Chapter four of Camelot Reborn, being the second part of The Fall of Camelot

Two years. It’s been two years now to this day since the world died, and in all that time I’ve thought hundreds of time about returning to Camelot. I know, it’s disgraceful, but somehow I couldn’t find the strength to actually go there. Too many sad memories… I sometimes wonder if there is a Camelot left, and if there is, will the knights remember me? Probably not, most of them, all of them, died at Camlann anyway. I’m not worthy of being a knight of Camelot anymore, I’m a disgrace to Arthur, to myself, to the whole knighthood, to Gwaine… Not a day passes by without me thinking of him. Why did he have to die… The greatest, bravest knight who ever lived.

I tried to return to Camelot some weeks ago, but there were too many Saxons roaming the countryside. Their numbers are slowly but surely increasing, more and more are coming to our shores, invading our country. I’m not recognisable as a knight of Camelot anymore, far too dangerous. So now I drift from village to village, hoping to get some work so I can buy some food. How glamorous the life of a knight is…

*

They sat huddled around a small fire, Morgana and the three sisters, its thick yellow smoke slowly curling upwards and filling the small cave with an almost unbearable stench. They had clasped each other by the hand and their eyes were closed as the sisters in a low and murmuring voice chanted their spells. They had been chanting for hours now, throwing many different herbs into the fire, and all kinds of dried bits like claws and ears and legs of strange creatures not found in all the lands of Albion and beyond. They were repeating the same words over and over again until all four had fallen into a trance. Time had stopped as the words became almost alive, filling the cave with one thought and one thought only: seize Camelot and kill Arthur. Morgana’s lips moved soundlessly, forming the words in her mind: “Hergian Castel Camelot, ábredwian Arthur”, and the words formed themselves into a powerful spell, burning itself into her brain, ready to cast without even needing to think about it. New words now formed, words intended to give pain and suffering to Arthur, both in this world and the next: “Aþrówian, hearmcwalu! Déaþcwalu!”; and now the sisters chanted spells to increase Morgana’s magical powers, to give her magic she should not possess, invoking all the evil creatures from the Shadow World: “Unrihtlyblác”. And so Morgana’s mind was poisoned with magic more evil than she had ever had, made even stronger with the words the sisters had spoken to her earlier: how it was Arthur who had caused her death, how he should be revenged, and how Morgana was the rightful ruler of Camelot; and they bound their minds to Morgana’s, making sure she would do as they commanded.

They had not forgotten all the cruelties Uther had done to them and their kind, and all the things Arthur had done; and they had not forgotten how they had almost succeeded in killing Arthur on the fields of Camlann, for it had been them who had guided Mordred’s deadly sword into Arthur’s body; and they had not forgotten how they had been thwarted by their nine sisters of the Isle of Avalon, snatching Arthur from right under their noses, bringing him to Avalon to heal, the one place where the three sisters could not reach him.

And Morgana saw in her mind the lifeless bodies of Arthur and Merlin; and she saw Mordred. Very vague, as he was walking through a thick and wet fog, but see him she did; and she called out to him, but she could not yet reach his mind. Then, with a piercing scream, Morgana and the sisters woke up from their trance, and she felt both immensely tired and immensely powerful.

*

 

“There is still good in him, there is still compassion in his heart. I see it, I feel it.”

“Yes, but there is so much blackness in his soul, that too you can see.”

“I cannot agree, the goodness is still strong, it will drive away the evil in time.”

“We do not know that, nor do we have the time, for we have seen the future unfold.”

“That was but one possible future, its outcome may never come to pass.”

“What more can we do, we have done all that was in our power to do. We must now let the future unfold itself as it were meant to be.”

“But we can still shape that future, the killer need not kill again.”

The three ancient druids sat in a circle around a blazing campfire, although the sun was high in the sky and the heat was oppressing. They were looking at the young man who was chopping wood, his long black hair obscuring his face, sweat pouring from his muscular torso disfigured by a huge white scar across his abdomen, and with great force he let the heavy axe fall, splitting yet another log in two. He hooked his damp hair behind his ear, revealing two dark eyes, cruel and kind at the same time, and said: “Is this enough for you?” indicating at the huge pile of firewood.

“For the moment, yes,” Galvin, the smallest of the three, said.

“Is there ever enough…,” Calder remarked, and he shivered, for there was always a chill in his old bones, no matter how hot it was.

“When will we make him remember?” Dinsmore asked softly, still looking at the young man as he pulled a plain, brown tunic over his head. No-one spoke, for they themselves had been asking that very same question for the last five years, ever since the day they had found him, on the plains of Camlann, the one with one last breath in his dying body; and they had taken him to their island, far from Camelot. “There is still some goodness in him, some loyalty,” they had said, “we can heal him, we can heal his body, we can heal his soul, and we can heal his mind,” and with their magical powers they tried to block all that was evil in him, and nurture all that was good; but his hatred was strong, and the magical walls were fragile at best.

And on that same day they also found another survivor of that gruesome battle where Arthur had fallen, a boy of not yet twenty summers, but already a Knight of Camelot, who sat there, cradling the head of a fallen knight, crying. “Don’t worry, we will take care of him now,” they said, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder, for they sensed that the soul of that fallen knight, whom they instantly had recognized as Gwaine, was still clinging to his body, but the diaphanous threads of life were all but severed and could break at any moment. The youth stumbled away, and the druids immediately performed their healing magic on Gwaine, hoping they were not too late; but then they felt another life-force flowing through Gwaine trying to heal him, and instantly they knew: the youth who had walked away had druidic powers, healing powers, and he had given all he had to Gwaine. They longed to know who he was, this young knight, but to this very day they had never been able to find out. And so for the last five years they had nursed Gwaine, slowly giving back his life, magically healing as much treads of his life and soul as they could, but he still had not woken, and was lying on his bed, his face serene, his breathing calm; and in time the wounds on his body healed, leaving nothing but ugly scars, the wounds on his soul had been too severe, and they had never been able to heal it completely.

And so the druids walked the path of utter caution, knowing the man who was chopping wood and went by the name of Mordred was the one who had put the sharp steel through Arthur’s body; and they also knew it was Morgana who had filled Mordred’s head with an all-consuming hatred of Arthur, driving away all that was good in him.

And so they kept Mordred in the dark as to who he was and what he had done until they had managed to transform some of his hatred into kindness, and they also had instilled some loyalty to Arthur back into him, loyalty he already possessed, but the druids fount it was buried very deep within him, hidden under layers of accumulated hatred; but the druids created pathways in his mind, trying to unlock some of that loyalty, thus piece by little piece hoping to replace the hatred.

And the druids also with much concern said: “We must shield Gwaine’s brain too so he will not remember Mordred, lest he wakes up and do Mordred grievous harm, for he knows it was Mordred who killed Arthur. We must cast the spell of forgetfulness on him too,” but they dared not, fearing it might damage Gwaine, for his mind was still very fragile, and the powerful spell might do more harm than good, destroying Gwaine’s mind forever; and so they used simple spells to weave a veil of forgetfulness, knowing full well it would not conceal all his memories for long, but it was all they could do until Gwaine would be stronger.

But they were unaware that Mordred had heard a voice in his head, the voice of Morgana calling out to him, and Mordred was very confused, for he did not know who it was that was calling him or why; and so Morgana’s words pounded against the thoughts and feelings and barriers the druids so carefully had made.

 

*

Has it really been five years already? Five long and tortuous years of roaming the far and wide of Albion and beyond. I even crossed the waters to Brittanny once, selling my sword to all who would pay, and competing in a mêlée or two, hoping to win me some armour and perhaps even a horse. And coin of course, lots of coin. Make no mistake, I can fight, my cousin Lancelot taught me well. I actually did win a few times: I defeated a knight and took his arms and armour and his destrier, and a very good horse it was too. And I managed to ransom another knight, the son of some wealthy ruler. I got a shock as he removed his helmet, because for a moment I thought I was looking at Gwaine. Same face, same hair, but it wasn’t him. I must have looked quite stupid, standing there like a statue, mouth open like a fish on dry land… The coins are all gone now, spent on food and lodgings and other things. The armour is dented all over now, but at least it gets used and it still offers me good protection. The wealthy can afford to have good armour made.

I’m in a little village now, and a farmer had directed me to a tavern where I hope to get lodgings for the night. He talked a lot about Saxons, there are rumours everywhere of them coming here, he said, but so far the village was safe. I’ve seen those Saxons a bit too often now. Yes, I’ll be careful, I promised him. He looked at me as if I were the one to protect the whole village single-handedly. Must be the armour I suppose.

I got another shock as I entered the tavern, for there I saw Percival sitting in some dark corner, all alone. My mind didn’t play tricks on me this time, it really was him. How could I ever forget the face of the man who held a dying Gwaine’s head in his hands. I would recognize that face anywhere. He had changed, though… lost a lot of weight, and his hair was longer and unkempt and he hadn’t shaved for weeks. I’m sure he didn’t know who I was, he had hardly glanced at me on that fateful day. He just sat there, drinking, minding his own business. I thought for a moment of trying to talk to him, but then a man came storming in, shouting something about the Saxons coming and Camelot falling. My worst fears came at that moment to life. Camelot had fallen, he said, and queen Guinevere captured. Well, at least there was still a Camelot. I heard Percival muttering he had to join the army of king Ban, and he walked straight by me as he left the tavern, almost knocking me over. It turned out Ban was the ruler of this little kingdom. I decided to follow Percival to the castle, joining the army to recapture Camelot might be just what I need.

 

Not long afterwards we marched to Camelot, and, having no horse and no coin to buy one, I had to walk all the way. Me and hundreds more, including Percival. We didn’t meet, however, me being in a different group, but I saw him in the distance. I hate walking. Meet Sir Galahad, the Horseless Knight… Great… I had to leave my heavy plate armour behind, and swap it for a good coat of mail. Lighter and more flexible. I still hate walking and my feet hurt.

*

Arthur lives! I still can’t believe it, but it is true. Arthur is still alive, he managed to survive the massacre at Camlann somehow! I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am. We all are. We met him in a forest somewhere, some knights were with him, and an old man, and someone whom I think used to be his servant, I’ve forgotten his name. He didn’t look too good though, pale and skinny, Arthur I mean, not the servant although he didn’t look too hot either, but at least Arthur lives! We marched the final leagues to Camelot with more hope in our hearts than ever before!

Tomorrow we will attack, and rumour has it Arthur himself will lead a detachment of knights!

