Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Exclusive US Preview: Arthur and Excalibur - Chapter 2!







Chapter 2


ARTHUR MEETS THE BEARS




IGRAINE’S TIME AT LYDNEY WAS VERY RELAXING and the healing women certainly knew what they were about. The location was ideal, peace and tranquillity blended in superbly with the surroundings of the flowers, trees and mysterious lake that was close by, reputed to be the domain of the Lady of the Lake, although little was said of her. The whole place had that sense and feeling of calm and wellbeing that was ideal for healing any ailment, as well as inducing a relaxed state of body and mind in preparation for giving birth. This occurred on time and with ease and Igraine gave birth to a healthy baby boy, which delighted her immensely as she had produced an heir for Uther Pendragon, High King of Britain. Although illegitimate it was his only son at the time, however as she was going to have to give him up in a few days she did not name him, as no doubt Merlin would have ideas about that. Psychologically too it would be better for her if he had no name that she could remember him by and hopefully that would make the parting a little easier.

A few days after the arrival of the baby Merlin suddenly appeared and announced that word had reached him of the birth and he had made his way straight here, delighted that it had been a boy. He told Igraine that Uther had been made aware that he had a son an heir and he was very pleased. Igraine wanted to know how Merlin had heard of the birth as it was supposed to be a closely guarded secret known only to the healing women here at the sanctuary. Merlin told her not to worry, that nobody else was aware of her secret and hadn’t she realised that this healing sanctuary was under the protection of Nimue, Lady of the Lake, as this was her domain. That she could communicate with Merlin in mystical ways over great distances, and he with her. This came as a complete surprise to Igraine, as although it often appeared that he had mystical powers she had not given much thought to what these actually were. Other than that he was known as a great visionary and on occasion appeared to travel long distances in a short period of time. She knew it was now time for her to return to Tintagel and leave the boy here, whilst Merlin arranged for him to go to a reputable family to bring him up and teach him what he would need to know. Igraine wanted to stay longer but realised that she was already becoming attached to the little lad, like a mother would, delay would make parting even more difficult so she agreed that they should start their long journey back to Tintagel the following day. Merlin told her that the fighting up north appeared to be going well and that the Duke could be returning within the next couple of months if success continued in the same way, that would give her time to re-adjust to life at the fort.

The following morning emotional goodbyes and thanks were said to the healing women and the horse and cart started its long slow journey south. Merlin was staying behind for a day or two but would catch them up later in their journey, he had some important business to attend to he said. This was to visit Nimue and discuss the long term plan for the child’s upbringing and the instruction that he would need to make him fit and capable of being a good and strong King. Nimue thought that the lad should stay in the area around Glevum where she could keep an eye on him, but Merlin favoured a different scenario, one that at first seemed totally absurd but one that he felt would benefit the boy. A place where he would be out of harms way and could be given the correct upbringing with a totally reliable and trustworthy knight with much experience, even though it could be said that it was placing him in the lion's den.

After much discussion and debate it was agreed that Arthur, as they had agreed to call the boy, as this was the name that kept appearing in Merlin‘s visions, would stay at the sanctuary until he was 4 years old. Merlin would then arrange that Sir Ector, by some guise or other, would adopt the boy as companion for his new born son Kay, even though this would be at Padstow, a mere stone's throw from Tintagel. What better place to have him, close to his mother, even though neither would be aware of this. The last place anyone would think of looking if they discovered Uther and Igraine’s secret and wished the boy harm. It was also agreed that Sir Ector would not be told of Arthur’s true lineage until it became necessary. Merlin stayed for two days as there was much to discuss with Nimue concerning the state of the country and the world in general. Whether they should hold a meeting of the council of Elders soon, but after their mystical telepathic communication with the other Elders it was decided that this was not the right time, events needed to settle more before any full council meeting took place. There was just too much going on for each to leave their area of responsibility for the time necessary to convene what usually turned out to be several days of discussion and decisions, so for the present they would communicate in their usual telepathic way, unless something very major occurred.

