Nimue winced as the plate shattered. It was one of her mother's favorite plates, and she could only imagine how her mother would feel about it. Her father paused from his fight against the imaginary foe - the villain that had, according to him, tried to take away their mother that morning.
He at least had the grace to look embarrassed. There was an unwritten rule in the family that one did not draw a sword in the house, the way that other families probably felt about more modern weapons. But she'd figured out early on that her family wasn't exactly what anybody would call typical.
"But you did rescue mummy, daddy?" her youngest brother asked, his eyes alight.
"Of course. The villain was no match for me." Her father sheathed the sword. "Your mother is safe."
"Your mother," her mother said from the doorway, "Fully expects your father to replace the dish he just broke." But there was a smile there, an affectionate look that said that he was forgiven.
Her father flashed one of his smiles as her mother, and her little brothers broke out in giggles, Owain and Geraint both. Nimue was the oldest of the three, at fifteen; Owain the next eldest at ten, and Geraint a mere six. They were too young to know better.
Besides, Nimue had heard everything from the kitchen. It hadn't made sense, but she hadn't dared poke her head into the living room to see what was happening. But she'd still listened. The man had talked about taking father away, about dealing with Morgaine and Mordred, two characters out of stories that her father had told her.
It wasn't her mother some villain had tried to take. As little sense as it made, Merlin, out of time, had tried to take her father away, back to another world.
But Merlin didn't exist. He was a myth, a legend. Nimue had studied the Arthurian myths like they were a lifeline, knew the story behind her name. She was named for the woman who had sealed Merlin away in some stories, a Lady of the Lake, the one sometimes named Nimue, sometimes Vivianne, sometimes Nineve. Had that been what her parents had hoped of the baby girl who had her mother's hair and her father's eyes?
Nimue had been a student of Merlin in some stories, chased by him in others. There were so many versions of the myth that Nimue herself had eventually given up on them, and had remembered enough to be able to give an intelligent reply when asked. After all, anybody who met her father knew that he was a little odd, a man who sometimes talked like a knight of centuries past and who knew how to work a sword. Apparently nobody had thought it odd when she and her brothers had been given their names, though people often thought of hers as having a different origin, an African one. At least until she or her parents explained otherwise.
She brooded about it as she and the others ate breakfast. At least there was no school today, so she could settle down with her books and her stories. Her most precious things. They cleared the table, good, regimented children.
The children of soldiers.
Her mother had been Military of some kind ever since she could remember; her father was an instructor in swordfighting for various people, which was why their house, of all houses, held live swords. But she knew from when she stayed up late and listened when she shouldn't that her father was a soldier as well.
Mother and father spoke softly in the living room, and with a kiss, mother departed. Military life didn't always pay attention to holidays. Her father caught her glance and shifted. "Daughter," he said, "What concerns thou?"
He had spoken more like that when she was younger, though his speech had become closer and closer to standard as she was growing up. She swore he'd been fond of "thees" and "thous" when she was growing up, though it could have merely been the tales she read. But he still used his old words and speech patterns around them, and likewise his clients liked it too.
"Father," she said, "Tell me of Merlin." She'd learned the best way to get him to tell stories was to speak in the cadences he loved.
He stiffened, and she watched him, his look distant. "Merlin. That is a name I had not thought of for a time."
"But he came this morning." She was blunt, something she'd often been chided for. Her mother's daughter, more than her father's. "I like tales as much as my brothers, but I didn't expect one to appear in our living room."
"Nor did your mother and I," her father told her, seemingly unconcerned with the fact that she'd essentially been eavesdropping. From what she'd heard - and seen during a brief peek as the strange sound faded - he wasn't that calm. "But do not worry; he is gone and will not return."
Her father had taught her to pay attention to her opponents, to watch how they moved and what their expressions were. This was not the man who had joyfully told her myths. This was a man who had known myths and stories on a personal level.
And this was a story she felt she very much needed to hear. "How did you meet Merlin? How long have you known him?"
He chuckled, as if to hide the seriousness in his pose and his eyes. "Let me see your brothers to their adventures, then I will tell you of Merlin." It was like the old days, when he talked about stories she could never find in her books and yet, somehow, rang true.
