Surprise dear readers and reviewers,

I have finally returned. At long last I conquered the beast that is this chapter.

There are so many of you. I feel I have to thank you again for your loyalty (leathé in old-ish English I love that word) and your honest, compassionate reviews.

I received several interesting questions. I will seek to present the according answers in the following chapters. Hang on to your questions. If they have not been answered, let me know and I will be sure to do so either in the story itself or in a personal message.

I am also very pleased with the femslash requests. I am on your side, dears. Let's hope the story is too. These things tend to have a mind of their own. You are a fantastic audience. Reviews are cookies, cookies write chapters -something like that. – No pressure. Biscuits and tea all around! That is my point.

I could and would continue praising you, but Mab urges me to get on with the story.

In this chapter I will refer to some past events. I checked some things but did not reread everything. If I made mistakes, please forgive me. I am only a fairy.

I can make no promises on when the next chapter will be up. This is what I can give you: 1. We have entered the grande finale of this story. 2. I have an arsenal of promising titles for the following chapters and don't quite know yet which to pick. Butterflies are ugly, Queen of the Old Ways, the Lady, the Lord.

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"I am leaving."

"Syrinx, you can't."

"I have to, father."

Syrinx did not look at him as she donned her thick riding cape and took her newly given elfin sword in hand. The handle was of purple velvet and gold threat. It matched the elegant deep purple dress with gold decoration she wore today. She had a good reason for paying such unusual close attention to her clothing.

"Queen Mab once forced me to leave. I did not want to go then either." She wondered if she had been heartless in that respect. She would have stayed by Mab's side forever if she had her way. In that past not even the thought of seeing her father again, after many years of inexplained absence, could make her freely agree to leaving this land. Perhaps that is what Faerie does. Her crying and shouting had not mattered to the queen. She needed to go. Queen Mab had decided it and Syrinx could not, though she knew too it was the only option. She would go for her. She was not forcing her now.

Syrinx strapped the sword securely around her waist. Her loyalty demanded it of her, a second time. "I could not live with myself if I shouldn't go."

She could not tell if she and her father were growing closer or farther apart. Things had a way of remaining constant in the Land of Magic. She talked to him more freely now, if still in sparse conversations. She had everyone she ever wanted to see, everyone she cared about in one place and though she did not often talk to any of them or they to her she had found a kind of peace.

Water drops fell from her hair onto her skin. She paused to dry her long locks. She did not look up to meet his face. She knew what she would find there and it could not stop her.

Her father narrowed his eyes. His eyelids slightly twitched in his attempt to avoid a full out glower His daughter would do anything for the Mab creature. It would harm her and those around her, but most of all her. She, the Mab, had already tainted her with this pagan sorcery. At least she released her weakness. He wished she could break free from wathever spell she was under that made her worship the very ground her goddess walked on. She had to see the light someday. He was confident in the inner strength of his daughter. How he wished she would not pour that strength into a misguided cause. He hated to see her indulge into her weakness, giving everything she was to the very thing that blinded her from reason and alienated her from herself.

He knew this place, this so called land. He knew its evil from stories. He tried to block out these stories. Even so he did not like it there. The air itself felt hostile to him. The glittering caves and rooms resembled a dream, perhaps an afterlife, visions from a pagan nightmare looming over him to catch his soul or so his priest would say. Ealdor himself was not that poetic or fanciful in his doom scenarios, but he could not help the way he felt and that bordered pretty close to the images the church would paint him on fairies. This was a tense atmosphere to live in, no doubt in no small amount due to the rotten temperament of the land's female ruler. He was ill at ease in this place except when he could watch over his daughter. This land meant the world to her. She had confessed to him only the day before how she had spent months, years in this place. She had told him the Land of Magic was her home even if a full blood human as herself did not belong here by nature. She had not told him this at great length. A mere sentence did suffice. He had not expected her to provide more explanation than necessary. Her desire had been clear. He had not understood everything she told him on magic and fairies and such, but his love for her did understand.

He watched her ruefully. She stood armed before him with a sword and brave words. She was to represent the ideals he had her brought up with. Chivalry much admired in men proven a tragically bitter and questionably quality in a woman.

Syrinx taken a lavender bath. She took the soothing scent in with closed eyes. She tried to convince herself that she was not in her right to be this illogically upset. Convincing herself came surprisingly easy. Yet she remained very upset. Upset or not, she knew what to do.