 

Well, we won! Camelot is no longer a Saxon stronghold. I did manage to somehow lose my helmet by the way, and a Saxon sword almost decapitated me. Luckily some knight of Camelot saved me and the sword only bit into my mail shirt. Good mail it was, still is, all I got was another hole in my now trusted coat of mail, and some severe bruises. What happens next I don’t know. Most of the armies have gone back home, but lots of soldiers wanted to stay behind. I’m one of them, I’ve got nowhere to go anyway, and besides, I am still a Knight of Camelot. I think… Lots of things going on in Camelot right now…

 

to be continued…

Chapter three of Camelot Reborn, being the second part of The Fall of Camelot

“Are you sure you can joust?” a concerned Percival asked Leon, as he looked involuntary at the latter’s crippled leg.
“Of course I can joust,” Leon answered irritably, tugging a bit too violently at the straps of his vambraces while Loholt, his squire, was trying to fasten the cumbersome jousting gorget. “My horse must run, not me,” and his thoughts went back to the last few years, taken captive by the Saxons, the way they broke his leg, the way they tortured him to get information on Camelot’s strength and weaknesses; but Leon never spoke, for the one thing the Saxons could not break had been his spirit, his undying loyalty to Arthur and Camelot. Then the clarions sounded, and with a jolt Leon was back on the jousting field. “Now get me my helmet,” he snapped at Loholt, and feeling instantly ashamed for his behaviour.
Soon the knights were ready, eager to prove their jousting skills, and not thinking of the danger. The lances were made of a very light wood that would break easily, splinters could still fly through the eye-slits of their helmets or unprotected areas of their bodies, and even one splinter could maim or kill. There was great cheer from the crowd as the knights entered the tournament field and the herald announced them one by one. They all gave their token to the herald, each hoping their token would be the last one on the board, declaring them the winner. The knights mounted, assisted by their squires, for mounting a horse in full jousting armour is no easy task.
“Welcome, honourable knights, fair citizens of Camelot,” Arthur said, “I won’t bore you with a long speech, but I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you all after all these years, to actually be here, and to finally see a proper joust again. Please enjoy yourselves, and remember: last man standing wins the prize!” and with these words he sat down again, smiling, as the crowd let out a deafening cheer.
“Honourable Knights of Camelot,” the herald said as soon as the noise from the rambunctious crowd had died down, “welcome to this very first joust after many a year. This joust as you all know is open to the Knights of Camelot only, and please do not forget this is a joust à plaisir,” and the herald looked sternly at the row of mounted knights as he announced this: no killing or maiming each other.
“Sir Dinadan and Sir Ector,” he shouted and the first two knights took up their positions. They closed their visors, and shifted in the saddle, trying to get as comfortable as possible. A flag fell and two horses thundered toward each other, the knights balancing their lances, trying to see their opponent through the narrow slits in their helmets, aim their lance and hit the other at exactly the right spot.
Wood smashed into steel, splinters were flying everywhere, but they did not fall off their horses. Quickly both knights rode to the end of the field, took a new lance their squires held ready, and seconds later they made a second attempt of unhorsing one another. Steel-shod hooves were kicking up clouds of dust and clumps of grass, and another clash of wood on steel. Sir Ector was bending dangerously backwards, but by sheer determination he managed to hold on and stay in the saddle. He grabbed another lance and for the third time he raced towards Sir Dinadan, but now he was not so lucky. The iron fist at the tip of Dinadan’s lance hit him squarely on his shoulder, he felt himself gliding from the saddle and he crashed to the ground. His squire came running to him as the crowd cheered Sir Dinadan. From the corner of his eye Ector could see the herald taking his token from the board as he limped towards the pavilion. There would be no more jousting for him that day.

And so, as the afternoon progressed, more and more knights saw their token taken down until there were only two knights left: Sir Leon and Sir Lanval. With great difficulty, and with the assistance of Loholt, Leon had mounted his horse, for he was very tired, and his leg was throbbing painfully making him all but physically sick. It had taken all his strength and more to stay in the saddle today, and he could not give up now. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, trying to ease the tension in his muscles, trying to forget the pain.
“I must win this one,” he muttered to himself, “I must prove that I am still a Knight of Camelot, fully capable to fight, and my leg is a mere inconvenience, easily forgotten.” And so, as he mounted his trusted horse, he clenched his teeth, trying not to scream out in pain. The flag fell, and within seconds it was all over, for, with one well-aimed thrust, Leon had managed to unhorse his opponent. His vision blurred, and for a fraction of a second his world went black; the jousting field turned into a dungeon with screaming prisoners, for the breaking of the lance had reminded him of the breaking of his own bones again, and he saw the Saxons hovering over him, sneering, breaking his leg, twisting it… He slumped in the saddle, almost falling off and the remains of the lance slipped from his fingers. Loholt quickly helped him slide off his horse, supporting him, trying not to show the crowd, the knights and Arthur how worn-out and near collapse Leon really was. Leon smiled as he saw his token on the board, the only token still left, and somewhere he found the strength to raise his arms in victory as the crowd cheered and applauded him. Arthur too was applauding and beckoned him towards the Royal Stand. Slowly Leon limped towards Arthur, unaided by Loholt who had stayed behind, thinking: Leon must do this alone, stand there alone, strong and without aid.
Meanwhile all the knights had mounted again and were forming one big and colourful wall on the jousting field. The herald formally gave Arthur Leon’s token, indicating he truly was the winner.
Arthur took the token in both hands and said: “Sir Leon, it is my great privilege and joy to present you with the prize for winning this historical joust, the first joust of a new Camelot,” and with these words Arthur presented Leon with a beautifully crafted ceremonial sword, engraved with delicate and intricate scrollwork, and it had a golden hilt with a ruby set into the pommel. Leon carefully took the sword in his trembling hands and said: “Thank you, my lord”. Behind him the knights raised their swords and shouted as one man: “For the love of Camelot!”, and soon everybody, knight and citizen alike, was chanting the same words over and over again, and there was shed many a tear of joy.
Then Arthur raised his hand, asking for silence. Slowly the noise died down, and everybody stood in anticipation waiting for Arthur’s words. Even the horses were quiet, sensing something special was about to begin. For a moment Arthur gazed over the jousting field with all those newly dubbed Knights of Camelot, and felt a sudden sadness at seeing so very few of the old knights, and he let his gaze wander over the packed stands with loyal citizens, happy again after so many years of Saxon attacks and the short, but harsh Saxon rule. He smiled and then he spoke, his voice carrying to every corner of the stands.
“Firstly, I can’t begin to feel you how happy I am, and to be able to see you all and—” Here Arthur’s words were drowned out by the deafening noise of the cheering crowd and the banging of the knight’s swords against their shields. Arthur fell silent for a moment, smiling at Gwen and squeezing her hand. “Today has been a most wonderful day in a long time—” More cheering erupted. “—and together we will build a new and stronger Camelot!” The Knights now all raised their swords and again shouted as one man: “For the love of Camelot!”, and the crowd immediately followed suit, and behind him Arthur heard Merlin and Gaius shouting too.
“For decades now,” Arthur continued, “any form of sorcery has been forbidden here in Camelot, a ban first established by my father Uther, and I had good reasons to continue with that ban, for, as you all probably know, my father was killed by using magic. Evil magic. Dark magic.” The crowd now was quiet, and an uncomfortable silence had descended like a thick, black cloud on a sunny day, making everything bleak and dreary and cold. There were many amongst the citizens who practiced magic, or knew someone who was a sorcerer; and all grew restless, expecting the worst, Merlin included. He knew all too well Arthur suspected him of being a sorcerer too… His mouth went dry and he looked at Gaius who gave him a reassuring, albeit weak, smile.
“But I have come to realise magic can also be a good thing. If it wasn’t for magic, I wouldn’t stand here before you today, and I’ve learned it was dark magic thwarting the good magic that the sorcerer used to heal my father. Therefore I declare that henceforth magic is no longer forbidden—” Here Arthur paused for a second as there descended a great silence over the crowd, a silence of disbelief and confusion, but within seconds there sounded an ear-shattering cheer. All their pent-up fears and anxieties found an outlet, they could hardly believe what they had just heard, magic no longer forbidden? It sounded too good to be true. Not all cheered, however, there were still a number of people who, like Uther, had always despised magic and still did.
In the crowd Gilli felt elated too, finally he could realise his dream of a show filled with magical tricks for all to see. Tricks to amaze and delight his audience, but part of him still thought he was dreaming and this was not happening. A Pendragon announcing magic is no longer outlawed, no longer punishable by death. Suppose this is a trick, he said to himself, suppose everyone Arthur suspected of being a sorcerer will now be arrested and executed on the spot, so Arthur can finish what Uther had started. In the crowd he could see a man with a bright flame dancing in the palm of his hand, and smiling he looked around, but nervously stealing a glance at Arthur, as if to say: look, we can do this now without being hunted down and killed. Gilli saw Arthur looking at the man, and Arthur’s face darkened, but nothing happened, no command to execute the man was given. Slowly Gilli began to realise Arthur’s words had been sincere and the dark cloud surrounding him vanished.
Merlin too felt relieved and happy, but his soul was in turmoil as he suddenly realised he could never tell Arthur the truth now, not when he had lied to him so many times, telling Arthur again and again he was not a sorcerer. He was afraid that Arthur would be furious and ban him from Camelot or even worse, kill him or throw him in an oubliette, to be forgotten forever. He looked at Gaius, and saw tears from happiness streaming down his deeply wrinkled cheeks. Gaius would have no trouble using magic, for Arthur already knows he is a sorcerer, Merlin thought and he felt happy for him. He could hear Gilli’s words again, accusing him of being a nobody, afraid of being found out, forever living in hiding.
“But…,” Arthur continued as the tumult had died down enough for him to make himself heard again, “but this applies only to the use of magic for good. Dark magic will be dealt with swiftly and harshly. Anyone caught practicing dark and evil magic will immediately be put to death.” He could see a few people scuttling away, trying to make themselves invisible and he almost imperceptibly nodded to the guards, indicating where they went. Within mere minutes the suspects were securely in the dungeons, to be dealt with later, although one of them managed to kill one of the guards by using dark magic before his heart met with the sharp steel of another guard’s sword.
“And,” Arthur continued, “I also declare that druids are no longer outlawed, but are free to come and go as they please, provided they come with peaceful intentions of course.”
“Have you gone mad,” Arthur suddenly heard an angry voice in his head, ”Are you trying to bring down Camelot with this folly? I have been striving to…,” the voice now was a piercing scream, causing Arthur to flinch and clasp his head in agony. “For decades I’ve been trying to safeguard Camelot from sorcery, making it a safe place, and you are willing to throw all that away? You are no longer a son of mine, Arthur Pendragon, and you are not worthy to even carry the name of Pendragon! This will not be the last of it, you can be sure of that!” The voice of Uther cut through his head, like a thousand sharp knives slicing through every fibre of his body. Uther’s face was now flesh, now a skull, shrouded in wisps of fog; features snarling, eyes flashing. Arthur saw himself standing between giant standing stones, all shrouded in an eerie bluish light, Uther’s voice reverberated from all directions, pounding into Arthur’s head. The world was spinning and Uther’s voice screaming wordless sounds kept slamming onto Arthur’s whole body. “You worthless, ill-begotten spawn of malicious magic, soon you will join me here, I will make sure of that, and woe that day!”
“Sire, are you alright?” came the worried voice of Gaius as he saw Arthur tremble all over. ”You were gone for a second there.”
“Yes, Gaius, I’m fine,” Arthur said with difficulty, wiping his sweaty hands on his robe and thought: only a second? For me it had felt like hours… Uther’s voice now had faded and the pain was almost gone. “There was a voice…,” he murmured, more to himself than others, and he stood erect once more, overlooking the crowd.
Gaius looked at Merlin, unsure of what to do, but before Merlin could say anything, Percival shouted “Long live the King!” and all the knights followed suit: “Long live the King!” And as more and more people joined in, the incident was soon forgotten.

to be continued…

John Hurt ~ Actor Extraordinaire and the Voice of Kilgharrah

So sad to hear that John Hurt passed away yesterday.

