In her own Words


220px-Alkaios_Sappho_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2416_n2“I have no complaint
Prosperity that
The golden Muses
Gave me was no
Delusion: dead, I
Won’t be forgotten…”

These prophetic words were possibly sung or spoken but certainly written by one of the greatest writers the ancient western world produced: Sappho. To her contemporaries she was one of ancient Greek’s divine Muses.

Finally, after all that build-up on this blog I got to see “Sappho in 9 Fragments” by playwright Jane Montgomery Griffiths last Friday. If you ever get the chance to catch this wonderful show – put together with great passion by director Jessica Ruano and actress Victoria Grove – do go, for it is witty, thought-provoking, sexy and full of love. Love for one of the world’s greatest poets but also for love itself, the act of falling in – and out of – love time and again.

The play is underpinned by fact, namely the scarcity of Sappho’s surviving work, which is only available to us in fragments. This fragmentation has, over the centuries, allowed Sappho’s words to be twisted and moulded into whatever – mostly male – interpreters wanted them to be.

The show was performed in the confined space of the lovely ARCH1 venue here in London, where a metal frame or scaffold laced with sturdy ropes had been erected in the centre of the room. This interesting artistic device allowed “Sappho” (Victoria Grove) to move only within the spider’s web that history had woven for the poet. It was a full-blooded, emotional and stunningly athletic performance by Victoria Grove and will stay in my mind for a long time.

And, if like me you should be so fortunate as to meet Victoria Grove before or after the show, be prepared for a beguiling smile and an eye-watering handshake – my goodness, that young lady is strong!

Stardom for all Eternity

What would it feel like to be a mega-star of the literary world for most of one’s lifetime? To have wise men and women hang on one’s every word, to be elevated to the title of 10th Muse by people who are also stars in their contemporaries’ eyes? Mega-celebrities who feel they must raise one of their numbers to that eternal pedestal of fame and declare that person divine?

The rest of us humble mortals are blinded by such talent and close our eyes lest such brightness of genius should burn us; yet, we snatch at the hem of a celebrity’s toga and hope a fragment of that charisma, that talent, that divinity will rub off on us.

220px-Sir_Lawrence_Alma-Tadema,_RA,_OM_-_Sappho_and_Alcaeus_-_Walters_37159Sappho correctly concluded that she would not be forgotten after her death, but she can’t have imagined how she would be endlessly reinterpreted through the ages and have her very essence vilified and raped, celebrated and sanctified, and swallowed whole before being regurgitated over and over for centuries.

The Magic of Words

When the Iklaina tablet was found in the ruins of a medium-sized Greek town not so long ago, archaeologists speculated that literacy during the late Mycenaean period was far less centralized than previously believed. To be able to read and write was for many centuries regarded as something magical, mysterious and otherworldly, for even during Mycenaean times it was mostly rich aristocratic big-wigs who were literate.

220px-AncientlibraryalexIt took nearly 600 years before the written word was no longer regarded as something only spirits and gods might be able to create. Even during King Arthur’s time, around 670 AD, literacy seemed like something Merlin might conjure up over breakfast before playing chess with a dragon. Interestingly, in Welsh folklore the ability to use “words” or rather the skill of poetry is part of a magician’s tool box.

Once the Linear B alphabet ancient Greeks had used was transformed into what we now utilise as our 26 letters of the alphabet, poetry and literature really began to flourish in the Western world. Enter Sappho and her contemporaries.

Of course, ancient Egyptians and Chinese people would snigger at us backward barbarians, for they could read and write more than 3,000 years ago. Good for them! But hieroglyphics don’t compare with the sheer bravura and musicality of Sappho’s words and even Chinese people admit they get muddled with all those complicated symbols, so what use are such fragments in a contest of writers from antiquity?

220px-Metileme_by_Giacomo_FrancoBorn around 620 BC on the Greek island of Lesbos, which lies off the coast of modern day Turkey, Sappho is widely credited with being one of the earliest and best writers in the western world. Although only fragments remain of her work, we can judge by poem no. 1, which is a Hymn to Aphrodite and thankfully complete, how great her writing is.

