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 20)


castle attacked by dragonsSo far I haven’t plucked up my courage to watch the final three episodes of the BBC’s Merlin, partly because then I won’t be able to remain in denial and must accept the show’s finally over and partly, because I made the fatal mistake of reading Twitter messages distraught Merlin fans had posted on Christmas Eve. They were clearly unhappy with the way the show ends and if what I read is true one can only assume amateur writers putting together their first short story for a local magazine competition could have done better than the Merlin/Shine Ltd team did…which would have spoiled my Christmas and my writing experience even more.

I also didn’t want to be influenced by what the Shine Ltd writers had concocted while I was still writing the ending to my own first fan fiction adventure. Initially I had planned to make part 20 the final part, but it was still so much fun writing it, I eventually expanded the battle for Camelot and stretched it out over two parts instead. Part 21. will follow shortly and will conclude the adventure nicely, methinks.

So here’s the penultimate episode for my own Merlin adventure – relax my dear Merlinians, my story will have a happy ending…of sorts…I cannot guarantee you won’t shed a tear but Arthur and Merlin will certainly live to fight another day!

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

The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin! (Part 20)

Maria Thermann’s fan fiction “Merlin” (BBC series) sees the action set between seasons 4 and 5. This piece of fiction is written purely as a fun writing exercise and was not created with the intention of any commercial exploitation on my part. The copyright for all BBC Merlin series characters & storylines remains with the BBC and Shine Ltd, the producers of the show.

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

At the Rowan entrance to secret tunnels leading into the caves under Camelot…

Arthur’s party had passed through Osthryth’s Fort unchallenged. Now his men were watching the entrance to the tunnels from the safe distance of a clearing in the forest. A small movement in the trees above signalled the return of Urien’s falcon. The prince held out his arm and the graceful animal swooped down from its perch. The falcon raised his leg and Urien detached a tiny silver cylinder, taking out the miniscule cork that stoppered it.

“How long do you think before Lot’s and Bres’ men get here, Urien?” Arthur whispered, thoughtfully turning Excalibur in his hands. He cast an anxious glance at the parchment in the prince’s hands. “We could do with some good news.”

“It’s from my friends in Bres!” Urien squinted at the piece of parchment and motioned Arthur and Merlin to come closer. Merlin raised the burning log he had picked up from a rather miserable fire that was struggling to bring a little warmth and comfort to their make-shift camp. The flickering light fell across Urien’s hands and lit up Arthur’s worried face.

Urien sighed. “Well, I guess you could call it good news of sorts. We must hold out until tomorrow evening. Even if they take the short cut through the Valley of Doom in Odin’s lands they can’t possibly arrive before sun set.” The prince looked up and sniffed the air. “Hm…camp fires…and close by. Stop tugging at my cloak, Siward, what do you want?”

Urien’s servant hastily retreated a couple of steps, when he saw the frown on his master’s face. “My lord, Kai and a couple of King Arthur’s scouts have just returned. A raiding party lead by one of King Leofwine’s most loyal knights has set up camp less than quarter of a league from here. At least two hundred men by Kai’s reckoning.”

“Then it’s closer to three hundred! That boy was never any good with sums!” Urien stamped his cold feet. “Damn, that’s three hundred men just waiting to sneak into the citadel through these tunnels. How on earth did Leofwine find out about them?”

“Probably the same way everybody else does who sneaks in and out of Camelot! Gaius thinks one of the dungeon’s guards is taking bribes,” Merlin sidled up to his king’s side. “Arthur, I have an idea how we can eliminate the threat from Leofwine’s men.”

Arthur turned and stared. “You…an idea?” He snorted dismissively, but Merlin’s serious face prevented him from teasing his servant further. “Go on surprise me…I’m willing to listen to anything…as long as it doesn’t involve herb salad and rabbits again.”

Merlin pulled a face. “No, but you’re on the right track. Our friends in the encampment have had such a long walk. Thirsty work, marching all day, don’t you think?”

“They’re camping by the Fort, plenty of water for horses and men,” Arthur frowned. “Merlin, don’t waste my time with riddles.”

“Why not let them have a small reward for their troubles?” Merlin jerked his head into the direction of the wine barrels, which a thoughtful Kai had managed to retrieve and smuggled back with their retinue. “I know strictly speaking this would involve the use of magic…but the wine’s enchantment is still powerful and…we have the pleasure of entertaining several ladies in our party.” Merlin pointed with a grin at Ethelgunda, Yolanda and a restless Lady Dragonara, who was pacing up and down in front of a palisade, where Gawain had tied up the horses.

“A honey trap! I like it! Good thinking, Merlin. Let Leofwine enjoy the taste of his own medicine.” Arthur called over two of his men. “I cannot spare any of my knights. Merlin, do you think you, Kai and Siward here can manage with one of my scouts?”

Merlin nodded. “Absolutely, but we will need at least one of the ladies to come with us.”

“You couldn’t make it my godmother, could you? She’s spooking the horses with her pacing and we really don’t want to draw any more attention to our presence here.” Arthur’s thumb pointed to the palisade, where two of the horses had started whinnying and stamping the ground with their hooves. “Merlin, don’t return to this place. Meet us at –“

Merlin raised an index finger to his lips and urged his king to caution. “I’ll find you, Arthur, never fear. Today is not the day where you’ll need to advertise for a new servant.”

“I shall, if your plan fails and a raiding party of Leofwine’s men overruns us!” Arthur clapped a hand on his servant’s shoulder and let it rest there for a moment. The two young men looked at each other briefly; then the king let his hand slide from Merlin’s shoulder and smiled wanly. “Come back in one piece, will you.”

Merlin’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“Of course I care…you were supposed to darn my socks and there’s still a tear in my cloak you promised to mend.” A grin spread across Arthur’s face, when he saw the hurt on Merlin’s face. He reached out and ruffled his servant’s dark curls. Merlin wrinkled his nose and pulled away from his king’s caress, knowing that any show of royal affection would invariably be followed by a knightly clout on the back.

Shortly afterwards Merlin, Kai and Siward together with one of the scouts and the Lady Dragonara sneaked out of the forest and made their way to the enemy’s camp. It was hard work pulling a cart containing heavy wine barrels across undulating forest ground, through dense undergrowth of fern and bracken, over rocks and fallen branches, but if Merlin’s arms ached at all, he ignored it and pressed his companions for greater haste instead.

Merlin bid Siward and Kai to take over his cart duties for a moment so he could hasten to Dragonara’s side.

“Foolish boy! What do you think this mission will accomplish? The wine’s enchantment is no longer strong enough, my earlier spell saw to that. Even if it were the same potion it once was it takes several hours for a full transformation to take place. You’re not going to lead an army of battle hungry trolls back to Arthur, but a garrison of love-sick puppies. We should be at his side right now, not gallivanting through the forest.”

“My lady, together we can enhance the potency of the wine. A three hundred-strong raiding party of trolls commanded by the ladies in our camp might prompt King Leofwine to enter into more civil negotiations with Camelot. Surely that’s worth a shot?”

“It’ll buy us time, I grant you, but the outcome will be just the same. There are simply not enough warriors protecting the citadel. A dragon’s heart must be handed over or Camelot and all its allies will fall.” Dragonara breathed in deeply, turned and stared back over her shoulder. A red glow had appeared on the horizon. She pointed to a column of smoke rising from the hills beyond the forest. “Look, my fate is sealed, Merlin, there’s nothing you can do.”

Merlin spun around and what he saw made him shudder. “The citadel is burning! You’re right! Camelot will fall if we don’t hurry.” He raced back to the cart and helped Kai and Siward pull the wine barrels with renewed vigour.

In another encampment in the forest surrounding Camelot…

“Where the hell have you been?” King Leofwine paced up and down at the tunnel’s entrance, scowling at one of his men.

The scout, who had just returned, fell down on one knee. “My liege! I did as you asked and rode to our encampment at Rowan to give them your signal to storm the tunnels as soon as Arthur’s party had entered.” The scout inhaled sharply and straightened his shoulders before continuing. “Sire…they’ve disappeared.”

“What do you mean…disappeared? My men entered the tunnels before you gave word, is that what you mean?”

“No, Sire.” The scout puffed up his cheeks and released air through his pursed lips with a hiss. “Puff…and vanished, is what I mean! Arthur’s party is gone…and what’s worse, Sire, so are our men! There is no sign they ever entered the tunnels at Rowan. The raiding party’s encampment was deserted, no horses, no weapons, no men. Do you think Arthur’s got magic?”

Leofwine stared at the smoke clouds swirling up from the air shafts under the citadel. He raised his fist into the air. “They must have entered the tunnels before we were ready! Fools, don’t just stand there, give the signal, we’re going in!”

The captain of Leofwine’s personal guards intervened. “Sire, without our raiding party at Rowan we are three hundred men short and have no idea where Arthur and his men are hiding. The King of Camelot will know these tunnels and caves like the back of his hand. If there really is a dragon living in the great cave –“

“Look for yourself, fool! It’s there alright.” Leofwine pointed to the red glow of flames that shot out from cracks in the rocks of the bluff on which Camelot had been built. He pulled a large crystal from a leather satchel dangling from his belt. “I saw it. My crystal doesn’t lie!” The king waived the stone wildly towards the tunnel entrance, where ringlets of smoke drifted up into the cold night air and joined the clouds of white smoke billowing from the citadel’s many fires.

“Just listen to that rumbling sound…like distant thunder. Can’t you tell, man…it’s the beast’s last goodbye?” A smile stole across Leofwine’s grey face and he bared his teeth like a wolf about to pounce. “Mark my words, at dawn I shall carve out her cheating heart.” Leofwine dropped the crystal back into his satchel and tore out a piece of parchment instead.

“Listen to this: Camelot’s impudent Queen Guinevere dared to send me an ultimatum! A servant girl dictating terms to me! She’ll soon learn what makes a real king.” Leofwine laughed unpleasantly. “Who knows, if she apologises nicely…I might overlook her youthful arrogance and make her my future queen. I hear she’s rather pleasing to the eye and she might bear me many sons.”

The captain of the guard took the parchment Leofwine held out to him and read out loud. “Come and get your prize from the great cave if you dare. It was Arthur who captured the dragon and put her in chains. If you are a worthier warrior than the king of Camelot himself, I have no doubt the beast will be happy to oblige,” the captain shook his head. “Sire, this has all the hallmarks of a trap. Beware beautiful women who are too obliging is what my mother always used to say and I’ve always found her advice to be sound in this regard.”

But Leofwine no longer listened to his men. “Your mother, if I recall, also foretold the crown of Segovia would be worn by a servant’s offspring one day and her prediction was made more than forty years ago…as you can see, Segovia’s crown still sits firmly on my head and I promise you, only a man of royal blood will wed my Eleanor!” Leofwine selected an elaborately decorated sword from a row of weapons on a stand by the side of his tent. “Tell your mother to mind her own business – which is baking pies and dumplings, my friend, while mine is to rule and be a leader of men!”

The captain of the guards stared wordlessly at his hands, folding the parchment into ever smaller pieces, before handing it back to his king. The seasoned warrior’s grizzled head bowed in a silent salute and he turned on his heal to signal to his men.

Disregarding him, King Leofwine draped a fur-lined cloak around his shoulders and fastened it under his chin. “Let’s not keep Queen Guinevere waiting. If we can trap Arthur and his men between us and the dragon, the beast will decide who lives and who dies today.” Leofwine raised his sword and hurried into the dark abyss, his cloak billowing behind him in the wind, Segovia’s crown glittering in the light of the flames that had sprung up all around the tunnel entrance and further up on the bluff, where the citadel stood in blazing in the night and the screams of the men and women inside could be heard across the realm.

The captain sighed and drew his sword, following the leader of men into the tunnel, at the end of which he suspected nothing good would emerge. Had not his mother always said how those who ruled today would find out tomorrow there was always a power greater than theirs?

In a forest clearing by the tunnel entrance at Geoffrey’s Rest…

“Merlin, where have you been? Arthur’s been spitting nails and hell fire.” Gawain clouted his friend’s ears with rough affection the moment the young sorcerer appeared in the camp. “You were gone for hours! What happened? You’re not telling me Leofwine’s soldiers refused wine and song in favour of water and bread?”

Merlin raised his arms to protect his head and dived behind the relative safety of Percival’s bulk suddenly rearing up behind the friends. Merlin’s hiding place didn’t save him for Percival pulled him out and shoved him gently but firmly into the centre of an emerging circle of friends. Sir Leon, Percival and Elyan had joined them noiselessly. Gawain eyed Merlin anxiously. “Did your plan succeed?”

Merlin beamed. “Look for yourself, my friends.” He inclined his head to the left, where to Gawain’s astonishment a single file of trolls followed the Lady Dragonara through the forest like a herd of mild-mannered sheep.

“By all the fair maidens you’ve kissed in taverns and all the beer in we’ve had in Arthur’s realm…those trolls are even uglier than you were…and that’s saying something, Gawaine!” Sir Leon watched the line of lovelorn trolls with appreciation before remarking with a grin: “A sight to warm my heart. Armed to the teeth and ready to do mischief in the name of their beautiful captain! Makes me wonder, if I shouldn’t appoint a woman to lead our future castle guards.”

“Appoint Dragonara as the captain and I promise none of us will be late for guard duty or grumble at having to sit through night watch ever again!” Gawaine inclined his head to stare open mouthed at Dragonara’s retreating rear as the next column of warriors rode by. Sir Leon dug his elbows into Gawaine’s ribs, alerting him to Arthur’s approach. “Erm…she’s a fine horsewoman, and probably handy with a sword. Just look at the way her body moves with the gait of the horse.” Gawaine said hurriedly, rubbing his side where Sir Leon’s disapproving elbow had left a bruise.

“Oy, that’s my godmother you’re eyeballing!” The last remark had not escaped Arthur and he grabbed Gawaine forcefully by the ear. “Isn’t there a battle you should be preparing for, my lusty knight?”

“Who needs an enemy army, when my friends can inflict so much more pain?” Gawaine’s watering eyes couldn’t resist following in admiration as the throng of Segovia’s enchanted warriors rode by. “I’m just glad Sir Leon thinks there’s going to be a future castle guard a woman could lead. What are our chances getting out of this alive, Arthur?”

Arthur let go off his knight’s ear and inhaled sharply. “Unless we can hold off Leofwine’s men until sunset…pretty much none, I fear.” He motioned to his knights to gather around and his loyal troops followed suit.

“You know what is at stake – Camelot’s very future will be decided tonight. By the flames coming from the bluff under the citadel I’d say the fires from Leofwine’s bombardment have already spread throughout the castle. We haven’t a moment to lose.” Arthur drew Excalibur and raised the sword into the air. “Each man must decide for himself, where he stands. That decision none can make for you. I know where I make my stand…for my heart, my soul and the hand that wields this sword are here for the love of Camelot!” He looked into the pale faces surrounding him and realised the forest around them had grown utterly still. “For the future of Albion!” Arthur cried, his voice ringing out into the night.

