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!



Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin! (Part 10)

Part 10 was created on 14th August 2012. This latest instalment won’t please one faithful follower of this blog – there’s another cliffhanger, worse than the last, which means you’ll probably be dropping your greengages again (sorry, Michelle). Hope you’ll enjoy your Merlin weekend fan fiction nonetheless.

Maria Thermann’s fan fiction “Merlin” (BBC series) sees the action set between seasons 4 and 5.

This piece of fiction is written purely as a fun writing exercise and was not created with the intention of any commercial exploitation on my part.

The copyright for all BBC Merlin series characters & storylines remains with the BBC and Shine Ltd, the producers of the show.

The show stars Colin Morgan (Merlin), Bradley James (King Arthur), Angel Coulby (Guinevere), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Katie McGrath (Morgana), Rupert Young (Sir Leon), Eoin Macken (Gwaine), Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan), John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon Kilgharrah and Anthony Head as King Uther.

Series 5 to be aired in the UK on 29th September. Latest BBC trailers and pictures are available at:

(source of animation:; photo credit BBC Facebook page)

The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin (Part 10)

At the eastern gate at Camelot…

“Begging your pardon for the small deception, Your Majesty. My name’s Hueil and my lord is Prince Urien. He feared you wouldn’t welcome a messenger from Leofwine’s camp. King Arthur was alive and well up until last night and so was my lady Dragonara. That’s when my lord saw them last by the shores of Lake Merthur. He regrets there is no news of Arthur’s men; it appears they have been abducted by some bandits. My lady Dragonara and King Arthur must have gone after them, but there’s no need to be alarmed. So far none of Camelot’s knights seem to have been harmed or injured. We found traces of a scuffle, but no blood to speak of.” The man calling himself Hueil inhaled deeply, relaxing visibly, now that his errant had been discharged.

Gwen had barely arrived at the eastern gate, when Hueil discharged his message at breakneck speed. Behind her Gaius panted down the battlements, his face red and his long grey hair dishevelled from running down the steep staircase of the main entrance to the keep. Now he had to lean against the gate post to catch his breath. Gwen turned to the messenger and was about to greet him, when Gaius intervened.

“Food? Your lord?” Gaius barked and gesticulated wildly, his hand pointing at a number of empty baskets and crates lined up against the enceinte, Camelot’s defensive walls lining the ramparts.

“Oh yes, Prince Urien arranged for refreshments as a token of his esteem and friendship. He begs you to allow him time to calm his father’s mind. I trust the few trifles my lord sent were to your liking, my lady?” Hueil’s exterior belied his inner refinement. Gaius approved of the man, despite the torn leather breeches, dusty coat of mail and generally unwashed appearance.

One look at his queen told the old physician she also approved of the man and his lord. Gwen beamed a smile of gratitude that would have melted the heart of King Odin himself, Camelot’s grumpiest neighbour. Hueil had clearly been instructed to repeat Urien’s words to the letter…and Prince Urien could have gloated over the citadel’s lack of provisions, but he chose to call the much needed food simply refreshments, as if Queen Guinevere was preparing for a picnic instead of hoarding for a siege.

“Please thank your lord for me and tell him, his gift was warmly received and much appreciated. I’m most grateful for news of my husband and his party. Assure your lord I understand his difficulties completely. Alas, time is something we do not have in abundance. King Leofwine’s ultimatum is impossible for us to meet; your lord must know that. There are no dragons left in any of the five kingdoms – how could we therefore procure a dragon’s heart?”

“My lord is quite aware of your predicament, my lady, but Leofwine insists there is a dragon still at large that must be slain for the greater good of all.”

Gaius had finally regained his breath and was ready to use it. “For the greater good of all…or the greater good of Leofwine? What exactly is your overlord going to do with this hypothetical dragon’s heart? Lay waste to all five kingdoms?”

Gwen dug her elbows into the old man’s ribs. “You must forgive our court physician. The sight of an army encampment outside Camelot makes him nervous; he’s apt to speak his mind a little too freely, when he’s been deprived of his favourite herbs for too long.” Gwen glared at Gaius. “Perhaps your lord and I should meet in person to find a solution together; would that suit my lord Urien?”

