The 1st Chapter
In a small English town, a girl known as Kay stood before the wall mirror in her bedroom, inspecting her appearance. Her light brown hair had recently been styled into a defiant pixie cut, despite the advice of almost all her friends, and her hazelnut eyes reflected the sunlight revealing a secret spectrum of colour. Her small stature was swamped by baggy red trousers crafted by a soft fabric and consequently riddled with small holes, and a shirt two sizes too big with the sleeves cut short and the colour of mustard seed.
Her mother's voice reverberated through the house pulling Kay out of her reverie like a splash of cold water, "Kayla Mary Joan! I won't tell you again, take the recycling outside now!"
Kay winced at the effect her mother's vocal chords had on her, like nails on a chalkboard, and loped down the stairs, "I'm comin', I'm comin'."
She grabbed the small green bin from its place atop the counter and almost threw herself at the front door, pulling on her trainers as she went.
Out in the front garden, once her recycling task had been dealt with, Kay's thoughts wandered onto other things as they so often did. And soon enough her gaze was riveted to a beautiful sunset; the sky quickly filling up with pinks and yellows like ink on parchment.
Kay thought of the week old, home-made card at the top of the recycling heap with the words '17 Today!' printed in bold lettering as if it were the best thing in the world. But on the contrary, all Kay felt was the disappointment of another dull and almost meaningless year, come and gone like dust on the wind.
As these dismal thoughts ran through her head, Kay just about made out a distant star, the first of the evening, and on an impulse made a wish under her breath, "Give me an adventure; like the ones I used to read about."
Immediately Kay's mind ran back to one of her oldest books, that of Prince Arthur, his knights, and the round table. And of course her favourite character of them all, Merlin; Arthur's manservant and secret warlock.
As Kay reminisced about her favourite childhood story, and how more exciting her life would be in Merlin's time, she failed to notice the star in the sky shining abnormally bright. Only when the whole street seemed to be aglow with it did she pay it any attention, forced to cover her eyes with her hand she whispered to herself, "What the hell is it doing?"
Kay watched as slowly, the star transformed into a white globe of light which filled her vision. She fell to her knees, blinded, and called out in panic. But at that moment her ears were plagued by a piercing ringing which drowned out any other sound, including her own voice.
And then, almost as suddenly as it had started, it stopped.
The white light subsided into orange eyelids, as she had unwittingly closed her eyes, and the ringing had melted away to be replaced by the chirps of birds.
Kay cautiously opened one eye, and then the other, only to find herself kneeling in lush green grass covered in a blanket of morning dew.
"Oh…my…gosh!" Kay looked up and found herself surrounded by trees that towered above her, "There's no way in hell Mum's going to believe this."
Kay turned her head at the sound of hoofs on dirt and was stunned by the sight that greeted her; two men riding on steeds entered the clearing. One had a head of blonde hair and was wearing mainly chain mail, the other had dark hair and wore a simple brown jacket and blue shirt. Both, she noted, were stunningly handsome as they were brought to a halt in front of her.
Arthur pulled at the reigns and motioned for Merlin to do the same. A small urchin appeared to be blocking their pathway, and it seemed that the boy (for with her short hair and strange attire Kay did look like a boy to the passers-by) was in no hurry to move to the side.
"Are you alright child?" Arthur queried.
Kay blinked slowly, "No, I'm not. I'm definitely not alright."
The two men looked at each other, Arthur tilted his head at her to signal that Merlin should try, as if to say that he would have a better shot at connecting with the poor and bewildered.
Merlin cleared his throat, "Is there anything we can do to help?"
A battle cry rang out as a gang of men fell from the branches of the trees, Arthur drew his sword, "It's a trap!" He leapt off his horse and commenced fighting off the ambush.
Merlin saw out of the corner of his eye the glint of a sword heading straight towards the wide-eyed child, "Look out!"
Kay awoke from her stupor and twisted on the ground to find a swordsman aiming for her neck. Instinctively she lay flat on the ground, as if she were playing a game of very dangerous limbo, and narrowly missed losing her head. The sword was raised for another strike, Kay rolled out of the way and onto her feet into a crouched position just as heavy metal met soft grass with a dull thud.
Whilst the thug recovered Kay heard words of an almost chilling language that sent cold fingers of dread down her spine. She glanced over just in time to see the iris' of her saviour's eyes turn momentarily golden, and then her attacker was thrown across the clearing by an invisible force.
Kay gasped as realisation dawned on her that her wish had come true, Merlin had just saved her life using magic and Arthur had just finished knocking out the last of the thugs using the butt of his sword. He turned, panting heavily, and pointed at her, "Hey you! Come here!"
Kay did the only thing she could think of; she spun on her heel and ran in the opposite direction.
Heart pounding, lungs burning, Kay dodged the trees with adrenaline fuelled speed. When she tripped on a protruding root, forcing her face first onto the ground, she picked herself up and ducked behind a nearby trunk.
Kay held her breath as she listened out for the two impossible people. Sure enough the sound of heavy footfalls could be heard just a few metres away.
Kay accidently nudged some heavy object with the heel of her shoe and glanced down at a bluntly edged stone. Biting her tongue in concentration, she shimmied down to silently grasp her new weapon and clench it in her fist. By the time she had returned to her full height, slow and cautious footsteps were making their way towards her hiding place from both sides.
Kay narrowed her eyes, took a moment to centre herself, and acted on impulse. Pulling back from the tree, she raised her hand which brandished the stone like a sword, and aimed for whatever moved. But her wrist was caught mid-strike by a large hand, for a long moment Kay was lost in Arthur's staggeringly deep blue eyes, and then her arm was twisted round and pulled up against her back, forcing her to face the other way.