“For the love of Camelot!” The corresponding roar of his men echoed through the trees, seemingly bouncing off the hills and filling every heart with verve. “For the future of Albion!”

The horses began to whinny impatiently, their decorated harnesses gleaming in the light of the torches Segovia’s troll warriors held up to guide the way into the tunnel. To everyone’s surprise, it was not Arthur who led the knights into the mouth of the tunnel at Geoffrey’s Rest, the alternative entrance they had chosen to outwit Leofwine’s scouts.

Three women warriors headed the column of riders now streaming into the maze of caves. Merlin appeared at Arthur’s side and watched Dragonara’s horse enter the tunnel first.

“Do you think she’s still alive?” Arthur whispered and his blue eyes widened as he turned his pale face towards his servant. “How could I be so foolish and leave her unprotected without at least Sir Leon by her side? She’s never had to deal with a threat like this…and how could she, given her upbringing? If she dies because of my folly -”

Merlin rested his hand on Arthur’s sleeve. “If I know Gaius and his trusted friend Sir Edward, they’re concocting a surprise welcome for King Leofwine as we speak. Never fear, Sire, the queen’s well protected and awaiting your return.”

Startled by strange sounds coming from the citadel above, Merlin looked up and squinted at the blazing battlements, where one of the siege ladders had just crashed into the attackers below, burning men falling to their death on the raised lances and swords of their own comrades. He smiled wanly. “You forget Gwen’s used to sweeping intrusive dirt from Camelot’s steps.” Merlin was rather pleased about his little joke at Leofwine’s expense, but it fell on deaf ears.

Arthur just nodded absentmindedly; his unseeing eyes following Merlin’s fingers as they hurriedly tightened the leather straps that fastened plate armour and assemblies to the king’s arms and legs. “You’re right, Merlin. I should have more faith in Gwen’s ability to be queen…let’s not keep her waiting though. I don’t like the look of that smoke coming from the air shafts of the Great Cave.“ Arthur pulled his arm abruptly away, just as Merlin was trying to hand him his gloves. “Heavens above, did you hear that roar? That sounded just like a –“

“Dragon!” Merlin gasped, his eyes scanning the dark clouds in the sky. He felt his heart miss a beat and expected to see the wings and serpent head of his old friend Kilgharrah appear at any moment.

“You don’t think Gaius could have actually found a dragon, do you?”

Not waiting for an answer, Arthur ran towards the tunnel entrance where the last of Segovia’s troll warriors had just disappeared into the silent mouth of Geoffrey’s Rest. Merlin sprinted after him, elbowing his way through a swarm of Camelot’s soldiers heading for the same fate.

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

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

…to be continued…

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


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

 

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

 

The Honeymoon is over: Let the Questing begin!

 

Part 19.

 

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

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

 

Maria Thermann’s fan fiction “Merlin” (BBC series) sees the action set between seasons 4 and 5. This piece of fiction is written purely as a fun writing exercise and was not created with the intention of any commercial exploitation on my part. The copyright for all BBC Merlin series characters & storylines remains with the BBC and Shine Ltd, the producers of the show.

 

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

 

 

 

Outside Gaius’ chambers in burning Camelot…

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“And if Arthur enters the tunnels first?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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.

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin! (Part 18)


dark green dragon in cave resting

The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin! (Part 18.)

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 the council chamber at Camelot…

Gwen watched as the flames devoured the last of the names on the writhing scroll. Eight brave men who had done what they thought was best. Eight fearless knights, old perhaps, but nonetheless determined to stand up against Leofwine’s tyranny. For their king. For Camelot. Yet, knowing Arthur as well as she did, she feared he might not look kindly at their eagerness to hand over what the king regarded as his most precious treasure, the queen’s heart, his to keep for all eternity.

She held up her hands to the fire; no longer trembling now, she watched the hearth’s glow streaming through her outspread fingers, the light reflecting off the golden wedding ring on her finger, an illuminated brush painting a tiny circle on the queen’s breast. In the centre of the circle, a fine silvery thread had come loose from the embroidery on her blouse; the silky strand danced in the warm air that engulfed her by the hearth. Geoffrey’s dagger had cut the cross stitching and a minute spec of red had formed in the centre of the circle. Gwen’s eyes began to swim, when she imagined Arthur’s pain upon finding his queen dead and Camelot lost to tyranny once more.

Turning abruptly, she blinked the watery traitors away and eyed Hueil’s tired face keenly. “And Prince Urien knows this to be true? Arthur is really on his way with an army? But how…and whose army agreed to come to our aid?” Gwen raised an eyebrow, when concern spread across Hueil’s face. “Who told you this? Are they to be trusted?”

“My lady, the falcon arrived with just this brief message.” He sighed and scratched his stubbly chin. “Forgive my misgivings, my lady. If my lord Urien has joined forces with the King of Camelot and the army turns out to be Segovia’s own rear guard…you’ll understand, civil war in my country is not quite the home coming I was looking forward to.”

Gwen stared at Urien’s liege man. “Segovia’s rear guard?”

Before Hueil could answer, a direct hit on Camelot’s west wing reverberated through the massive walls. Tremors emanated from the very foundations and echoed upwards through the curtain walls and the citadel’s eight towers. Gwen closed her eyes in horror. The shockwave would have thrown the men on the battlements off their feet and the archers would have loosened their volley of arrows far too early to be of use against the enemy. Gwen opened her eyes and inhaled sharply, when the sounds from the battleground reached the castle’s inmates. The archers had truly missed their targets – Leofwine’s men were cheering and shouting their taunts louder than ever. A brightly lit torrent of arrows swished past the open council chamber window with a squeal. Gwen straightened, threw back her shoulders and walked stiffly over to the window, shutting it with a determined bang.

She turned and frowned at her unexpected visitor. “You were going to tell me about Segovia’s rear guard?”

A rather pale Hueil was still holding on to the table by his side. “Uh, sorry, I’m feeling a little faint.” Hueil pointed wearily to a chair. “May I sit?”

“Of course, I beg your pardon.” Gwen darted forward and filled a goblet with wine, as Hueil sank onto one of the carved council chamber chairs. He took the goblet from Gwen’s hand and drank deeply, but all the while his eyes scrutinised her. Gwen considered his position. He was clearly fiercely loyal to his prince but also reluctant to show disloyalty to his king. While that did him credit and showed him to be a man of integrity, it did nothing to enlighten her as to Arthur’s newly acquired army and current whereabouts. She smiled wanly. “Leofwine’s bombardment has gone on for so long, I have become accustomed to the ground shaking under our feet.”

“You’re very brave, my lady.”

Gwen shrugged her shoulders. “Not I! I keep pretending we’re out at sea.”

She sat down opposite Hueil and pushed a decanter with ruby wine and a platter with bread and ham across to him. “Here, you must be famished.”

“Thank you, my lady, I don’t mind if I do.” Gwen watched as Hueil tore a chunk out of the bread, his hands grimy and covered in fresh scars. Hueil’s blood spattered hand reached for the platter and a large slice of ham disappeared without trace within moments, followed by an enormous bite out of the bread.

Noting the puzzled look on her face, Hueil hurriedly swallowed his meal. “Prince Urien’s falcon has his favourites. Sadly, I’m not one of them.” A grin spread slowly across Hueil’s face, now that his cheeks were no longer bulging. “I hear fashionable ladies-in-waiting wear riding caps adorned with feathers this year. What say you, Your Majesty, would such a gift cheer your own heart?”

Gwen smiled. “Fashion has been known to aid peace occasionally.” She fingered the fine cross stitching on his dusty cloak. “Once Urien’s favourite messenger has lost the strength in his wings, I have no doubt the seamstress responsible for this garment will receive her just deserts.” Gwen raised an eyebrow confidentially.

Taking another deep draught from his goblet, Hueil considered Gwen for a moment; then he relented with a sigh. Leaning across the table he came closer, still preserving a polite distance between them not to offend Her Majesty’s dignity.

“Her name’s Mariette. She’s the niece of Princess Eleanor’s lady-in-waiting. I want to ask for her hand…but she’s still undecided. My loyalty to Prince Urien has been a bit of a stumbling block,” Hueil confessed with a sigh. “And she resents the time I spend in his aviary.”

Gwen eagerly pushed her emotional advantage. “It’s hard being so far from the one you love. I wished there was a way to end this idiotic siege, so we could all sleep easy in our beds again.” Realising what she’d said, she blushed very prettily. “Erm…I wasn’t implying you and Mariette –“

Hueil guffawed, waving his chunk of bread with the air of a man who discusses his love life with royal heads every day of the week. He leant a little closer across the table, a corner of his neckerchief dipping into his goblet. “Between us and these four walls…Mariette’s as pure as the driven snow…more’s the pity.”

“The gift of a pretty falcon feathered cap might lighten her mood and prompt her to bestow her favours more generously?” Gwen fished his neckerchief out of the goblet and wrung out one corner, dark red droplets spattering across the stretch of table between them.

“Ah, but my lord Urien loves that darn beast to distraction – “

“And he shall go on loving it, my friend! If I’m not mistaken, one of our huntsmen reported one of Camelot’s falcons expired a few days ago. I wonder if a tail feather or wing might not be procured? Call it a gesture of good faith, Master Hueil.” Gwen beamed, her brown eyes twinkling in the candle light. “I have good faith in the power of love and that people usually do what that’s right in the end, don’t you?”

Hueil sat up straight and blinked. “Of course!” He took another swig of wine and cleared his voice: “Your Majesty didn’t hear this from me…but Leofwine always leaves a quarter of his men behind until the siege is well under way. When the die is cast in his favour, Leofwine brings out his rear guard for the kill. He received word there are tunnels leading right into Camelot. He will count on the element of surprise.”

Her guise as temptress forgotten, Gwen’s small fist pounded the table with force. “Then he has miscounted his fortunes!” She jumped up and started pacing the chamber. “I will send a scouting party through the tunnels and if the rear guard is indeed headed that way, we shall know how to act…and if by fortuitous chance –“

“The rear guard turns out to have joined Arthur and his men,” Hueil continued her sentence, “your scouts can lead Camelot’s king and his men right into Leofwine’s vulnerable flank, where they’ll be able to cause painful mischief. Leofwine won’t know the men appearing on the hill behind Arthur are really Segovia’s own warriors…well, not until they are within a sword’s range and he’s staring up the nostrils of his own knights.”

“Exactly!” The queen paused in her perambulations around the council chamber table. Her eyes happened on Aurelius Smarticus’ book. Gwen tapped the book with her ring-finger and laughed out loud. “Aurelius Smarticus, you are rapidly becoming my favourite writer! I say, Hueil, you’ve given me an idea. Subterfuge and a trick of the eye…the old tunnels…I wonder…it might just work! Follow me!” Gwen turned on her heel and pushed through the halberds her guards had crossed to cover the council chamber doors. One of the startled guards accidentally hit the wall and the halberd’s blade screeched across the brick work, but nothing would deter Gwen from her task. She tore open the doors and hitched up her long skirts. Pausing only long enough for Hueil to grab his gauntlets and helmet, she pounded down the corridor.

Troubled, Hueil called after her. “My lady, where are going? You’re not thinking of entering the tunnels by yourself?”

Guinevere didn’t stop. She turned left into the next corridor and hurried down a stair case, taking two steps at a time. On the landing, she half turned and cried over her shoulder. “Come quickly, Hueil, we haven’t a moment to lose! Leofwine wants a dragon’s life…he shall have a dragon’s last breath and be welcome to it! I’ll promise him a last gasp he won’t forget in a hurry!”

Bewildered, Hueil followed the queen as instructed, wonder written all over his face. How anyone could run so fast in such dainty shoes? He made a mental note to find out Mariette’s running speed before they were betrothed. Who’d want a husband unable to keep up with his wife?

He chased after the queen, down the stairs and onto the next level, where Gwen hurtled through a long, covered walkway with handsome, carved columns on either side, before diving into a corridor that lead to the royal couple’s domestic quarters and guests’ chambers; issuing forth orders along the way to any servants they met on the way, Gwen sailed on without waiting for Hueil. The commotion of running feet brought Gwen’s maid out into the corridor. She was carrying a couple of woollen blankets, no doubt intended for Gaius’ use.

“Thank goodness, there you are, Emma! Blankets…good thinking, bring them, oh, and this can go, too!” Gwen tore down a moth-eaten wall hanging and thrust the embroidered adventures of Uther the Magnificent into Emma’s overloaded arms. “I’ve always hated the thing. Arthur’s cranky old nurse presented it on our wedding day.” Gwen pulled a face. “As if I needed a permanent reminder of Nurse Ida’s deeds! We know only too well, who spoiled Arthur during his most formative years.”

Emma giggled and followed her queen into the royal bed chamber. “None better than poor Merlin, my lady. T’ way his Majesty bellows for his bath in the mornin’…cook can hear him in t’ kitchens – ”

No longer listening, Gwen was busy assessing the contents of her husband’s wardrobe and flung out two soiled shirts and one rather worn-out hose. Emerging slightly red faced, she said: “Take these wretched things, so Merlin won’t have to mend them again and, Emma, fetch me any spare sheets, chairs, wicker baskets and straw-filled mattresses you can find. Tell the men to bring them to the entrance of the great cave below the dungeons. Hurry! I’ll see to Gaius, never fret.”

Leaving an utterly stunned Emma in her wake, Gwen rushed down the corridor and practically flew past the statue of the griffon that guarded the staircase to the throne room. Hueil had trouble keeping up with the queen. Gwen entered the vast chamber and made a quick survey of the inventory. She cornered one of the knights who had been guarding the throne.

“See to it that all unused benches, trestle tables and chairs are brought to the entrance of the cave that lies below Camelot. Get the huntsmen and their beaters down there, too. Tell them to bring their drums and whistles. Where’ll I find Geoffrey of Monmouth and Sir Edward de Mangetout?”

The knight directed her to a small look-out tower from where Edward and Geoffrey surveyed the fiery siege engulfing the citadel’s western tower and curtain walls. The noise of the attackers’ rocks hitting the castle walls and the citadel’s own catapults’ returning fire was enough to render the small party deaf. They retreated to the relative safety of the battlements surrounding one of the main towers in the east. Below them, within the walled fortifications that surrounded the inner village, fires had sprung up here and there.

The sound of collapsing roofs and falling masonry was not enough to drown the screams from those trapped inside their burning homes. Smoke filled the air; the stench of burning flesh rose up from the courtyard and the village. Men and beast tried to flee a fiery end but wherever they ran Leofwine’s warriors and death were waiting for them. Beyond the outer curtain walls the settlement was already lost. A line of fire marked the spot were once a fine row of merchant houses had graced the village. Gwen shuddered, but was determined not to lose her courage in the light of such wanton destruction.

“Geoffrey, will you sit with Gaius, Hueil and me for a moment to hold a council of war? Sir Edward, I need you to come, too.” The old librarian and Arthur’s advisor followed their queen and Hueil without a murmur of dissent, although the Segovia emblem on Hueil’s cloak clearly tested their resolve not to burden their queen with unnecessary questions.

