Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Exclusive US Preview: Arthur and Excalibur - Chapter 3!

Chapter 3



ARTHUR – THE DEVELOPING CHARACTER










MERLIN SPENT SEVERAL MONTHS travelling around the country getting first hand knowledge of the underlying ripple of tension that was spreading across the land. He was not a happy man, and he had much time for thought on his journey. Uther was losing control, slowly but definitely, although there were still many areas where he was still highly regarded his influence and support were under threat. Complacency and apathy were setting in once again, not yet in epidemic proportions, but spreading like any common disease, born on the wind. The wind of change, but this one was not for the better, the dark clouds were beginning to form and were spreading, mainly in the east and north but now gathering pace in the south east too. It would not be very long before most of the country was experiencing the underlying current of unrest, with anarchy raising its ugly head again. Why do people never seem to learn, thought Merlin, what is it in human nature that makes people repeat the same disasters, is their memory that bad or are they that na├»ve that they don’t think it will happen again? Is it impossible for them to live in peace with their neighbours and share in the abundance that this brings or do they want everything for themselves, whatever the consequences, even if they do not live to enjoy the proceeds? The peoples of this world have much to learn and it will take them a very long time to realise the benefits of living in harmony with each other, as opposed to disharmony, much longer than my own people took to learn this lesson. Sometimes I wonder why I agreed to keep on coming here to help move these people forward, when all they appear to want is to undo any of the good things in place and go backwards before they move forwards. Maybe it’s just that, they need our help to keep pushing them forward so that one day they will make it, in which case it makes it all worth while. Thankfully our influence is still widespread throughout this world of theirs and many of us still come to help move them forward, albeit slowly.

Merlin came out of his thoughts with the realisation that he was approaching the healing sanctuary at Lydney, exactly on time as usual. This was something that people often speculated and wondered about, how he always arrived when he said he would. But it was best that they never knew how his people could travel if they wished. It was way in advance of their time and others would undoubtedly want the knowledge for their own ends.

Merlin sought out Nimue to bring her up to date on what he had seen and heard on his travels, although he had already conversed with her telepathically, the same as he had with Taliesin. He had recently visited and spoken to Sir Ector concerning Arthur, who was a little wary of the request at first. Until Merlin explained that he was the son of a very respected knight, who unfortunately was not in a position to care for the boy, but would greatly appreciate him being fostered by an equally respected and erstwhile knight. He would like him brought up in the correct tradition of the chivalry of knighthood as he believed the boy would have great talent when he was of age. If it was possible to accommodate the woman that the boy regarded as his mother that would be greatly appreciated too. Merlin explained that Arthur was almost the same age as Sir Ector’s son Kay and that they would be good company for each other as they grew up. At this point Sir Ector agreed to have Arthur as he could see the merits of the situation for his own son as well, and so details were arranged, with Merlin saying that Taliesin would be the one who would bring them to Sir Ector and the date on which they would arrive.

The following day Taliesin arrived at the sanctuary as expected and was introduced to Arthur and Gwendolyn. Arthur took to him immediately and began asking him questions about where they were going, how long would it take to get there, and would they see any bears. Taliesin answered all his questions for the next two hours. Merlin had explained to Gwendolyn what was happening and that it was now time to further Arthur’s education and asked if she was happy to go with him.

“Try and leave me behind,” she had retorted with a smile.

“Good,” replied Merlin, “that’s settled then. Sir Ector is expecting you and as far as anyone is concerned you are Arthur’s mother and his father was a respected knight whose name you cannot mention as the matter is of a delicate nature. I know that exposes your character to something that you are not, but it is necessary for the boy’s sake, besides you do not know his name anyway. Can you do that?”

“Yes to protect Arthur from whatever it is that he needs protecting from, I will do it,” she replied.

“Thank you,” said Merlin. “Sir Ector will teach Arthur the same as he will be teaching his own son Kay, who is of a similar age, and he will have full responsibility for him. You will continue to have involvement as his mother until such times as he will need to be told the truth, which is a long way off yet.”

“Thank you Merlin for letting me go with him as I have become very attached to him and he with me, I think it will benefit both of us and continue the stability in our lives. The healing sisters here helped me when I was in the throes of despair and gave me something to live for in looking after young Arthur and I will be there as long as he needs me. When he eventually grows from me and leads his own life, wherever that takes him, then I shall return here and help other poor souls in need. I have learnt much here of the greater aspects of life and know that I can be of service in helping others leave their hurts behind and move forward to a better life. I am sure that when Arthur needs to know the truth everything will be fine.”