"She demands this of you?" She could hear his contempt.

Her honesty demanded her to say. "No. You don't know what this is about. I saw what would happen."

"You could tell me."

This sounded like a joke to her ears. Syrinx could not explain it all. Her trial, her life, his death, his sacrifice. She would try and provide him with some more acceptable explanation. "This is about the kingdom. If Elgar does not become king queen Mab is lost. Don't you see? Prince Edward is a devote Christian. They were about to fight when I fled. Elgar had been given a certain victory with Excalibur in his clutches. I thought all was lost."

"Syrinx, this can't be right. Excalibur vanished. "

"It is! The legend has returned. The knight who escorted me home gave it to the Christian prince. I thought Mab's work was for naught. But now… Father, I have to see this for myself. I will not be in danger. The battle might already be over when I arrive."

"What battle?"

Her hair was still dripping wet, it would dry on her way to the battlefield. Her father took her arm before she managed to walk out on him. He repeated the question.

"I overheard queen Mab and Frik. They were in the crystal room." She swallowed her inner frustrations on Frik's presence in the room he had been explicitly banned from. Apparently Mab had forgotten about that. "I was on my way back from taking my bath. " She saw the crystals again before her mind's eye. Shattered on the floor. Mab's precious magic. So precious that Mab rarely let Syrinx watch as she worked on them. She had not let the girl touch them apart from the few times she tested her lacking magical abilities. The sparse times they did work in Syrinx' hands, with Mab's aid, the crystals had not shown her what she wanted to see. Syrinx was probably no longer allowed to touch them. There were none left. The room of magic had lost its splendor. She swallowed the sight of Mab's withering inner sanctum away. "I was too ashamed of my flight to ask her who had won. Elgar or Edward. They matched strengths, fought each other, testing both swords. The one who won would be the rightful king."

"It does not sound like the royal princes to fight."

"Are you accusing me of making up stories? They were put up to it."

"I know them to be much smarter than that. "

"It is due to circumstances. They changed, father." She would not bother to explain how Mab made them fall in love with her. She had planned to tell him once and in good time she would. Mab's plan sounded ridiculous right now. Especially how easy it had been to turn the princes against each other. Yet it would work. Syrinx would make sure of it.

"I saw those boys grow up. I saw them more often than I saw you." A lump of silence struck like a blade to her throat. His absence and her loneliness were not something she liked to be reminded of.

"Thanks to my fiancé," she spoke the word with the same harshness she had heard Mab call the lord that. " the princes ceased the fight. He urged them to talk it out. The discussion went on for days. Instead of the discrete emotional duel Mab had set up it was decided that this will be a full blown war." They decided to play their favourite game, is how Mab had phrased it. "One day from now. That gives me just enough time to ride there. She needs me to be there after the battle and marry the victor."

"What did your fairy say?"

"That the princes would be more motivated in their fight if I were there."

"Did she say you should watch this battle? "

Syrinx refused to speak or shake her head. In truth Frik had told Mab to keep the girl out of it and her mistress had not contradicted him. He told her Syrinx was useless. It gnawed at her to see Frik in Mab's presence as one trusted. Mab doubted Syrinx' loyalty but Syrinx was certain her faith had never wavered. She was not at fault. She watched Frik worm around her mistress until it became too painful for her to watch. The conversation would not feed her new information for her ears had grown deaf and her mind was dulled by this foul sight.

"She wants me " she hesitated, at a lost at what Mab wanted. Her queen had barely spoken. She could not interpret the impression Mab had given, except for a sadness that bore bad news. "to… I am going that battlefield despite what wishes she may have for me."

"I care about you and the princes. If they are fighting each other I will go with you." He could not see himself stay here without his daughter.

"No, you will not. You have to be safe. That was my wish to keep you safe and that will keep you here." Her voice ragged by emotion.

"I need you to be safe, Syrinx. You cannot stop them from fighting. If that fairy wanted you to go she would have told you."

"She would not have hesitated."

"There is no reason for you to go and endanger yourself."

True her death would not work into Mab's advantage. Such a thing appeared futile to the girl. She had seen Mab's dress brush over the floor covered with crumbled shards of empty crystals. She was barefoot yet she did not cut her feet. Syrinx thought of the fairies. Their queen was growing weaker. I have not earned my place here yet. "I need to know, father, me. Not her. I don't even want to learn this through her visions. I need to be a part of it."