They arrived outside Gaius’ chamber just as another missile struck the citadel. The impact shook the castle’s foundations so hard that Gwen and Geoffrey were forced to cling to the door frame or be thrown off their feet. The force of the strike flung Sir Edward and Hueil against the opposite wall, where wall hangings and decorative shields plummeted down adding to the general uproar and clamour; a large crack appeared in the plasterwork with an eerie screech that caused Geoffrey to nearly jump out of his skin. A rumble as loud as an angry dragon’s roar followed the direct hit. Hueil scrambled up, rubbing his shoulder and Sir Edward hoisted up his heavy belt and sword, his face ashen and his hair sticking up in dusty tufts.

He turned towards his queen. “My lady, whatever you have in mind…may I respectfully request we make this the shortest council meeting on record?”

Gwen nodded wordlessly and turned towards Gaius’ door. She willed herself not to think about the men outside. When the roar of the citadel’s crumbling walls ebbed away, the corridors were filled with the screams of falling men whose task it had been to fire arrows from the battlements but who were now tumbling into the flames below, where they were swallowed hole. The warriors’ death cries mingled with the boom of falling masonry and the hissing of pitch-filled pigs’ bladders originally destined for the enemy’s camp but now dropping into the courtyard below and engulfing the citadel’s own men in an inferno.

Gwen’s hands flew to her mouth and her eyes filled with tears; she stifled a cry and the urge to run away, leaning for the fraction of a moment against Geoffrey’s reassuring bulk. This brief contact with human warmth was enough to rekindle her courage. With a visible effort, she steadied her trembling hands and reached for the door knob. She opened the door but shut it instantly with a yelp. The sharp tongue of a flame had nipped her hand and was now snaking through the keyhole, mocking them.

“Gaius is in there! Please help him!” Gwen’s tear-stained, upturned face entreated the travel-worn warriors at her side. Hueil pushed her gently aside and Sir Edward cautiously opened the door afresh. A flash of heat and flames shot past them and hit the wall opposite, leaving a blackened circle where once Merlin’s favourite painting had graced the walls. Smoke billowed out of the room, followed by several small explosions. Hueil and Sir Edward shook hands briefly; then they darted through the open door into the blistering heat and smoke clouds that greeted them. Gwen’s strength gave way and she cried out after her friends.

Apart from the hissing fire raging inside Gaius’ chambers, the silence that greeted Gwen and Geoffrey out in the corridor was positively deafening.

“Sir Edward…Hueil…where are you?” Gwen ventured forward and peered into the billowing smoke, holding her arm across her nose. “Gaius…are you there?

An ear shattering explosion threw Gwen off her feet and sent Geoffrey’s rotund figure flying through the air.

/too be continued…

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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Thermann’s fan fiction “Merlin” (BBC series) sees the action set between seasons 4 and 5. This piece of fiction is written purely as a fun writing exercise and was not created with the intention of any commercial exploitation on my part. The copyright for all BBC Merlin series characters & storylines remains with the BBC and Shine Ltd, the producers of the show.

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

At the foot of a hill near Castle Deira…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you for your kindness, my lords.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The king grunted. “Go away!”

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

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

“Arthur!”

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

“Dragons are powerful beings with long memories.”

“So are kings deprived of their sleep!”

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

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

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

“Care to explain that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

…/to be continued…

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin! (Part 15)


 

 

Part two of Arthur’s Bane (shown on BBC 1 last Saturday) lived up to my expectations – with the exception of the elf-type creature (Diamuir?) that looked like an alien, had plenty of promise but did not deliver thanks to the writers wasting an opportunity here.

Arthur’s only comment upon seeing the creature was merely “what was that?” – given that he’s a king opposed to all things magical, this writer could see plenty of useful plotline potential…particularly, since the magical creature saved Gwaine’s life…which should have given Arthur plenty of food for thought…along the lines of “not all magic is bad or evil”. Alas, the opportunity was wasted.

 

 

 

Morgana was on good form with the excellent Katie McGrath showing the sorceress’ descent into madness to full effect.

Mordred is no longer being played by the asthonishingly talented Asa Butterfield but by a much older actor – which is puzzling since Mordred was only 11-years-old the last time he met Merlin and Arthur.  All is forgiven though, as Alexander Vlahos is great as the enigmatic would-be assassin and strikes just the right balance between deadly and potentially redeemable villain.

 

 

 

The rebellion of the slaves wasted the talents of the lovely (and once again shirt-less) Tom Hopper and Eoin Macken, both actors were given miniscule lines in favour of much naked flesh and flexing of muscles. Merlin finally reunites with the baby dragon and we get to see snippets of what has actually happened to Morgana in the intervening three years.

 

 

 

Tom Lenk, Emma Caulfield, Alexis Denisof, Alys...

Tom Lenk, Emma Caulfield, Alexis Denisof, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Stewart Head, Joss Whedon, Michelle Trachtenberg and James Marsters at the Buffy the Vampire Slayer wrap party. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

On the whole, I liked the episode, as it threw up more questions than it gave answers, setting up the rest of the series as it were. The comedy action between Merlin (Colin Morgan) and Arthur (Bradley James) is still as good as ever, but Merlin seems less prepared to put up with his liege’s comments.

 

Can’t wait for the next episode, which will see the return of one of my favourite screen villains – Anthony Head, who was of course one of the good guys on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where he played buffy’s watcher and friend Giles.

 

 

 

Hope you’ll enjoy reading my take on what might have happened prior to series 5.

 

 

 

The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin! Part 15.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaius’ chamber in Camelot…

 

 

 

“Will you stop fussing, girl!” Gaius pushed the Queen’s hand away and sat up laboriously under his own steam. “Hasn’t Her Majesty something a trifle more important to do than ministering to the wounds of an old man…like saving Camelot from that madman Leofwine for example?”

 

 

 

Gwen raised an eyebrow. “Now what could be more important than saving an old friend?” She had tried to administer a compress of herbs and honey to Gaius’ chest, where the arrow had narrowly missed his heart, but her patient and her own maid had intervened. Emma, her new maid, gently but firmly took charge. The old physician’s hands shook slightly as he took the compress from Gwen and pressed it hard his against his wound. He winced but said nothing; instead, he turned to Emma and ordered her to bring him some fresh water and some wine for the Queen. The maid left his chamber reluctantly, turning at the door to glance at the sickbed, her eyes wide and full of fear.

 

 

 

She opened her mouth to speak but for the moment she was too distracted by the flickering light that illuminated the small window on the opposite wall. Fires raged on the forecourt, flames had begun to threaten the machicolations that served archers as launch pads for their missiles and guards as lookout platforms from where to observe the goings on in the enemy’s camp. It wouldn’t be long now before the first attackers breached the walled fortifications. Their war machines were already at the final gates.

 

 

 

Emma started at the sound of a huge rock finding its target. The citadel seemed to tremble from the force of its impact. Leofwine’s new catapults were working to perfection. The maid visibly forced herself not to flee and instead turned her pale face once more towards the patient and his regal physician.

 

 

 

“My lady, he won’t admit it but I’ve dealt with this kind of wound before. If the arrow was poisoned, the infection will spread and he will get weaker by the hour.”

 

 

 

“Then we must stop the poison from spreading, Emma. Fetch me some leaches from the tank over there.”

 

 

 

Gaius inhaled sharply. “You’re not going to set leaches on me now, girl? There’s really no need, I’m fine! Hand me my cloak and I’ll accompany you to the council chambers.” Gaius tried to get up but failed utterly even to raise one leg from his bed.

 

 

 

“You were quite prepared to face Leofwine’s army out on those ramparts, but you cannot brave one little leach?” Gwen snorted. “You’re not a knight, Gaius! It’s perfectly acceptable to show weakness and suffering.” She plumped up the old man’s pillows and eased him gently into a more comfortable position. Emma appeared at her side and handed her a small phial.

 

 

 

Gaius grunted and accepted his fate. “How long do you think we can hold out against Leofwine’s forces?”

 

 

 

“Until Arthur returns! What else can we do?” Gwen recoiled slightly, when Emma dropped the first leach on Gaius’ wound. The women watched in silence as the slimy black creature burrowed its way into Gaius’ flesh. Gwen feared she would wretch, but this sensation was overtaken by something far more distasteful happening around her. A second rock hit a part of the domestic quarters and the shock of the impact brought down a shelf containing some of Giaus’ prized tinctures and ointments with a crash. Glass phials shattered, essential herb oils spilled across the floor, powdered medicines kept in earthenware containers exploded with a bang and precious parchments fluttered to the ground to mingle with blue, green, yellow and pink tinctures. Gaius raised an unsteady fist and cursed Leofwine.

 

 

 

Gwen beamed. “My old friend must be on the mend, if he can use such language! Sit with him, Emma. I must go and hold council. I will send someone to help you clear up this mess.” Gwen snatched Aurelius’ dragon book from Gaius’ bedside table and hurried off, leaving the old man raging against Leofwine’s catapults and Emma’s solicitude.

 

 

 

Gwen hastened through the dark corridors with unseeing eyes. Once or twice she came across a guard looking for more weapons or a knight barking an order at his soldiers, but the citadel’s chambers were all but deserted with the majority of her fellow inmates fighting on the ramparts and in the courtyards outside. She stopped at an arrow slit and peered outside. The forecourt was crawling with knights and guards trying to prevent enemy soldiers from scaling the castle walls. Camelot servants were rushing here and there to strengthen their defences at the gates.

 

 

 

Gwen held her breath: the east gate was still letting in people, a never ending stream of men, women and children, cattle and carts, refugees from the outer villages, were being hurried along and herded into the bowels of the citadel, where they found shelter in the dungeons. In the distance, across the expanse of tents that was her enemy’s encampment, Gwen could see the first signs of dawn…the day when the dragon heart was due to be handed over was already upon her! Her heart began to race; blood seemed to drain from her face, arms and hands, leaving her hot and cold at the same time; she tore herself away and hurried to the council chamber, where a circle of anxious faces turned towards her when the heavy doors fell back into their lock behind her, shutting her in with a brace of advisers, whose counsel would no longer be of any use.

 

 

 

She nodded a brief greeting and sank down on her throne. “Thank you all for assembling so promptly.” When Geoffrey of Monmouth rose to speak, Gwen raised her hand and cut him off. “I know you are anxious to hear our old friend Gaius is doing well…for now. Emma is with him and knows what to do. Geoffrey, I’m in sore need of good news. Has there been word from Arthur?”

 

 

 

Geoffrey shook his head but risked a smile. “No, my lady, but there may have been a sighting of him on the Merthur Road! The source is somewhat dubious, a shepherd from one of the outer villages, but from the way he described the men, we can be hopeful he saw Arthur and his knights.”

 

 

 

Gwen’s hands shot to her mouth; before she could stop herself, an audible sigh of relief had escaped her lips. “My Arthur is coming home!” She tried to compose herself as befitted a lady of her standing but she could not hide the smile lighting up her face or the sparkle brightening her eyes.

 

 

 

“I trust my report qualifies as good news, my lady?” Geoffrey beamed back at his queen. “He will be here by noon at the latest. If we can hold out until then –“

 

 

 

“We shall, Geoffrey, we shall! Knights of Camelot, my trusted advisors, we must strengthen our defences and take the fight to Leofwine, if we can. How are the preparations for our own mangonels coming along? Is there anything our soldiers need that we haven’t thought of, yet?”

 

 

 

Sir Edward de Mangetout got up and cleared his throat. “Erm…no my lady…short of producing a dragon’s heart, we’ve done everything we can to protect the citadel. Leofwine’s catapults have a far wider reach than ours. The gates are holding but Camelot’s west wing has taken rather a battering -”

 

 

 

A scuffle erupted outside the council chamber’s doors; the sound of clashing swords and poll-axes on shields echoed through the long corridors; everyone’s eyes turned towards the two guards protecting the entrance of the council chamber with little more than their lances. Gwen rose quietly and folded her hands.

 

 

 

“It seems we are too late. The enemy is already at our door. This is my fault! You deserved a queen, who could reign like a true monarch, but ended up with a misguided servant girl who believed, she could protect Camelot and her king.” A tear rolled down her cheek, followed by another and another. Gwen wiped the traitors away with an angry swipe and picked up a parchment and goose feather from the table in front of her. She handed both to Sir Edward, who took them wordlessly before signing his name below the Queen’s own signature. He handed the goose feather to his neighbour and one by one, eight council members added their names to the parchment. Gwen sighed with relief and scrutinized the circle of pale faces surrounding her.

 

 

 

“We do not have a dragon’s heart to give to Leofwine, but he shall not remain empty-handed for long.” The council members watched in horror, as Gwen pulled a silver dagger from her sleeve. Her glance came to rest on a face she had known all her life. “Mine is but a poor substitute, but I shall give it gladly in the hope that it will appease him.”

 

 

 

Geoffrey shook his head, his lips trembling. “No! My lady, I implore you! You mustn’t…Arthur will never forgive us, if we let you sacrifice –“

 

 

 

“Silence! You have your orders.” Gwen turned to Geoffrey and handed him the dagger. “Do what you must do…and please look after Gaius for me.” The old librarian nodded with tears welling up in his eyes and received the dagger from her hand.

 

 

 

She slowly untied the ribbons that braided her corset at the front of her gown and pulled down a sleeve, exposing her shoulder and the swelling of her breast. A collective gasp escaped the council members’ throats as Gwen reached out, raising Geoffrey’s hand to her chest, the silver dagger gleaming in the candle light as it came to rest against the Queen’s skin. Geoffrey’s hand shook violently, preventing him from pressing the dagger into her flesh.  Gwen smiled, laid her hand over his wrist and whispered: “For Camelot!”

 

 

 

“For Camelot!” Every council member repeated her words; their lips moving as if in slow motion, their eyes focussing anywhere but on the Queen, their faces filled with pride and utter sorrow.

 

 

 

Gwen closed her eyes and thought of the day when Arthur had first kissed her. The happiness of that day and the warmth of his lips transported her, rendering the sting of the blade against her breast meaningless in the light of such bliss. “Now, old friend,” she said and held her breath.

 

 

 

The doors flew open, sending the two guards flying across the council chamber’s floor. Gwen opened her eyes and stared. A man had appeared in the doorway, his face seemed vaguely familiar. She searched her mind, but for the moment her head felt utterly empty; his cloak was dusty from his long travels, his mail shirt torn, his hair unwashed and his grin was as wide as the gap between the kind of queen Gwen thought she should be and the one she actually was.

 

 

 

“Beggin’ my Queen’s pardon, but Prince Urien has sent word. He’s met up with Arthur and they’ve mobilised an army to come to Camelot’s aid.” Noticing the look on the council members’ faces for the first time, the man scratched his stubbly chin. “I say, I’m not interrupting anything important, am I?”

