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.
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.
“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.
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.