revisited Part 2


What else did I get up to last summer – when I had promised you all to finish my Merlin fan fiction? We-e-e-ll, among the exciting events I attended, the Cardiff ComiCon stands out as a highlight…especially, because it had two “Merlin” actors from the BBC’s stable attending.

Dr Who's Parking Issues

Dr Who’s Parking Issues

Camelot’s “King Uther” aka Mr Anthony Head was there and the shy and very cute little “Mordred”, aka Mr Alexander Vlahos, so naturally this writer had to go along. Wee “Mordred” walked right past me, as I stood in the long, long queue waiting for the doors of the Cardiff venue to open.

Cardiff ComiCon 2013

Cardiff ComiCon 2013

He’d arrived early to get “a feel for the place” it seems.

At first, painfully shy and hiding much behind his floppy hair, he soon relaxed and a couple of hours into the event he seemed to really enjoy himself, chatting happily to fans and having his picture taken with a multitude of fan girls and boys of all ages.

Mr Anthony Head, of course, was a seasoned hand at such an event and seemed as relaxed as a man can be.

Last year’s event was held at the end of August, but there’s another one this March, 1st and 2nd, so if you happen to be in Wales, do stop by. Ticket prices are going to be £6.00 in advance and £12.00 on the door on the day (see http://www.cardiffcomicon.com/).

It was complete mayhem on the first day, as literally thousands of people attended with a queue on the Saturday that wound right around the building and down the road…and then some more…

I wisely decided to go on the Sunday instead, when the first excitement had died down a bit. It was much better, especially when going first thing in the morning. By lunchtime though, the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena had filled up considerably, making it quite difficult to see or hear what the stars of the event were saying.

Main Stage Mayhem

Main Stage Mayhem

Thankfully, I managed to miss Mr Hasselhoff’s appearance…

Apart from inspecting some amazing stalls that sold pretty much anything from comic books to posters, memorabilia and autographs, I also saw many stars from some of the most famous fantasy and sci-fi TV shows and movies…squeak, I stood right by the friendly and very nice Tom Baker aka Dr Who, who was besieged by fans. I gawped at various Star Trek actors and was shocked to realise that I’ve practically been a Trekkie for the better part of my life.

Cardiff ComiCon queues 2013

Cardiff ComiCon queues 2013

In an upstairs part of the Motorpoint Arena various comic book artists, writers and producers of various shows held 30 minute talks, so if you’re a real nerd…erm…fan…be sure to be more organised than I was and get your tickets well in advance. For some of these special events you’ll need to buy additional tickets, while others are free.

Main Hall Comicon Cardiff 2013

Main Hall Comicon Cardiff 2013

At one point I got chased along the aisles by a “real” Dalek, which was a thrilling if somewhat frightening experience. I admired and tried to photograph the many fans who’d dressed up – not very successfully, as the hall was very dark and bathed in some horrid orange light. Most of my pictures didn’t come out at all, so here are the few that I did manage to go home with.

Who do you think this is?

Who do you think this is?

Actually, one of the reasons I attended the event was to check out if writers could use this type of event to connect with potential readers and fans of genre literature. As it happens, there were a few writers trying to showcase their books, some with their own artwork, so it seems an idea to turn up with a picnic table, a thermos of hot chocolate and my books at some future Cardiff and London events.

Maybe see you there?

Up close & personal with Mr Dalek

Up close & personal with Mr Dalek

As for my “Merlin” fan fiction, for those of you who are interested, I have uploaded what I’ve already written to Goodreads.com and archiveofourown.org. Once I’ve done the ending, I’ll upload it to these two sites, where it’s much easier to read chapter by chapter than here on WP. I’ll keep you posted!

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…

Homely Northern Castles (Part 7)


Deutsch: Hamlets Schloss – Schloss Kronborg in...

Today’s candidate for homely Nordic castles only made the list because

a) I stumbled across it by accident while I was researching ghost-related places for my blog site willowthevampire.com and it’s got ghostly goings-on AND

b) because in a round-about way it relates to Merlin and the Arthurian legends…AND

before you ask…no, I haven’t had a chance to rewrite the ending for my Merlin fan fiction thanks to my lovely clients all wanting their work ASAP the last couple of weeks; hopefully, I should be able to finish the story over the next few days (famous last words!).