 

 

 

“Hueil!” Gwen’s knees gave way and she sank down on the throne behind her and broke into helpless laughter. “Nothing important at all! Geoffrey here was just entertaining us with his recommended book list for the winter. Arthur will be pleased. He’s long been saying how he should read more.”

 

 

 

Sir Edward gulped and dug his elbow into the librarian’s ribs. The old man stared uncomprehendingly at this friend. When the implication finally penetrated his mind, Geoffrey rushed to the table and stabbed the parchment right through its treacherous heart. Everyone watched as the silver dagger shivered to a halt. Hueil raised an eyebrow and was about to comment, but Gwen got in first.

 

 

 

“Geoffrey, I hope you won’t insist on His Majesty perusing the final eight on the list. Come to think of it, they’d probably give him heartburn!”

 

 

 

…to be continued…

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com)

 

 

 

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin! (Part 14)


What a great return Merlin made to the BBC’s Saturday night family viewing slot – part one of “Arthur’s Bane” was a cracking story with far more emotional depth than any other episodes gone before in the previous 4 series.

With a referential nod to “Game of Thrones” and “Indiana Jones” the writers have given us a great, multi-stranded story that is set three years after Series 4 finished and four years into Arthur’s reign as king. Gwen has grown beyond recognition – no longer the pathetic and utterly irritating domestic, but a self-assured queen to be reckoned with. Sadly, the new wig they’ve given to the wonderful Richard Wilson somehow “out-acted” him on this episode, but hopefully he’ll have more meatier scenes in the upcoming episodes.

Morgana has found a new ally and is even madder than before – wearing that skimpy dress in the snow-covered north of Britain without a hot water bottle attached to your back? Come off it girl, you’re using magic to keep the frostbite out of your face, aren’t you, your ladyship?

Merlin and Arthur are still bickering as before and Arthur’s face is priceless, when he discovers his servant can actually juggle – but their bond is no longer just that of master and servant; it has grown into something like brotherhood, their bromance still carrying the lighter moments of the show and their rock-solid friendship underpinning the darker ones.

Good to see more of the knights, too…literally, since they spent much of their time shirtless, wowing fangirls across Britain and setting Twitter nearly on fire. The writers clearly decided it was time Arthur kept his shirt on for an episode, while Tom Hopper and Eoin Macken used their combined acting muscle to lend that “dramatic” element to the story (or do I mean “bulging”? Damn the complexity of the English language!).

My only criticism: the ending of episode one had this writer rather alarmed – are we to be treated to a spot of Prometheus and ET in part 2 of Arthur’s Bane?

There’s no naked knightly flesh in this next installment of my fan fiction – but I hope you’ll enjoy it nonetheless.

Part 14.

Maria Thermann’s fan fiction “Merlin” (BBC series) sees the action set between seasons 4 and 5. This piece of fiction is written purely as a fun writing exercise and was not created with the intention of any commercial exploitation on my part. The copyright for all BBC Merlin series characters & storylines remains with the BBC and Shine Ltd, the producers of the show.

The show stars Colin Morgan (Merlin), Bradley James (King Arthur), Angel Coulby (Guinevere), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Katie McGrath (Morgana), Rupert Young (Sir Leon), Eoin Macken (Gwaine), Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan), John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon Kilgharrah and Anthony Head as King Uther. Series 5 to be aired again in the UK on 13th October 2012 at 7.45 pm. Latest BBC trailers and pictures are available at:

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

http://radiotimes.com/merlin

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

On a hill close to Castle Deira…

“It was too easy! Where were the guards, the soldiers, the servants? Castle Deira can’t be completely deserted, surely?” Siward shook his head, while his master paced up and down, leaving heavy foot prints in the leaf-strewn soil.

They had made halt on the summit of a hill overlooking the fields that surrounded Castle Deira. In the distance, they could see the moat glisten in the last rays of the sun, as a heron took flight, no doubt in search of better hunting grounds. Another summer’s day had baked the earth to such an extent, the leaves in the trees and shrubs around them were whispering in the wind as if autumn had already set in and deprived them of their life force.

“I hear you, Siward. We escaped unchallenged by man, troll or beast. Makes me wonder what horrors lie beyond this hill – we’ll pay for our theft one way or another, that’s for sure!” Urien sank down on the cart that held the kegs of wine they had “liberated” from Castle Deira’s wine cellar and mopped his neck and face with his scarf. Finally, the prince pulled off his gloves and let his cloak slide to the ground. He stretched his long legs and yawned luxuriously. “I don’t know about you, my friends, but I could do with a tankard to wash away the aftertaste of that troll-infested castle! This is as good a spot as any to make camp.”

“Now you’re talking our language, Sire!” Siward, Urien’s servant, patted the kegs lovingly. “Fine vintage, your father said. Perhaps we should make sure it’s actually the right vintage in these barrels, before we present them to our liege? We wouldn’t want to disappoint his Majesty, would we now?” The man grinned from ear to ear, nudging his comrade in arms and equally parched friend Kai. “Help me get one of these little beauties down from the cart, my friend.” The two servants heaved the keg down and placed it lovingly at the feet of their master.

Urien smiled and got up. He drew out his dagger and began to loosen the stopper. “Hand me the goblets from my saddle bag, Siward. If we must face the music and dance to death’s tune…well, at least we’ll do so with a song on our lips and a belly full of fine wine.”

The stopper came loose with a loud POP and fell into the tall grass around them. Siward bent down and picked it up. He sniffed the cork like a true expert. “Hm, nice aroma. Those barrels have been down in that wine cellar for twenty years or more. There’s not going to be a finer vintage at your father’s table, Sire.” The man poured a liberal quantity into a wooden goblet. “To your very good health, Sire.” Siward raised his goblet and drank deeply; Kai followed his example. Only Urien held back.

“It does have a distinct aroma! Reminds me of something, but I can’t think of what…I don’t think you should drink any more of this stuff,” Urien sniffed the wine in his own goblet once more. “My father’s generosity usually comes at a heavy price.”

Siward scratched his belly thoughtfully and smacked his lips. “Hm, perhaps you’re right. There’s a funny aftertaste to this wine.”

“That’ll be the troll dung they use to flavour it.” Gawain stepped out from behind a dense cluster of oak saplings and faced Siward with a drawn sword. “Believe me, another goblet of this and your ears will grow, your legs will shrink, your belly will bulge…in short, you’ll turn into a troll…not that one could actually tell the difference with a face like yours, mind.”

Prince Urien reached for his own sword. “And who might you be that you should make fun of my servants?”

“My, the thieves in these parts must be doing well, if they can afford to keep servants!” Gawaine pointed to the illicit barrels. “What makes you think I was referring to your servants’ features?” He turned one of the kegs around and sniffed dismissively. “That’s the crest of our lady Marigold’s family. Explain to me how this comes to be in your possession, Sir Robber Baron.”

Gawaine was joined by Unding, who shot out from his hiding place in the shrubs, when he heard his dead mistress’ name. Merlin and Arthur followed him reluctantly, Sir Leon and Percival at their side.

Prince Urien smiled. “I think you’ll find my own crest depicting the house of Segovia is painted on the other side of these barrels, Sir Nosey-parker.” Urien sauntered to one of the barrels and turned it over casually, allowing Unding to inspect the crest.

“These barrels were stolen from my father’s encampment en route to Camelot, which that young knave Merlin over there knows only too well.” Urien pointed his sword at Arthur, who had at that moment appeared from behind a Hawthorne shrub. “It’s no use pretending you don’t know me, we met in the woods by Lake Merthur when you appointed yourself my lady Dragonara’s protector.” Urien snorted. “Her armed escort indeed – you couldn’t even skin a rabbit for our evening meal!” The collective eyes of Camelot’s round table focused on Arthur, who greeted the knights’ bemused scrutiny with a frown.

“Rabbits?” The real Merlin’s eyebrows shot up. He had appeared like the said rabbit out of a hat behind his master and now clapped a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “Don’t tell me you were actually forced to do some work for a change? I hope you haven’t been ruining my reputation as a master of the cooking pot!” Merlin grinned from ear to ear, but Arthur’s face darkened and he wriggled out from under his servant’s hand.

“I guess I cooked a stew to match your skills as royal protector,” Arthur said. “Tell me, how’s young Eleanor doing these days?” Pretending to search the camp, Arthur’s head turned first left, then right. By way of a reply, Urien spat luxuriously at their feet.

“Foulest stew I’ve ever tasted. I can still feel the bits of fur between by teeth.” Urien finally said in a voice that contained generosity and contempt in equal measure. He made a show of cleaning his teeth with the nail of his little finger. Noticing Arthur’s discomfort, he broke into a wide grin, sheathed his sword and sat down on one of the kegs.

Merlin couldn’t stop himself and smiled back. “Good servants are hard to come by. I gather we are talking to Prince Urien? I’m trying to break mine in gently; he’s still got a lot to learn tough,” the real Merlin chuckled. “I apologise for the stew. Cooking has never been his strong point.” From somewhere behind him he heard Gawain and Percival snigger. Meanwhile, Arthur’s patience had clearly been tested to the limit and he clouted Merlin’s ear before pushing him aside.

“What this idiot is trying to say is…what possible reason could King Leofwine have to travel to Camelot?” Arthur challenged Urien. “I don’t want to sound inhospitable, but our guests don’t usually set off with a cart load of enchanted wine and an army as a welcome gift for the king and queen.”

Urien slapped his forehead and laughed. “I had forgotten how forward Camelot’s servants are. It may be common practice at Arthur’s court to divulge the king’s business to common kitchen cockroaches, but at Segovia my father’s business his own concern.”

Arthur had hurled himself at Urien before anyone could stop him. His fist collided with Urien’s chin and the prince was thrown off his perch. The keg rolled away from under him and would have tumbled all the way down the hill had Siward not intercepted it. The two young men thrashed around on the ground and were pummelling each other with their fists. The knights stood around watching them, while Unding concentrated on the kegs of wine, inspecting one by one and Merlin tried to separate the two combatants – without much success. He was thrown off his feet twice, before Gawaine came to his aid and with their combined strength finally managed to pull Arthur off the princeling.

After a fairly equal scuffle neither of the regal heads had emerged victoriously and, seeing a black eye in Urien’s camp and a bloody nose in the Camelot quarter, Merlin took a goblet from Kai’s hand and threw wine over both combatants. The two men jumped, spluttering and protesting, now rounding on Merlin instead.

“What the hell were you thinking, Merlin?” Arthur wiped the wine and blood of his dripping face. “The stuff’s enchanted, remember?”

“You’ll never know – Gwen might prefer you with a paunch and longer ears!” Merlin took a step backwards to avoid Camelot’s long arm of the law boxing his ears. “You know what they say, there’s no accounting for taste, Sire.”

Urien’s eyes widened. “Sire? Did I hear right, this feeble sprog with the purple nose is the King of Camelot?”

Before Arthur had a chance to make his feelings on the subjects “sprog” and “feeble” known, Unding had grabbed each of the combatants by the scruff of the neck. “We were on our way to bury my beloved lady Marigold, remember? The ancient burial grounds are that way, Sire.” Unding hoisted Arthur unceremoniously up into the air before dropping him into the general direction of the wood, while the unfortunate Urien was left dangling from Unding’s other arm. “As for these kegs, they do come from our cellar…but Prince Urien, if that is indeed this knave’s name, is correct in saying they carry his father’s crest. More than twenty years ago King Leofwine rode across our drawbridge and presented Wulfric with these kegs as part of his “wedding gifts”, should Wulfric agree to such a match…and his lapse of judgement has held us in enchanted imprisonment ever since!”

Urien’s face was turning red for lack of air. “I’m truly sorry you should have fallen for one of my father’s less amusing practical jokes. Let me down and we’ll discuss reparations,” he gasped. Unding grunted and let go off the princely neck. Urien fell to the floor hard, but gathered his wits and his limbs quickly. “Let me untangle this web,” His dirt encrusted hand pointed at Arthur. “You are not a servant but some pretender for the throne of Camelot, calling yourself Merlin for reasons best known to yourself and you,” Urien grinned at the real Merlin, “are permitted by His Royal Camelotness to impersonate the king in your spare time.”

Urien rose and dusted himself down. He looked up at Unding, who was still glowering at him. “You on the other hand, strong man with the aroma of a wild boar, were in the employ of someone called Marigold, who my father once wooed? I gather the match didn’t happen and twenty years on the lady still pined for him…and now she’s faded away?”

Dragonara stepped blithely into the circle of men before Unding could flatten Urien with a single blow. “Mind your manners, Urien; you are addressing the King of Camelot. Lady Marigold was a good soul who deserves your respect, not your ridicule! Arthur’s faithful servant Merlin here,” she pointed to the real Merlin with a smile, “impersonated his master to keep him safe during a troll raid, leaving King Arthur no choice but to take on his servant’s role until he knew who and what he was dealing with, when he met me.”

Urien snorted. “He has my sympathy – for the past twenty years I’ve been trying to figure out what you are, my lady!”

Her eyes blazing and her chest heaving with scorn, Dragonara flew at him. “Tell me at once, what is your wretched father doing at Camelot?”

By way of an answer Urien pressed his lips firmly together and folded his arms. Kai and Siward stared at their feet and looked distinctly uncomfortable. Dragonara thumped Urien’s chest. “I’m waiting! Why did your father march on Camelot?”

A refreshing breeze rushed through the bushes and shrubs surrounding them. A couple of sparrows, startled by the movement in the branches, launched into the air and flew off, their flight accompanied by angry tweets and chatter. Merlin watched the young man’s face closely. Prince Urien clearly hoped the small distraction would give him time to gather his thoughts and come up with a satisfactory answer, one that wouldn’t strictly speaking be a lie and yet, would not betray his father either.

Dragonara drew her sword and stuck its tip roughly under her step-son’s chin. “Allow me to refresh your memory, dearest.”

Urien stared cross-eyed at the trickle of blood reddening the blade. He gulped, opened his mouth and turned with playful servility towards his step-mother, but before he could speak, the breeze carried another sound with it that made everyone’s hair stand on end.

A high-pitched scream filled the air, a cry full of loss and sorrow from a soul in despair, a person in deadly peril. Something in that voice forced Urien to turn around abruptly, disregarding the sword edge and the pain the blade inflicted upon him. His face drained of all colour except for a few drops of blood dripping from his chin. “Eleanor!”

Dragonara caught her breath. “Eliffer!”

“Quick, it’s coming from the woodland by the moat!” Arthur raced off with Merlin hurtling after him.

His longer legs gave Merlin usually the advantage, but Arthur was trained in combat and tracking an opponent was second nature to him. He dived down the hill and only stopped once to get his bearings, which Merlin used to his benefit. He gained on Arthur, leaving the knights well behind. Arthur had reached mid-point on his descent, when another scream filled the valley below and its pain and horror rose up to spur him on. Merlin could hear Gawain and Percival pelt after them, but felt rather than saw Urien follow hard on Arthur’s heels. Merlin feared his chest would burst with the effort, but he carried on running, running, not minding the twigs scratching his face, just running, running, following his king, no matter where it might lead him.

