(Kinda changing Will and Merlynn's relationship, too)
CHAPTER 1 - THE DRAGON'S CALL.
No young woman, no matter how great, can know her destiny. She cannot glimpse her part of the the great story that is about to unfold. Like everyone, she must live and learn. And so it would be that the girl, a young witch, will arrive at the gates of Camelot. A girl that, in time, will bear a legend and rule beside a great king.
Her name, Merlynn.
It started with little things. Hunith didn't realize at first that it was her daughter; of course, why would she assume it was her in the first place? Odd objects began to float, things would suddenly appear out of nowhere, and there was no logical way to explain it. But then, she noticed her daughter's eyes glow gold and it all changed. Hunith wasn't sure if Merlynn's father's genes would pass on to her, and she had hoped that it didn't. Of course, she never neglected her child because of it. In fact, it seemed to bring the two of them closer. Flowers seemed to blossom in her presence whenever they travelled into the forest to collect fruit, and nature just seemed to be so attracted to Merlynn's presence.
How could she hate her daughter for being a witch? It wasn't something she could control, and it certainly wasn't bad magic. Merlynn didn't even know how to properly use incantations to develop her magic. Which was why Hunith was sending her to Gaius, her old friend in Camelot. He was a former practitioner in magic; she had no one else to turn to. Merlynn was stronger, Hunith knew, so much stronger than she appeared, and she feared that she would lose control of her power or turn dark because of it. She didn't want her daughter to leave - she was her family - but she cared more for her well being than her own love for Merlynn.
Hunith could feel tears sting her eyes as she watched her daughter pack her knapsack. Merlynn would thrive in Camelot; she had taught her enough, the behaviours of the court, how to speak to them (she was, once, a rather respected court member in Camelot) and the ways of the city. She smiled sadly, and croaked, "Do you have everything?"
Stop worrying, will you? It'll only take a couple of days to get to Camelot."
She sighed and placed the scroll addressed to the physician in her hand, curling her fist around it. "Now, take this to the court physician, Gaius. He'll give you a place to stay and take care of you in Camelot," she instructed with a watery smile. Tears were already filling her eyes, a few stray ones trickling down her cheek but she did not make a motion to get rid of them; she was too busy kissing Merlynn's cheeks and forehead, over and over.
Merlynn let out a little grunt and lightly pushed her away. She was smiling - her smile was lovely, so bright and exuberant. Hunith would miss it. "Okay. Gaius, the court's physician - go find him. Got it," she repeated but, as her mother wiped away her tears, she bit her lip and drew her mother close. "Stop worrying. I can protect myself if need be, remember? I love you." She kissed her cheek.
"I love you, Merlynn," she squeezed her eyes shut and relished in the last few moments she would have with her daughter before she would leave. "I'll miss you so much."
"As will I."
"Oh! And don't forget that no one but Gaius must know about your magic, all right? And don't tell him straight away because you might give him a heart-attack," Hunith told her, smiling fondly.
"Yes, I know!" Merynn laughed. "Goodbye," she called as she began to make her way toward the woods.
Merlynn made it to the trees before two arms wrapped around her waist and pulled her back against a warm chest. "Are you really going to leave without saying goodbye?" he muttered in her ear, chin hooking onto her shoulder. She smiled and turned, letting her wrists lock behind his neck.
"I said goodbye last night... but, I didn't really think you wanted to talk to me," she admitted. William was her best friend, well, turned companion a few months back. She had told him last night of her intentions to leave Ealdor for Camelot, and they had argued until the sun came up and both of their voices were raw from shouting. But, there he was, grinning at her and letting his forehead fall against hers.
"I don't want you to leave with us on bad terms," he said. Will felt his arms tighten around her - he didn't want her to leave, it wasn't what he had planned. He loved her too much, he believed, but he didn't care; he wanted to marry his best friend. But, now that she was leaving, he didn't think that was probable. "And besides, how can I ever stay mad at you?"