It was Hueil’s turn to beam. A smile stole across his stubbly features and his grey eyes lit up. “My lord was hoping you’d propose such a scheme. Your gracious Majesty is too young to have met her, but my lord Urien’s very much like his mother, who was as wise as she was beautiful. When she was alive, the realm of Dunadd was prosperous and at peace with all its neighbours. He’s out on an errant for Leofwine, but as soon as he returns, he’ll send word by my hand. I bid you good day, my Queen.” Hueil bowed deeply and turned to walk back to his encampment.

Gaius stared after the travel-worn man, who strode unhurried down the ramparts and out through the eastern gate. “Urien’s most loyal and trusted man, I’d wager. They can’t have slept a wink after their long ride to Lake Merthur and back. The prince must have sent him straight up here with provisions the moment his father’s back was turned. Hm, interesting. Hueil called you his queen…never once referring to his true overlord as king…or to Dragonara as his queen for that matter. No great love for either of them, I reckon.”

“It shows at any rate, Prince Urien prefers diplomacy to warfare, something I know Arthur will wholeheartedly approve of in a potential ally.”

“Speaking of diplomacy, that was deftly handled, my dear girl. My lord Urien, hehe. Count yourself lucky Arthur wasn’t here to hear that.”

Gwen turned away briskly but not fast enough to hide a touch of pink stealing across her cheeks from Gaius’ keen eyes. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. It was a slip of the tongue, Gaius, nothing more.” She picked up her skirts and lightly tripped up the stairs to walk back up the ramparts and into the main courtyard.

“Slip of the tongue, my foot! Our Gwen’s turning into quite an accomplished little sovereign. Speaking of feet,” Gaius squinted at his swollen toes and sighed, “it’s about time mine got some rest.” He walked back into the main courtyard and selected a quiet spot against the wall of the chapel to watch the comings and goings of the servants. When he had settled comfortably, he pulled off his sandals, took out a leather-bound book from under his cloak and began reading the next passage concerning Dragons and their Ladies, a major work by the notoriously romantic writer Aurelius Smarticus the Younger.

No matter how hard he tried to concentrate on Aurelius and his lusty dragons, Gaius’ mind kept drifting back to the conversation at the eastern gate. Gwen’s willingness to ignore her newly acquired superior rank and give precedence to the prince boded well for the negotiations. More than that, she had shown great skill in allowing Urien to save face. Who’d want to admit their parent was a jealous lunatic, apt to fly off the handle and ride into battle at the slightest provocation?

And what about that curious absence of any reference to Leofwine’s or Dragonara’s rank? Gaius guessed correctly that Urien’s favourite messenger had no respect or feelings of loyalty for either his king or queen. Perhaps in his mind he had already usurped them with a new king, namely his lord Urien? If that should prove the case, it was a circumstance to be exploited. Out there in the camp there might be soldiers baying for Camelot’s blood, but they were mercenaries, men who could be bought. Arthur’s knights and soldiers on the other hand were loyal to a fault. If there was the slightest chance of a revolt by Leofwine’s knights and army, it was something to be promoted by Camelot. Leofwine’s kingdom was vast; with Urien on the throne as Arthur’s ally the four kingdoms surrounding Camelot might stop squabbling over boundary issues and finally be at peace. Arthur could fulfil his destiny and heal the lands, unite the kingdoms and make Albion strong forever.

Healing…it was the essence of the old man’s own heart. Yawning, Gaius became acutely aware of the sun’s rays searing his nose and checked for any blistering on the sore spot Gwen’s radish had left. He wiped the sweat from his face with his sleeve and rose slowly to find a shadier spot under a covered walkway, where he slumped down on a stone bench and stared with unseeing eyes into the courtyard; maids hurried by with baskets full of old sheets, which were to be torn into strips to make bandages. A couple of grooms walked slowly up and down with buckets, collecting horse manure to be used in the kitchen gardens, where the gardeners were covering every inch of soil with carrots, cabbages and onions.

