Previously on “Merlin, the adventures continue…”:
The goddess Macha has taken over Morgana’s body in order to destroy both Arthur and Merlin, and to take over Camelot. Arthur already nearly escaped death, and Merlin is under the influence of a sleeping spell, which is slowly killing him.
Galahad finds the cure, but by using it he might have killed Merlin.
In the meantime Macha’s influence made several kings want to go to war with Camelot.
Brimful of sorrow and dismay…
Nobody saw the black-clad man on that dark and moonless night as he slipped without a noise through the postern gate of the castle of king Peredur. A horse was already waiting for him, its hooves were swathed with cloth, in order to ride as stealthily as possible, so they would not alarm the guards. At a safe distance from the castle he removed the cloth from the horses’ hoofs and rode with great haste to Camelot, this spy of king Arthur, and to tell the king of the many hundreds of knights and soldiers king Peredur had assembled, for he wanted nothing more than to take over the throne of Camelot. Even the farmers and day-labourers, no matter how old or how young, armed with their own pitchforks and flails, were forced to supplement king Peredur’s army; and the millers and bakers were ordered to give all their flour and bread to the king’s kitchens, and the blacksmiths were not allowed to forge anything but swords and battle-axes. “King Peredur has surely gone mad,” the citizens thought, “he cares nothing for us anymore, soon we will all die of starvation,” but they were afraid to voice their qualms, lest king Peredur would hear of it and throw them in the dungeons or perhaps even hang them.
And then, one fateful morning, not long after the spy had fled king Peredur’s castle, the whole army began their slow march towards Camelot.
Around the same time an unruly mob of soldiers, labourors and rabble of all sorts left king Maleagant’s castle, armed with a great variety of weapons and sharpened farming tools. Some said Maleagant was possessed by an evil spirit, others blamed his untrustworthy counselors, for all Maleagant could talk about was conquering Camelot, his rightful place, as he claimed to all who would hear it. No one knew where this delusion so suddenly came from, and most of them really didn’t care, eager as they were for war and the prospect of rich spoils, for Camelot must surely be very rich indeed, they thought.
And so this disorganized and undisciplined kludge plodded along, yelling and cheering, to Camelot and to victory.
He didn’t know for how long he had sat there, cradling Merlin’s head, and feeling his pulse over and over again, but every time there was nothing, not one single heartbeat, however feeble. He was almost beside himself, the thought of him having killed Merlin was too much to bear. “I didn’t want this,” he sobbed, “I thought I was doing the right thing, all I wanted to do was to help you.” He didn’t know what to do anymore, how could he face Arthur, how could he tell he murdered his servant, his friend. He thought about running away, running and running until he could run no more; and forever living in fear, fear of being found and killed or worse, forever living with the knowledge of being a murderer and a coward. How could he face Leon and Gwaine, Percival or Mordred, they would be furious, devastated and they would probably banishing him from Camelot forever, or simply kill him where he stood. And all that time Merlin lay there, the stone clutched firmly in his cold, white hand. Galahad felt so alone now, so utterly alone and utterly desperate. A tear fell on the stone and to his amazement Galahad saw the stone turning white now, it became almost translucent. A part of his wanted desperately to pry that murderous stone from Merlin’s fingers, but he dared not, afraid he might die also.
Slowly the realization came that there was no escaping his fate. He must go to Arthur and tell him everything, he must bear the consequences of his actions. “Father, please forgive me, I have failed you,” he whispered, “I have tried to become a knight of Camelot, I have tried to live up to your expectations, and all I’ve done is kill an innocent man.” Galahad did not see the spirit standing in a corner behind him, a smile on his lips. “I’m so sorry, Merlin,” Galahad’s voice a barely audible whisper now, “I truly wanted to help, but the others were right, I’m a good-for-nothing, I’m useless.” He tried to stand up, but his legs felt so heavy. He slumped down again, unable to stay awake, and the spirit faded away, still smiling.