She had to see who she had to marry, he understood that. He wished he would have gone about her engagement, her education, her future, her life differently.

Syrinx saw his pity. She did not want his pity. She wanted him to know everything. It hurt her to leave without having confided in him. "I will return. I saw the state of her crystal room. Without her crystals she has next to no power over current events. If the Christian wins, Mab has lost. I cannot let that happen."

"Will you stop defining the princes by their beliefs?" he snapped.

"If she is losing power…"

"She would want you to be safe. If she actually cared about you, which I believe is not so."

"If the worse does come to pass I want you to stay with her. Help her if she should demand it of you."

"If she loses," Syrinx shook her head. "if she loses, listen to me, we will leave this place together."

Syrinx grunted. "Oh father!"

"I won't let her keep you prisoner. Your fondness of her is disgraceful."

"If she loses, she will die. "

He clearly believed she was blowing things out of proportion. The reason he did not voice this opinion was that he knew he could not trust what he believed anymore.

She considered bursting out of the room. If this was the last time she saw her father, she did not complete the thought. This did not feel like a possible option. She did not want them to part like this.

"You would kill a man?"

"I don't know." The answer, as she well knew was yes. She would do what she had to to save her mistress. Half of the time she was not certain how much the years had changed her and who she had become in Mab's hands. Now everything about herself was crystal clear.

"I want to see with my own eyes who I must wed."

"I see you would like to care about the princes but you do not. Your real motivation if there is any, is a delusion."

"It would be easier if I could love."

"You can love."

Perhaps in time, she reflected, years after her marriage she would grow to care for her husband. She had lost hope that would even happen. She shook her head. Not without magic.

Her father believed in a type of magic and love that could not exist for her. A strong human real kind of magic. Was her father a romantic? Not really, but in this he was.

"You grew up expecting a chivalric romance. "

"That was not what the men at court tried to do to me." She did not want to betray anyone. She feared against her own instincts that her father would approve of normal healthy behavior as stroking a girl's thigh.

"I am sorry for that. I should have taken better care of your education. " She did not want him to apologize for the personal traits she held so dear. It only made her feel worse about herself. He should ask forgiveness for marrying her of. She saw in his eyes that was what he truly wanted to do.

"Do not come near the battle. Watch only." Her father was frowning, asking himself how he could trust her in this. How could she even believe in coming back from this adventure? Because she believed, was the answer. That sounded too cheesy although it was the truth. Mab thought her strength had lessened but it never did and Syrinx would prove it.

He took a good look at her. In her finest clothes carrying an elvin sword with her. He did not believe she could fight but if she could what better sword to have. He wondered where does the fairy queen kept the armoury. He wanted to take up weapons and so he could protect his daughter and join her in her quest or simply out of here. "You look like you are riding out to behead an evil prince. This is no ballad. The innocent and brave don't return unharmed from war. You should know by now not to believe in stories. They won't do you much good. Reality is too different."

She agreed, she nodded.

"You gave me those stories, father. I have to go."

"We could go together." Leave and not return, that is what he meant.

"She would know."

"What of it?"

"I will not give up on her, father." She emphasized the word father to cut the conversation short. She needed to gain power over this farewell and time for her mind to put everything right. She feared she would otherwise be caught in the same conversation over and over again.

"What can you do?"

"Save her. I ask you to do the same "

"I will not let you go alone. A lady unaccompanied …" to war.

"I am in less danger than anyone else there." It pained her heart to ignore his concern. "There is no one you can send with me. I will take one of Mab's horses. I will be there and back in a flash."

Her apparent (feigned?) unconcern was exactly why he worried. "You don't know the way."

"The horse knows the way. It can take me anywhere I want to be taken."

His daughter possessed a force the likes of which he had not seen before. It was unstoppable. He could do nothing but honour her strength as he would honour that in a knight from her stories He had already caved in and lost this discussion. He would let her go. He stepped aside. The open door behind him. Syrinx embraced her father and kissed him farewell on both cheeks.

"Father, I want you to watch over Mab. Her existence depends on the outcome of this war. Beware of the gnome. Don't let him fool her or you. He has a personal feud to settle with her. She would not forget such a thing. She must have some sort of plan. If it goes wrong I want you to stand up for her. He is in league with one with power and questionable intent who promised me help but would have Mab harmed. I don't know why." She would have left the Lady out of her speech because of her uncertainty yet this is exactly what forced her to bring her up. She could not help feel that they were playing into her hand.