 

Being from the UK originally and also being old enough, I remember the first time I really saw John Hurt was as Caligula in the amazing BBC Production of “I, Claudius”. He was of course quite brilliant playing the insane Caligula with imagination and flair. The Naked Civil Servant is what brought him fame at first and that, followed by I Claudius and then The Elephant Man showed his extraordinary talent. He went on to star in many movies and on stage, always capturing the essence of his character.   “Alien”, “Doctor Who”, Olivander in “Harry Potter”.

When Merlin first started, I was thrilled to recognize him as the voice of Kilgharrah. What a perfect match. His gravelly voice sounded 1000 years old didn’t it? I thought so. Somehow the Dragon even echoed his facial expressions. I loved the character of Kilgharrah and John’s own life was the backbone of the truth and wisdom that came through.

I know I will miss John Hurt. Thank you for making us feel a range of emotions John. Thank you.

 

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I just watched Merlin… Again!

I just came back to the Blog after a long time away. My Mom passed away and I spent a year and a half in the UK after that and it’s taken me awhile to get more settled back home.

Since I first watched Merlin in 2012 (I binge watched all Series and watched then last few episodes on youtube as they were being uploaded a few hours after being screened in the UK). I have watched Merlin again and again. But during the last couple of years not really. I think I watched “A Servant of Two Masters”. and “Goblin’s Gold”. once or twice along the way but nothing more.

A few days ago, I finished watched the whole series through again.. from the beginning! Except of course for the last two episodes. Because I had not watched it for awhile, it was a bit like watching it for the first time.. I mean I was again captivated by the magic, the inspiration, the love between Arthur and Guinevere, the bond between Merlin and Arthur, the Father Son love between Gaius and Merlin, the camaraderie of the Knights, the integrity, the honor, the lack of gratuitous violence and CGI, the wisdom of Kilgharrah, the excellent storylines (until the end of course), the way the “olde religion” was woven into many of the stories… you know, the whole magical experience. Gosh how I missed it!

So I am born anew into Merlin and focusing on getting a Movie made. We can do it. I think the actors, after 5 years, are ready for it. For heaven’s sake, I was SO glad when it was announced there would not be a second season of Damien… hopefully Bradley has explored his dark side and the darkness enough now. I bet he’d love to play Arthur again. I know Eoin Macken, Tom Hopper and the rest of the Knights are up for more.

So let’s show them that we are STILL here. We Still LOVE Merlin and we want more! Write a topic piece about why Merlin was so important to you and share it here or on the blog (or both!). There are over 25,000 members of the Merlin- Arthur blog. I am posting this piece there too.

For the LOVE OF CAMELOT!

 

What was MAGICAL for YOU?

 

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Chapter two of Camelot Reborn, being the second part of The Fall of Camelot

“Ohhhhh!” The crowd gathered on the market place let out a collective gasp at seeing the spectacle unfolding before their eyes and involuntarily they all took a step backwards, for there, right in front of their eyes, appeared the most hideous creature they had ever seen. A harpy, a terrible creature that surely could only have come from beyond the Veil appeared with a blinding flash and thunderous noise on stage, screeching and waving its skeletal wings, bones with rotting and decaying pieces of flesh sticking out of its body, tufts of lank and greasy hair clinging to its skull, and speaking in a distorted voice not from this world. Another flash, and in the blink of an eye a table laden with food disappeared into thin air. One woman in the crowd let out a scream and fell into a swoon, while others were suddenly looking extremely pale and uncomfortable.

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“It’s all done with smoke and mirrors you know, it’s not real,” Leon whispered in Merlin’s ear, sensing his distress and thinking Merlin was scared out of his wits; but it was not from fear that Merlin had turned as white as a sheet, for he had sensed something: magic. He concentrated, closing his mind to anything around him but the players on the stage, and then he felt powerful magic emanating from the player hidden inside the harpy costume. Could it really be you? Merlin thought, after all these years?, and a smile came to his lips, for he thought he had recognised the man playing that terrible creature. I must go to him right after the show, he said to himself, and tried to enjoy the rest of the performance, all but jumping up and down with excitement with both the play and the prospect of seeing an old friend again. A band now appeared on stage playing a lively tune, and six players were engaged in an intricate dance of attracting and rejecting, trying, unsuccessfully and to the delight of the audience, to break up the two lovers.
A few hours later and the play came to a happy end. The crowd cheered loudly, clapping their hands and stamping their feet as the players went round with hats in their hands, hoping the audience would honour them with a few coins, which they generously did; and there was also the promise of a hot supper in the kitchens of Camelot. Slowly the market place emptied as everybody went their separate ways, back to their workshops and houses, and all still in awe at what they had just witnessed. The players in the meantime had quickly closed the front of their carts with thick leather curtains, brightly painted with scenes from their plays, for they did not want anyone inside so they could see and discover the secrets of their trade.
“Are you coming with us?” Leon asked Merlin, pointing with a half-eaten apple in his hand at the lazily swinging sign of The Rising Sun, it’s painted golden sun sparkling brightly in the afternoon sun. “I’m parched.”
“No…” Merlin said absent-mindedly, and he let his gaze wander over the players, and to one in particular. “Things to do, sorry…,” and he took a few tentative steps to the biggest cart into which the players had disappeared.
Leon raised an eyebrow. Merlin not visiting the tavern? That play really had done something to him, must have shaking him to the bone. So Percival, Leon, Kay and Gaharis walked without Merlin to the tavern, laughing and boasting, counting their coin, and each claiming to know exactly which tricks the players had used.
Merlin quickly crossed the market place, walked up the few steps leading to a small door at the back of the players’ wagon, knocked and said: “hello…?”, and before waiting for an answer he slowly opened the door and peered inside the dimly lit interior.
“I knew you would come,” sounded a voice, shrouded in darkness, “I saw you in the crowd, no, I sensed you first. Welcome!”
The other players kept silent and quietly left as if agreed beforehand as Merlin walked to the other end of the wagon, careful not to trip over all the props and costumes still lying scattered around. “Gilli,” he finally said, smiling broadly, arms extended, and both men embraced each other, both happy to see each other again after so many a year. “I knew it was you, had to be you!”
They both started talking at once, each had so much to tell the other.
“Do you still have your ring?”

29
Gilli held out his hand and there it was: the magical ring that, many years ago, he had used to defeat his opponents in a tournament at Camelot, until Merlin counteracted his last spell which would have made him defeat Uther, making him the winner. “And it still hasn’t lost it magic,” Gilli said, “on the contrary, and I can perform magic without using the ring now.”
“So you did make that table disappear.”
“Of course, but there is also a trapdoor underneath it, just to fool the likes of Uther and now Arthur. You know Uther…”
“It’s magic, kill it,” Merlin replied, and both started laughing at Merlin’s impersonation of Uther, former king of Camelot. “I sensed magic, you know,” he continued, “strong magic, and somehow I knew it had to be you.”
“I felt the same,” Gilli said, “even before I saw you in the crowd, I knew you were there. I was hoping you would come and see me. If not, I would have come to the castle and search for you. Still the servant I see.”
“Yes, but I like it that way. I know, I can’t use magic as much as I want to, but that’s alright now. It’s my destiny, and I know one day magic will no longer be forbidden.”
“That’s one thing I never could understood,” Gilli said, shaking his head, and there came a hint of anger in his voice, “never using magic, always subservient to Arthur, leading the life of a nobody while you could be so much more, could do so much more. Why, Merlin, why?”
“Yes…” Merlin wanted to tell Gilli all about his destiny, protecting Arthur, but he found he couldn’t. Some things were best left untold. “Yes, but I have my reasons.”
“I’m sure you have.” For a moment an uncomfortable silence could be felt in the air.
“And what about you?” Merlin finally said, trying to lighten the mood.
Gilli took a large swig of water before answering. “After the tournament I wandered through the lands of Albion, seeking employment wherever I could find it, using my magic whenever I could, not all rulers are like Uther you know, until I stumbled upon this troupe. It turned out I was rather good at acting. And magic. You know, the players welcomed me with open arms once they knew I was a sorcerer, for their own sorcerer had been executed, here in Camelot believe it or not. Thank you Uther, thank you so very much! Luckily it didn’t happen during a show, the whole troupe would have been killed, but he was using sorcery in a tavern, performing some innocent parlour tricks. Unfortunately some of Uther’s soldiers were present and, well…”
For a moment both men didn’t say anything.
“That’s why we have a trapdoor in the floor,” Gilli continued, “to make it all look harmless, make it look like some clever trick.”
“Smoke and mirrors,” Merlin said, “That’s what Sir Leon said, smoke and mirrors. But only a few weeks ago Arthur said something about making the use of magic no longer forbidden.”
Gilli snorted. “And you believe that? No, that will never happen. Arthur is just as bad as his father. No offence,” he quickly added.
“None taken, but people can change, you know, even Arthur.”
“Can a wildeorren change his habits and start eating plants instead of people?” Gilli said bitterly. “But let’s not discuss all this now, let’s have a bit of fun. I want to hear all the gossip about Camelot, and how Uther died and what Arthur’s like. I’m sure you know a tale or two. Come with me to the tavern.”
“Only if you will tell me all of your adventures,” Merlin said, smiling and feeling good about having found a long lost friend.
“You should come with us,” Gilli said as they walked to the Rising Sun, “You would make an excellent jester.”
“I could always turn the audience into white rabbits,” and both men laughed as they entered the tavern.

to be continued…

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Camelot Reborn – part 1

The Day Camelot Fell part two: Camelot Reborn

The story so far:
It’s five years after Arthur and Mordred fell at Camlann, and things are not going well at Camelot. The Saxons conquer Camelot, throwing Gwen in the dungeons. Later Leon is put in her dungeon cell as well.
The last remaining Knights stealthily leave Camelot, hoping to raise an army to retake the castle.

Gaius and Merlin had to flee Camelot, it was no longer safe for them. They lived in a cave in the woods. Merlin can’t come to terms with Arthur’s death and slowly he is losing his magic and his mind. In a dream he sees Arthur announcing his return.