Nearing the bottom of the hill, Arthur lost his footing and tumbled, rising briefly but falling down again, holding his head. Merlin caught up with him and laid a solicitous hand on his liege’s dented forehead, but Arthur shook him off and urged him on his way. His head was used to knocks and the king was merely winded. Leaving his king and the others behind, Merlin raced on, now and again slipping on loose soil and pebbles, falling over a bushel of dry grass, but scrambling up again with dust and twigs clinging to his shirt, his knees smarting from the blow.

He carried on his descent, changing direction more often than a hare escaping from a fox, before finally crashing through a row of yellow gorse bushes, where he came to an abrupt halt at the bottom of the hill. Here scorched earth gradually turned into a lush meadow with wild flowers swaying gently in the breeze, before the land began falling away into a bubbling brook that fed the moat at Castle Deira. The sight greeting him took Merlin’s breath away and nearly turned his stomach. Tears rose to his eyes and a sob escaped his lips.

There wasn’t a moment to lose – he could hear Arthur and the others following him further up the hill. It wouldn’t take them long to reach him. He stooped and bent over the lifeless body of the small dragon by his feet. Merlin gently closed its staring eyes and stroked the golden crest on its neck, still warm to the touch. He took a deep breath, rose and turned towards the twisted body of a young girl, her face swollen, bloodied, and her eyes wide with fear. Merlin stood rooted to the spot, the horror of the meadow etched forever in his mind.

Oswiu’s left hand was firmly pressed over the girl’s mouth, while his other hand was eagerly tearing at her white shift, the nakedness of her legs shaming him, not her. His bodyweight had pinned her down, where her struggle against his betrayal had dislodged a clump of poppies and cornflowers in the meadow, their mournful heads bopping gently up and down in tune with the breeze.

For a moment all Merlin could focus on where the blood red blossoms and the azure sparkle next to them. He forced the tears from his lashes and a deep golden glow began to fill his eyes. Merlin’s gaze took in the trampled grass and the torn dress, the pleading in the girl’s face that was now turned towards him. He saw the man’s sweat stain his bare back and shoulders and took in the glistening, child-size sword lying next to the baby dragon. Time stood still, allowing Merlin’s senses to catch up, permitting his heart to record the loss he would feel for the rest of his days.

At the edge of the treeline a horse had collapsed, its legs lay crumpled under its magnificent body. He closed his eyes, but he could not shut out the knights’ whinnying mounts under the great oak, where Eliffer had tied up the animals, before rushing to his sister’s aid. Wearily, Merlin opened his eyes again; blood was still oozing, where Oswiu had stuck his dagger into the centre of Bede’s forehead to prevent the children’s flight.

Merlin felt a wave of rage taking hold of his whole being, a feeling he had never experienced before. He tried to suppress it, tried to calm himself and leave the fate of this man to Arthur and the laws of Camelot, but his eyes fell upon the girl’s grazed feet and the blood in the baked earth, where Oswiu had dragged her across the ground.

Merlin raised his hand as if that small gesture could block out the disgust he felt for the man or the pity swelling up inside him for the girl, the dragon Eliffer and gentle Bede. From deep within Merlin’s heart words rose to his throat and burst through his lips, words so terrifying in their intensity and force, they seemed to split the air like lightning following thunder.

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

…to be continued…

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com)

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


English: Actor Colin Morgan after the premiere...

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Thermann’s fan fiction “Merlin” (BBC series) sees the action set between seasons 4 and 5. This piece of fiction is written purely as a fun writing exercise and was not created with the intention of any commercial exploitation on my part.

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

Merlin series 4 premiere at BFI

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

The show stars Colin Morgan (Merlin), Bradley James (King Arthur), Angel Coulby (Guinevere), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Katie McGrath (Morgana), Rupert Young (Sir Leon), Eoin Macken (Gwaine), Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan), John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon Kilgharrah and Anthony Head as King Uther. Series 5 to be aired in the UK on 6th October 2012 at 7.45 pm. Latest BBC trailers and pictures are available at:

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

http://radiotimes.com/merlin

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

A bed chamber in Camelot…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gaius!”

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

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

Merlin (series 1)

Merlin (series 1) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…/to be continued…

(source of photographs Wikipedia)

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


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

Part 12 was created on 20th to 23rd August 2012.

Maria Thermann’s fan fiction “Merlin” (BBC series) sees the action set between seasons 4 and 5. This piece of fiction is written purely as a fun writing exercise and was not created with the intention of any commercial exploitation on my part. The copyright for all BBC Merlin series characters & storylines remains with the BBC and Shine Ltd, the producers of the show.

The show stars Colin Morgan (Merlin), Bradley James (King Arthur), Angel Coulby (Guinevere), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Katie McGrath (Morgana), Rupert Young (Sir Leon), Eoin Macken (Gwaine), Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan), John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon Kilgharrah and Anthony Head as King Uther. Series 5 to be aired in the UK on 29th September. Latest BBC trailers and pictures are available at:

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

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

The ruined great hall at Castle Deira…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…/to be continued…

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

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


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

I haven’t had a chance to edit this latest part properly, since I’ve been so busy with flatmates moving in and putting things into storage. However, I didn’t want to deprive Loonyliterature’s Michelle of the continuation to the cliffhanger from last week! Hope you’ll enjoy this next bit…

Maria Thermann’s fan fiction “Merlin” (BBC series) sees the action set between seasons 4 and 5. This piece of fiction is written purely as a fun writing exercise and was not created with the intention of any commercial exploitation on my part. The copyright for all BBC Merlin series characters & storylines remains with the BBC and Shine Ltd, the producers of the show.

The show stars Colin Morgan (Merlin), Bradley James (King Arthur), Angel Coulby (Guinevere), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Katie McGrath (Morgana), Rupert Young (Sir Leon), Eoin Macken (Gwaine), Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan), John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon Kilgharrah and Anthony Head as King Uther. Series 5 to be aired in the UK on 29th September. Latest BBC trailers and pictures are available at:

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

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

The bowels of Castle Deira…

The beast took another giant leap and was now facing them from the next level up. Arthur’s hand shook for a moment, but he clearly forced himself to regain control. Before he had a chance to strike, however, Merlin had sidled past him. “There’s a good doggy, look, some nice bread for you, how about that?”

The dog leaped down and sniffed Merlin’s outstretched hand. Baring all his teeth the beast gingerly took the offered bread and tore it out of the boy’s grasp. The first head dropped the chunk of bread; the second snatched it up again and began to chew. Merlin reached out and patted the first head cautiously. The dog stopped chewing, whimpered and submitted to the caress with both heads.

“He likes his ears scratched.” Marigold’s face had appeared on the uppermost level. She’d not had a good morning either, Merlin reckoned, when he glanced up into her tear-stained face. Marigold sniffed dismissively. “Your friends have escaped again. I think they’ve locked themselves into the tower of falconry. As if that would do any good.”

Behind her Unding’s head had appeared. “Best place for them, if you ask me, my lady. They’ll be turning soon. The first few hours can be rather…disorientating for a man not used to being a troll. I’m surprised their friend’s held up so well. His transformation should be complete by now.” Unding was pressing a blood-stained handkerchief to his nose. Noticing Arthur for the first time, he growled as ferociously as the dog had just done. “YOU! Mistress Marigold, he’s the stranger I told you about, the one I found up by the mangonel. Isn’t that my coat of mail the scoundrel’s wearing?”

Arthur shifted his position on the stairs a little to hide behind Merlin. Being caught by your servant wearing a girl’s blouse was one thing, being unmasked as a thief by the owner of a coat of mail quite another.

“If you’ve come to rescue your friends, you’re too late, I’m afraid. They’ll soon be just like him.” Oblivious to the brewing dispute over Arthur’s clothes, Marigold pointed at Gawain. The knight under review took one look at her, emitted a delighted squeal and raced up the stairs, pushing Merlin and the two-headed hound out of the way. Arthur tried to hold his bewitched friend back, but failed.

At the top of the stairs Gawain shoved the troll to one side and threw his arms around Marigold’s neck. “Lllleeeeeegggge Daaarrrlllinnnggg!” He planted a wet kiss on her mouth, which earned him a punch in the snout from Marigold and a kick in the backside from Unding, who clearly wasn’t impressed by a newcomer taking such liberties with his mistress.

Arthur rolled his eyes. “Great! Now we have a jealous troll, a two-headed father-in-law AND a wild boar in love guarding the stairs. Could any damsel’s virtue be more protected?”

“You’re already spoken for, remember?” Merlin grinned from ear to ear, feeding the last morsel of bread to the hound. “Mistress Marigold, please tell me who bakes this delicious bread?”

Arthur boxed Merlin’s ears. “Who cares? We’re not here to unravel the secrets of their kitchens! We’re here to free our friends, so I can get back to my bride whom I remember with great clarity, thank you very much.”

“The way to a woman’s heart is to compliment her on her womanly skills.” Merlin muttered. “You might want to remember that, Sire. Women appreciate delicacy in a man.”

“Oh, really? Is this speaking from experience as a notorious heartbreaker in Ealdor, where you lived with your mother and two chickens and the only single girl was seventy-years-old?”

“You’re the one who needed four years of practice to propose to Gwen,” Merlin grinned. “I’m trying to create a distraction here!” Ignoring Arthur, Merlin took a few steps upwards the stairs, keeping his eye on the dog. “Am I right in thinking that overseeing the kitchens is your responsibility, my lady? Perhaps you are the expert baker yourself?”

Above him, Marigold nodded so enthusiastically, her greying hair tumbled out of its golden net. “I’ve always been fond of baking. You should try my brioche. Father used to scold me for sneaking down to Cook, saying it was unbecoming for a lady of noble birth to loiter in the kitchens.” She coyly wrapped a strand of hair around her fingers. “My one ambition was to be a good wife. You can’t run a household as large as this one and not know how much grain is being used. The servants might rob you blind!”

Squeezing past the dog, Arthur joined Merlin on the next step up. His servant’s elbow nudged him in the ribs, cautioning him to silence. Merlin beamed at Marigold. “Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. It’s just the same at Camelot. My household servants would have the very shirt from my back, given half a chance.” Merlin stopped himself from laughing, when he saw Arthur’s eyebrows go up and realised he’d gone too far.

Unding pointed at Arthur’s chest. “And when he can’t get Your Majesty’s shirt, your servant helps himself to mine? I’d know that collar anywhere. I darned the tear myself. Look, there on the cloak, my lady, it bears the Wulfgar arms!” Unding gesticulated wildly. “The thieving rat! We may not hold much land, but we are of noble birth. How dare he besmirch my honour! Let me at the scoundrel, Mistress Marigold, I’ll soon teach him some manners.” Unding tried to get past his mistress and reached down over her shoulder to feel Arthur’s collar, but Merlin blocked the way and slapped his wrist.

“We may be your prisoners but if he’s stolen, he’ll answer to me, not you! His hide is mine to do with as I please.” Merlin grabbed Arthur by the ear and said in his most Arthur-like voice. “Did you take the guard’s clothes, peasant? He may look like a bear with a swine’s snout, but underneath that fur he’s still a man of noble birth and therefore not to be insulted by the likes of you.”

Unding growled, but Marigold merely giggled. “You know, it’s so nice talking to someone who understands. Now that I take a closer look at you, you’re not nearly as puny as I thought.” She risked placing a foot on the next step down, to the consternation of Unding and Gawain, who tried to hold her back. She was now on the step just above Merlin’s. “It’s strange you know, the cauldron exploding the way it did when Ethelgunda added your hair to the brew. We’ve been trying to find a counter-spell to this wretched curse for ages. You must be ever so noble, Arthur dear. Ethelgunda probably used too much of your hair.”

She reached down and felt Merlin’s upper arm. “Oh my, how very pleasing! Is that from jousting every day?”

“No, it’s from carrying all that nobility on his shoulders.” Arthur gave his servant a little shove, propelling him into Marigold’s arms. “It’s inflating his royal pretensions.” Merlin wriggled like a worm on a hook, but Marigold held on to her prize with a surprisingly strong grasp.

“Marigold! What do you think you’re doing? Father, come away at once!” Ethelgunda had appeared at the top of the stairs. A rather out-of-breath Unding popped up next to her. “Heaven knows what you’d get up to, if I didn’t keep constant vigil over you, Marigold. Thankfully Unding alerted me.”

“And me. Don’t forget your Gawain, Mistress Marigold. He’s coming to your rescue, don’t you fret, my little raven.”

Merlin’s eyes widened. “Arthur, did you hear that? Our hog-nosed friend talks like a human!”

“Yes, and as usual he makes no sense at all!”

A horde of trolls, led by Gawain, ran down the stairs to take charge of the prisoners. Arthur was able to hold them off for a while and Dragonara’s sword managed to deal with several attackers, but they were soon overwhelmed and Marigold dragged the protesting Merlin up the stairs. The final insult came when Gawain engaged Arthur in a wrestling match, having successfully taken Excalibur from the king, who did not wish to harm his friend. Merlin muttered an incantation over his shoulder and Gawain was forced to drop the now red-hot sword with a howl. Excalibur tumbled down the stairs, but Arthur, clearly enraged at Gawain’s woolly-headed betrayal, dived after it, causing both king and knight to roll down the spiral stair case in a jumble of arms, legs and ill-fitting garments.

Fearing his cloak and coat of mail might come to harm, Unding cursed and ran down to catch up with them, closely followed by Merlin and the dog, which clearly thought this was a lot of fun. It snapped at Merlin’s heels and bounded down the stairs to flatten both combatants. With a little magic Merlin persuaded the dog to let go off its new playmates; judging by the language he used, when Arthur finally got back on his feet, Merlin doubted he’d get much gratitude from his king, whose sense of honour would undeniably have been dented by a dog’s backside. Unding hoisted up Gawain and put him back on his feet. Gawain now sported a deep cut above his left eye and Arthur clutched a bloody nose between his fingers. Merlin held out a handkerchief for Arthur, but Gawain snatched it and pressed it to his forehead instead. In the ensuing second scuffle Merlin got the chance to kick Excalibur out of sight and the dog got an opportunity to bite Unding, which appeared to satisfy the beast beyond measure.

Before Unding ordered his prisoners to walk up the stairs in single file, he clouted both Arthur and Gawain on the head with his fist. This foresight enabled the troll to bring in two rather subdued men without too much trouble. Merlin was allowed to bring up the rear with the dog, which seemed far less enthusiastic going up the stairs than it had going down, forcing Merlin to push it up the final steps. At the top of the stairs Merlin spotted Dragonara, who was staying out of sight by ducking behind a particularly bulky guard. Catching Merlin’s eye, she put a finger to her lips and inclined her head towards Ethelgunda and Marigold, who seemed blissfully unaware of Dragonara’s existence, having only eyes for Arthur’s golden head coming up the stairs.