Merlin caught up with Igraine as they were approaching Caer Baddon [Bath], where they rested for the night as guests of the bishop, carrying on the long slow journey south the next morning. Merlin passing on the news to Igraine that most of the fighting up north was over and Uther, together with Gorlois, were making their way back southward, mopping up as they went. All had apparently gone well and they had not suffered too many loses, but that they would be stopping off at many places on the way back for the usual festivities and celebrations. I can just image what Uther will be up to, thought Igraine, perhaps he will end up with another son or daughter, or several knowing his sexual appetite, especially after so long on the battlefield. Listening to Merlin, Igraine wondered where he got all his information from no matter how far away the events, or rather how he received it, as he never seemed to be wrong and it was often within a matter of hours of it happening. An extraordinary man who was always on the go and never seemed to age. She reflected that nobody made any mention of his possible age, they just accepted him for what he was and the way he just seems to pop up at the right time, with hardly a mention of where he had been or what he had been doing, and strangely nobody asked him. They looked upon him as a sage who knew all, saw and heard all, and as he was usually right no-one questioned him, they just accepted what he said. A strange man indeed, full of wisdom and knowledge with an air of authority on him, in a humble way, and with a kindly disposition, but you got the impression that he was not a man to trifle with or to try to get the better of. A rod of iron beneath that becalming exterior that would only be unleashed when absolutely necessary and then beware of the consequences. Igraine began to ponder on whether he had any family, or a wife and children, and decided that when the moment was right she would ask him and maybe at the same time find out how old he really was.

With a start she realised that Merlin had asked her if she was comfortable and she had not replied, apologising she said that she was miles away and that she was feeling alright and no necessity to stop just yet. Merlin gave her a searching look and concluded that wherever her mind had taken her it was not related to the child that she had left behind, and that was good, as the first few days after the parting would be the most difficult for her, but hopefully time would ease her loss. It was good that they would be in Tintagel in a couple of days where Igraine would then be kept busy preparing for the return of her husband. with not much time for other thoughts, with that Merlin turned his mind to other matters that required his attention.

The remainder of the journey passed quite quickly and they arrived to a warm welcome with Sir Ector there to greet them, commenting to Merlin that he was right on time as usual. Igraine was quite surprised but Merlin informed her that he had passed this way a month previous and indicated the day that they should arrive here. How does Merlin seem to know these things in advance thought Igraine, she had not even given birth then, he is definitely a mysterious man with hidden depths, I must engage him in conversation about these matters as soon as is convenient. The women departed to their quarters to freshen up and Ector and Merlin brought each other up to date on events, although Sir Ector had very little to tell other than a skirmish that they had recently with a small mixed raiding party. Unusually this came as a surprise to Merlin, who seemed to know most things going on. Sir Ector explained that they had come across them whilst out hunting and took sword to them and chased them a good ten miles eastward and not many escaped. A strange bunch of Jutes, Saxons and some of their own kind, not very well dressed but all on horse and obviously up to no good, but they were reluctant to engage with them even though his party was not large, and they took flight. This is a new development, thought Merlin, and was a little worrying as they had been roving so far west, it will need looking into most definitely. Turning the topic to Sir Ector’s family he asked how his wife and young son were and was informed that both were doing well, and the lad was growing fast. They wandered back into the great hall and as the ladies had now returned they partook of some much needed refreshment. Merlin indicated that he would be off the following morning as he had much business to catch up on and he needed to find out more about any mixed raiding parties around this area of the country and because of this he asked Sir Ector if he would provide a small escort for the healing women for their return journey as far as Caer Baddon [Bath] where he would arrange another escort from there to Lydney. Sir Ector readily agreed knowing that his little skirmish had worried Merlin for some reason, more than it seemed to merit.