"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow! That hurts!" Kay tried to pull away but was rewarded with a sharp pain in her shoulder.
Arthur pulled the stone from her hand, "I'll have that," As soon as he let go of her arm she flew forward but was blocked by Merlin who raised his hands in a placating gesture.
"Hold on there."
Kay spun around, trapped, "I didn't do anything." She spoke quickly.
Arthur took a step towards her, "What's your name boy?"
Kay frowned but decided, for the time being, not to correct him, "Uh…Kay."
"Kay," He took another step, "Do you realise that treason is punishable by death?"
Kay's eyes widened, "Treason? You don't…you can't possibly think that I was a part of that?"
Merlin spoke up in Kay's defence, "One of the bandits did try to kill him," Arthur shot him a patronizing glare, Merlin shrugged, "Just saying, why hurt one of your own?"
Arthur studied Kay for a moment or two sending nervous shivers down her spine, "We'll take him back to Camelot with us where he can be dealt with appropriately." The prince grasped Kay's arm firmly, but not unkindly, and pulled her with him back to the horses, "Merlin grab the rope will you? Make yourself useful at least once today."
Merlin hurried ahead of them, muttering under his breath, something against Arthur's lack of manners no doubt. Arthur let it slide…for now.
Kay let herself be pulled along, she had decided that since Merlin had magic and Arthur was just a couple of weight classes out of her league, she'd keep her knowledge about this world under her hat and run along with this crazy pantomime which she had somehow stumbled into. It also was probably not such a bad idea to let people continue to think of her as the opposite gender since in this world it was the boys that got all the fun anyway.
When Kay came to from her reverie, her hands were trussed up and connected by the rope to the back of the prince's saddle. Both men mounted their steeds, and as Kay was led by Arthur through the thick greenery of the forest, Merlin took up the rear, lost in thought.
Although Arthur felt they had caught themselves an annoyance and possible traitor to the crown, to Merlin, Kay was an intriguing mystery. He was sure that the boy had seen him use magic, and yet he hadn't mentioned it, not even to save his own skin. This made no sense and sent Merlin's suspicions to the forefront of his mind.
As the three of them reached the castle, they slowly became surrounded by people, and with people came wide-eyed stares and hushed voices. Kay endured the degrading treatment easily, her mind was elsewhere as she took in the splendid scenes of her childhood fairy-tale with an almost childlike quality. Scenes that she had only imagined before.
But as they manoeuvred their way around the gallows, Kay found herself gulping involuntarily, and hoping that her day shouldn't end so drastically.
Arthur pulled the reins on his horse and hopped down to disconnect his prisoner from the saddle, however, he kept hold of the rope as a new servant arrived to take the prince's 'vehicles' away.
Kay tried to force the rope apart but it held firm, "You don't need to keep me tied up, I have rights you know."
Arthur tugged the rope towards him making her stumble forward, "Traitors of the crown don't have any rights."
Kay looked him in the eye, "Innocent till proven guilty my friend." He raised an eye brow at her as if daring her to speak out of turn just one more time before turning away. As he did so, Kay impulsively stuck her tongue out at his back, causing Merlin to stifle a chuckle.
Arthur turned around, "What on Earth are you laughing at Merlin?"
"Sorry, dry throat." Merlin coughed into his fist for emphasis which made Kay smile.
Arthur shot a suspicious look before leading the way through the castle corridors to the great hall where King Uther sat on a pristine throne.
"Arthur! You've returned, but why have you brought back this urchin with you?"
"Father, let me explain. We found the boy blocking our pathway just before we were attacked by bandits."
Uther sat a little straighter, "Attacked?" His heavy gaze rested on Kay who rubbed her sweaty palms on the backs of her trousers, the image of the gallows popped into her head and she resisted the urge to gulp, "Well then, I have no choice but to sentence you to death."
Before anyone could speak on her behalf, as was the proper way of procedure, Kay had already called out in desperation, "I didn't do anything!"
A deathly silence fell over the room, and for a moment Kay thought that she would be sent to her punishment anyway, but to everybody's astonishment Uther leaned forward in his chair, "Alright then, explain yourself."
Taken aback, Kay hesitated, but was pushed forward by Arthur reminding her that she needed to come up with an answer, "Well, uh…you see, I was taking a morning stroll when…" Kay remembered how she'd been blinded by the star and had just appeared in the woods,"…when…I…was…hit on the head from behind. Yeah, and then I woke up and that was when those two found me 'blocking their path'."
Uther appraised her, "So you're saying that you were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?"
"That's about the gist of it."
"Hmm," Uther seemed to consider her answer, "Which village do you come from?"
"Uh…the village of Surrey?"
"I've never heard of that one."
"It's a very small group of families, not really even a village at all." Kay had to bite her tongue to stop her from blabbering on whilst Uther made a decision about what to do with her.
"And what is your name boy?"
"Kay, your Majesty."
"An odd name, you certainly are a long way from home."
A few moments of silence were broken by Arthur, "What should we do with him Father?"
"We'll keep him here, but he must earn his keep by working as a royal servant, Can you do that boy?"
Kay quickly thought up an excuse, "I've never really been very good with chores."
"Then you'll apprentice with Merlin."
Merlin suddenly went bug-eyed, as Arthur asked, "Are you sure that's wise?"
Uther hardly looked at him, "It's decided."