With that Merlin expressed his thanks again and took his leave of Gwendolyn and went to rescue Taliesin from Arthur, who was still asking questions.

The next day dawned with a beautiful sunrise and perfect stillness in the air and Arthur was there watching the splendour unfolding, listening to the birds and animals heralding in the new day. The start of a new adventure, as he put it when noticing Taliesin watching him. This boy has certainly got something about him that is different from the rest, thought Taliesin. The women came out to say goodbye and Arthur thanked each of them for all they had taught him and said he would come and visit them when he was older and maybe he would see the bears again, which made them all laugh. The cart with Gwendolyn, Taliesin and Arthur slowly rumbled out of the sanctuary gates and started on their long journey south to a new adventure and a new life.

* * * * *

Time passed quickly and Arthur and Gwendolyn were soon settled in with Sir Ector, who was very pleased that his son Kay and Arthur had struck up a friendship straight away and were becoming inseparable. Taliesin had taken them on a long detour, at Merlin’s request, to see many places along the way, so that Arthur would have much to talk about, other than the sanctuary at Lydney, which would become a more distant memory, and not be the topic of conversation. This was to protect Arthur in the long run from being identified as Igraine’s son if something should be said out of turn and come to her ears and lead her to suspect who he was, not that he knew the name of the sanctuary or even where it was. That was one question that surprisingly he had not asked, but Merlin thought it best not to tempt fate. It was for the same reason that Merlin had arranged to have Taliesin take them to Sir Ector and not himself, as the association would be too obvious, and they had approached from the south and not the north, as an added measure.

Many people knew Taliesin like they did Merlin but very few were aware that they knew each other well or were associated in any way. That was the way they preferred it as this often worked to their advantage, even in the same location they would not always acknowledge each other but converse telepathically and exchange information, which otherwise might not be forthcoming to either one of them. Not many people were aware of this ability that they shared or that others of their kind could do so also, but it was common practice for those of the Elder race to converse in this manner, even over great distances. Both Merlin and Taliesin belonged to the Council of Elders of Britain, a small group trying to bring peace and stability to this country by using their influence in the areas that they looked after. Most people who knew or had heard of them were aware that they appeared to have mystical gifts but none questioned what they were, in case they were turned into something nasty, such was people’s superstition at the time. Anyone who appeared to have an ability that was different was classed as mystical, only because people generally didn’t understand it, and was someone that it was thought wise not to upset. This generally worked to the advantage to those of the Elder race like Merlin and Taliesin, but not always and sometimes they had to resort to using another of their abilities, that of reading people's thoughts, to get to the truth.

Although the Elders had a mission to bring peace and stability to the areas that they worked in, and they were spread throughout the world, they were not allowed to use their complete powers, which were considerable, otherwise the people would never learn. If they waved the metaphorical magic wand and solved all their problems then the lesson would never be learnt, only delayed, and would end up a much harder lesson next time, almost insurmountable. Slowly did it, but the human species really made it heavy going, such was their character and make up that it would take many centuries before peace and stability became the normal way of life. In the meantime many lessons would have to be learnt and unfortunately learnt again before it would finally sink in and those sent to help this world, like the Elders, could sit back and relax with a job well done. All that could be done was to work with exceptional individuals like Arthur who would help in this long period of transformation, and there would be many like him throughout the world over this period. So that one day in the distant future an enduring peace would prevail and the character of the human race would forever be changed for the better.

* * * * *

Arthur continued to grow and develop alongside Kay, and their friendship blossomed to the point that they were always together. Sir Ector was extremely pleased with their progress in learning the ways of knighthood and chivalry, with both showing exceptional skill and agility with the wooden swords specially made for them, as they were taught to fight on foot. The first foray in being instructed to fight from the back of ponies was a complete disaster as both spent most of the time falling off, such was their exuberance and lack of co-ordination in controlling their pony and engaging with their opponent. Several times swords were broken amidst peels of laughter as one tumbled to the ground, but eventually both got the hang of it and became adept mounted swordsmen and very well matched with each other. Sir Ector would on occasions take them both to tournaments to watch the knights joust and he used those events to test their knowledge of what was going on, explaining that soon they would be able to be a squire to a knight at these events, so they needed to watch carefully.