“He came here all on his own to rescue his master, now isn’t that noble?” Marigold said when Arthur was being led past her. She eyed him keenly and, noticing her roving eye, he hurried to catch up with the others.

“Marigold, pull yourself together! He’s only a servant. Even Unding’s got more nobility in his veins than that scruffy boy.” Ethelgunda scolded her younger sister. However, she couldn’t resist reaching for Arthur’s hair, when he walked past her; Arthur slapped her wrists and followed Unding’s men and Merlin up the corridor, leaving Ethelgunda, Gawain and Mistress Marigold to hurry after them.

Unding ushered his prisoners triumphantly into the great hall, where a group of trolls were still performing clear-up duties, sweeping rubble aside and dusting the only remaining chair to within an inch of its upholstery’s life. Dragonara had managed to keep out of Ethelgunda and Marigold’s sight by selecting different guards for every section of their way. Now she stood at the very rear of the group, close to the entrance, where Merlin could just make out the top of Dragonara’s fair hair. She seemed to have engaged the troll in charge of her in a lively conversation about the merits of goose fat. Merlin’s keen ear heard the troll praise its use for keeping leather supple and saddle sores at bay. Merlin wondered briefly what would happen, when the three sisters finally caught up with Dragonara, the very source of all their misery.

The remaining guards were filing into the great hall, when Yolanda appeared through a small trap door in one of the few oak panels that still clung to the walls. She climbed over several large pieces of fallen masonry to reach the dilapidated hearth, where she sprinkled a few drops of belladonna into the apparently indestructible cauldron and prepared a fresh supply of broth.

Marigold, who was being led into the great hall hanging on Gawain’s arm, beamed at everyone, while Yolanda stopped and stared open-mouthed at the newcomers. Gawain waved at her causally, tossing his bloodied handkerchief into her direction, but it missed the fire in the hearth and landed in the cauldron with a splash instead. Yolanda was too distracted by the sight of Marigold’s head on Gawain’s shoulder to take notice of the prisoners.

“YOU!” Yolanda pointed an accusing finger at Gawain. “How dare you spoil my brew with your filthy rag!” Yolanda shook with rage, her grey face turning an even less becoming purple. Merlin noted with dismay the colour was beginning to match the wart on her chin.

“You come here flirting with my youngest sister, when you slept in MY arms last night?” Yolanda pressed her fists to her cart-horse hips and stamped her foot. “You even called me your little Blondie Mouse this morning! I’ll show you what I think of your treacherous tongue. You are my servant; I claimed you and therefore demand your loyalty.” Yolanda reached for her ladle and hurled it at Gawain.  Unable to get out of the way fast enough thanks to Marigold’s arm around his neck, he took the ladle full in the face, steaming broth covering his stubbly cheeks, chin and neck.

Marigold’s arm slid from Gawain’s neck instantly and she turned on him. “You called me your ebony-haired love dove when we kissed in the corridor just now! You rat! I thought you were different than the other trolls.”

Gawain grimaced and took several brisk paces into the centre of the hall. He attempted to wipe the brew from his face, but succeeded only in spreading the syrup all over his furry paws. “Listen lady, last night I was drunk which made you look,” Gawain fingered the tip of his sore snout and savoured the broth, “a lot less like a wild boar. Besides, you tricked me, Yolanda. If things had gone according to plan, I’d have woken up next to little Marigold here.”

“She shouldn’t have run off like that. First come, first served!”

“It was nearly dawn, Yolanda, and I didn’t want him to see me turn into –, “ Marigold’s eyes began to swim.

Gawain smiled. “A fabulous cook? Mistress Marigold, you’ll always be a good match for any knight not to mention this prize specimen. I’m afraid your sisters are too much of an acquired taste.”

Yolanda snapped for air. “What a nerve! Just look who’s talking! I suppose you think you’re as handsome as your princeling friend over there.” She pointed at Merlin, who grinned back sheepishly, avoiding Arthur’s eye.

Unperturbed by Yolanda’s increasingly hostile demeanour, Gawain began licking broth from the digits on his right paw. “If I must choose, I’ll take Marigold. Just look at her! Her bread is by far the sweetest. Yolanda, you’re just too conceited for my liking and besides, all you ever do is play with that exploding cauldron over there.” He started on his left paw and savoured the remaining brew. “A man likes to come first in his lady’s affections, if you know what I mean. I say, this broth would taste even better with a pinch of salt and a morsel of beef, if you ask me.”

“Nobody’s asking you – and since when do trolls get to choose? I’m the eldest, by rights your hide’s mine.” Ethelgunda asserted her rights of seniority by pinching Gawain’s bottom.

Turning briskly, Gawain threw up his paws. “Ladies, please, no fighting, there’s enough cheek to go round. I’d marry the three of you, if I could, honest I would, but I think your father might have something to say about that.” Gawain patted his potential father-in-law’s two heads, both of which bared their teeth and growled, forcing Gawain to beat a hasty retreat and appeal to the ladies again. “Put down that spoon, Yolanda, no more broth, there’s a good girl. Marigold, that boot is far more becoming on a lady’s ankle than it is in a knight’s face. Ethelgunda, I promise I’ll stay, if you let my friends go. We had such a nice time last night, girls, why can’t it be like that again?”

Yolanda dropped her spoon and buried her hands in her face. Marigold hung her head and began to sob. Gawain took a step back and stared. “Why, what have I said? We had a whole lot of fun, you said so when we danced, drank and made merry.”

“It won’t ever be like that again, my friend. You’re able to talk, which means your transformation is almost complete…and that means the sisters will no longer have feelings for you.” Unding had stepped out quietly from the number of guards. “Trust me, over time they will break your heart.”

Gawain snorted. “Who said anything about feelings? Give a knight a break! A flagon of wine, a dance and a cuddle, that’s all I ask!” Gawain winked at Unding and performed a little pirouette. “It’s a comfortable enough castle and I won’t insist on a dowry, although frankly, it would sweeten the blow, if I had to marry those two bossy sisters.”

Marigold stared at him open-mouthed; the tears stopped streaming across her wrinkly, grey face.

“Did I hear right or were my ears deceiving me? Did that hog-nosed, ill-bred son-of-a- “ Yolanda’s face was now the same shade as elderberry juice.

“Yes, dear. I believe he did. He spurned us. Us!” Ethelgunda gasped. “He talks as if we were common tavern maids, the scoundrel!” Next to her, Mistress Marigold emitted a faint squeak. Unding growled and the canine father-in-law let off a howl.

Merlin sidled up to Arthur and shoved his elbow into his liege’s ribs. “Did you hear that?”

“Of course I did, Merlin! That hound’s got a terrific set of lungs on him. My ears are still ringing.”

“No, not the dog, you cloth-eared…I meant Gawain. He’s transformed, but he’s not their devoted servant, Sire.”

“Of course not! He’s never been anyone’s devoted servant, Merlin. Gawain’s a knight, born and bred.”

“So were you, Sire, but that didn’t stop Dragonara from telling you what to do on your way to Castle Deira, I’d wager.”

“Why, what has she told you?” Arthur cut his servant short. “If it’s about that damn rabbit stew I can explain –“

Oblivious to the consternation he was causing in the Castle Deira household, the dancing Gawain had spotted his friend Arthur in the crowd and was making a beeline for him. Gawain pointed to his own hog features. “I kept telling you it’s me, Arthur when you dropped by Yolanda’s bedchamber. You knew it was me all along, didn’t you? You recognised me when I balanced that crab on my toe, just like I did by Lake Merthur, but you couldn’t resist teasing me, could you, Sire?”

Arthur slapped his forehead. “Of course! How could I forget the crab! Sorry, my friend, it’s just you look rather –“

“Like Merlin after a day in the stocks? Haha, yes, you’re quite right. I’m not surprised Leon and Elyan tied me up. It must have come as a bit of a shock, after all the trouble they had breaking down that heavy door to rescue a friend and finding hairy old me instead. No hard feelings about our little misunderstanding earlier, I trust? Don’t know what came over me on that stair case. For some unfathomable reason I thought you were after little Marigold!”

Arthur’s eyebrows rose and he took a cautious step backwards. “I assure you, Marigold or any other lady of this household is entirely yours…if that’s what you really want.”

“Oh, it’s alright, I’ll stand aside, if you’ve got feelings for Marigold, Sire; although speaking as one man to another, I don’t think Gwen will approve. Just promise you won’t take Marigold away from her home, when you leave. She’s quite a sensitive little soul and would only be homesick.”

“I’m feeling rather homesick myself…we’re their prisoners, remember?” Arthur leant forward and peered into the knight’s face. “Gawain, are you alright?”

Unding pushed Gawain out of the way and confronted Arthur. “Shut up, servant boy! Just because our ladies don’t resemble your tavern wench Gwen doesn’t mean a man has to be mad if he fancies –“

“Exactly, Arthur. Some people said you were quite mad marrying your Gwen, but I say each troll to his ow–“

“Oh shut up, Gawain! I just meant your snout looks pale and your ears –“

“What about them, Arthur?” Gawain’s pawed his ears. The tufts on their pointed tips came off and he stared at the strands of fur in his open palms. “Will you look at that? We’re hardly through July and I’ve started to moult. I thought you said trolls only did that in October, Mistress Marigold?”

Unding came closer and fingered Gawain’s ears. A small patch of fur came loose and drifted to the ground. “Well, I never! What’s with this fellow? None of the others have ever fought against the transformation as long as this one has and now he’s turning back – “ Unding stopped in mid-sentence and gasped. “My lady Yolanda…goodness…your face…what’s happening to you?”

A ripple of astonishment swept through the assembled trolls. The guards came closer and stared at their mistress; even the dog stopped yawning and sat up.

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

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

/to be continued…

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com)

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

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

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

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com; 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…

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


 

The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin! (Part 9)

Part 9 was created on 11th and 12th August 2012

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

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

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

The show stars Colin Morgan (Merlin), Bradley James (King Arthur), Angel Coulby (Guinevere), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Katie McGrath (Morgana), Rupert Young (Sir Leon), Eoin Macken (Gwaine), Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan), John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon Kilgharrah and Anthony Head as King Uther. Series 5 to be aired in the UK on 29th September. Latest BBC trailers and pictures are available at:

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

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

In the dungeons at Castle Deira; a small chamber…

The hooded stranger crawled out from under bed and burst out laughing. “Remind me never to take you into battle with me. You’d wipe out all my best knights with that thing!” He scrambled up and fell back on the bed, where he helped himself to a chunk of bread and an onion from the plate on the small wooden chest. He savoured his food wordlessly, before holding up his sword into the light and turning it thoughtfully. Excalibur!

Merlin gasped, allowing the stranger’s friend to hoist him up and put him back onto his feet. Unexpectedly, the bear-like companion released Merlin rather abruptly and propelled him into the stranger’s open arms. Merlin reached out and pulled the hood from the man’s face.

“Arthur!”

“The very same! Minus his own breeches and armour thanks to a certain useless toad of a servant for whom I truly wouldn’t give a silver penny.” Arthur pulled his servant close and embraced Merlin heartily. “After leaving me stark naked at the lake, you deserve being handed over to the ladies of the house!”

“No thanks, I’ve met them. I’d rather romance a bear!”

“Be careful what you wish for, Merlin.” A wide grin spread across Arthur’s face. “Let me introduce you to my furry friend.”

“Lllleeeeeegggge Mmmmmrrrrlllleeennn!” Arthur’s companion stepped out into the candle light and clouted Merlin on the back. Merlin’s knees gave way and he fell onto the bed, landing half-way across Arthur’s lap.

“On second thought, I might be persuaded to join the ladies upstairs,” Merlin panted and scrabbled back on his feet. “Your woolly friend is a fraction too affectionate for my taste.”

Arthur burst out laughing. “That’s just what the ladies must have said! I found our friend tied to the four-poster bed.”

Merlin rubbed his shoulder. “That’s probably not a bad idea.” He turned and caught a whiff of the creature’s fur. “Phew! I thought the troll leader was pretty fragrant, but THIS – what exactly is THIS, when it’s at home in its own natural habitat? Troll, wild boar or plain old hearth rug on legs?“

Arthur held his belly, roaring with laughter. Merlin couldn’t help himself and burst out laughing, too. Their hairy companion shook his fist at them.

“Clllltttpppplllls!”

“Good heavens, it speaks!” Merlin wiped a tear from the corner of his eye and cleared his throat. “Did he just call us clot-pole?”

“He’s a fast learner,” Arthur hiccupped between bouts of laughter. “By this afternoon he’ll be calling us dollop-head and know how to hold a sword.”

“Wwwwitcheeees, Aaarrrgggguuurrr.” The creature tore the lady’s scarf from the washstand and started whipping the two friends with it, but it only served to increase their merriment.

“After I had dealt with the lead troll I had a brief look around – the ladies of the house were busy picking herbs in the kitchen garden. No doubt they were trying to make themselves even more appealing for our amorous friend.” Arthur managed to say, when he had relieved Gawain of the scarf. He tied the pretty accessory around his face and pouted, enraging Gawain even more and sending Merlin into fits of helpless laughter.

They stopped laughing when the door was torn open; the three men fell silent instantly. The companion and Arthur sprang to their feet and grabbed hold of their swords, while Merlin pounced on the mace Arthur’s furry companion had taken off him earlier.

“Why don’t we announce our arrival more formally? Let’s blow fanfares and set off fire crackers, shall we?” Dragonara appeared in the doorframe. “You’ve probably alerted the guards from castles in the neighbourhood by now, never mind the trolls of this establishment!”

Two swords and one mace sank to the ground. Dragonara’s stern look did not relent. Arthur regained his wits more quickly than his companions. “We were just…uhm…holding a council of war. Won’t you join us?” He invited her into the chamber and motioned her to take a seat on the bed. “I know this chamber isn’t exactly fit for a queen, but there’s wine and bread!” Arthur held out the tankard to her. She shook her head, but accepted a place on the bed.

“I’ve counted around one hundred trolls guarding this castle. There are no servants or grooms as far as I can tell, just guards. Doesn’t that strike you as strange?” Arthur sat down next to Dragonara and sniffed the tankard’s contents. “Who baked this bread and who fetched the wine?”

Dragonara shook her head. “There’s nothing strange in that. The castle is bewitched.”

“Hm, you seem very certain of your case? Since you brought up the subject of sorcery, you wouldn’t happen to know how I got out of the water and landed in the claw of the catapult on the upper gallery, would you, Godmother dearest? I’m a strong swimmer, but even I can’t propel my body up a tower like a flying fish.”

“Probably all that hot air in your head,” Dragonara reached across him and grabbed the loaf of bread. “It happens a lot to newly crowned kings.” She winked at Merlin and took a bite out of the loaf. “Hmmmm, this is fine bread indeed. Fit for a queen!”

She tore off a chunk and handed it to Merlin. He took it, hesitated and then offered it to the creature, but it shook its head. “Won’t you introduce us to your new friend?”

Arthur cleared his throat and got up. He bowed first to the creature, then to the lady and Merlin. “Apology, m’lady. Let me introduce you to one of Camelot’s finest. The honourable knight, Sir Gawain.”

