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?
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.
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 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…