Her father did not care about the fairy but he nodded. He cared about preserving life and he cared about his daughter. He would respect her. He was a man of honour. One of few.

"There is another thing. I need to find Merlin."

"King Arthur's wizard?"

"Yes."

"He left Camelot. Long before you were born. Imprisoned they say by a sorceress. He is dead most likely." This new reality he found himself in made him add. "if he were real, a normal man and not some… creature." He waved his hand indicating the Land of Magic at large.

"I know he lives in the woods, with a woman not far from here. I intended to find it before, but I had to go to Camelot. When I was there I no longer had the opportunity to find the hut near the lake. All things trace back to Merlin. I don't know why" The list of what she did not know was a long one. "Mab keeps mentioning him.

Do you remember him in any story about fairies? Are there stories with Arthur and fairies?"

"Morgan Le Fay is the closest link I can think of."

"I need a wonderful story about the legendary wizard Merlin and an elfin queen."

"If such a story exists shouldn't it be in your book?"

"I looked there. It only deals with prearthurian, pagan heroes. There is no mention of the wizard."

"Perhaps there is no connection between him and your fairy. I reckon a lot of that book was made up."

"That wouldn't be a surprise, Frik wrote it. It was meant to keep her alive."

"Syrinx, no one in Camelot had heard of this queen before you spread the word. She is your invention."

"You read the book didn't you?'

"Yes."

"What did you think of it?" Of her?

He sighed. "I really don't recall. It was a long time ago. It is a fanciful book in a clumsy kind of way. I purchased it because of its uniqueness. I heard of some of those heroes before I acquired the book."

"So they were real?"

"As far as I can tell."

"That is my thoughts exactly. There are all kinds of stories in the book on fairies and knights. It wouldn't be like her not to stay involved during and after king Constant's reign. Yet not one of Arthur's knights is mentioned but when she tells me of them… Everything she told me, she lived it. She wás there. This must when it went wrong for her. She does not want to be associated with it. That is why Frik did not write about those events. Not during Arthur's time and not when he was made to complete the book. We have been fed false stories about king Arthur and his knights."

"You delve too deeply into these things. "

"I don't see the connection and I know there is one. I want to find it when I return with your help. You can read better than I can. I have to find Merlin."

Her father looked tormented. "Why did you have to learn how to read?"

"Isn't it ladylike?" There was no humour to her voice.

He gave her an indecisive look. "It is ladylike and a tad dangerous."

"Mab taught me."

"I am not surprised."

"I mostly taught myself." she confessed.

"I will help you find the dead wizard if it means that much to you. Just return unharmed, my daughter."

In that moment she wanted to take him with her. She reminded herself he could not join her to the battlefield for she knew how it would end. He was not allowed to be present at her trial before the crown. She would not have her father be a sacrifice. He could never leave Faerie. "Try to believe in magic for as long as you are here. It would make things easier for everyone." She embraced him once more. She held onto him longer than she intended. To contrast this display of affection which he might interpret as a need for his guidance, she kept her final goodbye brief. "Be safe."

The Duke Ealdor had seen men to war before. This situation was all wrong. He could not bear watch his daughter ride out. He watched her tiny frame as she walked away. He was condemned to these dark caves for his own wellbeing.

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The horse took Syrinx to a crowded valley. She knew this place. She had been here before on a damp summer's night, with queen Mab. Then lights had been lit across the plain merely because it was traditional. The moon was bright enough to light the night. The farmers living in these regions had held a feast. For the Old Ways and the new. There had been no argument here over religion or rightful rulers. The pagan rituals were reluctantly overviewed by Christian priests in their effort to gain popularity. As in turn druids were forced to partake in Christian rites. Time would tell who would give into the other's religion.

The peasants and even some people higher in rank would climb up the hill to praise and pray to Mab. This valley was a place of prayer for those still loyal to the Old Ways. Syrinx had watched Christianity give new meaning to Celtic festivities and holy places. The Christians were not hard to pick out of the crowd. They were humbler in their prayers and attire. More ashamed yet bolder at the same time. Both religions looked at peace with the other that one night. Syrinx felt a hidden fear. How long until this feast's origin would be forgotten? When would that weary druid addressing the crowd in a hushed voice be replaced by a priest and the sacred valley by a building made of stone?