They were basically the same height and she didn't need to stretch up to kiss him. He was another reason why her mother was sending her to Camelot - he knew too much about her magic and, while Hunith trusted Will, she didn't like that he knew more than he should. But, that didn't stop her from telling him. He was her best friend, and how could she not tell him? Only now did Merlynn feel the pain of leaving her home, and felt tears burn behind her closed lids as their kisses became more desperate. She felt his fingers dig into her hips and knew her nails were leaving indents in the back of his neck, but neither cared.
When they finally released each other, it was only because they needed to regain their breath. Merlynn ran her fingers through his hair, then pressed a kiss to his cheek. "I'll miss you," she whispered against his skin.
"You have no idea how much I'll miss you," he retorted, chuckling weakly. "Merlynn, come back soon, yeah? Ealdor's boring without you."
"I haven't even left yet!" there was a small laugh in her voice.
"Exactly, and it's already boring. So that means you have to stay!" Joking aside, he never wanted her to leave - convincing Hunith would've never worked (that woman was as stubborn as a mule) so he just had to deal with it. But, already, he felt like he was losing her, even though last night she had made it clear that he would never get the chance to.
Merlynn smiled and removed herself from his arms to climb up onto the top of the rock they had once claimed as theirs. "You know I can't, Will - but, I'll try to contact you as much as possible, okay?"
"You better," he winked up at her. "I love you."
"I love you!" she shouted back as she disappeared from view.
It took only a couple of days to get to Camelot - she got lost a couple of times, which was why it had taken longer than necessary. Merlynn hated traveling to a new place without a guide to assist her; it was a troublesome thing, but she didn't complain. There was no one to complain to, anyway. She ignored the chafe in her legs, the ache in her shoulders and the urge to collapse and sleep as she climbed over a large hill. In the distance was Camelot. Merlynn had to pause for a moment at the top of the hill to admire the castle.
Just seeing Camelot seemed to be worth all the energy she had used getting there; it was the most magnificant castle she had ever laid eyes on, even better than King Cenred's castle. A small frown appeared on her face as the heartless, yet sadly very handsome king flashed in her mind. He was the cruelest king in the whole of Albion - always shunning villages, and denied them help whenever they were in dire need. Git.
Merlynn gripped the lapels of her bag to relieve the pressure from her shoulders and smiled at the sentry who stood watch at the gates of Camelot. They didn't return the kind gesture, but they did acknowledge her with a polite nod, but they did look rather curious at the sight of her. She understood why; while clothing was not judged of speculated in Ealdor, the women in Camelot seemed to all wear dresses and gowns from what she could see. Her male breeches, a little baggy on her frame, a purple tunic much too big for her and leather belt hung at her waist was certainly not the normal attire of a female, even a commoner.
She did not wear male-like clothing all the time, but she only doned the clothes for when she was traveling and when she had to do work where wearing a dress would be impractical. Her feet were aching despite the warmth and stability of her old boots, and her breathing had yet to even out since she had not stopped since early morning when she woke in the forest.
"It's so beautiful," she breathed as she took a swig from her leather waterskin.
There was a mass hype inside the gates in the lower part of the city, with stalls lining the streets and busy villagers constantly moving like worker ants. She had to constantly dodge those with goats in their arms, large baskets which masked their view and sentry with horses that walked past demanding passage. Despite the wild energy of the city already, she loved it, relished it even. It was always quiet and rather boring in Ealdor, so all the excitement was something to enjoy.
As she headed deeper into the city, there was a faint drum beat echoing from a few feet ahead. The people who were once doing their chores and moving every which way all rushed in unison toward the sound, forming a large crowd around a large block in the centre of, what looked like, a large courtyard. Merlynn squeezed her way near the front curiously, and peered over a few shoulders to see. A man was being lead from a side door in the citadel toward the block by two guards - surprisingly, to her, he did not struggle.
He was accepting his fate. As she stared at the stone block seated on a platform, she began to bring the pieces together. There was never a need for execution in her village as no one really committed many crimes. But, from what she could see, death would come for this man.
