# 01 – Salt of the Earth

"Abracadabra, Manel Tekel Phares!", cries out Merlin, with rough voice. The invocation - performed with magical gestures and emitted in a Hell's language – succeeds, and suddenly the demon appears. In the blackness of the night and the thick wood, someone would shoddily perceive the monster's black silhouette, but its voice...

"Merde!", the bizarre being sounds to grunt, and the mage pretends not to understand. Playful (and intelligent), the demon goes off at a tangent: "Please, don't be on the rampage! Merlin! Myrdin! Which name best suits the mage?"

The sorcerer isn't larking around. This is a matter of life and death! The kingdom of Camelot has no peace for two years, and this is not thanks to the incoming Saxons from Germania this time. No, it's been a long time since the threat left the "earthly" plane to sink in a more mysterious one, and the guiltiness is Morgana's. King Arthur's sister and Merlin's pupil in the skills of black art and magic, the fairy evolved beyond the teachings that had been administered to her and, nowadays (560 a.C.), she's already worth her own master, disabling him to save the court with his enchantments. This may explain why Camelot's rival troops' knights – led by no less a person than her son, Mordred – exhibit to be the most shiny. Maybe they're not from this world...

That's why Merlin resolved to swindle too! And who's a better partner for trickery than the son of his father – Archduke Belial, Lord of the Lies – with serpent-like Raan VaDaath, spirit of deception? Yes, Etrigan is an abyss' élite fiend, and his rhymes prove this: "Leave the fairy-tales behind, 'cause affairs like these I don't mind! Go straight and spare your words! Why did you bring me to the world?"

"Isn't it obvious? I want you to help us obliterate the forces of Morgana and son!"

"Well, it doesn't sound that hard, but what do I gain playing my part?"

"Good question. There must be something concerning you within my scope..."

After a great deal of thought, Etrigan decides: "Yes, there is, in fact! Here are my terms for this contract: give to certain peasant knighthood and a life more pleasant. He's a very sad man, and deems he's worth a damn, once Fortune doesn't treat his kinsfolk's needs to eat. At this he's full of shame. Jason is his name..."

"Indeed!", Merlin is surprised. "And since when did you start to relieve humans' pains?"

"It's not my intention to do what you mention!", the demon smarts. For a second, his horrifying face seems to light up from inside (showing up, in the inky frame of the smallest hours, his sharp teeth, scarlet eyes and terrible sulphur-coloured skin), but Etrigan soon pulls himself together and resumes: "But it's a good way for Hell to pay a debt to this man I refer to again."

"Amen!", Merlin concurs, inspired by the fiend's rhymes. The wizard doesn't wanna know what sort of indebtedness a demon could incur toward a simple villager, but he's gonna fulfil his part of the pact... for a while! If he learned something with his family's paternal portion, is that Hell's creatures aren't trustworthy! Never! Surely, there are second intentions in his half-brother's request, and, if treason happens, Merlin himself wants to strike first.

Anyway, now is not the right time to worry about this! Realizing Etrigan isn't on his way, the wizard twirls and questions: "Why the hell are you still standing there?"

"Cruel and monstrous beast shrieks its will to eat! I must return now... "

"You mean Cerberus?", the sorcerer interrupts. "For Satan's sake, couldn't anybody else in the whole of Perdition feed it? Perhaps Medusa... "

But Etrigan, irreducible, finishes, before disappearing into the darkness: "...Come back tomorrow this hour!"

Merlin works up with that scene. Britain is in a desperate predicament and his half-brother worries for some, some... Is that monster a dog, a dragon or...? Damn it!

Good or bad, there's no other thing to do than go back to Camelot. As the legendary mage leaves that forest, he immediately views the city walls, and wistfulness inadvertently storms his unearthly brain. How long will they bear? If they've got something impenetrable, it's their future... Even for Merlin!

The earliness is nearly fading when the sorcerer treads the palace's stairway. His pal Arthur is already awake, sat with his war council. Poor fellow! Newcomer from his drives to Rome and the Baltic sea, the king's got embittered by his knights' failure in their search for the sacred chalice and the rumours about the adultery of his wife Guinevere – that pict warrior who, according to herself, has been "bounded to Arthur for timeless love" – with his beloved Lancelot. The treachery of his nephew Mordred, presently, only upholds the proverb "when it rains, it pours".