Syrinx had stood by her mistress the entire night overlooking the events from the hill. Only those who believed could see them. Queen Mab graced and blessed those still loyal to the Old Ways with her presence. The Christian traitors did not deserve to see her, she said. Syrinx would have liked it to be otherwise. She urged Mab to make herself visible to everyone. Urging being a soft imploring. If the people could see her they would change their beliefs in an instant. Mab refused. She said brusquely that that was impossible at this stage. Syrinx remained quietly by her side. She watched down the hill in excitement. There was music down there that could take her anywhere. By the end of the night she was amazed she had been standing in the same place all the time for those tunes had drawn her spirit right into the festivities. They played tunes. Ancient and humanly flawed ones. Every villager must have known them, past down from generation to generation. You could feel the power in them. They were new to Syrinx and frankly she would not have wanted it any other way for this magic the tunes carried could not have had a bigger influence on her even if they had been part of her since childhood. That magical night was a moment which although it pasted it would never be over. It would always be with her. That was a clear fact. So she could long for it but never miss it.

Today she had returned and she would watch down the same hill in grief.

She saw her spot on the hillside was taken. Overlooking the battlefield from there was a knight on horseback. She recognizes him at first glance. Judging from the way he sat on his horse he was not here to fight. He did not look lost, belligerent nor particularly sad. He had also come to watch. She came to a standstill next to him. He did not greet her.

"This place is sacred. The blood of saints was spilled here. Now that of common men. It should not be this way." He was Christian, still. She had not expected that. His faith must be strong to resist the Old Ways when he was in service to them. Surely he had witnessed more proof of the Old Ways than of his 'true religion'. Yet he refused to marry magic and faith. She was met with a kind of admiration she did not know existed. He was a true knight, steadfast in his loyalty to his king, his lady and his God. The mystical king Arthur for whose memory he had set out on his quest to find Excalibur. The Lady who he had found on his quest and who pulled him under the lake. And God seemingly absent from all of this.

"It was sacred long before that. The stories have changed. The people remain pagan at heart."

"They forget."

"They need to be reminded."

He finally looked at her, neither benevolent nor hostile. "You know it is not that easy. You can't expect them to believe in fantasies and fairytales like you do when they have found the true Lord."

A horn sounded. The end tones of the horn sounded almost playful. Then the music of swords and cries began below.

"Shall we dance?"

Syrinx grinned at the knight. "Let's not."

He lowered his sword in its scabbard. She had not noticed he was holding the hilt. Perhaps he had been ordered to greet her in battle after all. He offered her his flask of water.

Syrinx took it. She was thirsty. The girl drank calmly.

She did not waver at the sight of violence. She felt no compassion. She was at too far a distance to see the battle as anything more than a depiction of history before her eyes. There was nothing that could make a battle like this one turn into legend. Not yet.

She would be part of the legend. That is why she had dressed up. If she looked the part, believed in it, all present here today would believe it too. She was of the Land of Magic. She had come for them. The war lords on this field of slaughter would gaze upon her and realize that they were the stuff of legend and they would act accordingly. She was not a fool to believe in the outcome of chivalric stories. But there was hope for they knew the stories as well as she did. They knew what they would have to do and she could make them do it.

It was as if their small exchange of words had never occurred. The real beginning was here as the battle commenced. Syrinx felt the knight watch her. She returned the flask half emptied. His gaze stayed upon her. It asked a clear question, three in one actually. Who do you want to win? Who does your mistress favour? Who will you wed for the sake of the kingdom?

"I am not marrying either of them." She stated more brusquely than intended. He kept silent in what she imagined was respect for her decision. If it was not respect she did not care what his opinion was. After a surprisingly short while the fight turned tedious to watch. She felt compelled to make conversation. "Who do you want to see victorious?"

"The most honourable man."

"And your lady?"

"She does not care who becomes king."

"What does she care about?"

"Not much." He remained silent for a while. "Her sister."

"You are here to protect me then?"

"In a way.

I had a feeling you would be here."

"Is that why you brought me a drink?

On her orders?"

He almost smiled, she had not tried to make him smile. "No, that is was my own doing. I brought my own flask with me. They don't think of such practical human things."

"Thank you." Despite the drink her throat remained painfully dry from riding. "Knight," she said unbothered by having forgotten his name "you serve the Old Ways despite being Christian. Could we make you king?"