Gaius felt slightly ashamed. Had he not been dozing in the sun, when he should be helping Gwen in the last few hours before the siege on the citadel began in earnest? But what could he do – he was just an old man? A healer at that, not a soldier. He was a healer of people’s bones and looked after their insides, not a physician treating a cuckolded king’s hurt pride. To heal the lands, for that they needed Arthur!

Healing Camelot’s leadership was Merlin’s destiny…but how could he heal a realm that had been torn apart by Uther’s relentless persecution of those who had practiced magic and those who still followed the old religion? Gaius rubbed his eyes with his knuckles and yawned…healing powers were such a valuable thing to have…Urien was also in need of healing for his lands. After decades of waging war on his neighbours, Leofwine’s kingdom must be just as exhausted, devastated and in ruins as the realms outside of his borders. What a legacy to leave to his only son!

Gaius started. He stared at Aurelius’ book lying openly across his knees. Dragon’s and their Ladies…dragon queens gave birth to dragons’ eggs…and if the eggs were female…the dragon inside could potentially be another queen and might turn into anything, including a beautiful maiden. Could such a maiden be a threat to Arthur and Gwen’s happiness? He swallowed hard, when the image of a dragon’s egg rose up in his mind.

What about Aithusa, their very own fire-breathing, hiccupping baby dragon, currently making life unbearable for Camelot’s native squirrel population? Gaius weighed up the chances. On the whole he thought Aithusa might be a girl, but not a dragon queen. The egg Merlin had brought back was blue, not golden. Merlin had said the hatchling was completely white, no silver spikes running along its spine. Then there were Arthur’s feelings for Gwen. Could a chance encounter with a mysterious beauty turn his heart? He’d had so little experience of women’s ways, the lack of princesses in neighbouring kingdoms had seen to that. Had Arthur’s heart ever truly recovered from Gwen’s betrayal with Lancelot? Gaius sighed and turned to the next passage in Aurelius’ book. Perhaps Aurelius the expert on romance knew how to heal a broken heart!

This time Gaius sat up straight and knew he had found the answer. Healing powers! A dragon queen could not only heal that which was hurt or injured…she could heal what was barren and dead! Gaius gathered up his tunic and cloak and raced up the stairs taking two steps at once. The two guards at the entrance stared after the old physician, as his bare feet pelted past them and into the keep where his queen was still blissfully unaware of Leofwine’s deadly plans.

At Castle Deira, on a hill facing the moat…

Eleanor dismounted Bede and led him by the bridle down the hill, towards the moat and drawbridge slumbering in the evening mist. He began to whinny and from somewhere nearby that call was answered. “Did you hear that? Hengist is here! We’ve found the right place, Bede, my boy. I bet you’re looking forward to your hay as much as I’m looking forward to a bath and a plate full of stew.” She stroked his nose affectionately and urged him on. “Strange, no welcoming party, no guards at the gate?”

She sauntered downhill past clumps of cornflowers and red poppies, her fingers running over the plump ears of grain that was growing all around her; Bede snatched a few wild flowers, munching happily after their long journey, his huge belly swaying gently alongside the girl. Their combined movement stirred a swarm of flies riding on the balmy air. Eleanor swiped them away impatiently, sending the living cloud straight up into the air, where a passing swift welcomed the unexpected meal. The bird reminded Eleanor it was important to reach the bridge and safety of the castle before the sun set and she gave Bede’s rear an affectionate slap to hurry him along. Once or twice she looked over her shoulder, but did not espy what she had feared to see.

“Looks like we’ve finally shaken off our shadow, my boy. I hope he plunged back to whatever sewer he came from back at Osthryth’s Fort.” She kissed Bede’s neck. “Not that I wish Oswiu any harm, mind, but between you and me, a world without Oswiu in it is a brighter world by far!”

