Chapter 1: Athena and the Diamantine Compass
A pretty plot for fairy tales, Sire. But in real life, oh, no. No, it was foredoomed to failure.
~ Grand Duke (Disney’s Cinderella (1950))
~ * ~
There are more worlds in existence than one person can fathom. One world has its population born with their souls outside of their bodies, in animal forms called daemons. Another world consists of a completely magical population. There is even a world that fairy tale characters call home. Some people have alternate versions of themselves in other worlds. It was believed that the greatest sorcerer of all time, Merlin, had the most versions of himself across the worlds.
One orphaned Merlin who was also a half-god was determined to rise above his alternate selves and be unique. Though he could not change his physical likeness to the other Merlins, he did the next best thing. He changed his name to Gwydion, and he was ever-after acknowledged by that name.
Inspired by a world’s Excalibur, – one King Arthur’s sword that cut openings into other worlds to allow for travel between them – Gwydion made a knife that did the same. The accomplishment forever distinguished him from his other selves. This special knife was immortalized as the Raven Knife.
Centuries pass. The Merlin first born into the world of animal souls is reincarnated into a different world. From that same daemon world, the Arthur who once wielded the Raven Knife-inspiring Excalibur is reborn alongside Merlin.
Unaware of their past lives, Merlin and Arthur lead an ordinary existence as a couple. But soon that is all about to change.
~ * ~
~ * ~
This time was different. Amidst one of his frustratingly common anxiety attacks, Merlin witnessed a scene unlike any he’d experienced before.
Sitting in a room, there was a man who resembled Merlin himself. Yet he had a beard and on his head rested a crown. His medieval style clothing was fit for a king. Merlin figured that he probably was one.
Another man appeared in the room as if he came out of thin air. He looked furious.
But what first caught Merlin’s attention was the blond man’s appearance. He shared a remarkable physical resemblance with Arthur. Yet his eyes were a desolate black down to the whites of his eyes. The effect unnerved Merlin. Was this blond man a demon?
He couldn’t help but think of all the movies and shows dealing with demonic characters. The very sight of this Arthur look-a-like set Merlin on edge. Merlin decided to call the man with the dark eyes ‘Arthur’ because his instincts led him to believe that was the man’s name. Yet Merlin thought that he could never be on friendly terms with the conceivably demonic man. He’d never address him as Arthur so familiarly.
“You’ve kidnapped my son!” the dark-eyed Arthur raged.
“Gwydion is another world’s version of me. You may have been his adoptive father for the past ten years of his life, but the law still holds. I have a greater right to him than you do as he and I are the same person based on the --”
“To hell with the Code! So you finally care about him. Where were you the last ten years? Now here you are. I don’t doubt that you’ve manipulated him against me, his own father!”
“You cannot deny what you were doing to him,” the King said sharply. “Injecting dangerous, dark magic inside him that would shorten his lifespan. All so you could use him as a power source without his knowledge or permission. And you are a fine one to talk about manipulation. You abused his dying mother’s trust, saying that you would look after Gwydion upon her death. The poor woman died in childbirth not knowing that she gave her child off to the likes of you.” His words were like a whip as he laid out the accusation.
Arthur’s look-a-like approached the table and tapped one rigid finger on the shined surface. “Gwydion’s mother would have been grateful, Your Majesty,” he said fiercely, a touch of bitterness at the end when he spoke the honorific. “I insured that Gwydion was not raised as a village simpleton as he would have been if he had stayed in Ealdor. I made sure he understood the importance of learning, that he wanted to learn. That knowledge was power, and that was the greatest weapon he could ever attain. Even greater than his magical talents. You should be thanking me for giving him a foundation of being learned as well as being practiced in magic.”
“You did all that to disguise your true motives for the boy. You intentionally took him to spite me,” the King declared.
“You can’t just admit that I have a point. No matter the dark magic, Gwydion owes a lot to me. He would have been nothing without me, you know that, but you refuse to acknowledge it.”
“Did you grow to care for him? Truly?”
The man looked unaffected, almost annoyed with the question. “What does it matter?”
“You could have the affliction.”
“I do not,” the pseudo Arthur argued fiercely.
“Maybe if things had been different for us, we could have been friends…” the King ventured idly.