There is a storm raging in my head, I can see nothing but a swirling red mist. It is so cold that it hurts. Another storm is coming, a white one, and it is colliding with the red. There are horses now, all made of mist, red and white horses, and they are galloping towards each other and clashing and dissolving. The noise is deafening, splitting my skull, suffocating me. There are all kinds of shapes now, horses, wild boars, dragons destroying towers, and all of them red and white, all doing battle and they are all shouting at me to help them, to defeat the others. I don’t know what to do anymore, I must fight it, and now I feel magic surging through my every fibre, red and white magic, powerful magic, talking to me, pleading, pulling me in every direction. I don’t want to fight, I just want to be left alone! Fireballs are exploding, spells are shouting, words are coming alive. I see Arthur, laughing, and Galahad, smirking. Galahad is all red now, I grab him and he is starting to turn white. Every second I hold him feels like burning a hole in my soul, but still I hold on. Then he lays there, sobbing, drained of all colour. There’s a stone in Galahad’s hand, a blood-red stone. Do what you must do to survive, I hear someone shouting and I pick up the stone and then I see a white blur, it’s grabbing me in its hands and I feel another battle in my head, I see evil magic now and good magic battling it out while that white thing is holding me, shouting. Fight it, it says, fight it or die and so I fight but what is it I’m fighting? I see that blood-red stone flying towards me and it shatters right in front of me, showering me with razor-sharp white shards and suddenly I find myself in a white room, at least I think it is a room, but it’s more like there’s clouds all around me, thick white clouds. Then I see him standing there, the Spirit I once met in that forgotten room in the archives, the one who gave me that scroll, the one who looks just like me. He is smiling broadly now, this spirit. The noise is gone, the silence is deafening.
“Welcome, my dear Emrys, welcome. So we do meet again! How time flies! And there has been a most wondrous event! Young Galahad actually sacrificed something in order to save you. He has played his part well. By giving his blood, and his compassion, to the stone, you were finally able to conquer that evil magic within you, and releasing all your true power at the same time. That sleeping-spell could only be eliminated with the unselfishness of another soul, and Galahad’s destiny was to be that soul.” His eyes now had a dreamy far-away look. “Destinies, young warlock, destinies are curious things and not all is clear. Arthur’s destiny is to become the greatest ruler Albion has ever known, and that destiny will be fulfilled as it is your destiny to protect Arthur even if it means your death and oh, don’t look so alarmed, you are not dead yet. I think. It is also written Arthur will die by a druid’s hand, and that hand could very well be Mordred’s, but it could be yours also, Emrys. Did Kilgharrah not tell you to kill Mordred, for he will be Arthur’s downfall? But you chose not to, didn’t you Emrys, and in doing so, are you therefore not Arthur’s murderer should Mordred be the one to kill him one day? But on the other hand, it could be someone we don’t even know, someone who isn’t even born yet. But enough of this gloomy talk, and let us turn our attention to more joyous matters, for, my dear Emrys, you have finally unlocked all that ancient magic within you and you are going to need it, for terrible events are about to happen. Be ready, young warlock, be ready… Sorry, gloomy talk again. Do you remember, of course you do, how could you forget, the first time we met, you said I looked like you, but it is a bit more than that, for I truly am you, I am the magic you unlocked…” and with these words the spirit started to fade, and wispy tendrils of a white, iridescent fog reached out to Merlin, touching him, absorbing into his very body. Suddenly Merlin felt a sharp and piercing pain in his head. He no longer could see anything, everything was white, one blinding flash of white light and then it was over.
“Galahad, where are you? Oh, there you are. We lost you there for a moment there. Why are you sitting alone in that room? Feeling too proud, too high-and-mighty to be seen sleeping with us?”
Galahad looked up and saw Gwaine’s face hovering above him. He opened his mouth to explain, but no sound escaped his lips. Quickly his eyes scanned the room, looking for Merlin, but he was not there anymore. And the door, it was suddenly open now. He must have been dreaming for sure. How did I get here?
“Look, you guys, our Galahad’s just crashed here, preferring to sleep alone on the cold floor instead of sharing a room with us. You really disgust me, Galahad,” and with these words Gwaine walked away, leaving a bewildered Galahad behind.
“Nice dreams,” Percival said, without bothering to stop or even to look at him.
“He was here, Merlin, he was here,” Galahad stammered, trying to stand up and he felt a sudden sharp pain in his little finger. With incredulity he looked at it, finding half his finger gone.