As Arthur and Kay grew older and stronger and their skills had developed well the wooden swords were replaced with the real thing. Even the blunt practice swords were lethal in untrained hands and of course they were heavier, although two smaller ones had been made for them. Several months practice with these, with only minor accidents, and they were ready to display their talents at one of the tournaments near Tintagel, arranged by Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. This was an annual three day event with knights from far and wide coming to test their skills and Arthur and Kay were going to give a demonstration in the squires section in the use of the sword, both on foot and mounted, to which although feeling a little nervous they were both looking forward to.

Preparations were made and both had new outfits for the occasion, which certainly increased their feeling of pride, and final instructions were given on how to conduct themselves, with a reminder about the code of chivalry expected of a knight. Although still far too young to be one they were expected to conduct themselves in the same manner, as a reflection of Sir Ector’s good training and their understanding of what was expected of them.

The day arrived and they rode the relatively short distance to the venue set in a large meadow close to the fort at Tintagel. Many colourful tents had been erected and already crowds had gathered to gain the best vantage points and fires were going in various places and the smell of cooking wafted on the slight summer breeze. The tournament did not start until midday. In the meantime Sir Ector sought out those that he knew and introduced Arthur and Kay to them, to the boys this seemed to go on for ever, although it was only a couple of hours. By which time the tournament was beginning, with the jesters and jugglers entertaining the crowd as a warm up to the main events. These started with the tests of strength, arm wrestling and tossing the boulder, and to the boys some of these men looked formidable giants with their massive physique, although it was a small wiry man that won the arm wrestling. Following which it was the turn of the young squires to show their various skills, Arthur and Kay watched intently as the younger ones showed their abilities first, then all to soon it was time for them to go into the arena. Dressed in their leather jerkins, leather and iron helms they approached the centre of the arena and acknowledged their hosts with drawn swords, faced each other and similarly raised swords in salute and engaged in combat. First one then the other was on the attack, backwards and forwards they went until Kay put his foot in a hole and went down, Arthur stopped and helped him up, then continued until with an almighty clash Arthur’s sword went spinning out of his hand and Kay waited until he had retrieved it. Equally matched the pair showed all the moves that they had been taught, with the crowd shouting encouragement for one or the other, but neither could get the upper hand, even when they began to tire.

Eventually Gorlois called them to halt, thanking them for a marvellous display, but they needed to let others show their skills too, it was obvious that they were so well matched that it had to be a draw. Both were relieved at this as they were certainly feeling weary, but neither would give up as they were on show, in training it didn’t matter, but here it was different. They saluted each other with their swords, then their host and left the arena arm in arm to a tremendous round of cheering from the crowd. Others followed into the arena to show their skills but none got the crowd going in the same way that Arthur and Kay had. Sir Ector met them on their return and congratulated them on a rousing and skilful display and commended them for an excellent performance that the crowd appreciated. Many of the knights that had been watching came up to them, introduced themselves and extended their appreciation too, some with the comment that they hoped the mounted display the following day would be just as good. As a reward Sir Ector sent them off to enjoy themselves until the evening feast started. They didn’t need telling twice and they were gone in a flash, losing themselves in the crowd.

The next day both the boys were up later than usual feeling quite stiff from the exertion of the previous day. Arthur suggested to Kay that they run to the beach and lay in the surf below Tintagel fort, which they did. The cool water soon eased their young muscles and by the time they had run back both were feeling much refreshed and ready for that day's events.

As their previous day's display had been so good they were given the prime spot of appearing last in the tournament for the younger trainee squires, which meant that they missed most of the earlier action as Sir Ector was giving them last minute instructions, making sure that all was in order. Soon it was their turn and away they went into the arena, paying their respects to their hosts and each other as previously, before showing their skills in mounted combat. All was going well as they demonstrated their turns and twists, trying to get the better of each other, but as before they were equally matched and neither could fault the other. Suddenly in one encounter Kay’s pony reared up throwing him heavily to the ground, concussed at least. In a flash Arthur was off his pony sword in the air, and landing on his feet close to Kay he brought the sword flashing down towards Kay’s head. The cheering and applause that had been going on turned to gasps of horror from the crowd, this wasn’t supposed to happen, it was only a demonstration. The sword bit into the earth, apparently just missing it’s target and a huge sigh of relief spontaneously echoed from the crowd. Arthur was kneeling beside Kay, apparently looking for something on his body. Sir Ector rushed out into the arena to check on his son, who was struggling to sit up. Just as he got there Arthur held up what looked like a long stick and gave it to Sir Ector, it was in fact a headless snake. Arthur had seen it just as Kay’s pony had reared up, too late to shout a warning. He had fallen right by the side of it and it looked on the point of striking him as Arthur had shot off his pony and despatched it without a moments hesitation, knowing instinctively that he would be accurate with his sword. Sir Ector helped his son, who was still dazed, out of the arena still carrying the dead snake as Arthur gathered the ponies and followed, after acknowledging their hosts with his sword. The crowd realising what had happened on seeing the snake held up cheered them both as they left.