Falling in Love with a Word

120px-Petra_townAlthough Greece was a very political country and Sappho herself was exiled for political reasons and forced to leave Lesbos for many years, her poetry deals with politics between two people, not party politics of men.
She writes poems about two people, who fall in and out of lust, passion, love and reason – for falling in love is, of course, very much like losing one’s reason. One could argue Sappho’s poetry deals with the most important politics of them all, namely the politics between men and women, women and women.

Jane Montgomery Griffiths’ play intertwines poet Sappho’s lament with the modern day love-trials of a chorus girl called Atthis, a name that stems from something the 3rd century philosopher Maximus of Tyre wrote about Sappho, namely that she was not unlike Socrates in her sexuality.

Reputedly, Socrates loved men, while Sappho loved women (although her poetry fragments show she also flirted with men). “What Alcibiades and Charmides and Phaedrus were to him, Gyrinna and Atthis and Anactoria were to her…” wrote that old gossip Maximus of Tyre.

The Object of Desire

220px-NAMA_Aphrodite_SyracuseYoung and inexperienced chorus girl Atthis is seduced by the star of her show, but poet Sappho is seduced by the trappings of fame. While Atthis laments the lack of love an unequal partnership has brought her, Sappho suffers from an abundance of love. Both women are trapped by the wrong kind of love, one feels; love that stems from pure selfishness.

Love for the written word has had scholars through the ages get their knickers in a twist of how to interpret Sappho’s words – and life – in a way that would suit them best – but not always with the intention to devour or obliterate the person who wrote the poetry. It seems to have been more a question of being unable to see the wood for the trees for those scholars, of being so blinded by stardom and talent that one only sees fragments…

It made me think of French actress Brigit Bardot, who once intimated that her life had been stolen and destroyed by men, because they wanted her to be whatever they desired rather than see her for what she actually is. All that they chased after and grasped at were fragments of Bardot, but they never sat down to meet Brigit.

Described by her contemporary Alcaeus as “violet-haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho”, the woman portraying her in Jane Montgomery Griffith’s play writhes, screams and struggles in history’s cobweb against the injustice of it all, just as Atthis laments being trapped in a spider’s web woven by a promiscuous seductress. Both women are in a loveless relationship that ultimately destroys who they are. While Sappho is seen only in fragments because she well-beloved, Atthis is only able to see fragments of the object of her desire, for she is blinded by love.

Beware what you wish for, Lovers

Roman bust of Sappho found at SmyrnaWhat writer doesn’t dream of achieving immortality with their words? Sappho did, but at a terrible price, for we will never be able to see her and her work as intended – just as we are unlikely to ever catch a glimpse of Norma Jean behind Marilyn Monroe’s blonde bombshell mask or hear Mozart’s music without being prodded by Austria’s tourism mammoth in case we forget the legends little Amadeus inspired after his untimely death, aged 30.

Could it be the very pinnacle of fame Sappho achieved that fragments her – rather than the scarcity of surviving manuscripts?

Scarce Facts of Love

220px-Bust_Sappho_Musei_Capitolini_MC1164She was born sometime between 630 and 612 BC and probably died around 570 BC. Poet Sappho was exiled from Lesbos sometime between 604 and 594 BC; nine books of her work formed part of the Library of Alexandria’s collection. She counts Cicero, Alcaeus and, rather surprisingly, Gregory of Nazianzus, among her many fans. She has been a lesbian icon for centuries.

(all pictures from Wikipedia)

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…

When Santa brings Nothing but Disappointment


A relief of Götz von Berlichingen in Germany c...

A relief of Götz von Berlichingen in Germany containing the famous phrase. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since some of you rather liked my last post about historical figures becoming the inspiration for fantasy writers, I thought you’ll probably enjoy this next character as much as the eternal prankster Till Eulenspiegel.

I may have mentioned this historical jester and his castle Burg Hornberg before, but such a colourful knight as Götz is certainly worth spending more time on.

Götz von Berlichingen lived in 850-year-old Hornburg Castle for 45 years (from 1517 to 1562) and became the inspiration for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1773 drama of the same name. Goethe is to Germans what Shakespeare is to the English speaking world – a famous poet, literary giant and bon vivant himself, Goethe couldn’t resist writing up Götz’ colourful adventures and adding a little literary embroidery to them.