"Let this serve as a lesson to all." Merlynn jumped slightly at the sudden loud, commanding voice from above, but glanced up to see a man standing on the balcony of the castle. He wore a golden crown atop his head and he had a stern, aged air about him - it didn't take long to figure out that it must have been the king. "This man, Thomas James Collins, is judged guilty of conspiring with enchantments and magic. And persuant to the laws of Camelot I, Uther Pendragon, have decreed that such practices are banned on penalty of death."
Merlynn was right...
She lowered her gaze to the floor, trying to conceal the fright in them. Her magic was something that she used freely in the comfort of her own company, her mother's and, sometimes, Will's. To know that it was banned, especially on the consequence of death if she were ever caught, was certainly terrifying. Merlynn was beginning to regret ever agreeing to her mother's decision - how could she learn to control her magic in a place which persecuted those who used them?
"I pride myself as a fair and just king," he continued, "but for the crime of sorcery, there is but one sentence I can pass." King Uther then nodded slowly, permission for the headsman to do his duty.
Thomas was shoved forcefully down to his knees and his head forced upon the stone slab. Merlynn glanced up in his final moments, and their eyes locked. For a moment, she returned his gaze... and it was a horrible thing to see, the eyes of a dead man walking. There was an empty, hollow fear to them, but she could not look away, not until the headsman raised his axe toward the sky. Then, and only then, did she look away to avoid seeing the death of the man - someone like her.
It was barbaric, to murder someone like that. Some may consider it 'noble' but she was sure that Thomas Collins had done nothing truly wrong, only practice magic - something that he may have been born with. She hated the king for what he had done, to him and to anyone else he had slaughtered on the wrong terms.
"When I came to this land, this kingdom was mired in chaos but, with the people's help, magic was driven from the realm," King Uther declared. "So I declare a festival to celebrate twenty years since the Great Dragon was captured and Camelot was freed from the evil of sorcery. Let the celebrations begin!"
Celebration? There had been twenty years of this wretched act of murdering innocents? Merlynn gaped up at the king in horror - what sort of monster could do such a thing?
Suddenly, a loud scream emitted from the crowd and, as it parted to reveal the culprit, a withered elderly woman stepped toward the balcony. Her robes were tattered, face weary and wrinkled, but from her place even Merlynn could see the anger rolling off of her in waves. "There is only one evil on this land and it is not magic. It is you!" Merlynn had to agree. "With your hatred and your ignorance! You took my son. But I promise you, before these celebrations are over, you will share my tears. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a son for a son!"
"Seize her!" King Uther ordered.
The old woman, presumably Thomas' mother, reached up and took hold of her necklace. A cloud of black smoke burst out from the piece of jewelry and she disappeared. There was a collective gasp from the crowd surrounding her and chatter started as they dispersed from the area, taking precaution to avoid the spot where the black smoke was still wisping away. Merlynn was shocked at the blatant display of magic, but also a little impressed at the skill of such a feat; however, she had a sudden urge to leave and never return.
It would be risky to live in Camelot. But, the prospect of the forbidden was a little adrenaline-pumping, and she did not want to return to her boring life in Ealdor - not yet. So, she began her search to find Gaius. Standing in the courtyard, she noticed many doors that could lead to just about anywhere. She began to realise that she had absolutely no idea where she was supposed to go; she must've looked like a complete idiot standing there, turning in circles as she wondered what direction to head in.
Merlynn noticed a guard standing nearby and walked up to him. While he didn't look like the most approachable person, he couldn't exactly deny her assistance, could he? "Do you know where I could find Gaius, the court physician?" she asked, trying to sound friendly, but it came off as slightly awkward.
Nice one, she thought as the guard briskly pointed to the door nearby his place. "To the end of the hall," he said, voice gruff.
Merlynn smiled at him in thanks and headed inside, which she soon discovered was the side-door into the castle. She rolled her eyes at her stupidity, but stepped up into the corridor which, like the streets outside, were busy. Preparing herself to be injured by an oncoming blanket, or an elbow or two, she hurried down the hall to the door which, as directed by the guard, lead to Gaius. There was a staircase inside and, as she made her way up, she saw a wooden sign pointing up that said, Court Physician.