“No, Galahad, Merlin is already fast asleep, he was never here, he never left the Great Hall. We left him there just seconds ago, sleeping,” Leon answered sharply, “And don’t touch the mead again, you’re obviously hallucinating.”“But….” Galahad tried to explain, but Leon too was gone. “What’s happening to me, I wasn’t hallucinating, I saw him, I saw Merlin, I killed him…” he said, and suddenly he remembered his maimed finger. Half of it was indeed gone, the wound already scabbing over. I did slice my finger to draw blood, he thought, but it was only a minor scratch. “Merlin,” he almost shouted, remembering Leon’s words, and he ran to the Great Hall, his finger forgotten. There, sprawled in a chair, was Merlin. With a trembling hand Galahad felt Merlin’s pulse and a great relief washed over him, there was a steady heartbeat. “You’re not dead,” he whispered.
“And why would he be dead?” Arthur said as he emerged from the shadows.
“Sire, I… I…” Galahad stammered, trembling.
With one quick motion unsheathed Arthur his sword and its sharp point touched Galahad’s throat. “Why would Merlin be dead?” Arthur asked again, his voice soft, yet ice-cold.
“Please Sire, please let me explain,” he faltered, “I only wanted to save him, it wasn’t my fault, I had a dream, I thought,… please Sire, don’t kill me.”
“Sit,” Arthur commanded, leaving his sword on Galahad’s throat. Galahad walked slowly to the chair and sat down. Only then did Arthur lower his sword. “Talk.”
And, with a lot of sobbing, faltering and stammering, did Galahad tell his story. Arthur remained silent. “Go and join the others in the sleeping quarters. We will talk about this in the morning,” he said after a while.
When Galahad had gone, Arthur closed the door and walked over to Merlin. His breathing was regular, and Arthur thought Merlin’s face looked calmer, more at ease. “Merlin,” he whispered, “Merlin, are you awake?”
“You just can’t let me sleep in peace, can you,” came the sleepy voice of Merlin.
“No, I just don’t want you sleeping in a chair, so you can complain the whole day tomorrow how sore your poor muscles are and can’t do any work, provided you actually have muscles.”
Merlin kept silent, a look of bewilderment on his face.
“What, are you actually, for the first time in years, at a loss for words?”
Merlin looked at Arthur and said: “I feel fine, Arthur, I actually feel fine. I actually feel awake for the first time in weeks.”
At hearing these words Arthur wanted to shout for joy, but instead he said: “That’s nice to hear, Merlin, that means you can actually start polishing my armour properly now?”
“Yes, YES,” Merlin was absolutely beaming now. “It worked! That stone did heal me, I’m sure of it!” He did not tell Arthur about his dream, about the ancient magic he now so strongly felt, about the spirit.
“So Galahad was successful,” Arthur asked thoughtfully, “he really was the key to your recovery?”
Merlin nodded, smiling broadly.
“I’d better talk to him then,” and Arthur almost ran to the sleeping quarters and shouted: “Galahad, I want to talk to you. Now!” and he turned on his heels, followed by a terrified Galahad.
“Justice at last,” mumbled a half-asleep Percival, before falling asleep again.
Galahad stood there with his head bowed, eyes firmly locked on the toes of his boots. His heart was beating like mad in his dry throat, the palms of his hands were slick with sweat.
“Merlin told me he feels fine now, like he’s cured. You were supposed to be the key to his recovery, and it looks like you’ve succeeded. I just wanted you to know this. Tomorrow morning I will ask Gaius’ opinion. If Merlin is indeed free of the sleeping-spell, I will honour my promise regarding a knighthood. If, however, Merlin is still under some enchantment, you will be banished from Camelot forever, quest or no quest.”
“Yes, Sire,” Galahad whispered, barely audible.
Without another word Arthur left the hall.
“Merlin has made a truly remarkable recovery, Sire,” said Gaius the next morning. He and Merlin already had a long talk beforehand, and Merlin had finally been able to tell the whole story to an overjoyed Gaius. “The sleeping enchantment is no longer there.”
Arthur and the knights cheered like mad at this most wonderful news.