The Hornburg is a partially ruined castle perched on a steep outcrop high above the Neckar River valley, overlooking the village Neckarzimmern that is located between the German towns of Bad Wimpfen and Mosbach in the Federal State of Baden Württemberg. Sadly, I never got around visiting the Hornburg when I lived in this part of Germany, but I’m determined to make it next time. Götz’ Hornburg is the largest and oldest of the valley castles and a favourite tourist destination on the Goethe trail.

English: The Iron Hand (Eiserne Hand) of Götz ...

English: The Iron Hand (Eiserne Hand) of Götz von Berlichingen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The original Hornburg was built in the 11th century and was purchased by Götz von Berlichingen in 1517. He must have enjoyed living in this mighty stronghold, since he remained at the Hornburg until his death in 1562. The Hornburg was subsequently bought by Reinhard of Gemmingen in 1612 and the Gemmingen-Hornberg family is still the Hornburg’s owner today.

Left uninhabited for nearly 100 years, it was partially restored in 1825 and has housed a museum since 1968. Click on the Google link below for some truly stunning pictures of the Hornburg, Neckar River valley and the village:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=burg+hornberg&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=I8x&tbo=u&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=wdXSUKyaB8Wt0QWQ9oHgDg&ved=0CFQQsAQ&biw=1278&bih=551

The Hornburg has its own informative website at http://www.burg-hornberg.de/

Just click on the coat of arms in the centre to get into the site and scroll down on the Start page until you get to the choice of languages – English is one of them.

The Hornburg is truly an amazing residence, boasting walls that are almost 3 metres thick in places and lovely Romanesque arched windows.

In a separate wing its current lord and master, Baron Dajo von Gemmingen-Hornberg, no doubt enjoys the splendid views over his terraced vineyards. It is possible to view the public rooms of the castle and participate in wine tastings held in the historic library, but only by making an appointment with the guided tours in advance.

Originalrüstung von Götz von Berlichingen zu H...

Originalrüstung von Götz von Berlichingen zu Hornberg. Museum Burg Hornberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s worth going on a tour, if you love wine and the cool romance of underground vaults – the wine cellars are 40 metres long and boast 6 metre high vaulted ceilings.

Such a 30-minute guided tour with wine tasting isn’t cheap – EUR 30.00 per thirsty person, but you should remember Baron Dajo needs to pay for the upkeep of this amazing castle and he has to put up with a lot of tourists quoting Götz’ most famous catch phrase every day.

Our Knight of the Iron Fist was renowned for his earthy mode of expression and didn’t shy away from getting involved in brawls. His famous catch phrase was preserved for eternity by Goethe, whom I always envisaged with a big grin on his face, when I was a lowly literature student reading his drama of Götz’ adventures.

The vineyards encircling the Hornburg were as famous in their own time as they are now – dating back to at least 1500, they produced many fine wines that delighted the palate of Emperors in their day. You can read more about the vineyards and wine-making at the castle on the above mentioned website.

Knight Gottfried von Berlichingen – called Götz by his contemporaries – was probably born in 1480 and became notorious as the knight with the iron fist on account of his wearing a gauntlet made from iron that could be most persuasive when applied to the noses and chins of his opponents.

Gottfried came from a noble and ancient family, the Berlichingen in Württemberg, and he was a Franconian Imperial Knight and mercenary (in German = ein Fränkischer Reichsritter).

For some 47 years he fought in a variety of military campaigns, including the German Peasant Wars and 15 feuds he recorded as being of his own making in his autobiography. He came to the assistance of friends, who had managed to get entangled in feuds and he helped out in battles against the rich cities of Ulm and Augsburg in Bavaria and against Cologne, not to mention the nasty Swabian League and the Bishop of Bamberg, a gorgeous medieval city to which I have already devoted a post.

Hornburg

Hornburg (Photo credit: igelchen)

It is rather unusual to have so much contemporary detail on an Imperial Knight, as celebrity autobiographies hadn’t really been invented, yet. German playwright Goethe used old Götz’ writings as the basis for a play about the knight’s life and the drama was first published in English in 1799 as Goetz of Berlichingen of the Iron Hand .

