******************Merry Christmas! I hope you have not forgotten this little story. I haven't, though time hasn't been friendly to me this year. But even Rome wasn't built in one day, so I hope you forgive and enjoy the little piece presented here. And please forgive any mistakes, but I haven't written in English for such a long time... ********************


Twelfth Chapter

Sweet and damp mist was wavering through the woods. The air was sticky and humid. Drops were dripping down from the trees. After hours of riding they had approached the Barnstable forest. It had seemed that the rain had been following them through the moor and countrysides. Though, the journey had been remarkably uneventful. Neither of them had said much.

Mab was still vexed about Merlins reluctance against bringing her to her own realm. She was convinced that Merlin tried to make her life as hard as possible, not able to admit that he indeed was only but caring and supporting her. Besides that she felt miserable and cold. Their wet clothes were clutched on their bodies for there had been no protection against such weather. As if prompted by Mabs grumpy feelings the evening-sun broke through the clouded sky. Its rays irradiated through the trees and sparkled on the wet leaves. But she took no notice of it.

Merlin on his side was deeply in his thoughts, too. He was remembering all the times he had returned to this place. It always had felt warm and welcoming to him. Not far from the path they were riding on, he had firstly met Nimueh. He had been so young then. It had been an even sunnier and warmer day so many autums ago. He had been dreaming lightly asleep in one of his favorite places – a hollow tree. He had felt most vivid there. Then he had heard them, laughing voices, some of them debating fiercely. When they had approached him, Merlin had been stunned by her appearance. That girl had looked far more beautiful than any of the girls from the village. She had had an aura of grace and authority around her, so that she had seemed the most beautifully being he had ever seen, until then at least. Of course his first meeting with Mab had had a similar effect on him. Mabs beauty had been an ethereal one, something unearthly and celestial; it nearly had been overwhelming for the adolescent mind of the young Merlin. It seemed the more beautiful the women had been, the more willing the young boy had been to follow their orders. So it had been, when the Lady of the lake had entered his life. She had been the visual perfection of her sister. Everything that had been dark on Mab had seemed white and untouched on the Lady. He had thought her the purest being on the world. But for beauty he had learned it soon enough, beauty was only an illusion. He believed it had been Mab who had taught him this in so many ways.

"hhrrrm", Rupert cleared his throat. "Are you two finally getting off my back, or do you want to spend the night in my saddle?"

Merlin looked up. They had reached his hut without him noticing. There it stood in the midst of the clearing. Mab forced her attention towards the little wood made cottage. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. This was ridiculous, she should live here? That was not even an improvement to the barn they had spent the last nights in. But Merlin did not wait for her reaction. He simply did what Rupert had asked of them and got off the horses back taking Mab after him.

She immediately tried to resist his assistance. But when he had pulled her down, her knees gave in not used to such efforts. Hissing she still waved aside his hands. "Just let me sit here", she complained, "leave me!"

So he just shrugged; "Fine, be there!" He turned and moved towards the cottage.

Inside nothing had changed at all. The small hearth, the bench, the storage boards and the beds in the back - everything was in its place just a thin layer of dusk was there. With a wave of his hand it disappeared. He checked his stocks. There were dried herbs he could use for a brew, oat flakes and some flour sacks. It would be enough for a few days, then he would have to ride to the village for new supplies. In a box near the wall he found his old clothes and towels. He looked around.

The two beds in the back of the hut still looked like he had left them. They were made like boxes: a wooden slatted frame with enough space underneath for furs, blankets and other stuff. He rummaged through them until he had found clothes for him to change in. Cause of the rain they were soaked and dripping wet. Now in the evening it began to get colder. He shivered shortly. With another wave of his hand he had lit the fire in the hearth. He continued drying himself and changed into his new clothes. Mab still sat outside of the hut. His sharp ears could hear her suppressed sobs. When he was done he searched for clothes he could give Mab. But he had nothing left of Ambrosias old stuff. So he just took his long waistcoat made of rabbits fur and some towels. Then he began to fetch some hot water and oat flakes for porridge.