"So...", the monarch compliments, the minute Merlin reports to him. "Where's your bro?"

A priori, the royal rhyming sample wonders the mage, but he's swiftly convinced that was just an accident. He responds: "We're gonna receive him tomorrow. First, we'll have to make a hasty preparation…"

A new day speedily dawn as the rooster sings on Jason's mean dwelling, waking up him, his wife and three children (alas, three else died!). Lay upon the mat over the ground, the woman, still sleepy, hardly grouses: "Do we still have a chicken to bug our ears instead of fill in our tummies?"

"Think twice!", the husband warns. "We'd be lost without it..."

However, hungriness talks, and the defenseless cock didn't survive to witness the surreal next scene: no sooner than Jason and his folks leave home so as to labor their lord's land, they've encountered one of the renowned Knights of the Round Table nearing! It's Sir Gawain and his sidekick, riding horses and having other two on a string. From the top of his mount, the knight queries the foreman: "Hi, friend! Can you inform us where does a man named Jason reside by?"

"It's me, sire, at your service!", he replies. Sir Gawain whispers in the squire's ear – probably something like "if this is not our man, so be it" – and then he speaks up:

"Well, Jason! King Arthur and Queen Guinevere bid you and your family to a feast in their residency!"

If they weren't so weakling, they'd cheer for sure! However, their thankfulness doesn't run unobserved by their escort's eyes: the destitute ones take great pains to go the less shabby as possible!

Later on, precisely at the banquet's time, Jason, the woman, the two girls and the two boys are sat around a large round table, squirmed about the present courtiers' bold stares. It stands to reason: foods and drinks aren't available yet, and "people like them" are the main theme of Camelot's sovereign's speech:

"Let's drink to the salt of the earth!" is the royal talk's finale. While Arthur settles himself down at the table, he moves towards Sir Perceval, right-handed, to remark under his breath: "Couldn't they've come with any better outfits?"

The hero didn't answer. On the contrary, he barely asks, using his pal's tone: "Sorry, milord, but is it safe to commemorate thus, while perilousness prowls Camelot?"

"That's the strategy!" the legendary Breton king entrusts. "Merlin's stuff..."

In the end of the day, larger than life Queen Guinevere bids the quenched hit-family to stay in as guests for a spell. They're gonna have Christian-worthy beds and brand-new costumes, wantonly! Too good to be true!

Being as simpleton as they're sunny, no wonder they've taken lying down these over-liberal alms. Enough, Merlin's contrivances' gears have been telescoping and, at midnight of the following day, he goes back to the forest, summons Etrigan and charges the demon's part in the treatment: "The vassal's gonna receive some training to warrant his knighthood. Though, you're already invited to the ceremony..."

Ever since, Etrigan's pursued the kingdom's soldiers' drill. Of course his monstrous sight would frighten his valiant students, but one of Merlin's enchantments made up for this…

Another of the rhyming-fiend's specialities is to create arms and chain mails. He's whetted axes, dipped in grease the halberds' tips, waxed shields and even could afford to make an indecorously proposition: "Ask your honourable friend and king to bring me that famous sword of him! I'd love to study Excalibur's attributes. Who knows if I'm lucky to make it reproduce?"

When consulted, the monarch reacted with incredulity: "Replicas? Do you think he's up to?"

"We'll see.", the mage talked back and round.

It wasn't possible. The matter of the sword given to the Breton king by the Lady of the Lake is unknown even to a demon of Etrigan's stature. Perhaps his father...? No! Merlin doesn't risk being involved with Hell's Archduke Belial! His half-brother's enough...

Yet the new forged blades' cutting edges are the sharpest ones that anyone there had already tried! And, straight from the depths, Etrigan brought two swords apt to set, under the notion of their users (in this case, Guinevere and Lancelot), the fire of Jupiter!

Meanwhile, Jason's would-be aristocratic process gets off to a flying start. The former commoner and his kinsfolk are held in reverence by the servants who, by the way, urge to lend them a bath – the second one in their lifetimes - in the formality day. Tubs prepared, the butler scans: "Just five of you? Where's the other child?"

"There's no other child.", the woman responds. "They're only three."

"Ha! Ha! The dog doesn't numbers as a child…", Jason explains.

"I don't mean the dog, Sir Jason, but the boy named Klarion..."

"Who's this…?"