Also unusual for the time, Götz lived well into his 80s, rather surprising for somebody with such a quarrelsome temperament and difficult to reconcile with his profession as mercenary and knight of the Imperial realm. I doubt very much the real Knight von Berlichingen had much in common with Goethe’s literary version.

As a literary character he was part maverick and free spirit, a rebellious poet with a national backbone and a man full of integrity. Goethe’s version of the man rebels against an over-refined and deceitful society, but is ultimately a victim of the laws and contemporary understanding of justice of that very society.

So what about the famous quotation, the knight’s catch phrase that is regarded as vulgar today as it was during his lifetime?

h63 knight in armourIn Goethe’s third act, Götz finds himself under siege by the Imperial Army in his castle at Jagsthausen, which stands in for the Hornburg inhabited the historical Götz. Asked to surrender by the captain of the besieging army, our plucky knight opens a window, sticks his iron fist out and shouts down to the uplifted heads of his attackers: “Surrender? Me? Who do you think you’re talking to? I’m a robber baron! Tell your captain, my due respect now as ever goes to His Imperial Majesty, but your captain, he can lick my arse!”

Goethe used a quotation from Götz’ autobiography, who said in an albeit different context: “er solte mich hinden lecken”, (freely translated as: “He can lick me on the behind”), which is a little less vulgar but nonetheless indicative of the way in which the historical Götz (or do I mean hysterical?) dealt with his contemporaries, when they irritated him.

So, after this valuable German lesson you’ll know how to respond, when Santa brings you woolly socks instead of that e-book reader you’ve had beady eye on all year.

My final blog for the year will be part 20 of Merlin fan fiction Let the Questing begin, which I’ll try to publish before the final episode of the BBC’s Merlin airs on TV.

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


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

 

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

 

The Honeymoon is over: Let the Questing begin!

 

Part 19.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Outside Gaius’ chambers in burning Camelot…

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“And if Arthur enters the tunnels first?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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


Till Eulenspiegel

Till Eulenspiegel (Photo credit: pipebär)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eulenspiegelmuseum Mölln

Eulenspiegelmuseum Mölln (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

Deutsch: Braunschweig: Detail des Till Eulensp...

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

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

Till Eulenspiegel Mölln

Till Eulenspiegel Mölln (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

Deutsch: Eulenspiegel

Deutsch: Eulenspiegel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

…just like any gifted fantasy author would do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Kindness of Bradley James


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

English: Actor Colin Morgan after the premiere...

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

SDCC 2010: Merlin

SDCC 2010: Merlin (Photo credit: shine_blitz_on)

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

Merlin Ep. 8 Review & A Call to Arms


English: The Lamentation of King Arthur

Merlin Ep 8 Review and A Call to Arms

(Fairly spoiler free…except…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Call to Arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merlin Mash


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

What strikes me with all three episodes is that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homely Northern Castles (Part 5)


Deutsch: Die Orangerie des Schweriner Schlosses

Apology to Merlin fans: I won’t have time to do a “Merlin” review of the last three episodes until Thursday this week with more Merlin fan fiction to follow next week…the usual client work gets in the way of the far more serious business of Merlinian shenanigans, I’m sorry to say.

While over on Willow the Vampire’s blog (http://willowthevampire.com) I’m discussing the mysterious and ghostly presence of the Petermännchen (Little Man Peter) in greater detail, here at Maria Thermann’s blog we are taking a closer look at the Petermännchen’s once and future home: romantic Schwerin Castle, my favourite of all the homely northern castles.

English: Castle bridge Schwerin with castle; M...

Schloss Schwerin or Schwerin Castle in Mecklenburg is seemingly floating in the centre of a lake right in the heart of the beautiful town of Schwerin. For a very long time the castle served as residence for the Dukes of Mecklenburg.

The castle’s history dates back around 1,000 years and its present circumference harks back to a hill fort that was erected on the small island in the centre of the lake in the year 965. For over one thousand years generations of architects and builders reshaped the castle but hardly any trace remains of their “blue prints” until in around 1500 the first generation of organised builders and architects start collating a plethora of pictorial and documented construction plans. Just as an aside, the terracotta used to build the castle came from my home town Lübeck, no doubt supplied by a happy merchant who was a member of the Hanseatic League.