On the Isle of Avalon the Nine Sisters have been nursing Arthur back to life, and they are able to send a message to Merlin about Arthur’s return.
Then one day Merlin sees a barge floating from Avalon, and Merlin and Arthur are reunited.

The Knights meanwhile have managed to raise an army and they are marching to Camelot, Percival is also among them. In the woods they reunite with Arthur, Merlin and Gaius. The battle for Camelot is about to begin. They drive away the Saxons and Arthur, with Gwen by his side, sits on the throne once more.

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And now the continuation:

Two days. It’s been two days now, and still I can’t talk about it without bursting into tears. Two long, endless, tortuous days.
King Arthur, the late Arthur I should say, there, on the battlefield of Camlann, dubbed me Knight of Camelot only two days ago. Me, a mere squire to Sir Baudwin. The late Sir Baudwin. And former squire now. A few hours later Arthur was dead, killed by that Mordred. I was there, at Camlann, when Arthur died. I remember walking away, there was nothing left to fight for, nor anyone left to fight against. Camelot died that day, Albion died that day, and I died that day. I can hardly remember anything apart from the silence. And carrion-birds. Carrion-birds and silence. I felt as if my soul had left my body, my legs were moving without me knowing. Don’t think I left my friends behind there on the battle-field, although it may seem so to you, please don’t think ill of me. Too many deaths, I guess… But the worst was yet to come. Suddenly I found myself in the woods where I saw a man, a knight, kneeling, holding another man in his arms. I couldn’t see who it was, but he was grieving, that I could see. Grieving for a fallen comrade no doubt, perhaps he had dragged him there for safety. I took a few more steps and then I saw it: Gwaine. It was Gwaine. I remember running towards them, shouting, crying. “Not Gwaine, please don’t let it be Gwaine” I remember yelling, at least I think that’s what I shouted. The knight, Percival, I recognised him now, looked up, startled, but I didn’t see him. All I could see was Gwaine. I knelt and hooked his hair behind his ear, cradling his head. He was dead. I was overcome with grief, as I still am. I remember vaguely Percival’s hand on my shoulder, trying to give comfort while he himself had only grief to give. What happened next I don’t know anymore, everything is hidden deep in my mind, only a few vague memories like intangible wisps of fog remain. I felt my strength flowing into Gwaine. I am also a druid you know, have been since birth. I know how to heal people. Oh, I wanted so desperately to restore Gwaine’s life to him, I was totally willing to give up my own so he could live. I know I tried, giving everything I had and more, trying to get just one tiny spark of life back into Gwaine’s now ice-cold body. The world around me no longer existed, all I could see was Gwaine’s beautiful face, and then there were shadows, spectres, all around me, almost like ghosts. I felt a hand on my shoulder, gently trying to tear me away from Gwaine. There was a comfortable warmth in his touch, a reassurance even. I felt weak, so terribly weak. It must have been the druids, I’m certain of it. Almost certain. I thought I heard them talking, something like “don’t worry, we will take care of him now”. I must have walked away, it was a great day for walking away…, and now I am here, in this little village where there is only talk of the massacre at Camlann and Arthur’s death. I still don’t know how I got here. I must stop now, I can write no more, too much grief.
My name? Galahad. Sir Galahad, Knight of Camelot.

*

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“May I have the honour of this dance, my Lady?” Arthur said, bowing, as he offered his hand to Gwen. She smiled and tenderly took his hand in hers, and together they strode onto the still empty floor of the lavishly decorated Banqueting Hall. The musicians began to play a lively and merry tune on their fiddles and pipes and drums; and Gwen and Arthur opened the ball, the first in many years, and just a few weeks after the recapture of Camelot. A thunderous applause sounded, drowning out the music, and many a goblet was raised as the couple made their first graceful steps. Soon more couples followed, and it did not take long before the Hall was one giant whirling and colourful sea of merry splendour.
Hundreds and hundreds of expensive beeswax candles were burning brightly in dozens of chandeliers and candelabrums, setting the Hall and everyone in it in a rich and golden light. All the knights, whether survivor or newly dubbed, had donned their best mail shirts and armour, polished to a brilliant shine, reflecting the candle-flames a thousand times over; and all the ladies were wearing their most beautiful gowns in silk and brocade, many specially made for this evening, and their most gorgeous jewellery was sparkling like thousands of bright little stars.
Merlin too had new clothes, gone were his simple tunic and jacket of old; he now wore a lush green linen tunic trimmed with bands of dark red, and a leather jerkin dyed the same red colour as the knight’s gambesons.
The feasting would last for a whole week throughout the entire kingdom of Camelot, and there would be a tourney and a joust, and, on the last day, a mêlée. Arthur, however, much to his distress, could not compete, for he was still too weak, but he had already been training with the knights, and his strength was rapidly returning, and all expected him to compete and win next year.
“Are you going to the market square tomorrow?” Leon asked Percival as he popped another pickled egg in his mouth, washing it away with a large swig of ale, “The stage players have finally come to Camelot”.
“Of course,” Percival answered, picking clean a roasted pheasant leg, “I’ve been looking forward to it for days now. Merlin, didn’t you want to come too?”
“Yes, absolutely, and I’m sure Arthur can do without me for one afternoon,” Merlin said, looking pleadingly at Arthur. He too had heard of the play, it was supposed to be filled with all kinds of magic. There already were carts with scenery on the market square where a troupe of wandering players performed their tale involving an enchanted island, a spirit who supposedly appears and disappears from thin air, a horrifying harpy, disappearing tables and there was even talk of a real tempest! Surely they must use real magic, Merlin thought.
“Of course you can go, Merlin, but only if you wash my shirts and polish my boots this very night, I need them clean by tomorrow,” came Arthur’s carefully even voice, “and don’t forget to polish my armour too.”
“Or Merlin can wash them the day after tomorrow,” Gwen said, gently patting Arthur’s arm, “you have plenty of clean shirts, and I’m sure there’s a kitchen boy somewhere willing to polish your boots.”
“You might want to come too, Sire, I’ve heard there’ve staged something especially for you,” Merlin said with a frolicsome twinkle in his eyes, “A booth with glove puppets,” and then he quickly had to duck, trying not to get hit by the cream pie Arthur had thrown at him. Laughter erupted, and with a single glance it was understood between Arthur and Merlin that he could go and watch the play, and not do all those chores tonight Arthur had joked about.

*

“He has risen,” they hissed, “‘tis done, he has return’d.” Three hideous creatures were stirring in a huge cauldron. The foul-smelling liquid inside it bubbled and almost cried out in agony as more and more indefinable bits were thrown in. “Why has he risen,” they hissed angrily, “‘tis not something that should have happened.” The cave now filled with smoke, thick and green and smelling of rotten eggs. The three sisters, for sisters they were, stood there with their backs bent; dirty, grey-white hair hanging down their faces, obscuring their totally black eyes. The hissing continued, a snake-like sound coming from almost toothless mouths. Their gnarled hands with long, dirty fingernails clutched the ladle as they kept stirring, oblivious to the intense heat from the fire. “We must not tarry, and act with haste,” they hissed. “for Camelot was almost ours, we must not fail now.”
“But she is not ready,” they answered themselves, “we must do more if we are to succeed.”
A handful of dried bat-wings found their way into the cauldron, turning the liquid from green to the most blackest of black. “On the morrow, when the sun rises, ’tis ready to be sure,” they hissed and they kept on stirring, not needing any rest nor sleep, “And on the new morn she must be made ready too.”

The next day the liquid was as clear as water, and the three sisters hissed: “’tis finally ready, now she must be made to drink it.” They poured some of it in a crude wooden beaker, and with faltering steps made their way into the deepest recesses of the cave. No light penetrated there, and the one small flickering candle was unable to drive away the darkness.
“Drink,” they commanded, and they poured the liquid into the slightly open mouth of the woman who was laying there, her hair like a black halo around her head. The three sisters held out their hands, eyes closed in utter concentration, murmuring dark and ancient spells, from a distant time before the Old Religion, under their breath. Suddenly the woman let out a gasp, followed by a coughing fit as she tried to sit up. Her eyes suddenly opened wide, feral eyes nervously looking to and fro, and then she fell back again, but now her breathing was deep and there was colour on her face again. The three sisters looked at each other and smiled their toothless smiles. “‘tis done,” they hissed, “she has return’d. Soon Camelot will be ours. Now we must make her do our bidding.”

To be continued…

How Merlin got Arthur his gift – a Christmas story by Tony DeHaan

It had been snowing steadily for days now, and countless fluffy snowflakes had covered Camelot under a thick, white blanket. Percival and Leon could be seen hauling a Yule log from the woods, their tracks quickly fading as more and more snow kept falling.
Inside the Banqueting Hall the hearth was blazing, and at the far end stood a giant fir-tree surrounded by dozens of baskets.
“You’re just in time,” Gwen said as Percival and Leon entered the Hall and carried the Yule log to the hearth, “You can help me decorating the higher branches, just don’t break the decorations…,” and Gwen looked a bit worrying at Percival’s big and strong hands. From one of the baskets she took a bird made of delicate glass and carefully hung it on a branch. Soon Percival was stretching his arms high into the air and standing on his toes trying to decorate the highest branches with birds, flowers and fruits, all beautifully made from coloured glass and silver; and, much to Gwen’s delight, he did not break a single one of them.
“Now this one should go on the top,” Gwen said, and from a little basket she took a beautiful ornament made from intricate silver filigree and glass worked in a very delicate pattern. There was even a candle inside it, so in the evenings it could be lit. She looked at Percival who unceremoniously hoisted Leon up in the air so he could put the ornament on top of the tree.
“That’s beautiful, Gwen” came Arthur’s voice as he entered the Hall, carrying a helmet. He walked to the tree, grabbed something from the helmet and started hanging little ornaments on the branches.
“Arthur, what’s that,” Gwen asked a bit icily.
“Decorations of course,” Arthur answered and another trinket found its way on the tree.
“It’s a sword, Arthur, and a helmet.”
“Yes. Lovely, isn’t it. I had them specially made by the finest craftsman in Camelot.”
Gwen stood looking at the tree, shaking her head in disbelief. Behind her back, Percival and Leon gave Arthur their thumbs-up as Arthur carefully put a tiny mail shirt on the tree. “Look at all those tiny rings,” he said admiringly, turning it so it could catch the light.
“You can’t decorate a tree with swords and armour,” Gwen said quite decisively.
“Why not?”
“Just because!” Gwen turned to Percival and Leon, but before she could ask their opinion, Leon coughed and muttered something about polishing his boots and left the Hall, quickly followed by Percival. Arthur in the meantime stood a few paces from the tree, beaming and admiring his handiwork. Gwen just shook her head, thinking “men…”.