The dark-eyed Arthur’s face twisted in obvious disgust. “We’re better off as enemies. Gwydion rejected his true name. That must tell you something.”
“Yes. You’re trying too hard.”
“Just know that whatever I do, it will be on your head. You stole Gwydion from me, and I won’t sit by quietly without getting my just revenge,” Arthur’s look-a-like vowed.
Upon this declaration, the other Arthur vanished in a cloud of dark smoke and lightning.
The scene faded away on the King’s concerned expression. Then Merlin felt something licking his own face.
Merlin couldn’t help but be cheered by his puppy’s unyielding affection. After he sat up in bed, he grabbed the white Lhasa Apso puppy and moved him away from his face. He loved Lux, of course, but there was only so much dog slobber he could take on his face.
He hugged Lux to his chest, soothed by the dog’s presence. Pointedly, Merlin avoided Arthur’s wary gaze upon him.
“Are you all right? Give me your wrist,” Arthur requested of him, his tone brooking no argument.
Merlin sighed. “Arthur, I’m fine. You shouldn’t worry.”
But he still offered his wrist to Arthur. He checked Merlin’s pulse like he always did. Merlin knew he was making sure that his pulse had slowed down from its increased rhythm during his anxiety attacks. Merlin had to admit that the sweat now on him was rather uncomfortable. He had been ready to go to sleep when the anxiety attack hit. And now he felt like he had to take another shower with all the sweat he’d perspired during the incident.
Arthur let go of his wrist. “You seem to be fine,” he indicated, though Merlin could see the doubt in Arthur’s eyes.
Once, Arthur had told him that he couldn’t simply accept Merlin’s condition when there was no concrete explanation for why Merlin was contending with the attacks. Nothing that would give way to episodes of overwhelming anxiety.
Ever since he and Arthur had become engaged six months ago, Arthur’s persistence was rather frustrating for Merlin. Arthur wanted Merlin to get his anxiety attacks treated via medication or regular appointments with a psychiatrist. But Merlin had steadfastly refused the suggestions.
True, he didn’t like the anxiety attacks. More often than not, he wished he’d never have them, but he’d always felt there was a reason why he suffered through them. Merlin was still able to live a normal life since the attacks only affected him at home a few times a week. The condition never debilitated him after each attack. He always recovered. Sometimes he wondered if he suffered this condition because of something he had lost. And during each anxiety attack, he was being reminded of this loss.
But of course, Merlin couldn’t remember what he had lost. He desperately hoped that witnessing that scene was a start in unraveling this mystery.
“Merlin, I don’t understand. This can’t be coming out of nowhere,” Arthur confided in him, straightforward and to the point. “I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but I’d feel better if you do something about the attacks. You can’t live your life like this. What if one day these anxiety attacks affect your daily life in a very bad way? You can’t expect to be lucky all the time.”
“I have been lucky,” Merlin said self-assuredly. He stroked Lux behind the ears as he spoke. “And I’ll continue to be lucky. I promise, Arthur, nothing will happen. Maybe I’ve just jinxed myself,” Merlin remarked with a small smile. “But I’m confident these anxiety attacks will be a minor nuisance, nothing more. Hopefully they’ll stop altogether in the near future. You never know.”
Arthur gave him a doubtful look. “So no childhood traumas I don’t know about?”
Merlin couldn’t keep from groaning. He rubbed his brow. “You know everything,” Merlin assured him.
Though he realized that he hadn’t told Arthur yet about the odd scene he had observed during his anxiety episode.
Merlin wasn’t too happy about keeping something from Arthur, but he doubted it was a good idea to confide in Arthur about the vision. He could barely wrap his head around it himself. Merlin didn’t doubt that Arthur would dismiss it as one bizarre dream.
He couldn’t just tell someone – even Arthur – and have the person take it seriously. Though the argument centered around the kidnapping of a child intrigued Merlin. He felt that once upon a time, he knew who exactly this child, this boy, was.
Or his imagination could just be running away from him. So soon after anxiety attack, it was understandable.
“Right, so let’s go over it again…” Arthur began.
“Will I be quizzed after?” Merlin retorted easily.
“We’ll see,” he replied. “Now your mother raised you as your father died of cancer before you were born. And you had a relatively normal childhood. Though I can’t forget your family being bird enthusiasts. Your mum has a falconer’s license, doesn’t she?”