If only that had been outside, with more direction. Merlynn rolled her eyes and reached a door at the top of the stairs which was open in the slightest, revealing a small amount of the chamber inside. She nudged the door open a little and called, "Hello?"
There was no response. Merlynn slowly entered the physician's chamber and found herself surrounded by hundreds of jars, bottles and books, messily scattered around the room. She looked into one of the jars which held, what looked like, eyeballs - she leapt away from it, lip curled in disgust. As she did so, her eyes trailed up and she locked onto an elderly man standing on the upper floor.
He jumped at the sudden noise and glanced downward, turning to face the 'intruder'. Instead, he stumbled into the weak wooden railing, which snapped upon impact and sent him crashing toward the ground. Merlynn did the first thing she could, the only thing she could - keep him safe. Without even realising it, she used her magic to slow the physician down and quickly move his cot underneath him to cushion the fall. Gaius was left gasping for breath on the bed but, as he sat up and focused on her, there was no way he was simply brushing off the extraordinary thing that had just happened moments ago.
"What did you just do?"
Merlynn looked like a gaping fish as she tried to form a coherent lie, "Uh - I, er - I, uhm..." her gaze locked with a toad figurine on the table nearby, staring at it as though it had the answers to all of her problems.
"Tell me," he demanded.
"I... have absolutely no idea what happened," she scoffed, her voice weak and her lie a complete farce. She was ridiculous at lying (which, she knew, was stupid considering the large secret she had to keep every day).
Gaius unsteadily got to his feet, his barely-there brows furrowed as he glared at her. "If anyone had seen that..." he trailed off, a hidden threat in his voice.
"Uh, no! That - that, er, that had nothing to do with me. I am just... I am just a bystander to this - to this amazing thing that just, er, happened. These things, strangely enough, do happen. That wa -" she stammered on and on. Her mother told her not to bring up her magic this quickly; she didn't know where his thoughts lay just yet.
"I know what it was! I just want to know where you learnt how to do it," he barked.
There was a way, a place, to learn to do things like she did? It was news to her. "Nowhere!"
Gaius frowned. "So how is it you know magic?" he questioned.
"I, er, don't."
"Where did you study?" he asked her, eyes narrowed. Merlynn bit her lip and turned her attention to her boots; she didn't like being cornered, especially about something like her magic. "Answer me!"
"I've never studied magic, or been caught! I have no idea what you're talking about," she retorted, crossing her arms over her chest. It was her way of enclosing herself in her own little protective bubble.
"Are you lying to me, girl?"
"I... What would you like me to say?" she sighed, defeated. There was nothing else she could do to defend herself.
"I am telling the truth! I've never studied, nor trained to have magic - I was born able to do things like this, and I don't know how, or why," she blurted out in frustration.
"That's impossible," Gaius scoffed. "Who are you?"
Merlynn gasped and removed the letter from her backpack. "Oh, erm..I have this letter." As he took it, he peered at the writing, squinting his eyes occasionally.
"I... don't have my glasses," he muttered.
"Okay. I'm Merlynn. Hunith's daughter," she informed him.
The physician frowned. "But - but you're not meant to be here until Wednesday!"
Merlynn felt a little more than awkward as she said, "It is Wednesday." This was the man who was supposed to take care of her? He didn't even know what day it was!
"Ah." He looked a bit uncomfortable, clearing his throat. "Right, then." Gaius stepped back from her, then motioned toward the door at the back of the chamber. "You better put your bag in there - that's where you'll be staying."
She headed off toward the door, but she stopped before she reached it. The matter of her magic was still there, unresolved and she knew he was still curious about it. But, she had to know if she could trust him - even though her mother had told her that she could. "You won't tell anybody, will you? About the - the, uh..."
"No. Although Merlynn, I should say thank you," he said, sending her a kind smile.
It was a voice that woke her in the morning, a deep, rumbling voice that was faint, as though in the distance. But, when she opened her eyes, there was no one to be seen. It definitely did not sound like Gaius so, she wondered, who it could be. Merlynn sat up in bed and frowned, still searching for the source of the voice.