Sir Ector thanked Arthur for his quick thinking and action in saving his son from getting bitten by the snake, which made him feel a little embarrassed, he said it was something that he would do for anyone in the same situation. That was beside the point, as some people would panic and others would do nothing, whereas he had acted immediately without regard for his own safety, indicated Sir Ector. Kay was made to rest for the remainder of the day and Arthur, making sure that he was alright, wandered off still wearing his outfit with his small sword dangling by his side, to see what was going on in the rest of the tented area.

There were fire eaters, jesters and jugglers, whilst others were selling their wares just like on market days. The bright colours glowing in the rays of the sun and the cheerful banter of the people carried on the warm gentle breeze brought a marvellous serenity to the area as everyone relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Several waved or spoke to him as he passed, complimenting him on his performance in the arena, as he drifted leisurely around the tents drinking in the relaxing atmosphere. Full of activity and laughter, the richness of life at its best. Yet tomorrow could be totally different, he thought as he drifted away from the crowd, moving passed deserted tents, heading for the open space beyond, how strange people are, one minute enjoying themselves together, next killing each other, it doesn’t make sense to my young mind. What a lot I still have to learn about people and life in general. He was jolted from his thoughts by the sound of a raised voice, a man’s voice, full of anger and hate, then the quieter sobbing and pleading of a lady’s voice. Moving quietly closer to where the voices were coming from Arthur saw that it was the Duke and his wife.

“Don’t try and deny it you snivelling wretch, I have just come from your maid whose been bragging to her young man about the escapade with the King and your involvement. Not that she wanted to tell me, not until I started to cut her throat that is, then she confessed all, and I mean all.”

“What have you done to her, is she still alive?” Igraine sobbed.

“At the moment,” and with that Gorlois pushed her to the ground. “now I want the truth from you, all of it, especially your part in it, or do I have to cut your throat too before I get an answer,” and to show Igraine that he meant what he said he drew an ornate knife from it’s sheath and advanced towards her.

Arthur was horrified at what he saw and visualised the Duke carrying out his threat on his wife. He couldn’t just stand there and watch it happen. He had to try and stop it, he didn’t even think to run away or get help, he just opened his mouth to speak, but only a faint squeak came out, so he swallowed hard and tried again. Igraine was cowered on the ground with Gorlois bending over her.

“My Lord,” the strength of his voice surprised Arthur, “that is not the way a Lord and Knight should treat a Lady, violence will not solve the problem, only cause regret after,” where these words came from Arthur had no idea, they just popped into his head. “Problems are often caused by external influences and do not solely relate to one person.”

Gorlois, in the act of exposing Igraine’s throat to the knife blade, stopped in total surprise and slowly stood up, passing a hand across his brow and shaking his head as if coming out of a dream. He turned to the source of the voice that had penetrated through his blind fury and was astounded to find such a young lad confronting. Recognition slowly dawned on him as to who it was before him and his stance was unmistakable, that of someone prepared for trouble.

“Ah, it is young Arthur,” remarked Gorlois. “You are out of your depth here boy, this is no tournament, I’ve a good mind to take my sword to you my lad and teach you a lesson for interfering in business that does not concern you.”

Without thinking Arthur replied, “and I would take my sword to you my Lord to protect the Lady’s honour and life, even though I would forfeit my own.”

Gorlois burst into a fit of caustic laughter, “her honour, she has lost that my lad, you would die for nothing.”

Arthur was ready for the Duke to make his move but he just stood there for a moment looking intensely at him as if making a decision, then turned and walked away.

Igraine cried out, “where are you going husband?”