"I have no claim nor ambition in that line. I am bound to the lake and its Lady. She does not care who rules in the Land of Man. She let me come here because I wanted to see this. She respects my human ambitions and desires. She gave me Excalibur. I am proud to have worn it and returned it to Camelot as was my dream. " He looked slightly uncomfortable. He was not used to talking even this much.

"Now it is someone else's."

"It is time to move on."

"Did you find what you were looking for when you came to the lake?"

"Yes.

Did you?"

"Yes." She answered just as dutifully.

They observed the battle. Somewhat removed from the valley, near the hill as if perfectly orchestrated for Syrinx and the knight to see, the two princes had found each other. They were out on each other's blood. Considering the vastness of the battlefield and number of soldiers involved it had taken them little time to find each other. It all came down to the two of them of course. No other person on the field mattered. They had nothing to do with it. This reminded Syrinx of when Arthur and Mordred, father and son, confronted each other in Mab's story. She wished the brothers would have it over with soon so the rest of the battle, the part that was useless anyway, could come to a halt.

"Do you believe he is the right person to carry Excalibur?"

"Excalibur is back where it belongs."

They watched a while longer. She felt they would discuss the sword fight soon and so they did on the knight's following words. "He fights with more honour than his brother."

"Yes, but Elgar is very talented at swordplay. Which might not mean a lot. In this duel of legendary swords Edward's holds the clear advantage."

"I do not know the other sword."

"It is called Krisler. It is older than Excalibur. There are stories about it but they have become quite muddled. Too many different meanings and qualities have been attributed to the sword. At least it is not tied down to one hero like Excalibur. Excalibur's power might not even work for another than Arthur, would it?"

He dismissed her question. "Both swords have been in magical hands." She so hoped Mab had done something to Krisler to make it win. But perhaps the Lady could undo or overrule such magic? What had she done to Excalibur in its lost years? "The same counts for the swords we carry." he continued. Did he want her to fight? To cross swords with her? "The strongest or most deserving warrior doesn't necessarily win. The power a sword holds makes a fight all the more unfair. Most magical weapons win regardless of who holds it. My Lady has always been very careful of who she entrusts with such power, yours isn't. She just wants to win. Imagine a weapon with the supernatural power that in one to one combat it would kill the one destined to be king."

"But he couldn't be because he's dead!"

"Too bad then."

"Now you are joking."

"Yes."

"This is a waste.

Excalibur will win, we both know it. Your Lady had the means to solve everything all this time. She held the victory of this battle in her hands the entire time. Who has Excalibur gets the kingdom."

"She does not care for the outcome of this battle."

"But Excalibur will decide..."

"No one in the land is deserving of Excalibur. It has been stripped of its magical qualities. It is a symbol nothing more. This is as it should be. "

"So the legend is worthless. You made it lose everything it stands for!"

"There is no more magic, Syrinx."

She was overwhelmed by the disgraced feeling of not wanting them to fight for her like this. They were both severely injured by each other's hand. At least death by magic tended to come swift. A fair fight could have a far more gruesome outcome.

Both brothers may have made a good king, though neither would have been the champion queen Mab wished and deserved. She had tried to win them over despite this. The brothers' fate was cruel and tragic. No good ruler could come out of it. Since Edward's beliefs could not be changed, she would have to break something essential in the Christian to make him useful to her. The godless brother she could have complete control over which would be achieved by him betraying his brother. He might not ever believe in the pagan ways at heart but his allegiance on a rational level would serve almost as well. In both cases Syrinx deduced she would have broken what strength they had and promise they held of themselves. The one who survived would still serve some purpose to her queen. It was true that Mab had destroyed them in forcing them into this game of chance, the killing of ones closest kin.

Between strokes both brothers would look upon the hill when they could afford to or sometimes when they could not and consequently paid for it by a mean cut to the flesh. "They know I am here."

"Your presence makes them fight harder."

"I know." She would have none of it. "They both want to save me from the other."

The situation created by her queen. Having to save the girl helps a man fall in love. And she would either enjoy being saved or feel guilted into love by it. Mab had misjudged them all.

"I don't need saving! I have to stop them. "

"Let it run its course."

"I can slay my own dragons." Of course, dear, she imagined Mab say, I learned you how. They don't have to know that.

"There are no more dragons. Only men, weapons and death. "

She had left his side.

Syrinx rode to princes. It was far too great a distraction for Elgar to watch her come near. His arms, legs and sword rendered motionless. She felt the tension grow with every painfully slow step her horse took. He could not tear her eyes from her, which perhaps proved him the most enamored with her and certainly the poorest faithful fool. Halfway down the hill the faint possibility of inspiring them to make a deal to stop their fighting shattered as Mab's would be champion buckled to his knees. A sword plunged through him.