“And who did you draw?” Gaius asked. Everybody in Camelot had drawn lots as to whom to buy a present for.
“Arthur,” Merlin said and he clasped his head in utter despair.
“Any idea as what to give him?” Gaius asked.
“I don’t know, he has everything, and I can’t afford to buy him a new mail shirt or anything,” Merlin answered, followed by a deep and joyless sigh. “I know!”, he suddenly exclaimed, “Why don’t I just give him nothing. That’s something he hasn’t got: nothing!”
Gaius smiled, careful not to show his face to Merlin. “A little bit difficult to wrap, that ‘nothing’,” he said, patting Merlin on the shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll think of something,” and with these encouraging words he left his chambers, saying, “I’m going to the market, I want to buy my present for Cook”.
“A whole week of polishing his armour for free? No, that’s what I’m doing already. Change places for a day? No, he wouldn’t survive for five minutes. Think, Merlin, think!”

The Yule log was burning in the hearth now, carefully tended to insure it kept on burning until it was nothing but a pile of ashes. Dozens of candles had been lit in the tree, making all the decorations sparkle like thousands of little stars, and numerous parcels, big and small, were stacked under it.
“Happy Yule,” everybody shouted and lifted their goblets to celebrate the longest night, for tomorrow the days would lengthen again, giving a little more light every day, heralding the coming of spring.
Soon one by one the gifts were opened. Cook smiled and her eyes lit up as she unwrapped a wooden ladle, highly polished and beautifully decorated with an intricate design of leaves and foliage. “Oh, I like this one,” she happily exclaimed, and Gaius beamed too.
Finally it was Arthur’s turn to open his gift. His eyes widened as he opened the box, lifting out a wooden model of Camelot. “This is beautiful,” he said as he turned model, a mere 6 inches high, in his hands for all to see. He turned it upside down and there he read: “For my friend Arthur, carved by own hand”.
“Thank you, Merlin,” Arthur whispered, for he had recognized the handwriting. Merlin said nothing, he just smiled, turning slightly red.
And from that day onwards did this little model of Camelot grace Arthur’s table in his private chambers.

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The Day Camelot Fell – part 6, by TonyDeHaan

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The army was now only a few days’ march from Camelot, and they had erected their camp near the river and the woods. They had met with a few Saxon war-bands, but they had proved no match for the knights. A few Saxons, however, had managed to escape, and king Ban suspected they must have run back to Camelot, undoubtedly warning the Saxons that an army was approaching, that a battle was now unavoidable, thus giving them time to prepare their defences.

On that moonless night a scout came back, all clad in black he was, and his horse had rags tied around his hoofs, so he could gallop in silence. With great haste he went to king Ban’s pavilion, and there he met with his king and the knights of Camelot. “Sire, Sirs,” he said, dispensing with all the small talk, “the postern gate is all blocked up with rubble and masonry, but it can be cleared, give enough men and a few hours’ time. The main gate is heavily defended, but the southern gate is all but deserted. They clearly do not anticipate an attack from the river, but they did put sharpened poles in the riverbed, and chains preventing boats from sailing to the gate.”

“But we will be able to enter Camelot using the southern gate?”

“Yes, Sir Kay, provided someone can lower the drawbridge from the inside.”

And so plans to retake Camelot  were being made.

 

And as the first rays of the sun spilled over the horizon, the Saxons saw a huge army approaching, they saw the ominous trebuchets, their slings filled with stones, firing beams pulled back, ready to bombard the walls of Camelot. Alarm bells sounded, and the Saxons quickly donned their armour, ready to do battle. Great vats of oil were boiling by now, oil to pour over the attackers should they attempt to scale the walls, and many an archer manned the battlements, as well as all the arrow loops, ready to fire their deathly rain of iron-tipped arrows.

And then the trebuchets fired, followed by the arrows of the longbow-men; and the stones were pounding the walls of Camelot, making masonry fly, and there were so many arrows in the air that they all but blocked out the sun. Quickly the trebuchets were loaded for the next volley, and the longbow-men tirelessly fired arrow after arrow, and many Saxons perished.

 

At the postern gate men-at-arms worked relentlessly trying to clear away all the rubble so they could enter Camelot and try and open the southern gate. They had met with no resistance, for every Saxon was called away to defend the northern gate. Sweat streamed down their bodies, for the sun was hot and the men were fully armoured in helmets and mail shirts; but after an hour of hard work, they finally were able to enter the castle. With drawn swords they cautiously walked through the corridors, but they did not encounter any Saxon, nor were they spotted, and they finally reached the southern gate unseen. Quickly they raised the portcullis, opened the heavy gate and lowered the drawbridge. Hundreds of fully armed knights and foot soldiers, led by Arthur, streamed into the castle grounds and made their way to the northern gate. The Saxons realised too late the danger they were in, and many fell as the knights made their swords perform their deadly dance, and swung their spiked maces in devastating arcs; and Roland, squire to Sir Kay, and many other squires besides, could be seen lowering the drawbridge and opening the heavy northern gate, and hundreds upon hundreds of armoured knights and men-at-arms came storming in. Fierce fighting ensued, but the Saxons found themselves hugely outnumbered, and those trying to flee, like the scuttling rats they were, were quickly being put to the sword, and still more and more knights and men-at-arms came rushing in. King Maleagant witnessed everything from the window in the Great Hall, refusing to do battle like the coward he was, and he was filled with uncontrollable anger and fear, but before he could make his escape, Sir Gaharis came storming into the Hall, sword drawn, and the sharp steel hit Maleagant on his head, cleaving through helm and coif. “That’s for killing my squire,” Gaharis said as Maleagant hit the floor, and instantly his life fled from him.

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*

 

That day there was great rejoicing in Camelot, as the few remaining Saxons were, with much jeering and spitting, driven from their beloved kingdom, so they could spread the tale of an even stronger Camelot and all its vigilant allies, a tale of an unconquerable Albion, a warning to all; but there was also great sadness as every citizen and every knight remembered those who had perished under the short, but ruthless Saxon occupation. And so did Arthur access the throne of Camelot once more.

And soon all the dungeons were thrown open, and the prisoners were set free for they were all innocent citizens of Camelot.

The Knights went to Gwen’s little dungeon, and the honour of opening the grille fell to Sir Gareth; and soon everybody was overwhelmed with unbounded joy at seeing each other alive and well again. There was, however, no Arthur to be seen, nor Gaius or Merlin, for Gaius felt that the shock would be too great for Gwen, and so Gaius and the knights carefully prepared her first for the no doubt emotional reunion with her husband.

And when they finally saw each other, Gwen and Arthur were all but fainting from a happiness beyond all description, and they fell into each other’s arms, but there is no need to relate their feelings here.

 

*

 

Arthur roamed the now all but empty corridors of Camelot and mourned the loss of so many good and loyal knights. Never again, he thought, this must never happen again, and he opened a door at random, only to find nothing but broken furniture inside. Slowly he made his way to the Great Hall. After the defeat of the Saxons, many valiant men-at-arms had asked to be allowed to remain behind, to become a Knight of Camelot, and their kings had graciously given their consent, for they all saw the need for a strong Camelot. Arthur’s footfalls sounded loud and hollow, like he was walking through a charnel house, for the Saxons had taken all the tapestries from the walls, leaving nothing but an empty shell, dead and crumbling. As he stood before the doors of the Great Hall, he heaved a deep sigh and entered. There was assembled a great number of men, all cheering and shouting “For the love of Camelot!”

“Today will be the beginning of a new Camelot, a strong Camelot,” Arthur said, “And not only that, but today will also be the beginning of the United Kingdoms of Albion.” His words met with great cheer. “For we have now seen what can be achieved when all our kingdoms unite. You are all gathered here, all wanting to become a Knight of Camelot—” More cheers erupted. “—and for that I give thanks.” With these words Arthur walked to an empty chair, and laid his hands on the backrest. “But first I decree that this chair will remain empty forever, for this used to be Gwaine’s chair, and no one will ever be allowed to sit in it or remove it as long as Camelot stands.” His eyes misted over, and his words met with great acclamation. “For Gwaine,” they all shouted, lifting their goblets in a salute. “Tomorrow you will start your training. Lamorak, Kay, Gareth, Gaharis, Ywain, you will each take an equal number of men under your command. But you must remember one thing: if you’re not good enough, you will not be dubbed a Knight of Camelot. But I have every faith you all will pass all the tests! And now I must attend to another pressing matter. I will be in my chambers, not to be disturbed.” And as Arthur left the hall, a deafening “For the love of Camelot” reverberated off the walls. “Send Gaius to my chambers,” he said to a guard, as he left the Great Hall.

4

“Gaius,” Arthur said as both men were alone in Arthur’s chambers, “I want you to resume your duties as court physician, if you want to of course.”

For a moment Gaius did not speak, but then his lips cracked open in a grateful smile and he said: “I would love nothing more, Sire, thank you.”

“Good, that’s settled then,” Arthur said, “I hope your chambers won’t be too much damaged. Please let me know if you need anything replaced.”

Gaius bowed, saying “Thank you, Sire,” once more, and slowly he shuffled towards the door, a smile still on his lips. After years of hardship he finally was able to go back to his beloved old chambers, to see his books once more, his salves and ointments, his leeches.

“Merlin is a sorcerer, isn’t he,” came Arthur’s voice as Gaius was about to open the door. Gaius’ whole body stiffened as Arthur’s words hit him like a battering-ram, his hands shook with sudden fright. It took all his willpower to remain calm as he answered, still clutching the door-handle: “I wouldn’t know, Sire.”

“Yes you do, Gaius, I know you do.”

Gaius closed his eyes and he gripped the door handle so tightly now that his knuckles turned white and the cold steel of the handle bit painfully into his flesh.

“Oh, don’t worry, I won’t hurt him. In fact, I was thinking of lifting the ban on sorcery. Good sorcery that is.”

Gaius head turned around slowly, his hands still holding the door handle for support. “Sire, Merlin is no sorcerer, and if he was, I surely would have known,” he whispered, his eyes downcast, afraid to look at Arthur.

“Get Merlin in here,” Arthur said to a guard. The man bowed and hurried away. Gaius said nothing, the whole world seemed to spin, and he was sweating profusely now. He felt cold and hot at the same time, feeling like a scared rabbit waiting for the knife to cut his throat. Arthur gently took Gaius’ arm and led him to a chair. “Please sit, Gaius, you look unwell. So much has happened, so much to take in.”

Gaius remained silent. The door opened and Merlin entered, a puzzled look on his now clean shaven face. He saw Gaius slumped in a chair, and he said worryingly: “Gaius, are you alright? You look sick.”

“I’m fine, Merlin, just a bit fatigued,” he managed to answer, trying to smile. How he wished with all his heart he could tell Merlin of Arthur’s plan to allow magic back in Camelot, but it was not his place to relate such news, not in front of Arthur.