With that, he was making sure her brothers took what they needed to take, and shepherded them to the door before returning to her. By then, she'd settled herself into a chair. "So, you seek to know of Merlin," her father said. "Very well. Merlin is a man of many names, and many faces."
It was funny how he chose his words. He still spoke as if he was telling her a story, but there was a look in his eyes that spoke of a difficult conversation to come. "Here, he is known best as the Doctor, but when I met him, he called himself Merlin, advisor to Arthur."
Things clicked into place. Her father had not been telling her myths and legends, but stories of wherever he'd come from. Wherever his home was, wherever Arthur and Merlin existed. "In your world." That's what her mother had asked, if he'd missed his world. "Was there a Nimue with him?" It would make sense to be named after someone her father had known.
"Yes, and no." He didn't let her interruption disrupt the flow of his story, continuing on as if she had said nothing. "As he had many faces, he had many companions. The Lady Vivianna was with him when we first met, a woman of sharp wit and much intelligence. I have never seen her again, and yet she knew my name before we met. And Merlin, his was a presence I never expected to be in at all."
"But you did," she said. She loved his stories when she was young, and she was reminded of why. As distant as he looked as he told the tale, he had a rhythm that soothed her.
"Yes. It was through him that I met your mother. I had come to this world as part of my duty, but I enjoyed your mother's company and she enjoyed mine, and I came to court her. But your mother and I would not have met without his presence, unexpected though it was - though for him, more than me." There was a brief smile in his face, and in his voice. "I do not regret meeting your mother, though your grandfather found the idea of bride-price strange, and your mother cared not for epic poetry, romantic though it was. But we did marry, and I established myself upon this world."
And then Merlin had tried to take her father away decades later, though it had not taken much persuasion on her parents' end to stop him. Maybe Merlin had suddenly remembered what he'd had to do, and forgotten that time went on and people changed, and realized just in time that some things couldn't be undone. "At least Merlin realized that."
"Yes." He was looking at her now. "Merlin is involved in so many things and so many times, that I believe he forgets sometimes of what should be left alone."
"That's good," she said. "I wouldn't have wanted him to take you away. There would have been too many holes." In their family, in their lives. She wondered how he'd live, now that he was so used to their world, time, and place. It would have been a logistical nightmare, too, but she doubted her mother would take her father's disappearance well. Nor would her brothers. Or her.
"You think much like your mother," her father said, smiling distantly. "But I am of this world now, and Merlin has given us his blessing. The only things I brought with me are my memories and sword, and yet I do not regret my choice."
"What duty could have brought you here?" she wondered out loud, barely aware of having spoken the words before her father had directed his smile upon her.
"I came to find Excalibur, to find the King, and to restore the throne." She had the sense he was simplifying things and that he wasn't ready to tell her the whole story. Indeed, it sounded more like the story that he'd told her brothers earlier, one that was partially true, but with lots of fiction woven in. "Though sometimes I wonder if it was not my duty that drew me here, but my destiny. For if I hadn't come here, I would not have met your mother. I would not have fought alongside her, and she would not have bonded me to this world." He took a breath. "But that is a tale for another time, daughter."
She nodded, wanting to ask him more about Merlin, about who the people had been that she and her brothers had been named after. But, as much as she wanted to, she wouldn't at the moment. Her father often had called her her mother's daughter, but she had been her father's first, a lover of all kinds of tales, a sensitive soul. And sometimes even he needed time alone.
"Someday," her father said, his absent smile still present, "I will tell you more of Merlin. Perhaps your mother has more stories as well. Those that she is permitted to tell."
Her mother was not a storyteller. That was not the way she was. She was a strong, sensible, practical part of Nimue's life, but she did not warm to stories easily, the way Nimue's father did. Nimue would never be a storyteller either, but maybe her brothers would be her father's sons as surely as she was her mother's daughter. "And more of your world, father. I'd like to hear more of your world, someday."
"Then I will tell you, someday," he said, and she believed him. For as much as she wasn't a storyteller, she still loved her father's tales. And she always would.