Bede snorted his agreement, prompting Eleanor to perform a happy little dance. Horse and girl were exhausted, they had ridden hard and far to outwit her father’s favourite retainer, finally shaking him off at Osthryth’s Fort, where his horse had met with a small accident during the crossing. As a minor member of the gentry, Oswiu held just one manor with no more than two hides of mainly hilly land that provided barely enough to feed the peasants living there, let alone keep a royal wife in the comfort she was accustomed to. Yet Oswiu’s family had long-held ambitions for their son to rise far above his station. Eleanor had seen him looking at her in a way no king’s retainer should ever dare employ towards a princess of the realm. One time, when Bede had been sick and she had visited him secretly during the night, Oswiu had followed her to the stables and had pressed his case. She had threatened to expose him to the King, but Oswiu had merely laughed and said, girls with mothers like hers should remember their place. Since that day she knew Oswiu lacked the necessary scruples and would not hesitate to take her by force, thus claiming his entitlement to a throne that might soon become vacant, if Leofwine’s self-destructive path continued along the lines as it had done of late.

With Eleanor the monarchy’s bloodline continued by the king’s decree. Leofwine had declared his step-daughter to be a legitimate heir, should any misfortune ever befall Urien. Unlike her own mother, Leofwine had always doted on her from the time she’d been small. Hadn’t Dragonara let it slip often enough how Urien was the result of magic rather than a son born of noble blood? No wonder the king had turned to the child he knew was most decidedly of royal blood. Her father had been King Bicoir of the ancient kingdom of Lot and Queen Dragonara’s bloodline was as old as the Earth itself. Her mother’s reputation might have been tarnished by her entanglement with Nechtan, but noble blood was noble blood in any book on heraldry!

Eleanor stopped her merry dance abruptly. Was that why Urien had kissed her in the cave? In her own mind and to the world at large they might be step-brother and sister, but they were not really related at all. If he took her for his wife…it would appease the barons and nobles of Dunadd, who were on Dragonara’s side, but what about the troops still loyal to Leofwine and the mercenaries he had allowed into the realm?

She breathed in deeply, sucking in the cooler evening air, hoping to bring clarity to her troubled mind. Letting go off the bridle, she permitted Bede to make his own way down to the water’s edge. The tips of her fingers touched her lips as she tried to recall Urien’s kiss. She closed her eyes and was instantly transported back to the scent of his skin and the warmth of his cheek against hers. The cry of a kite plunging out of the red sky into the parched fields below startled her. She opened her eyes and saw Bede had reached the moat and was grazing by the water’s edge. Eleanor hurried down the hill to join him and enter Castle Deira before nightfall.

Concealed in the scrubland that formed the background to the moat to the west Oswiu was busy wrapping a cold compress around his horse’s front leg. The animal had stepped into a water vole’s hole and as a result had gone lame. Unwilling to give up the chase, Oswiu had barely made it to Castle Deira before Eleanor arrived on top of the hill. He patted the compress of mud and wild mustard seeds firmly into place. The mare was shivering, covered in sweat and worn out by pain and exhaustion. Oswiu regarded his horse with a frown, before leading his horse deeper into the thicket. A useless mare, should his quarry decide to flee! When he was certain the horse could not be seen from the moat or bridge, Oswiu crept back to the water’s edge and lowered his body into the moat. He swam across to the reed bed growing closest to the foot of the bridge and waited patiently for his prey to arrive. This time Oswiu wasn’t taking any chances. He knew what a wild-cat Eleanor could be. He’d watched her grow up, watched her tease that boy Urien. Oswiu smiled and drew his dagger.

She certainly had fire in her belly! It was fine by him, but this time she’d not get a chance to stab him again! How she must have congratulated herself, when she got away at the Fort. He suppressed a laugh and ducked lower into the reeds, the cool water refreshing his senses instantly. Her body had felt so warm under his, her mouth defenceless against his lips, her hair smelling of roses and myrrh, her small fists pounding his back. Since that day in the stables he’d been unable to think of anything else. Oswiu’s mouth began to fill with drool, when he recalled the softness of her skin. He laughed. Eleanor was going to be juicier than a ripe peach; this time he’d show her, who was her true lord and master!

Oswiu ducked lower into the reeds and held his breath. Eleanor had reached the water’s edge and was taking Bede’s bridle to mount and head for the bridge.

The man in the moat clamped the dagger between his teeth and rose silently out of the reeds. This time he’d have her, no matter what…

/to be continued…