"I must be going insane," she whispered to herself as she finally left her bed. It was odd to sleep in a bed - in Ealdor, she didn't have a bed, but a stack of blankets instead, most of which were rotten and torn, or too thin. While the blankets in her bed were thin, they were not like parchment, and for that she was glad. It was much warmer than her 'bed' in Ealdor.
Merlynn ran her fingers through her tangled hair and winced as she caught a few knots, but ignored the urge to brush her hair, instead pulling it up into a bun. She noticed something hanging on the cupboard in her chambers - a pretty, simple blue gown. Smiling, she removed it from the cupboard top and changed into it; it suited her, but it was a little tight in some places. However, she kept it on and headed down the small flight of stairs into the main chamber to see Gaius at the table eating porridge.
He smiled when he saw her, and said, "Good morning, Merlynn. Did you have a nice sleep?"
"Yes, I did," she replied, taking a seat across from him. "Thank you for the dress. It's absolutely beautiful."
"I'm glad you like it. Think of it as a sort of thank you for saving my life yesterday - why, I could've died being so old!"
Things were silent between them for a moment before, suddenly, he reached out and smacked the water bucket on the edge of the table off. It began to topple to the ground - Merlynn saw the consequence before it happened. She reacted on complete instinct; before it hit the ground, she froze the bucket and the water. She could feel Gaius' gaze on her, so she let the bucket hit the ground and create a large puddle of water.
"How did you do that?" he gasped. "Did you incant a spell with your mind?"
Merlynn shrugged. "I... don't know any spells at all. I never even knew that you could learn, or use words, to command what I can do. I haven't touched a book that would tell me about things like this all my life."
"So what did you do? There must be something," he frowned.
She didn't know what to tell him - she couldn't explain what she could do, it just started when she was only a girl. "I don't know what I do - I just wanted that bucket to stop from hitting the ground, and it did. It just, sort of, happens." Her mother had to teach her how to prevent herself from using it in public when she got too carried away doing things without moving.
"That's rather marvelous. The only sorcerers I knew had to learn how to use magic, but you... you were born with it." Merlynn flushed, embarrassed. The physician cleared his throat, and said, "Well, you can be my assistant until I find some paid work for you to keep you out of trouble. Here." He handed the girl a small sack and bottle, as well as two slices of bread filled with some tomato, lettuce and some sliced meat. "Hollyhock and Feverfew for Lady Percival, and this is for Sir Olwin. He's as blind as a weevil, so warn him not to take it all at once."
"Okay. But, who's the food for?"
Gaius smiled, his pale eyes shining with mirth. "For you, silly girl. Now, off you go. By the way, I need hardly warn you that the practice of any form of enchantments will get you killed."
She chuckled and left the physician's chambers, chewing on her sandwich on the way down the stairs. The people she passed were kind enough to smile in response to her own - at least she got an idea that they weren't completely cruel. Merlynn began to realise that, again, she had forgotten to ask where exactly Sir Olwin and Lady Percival were. Stupid, stupid girl, she berated herself as she stood in the middle of the courtyard.
However, due to the kindness of strangers she found her way to Sir Olwin without much time wasted, and also had an idea where the other customer was. Merlynn knocked on the blind man's door until it swung open - Olwin certainly was blind, with squinting eyes almost white, standing out against a withered, pale face and a hunched figure.
"Uh, hello. I'm Gaius' assistant - I brought your medicine," she explained to him and placed the bottle in his hand. He accepted it, popped the cork open and began to gulp down the substance inside. "Oh! And Gaius said to not drink it all...or, you know, it doesn't matter. I'm sure it'll be fine. Have a nice day." Merlynn ran off quickly.
After giving the pouch to Lady Percival, Merlynn decided that she would go for a walk - it was a lovely day, and what harm could it cause to explore the city grounds? She had the rest of the day to herself. So, she headed over to, what looked like, the training grounds, where knights fought against each other and propped-up dolls. Merlynn noticed a bunch of boys (probably knights) and a servant standing in the centre of one of the fields.