“Lllleeeeeegggge Mmmmmrrrrlllleeennn!” The honourable monster bowed deeply to Queen Dragonara, before turning to his young servant-friend.

Merlin stared open-mouthed. “Gawain? I don’t believe it! We came to rescue him from torture and all the time he was tied up in a lady’s bedchamber? He was screaming like a…uhm…proverbial stuck pig. Goose feather pillows too hard on your hide, were they?” Merlin exhaled with a grunt, tore into the chunk of bread and chewed with bulging cheeks. Gawain shrugged his shoulders and attempted a grin.

“Has he always been like this or is this a recent development,” Dragonara pointed to Gawain’s bat-like ears and wild-boar snout.

“The jury’s still out on that one,” Arthur grinned. He picked up the tankard once more and was about to drink deeply, when Gawain lunged at him and snatched the tankard out of his hand.

“Oy, get your own, greedy beggar!”

Gawain sniffed the wine, before pronouncing his expert opinion on the vintage: “Wwwwitcheeees, Aaarrrgggguuurrr.”

Dragonara took the wine from him and stuck her nose into the tankard. “He’s right, Arthur, the wine is bewitched. Everyone drinking from it will turn into a creature just like him.”

“Can’t you undo the enchantment…turn him back into Gawain?”

Dragonara shifted uncomfortably on the bed next to him and stared at her feet. “I’m sorry Arthur, I’m not sure that I can.”

“Meaning you can produce spells that send me flying a hundred yards up into the air but you cannot – or will not – help my friend! Sorcerers, you are all the same…self-serving, untrustworthy –“

Dragonara shot up from the bed. “Now wait a minute! Did I say I wouldn’t try?” She glowered at her godson. “Don’t be so quick to judge, it is unbecoming in a king. This whole castle is protected by an incredibly powerful spell, so powerful it may take more than my sorcery to break it.”

Arthur searched her face. “How do you know? Have you already tried?”

Dragonara’s face darkened and she sunk back onto the bed looking like a picture of personified misery. “I know because I was the one who cast the spell with Leofwine’s help.”

Arthur and Merlin stared at her. Gawain growled. She got up and started pacing around the room, wringing her hands and picking at the chunk of bread as she circled the chamber. “It was Leofwine. He tricked me…just like he had tricked the poor girls and their father whose castle this is. You see, he wanted an heir, but his wife was barren. He’d learned that sorcery might help his wife to conceive, so he turned to me…he promised to help me. I was in rather a fix at the time.”

Arthur gasped. “The story you told to the children…I thought you were talking about –“

“I know, you thought I was talking about you and Ygraine…well, that is another story for which now is not the right time. Leofwine had learned that there were three sisters living at the edge of his realm, who dabbled in magic. He tricked Yolanda, the prettiest of the three girls. The girl’s father had kept them not exactly isolated, but well, they were quite innocent and Yolanda believed Leofwine when he told her he’d send his first wife away into exile and marry Yolanda instead. The truth is he needed a woman of noble blood for the spell and he didn’t want to risk his wife’s life. I was the one who was to perform the actual spell to bring about the birth of his heir. In order to create the kind of son he wanted, I needed the blood of true nobility.”

Merlin slapped his forehead. “Now I understand! When Leofwine took his revenge, he also used noble blood for the spell to enchant the castle and its inhabitants. That explains why the sisters sent out their trolls to capture Urien but the guards stupidly abducted us instead. The sisters have been trying to break the spell ever since.”

Arthur got up and joined his godmother in her rounds of the chamber, following her shadow. “Go on, how come his wife ended up dead?”

Merlin interrupted. “A life for a life. That’s the law of magic, remember what the High Priestess Nimueh told Uther?”

“Everything was set up and we were ready to perform the spell. I had certain problems of my own at the time,” Dragonara turned abruptly and eyed Arthur from under her eyelashes, “which we don’t need to go into right now. When Leofwine offered me sanctuary in exchange for the spell, I jumped at the chance. At the last minute, Yolanda’s father found out what Leofwine was planning and intervened, fearing the price for the spell would be his daughter’s life. She withdrew her offer of help. Leofwine tried to persuade the other two sisters, but they laughed in his face, mocking him, saying they wouldn’t want to be his wife if he was the last man on earth.”

She stopped pacing and faced Arthur. “Leofwine was so desperate for an heir; his wars with his neighbours were going badly, he feared without an heir his realm would be vulnerable; he eventually used his beloved wife in the spell. She died giving birth to Urien. Leofwine was beside himself with rage and vowed to take terrible revenge on the three sisters and their father.”

“Why do you think the laws of Camelot forbid the practice of magic?” Arthur had also stopped pacing and challenged his godmother face to face. “Because nothing good’s ever come from using sorcery!”

Dragonara raised her hands and gently cupped his face in her palms. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that, my dear boy.”

Surprised, Arthur submitted to the caress before turning brusquely away. Seeing godmother and god-son standing so closely together, Merlin thought they could have passed for mother and son, they were so similar in their colouring, height and demeanour. Merlin looked from Dragonara to Arthur’s face. For a brief moment he thought two sets of cornflower-blue eyes were gazing back at him. Merlin tried to recall a distant memory involving Morgause and the ghost of Ygraine, but the memory remained as elusive as Dragonara herself, who stood lost in her own thoughts in the middle of the chamber.

He cleared his throat to catch her attention and she turned her face towards him, her eyes as before a deep emerald green. “How do we break the spell that’s enchanted Gawain and this castle, my lady?”

Dragonara opened her mouth to speak but at that very moment an explosion in the chambers above them shattered the peace. Their own chamber shook with the impact of the explosion and several small pieces of masonry fell from the ceiling. They rushed out into the hallway trying to determine where the noise was coming from.

“What’s immediately above us, Merlin, you’ve been up there?”

“It must be the great hall,” Merlin stared at Arthur. “That can only mean one thing, they’ve recaptured Sir Leon and the others and now the women…oh no, crazy old Ethelgunda’s tried to make another brew with my hair.”

Arthur stared at his servant. In the flickering light of Arthur’s candle the two of them looked rather comical, a king wearing troll’s clothing several sizes too large and a servant in a king’s robes that were just as ill-fitting. “Why on earth would the women perform sorcery using your hair? Wearing my cloak and mail shirt seems to have gone to your head, Merlin!”

“If it had, the spell would have been broken by now, wouldn’t it?” Merlin pulled a face and rubbed the spot where Ethelgunda had ripped out his hair. “My blood’s just too rich in natural nobility, that’s why Ethelgunda’s brew hasn’t worked.”

Arthur snorted. “It’s certainly full of something, but I doubt it’s nobility. Horse dung more like it.” He grabbed Merlin’s arm and pushed him in front. “Here, take the candle. Wearing a king’s robes brings not just privileges but also obligations with it. Why don’t you go to the end of this passage and see, if it’s safe to proceed?”

A second explosion rocked the castle, throwing Arthur and Dragonara off their feet and sending Gawain crashing into the wall. Merlin remained upright but dropped the candle, plunging them all into momentary darkness.

“Lunare,” Merlin whispered and the candle’s flame relit instantly. He picked it up and cautiously walked to the end of the passage. The next corridor was deserted. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Come, it’s quite safe.” Merlin stepped into the passageway and disappeared into the darkness. His companions hurried to keep up with him.

“He’s certainly got natural optimism coursing through his veins, I give him that,” Arthur conceded and followed at speed. Above them running feet could be heard and cries echoing along the deserted corridors. “What do the women want with my knights? Try them out one by one for the right degree of noble blood?”

Gawain snorted and Dragonara burst out in a mirthless laugh. “If only, Arthur! Leofwine’s enchantment means the women have to each find a man willing to take their hand in marriage when the sun is up. For a few hours each night the women turn back to their beautiful selves, but when the sun rises they become hags again. The more a man mocks them, the worse the effect of the enchantment will be when they drink the wine.” She pointed at Gawain, whose bat-ears had grown at an alarming speed. “I’m afraid that’s not all. Leofwine’s enchantment means the men eventually become besotted with the hags. He enchanted all the wine in the cellar to make sure the castle guards keep topping up on the magical brew with every meal they take.”

“While the women don’t give two straws for the men!” Merlin had stopped in his tracks to allow the others to catch up. “Now I understand why the trolls stay despite the rough treatment they get. Leofwine wanted to make sure the poor women would never find love…you know, in case one of the trolls falls in love with a hag and vice versa.”

Gawain stood sniffing the stale air in the passage. He pointed excitedly upwards. “Wwwwitcheeees, Aaarrrgggguuurrr.”

Arthur pushed past him, firmly taking Dragonara by the arm. “I don’t fancy seeing another of my knights being turned into a bridegroom with the features of a hog. If truly noble blood can undo the enchantment, the women can have a whole fistful of my hair.”

Dragonara raised an eyebrow. “How very generous of you, my liege. Undoubtedly just one hair from the scalp of Uther’s son will surpass everyone else’s nobility.”

“Don’t take it to heart if yours turns the brew to syrup,” Merlin beamed. “You may be the new king of Camelot, but you’re still the same arrogant dollop-head you always were.”

Arthur clouted his servant’s ears. “Get going, before Gawain here gets engaged to one of those hags.”

The friends raced along the corridors, following the noise. They heard trampling of boots above them, guessing the guards were in hot pursuit of somebody, presumably their friends.

When they reached the great spiral stair case that linked the lower domestic quarters and great hall with the upper floor apartments and turrets, Arthur pushed Dragonara in front of him. “Up you go, godmother dearest. No doubt your magical skin will protect you from anything the sisters might throw at us.”

Dragonara reluctantly set a foot on the stairs and Arthur shoved her up more forcefully. “You and your fine husband got us into this mess. Now that you experience the results of your own sorcery, you don’t seem quite so keen. Afraid to meet with the sisters’ wrath, are you?”

“It’s not that, Arthur. It’s just the dog at the top of the stairs. I’ve always been a cat-person myself.”

Arthur looked up and was greeted by something dribbling on his face. The two-headed beast guarding the top of the great stair case stared down at them with glowing eyes and bared teeth. Arthur sighed. “Just once I’d like to meet a magical creature that doesn’t drool and doesn’t have stinky breath! What I wouldn’t give for something friendly and pretty for a change.”

“Last time you met one of those you shot it, remember?” Merlin was bringing up the rear, making sure Gawain didn’t wander off. “What could possibly be friendlier than a unicorn? This dog is your just reward.”

Arthur grimaced and wiped the snot from his face. He drew Excalibur and pushed past Dragonara, but she held him back. “Don’t kill him. It’s the girls’ father.”

“You’re joking? Fancy having that for a father-in-law!”

Arthur shuddered and set a cautious foot on the next step. The beast growled and took one huge leap onto the next level down. Behind him Merlin clung onto the banisters for support and Gawain raised his sword. Dragonara put her hand on Arthur’s sword arm. “I know I said don’t kill him, but if he comes any closer –“

…/to be continued…

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

 

Merlin Fan Fiction: Let the Questing begin! (Part 8)


For those of you who are keen to read the next chapter in this epic adventure…here’s chapter eight!

BTW, for people who haven’t watched the BBC’s hit show before: the writers made up some harmless swearwords for Merlin to use, so the show could be aired at 6pm for kids to watch with their parents…dollop-head and clot-pole being two of them:)

Maria Thermann’s fan fiction “Merlin” (BBC series) sees the action set between seasons 4 and 5. This piece of fiction is written purely as a fun writing exercise and was not created with the intention of any commercial exploitation on my part.

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

The show stars Colin Morgan (Merlin), Bradley James (King Arthur), Angel Coulby (Guinevere), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Katie McGrath (Morgana), Rupert Young (Sir Leon), Eoin Macken (Gwaine), Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan), John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon Kilgharrah and Anthony Head as King Uther. Series 5 to be aired in the UK on 29th September. Latest BBC trailers and pictures are available at:

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

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

part 8 created 8th and 9th August 2012

The Honeymoon is over – Let the Questing begin (Part 8)

By the moat, outside Castle Deira….

Startled by the noise, Eliffer awoke and rubbed his eyes. “Where are we? Where’s Eleanor?” Yawning, he used the stirrup to balance himself and slid from the saddle like an eel trying to escape from a fisherman’s basket. He landed head first on the ground next to Hengist and the animal, now free to do as it pleased, began to graze on the embankment.

Dragonara stood at the outer edge of the reed bed and stared into the water. On the drawbridge across the moat a dark-haired boy was doing just the same. Eliffer ran to his protector and put an arm around her waist. “Who’s that boy over there?”

Absentmindedly, Dragonara wrapped her arm around Eliffer’s shoulders and sighed. “THAT’s no boy, Eliffer. THAT, if I’m not very much mistaken, is none other than Merlin.”

“Erm…are there two?” Eliffer’s eyes widened. “A blonde and a dark-haired one…does the King of Camelot call all his servants Merlin to keep things simple?”

Dragonara threw her head back and laughed. “I bet Arthur wished he’d thought of that!”

“In that case, our Merlins are either two sides of the same coin or a famous double act from Odin’s court!” Eliffer grinned. “Eleanor tells me some courts keep excellent jesters.”

“Don’t you mean master and servant from Camelot?”

“But which is which, my lady?”

“Good question, Eliffer,” Dragonara finally detached her gaze from the water’s edge and directed it towards the drawbridge, where Merlin had picked up a lance and attempted to fish for the embroidered shirt still floating in the moat. The dark-haired boy managed to impale the garment and lifted the dripping shirt out onto the bridge where it landed with splash.

“He’s got Eleanor’s blouse! But…didn’t the other Merlin wear it earlier?”

“Yes Eliffer; I fear King Arthur’s as slippery as a snake. Now he’s shed his unwanted servile skin, he’s slithered off somewhere…but where?”

The goings-on at the water’s edge enraged a kingfisher trying to hunt for fish on the other side of the moat. An azure flash of light shot through the air and he was gone – to the obvious relief of a dragonfly, which soared up from the morning mist among the reeds, its incandescent wings reflecting the shimmering water below and the blue sky above.

Becoming fully aware of woman and boy for the first time, Merlin gave a hesitant wave and Dragonara waved back. Uncertain, if he should go to her or return to the castle to search for Arthur, whose pale body he’d seen shoot through the moat as fast as a pike pursuing a juicy three-spine stickling, Merlin decided to stay where he was and let the lady come to him. Unfortunately, the lady had just decided on the same cautious action and they’d reached a stalemate before introductions had even begun.

It was Hengist who took the initiative. He had detected the scent of freshly baked bread on the morning breeze. Unable to resist the temptation, Hengist erroneously identified Merlin as the source of such culinary delights and galloped towards the drawbridge. Merlin saved himself from being trampled by jumping over the railing and clinging on to the sides, where he remained dangling just a couple of feet above the water, while above him Hengist whinnied to express his disappointment and raced off on his quest for food. The horse’s hooves cluttered across the drawbridge, through the gate and past the raised portcullis into the outer courtyard.