“Galahad, come here,” Arthur commanded as he drew his sword. Galahad did so and fell on one knee before Arthur, head bowed. Arthur touched his sword on both his shoulders and solemnly said: “Arise, Sir Galahad, Knight of Camelot!”
“Thank you, Sire,” he said softly. Then he turned to the knights, who were standing there, saying nothing, nor smiling or cheering, and said: “I know I’ve been an insufferable person, and I can’t ask of you to be glad of this great honour bestowed upon me, but I know I can change, must change. Please, give me that chance, give me the chance to become a valued Knight of Camelot, a worthy son of the great Lancelot.”
Still the knights kept silent, then Gwaine said: “Very well, I am willing to give you a chance, but only because you were instrumental in healing Merlin.”
“Same here,” Percival said. Mordred and Leon merely nodded.
“That’s settled then,” Arthur said, “either you become accepted by the knights or not, and if not, there is no place for you in Camelot.”
“And remember,” Gwaine added, “earning our respect and your place among us will not be easy. For me, you’re not Lancelot’s son, far from it, you’re nothing but a stranger, and a yokel and lout to boot.” The rest nodded, thinking exactly the same.
“Thank you,” answered a now humble Galahad, determined more than ever to become a knight and do his father Lancelot proud.
“This is very serious indeed,” said Gwen after the spy had told his story. He stood there in the Council Chambers, panting heavily and still dirty from the long ride. Gladly he took the beaker of cool water from Cerdic’s hands and drank it all in one go.
For a short while Gwen was silent, thinking over the implications of what she just heard. Camelot was in grave danger, and something must be done quickly. “How many men can we assemble?” she asked her trusted advisors.
“A few hundred knights at the most,” said Sir Algovale.
“And of course all the men in the kingdom who are fit to fight,” said Sir Kay, “I’m sure they are willing to defend their land and families.”
“Yes,” chimed in Sir Bors the Younger, “and how about our allies of the neighbouring kingdoms? I think they will gladly give aid, for if Camelot falls, they are sure to follow.”
The door opened and Osgar, Master of the Maps, came in. He spread a giant map made of several sheets of vellum on the table. “My Queen, Sirs, the map you requested,” and he withdrew.
“First get Doran in here. I want him to go to Tintagel as quickly as possible and get Arthur here.”
“My Queen, If I may make a suggestion,” answered Sir Kay, his gaze still firmly fixed on the map, “I don’t think that will be necessary. I think it might be better to get Arthur to meet us here,” indicting a spot on the map.
“Yes,” said Sir Bors the Younger, “good idea. Maleagant and Peredur, these two are the only ones rebelling against Camelot? As I said, they will want to go through here, and so march together to Camelot.”
“Yes, as far as we know, there are no more kings plotting against us, but that may very well change of course.”
“So, if we can get our army here,” and Sir Algovale pointed at a piece of land, surrounded by a river and marshes, “we stand a good chance of winning.”
And so it was agreed. Doran was sent to Tintagel with precise instructions, and the Knights started preparing for war. They all hoped it would be a short and victorious one. And all the while Cerdic stood there, listening.
“Mistress Macha, there was a spy amongst king Maleagant’s household, and now the knights are preparing for war already. Camelot will be deserted for sure and can easily be taken. Only the women and children are here, and those too old and feeble to fight. I don’t know where the knights will put their camp, I could not see the map clearly, but I tried, really I tried, and a messenger has gone to get Arthur. Will you be queen of Camelot now, mistress Macha? Please don’t forget your loyal servant Cerdic.” Slowly Cerdic put the statue down, for Macha had severed the connection. He smiled, thinking he would be handsomely rewarded for all he had done.
Macha, in her cave, burst out in a loud and scornful laughter. Finally, she thought, finally the chance to take Camelot and to eliminate all the Pendragons! No more fooling around with nonsense like a poisoned mail shirt of a useless sleeping spell. Now she had the armies of two mighty kingdoms at her disposal, and they will crush Camelot’s army without any trouble whatsoever. Still she had a firm mental hold on both kings, they would do anything she told them to. “Do you hear, Morgana? We are about to conquer Camelot and then I will be queen!” Her laughter now sounded like a whole pack of harpies all screaming at once. “Queen at last! Free at last! Oh, your body will serve me well, everybody will think Morgana is on the throne, poor, little, evil Morgana! Did you really think I would let you go? Never, my dear Morgana, never! With your body, I can go where I please and escape this prison once and for all!” With another horrible laugh she merged with Morgana, ready to go to the battle-field and wallow in Arthur’s, and Camelot’s, utter defeat.