Kronborg Slot on the Zealand peninsular in Denmark – or Castle Kronborg – is situated a mere 4 km from the Swedish coast, just a hop and a skip from Helsingborg. Serving as the focal point for the Danish town Helsingør, Kronborg Castle is famous for a number of things, including spooky things, but mostly for being the inspiration for Elsinore, Hamlet’s legendary castle in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

Kronborg Castle, Helsingør, Denmark

As one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe, Castle Kronborg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the early 1400s, when the first stronghold called Krogen was built on orders of King Eric VII.

It was part of a number of coastal fortifications that served to protect and control the entrance to the Baltic Sea. It wasn’t until 1574 and the reign of King Frederick II that the fortress was transformed into Kronborg Castle, a splendid Renaissance residence fit for a moody princeling like HAMLET.

But we’ll forget what’s above ground for a moment and have a peek under the casements, where one of Denmark’s most important national symbols resides: one Holger Danske or as he’s also known, Ogier le Danois – a name that dates back to the crusades and the Song of Roland, a French poem that describes the gruesome derring-dos of knights and Saracens.

Ogier the Dane in Krongborg Castle

Deemed to be invincible, Holger or Ogier the Dane returned to Denmark after the crusade and a major battle in France. Upon arrival at Kronborg, he promptly fell into a long and deep slumber. Legend has it, should anyone threaten the Danish kingdom, Ogier or Holger will awake instantly and set out to fight for this country and king. Sound familiar, my loverly Merlinians?

Oddly, this Nordic hero is linked to the Arthurian legends and just like Arthur, he became a king of the mountains, a protector who would awake when his country needs him most. I’ve been all over Denmark and I’ve yet to discover mountains…so where does this medieval error in map reading spring from, I wonder?

Is this our friend Merlin trying to befuddle our brains with a bit of Camelot magic? Is this reference to mysterious mountains an attempt to hide his beloved ARTHUR’s real resting place until it’s time for Arthur to wake and have his breakfast after a millennium of sleep?

According to legend, Ogier the Dane was also taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay, which makes the link to Arthurian folklore even more interesting.

Holger Danske (Ogier the Dane) in a 16th centu...

The 11th century Song of Roland – or Chanson de Roland – is part of wider rhyming chronicles that chart the times of Charlemagne and is known to be the oldest surviving major work of French language literature. It was so popular during its own time that several different versions survived in manuscript form throughout the 12th and 14th centuries. The oldest of these manuscripts (dated to between 1140 to 1170) can be found in Oxford (UK) and is usually referred to as the “Oxford manuscript”.

In around 4,004 lines the poem describes the notorious battle, spawning many more heroic adventure stories of its kind throughout the middle ages. Therefore, the Song of Roland and our bearded friend Ogier have to be seen as part and parcel of the Arthurian legends we know and love today.

The Chanson de Roland or Song of Roland is essentially a heroic poem that relates the Battle of Roncesvalles in France in 778, which took place during the reign of Charlemagne. There are various references to Olgier/Olger/Holger that date back even earlier than the Chanson de Roland, such as a chronicle held at St Martin’s monastery in Cologne, where a reference to pillaging Saxons in 778 links directly to an Olger, Leader of the Danes, who helped – in the words of the monkish chroniclers – to rebuilt the monastery after the Saxons burned it to the ground (756 to 1021, Chronicon Sancti Martini Coloniensis).

Kronborg Castle

The monastery, incidentally, served as a Benedictine monastery for monks from Scotland and Ireland and was once Cologne’s main church (Groß St Martin), but it had been erected on a much earlier place of worship that dates back to Roman times.

What the Song of Roland also demonstrates is the power of story telling…if told well, a story can survive against all the odds.

Just think, minstrels all over Europe braved the ravages of Black Death, boils, starvation, plague and constant medieval warfare to turn up at whatever manor or castle would pay for their keep – and in return they recited their poems about heroic deeds and beautiful maidens…capturing our imagination more than 1,200 years after Olger the Dane allegedly threw a bucket of water over the smouldering remains of St Martin’s monastery.

It convinces me good storytellers are here to stay, no matter how hard Amazon seemingly tries to destroy the booktrade and deprive authors of a decent wage!

elf-smelling-flowersShould you ever find yourself at Kronborg Castle be sure to visit the enormous Knights’ Hall. At 62 metres length it is one of the longest in Europe and contains a statue of Holger Danske/Ogier the Dane. If you’re a Merlinian at heart, why not indulge in a little daydream of minstrels singing at Arthur’s court…

Canons at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark

Canons at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…and if you’re Shakespearean at heart…RUN, for Elsinore’s moody owner Hamlet is bound to have another murderous temper tantrum soon.

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 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!

 

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 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…