"Where's the target?" a tall boy with short, messy blonde hair asked. He looked to be the leader; it was in his stance, the way the others simply stood behind him and watched him mock the servant.
"Over... there," he replied. Even from where she was standing, Merlynn could see that he was flustered under the arrogant eye of the bullying knight. She bit her lip to refrain herself from clobbering the blonde man.
"It's in the sun."
The servant frowned. "But, it's not that bright," he insisted.
"A bit like you, then?" All of the other knights cackled alongside him. Oh yes, she definitely wanted to cause the man physical harm - she felt so awful for the servant. He hadn't done a thing wrong and he was subjected into torment because of it. It certainly wasn't right.
"I'll put the target on the other end, shall I, sir?" With a sigh, he lifted the heavy wooden target and began to carry it to the other end of the field.
Merlynn heard one of the knights mutter to the 'leader', "Teach him a lesson."
"This'll teach him," he smirked in response, and removed a dagger from his belt. The sharp weapon gleamed in the sunlight as it swung toward the target and hit dead-centre. She gaped at the scene - it was barbaric! Camelot was so cruel, so different from Ealdor; she hated it.
"Hey! Hang on!" the servant protested.
The poor boy was then forced into moving target practice, where he would flail about, terrified, as the main knight threw daggers at the target which could go through the wood and pierce him instead. But, it seemed that the servant couldn't take it much longer, for he stumbled and dropped the target, making it roll toward her. Merlynn set her food upon the target as the boy scrambled toward her and tried to pick it up; she crouched down to his level, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"Hi. What's your name?"
"M - Morris," he stammered.
Merlynn smiled kindly, and said, "I'm Merlynn. Now, go."
"Bu - but he'll punish me if I don't," he insisted, rubbing at his red eyes.
"He's just a bully. Go, and I'll teach this foolish prat a lesson, okay?" She helped Morris to his feet and dusted him off. Then, before he could say another word to her, she stormed off in the direction of the bullies. "I think you've had enough fun."
"What?" He was a little taken aback - no one had ever really stood up to him before, or treated him with such disrespect.
"I'm sorry, are you hard of hearing? I said, You've had your fun. Now, leave the boy alone, my friend," she barked, her voice oozing sarcasm. Merlynn had learned how to stand up to bullies ever since the bigger boys in Ealdor would tease her for not having many friends, or for her big ears.
"Do I know you?" he inquired with his brows furrowed.
"No," and for that, I am glad.
"Yet you called me 'friend'."
Merlynn scoffed, "That, you prat, was sarcasm. I would never be friends with someone who bullied others just to impress people who probably aren't even your friends," she spat. The crowd that had gathered gasped - she supposed that insulting a knight was something shocking. Knights were supposed to be honorable people, but this boy obviously had no honor nor any respect for those who were of a lesser class.
"Clearly you are the one that's an idiot," he shot back. "Tell me, girl, do you know how to walk on your knees?" Then, he smirked arrogantly, as though amused at his own thoughts. "Or, maybe you do."
She could barely contain how enraged she was. How dare he insinuate such a thing about her? Merlynn was beginning to actually hate this bully. "You pretentious ass!" she exclaimed. She didn't realise she had shot forward until there was a sharp pain shooting up her hand from her knuckles, and there was a red mark on Arthur's jaw which he was rubbing at.
The blonde took hold of her forearm and twisted her arm behind her back, pulling tight - she hissed, struggling to get out of his painful hold. It only caused him to tighten his grip and cause her more agony. "I'll have you in jail for your actions."
"What, who do you think you are - the king," she mocked him.
He forcefully twisted her back around so she was staring up into his dark blue eyes. "No, I'm the king's son. Arthur."
Merlynn couldn't contain the gasp that emitted from her lips. She had been directly insulting the king's son? Of course, only me, she thought as he kicked the back of her knees to send her down. She didn't fight - she was an idiot. Gaius had tried to keep her out of trouble and in her first day in Camelot she had already angered the prince.
She was the biggest idiot in the whole of Albion.