Schwerin Castle, south-eastern aspect

The castle as it stands today owes its appearance to the considerable refurbishments and restoration works carried out during 1845 and 1857. No fewer than four architects worked on the castle, using French Renaissance castles as their guide.

Travellers familiar with the architecture of Castle Chambord will probably spot some similarities, as the at the castle along the Loire River in France was one of the examples used by architects Georg Adolf Demmler, Gottfriend Semper (the same chap who was responsible for the Semper Opera House in Dresden), Friedrich August Stüler and Ernst Friedrich Zwirner to create the romantic effect we see today.

I won’t bore you with all the various people who tried to get their greedy paws on Castle Schwerin and the fertile lands of Mecklenburg (King Henry the Lion being one of them in 1160). The first time I clapped eyes on this magical castle was a few days after the Berlin Wall fell. My parents took me across the then still existing East German border, which ran just about 8 or 10 km inland from where I grew up.

English: Schwerin Castle Deutsch: Schweriner S...

English: Schwerin Castle Deutsch: Schweriner Schloss (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Schwerin Castle.

I’ll never forget the truly awful state in which nearly all of the historic monuments in towns and cities like Rostock, Schwerin and Wismar languished. Castle Schwerin was in a pretty rotten condition and when I saw it nearly a decade later, restored to its 1857 glory, I have to admit I looked upon it with swimming eyes.

At the end of 1989, when the German “Democratic” Republic was finally consigned to the history books and declared to be part of a united Germany once more, a consortium of 25 companies in and around the city of Kiel created an emergency trust fund with which important monuments like Castle Schwerin should be rescued from total collapse.

Whole armies of dedicated and hard-working restoration experts are responsible for the amazing transformation world heritage treasures like Schloss Schwerin have undergone since April 1990, when the first workers arrived to deal with the many problems of the domed roof alone.

front aspect of Schwerin Castle, Germany Españ...

front aspect of Schwerin Castle, Germany Español: Castillo de Schwerin en Mecklemburgo-Pomerania Occidental Italiano: Castello di Schwerin Česky: Zámek v německém městě Schwerin Polski: Zamek w Schwerinie Русский: Шверинский замок в городе Шверин в Германии (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Castle Schwerin Deutsch: Schloss Schwerin

When I visited the castle last, there was talk of connecting the seven lakes in the area up to Lake Schwerin, as tourism from canoeists, cyclists and walkers is vital for the economies of the area. The castle is home to the State Museum and a major tourist draw.

The castle gardens were still “under construction” when I visited last, but I see that in 2009 they underwent considerable restoration and reconstruction, too, in order that UNESCO World Heritage status could be applied for on behalf of the whole castle complex.

It is an absolute MUST see destination for anyone travelling around northern Germany and, of course, for anyone thinking about writing a story with a romantic castle setting. I would like to thank the armies of workers who have tirelessly restored this treasure to us after decades of shameful neglect by the so-called government of the so-called German Democratic Republic which, as we learned after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was as rotten and in need of urgent restoration as the castle in Schwerin itself.

Bundesgartenschau 2009 - Schwerin Castle seen ...

For more detailed historical information, please visit Castle Schwerin on Wikipedia or go to

http://www.museum-schwerin.de/orte/schloss-schwerin/ , if you’re fluent in German and to see the lovely pictures there. Click on the left hand side on Museums Schloss Schwerin for a picture gallery of the castle and visit the webcam for a view across the gardens from one of the castle’s highest towers.

For information about the little castle ghost, the Petermännchen, just head to http://willowthevampire.com, where I’m explaining what the ghost is and why it still haunts us today.

Ep 4 Review and Merlin Fan Fiction Part 17


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rose Tyler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A meadow in Deira, Wulfric’s lands…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do I do that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merlin stared. “Dead? How…when?”

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

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

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

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

“No, I couldn’t possibly.”

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

“Merlin, I cannot do as you ask.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

…to be continued…

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the foot of a hill near Castle Deira…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you for your kindness, my lords.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The king grunted. “Go away!”

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

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

“Arthur!”

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

“Dragons are powerful beings with long memories.”

“So are kings deprived of their sleep!”

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

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

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

“Care to explain that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

…/to be continued…

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