“Noooooo! Hengist, stupid boy, come here!” Eliffer ran onto the drawbridge in pursuit of his horse. Dragonara had no choice but to follow.

“Now what?” Merlin scratched his thatch of hair and gawped after the boy. When he saw the lady approach at some speed, he hoisted himself up and over the railing. She had been faster than he had anticipated and they collided. He landed with a thud at Dragonara’s feet, while the lady had to steady herself by holding on to the bridge’s palings. Merlin scrambled up and bowed deeply, but the lady seemed oblivious to his presence. She stared at a point beyond his prostrate figure and the soggy shirt he was still holding in his hand. Merlin flashed a radiant smile up at her and hoped for the best. Time seemed to stand still; the shirt made a puddle on the bridge, the sun rose a little higher, the mist across the moat vanished, while Dragonara’s green eyes kept staring into space.

Merlin coughed politely, straightened to his full height and this time held out his hand to assist the lady across the bridge. “You must be Arthur’s godmother. I’m his servant Merlin. At your service, Your Majesty.” Dragonara ignored both hand and servant.

“Be still, you worm!” She cried. Two reed-warblers nesting in the reed bed below Merlin discontinued their chirpy song; a couple of sedge warblers darted up into the air and tweeted excitedly. Merlin started and dropped his outstretched hand. The lady’s response was not what he had expected. Instead of a polite nod or queenly hand gesture Merlin was greeted by blazing eyes and flaring nostrils. Had he offended her in some way?

She raised her hand and he was about to duck a blow, when he realised, she was aiming at a spot behind him. He turned quickly and caught his breath when he spotted an outstretched arm clutching a dagger.

One of the semi-conscious trolls littering the bridge behind him had reached up to stab Merlin’s thigh. Dragonara’s eyes lit up as she muttered her incantation. “Time to rest your eyes, little worm.” The troll’s head sank back on his chest and he fell asleep instantly, collapsing in a heap.

“You’ve got magic!”

“So do you, boy!” Dragonara inclined her head towards the sleeping troll and the bump growing on his forehead. “I saw how you made the armour dance to save your master.”

Merlin shook his head. “That was child’s play. You saved Arthur! He’d have drowned, if you hadn’t –“

“Don’t count your princelings before they’re safely back at home. We’ve no idea if Arthur’s safe. For all I know my spell might have transported him straight into that catapult’s claw up there on the gallery.” Dragonara ducked with an expression of mock consternation. “If the uppermost gallery was guarded, your king could be hurtling past our ears at any moment.”

Merlin shaded his eyes and gazed up to the castle’s mangonel. After a moment’s contemplation he shook his head decisively. “Nope, Arthur hasn’t discovered the joys of air travel, yet. Seriously though, thank you! I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t –“

“From what I hear you’re quite a resourceful young man; I’m sure you would have thought of something to save Arthur’s hide, no matter how ungrateful my godson might be in his response.”

Merlin grimaced. “Ah, he knows about your magic?”

“If he wasn’t sure before, he is now! Heavens above, I haven’t performed such a powerful spell for years. He shot through the water with the speed of a lightning bolt. Can’t have done his handsome features any good! Perhaps it would’ve been kinder to let him drown?”

“Arthur’s got a hard head on his shoulders; I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Merlin scratched his nose. “You won’t…I mean…he doesn’t know about my practicing –“

“What? Washing my daughter’s shirts in the moat?” Dragonara smiled and took the dripping blouse from his hands. “Your secret’s safe with me, Merlin. On that you have my word. Which reminds me, our other mutual and equally magical secret…did he send word? I assumed Kilgharrah had arranged for an official escort from Camelot to meet me by the lake, when Arthur turned up.” Her face assumed an air of joyful reminiscence. “Not quite the formal rescue party I had expected. Of course, it’s not the first time a king has greeted me in his birthday suit, but it’s usually after and not before we’ve had dinner.” Dragonara giggled, when Merlin’s eyebrows disappeared into his fringe.

He felt blood rising to his cheeks and hastily fished for the scroll of parchment in his – or rather Arthur’s – cloak. He handed the scroll to Dragonara. “Arthur received this. You know of Kilgharrah?”

“Oh yes, scaly head and I are old, old friends.”

Merlin’s eyes widened. “You’ve been to Camelot…before or after Ygraine’s death? Forgive my curiosity. It’s just…nobody’s ever mentioned you since I’ve been at court.”

“You mean, how could a sorceress walk away unscathed from Uther’s kingdom? Ask your friend Kilgharrah. I last saw Arthur on the day he was born. He’s not turned out too badly considering his paternal credentials. Guinevere’s a lucky girl. None of my royal husbands were ever blessed with such…uuhm…regalia.”

She threw back her head and laughed so heartily, the silver hair pin holding her red-blonde mane fell out and her long hair began tumbling down over her shoulders and purple cloak. Merlin hurriedly bent down to pick up the hair pin and held it out to her with an unsteady hand. She dropped her daughter’s wet shirt and took the richly decorated pin from him with an amused air, her fingers brushing his for a moment. He withdrew respectfully and she lifted her arms, twisting her long tresses into a bun before securing her unruly mane with the pin. Merlin followed the graceful, upward motion of her slender arms with his eyes and wondered briefly, what she might look like in her queenly robes and wimple, sitting on a throne. He’d never met anyone who looked less like a godmother, let alone a mother and stay-at-home wife. To his astonishment he felt her gaze travelling up and down on his own person and realised she was assessing him just as much as he was trying to gauge her. When their gaze met, Merlin felt his ears burn. Dragonara flashed a smile at him and strode off to the other side of the bridge.

He picked up the dripping shirt once more and quickly turned around to wring out the garment. Eyeing her over his shoulder, he could see she was highly diverted by his embarrassment. Dragonara started to uncurl the scroll, but before she had a chance to look at the message, Eliffer had re-appeared at the gate and asked them to hurry. She handed the parchment back to Merlin, who stuffed wet blouse and parchment into his shirt and they ran as fast as the scattered bodies on the bridge would allow them. Out of breath, they joined Eliffer at the foot of the gatehouse.

The boy pointed excitedly to one of the flanking towers. “Up there by that tower, where the flag was just a moment ago! I saw him! The other Merlin’s safe!”

Doubtful of Eliffer’s interpretation of the word “safe”, Merlin squinted upwards, but the flag and whoever the boy had seen were no longer there.

“You’ve been imagining things, boy. There’s nobody there.” Dragonara laid an arm around the boy’s shoulder and sighed. “Let’s find Hengist and see what kind of welcome we’ll get inside.”

“Judging by the look of them,” Eliffer pointed at the stricken trolls littering the outer courtyard, “the welcome might be a little subdued.”

Hengist waited patiently for them in the stables. He had discovered a stack of hay and was contently munching his way through a considerable amount of it. When they entered, he swiped away a fly with his long tail and whinnied a greeting. Merlin couldn’t help but admire the black beast. He ran his hands over Hengist’s sweaty back and vaguely regretted having knocked out the trolls earlier. The stables were full to bursting point with the guards’ and the knights’ horses. Having a groom would be handy, even if he was a troll and stank to high heaven!

As if reading his mind, Dragonara instructed Eliffer to take care of Hengist and to secure the knights’ horses. She told him of a hiding place nearby and left him in possession of her own sword. After some initial protests at not being allowed to join the quest for Arthur and his men, Eliffer acknowledged the advantages of her scheme. He had discovered the stables were adjacent to animal pens, where happy chickens had produced a considerable number of eggs just waiting to be turned into breakfast.

Pressing his body into a spot of shade by the gatehouse wall, Merlin waited in the outer courtyard. He squinted up into the bright sky and wondered how long the weather would hold. It was only an hour past dawn, but the sun’s rays had already burned off the mist rising up from the moat and surrounding fields. He wiped a bead of sweat from his upper lip and turned to find suitable weapons for the lady and himself. Selecting an old-fashioned broad sword and a mace from an unconscious guard, Merlin and Dragonara hurried across the courtyard and dived into the nearest dark entrance and down a set of stairs in search of Arthur and his men.

They found themselves in a long, badly-lit corridor which was in as bad a condition as the courtyard and towers. Dust reigned everywhere and cobwebs clung to the moth-eaten tapestries on the walls. Merlin managed to suppress the urge to sneeze, but was eventually startled into a loud nasal explosion, when a rat raced across his feet and shot down a gap in the flagstones. Dragonara shook her head, raising a finger to her lips. “Do you want the guards to find us?”

“I couldn’t help it. There was a rat.” Merlin whispered back and followed her down the stairs into the next gloomy corridor. “Haven’t they heard of wall sconces or torches? The death rate among their servants must be high; you could break your neck on these rotten stairs.”

His companion answered with a stifled squeal. “Why don’t we just holler for the guards?” Merlin snorted. Dragonara grimaced and lifted her foot; she’d trodden on an enormous bug, its slimy entrails stuck to the sole of her boot.

“Lunare.” She pointed a finger at a couple of lances hanging on an adjacent wall. They lit up like torches and Dragonara handed one to Merlin, who took the torch with a frown.

“The one time I can practice magic openly and I forget!”

“I guess you were too busy playing with rats.”

“No, I got distracted by somebody squealing like a little girl at the sight of a bug.”

Progressing more quickly than Merlin, who kept his eyes to the ground in case anymore rats or giant bugs made an appearance, Dragonara won the lead and disappeared down an even narrower hallway, before Merlin could catch up with her. Merlin shuddered. The passage stank of rat urine and he called after Dragonara to turn back, but he saw her torch disappear at the end of the corridor and turn left. Disregarding the threat of rat attack, he hurried after her, squishing several prize specimens of bugs under his boots as he made his way along the hallway.

He was just passing a heavily studded door at the far end of the corridor, when a strong arm shot out and grabbed Merlin’s wrist, forcing him to follow the arm’s owner into a small chamber. Before Merlin could turn or call out, somebody had clamped a hand over his mouth; Merlin struggled for breath. He tried to wriggle free but succeeded merely in the man pinching his nose between index finger and thumb, bringing tears to Merlin’s eyes and cutting off his air completely.

When the man finally released his nose, Merlin wasn’t sure, if he should be grateful or not. The chamber stank of sweat, rat droppings and ale. Across the room somebody lit a candle and placed it on the floor. The faint light revealed an unmade bed and a couple of over-sized slippers together with a small opening that doubled up as a window into the next corridor. It appeared to be the only source of ventilation. A tattered mail shirt and hose had been flung across the bed and on the wash stand by the door Merlin noticed a water pitcher, bowl and something that looked very much like a lady’s scarf. On a small wooden chest, next to the bed, Merlin spotted a plate with bread, onions and cheese. His stomach gave an involuntary growl. A half-full tankard of wine and a flask had been left behind by the rightful occupant of the chamber, too. In the furthest corner of the room a shadow detached itself from the wall and came slowly towards Merlin. Were these Unding’s private quarters? Had the lead troll finally caught up with him?

The shadow came closer, temporarily blocking out the candle. The man holding him tightened his grip across Merlin’s mouth. Merlin grunted with the effort to break free. The man’s other arm reached across Merlin’s chest and held him with such force, it threatened to squeeze the remaining air out of his lungs.

“I’ll remove my hand, if you keep quiet. Make a sound and you’ll regret it.” A muffled voice hissed into his ear. He felt the man’s hot breath on his neck. Merlin managed to nod his head. The man removed his hand and pushed Merlin roughly into the middle of the chamber, where the dark shadow caught him and held him with a bear-like grip that could have crushed Merlin at any moment. Merlin raised his chin defiantly and peered into the darkness.

“Now what? Your feisty friend breaks my spine?” Merlin felt his limbs go numb. “Or is he going to hand me over to the three fat women in the hall?”

“Not unless you want him to!” The man, who had nearly choked him, now stood with his back to the door. He was wearing an oversized cloak and a coat of mail beneath; his features were hidden by a hood. “Before I decide what to do with you, my friend here will help you to decide what’s good for you. I’m looking for something and you look like the fellow with all the answers.”

“Can’t be much fun working for the three crones?” Merlin took another approach. “My master’s rich, if it’s gold you want in exchange for my life? I’m his favourite servant. You could leave this place and start over somewhere else.”

The man snorted. Merlin tried to get a better look, but his attacker had drawn the hood over his face. The stranger took a step towards Merlin, who shrank back, only to be gripped even tighter by the stranger’s companion. When the two sides of the stranger’s cloak parted, Merlin caught the gleam of a sword. The man came closer still and pointed his gloved finger at Merlin’s face.

“A favourite servant, you don’t say!” The man tapped Merlin’s forehead with his finger. “You’ve got the words LAZY and USELESS written all over your face. No master would give a single penny for such an underling! Then again, who knows, the ladies upstairs might find a use for you!”

Something in the tone of that hoarse voice caught Merlin’s ear. “I’m not really in the mood for romance right now; perhaps introductions to your three ugly sisters could wait?”

“I’ve only got one sister and she’s far too much of a handful for the likes of you!”

“You’d be surprised what I can handle!” Merlin muttered under his breath. As if to prove him wrong, the man’s silent companion pushed Merlin back into the stranger’s arms and the two men found some amusement tossing Merlin back and forth between them, until Merlin used his full weight to step on the man’s toes. Merlin shot across the room and tried to get to the door, but the stranger’s companion was too quick and blocked his way.

“Aw, it fights back!” The hooded stranger hobbled across the room and dropped onto the bed. He rubbed his foot and grunted. “We’d better watch our step, my friend. He might be pulling our hair next.”

The companion by the door emitted a howl, which Merlin assumed was meant to be laughter. Standing in the middle of the chamber, Merlin looked around hoping to spot the mace he’d had earlier, which the stranger had confiscated, when he’d drawn him into the room. Trying to gain time, Merlin pointed at the stranger’s silent companion. “He doesn’t say much, does he?”

“Don’t you believe it! Given half a chance, there’s no shutting him up. Now, listen. There’s something I’ve lost and I want it back. Are you going to help me or do I have to apply a suitable inducement first?” The hooded stranger’s voice had become menacing again. He drew his sword and placed it on the bed next to him. “What would your master say if he saw you now? Idling away the day in a castle full to bursting point with eager ladies…when you should be polishing his armour and sharpen his sword.”

“My master would say you talk too much, you puffed up dollop-head!” Merlin had spotted the mace and pounced on it, before the silent companion had a chance to dash across the room. Merlin raised his arm and swung the mace around. Alarmed, the stranger dropped to the flagstones and dived under the bed. The silent companion lunged at Merlin, who brought down the mace with force, but missed his intended target. He had smashed the washstand in half instead of hitting the bed. There was no chance of swinging the mace again – the bear-like grip of the silent companion wrought the mace from Merlin’s hands and sent him crashing down to join the hooded man on the floor.

…/to be continued…

(source of animation: heathersanimation.com, BBC photograph from Facebook Official Merlin site)