“Merlin, are you a sorcerer?” Arthur asked without preamble.

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Merlin’s heart leaped in his throat. “A sorcerer?” he squeaked, “Me? Oh no, no, no, no, no! I can’t… I mean… Me…?” and he kept stammering, arms flapping. “I’ve been cleaning your armour for years, if I had magic, I wouldn’t have worked my fingers to the bone, I could have cleaned it with one click of my fingers. No, no, no, I’m no sorcerer! Ha! Gaius, am I a sorcerer?”

“Arthur did ask me the same thing,” Gaius said, trying to sound calm, “but I would have known surely—” but before he could say anything more, Merlin was jabbering away again.

All the while did Arthur not say anything, but he kept looking at Merlin, his face unreadable. “I remember Camlann,” Arthur finally said, interrupting Merlin’s incoherent stuttering. “I know what I saw, Merlin, I saw magic performed. There was an old guy there, but he wasn’t really old, it was you, wasn’t he, Merlin. I know it was. Everything shimmered for just a second, and I clearly saw your face.” And Arthur’s cold, blue eyes bored into Merlin’s, holding him transfixed in an almost hypnotical stare. Merlin kept silent, wiping his sweaty palms on his tunic, wiping his wet forehead with his sleeve.

“I already told Arthur you couldn’t possibly a sorcerer,” Gaius said.

“No!, I’m not!” and Merlin’s voice rose another octave, “Look at me, how can I… A sorcerer? No, no, not me…,” fidgeting all the time with his hair, his ears, his tunic, his belt. The air was heavy with tension now, enveloping everything in a thick, oppressive blanket of dense and impenetrable fog. No one spoke for what seemed like ages. Then Arthur said softly: “I saw it, Merlin, don’t bother denying it any longer. I saw you performing magic.”

“Sire,” came the soft voice of Gaius, “you were wounded, Sire, mortally wounded. The shock, the pain… you surely were delirious, Sire, making you see things. Pain and loss of blood will do that to a man, any man. It plays tricks on the mind, Sire, as I know from professional experience.”

Arthur said nothing, but kept his eyes on Merlin.

“That’s it, I’m sure that’s it,” Merlin exclaimed far too loud.

“I won’t execute you, Merlin, I’m not like my father. Now I’m asking you one last time, and if I find out you’ve been lying to me…” Arthur didn’t finish the sentence, but let the words hovering threateningly in the air. “Are you a sorcerer or not, and I urge you to answer truthfully.”

“No, Sire,” Merlin whispered, eyes downcast.

“I’m still not convinced, Merlin, but for the time being we will leave it at that. Now you can go and polish my armour I saw lying in the Great Hall. It hasn’t been cleaned for five years, you know…” Merlin all but ran from Arthur’s chambers. “You may go too, Gaius, I think Merlin and you may need each other now. Take some rest, and think about what happened just now.”

“Thank you, Sire,” Gaius said in a faltering voice, and he too left Arthur’s chambers, still trembling.

“I saw it all before I got stabbed,” Arthur whispered softly the moment the door closed, “There’s something about you, Merlin, and one day I will find out…”

Here ends part one of The Day Camelot Fell.

Part two will be published in February.

The Day Camelot Fell – part 5, by Tony DeHaan

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“Hello, my princess, how are you today?” came the grating voice of Maleagant, the words reverberating off the cold, stone walls. He halted right in front of Gwen’s little dungeon cell, lips curled in a sneering smile. “Lovely day today. Oh, wait, you can’t see that of course. How sad…,” and a opprobrious laughter followed his words. “I have a present for you…” He beckoned to one of the guards and opened the grille. The guard threw something large and heavy into her cell and immediately the grille was closed again. “How about that, it almost looks like a knight. Have fun,” Maleagant said with a voice dripping with sarcasm, and his derisive laughter filled the dark corridor as he walked away. All the while Gwen had sat there, in a corner of her dungeon cell, not speaking nor reacting to Maleagant’s words, but haughtily looking at him, showing him she was not afraid, she was still the rightful queen of Camelot. As soon as the noise died down, and there were no more footsteps to be heard, she carefully took a few tentative steps to what must be a human being. “Hello,” she whispered, and involuntarily took a step back as the man, for it surely must be a man she thought, groaned softly. Gwen took a deep breath and tried again: “Hello. I’m Gwen.” The man groaned again, as if in great pain. Gwen knelt and touched his shoulder, for the man was lying face down on the floor. “My queen,” the man said with great difficulty, as he slowly turned his head. “It’s me.” Gwen took the bowl of water and moistened his cracked and bloody lips, and then she brushed the hair aside that was obscuring his face; and then she saw his face: “Leon,” she exclaimed, “it is truly you. What have they done to you?”
“Beat me up a little,” Leon managed to say, “Need rest,” and his eyes started to close.
Gwen found herself unable to move him, so she put some straw under his head instead. Leon didn’t even notice it as he drifted into sleep.

After what seemed like an eternity to Gwen, Leon finally woke up. He groaned again as he tried to move, but he kept trying. With much difficulty he managed to sit up and crawl a few feet to the wall so he could rest his back against it. He was panting heavily, and Gwen noticed he dragged his left leg behind him. “Oh, Leon,” she whispered, “what have they done to you? And what have they done to your leg? Here, I’ve got a bit of soup left. It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got. There will be more tonight.”
Thankfully accepted Leon the cold and watery soup and gulped it down. “Thank you, my lady,” he said, “That vermin of a so-called king said there are no more knights, I’m the last one it said, but not for long, and that they would bring me to you. The queen and her champion, that fraud befouling your throne said, the last remains of Camelot, slowly rotting away. I am, however, still quite shocked to see you here, my queen, and not sitting on the throne, where you belong. Pray tell me, my lady, are those Saxon rats treating you well?”
“I am alive, Leon, alive and unhurt. But please, tell me your story. And why did they put you here?”
Leon slowly shook his head. “I don’t know, my lady—”
“Gwen, please call me Gwen.”
“Gwen… I don’t know. They must have put me here for a reason. To get information perhaps, they might be listening, or it is simply their warped sense of fun, I don’t know anymore,” and he started to whisper just in case. “And if that thing on your throne wanted us dead, he would have done so already. As for me, it happened a few years ago, two, three, I don’t know anymore, while I was patrolling the outlying villages when suddenly a sack was thrown over me and I got hit on the head. When I woke up, I found myself in a dirty and rat-infested dungeon. It turned out to be a Saxon stronghold in the south, and they wanted information from me, information regarding Camelot. How many knights there were, how was it defended and so on. I will spare you all the details, my la… Gwen, but I did not betray Camelot, although the pain they inflicted almost made me. So after a few weeks they finally threw me back into the dungeon, more dead than alive, yet somehow they wanted to keep me alive, and I’ve been planning to escape ever since.” Leon’s voice faltered, his strength had all but left him and he breathed heavily now. Sweat had broken out on his now very pale face. Gwen offered him a little water.
“Please rest awhile, Leon, we will talk later.”

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“And at some point some Saxon vermin broke my leg, and it never healed properly. I tried to do it myself. The pain was unbearable, and I didn’t have the right tools, but I managed alright. I can still walk, and ride a horse if need be. And I finally managed to escape, after all those years in the dungeons. It took me months to get to Camelot, weak as I was, and as I was hiding in the woods, a Saxon rat saw me and captured me. I am sorry, Gwen, but I was exhausted and I didn’t have much strength left. Some knight of Camelot am I, letting myself captured like that!” Leon felt ashamed now, ashamed for letting Gwen down, letting Camelot down. He spoke no more, and turned his face from Gwen’s.
“It’s alright, Leon, you’re here and we’re both still alive. I’m sure everything will turn out fine,” but the tone of her voice said otherwise.

And then one day, not long after Leon was captured and thrown in Gwen’s dungeon, a great tumult broke out, and they could hear heavy stones pounding the walls of Camelot, and frantic yelling and screaming; and they looked at each other with both hope and fear in their eyes.

*

“So you’re the great Percival,” Ywain said with a haughty voice, “I’ve heard so much about you,” and he looked disdainfully at Percival, for he had heard the tales of Percival’s flight, how he had ran away like a coward under the cover of a moonless night.
“Percival,” Gareth said curtly, and turned his back on him, pretending to admire a tapestry. Gaharis and Kay just stood there without speaking. Only Lamorak smiled, clasped Percival’s arms and hugged him. “It’s good to see you again, old friend,” he said.
“Friends don’t run away,” Ywain said, and his tone was scornful and full of barely contained disdain, “Friends stay loyal to their comrades, to their king and queen, to Camelot.”
Percival stiffened, his eyes hardened, but he kept his calm, albeit with great effort.
“Let them,” Lamorak whispered, “they weren’t there, they don’t know anything,” and then: “Yes, Percival left Camelot and personally I don’t blame him. Do you have any idea how hard it is to see all those you love die? He had seen how his family got slaughtered, and then all those deaths at Camlann. And you, Ywain, you weren’t even with us back then, you don’t know all he’s been through! And don’t forget, Percival had been a knight for only a short time, and seeing all those deaths all around him was too much to handle, so no, I don’t blame him, and I still consider him my friend!”
“Thank you,” Percival whispered, and then, facing the knights, he exclaimed: “Yes, I went away, and for a very good reason. Arthur, my king and my friend, was dead; Gwaine, the bravest knight there ever was, was dead too, and I was the one who held him as his last breath left him.” Percival saw it all again and his eyes became moist; he felt once again holding Gwaine’s head in his hands, foreheads touching, and he felt Gwaine’s skin rapidly losing warmth, and then his eyes went dead and his skin turned cold as ice. He saw himself sitting there, frozen in time, cradling Gwaine’s head in his hands, rocking to and fro; and then he suddenly saw the burned and razed village of his parents again, and he felt surrounded by the ghosts of all his loved ones. “Pecival,” he heard, a whispering voice in the distance, “Percival, are you alright?” Slowly the world came into focus again and Percival, in a broken voice, continued: “I had nothing left to live for, and so I went away. You think it was wrong, and maybe it was, but it was the only thing I could do at the time, and now the time has come for me to fight for Camelot once more.”
“I’m sure you can still use a sword,” Kay said as he walked towards Percival and offered him his hand. Percival took it.
“True Knights of Camelot do not run away,” Gareth said, “Never!”
“Well, you’re here, aren’t you, don’t you have a Camelot to defend?” Percival was really getting upset now, for Gareth’s unbending words had cut deep into his very soul.
“That’s different,” Gareth exclaimed, turning red and he clenched his fists, ready to attack Percival.
“Really… Care to explain?”
Without warning, Gareth’s fist slammed into Percival’s gut, and almost immediately Gareth felt Percival’s fingers clutching his throat, squeezing hard.
“That’s enough!” Lamorak thundered, his fist slamming on a table, “I won’t have you fighting amongst yourselves. What are you? Barbarian Saxons? We are knights, so let’s start acting like knights instead of a bunch of spoiled children! For once, let the past lie in the past, and look to the future: how to retake Camelot! I’m not asking you to be friends for life, but at least try to behave like knights!”
There was great tension in the air now, as Gareth, nursing his throat, once more turned his back on Percival, but Gaharis reluctantly offered Percival his hand, which he, Percival, gladly took, and the Ywain did likewise, which made Percival glad, for wanted nothing more than be friends with them all, even Gareth.