“To confront the King,” was the reply, “then I shall be back to deal with you and your maid,” and Gorlois disappeared from sight.

Arthur breathed a tremendous sigh of relief, he wasn’t ready to die yet, but couldn’t stand by and do nothing, it was not in his nature. He went over to Igraine and helped her up and into a tent, asking if she was alright and did she need anything. She was obviously very shaken by her experience, but said that she was okay and thanked him profusely for being her gallant knight, even at such a young age, but would be obliged if he did not mention the incident to anyone else, as it was a delicate matter. Arthur confirmed that it would remain their secret, as the code of chivalry dictated that a knight should never compromise a lady. Igraine smiled at this and told him that she felt that he would grow up to be a great knight, but now she must go and see if her maid Rowena was alright, after what her husband had said. Arthur took his leave of her and wandered off back towards the noise and frivolity of the main arena, still in a daze over what had happened and the part that he had played. But what surprised him most was that he had not been afraid for one single moment during the whole episode.

Kay was still out of action the next day as Sir Ector insisted that he should rest and so missed the last day of the tournament. Arthur meanwhile decided that a little exploring of the area was warranted before the main events started that day, as he meandered quietly through the meadows on the opposite side from the fort, listening to all the different bird songs and trying to identify them and locate the birds. The different shades of colour were amazing if you looked closely, the lush green of the tall grass, the darker green of the gorse bushes and the many different shades of the leaves on the trees and bushes. Amongst all these greens were sudden islands of reds, yellows and blues of the wild flowers and thistles, a sea of moving colour in the gentle breeze coming off the ocean. Arthur paused often to take it all in as there was so much to see, then climbing up to the top of a rocky mound to survey the scenery all around him he rested for a while, laying down and watching the birds circling high up in the sky, circling, diving and weaving and then climbing again.

Several hours later Arthur awoke with a start, noticing that the sun was beginning to sink slowly towards the horizon, better be getting back soon, he thought, otherwise I will miss the feasting. Climbing down from the rock he noticed how the colours had changed around it from when he had first arrived, how they seemed stronger and more vibrant. There is a lot of energy here but you can’t see it so well in the bright sunlight. but now that is fading its more obvious, the thought intrigued him so he moved closer to the rock face and it appeared stronger still. Casting his eyes along the rock he noticed one area that appeared to be a lot different and here the energy seemed to be weaker for some reason. On closer examination it was apparent that there was a recess here. He stared fixedly at it for some while, then ran his hands around the outside of the rock crevice and felt it soft and pliable to his touch. Pushing his hand in further it all felt the same, then his shoulder was in the gap and next minute his whole body was through and he was standing in a dimly lit cave. Where the dim light came from he was not sure but it was just sufficient to see that it was a fairly roomy cave but he could not make out much else. Turning round to look at where he had come in he could not see any chink of light from outside, so decided it was unwise to move from where he was to explore the interior. What a strange place, he thought, I wonder how long it has been here and what it was used for as there was no obvious way in and how he had entered it he wasn’t sure, it just happened. Putting his hand out to touch the rock it seemed solid with no way out and panic started to set in, what if he couldn’t get out, he would die a slow horrible death from starvation. Pulling himself together he decided that if he got in then he could get out and he started to think about what he did before he entered. Stare at it and concentrate for awhile noticing any colours or lack of them, so that is exactly what he did, then stretching out his hand as before rubbing it across the rock he felt it become soft and pliable, gradually pushing his hand forward, then his shoulder and next minute he was outside with a great sigh of relief. Wow whatever happened there, I don’t think I want to do that again in a hurry, he thought, and noticing the sun had sunk a little more started his trek back to the tournament area, puzzling over what had happened but sensing that this was something he had better keep secret, even from Kay.