While it was cooking he decided that it was now time to face Mabs wrath again. There she sat in the dark and in the mud in front of the hut. She was freezing but made no attempt to move into the warmth. All she did was giving Merlin an angry look. He just shrugged his shoulders and moved towards her.

"You will come inside now.", he stated.

"Forget it!", she hissed.

But he ignored her reply and started to fetch her up. When she tried to wriggle herself out of his grip, he finally lost his nerves: "WILL YOU STOP THIS MADNESS AND DO AS I SAY?", he shouted at her with an uplifted fist.

Mab shrieked back covering her head under her arms and stopped all resistance.

Merlin instantly was sorry. With caution he put his arms around her, whispering calming words into her ear. Then he gently lifted her up and brought her inside the hut. There he placed her on his old bed. Taking the wet cloak from her he began to warm her up. With towels and blankets he supported her, rubbing her frozen body until she stopped her shivering.

"Put off your gown, it needs to dry" he said. This time she did what he said without any remark. He still was sorry for shouting at her. He nearly had slapped her again. He felt that they both needed some time to rest. Without words he handed her his waistcoat and turned to prepare the meal. He afforded two small bowls. When Mab was ready, he took the wet clothing and dropped them near the fire, while Mab was provided with one bowl and a wooden spoon. He took the other and seated himself on the other bed.

Wordlessly they began their meal. After a while Mab looked up. On his questioning look she just snorted: "That's disgusting."

Merlin sighed not knowing that in secret Mab was admitting to herself, that this food was much better than the soup they had in Dun Tagell. But she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing that. After dinner she curled up in the furs of her bed. A few moments she pondered about Merlins decision to take her here, but the sleep came fast this time for she was feeling more exhausted than ever. Merlin on his side had more difficulties in finding sleep that night, even if he was in the same badly need of it like Mab was.

She was running again. Through thorny hedges as if she was haunted by something. She heard laughter but she could not remember to whose voice it belonged. She ran only faster, knowing the exit had to be just around the corner. There it was. 'Someone else does blame you!', it echoed through the grey air. She flung herself through the stony gate. But then there was fire everywhere. Not an exit at all, instead she was in the burning Camelot. She roamed the corridors trying to escape the fire but they all turned out as dead ends. Encircled by the flames she only could retreat to the last room possible. Panting for air she entered the room with the smashed round table. 'Are you satisfied with what you have done?' Mab spun around to face Merlin. He looked so different. His face was nothing more than a wrathful mask. With fierce steps he approached her raising Caledfwlch in his hands. When the first stroke hit her, she wanted to scream, but no sound came over her lips. She couldn't breathe and she couldn't move. But the sword came down for her again and again.

In his sleep he heard muffled noises. Instantly Merlin was awake. It took him a short moment to realize what it had been that had pulled him from his light slumber. Mab was dreaming again, he should have foreseen this. Quickly he was at her side trying gently to shake her out of her nightmare.

"It's alright! It's alright you are save." But when she finally opened her eyes to see him, she panicked even more.

Nearly hysterical she screamed: "Don't kill me! Don't kill me Merlin! Please! Please…please…" until she only whimpered lowly.

Merlin was shocked by the deadly terror shown on her face. He couldn't believe that she was frightened to death of him. "Mab, please calm down!" he said. "I'm here to protect you, not to harm you."

She still said nothing. Of course it sounded quite a bit unbelievable, for she had been absent for the last months and her last memory was that of him trying to destroy her.

He guessed that her memories returned in her dreams, but she could not know, that now he wanted to care for her. "I know the last time we had an encounter, it was not on friendly grounds, but things have changed so much now!" Gently he stroke her cheek with his palm pulling his other arm behind her back. Then he pulled her to him in a deep embrace. Finally she relaxed melting into his arms.

"Do not kill me" she whispered.

"Never… not ever", he returned.