It was late in the afternoon when Arthur and the knights arrived at the campsite. An exhausted Doran had told Arthur everything and without delay they had rode to here, the plains near the Hill of Badon. There was a huge river and marshes, effectively defending the camp from that side, as the river could not be forded there, and the marshes were treacherous; and there were rolling meadows, dense copse and trees on all the other sides, giving the knights and soldiers plenty of room to fight and to lay in ambush. The camp was a beehive of activity; cooking fires were everywhere, filling the air with the smell of wood-smoke and roasting meat. Knights and soldiers alike were sharpening their swords and axes, mending their mail shirts and greasing the leather straps of their armour; and their squires were busy tending the horses and running errands.
Hundreds of tents and brightly-coloured pavilions were set up, dozens of pennants were fluttering in the breeze, a proud golden dragon on a field of red. In the centre stood Arthur’s pavilion, big enough to hold at least twenty men. A round table stood in the middle, strewn with maps.
“Welcome Sire,” said Sir Owain, and he held open the flap so Arthur and the knights could enter. Arthur nodded, threw off his cape and walked to the table.
“What’s the situation?” he asked, looking at the maps.
“The army of Maleagant is now here,” Owain said, indicating an area a few miles from the camp, “and Peredur is around here.”
They all looked at the map, and then Mordred said: “This land here is rather marshy, can we lure them to there somehow?”
“Good idea,” Arthur said, thinking it over, moving some wooden pieces over the map.
“We can take a small amount of soldiers to here,” Leon indicated, “and create a diversion, forcing Peredur to advance to here…” he added, and moved some other pieces on the map.
“”Leaving this open for Maleagant to take advantage of the gap, and he will, I’m sure of that, where we will have a large force hidden,” said Gwaine.
Arthur nodded, deep in thought. If they were to succeed, they must rely on the element of surprise, that much everybody understood all too well. They were outnumbered two to one at least. “Tonight, get half of the archers to this spot here. They will be well hidden until they start firing, and when Peredur wants to retreat or even advance, there will be knights on horseback here and here.”
If I were him, I would go to here,” said Arthur, stabbing on the map, “The trick is, get them as close to the marshes as we can.”
That night, under the cloak of darkness, hundreds of archers stealthily left the camp and took up their positions in the woods, hidden from prying eyes. Percival rode with a small group of soldiers to the enemy camp, making as much noise as possible and aimlessly shooting burning arrows, thus creating a diversion so a large group of Camelot’s knights could leave Arthur’s camp undetected.
The next morning horns sounded, piercing through the quiet morning air. The battle was about to begin.
From The History of the Kings of Camelot by Geoffrey of Monmouth:
And there was fierce fighting that day, and the air was heavy with the clanging of swords and splintering of lances and the groaning of men and horse alike.
And there King Arthur fought wondrously; he struck down all he met in his path, and no one got away unharmed. He fought so well that none dared face up to him, for no iron or steel, no matter how strong, could withstand his blows. And on that day there fell 940 men by Arthur’s hand alone, and no one struck them down but Arthur himself. And when the enemy saw him coming, they turned in flight, for they did not dare face up to him.
And there was Percival, swinging his sword which he held two-handed, hewing through helm and coif and splitting the enemy down to his teeth.
And there was Gwaine, striking this way and that, with his mighty sword drawn, fighting as fiercely as he were a wild boar.
And there was Leon, hitting the enemy so hard on the helm that he knocked off a big piece and sent it flying, and the enemy fell down in a faint.
And there was Galahad, striking the enemy with his lance, and brought horses and riders down in a heap.
And there was Mordred, fighting side by side with King Arthur, and his sword clove helm and mail and bone and all who saw him fled in fear.
“We’re gaining ground, Sire,” shouted Gwaine hoarsely, his armour splattered with blood, some of it his own, trying to make himself heard above the terrible din of the battlefield. The grass was red and sticky from spilled blood from knights and enemy alike, the air heavy with a cloying stench; and there were flies everywhere, buzzing ceaselessly.