Merlin had a disturbed night with a recurrence of the dream that he had been having lately. Britain had no High King, Uther was dead and the country was beginning to fall apart with king clashing with king over stupid quarrels, each vying for position and trying to form a greater power base. The country was in chaos and the Saxons, Jutes and Angles were taking every advantage of the situation to extend their influence, by force if necessary. The whole pillar of society that had done so well under the Romans and been mostly held together by the High Kings of Britain after their departure was rapidly crumbling and anarchy was setting in. Amongst the carnage that was happening a few voices were beginning to shout a name and as more took up the chant the noise increased to a crescendo and the name of Arthur was being shouted by thousands of voices in his head. Then the vision appeared and there, to a tremendous cheer stood Arthur, sword raised on high and gleaming in the sunlight. Merlin woke with a start with the sun streaming down on to his face. We do not have enough time, Arthur has only just been born, we must try and keep things together until it is time but alas I fear that we will not be totally successful, but we must do our best and prepare the little lad as much as possible as I foresee that he will be very young when he becomes High King. He must be strong and fair but ruthless when necessary to bind the country together; otherwise all that we have worked for will be lost. There was much to be done in the meantime, thought Merlin as he made ready for his departure and sought out Sir Ector and Igraine.

Taking his leave of them he indicated that he had received word that Gorlois would return before the month was out as he was travelling ahead of the King’s main army, not wishing to loiter on his return home. Sir Ector excused himself, as he had much to do, and wished Merlin a safe and successful journey leaving Igraine alone with him. Merlin aware that her ladyship had something on her mind asked her if all was well, as she appeared very thoughtful and somewhat distant. Igraine explained that she was puzzled as to how he always knew what was going on and wondered how and where he received all his information from as no messengers were ever seen. Merlin denied knowing everything but said that he had an ability, inherited from his ancestors, that enabled him to see distant places in his mind and converse that way with others of his kind and therefore know of what was happening in many places, without having to be there himself. This might seem very useful but it placed a great burden on those with the gift, as it empowered them with a great responsibility, the information must be used wisely for the greater good of this country and not for personal gain. Igraine thanked him for that honest answer saying that it would put her mind at rest and showed her that he was a very wise and knowledgeable man, far in excess of his apparent years. Merlin laughed saying that was a very polite way of asking his age, but of that he was not sure himself, it was so long ago when he came here, but sometimes it seemed like only yesterday and he still had much to accomplish. Feeling bold now Igraine asked if he had any family, a wife or children. At this Merlin became very sad and quiet as memory took him back to happier times and then the pain appeared on his face with the vision of the butchering that happened to his village and the discovery of the violated remains of his wife and son on his return. The most terrible thing that had happened to him during his time here and it still came back to haunt him once in awhile. Igraine saw the pain in his face and putting her hand on his arm she apologised profusely for bringing back what were obviously unpleasant memories. The moment passed and Merlin regained his composure and smiled at her saying that it was a long time ago, but you never forgot the good or bad memories of life. It was time to take his leave of her now and as he turned to mount his horse she kissed him on his cheek, thanking him for all that he had done and asking that he take good care of her son. Of course he would, as her son was the future High King of Britain and the country would need him, with that thought Merlin waved goodbye and set off on his travels.

* * * * *

Young Arthur was doing well, Gwendolyn a young maiden from the village who had recently lost her baby at birth was enlisted to suckle him and give him motherly attention and love. This was beneficial to both, easing the psychological trauma for the woman as it was her first baby and out of wedlock as well as motherly love, stability and a focal point of bonding for Arthur. The healing women at the sanctuary were very good teachers, even with ones so young, as it came naturally to them and was not based on any religious doctrine but on a total understanding of the healing power of nature and its underlying principles that many people had long forgotten. In those first few years Arthur was taught to watch and listen to the birds and animals as they could tell him much by their behaviour and how they inter-reacted with each other. How to tell when everything was peaceful and also the warning signs and sounds when danger was around. Not to show fear towards animals because they would sense it and be on their guard and possibly attack if they felt threatened. The changing colours and types of flowers and trees that were in bloom at different times of the year and how to tell when the weather was changing by all the sounds and colours that were around. By just sitting quietly, listening and observing what was going on around him he would learn and know quite often what was likely to happen next, and he was encouraged to say what he saw and felt. Arthur was very forward for his years and he learnt very quickly and was talking before he was three, asking questions like - why do all animals, people and trees have a mist around them that is often different in colour and size to another. The healing women realised that Arthur was one of those rare people that could see the aura around living things and explained to him that he was seeing the energy of that creature or tree and each one was of a different size and often colour, depending how they were feeling at the time, that the colours changed according to their mood, happy or sad. He wanted to know if everybody could see this mist and was told no, only some people could because they understood nature much more, and before he could ask, yes they could see the same as him. He asked if every living thing had this mist and was told yes, unless they were very ill or just before they died as this mist faded and disappeared. For one so young his questions were quite deep and yet he seemed to understand the answers.