The manservant doesn't insist, but you bet this is way too weird! It's true that he's seen through Klarion's antisocial tendencies: the boy prefers to be alone with his cat. Anyway, if he's not one of Jason's folk, what's he up to?

The moment the king sits his sword over the villager's shoulders comes to the point, but a shout outside muddles his ritual. Mordred's here!

The young general has ultimately came to seek his personal Holy Grail, id est, the crown that belongs to his uncle. While heralds hail warriors to weapons, the innocent civilians flee with terror printed on their eyes. The Knights of the Round Table try to control the throng prior to joining up with Etrigan to get up the defenses. Some sentries upon the top of the walls acquaint about the shining army's unstoppable march. Some, that is to say, not all. One of them, just the main gateway tender, wears symptoms of being brainwashed! By his side, expressly ordering about to guarantee the enemies' way, it's the goddamn Klarion!

"What the bloody hell...?", king Arthur despairs.

"It's sir Jason's son, milord!", a soldier yells. "He's betrayed us!"

The brutal attack is successful, and a wearisome fight is in its tails. Morgama's hordes are somehow supernatural – they're Hyperboreans from Avalon – but the Breton king's subjects count on the demon Etrigan in their rows, who shows his legendary superhuman strength, expels his fiery breath and lavishes his teleportation power! His hellborn nature emerges to everyone's eyes as entropy sweeps everything and preoccupies Merlin. The result of the battle is already unclouded: both sides are gonna get pitiful casualties! It's during this lucubration that Arthur comes on his pal and counselor's room to warn: "That... monster! It's gonna lash the kingdom! Jason... ".

Breathless, dazed and confused, the king can't put his words in order, but Merlin's already read his thoughts! Jason's sold them down the river! Certainly, Etrigan too! The creature must have camouflaged the real intentions of the peasant – his protégé – from the mage's mental sounding! Or else Morgana did! Who would say that the fairy, once his disciple, could hit below his belt with his own family?

King Arthur returns to the front line, while Merlin decides to deaden the bad craziness, before it's too late! So as to put an end to his odious brother's menace, and to punish him for his treacherousness, the mage resolved to bind the demon to his confederate's soul! This union's gonna make Jason immortal and maddens Etrigan, disabling him to walk on this plane again. Two birds with a stone: "Le vierge le vivace et le bel aujourd'hui!"

To the sound of this spell, the strife peters. The field, scorched and unclean, has been drowned in blood when Etrigan, surrounded by deadly remains, vaporizes. So, Guinevere and Sir Lancelot finally had time to use the miraculous swords, fixing them in the soil with their tips upwards, invoking the clouds and a tempest to extinguish the fire as well as to mix-up with the twosome's tears: Arthur's got murdered by his nephew! However, the king, before tumbling down, pierced Mordred with his spear, breaking his chest and shadow. Killed and got killed. Frightfully doleful, fairy Morgana claims the royal corpse for her, with the intention of laying him to rest in the isle of Avalon, as a latter act – a little late, actually – of regard for her brother. The kingdom of Camelot doesn't interest her anymore: it was just an offering to her late son.

Hereafter, nearly everything's changed. King Arthur has passed from life to become a myth. The demon named Etrigan would remain latent for centuries, possessed by Jason, who's got immortalized. That simple man who was living the dream of being a nobleman found this in the worst way: when he and his kinsfolk were convicted of high-treason! The "fourth child" was never found by authorities to atone for his crime.

The queen and Sir Lancelot went far away, as so as to live their lives. Comfortably, of course! There had someone who paid at a price – with land, because money wasn't stock at that time – for the magical swords. They'd died without leaving descendants.

Morgana also lives so far, thanks to her witchcraft. However, by now she wants to revenge herself on whoever fck&d the damned battle's good course with his insatiable thirstiness for chaos and, consequently, sealed her son's fate! Merlin, notwithstanding the efforts of Jason and Etrigan for such, was never found, neither on Earth, nor underground.

That's it! The lives of almost every single character in this first tale had been radically transformed. Yet for a few, nothing's changed – so much for certain peasant who, as the "traitor" one, was also named Jason. Despite lightening a candle for each saint he had known – not to mention another one, for the Devil – he couldn't see his prayers being answered: if one of them – anyone! – could ease his children's hunger. On the contrary, Famine did carry them off...

Next: Dante Alighieri!