* * * * *

Ten days later a sombre looking Merlin arrived unexpectedly at the fort. Igraine had heard nothing from her husband since he went to confront Uther about her indiscretion. Welcoming him she took him down to the cove where conversation would be private as on the previous occasion. As they reached the shore she turned to him indicating that she knew that he had come with ill tidings, as no word had reached her from her husband, and by the look on Merlin’s face it was obvious that it wouldn’t. For once Merlin admitted he was at a loss as to what to say, but what she feared was true, her husband was dead, killed not by Uther, but his guards. Gorlois had arrived at Cadbury in a vile temper and demanded to see Uther, who was otherwise engaged at the time. The guards refused to let him in to see the King until he had relinquished his sword. He refused and attacked the guards, killing one of them, whereupon the others had no choice, as he refused to yield and surrender his weapon. Uther was furious and greatly upset that this should have happened and sends his sincere apologies and as a mark of respect for her loss bequeathed the fort to her for as long as she wished to reside in it. Igraine admitted that she had half expected it since he left in such a murderous mood that day. How ironic life was as she was the one who nearly died and no doubt would have but for the intervention of her young gallant knight. Yet he was not a knight but a very young brave boy who faced her husband down at the crucial moment and stood his ground, willing to die to try and save her, and save her he did without harm befalling himself. Whereupon she told Merlin the whole story and how the young lad had intervened just in time.

This took Merlin by surprise and even more so when asking the lad's name and learning it was Arthur. Yes, thought Merlin, life is ironic, the lad saves his natural mother by his valour but neither is aware of the relationship that binds them together, Arthur is full of surprises that even I did not foresee, I just hope he manages to keep out of trouble and stay alive. Igraine said she swore him to secrecy concerning the whole episode and smiled when he replied that it was covered by the code of chivalry expected of a knight and that it would be so. There was a good knight in the making there she felt, to which Merlin wholeheartedly agreed and managed a smile, as it was some time since he had heard any good news. There is hope yet, he thought, time is still very much against us, but we cannot give in, good will still prevail in the long run, we must do what we can in the meantime. Merlin agreed to stay over for the night, saying that the events leading up to her husband's death should be kept secret for all concerned, that her maid's rumour should always be denied as a silly drunken girl causing mischief with her man. He indicated that he would need to see Sir Ector the next day to make him aware of the situation of the Duke’s death, without telling him the reasons behind it.

Merlin did not stay long with Sir Ector as he said he had much business to attend to, but felt that he should advise him of recent events concerning the Duke and that he had seen Igraine on Uther’s behalf. That she had taken it reasonably well as she knew her husband's temper often got the better of him, but that no one knew what had got into Gorlois that day. He inquired after Ector’s wife and asked how the boys were getting on, at which point Sir Ector conveyed to him how well they had done at the tournament and Arthur’s quick thinking with the snake. Their progress was remarkable they seemed to bring the best out of each other, such that they were equally matched in whatever they did and were virtually inseparable. It was certainly the hand of providence when he agreed to take on Arthur, even though he had reservations at the time. Their insight, instincts and knowledge seemed way above their years, that he sometimes forgot they were still only children and he admitted that even he, at his age, had learnt from them. They continued to discuss the boys’ merits for some while and the instruction that they still needed to become fully fledged squires to a knight. The more Merlin heard about Arthur’s exploits the more he looked forward with a renewed sense of hope for the future of the country. Slowly but surely, he thought, that is the only way we can do it, frustrating but necessary. Ensure that the foundations are strong and the benefits will last, to rush would be disaster.

* * * * *

Time moved slowly on, the fresh crisp colours of spring giving way to the strong vibrant colours of the hot summer that then slowly faded into the chill of autumn, as the cold north wind of winter began to encroach on to the land. This was the time of year that Arthur and Kay liked least as the shorter hours of daylight and bad weather restricted their activities. It was the time of year for the stories of old, the fireside tales of the ancient kings and warriors, of the myths and legends that had been handed down through generations. Stories of distant lands and peoples and catastrophes that had befallen them, old tales of the gods and their demise, the story of Jesus and how the church was expanding its influence throughout many lands as a result. For two young boys those tales were intriguing and full of action and they asked many questions. But a person could only hear a story so many times before it became boring, even when new elements were added to vary the story, so they often used to make themselves scarce for awhile, out into the raw elements of winter.

On one particular day Arthur and Kay had been out making the most of the last remnants of the thin watery sun that had managed somehow to break through the dismal grey sky, before joining the story tellers. There was a chill bite to the wind, but it was just a gentle breeze for most of the day, although in the last hour it had become very still and quiet, even the birds and animals were silent, an eerie feeling pervaded the fading half light of the day. Arthur had stopped and was surveying their surroundings, listening and feeling for some clue as to what was happening, he hadn’t encountered this feeling of foreboding before. Something was about to happen, but he was not sure what, whatever it was wouldn’t be pleasant. He indicated to Kay, who had been watching him intently, that they should hurry as there was a bad feeling in the air. Kay had never had the same connection to nature that Arthur had, but knew that his friend was usually right in his assumptions and they both set off at a fast trot, as they still had some way to go to reach the safety of the settlement.