Merlin had called in briefly, on several occasions and was pleased with Arthur’s progress and realised it would soon be time to speak to Sir Ector to arrange for the rest of his education. On these visits Arthur would sit and talk to Merlin and ask him questions about what he did and where he had been and what were the people like that he met. Merlin was a little taken aback initially by these direct questions from one so young but realised that there was more to this boy than met the eye and that his curiosity was a very good thing with what lay ahead for him. Merlin told him about different places that he had visited and what the people were like and how they treated each other, as well as strangers, and that there were many people from other lands here, some good and some not very nice. The more that he learnt now at a young age, with the right teaching, the better a High King he would turn out to be, although Arthur was not aware of his probable future and it was necessary that it stayed that way until the time.

As usual whilst he was there Merlin sought out Nimue and they discussed the timing of the lad’s move, assuming that there would not be a problem as nothing had been mentioned as yet to Sir Ector, which Merlin would put right in the near future as he would be heading back down that way shortly. To maintain the secrecy of Arthur’s parenthood and Merlin’s association with him and Igraine it was decided to ask Taliesin, Elder of the South, to deliver Arthur to Sir Ector, as they were good friends. After further discussion they decided that Gwendolyn should accompany them, if she were willing, as a bond had developed between her and young Arthur and he had never questioned if she was his real mother or even asked who his father was. Merlin did not foresee a problem with Sir Ector as he was sure that Gwendolyn could be gainfully employed, as well as providing the motherly love and stability for Arthur, as she had proved very able at doing so far, besides they were both certain that she would want to go. Merlin would explain to Sir Ector as much as was necessary to enlist his help in this matter, without divulging Arthur’s true lineage. Telepathic communication was made with Taliesin, who being aware of the situation readily agreed to his part in the proceedings, and a date was arranged for him to collect them from Lydney. A cart would be made available for them that could be left with Sir Ector.

Turning to other matters there did not seem to be any problems around Tintagel and Gorlois had been busy since his return, as Igraine had given birth to a another daughter. She had inquired discreetly as to the welfare of her son when Merlin visited and he assured her that all was fine and he had also kept Uther up to date on the lad’s progress as well when passing through Cadbury. Nimue and Merlin were both concerned with the state of unrest that they could detect around the country and expected it to continue to increase as Uther did not seem to have such a strong following as he once had, the rumblings of discontent were growing. There was a general air of tension between him and some of the kings and between some of the kings themselves, which indicated that some were jostling for position. There were various power plays taking place behind the scenes that could soon spill over into open conflict. All Merlin, Nimue and the other Elders could do was watch and wait and use their influence whenever and wherever possible and hope that the simmering fuse would not suddenly flare up and ignite a powder keg of anarchy. Allowing the Saxons and their allies a greater hold in Britain, which at the moment was fairly well contained. Merlin left Nimue a disturbed man as his instincts told him that there was much trouble ahead and there was little he could do to slow it down, but try he must, for the benefit of the country.

* * * * *

Arthur carried on with his learning, always inquisitive and always asking, what were for a young lad very searching questions about many things, including how the plants around him helped to heal sickness and wounds and did the sounds of nature help too. All his questions were answered and he would point out plants when he saw them and say how they helped to heal, such was his quick grasp of what he was taught.

Then one day a nightmare situation happened, for the healing women especially, but young Arthur took it in his stride, either through not understanding his danger or perhaps an inner knowledge that there was nothing to be afraid of, thereby giving an indication of what sort of man he would turn out to be. The three women, Gwendolyn and Arthur were in a small clearing amongst the trees just a short distance from the sanctuary when it happened. Suddenly and silently out of the trees came a fully grown black bear not ten feet from Arthur. Gwendolyn saw him at the same time as the lad did and keeping her voice calm told him to stand perfectly still, which he was, as he was transfixed for a moment never having seen such a large and majestic creature as this before. The bear and Arthur stood looking at each other just as if they were checking each other out, which in fact they were, then the lad smiled and held out his hand towards the bear but still keeping quite still so as not to spook him. There was a gasp from the women as the bear seemed to have decided that there was no danger and slowly moved towards Arthur.