The knight watched her go with little hesitation to the remaining prince, her future. The knight fleetingly entertained the thought that she had decided power was more important than self-respect and would negotiate the possibility of marriage. Edward had won the crown and her.

His had been a desperate act. Death was not the solution he had wanted either. He withdrew the bloodied sword from his brother's body with trembling hands. Syrinx' skillful sword master had been bested at his play. Excalibur had won as he tends to do. Prince Elgar had fallen in an instant. She never believed he would make a good champion. Mab had not believed her. It didn't matter now. He was dead. The prince cried over his brother. He blamed Syrinx no doubt and justly so. It was her fault that his brother turned mad. He had to kill him because there was no reason left in him.

An anger no one could not express in words was contorting all of his face. Insufficient sentences left his mouth of their own accord. "What did you do to make him like this?! He had no interest in the crown before suddenly you showed up." His eyes blazed. "I have offended you. And your kind does not take offence kindly. I assaulted you. I was so ashamed of myself. I did not dare talk to you. No more. Would I have done anything to make up what I did to you? You told me nothing. What would you have me do? But this. This punishment. You outdid my crime by leagues."

She silenced him to save him from the ruin of his own words.

"I may not have an army of my own, but I will take the crown and the swords. "

'I adore you.' His eyes said. Strengthened by the passion of war his eyes consumed her fae figure. His mouth replied. "I will never make you my wife."

"I didn't say in which order. I don't want you to wed me." She strode self-assuredly further down the hill. She knew what she must be. Mab said they fear strong women. Make it your advantage. Think of Morgan Le Fay in the stories. When I knew her, the real Morgan, she was a sniveling wench. They made her into a mistress of darkness, into me. Syrinx felt what she was. She did not have to act. She was thé lady. A disarming silence had fallen. They saw the lady from their stories and dreams. Heartless, virtuous, beautiful, merciless. The prize, but that she wasn't. Her hand rested on her sword.

Prince Butterfy, who would have pinned her to a wall, was practically sobbing before her. In spirit, not in body, for he had turned completely empty. He had no strength left to hurt her. She was sorry for him. She could afford being sorry for him now that she would never be his.

"Come here, lady, and see what you have done." His husky voice barely carried to her ears. There was no feeling to him. Emotions had left him as much as they had left her. "Have you not kissed those lips?" Though his face was turned towards her as if he was watching her still, there was no light left in Elgar. She watched the dead lips. Her first kiss could not be seen on them. It had never happened.

She could never have wed the man Mab had selected for her. A man who had never seemed real to her. Even aided by Mab's magic a happy marriage would not have been possible, to him, his brother, the lord or any man at court.

This fight was not real. This death did not carry meaning. It was not like the battles Mab told her about. These men were not the characters that had appealed to her since childhood. Those characters were valiant, noble, exactly like the princes and just as unreal. She realized those heroes were not themselves either. They were not the appeal.

What had given them life were the words from Mab's lips. The words which conjured the characters, the images, the stories, the world, no. She could not remember exact words. She remembered images, feelings.

It weren't the words. It's weren't the colours. Not even the bravery.

It was her.

All that was real was Mab.

Out here no one fought for her. They fought for themselves, their friends, their kin, some desperate souls who had lost all else to fight for fought for their king. When reality is this hard you fight for something real.

Not for Mab. She was only a story.

xxxxxxxxxxx

Everyone I ever loved and who ever loved me all gone all gone down …

He had not meant her. He kept telling himself he had not meant her. He took another sip of his ale. An ordinary middle-aged man sitting in an inn. That was all he was now. A traveler, lost, wandering through the world not knowing where he is going. He did not care enough to. He had known the hardships of life, now he could live anywhere. The moment he had walked out of Camelot's castle the shroud of wizard had fallen off him. He had lost his purpose. The purpose he was born into and the one he had put on himself. His vengeance was complete. It left him hollow. His life no longer held any meaning to him. He sat, he drank, he waited. He did not know what he waited for. His love was lost. The world could go further down its own path. He was tired of interfering. Mere hours had passed since Mab's defeat. Never had he changed so much in a few hours. From hero to tramp.