They saw the remnants of the armies of king Maleagant and king Peredur slowly but surely retreating, and the Knights of Camelot started to fight with renewed vigour, driving the enemy further and further into the treacherous marshes.
Then, from the corner of his eye, Mordred saw a Saxon warrior from Maleagant’s army running towards Arthur, a short but lethal sword held high above his head, ready to slay the king. Quickly Mordred turned on his heels to block that fatal blow, and in doing so his own outstretched sword sliced through Arthur’s mail shirt, gambeson and body, thus grievously wounding the king.
It was as time itself came to a standstill. Merlin saw Arthur bleeding profusely, and every drop seemed to hover in the air before slowly falling to the ground, each fallen drop sounded like thunder in Merlin’s ears. He saw Mordred, bloodied sword in hand, mouth open in a soundless scream, eyes full of disbelieve and horror and his sword fell ever so slowly from his hand.
Arthur shall die by a Druid’s hand. Merlin relived his dream again, vividly and in every detail, his dream in which Arthur was killed by Mordred. He saw himself lifting Arthur’s dying body again and he felt the enormous grief he had felt in his dream over and over again.
Time crawled and Merlin saw Arthur fall, saw the death in his eyes, saw his face contorted with pain. The whole world now had stopped, birds hung motionless in the air, horses stood unmoving and still Arthur kept falling. Then it was all over.“Nooooo…,” yelled Mordred. Merlin stood stock-still for a brief moment before he came to his senses and started running towards Arthur. Both he and Mordred knelt by the fallen king. Blood spurted from his gaping wound, his face had turned ashen, his breath came in ragged gulps. Tears streamed from Mordred’s eyes as he tried to staunch the wound and stop the bleeding.
“We must use our magic,” he whispered, but Arthur could no longer hear them, for he had fainted. Mordred cast a powerful healing spell, whispering lest Arthur should awaken and hear him. The blood started to flow more slowly and Mordred heaved a deep sigh of immense relief. Merlin too cast a spell, his eyes golden: “Licsar ge staðol nu”, he whispered, and there was a mere trickle of blood now, the wound had almost completely closed, but Arthur had lost so much blood, too much blood; and there was no way of knowing how much damage there was to his intestines.
“We must get Arthur to his pavilion as quickly as possible,” Merlin said, “there he can be examined properly. Gaius will see to that.”
But before Mordred could answer, a loud thunderclap sounded, splitting the very air, frightening both men and horse alike.
“Hello boys,” sounded a mocking voice and Morgana appeared as from nowhere, a sardonic smile playing on her cruel lips, “having fun?”
Next time on “Merlin, the adventures continue…”:
Will Arthur live? Will Camelot fall?
Read the conclusion on Christmas Eve, December 24.
(my thanks to the Arthurian Vulgate, volume 2: Merlin, and the Historia Brittonum for the inspiration for Geoffrey’s account of the battle)
Links to the previous chapters:
Chapter 1: http://www.merlin-arthur.com/merlin-the-adventure-continues-chapter-1-by-tony-de-haan/
Chapter 2: http://www.merlin-arthur.com/merlin-the-adventure-continues-chapter-2/
Chapter 3: http://www.merlin-arthur.com/merlin-the-adventure-continues-chapter-3-by-tony-de-haan/
Chapter 4: http://www.merlin-arthur.com/merlin-the-adventures-continue-chapter-4-by-tony-de-haan/
Chapter 5: http://www.merlin-arthur.com/merlin-the-adventures-continue-chapter-5-by-tony-de-haan/
Chapter 6: http://www.merlin-arthur.com/merlin-the-adventures-continue-chapter-6-by-tony-de-haan/
Chapter 7: http://www.merlin-arthur.com/merlin-the-adventures-continue-chapter-7-by-tony-de-haan/
Chapter 8: http://www.merlin-arthur.com/merlin-the-adventures-continue-chapter-8-by-tony-de-haan
Chapter 9: http://www.merlin-arthur.com/merlin-the-adventures-continue-chapter-9-by-tony-de-haan
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