Time seemed to almost stand still as the scene appeared to unfold in slow motion. The women had no option now other than to keep still and quiet and watch, but ever ready to dash to Arthur’s aid should he need it. The bear slowly drew closer until they were almost nose to nose and the lad slowly moved his hand to stroke him at the same time talking to him in a low voice saying what a lovely creature he was and that there was nothing to fear (he had never seen a bear before). The bear nuzzled him gently and then turning his face back towards the trees made a slight whining noise, whereupon a young bear came limping out of the trees towards its parent, whimpering as he was obviously in pain and suffering with one of his rear feet as he tried not to put it on the ground. Arthur extended his hand gently towards the young one talking to him as well and the bear nuzzled him just as its parent had done. Then to the astonishment of the women Arthur knelt beside the young one, and then lay down patting the ground beside him for the bear to do the same. The young bear looked at its parent as if to say what do I do now and got a nudge indicating that it should do the same. Arthur could then see that there was a large thorn wedged between its claws that it couldn’t get at. Talking to him all the time he gently stroked the front of the paw and with the other hand he was delving beneath the surface leaves on the ground for the damp earth and moist leaves underneath. Still talking gently to the bear he put this compost around where the problem was and then grasping the thorn gently he gave it a quick tug and at the same time with the other hand pressed the compost around the wound to take the pain away. The bear gave a slight roar, shot to his feet and ran off back into the trees. Time for the watchers now returned to its normal speed.

Now was the moment of truth as Arthur was lying on the ground and the adult bear was looming over him. Just as the women were going to yell to frighten off the bear he licked Arthur’s face and plodded off after his offspring, turning at the trees to give a short roar before he disappeared from sight. A sigh of relief went up all around which turned to nervous laughter as Arthur rejoined them saying what a beautiful creature he was. But what was it? It was explained to him that he had just seen a bear and normally they were dangerous animals and should not be approached as they could easily kill a person. But perhaps even the animals knew that this was a healing sanctuary and that there was safety and help here, even for them, on the occasions when they could not help themselves. Nobody had ever seen or heard of a bear in that area before so maybe they had travelled some distance to seek help, as animals had a far better instinct and understanding of nature and knowing when they were safe, or those situations to beware of that would bring them into danger. The women praised Arthur and told him that to tune his senses in like the animals did would help him know who were the good people that he met during his life or the ones that would seek to do him harm. It was a good lesson to learn and he had done well but always to be wary and trust his instincts. Arthur was very pleased and talked about the bears for some while after, hoping to see them return, but they had no need to as the treatment was successful, and they were not seen or heard of in that area again. Strange sometimes were the ways of nature to us so-called intelligent beings.

* * * * *

Merlin meanwhile was going about his business and travelling widely throughout the country discovering for himself what he had sensed and already knew about the change coming and violence erupting periodically, albeit over trivial matters. This is how it always started, he thought, before it escalated and eventually got out of hand, unless stamped on at the outset, it was apparent that Uther Pendragon’s influence was on the wane, in some places already lost and with it the backing he needed to maintain a semblance of law and order throughout the country. The Saxons were taking advantage of the situation and their area of influence was gradually spreading but so far without violent confrontation. It’s surprising how short people’s memories are at times, they have already forgotten the problems caused by Vortigen enlisting Saxon aid only to have them turn against him when it suited their agenda. Greed and power were always the downfall of even the strongest man and there were many at the moment who were that short sighted that they could not see beyond the end of their nose. Always pushing for more land, more power, more influence, only to see it disappear before their eyes, to be left wondering why, that is if they were still alive. The country needed a strong leader, a farsighted leader of the people and for the people, who would be respected by all for his fairness, courage and love of his country and not himself. Alas there was no one of that calibre available at present and only time would tell if Arthur could eventually bring peace from chaos, provided he could be instructed in the right ways and even survive until the time was right. All big 'ifs,' but that was all there was.