Author's Notes:When I saw this prompt I thought,"Snap! That's easy!" It turned out not to be. This ficlet was inspired by Kathryn E. Darden's poem The Snow Sprite. This was originally written for Camelot Drabble's Challenge #37-snow over on LJ.
Merlin wasn't entirely sure what he was looking for but he hoped he'd know it when he saw it. Something had killed every member of a fifteen-man patrol less than five miles from the city walls. Gaius was certain it had to be some sort of supernatural creature but couldn't yet say which one exactly. Merlin didn't have the time to wait for him to find out.
Arthur was riding out at dawn, intent on killing whatever was responsible for the slaughter of his men. He'd already ordered Merlin to stay behind. There was no way he would let the prince face some unknown magical entity without him, but there was no changing Arthur's mind. So rather than disobey the prince, Merlin had decided on a proactive approach.
By slipping out of the castle after midnight, he wasn't technically disobeying orders. Arthur had said Merlin wasn't allowed to go with him to hunt down the creature; he never said Merlin wasn't allowed to go hunting the thing himself.
Snow crunched under his boots as he trekked away from the city in the cold, cold night. Two thin jackets and every threadbare tunic he owned weren't adequate protection against the truly frigid temperature. The air was damp and a thick cloud cover blanked out the moon and stars. Once Merlin was away from the ambient glow of the city, visibility became almost nil. For a moment, he seriously questioned the wisdom of his decision to leave the safety of Camelot at such an hour. Then his thoughts turned to what he'd found out in these woods not twelve hours before and his resolve stiffened.
At first, he thought it was blood. The sight of large splotches of dark red recklessly splashed across the otherwise pristine snow of the small clearing drew him into a run. It wasn't until he was almost upon the first body that he realized he was wrong. The crimson splotches weren't patches of blood; they were cloaks of Pendragon red, darkened by the damp of melted snow.
It was a patrol from Camelot. Fifteen knights and soldiers lay crumpled in the churned up snow at his feet. Each of them, to a man, was blue and weirdly posed, almost as if they'd frozen solid whilst standing up then keeled over rigid and unmoving in the cold. They looked as if they'd been there for days, but as he checked them over, Merlin realized that wasn't possible. He recognized Sir Ewan and Sir Montague among the dead, and knew he'd seen these men ride through the gates of Camelot just two hours before he'd left the city himself.
He hadn't needed Gaius to tell him that whatever killed those men wasn't natural. The physician's explanation had been for the King and Prince Arthur. Uther's reaction was as predictable as ever-Arthur was to take a patrol out to the woods and hunt down whomever or whatever was responsible for the attack. Arthur's response was less typical. He rarely ordered Merlin to stay behind on such ventures and Merlin wasn't sure what motivated him to do so on this occasion.
When he'd heard that Merlin had been the one to find the patrol, the prince had berated him for being in the woods by himself, which was absurd. Merlin had been gathering snowdrops for Gaius, the late winter blooms being highly prized by the physician as an antidote for certain deadly poisons.* His solo expedition was no different than a hundred others he'd undertaken for the physician since coming to Camelot . Merlin couldn't understand what had Arthur so shaken about this one-other than the slaughtered patrol. But it's not like Merlinhad been in any danger…
/p Merlin's musings were cut short by a rush of wind that seemed to blow out of nowhere in the still, black night. Suddenly, the air tore at his clothing and bit at his skin. It whirled around him, first spiraling up his body then down again. Merlin couldn't see anything but something was there in the wind…no…not in the wind, it was the wind. The air itself was somehow alive with some kind of malevolent sentience. He could feel it draining the warmth from his body and sensed its intent…to take his soul. Merlin tried to run, but whatever had him wasn't about to let go. The wind blew harder, buffeting him mercilessly as he attempted to escape.
His instinct to flee hindered by the resistant air, the enforced stillness gave him a few precious seconds to think. This was what attacked the patrol from Camelot. This was the creature that had murdered fifteen good men. This was what he'd come to destroy. His eyes flared gold, and he drove the creature back with angry pulse of instinctive power. The ravening wind subsided reluctantly; it withdrew from his body but still tested the edges of his magic. It was a hungry beast; it would not give up its prey so easily. To Merlin's dismay, he could sense others joining in. There were more than one of them swirling the air around him, testing his boundaries, searching for a way in.
Desperate to know what he was facing, Merlin flung a hand up at the creatures and hissed a command in the Old Tongue.
"Ætíaþ þín sylfum!"
Suddenly, he could See them. They twisted in the ether, writhing and pulsing with a sickly, reddish light. Fifteen roaring tornados shrieked in wordless fury and ripped at the edges of his power with ferocious appetite. They craved the heat of his body, the light of his magic, and the flame of his soul. They were angry creatures of Wind, but Merlin was a creature of Fire. Wind fed Fire…they should never have attacked him.
"Fédaþ mé éower mægen!"
They are cold but he is an inferno and they burn as he absorbs them. They scream as they are cleansed in his fire but they sigh as he exhales them. He frees each spirit from the icy chains that bind it to the never-ending hunger and they sing as they escape and slip beyond the Veil.
Tingling from head to toe with the magic he's absorbed, Merlin stretched like an overfed cat. The dim golden light of a false sunrise glowed on the horizon as he turned and headed back to Camelot. With his breath fogging the air and the snow crunching beneath his boots, he marveled that he was no longer cold. One would think that sucking up the energy of an icy air elemental would have cooled him down but he was practically steaming. Merlin had never called on the dragon-blood in his veins but it felt good, better than almost anything he'd ever felt before. He was practically purring when he strolled into Gaius' workroom an hour later.
"Snow sprites, my boy! Terrible creatures."
"Snow sprites? I thought sprites were those little winged creatures that buzz around the forest in the spring and summer."
He got the eyebrow for his outburst.
"Don't let get hung up on terminology, you experienced firsthand just how powerful such entities can be. You said there were fifteen of them, did you not?"
Merlin nodded gravely and Gaius returned the gesture.
"No sign of the original?"
"None. Do you think it's still close by?"
Gaius consulted the dusty old book sitting open on his workbench.
"Probably not. According to Naltheus, like the wind they travel on, snow sprites don't stay in one place for very long."
Merlin leaned back against the stairs where he was seated with a sigh of relief. Arthur would have a very uneventful patrol that day and Merlin had the entire morning off. He glanced at Gaius' fireplace and the flames leapt and roared, heating the space around him. He summoned the book on elementals from the workbench and settled in for a nice thorough read.
*Snowdrops are thought to be the mysterious magical herb moly that appears in Homer's active substance in snowdrop called galantamine could have acted as an antidote to Circe's poisons.
The two spells Merlin uses here are (VERY roughly translated from OE)
"Ætíaþ þín sylfum!"-Show your self!
"Fédaþ mé éower mægen!"-Feed me your power!
To anyone who might know Old English, please forgive the probably hideous grammar, I was guessing the whole way!