*

Every day, from dusk to dawn, Merlin sat by the lake, and never did his eyes stray from that single apple-tree, but blossom it did not. And every night he slept fitfully, waking up countless times, but there were no blossoms to be seen.
And on the tenth day, as the sun slowly ascended from the calm water of the Lake of Avalon, lifting the veil of an airy mist, he saw on the apple-tree one tiny bud which was about to burst. His heart filled with joy and his eyes filled with tears. “Arthur can’t see me like this,” he mumbled and with a sharp knife he cut off his long and unkempt beard and scraped clean his chin the best he could. Then he cut his hair and when he saw himself reflected in the water he almost felt like the old Merlin again. And on the apple-tree more and more buds appeared, and soon the tree was in full bloom. The sweet scent filled his nostrils and made him dizzy. Gently the blossoms swayed in the breeze and Merlin felt more emotions in him then he could handle. He was overjoyed with the prospect of seeing Arthur again, for he knew in his heart his dream had been real. Feverishly he paced up and down the shore, never straying far from the apple-tree which was so heavy with blossom now. Slowly the sun rose higher and higher and it warmed Merlin’s skin and bones.
Then he saw it: from afar the prow of a small boat appeared. Slowly, very slowly, the rest of the boat came into view and it glided towards the shore, hardly making a ripple in the water. Merlin’s heart sank and his heart turned ice-cold, for he saw no Arthur in the boat. And he started softly lamenting as the boat floated nearer and nearer until it reached the shore. Merlin, with great fear in his heart, ran towards it, but when he reached the boat he saw Arthur lying there, his new mail shirt sparkling in the sunshine, his sword lay across his chest, his breathing was calm, his face serene and full of life.
“O Arthur,” Merlin sobbed, “Arthur, you have come back,” his fingers brushed Arthur’s cheek and a salty tear fell on Arthur’s lips. Then Arthur woke up.

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*

And every day more and more knights and men-at-arms came to Dinas Emrys, the kingdom of king Ban. There was king Caradoc of Cambenic, and he brought with him five hundred knights in full armour. And there was king Brandegorre of the Distant Isles with one thousand men-at-arms all clad in sparkling, finely linked mail shirts, and it was a wonderful sight to behold; and they all encamped on the fields surrounding the Castle of the Pond of Dragons, for thus was king Ban’s castle called. And there was king Tradelmant of Estrangorre, with two thousand men in iron armour, carrying shields and lances. And when the Knights of Camelot saw all this, their hearts filled with joy and pride, for they knew the Saxons could be beaten.
Soon the fields were completely covered with tents and pavilions of all sizes and colours, and countless banners were to be seen waving in the wind; and numerous campfires were lit, and the air was soon filled with smoke and fragrant smells of roasting meat. And still more allies were coming: there was king Alan of Caerwent, who brought with him eight hundred men all riding good horses; and king Belinant of Ebrauc came with seven hundred ironclad men, all fully armed.

And so the army left King Ban’s kingdom, but the pace was slow, for there were many carts laden with helms and hauberks, swords and maces, food and livestock; and there were carpenters, blacksmiths, bakers, cooks, jesters, jongleurs, druids and physicians; and several imposing trebuchets drawn by spans of fine, strong oxen; and there were many men-at-arms, foot soldiers and knights, too numerous to count. “For Albion,” they all yelled, “for Camelot!”

*

“Arthur,” Merlin whispered anxiously, all but fainting from happiness at the sight of his king, his friend, alive again, after so many years of tormented uncertainty.
“Wha…” Arthur croaked, but speech did not come easily, for he had not spoken for five years.
“Don’t talk, don’t talk. Oh, Arthur, you’re back, I knew it, I…,” and his voice broke.
“Water,” Arthur managed to utter in a weak and rasping voice.
Merlin quickly took his water-bottle and carefully let a small trickle of cool water fall onto Arthur’s lips.
“I can’t remember…,” Arthur whispered, “There was… was… Mordred… darkness… voices…” His eyes closed again as he tried to remember what had happened to him.
“What am I doing in a funeral barge?” Arthur suddenly exclaimed, “Mordred, I… I…” His voice faltered as he now remembered those fateful last minutes, those last minutes, last seconds, the sword Mordred had thrust through his body, a wave of excruciating pain, and then a deep, dark nothingness; and now he saw in his mind nine women hovering above him, but who they were he did not know. His hands glided hurriedly over his mail-clad body, trying to find any holes in it, trying to find those mortal wounds inflicted by that treacherous Mordred, but finding them he did not, nor did he feel any pain or saw any blood. “Merlin,” he whispered, and there was sudden fear in his eyes, “Merlin, what’s happened?” He sat up, clutching the sides of the boat as he tried to stand, but his legs buckled and he fell down. He tried again, and with great effort he managed to disembark, and Merlin proved to be a great help, supporting his limp body. Leaning heavily on Merlin’s shoulder, they stumbled towards some trees and bushes where Arthur laid down again, his back resting against a tree, hidden from view, and there he lay for a long time.
“Have you been mucking the horses? Arthur finally asked, smiling faintly, “You look terrible. There’re holes in your boots, your tunic is all faded and torn, and what’s with the stubble?”
Merlin had to laugh, a nervous laugh, for he still didn’t know how to tell Arthur the truth about what really did happen.
“I keep seeing images,” Arthur said, “strange images. What has happened, Merlin? I see myself looking at you, you’re looking awful, unkempt beard, and clothes… clothes like you’re wearing now. Talk, Merlin, please explain.” There was a pleading in his voice Merlin had never heard before.
“I will,” he said, barely audible, and at that moment he fully realised what just happened. All those years he had been waiting, waiting for Arthur to return, Arthur who was killed by Mordred. All those years he had shut himself off from the world around him, and he had build impenetrable barriers in his mind, making him forget everything and everyone, but there was one thing he had never lost: his faith in Arthur’s return. Mad, they had called him, Merlin the Mad, Merlin the Wild Man of the Woods, but those names he did not recognise any more. “Gaius, we must go to Gaius,” Merlin mumbled, looking nervously around him.
“What happened! I got stabbed, a sword through my body, but there are no wounds anymore! I was lying in a funeral barge, did all of you think I was dead? Were you preparing my funeral by setting the boat alight? Tell me I’m not dead, Merlin, please tell me you weren’t trying to burn me… Tell me how long I was ‘dead’.”
For a moment Merlin closed his eyes and heaved a deep sigh. Yes, he thought, I must tell him, but how will he take it?
“Arthur,” he said at last, “Arthur, what I’m going to tell you won’t be easy.”
And so Merlin related the whole story to Arthur, omitting nothing save his own involvement as old Emrys, and Arthur was greatly distressed, and he grew more and more astonished at hearing Merlin’s words, for he knew it to be true; and that night he had a vision of the nine sisters speaking to him, telling him all that had happened.
The next day they made their way to Gaius’ cave, resting often, for Arthur was still very weak of limb.

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*

Gaius stood by the entrance of his cave, looking, listening. The smallest sound made him jump: the rustling of leaves, the snapping of a twig, and every time he heard something, he thought that Merlin had come back. For weeks now there had been no sign of him, and Gaius was getting very worried. He has been gone for many weeks on end many times, he thought, I’m sure he’s fine now, he must be, but Gaius had an uneasy feeling as he recalled Merlin’s last words before he left: Arthur is back. He heaved a deep sigh and went inside, obscuring the entrance with thick foliage as he had done for countless times these last few years. But he felt restless and agitated, and the stuffy confines of the cave made him anxious, so he went outside again; and at that moment he heard noises, real noises, people were coming his way. Quickly he went inside, carefully putting the foliage in place, so nobody could detect the entrance. “I’m getting too old for this,” he muttered as he stood near the entrance, trying to hear who were coming, whether they were friend or foe. He dared not move a muscle, and tried to hold his breath. The voices were coming nearer now, he could almost discern the words spoken. “I thought I saw a stream here,” a voice said, “it must be on the other side though.” Footsteps now could be heard, and the clinking of chain mail. Very carefully did Gaius take a step sideways and turned his head. Through the foliage he could just make out shapes, shapes of fully armoured men wearing red cloaks. “There are footsteps here,” one man shouted, “must be from several men, by the look of it. Could be robbers or scoundrels, I don’t know for sure. Their hiding place could be near here. Shall I go and investigate?” Gaius’ heart nearly gave out and he almost fell through the foliage from fright. Then it hit him: they were wearing red cloaks, the colour of Camelot. He ventured another look and he saw a knight aimlessly slashing at some bushes with his sword. On his cloak there was embroidered that all too familiar golden dragon. Gaius felt dizzy and was about to faint. After all these years there came a friend to his dwelling. Thoughts were racing through his mind: are the Saxons finally beaten? Is Camelot safe?
“But suppose they’re Saxons dressed up like Knights of Camelot?” Gaius mumbled, wringing his old and gnarled hands, “They must not find me.” Cautiously he took another look and he let out a gasp, for it was Sir Kay he saw. Tears came to Gaius’ eyes as he stepped outside, startling the knights. With astonishing speed three swords were unsheathed and pointing at Gaius’ chest. No-one moved for a second or two, then Sir Kay said, in a voice filled with disbelief: “Gaius? Is that really you?” and he sheathed his sword, beckoning the rest to do the same. “Gaius?”
“Sir Kay,” was all Gaius could utter, for he could no longer speak from emotion. Kay walked to him and hugged him. “We thought you were dead, it’s so good to see you again. Ywain, meet the venerable Gaius, our court physician, long believed dead.”
“Sir,” Ywain said as he made a small bow and offered Gaius his hand in friendship, ”I have heard so much about you. All good things, I assure you.”
“My dear Gaius, I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you alive and well,” Sir Lamorak said, beaming.
“Merlin, have you seen Merlin?” Gaius asked, “he must be around here somewhere…” and he looked around, hoping to see him walking into view.
“Merlin is alive too?” Kay exclaimed.
“Who’s Merlin,” Ywain said a trifle bored, for he had not heard of someone called by that name.
“Arthur’s servant,” Kay answered, “But Gaius, I still can’t believe it, and Merlin, where’s Merlin?”
“I don’t know, he does that you know, disappear for weeks on end, and now that he…” and his voice trailed away. “But why are you here?” Gaius said, changing the subject, “And how is Guinevere, is she well?”
And Kay related the whole story to Gaius, who grew sadder with every word, and when Kay mentioned that Gwen was locked up in the dungeons, his face turned ashen. “There are thousands of knights and men-at-arms not far from here, ready to retake Camelot,” Kay finally said, “Please come with us, there’s plenty of room in the wagons.”
Gaius nodded, nervously looking around. “Yes… yes.. I might…”
“But you don’t want to go without Merlin, don’t you,” Lamorak said, sensing Gaius’ distress.
Gaius nodded, and at that moment a noise was heard in the foliage, uneven footfalls, panting. The knights quickly unsheathed their swords. Then Merlin emerged, with Arthur leaning on his shoulder, and both Gaius and the knights froze, a look of utter disbelief and bewilderment on their faces. All except Ywain, for he had never seen Arthur nor Merlin.
“Help me get him inside,” Merlin gasped, panting for breath, for they had walked a long distance. Ywain quickly laid Arthur arm around his shoulders and took him inside the cave, followed by Merlin.
“Who are you?” both men asked simultaneously.
“My name is Ywain, Knight of Camelot, and your name be…”
“Merlin, I’m Merlin. And this is Arthur. King Arthur.”
“Arthur?” Ywain exclaimed, “The great king Arthur of whom I have heard so much? But he is believed to be dead, killed by a traitor who went by the name of Mordred.”
But before they could speak again, Gaius, Kay, Lamorak and Gareth came bursting into the cave.
“I told you, Gaius, I told you Arthur was back,” Merlin said without turning around.
“This can’t be,” Lamorak whispered, “You were dead, are dead.”
“There is this prophesy that I know of,” Kay said, “I heard it years ago from the druids. It says that Arthur will rise again when Camelot is in inescapable dire straits, when all seems completely lost. If there ever was a time like that, it’s definitely now…”
And then Ywain who walked over to where Arthur was sitting and he fell on one knee, saying: “My lord, my king. I, Ywain, offer you my sword as I did to queen Guinevere.”
In a corner Gaius was shaking his head, he still couldn’t believe all that was happening. Arthur was indeed well and truly back, and he would finally go to Camelot soon.