He was drinking in some rural pub. He didn't have money for a meal. He didn't crave food. Frik must be doing the same at this moment, he thought, not quite enjoying his rueful victory drink. He wondered if he would ever see the gnome again. A small number of days later he realized he missed Frik. He did not miss his personality nor his endless aimless chatter. No, he told himself, Merlin should not judge. He did not judge. He stood above that. He was a wizard. Had been a wizard. It would be better to plainly admit that in a way he liked Frik, the whole of Frik, even his annoying quirks. He did miss him. He missed magic. He missed love. Merlin crouched down over his drink to keep himself safe from gloomy thoughts. Most of all he missed Nimue. She could make such doubts disappear from his mind with a single smile.

You have rid the world of her evil. Yes, I have and at a terrible cost.

He could not comfort himself. He could not pretend she was there.

In his mind he heard Frik's voice talk of vengeance to him. "Part of her still survives. In you. Her magic and evil are not gone yet."

She was your mother, a childlike voice in Merlin replied. A voice he did not know he had. You killed her. And he remembered the softer, maybe even affectionate tone of voice in which she had threatened him.

He remembered seeing her cry. Never did he see any tears fall from her eyes. But she did cry when she looked at her own world and the human world. You never heeded this. Only now I see. Now that our fight is over and I have no more purpose to hate.

No purpose, except for Nimue. My sweet forever lost to me. Because of her.

Queen Mab had been forgotten, but she was not ready to leave his thoughts just yet. She had given him a purpose, he reminded himself, she had wanted him to forget about everything human in him and all the suffering she had caused to those he cared about. It was all meaningless now. It had never happened. He had been no more than a tool to her. Someone to bring her back into power. While Nimue had loved the human part of him. Nimue loved him for who he truly was.

I saw her lie as well, he remembered. Not with words, never with words. She lied to everyone. She lied to herself too every desperate moment of existence. She convinced herself that she could still survive with such passion, such fury it made nations fall to ruin.

Now he saw, too late, that she did care. For him possibly, for her people now gone.

He talks to them, to the air and the flowers where the fairies no longer are. He thought, perhaps he could bring them back. He knows that is a lie.

A mad man lives in the woods. That is what people from the village tell their children. Beware of the fairy man. They were right. The mad man mutters to himself. He walks the shore, the woods, the mountains. He screams at the sky. Expecting it to return whispers, pleads, commands or a fatal stroke of lightning to him. He talks to the stones he finds on his way. He takes some of them home. He calls them Mab. He calls everything Mab. Every fragment of nature, fate, mortality. He likes living in seclusion. He has done so for many years in his life. It left him troubled now. No longer could he trust his thoughts. It was a curse to be alone with himself. The silence of the woods does not easy his temper anymore. What used to give him peace empowered his inner pain.

Merlin knelt down. His heart too heavy to speak, and why should he? He had no one to talk to. She did not answer. She would already have if there was but a small trace of her left.

He stayed in his hut, in Ambrosia's hut. He had been happy there. He had been raised there. It also allowed him to stay nearby to where her land had once been. He had erased Faerie with his mind but was unable to turn away from it physically. That was, he imagined, much like what Ambrosia would have felt those many years ago when she turned away from the Old Ways but still decided to live here.

Her magic faded. He could feel the magic she had bestowed on him flow out of his veins.

He often stood outside his hut. He half expected her to appear out of the mist and maybe just maybe take him away with her. He saw night was coming for him too. He would not stop it. Every day was the same. Every day took him farther away from the memory of her. Of Nimue. He went inside. He put his cane down. He should be thinking about Nimue. How he missed her. Those wonderful moments shared in the cave. Where they wallowed in her magic. How bitter sweet it had been. His bones ached as he laid himself down to sleep. He felt so very old. Although the stars told him not even a month had passed since his heroic deed, his crime.

Merlin died that night.

And that was the end of magic.

He woke to find that life had not left him. However all that held meaning to him would remain lost for what he believed to be and experienced as forever. He did not use the shimmer of magic left within him. Most of his current life he did not even notice its presence. In this long time his body grew old to suit his mind, he expected. Then Nimue was released. Fate, in the form of Frik, brought her back to his arms. They lived out their lives in bliss. Even so his own words would never stop haunting him. I'm a wizard trickery is my business. Mab's defeat had been a trick. He had spent his entire life learning that specific trick. Tricks had been an important reason for his dislike of magic. None of it was real. He had taken the trickery called magic and erased what was true.