They never made it in time, the wind, coming out of nowhere, hit them with such a force that they were bowled over, luckily they were unhurt but found it impossible to stand up in the ferocity of the onslaught. Arthur pointed to a rocky mound off to their right and indicated that they should crawl over to it for shelter. It was hard going, as even on their stomachs the wind was trying to whip them over as they moved. Kay made it first and extended his hand and dragged Arthur into the shelter of a small gulley between the rocks. Thankfully the rocky outcrop was solid with no loose shale to rain down on them, just some earth that whipped up and showered them. Huddled there in their primitive shelter the brunt of the wind passed over them, but the noise was terrible, they had to shout to hear each other and soon gave up trying. Arthur felt something smack him in the back and thinking that a chunk of rock had fallen on him he managed to roll over to remove it, only to discover that it was a bird, a raven, and it appeared to be still alive, although badly concussed. Must have been blown out of a tree and then hit the rock above, thought Arthur, gathering him gentle in his hand and placing him under his tunic for warmth and protection, as the wind was likely to whip him away again into oblivion.

Eventually the noise died down as the wind blew itself out and moved on to cause havoc elsewhere. They stood up and were awestruck as each surveyed the devastation around them. Even in the remaining half light they could see that trees had been uprooted, bushes ripped out of the ground and rocks were littered around where there had been none before. Both realised that they had been extremely lucky to survive, then it hit them at the same time, the settlement, how had that fared in the onslaught, they needed to get there as quick as they could. Arthur showed Kay the raven still nestling in his tunic, injured but alive, and said that his friend should go on ahead before darkness fell, as his father would undoubtedly be worried. He would follow at a slower place so as not to jolt the bird. Kay seeing the sense in this agreed and took off at a slow jog, wary of fallen debris that the wind had deposited across the countryside.

The distance was not far, but it took a little while as he was being careful, and as he approached the settlement he saw torches coming towards him. It was a search party sent out by his father when he realised that they were both missing. Kay explained that they were both alright and had taken shelter in time, Arthur was only a short way behind but had sent him on ahead. Some of the party said that they would wait for Arthur as there were some obstacles blocking the way into the village, which had been lucky to escape without too much damage, but two people were missing. Sir Ector was relieved to see his son and glad that Arthur was safe too, as Kay recounted to him what had happened and how they had taken shelter from what must have been the centre of the storm, as the devastation around them was terrible.

Arthur on his return took the raven to his quarters and checked him over to see if he could find anything broken, happy that there wasn’t he made a little straw bed for him in the corner and fetched some water and raided the kitchen for some raw meat, as ravens are carrion birds. The bird stayed with Arthur for seven days until it had recovered enough to fly, it had tested its wings on most days but was lacking in strength to go far. Arthur spoke to him quite frequently and he would cock his head as if he understood and on the seventh day he said to the raven that if he felt strong enough he should return to his flock. The raven bobbed his head in answer and flexed his wings, gave a croak and took off climbing high into the sky and disappearing from sight.

* * * * *

Merlin was having that same vision again, where Uther was dead and the country was in turmoil and then the voices start shouting for Arthur. It was becoming a regular occurrence and Merlin knew that the more frequently that he had a dream the closer it was coming to materialising in reality. Many times over the years this pattern had repeated itself with his visions, each time ending exactly as he had foreseen.

He had been doing what Merlin always did well, travelling all over the country, listening, observing, mediating and gauging the strength of opinion concerning Uther and his Kingship, his conclusions did not bode well for the country. Opinion was even less divided now than before, those for Uther were declining rapidly and those against had the majority, but were totally at odds with each other with regard to a successor. Even some of those for Uther were being less than honest and had a foot in both camps, waiting to see what happened before committing themselves. There was much hollow talk on the surface hiding the extent of the discontent and power plays that were unfolding underneath, but Merlin could see through these quite easily. As always time was what Merlin needed, but he had no sway with time, that was outside the scope of what he was allowed to do, even though he had the ability to manipulate the conception of time, his hands were tied. All that Merlin could hope for was that his efforts would delay the inevitable. Hope; such a small word, but such a big responsibility. Alas his vision was getting too frequent - it wouldn’t be long before it became reality.