They all spend the rest of the afternoon outside, so that Arthur could rest after his long and arduous journey. Only Merlin stayed with him, tending him.
And that evening and night there was a lot of talking between Arthur, Lamorak, Kay and Ywain, and the knights thought Arthur should go with them to the waiting army, and to take command, which he graciously accepted. Sleep did not come easy that night, for they all were still overwhelmed with emotion at finding Arthur alive.

to be continued…

The Day Camelot Fell – part 4, by Tony DeHaan

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Merlin, the Wild Man of the Woods, had a dream one night. He dreamt of apple-trees and he saw one in blossom, but that could not be, for it was not the right season. Dark red those blossoms were and flecked with gold, and they were growing and growing and suddenly he was a little stamen in the heart of a giant red-and-gold blossom and he heard his name: “Merlin”. He looked around but he saw nobody and again an impatient whisper: “Merlin!” Then those golden flecks began to grow and they were golden dragons now, golden dragons on a field of red and the voice whispered again, urgent now: “Merlin!!!”. The blossom started dissolving and Merlin felt himself falling and falling, forever falling and now he is lying in a boat, in a bed, in an orchard and he is hearing “MERLIN!!!” all around him, shouting, whispering, pleading and then silence.
He woke up screaming and drenched in sweat, but still he could hear it, the whispering. He slept no more that night.
But the dreams kept haunting him, and on that night, after Gaius had told his story and he slept in the cave again once more, lying on soft and fragrant leaves and ferns, he heard the voice again: “Merlin…”. The voice reverberated in his skull, getting louder and louder; What am I going to do with you Merlin. You had to open your mouth didn’t you Merlin. Don’t be such a girl Merlin. Describe dollop-head // in two words? // yes // Prince Arthur. And the pounding in his head became almost unbearable and then he saw a face, very vague it was, and yet very familiar, and the face smiled. Merlin’s eyes flew open, he sat straight up in bed and there stood a man eating an apple. “You’re completely useless aren’t you Merlin, you must be the worst servant ever,” he said and took another bite, “How many times did I have to call you, but did you listen? No Merlin, you did not. As usual.”
“Arthur,” Merlin said, trying to get nearer to him, “Arthur, you’re back,” and a huge smile lit up his face.
“Almost. When you see the apple-tree in blossom, come and find me there.” With these words he started to fade. Merlin tried to say something, but Arthur had vanished completely.
And then Merlin remembered it all.

The next morning, at first sunlight, Merlin jumped from his pallet and exclaimed: “He’s coming back. Arthur’s coming back, Gaius.”
Gaius, still sleepy and only half awake, couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He sat there, stunned. “Merlin, you’re talking again,” he said, emotion creeping into his voice and a tear glistened on his cheek, but all he heard was Merlin’s voice, and not his words. He placed his hands on Merlin’s shoulders, beaming. “You’re talking again. What was it that you said?”
“I saw him. Arthur. He’s coming back.” And without another word or glance, Merlin hastened away, leaving a perplexed Gaius behind. You saw Arthur? Where? When? He shook his old head, Merlin must have been dreaming again, poor boy.

*

There, in a cave, on a bed made of pure gold, he motionless lay. Blond hair framed his waxen face and on his naked chest scars could be seen, scars from grievous wounds, wounds that had almost killed him. Nine women stood by the bed, the nine sisters they were.
“He is almost healed,” they chanted in unison, “he is almost there.” Their slender hands wove patterns in the air and their mouths mumbled spells of healing as they had done for many years now. They had seen the little boat as it floated towards the Isle of Avalon, a place of lakes and woods and lush meadows. They had seen Merlin standing by the shore. They had seen the tears on his face and the tears in his soul. Gently the nine sisters had taken the grievously wounded king from the boat and laid him on the golden bed, and without further ado they had started the healing, for the spirit of King Arthur had almost fled his body. And for many a day and many a night they chanted their spells, for they knew the prophesy of the king who one day must return.
“He is reaching out,” they said, “he is reaching out to his most loyal servant, his most loyal friend,” and never did their chanting waver. “He is getting stronger,” they said, “soon he will depart from here and rule Camelot once more,” and they sensed Arthur desperately reaching out to Merlin. They let their energy flow into Arthur so he may reach Merlin and tell him of his return. They closed their eyes and they saw Arthur and Merlin together. The nine sisters then spoke as one through Arthur and said: “When you see the apple-tree in blossom, come and find me there”, for they knew when the apple-tree would be blossoming and they knew Arthur would at that very moment be completely healed again. Then they felt their strength fleeting and they withdrew. On the golden bed Arthur peacefully lay and his pale lips were starting to colour slightly red.

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*

“Have you heard?” the man said as he came storming into the dimly lit tavern, “Have you heard?” and he breathlessly leaned over a table, “There’re coming!” He ran to another table. “There’re coming! We’re doomed! We’re doomed!”
“What are you talking about, Eadweard, calm down will you, who’s coming? The tax collectors?” Laughter erupted.
“No, even worse, the Saxons… the Saxons are coming. I heard them talking…”
“Who, the Saxons?” More laughter, but it was a nervous and tense laughter, for they all had heard the rumours of the Saxons marching north, of villages razed to the ground, crops burned and villagers killed; and they saw knights and soldiers exercising more than usual, but they choose to push it aside in their minds.
Eadweard took a tankard of ale and downed it in one gulp, shaking visibly now, but whether from fear of anger, that they could not tell.
“Calm down and sit down,” the patron said as he gave Eadweard another tankard of ale.
“There came knights in king Ban’s the castle, knights of Camelot, the last knights they say, well, that’s what I’ve heard from the cook who heard it from the bottler who heard it from—”
“Come on, Eadweard, we get the picture!”
“Camelot has fallen…” There was no laughter now, only deathly silence descended as his words sunk in.
“No, that can’t be,” one of the men said, “Camelot can never fall, it just can’t.”
“If Camelot has fallen, all is lost,” another one said gloomily.
“Are you sure?”
Eadweard nodded. “Yes. The Saxons are heading north, or so they say, and the knights of Camelot are trying to gather a huge army to retake Camelot, and drive the Saxons away, or so I’ve heard from the cook.”

The man sitting quietly in a dark corner slowly put down his tankard, for by the word “Camelot” his sunken and lifeless eyes had suddenly got a tiny spark of life. He wiped his hands on his faded, sleeveless red gambeson. “Camelot in danger?” he muttered, shaking his head. He stood up and grabbed Eadweard by his tunic, lifting him effortlessly off the floor. “Tell me more,” he said hoarsely, his faces mere inches from Eadweard’s, “what’s that about Camelot you’ve just said.”
“Please, master Percival, please put me down.” And Percival lowered him onto the floor, and he felt ashamed for treating Eadweard thus.
“I know no more, master Percival,” he said, smoothing his wrinkled tunic, “this all the cook told me, the Saxons have seized Camelot, and there are horrible things afoot if the Saxons come here.”

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“And Gwen, queen Guinevere, what have you heard about her? Tell me, please tell me!”
“I don’t know, master Percival, but I heard the cook say that she is still alive. Locked up, but alive, but please, master Percival, I don’t know for certain, please believe me.”
“I believe you,” Percival muttered, and for a moment he was standing there like a man unsure of what to do next. “I must go to the caste, I must join that army.” He threw a few coins on the table to pay for his ale. “I must help save Camelot,” and with these words he ran from the tavern, towards the castle. For almost five years he had lived there, in this little village far from Camelot, wallowing in his misery, trying to forget Camlann, trying to forget Gwaine’s death, Arthur´s death, and failing miserably, for not a day went by without him thinking of that fateful and atrocious day. He slowed his pace, panting, for all those years of inactivity had made him weak, and he tired easily; and with great effort he finally reached the gate. “Percival, knight of Camelot, offers his services to the king,” he barked, banging with all his might on the heavy door. “Please, let me speak to king Ban!”
“You a knight?” the gatekeeper chuckled, for he knew the man who stood before the gate, a man who did nothing but drink all night and sleep all day, and who was never seen holding a sword, let alone using one. “Everyone can put on a red gambeson and claim they’re a knight of Camelot.”
“Open this gate right now,” Percival hollered, getting more and more angry, “I challenge you, sir, just give me a sword and you’ll find out soon enough that I’m a true knight!”
“Right,” the gatekeeper said, getting bored now, and he opened the little door in the gate, saying: “you may come in now.” And if you are a Knight of Camelot, the gatekeeper thought, those knights who are now conferring with King Ban will know you, if not, they will surely mock you and taunt you and chase you away, and you will be running back to the tavern where you belong. “You will be wanting to go to the Great Hall, where King Ban will hold audience, so please present yourself to the steward.”
“I know how it works,” Percival said curtly, and with great strides he traversed the courtyard, headed for the Great Hall. He did not hear the gatekeeper’s scornful laughter.