“Yes she does,” Merlin confirmed. “She just got a Merlin falcon last week actually. Said she missed having a Merlin around.”
Arthur let out a laugh.
Merlin pointedly didn’t rise to the bait. “Anyway, she named the bird Belle.”
Arthur nodded, pretending to appear solemn but failing miserably.
They sat in silence for a few long moments. Merlin petted Lux thoughtfully, wondering why the dog was still very awake. Did he ever sleep?
“I could use a cold shower about now,” Merlin told him.
Arthur nodded. “Go ahead.”
Smiling at him quietly, Merlin left their bedroom and retreated to the en suite bathroom as quickly as he could. Lux looked ready to follow him inside.
“No, Lux, stay. All right?” Merlin attempted to coax him.
Arthur commented, “The way he acts, it’s a surprise you got him only a few months ago. Lux is one overly affectionate dog.”
Merlin gave Arthur a sardonic look. “Yeah, yeah. Nevermind Lux, what about Cavall when he was a puppy? He was just as bad from what you told me.”
“Oh low blow,” Arthur joked, letting the matter slide.
Merlin couldn’t help but chuckle.
He shut the bathroom door, Lux’s pleading whines carrying through, and he took a moment to look at the mirror. He thought about how he had never known his father. It just wasn’t the same with his mum just telling him about his father.
Merlin knew now that she was focusing on the positive things about him. It was understandable why as it was easier, nicer, to recall the good things about someone after their death. But Merlin always felt that his father was a puzzle missing half its pieces. He couldn’t help but wonder about what he was like overall, what made him tick. Would he have got on well with his father now if he had lived?
Shaking his head, he realized he hadn’t really been looking at the mirror, so lost in his own contemplations as he had been. Yet now, when he finally was peering at the mirror’s surface properly, he almost gasped in shock to see an image of a scarlet and gold phoenix reflected on the clear surface.
Merlin had seen this mythical bird several times throughout his life in all sorts of places. Sometimes, the bird had even slipped into his dreams. There was something strangely familiar about this phoenix, but usually he figured that of course, he’d be seeing magical birds. His name was ‘Merlin’ after all. It was just another weird thing associated with him.
And yet…this time was different. Like observing that scene amidst his anxiety attack. Seeing the phoenix now held an even more important meaning to him.
Big changes were coming. Merlin could feel it.
Then to Merlin’s surprise, the phoenix shifted form into a firefly; the glow of the firefly was brighter than even the light from the lamp fixtures in the bathroom.
That had never happened. If Merlin had been doubtful before, then now he felt positive that something was afoot. There was a reason why this phoenix had changed form, why he had witnessed that scene between the black-eyed man and the King. Something, someone was telling him to pay attention. Especially now.
What if this phoenix was what he had lost? Was that why he had been plagued with these anxiety attacks all his life?
But then why hadn’t he thought of that before? After seeing that scarlet-gold phoenix throughout his life, Merlin felt slow for not making the connection sooner. It was only now that he had that light bulb moment.
He splashed some cool water on his face. An idea came to him. Should he visit that house across the street? The reportedly haunted house had been vacant even before he and Arthur had moved two years ago to this Oxford suburb of Headington.
A young girl, Susan Williams, had been climbing the tree in the backyard of the house and she had fallen to her death.
Soon after, her parents had moved out of the residence, unable to remain in the same place their little girl had died. Merlin had been told by the neighbors who had known the family that Susan had been good at climbing trees. That it was quite strange that she had died doing an activity she had experience with. The stories then usually shifted to a belief that the tree had to have been cursed. Those who believed in the supernatural swore up and down that being near that tree gave them an eerie, spooky feeling. Then all that talk eventually led to people deciding that the whole house must be haunted. It was no good living there because you might as well be living with a demonic spirit. That’s about as safe as it was.
Merlin recalled the black-eyed – possibly demonic -- man who’d looked like Arthur in his vision. That had to be a sign. It had to be. Strange things were beginning to occur – with the vision and the phoenix reappearing and turning into a firefly for the first time. Far be it for him not to press on with his need to investigate. True, it didn’t seem wise to go over there now in the dark. That was inviting trouble, right?
But Merlin just had to go there. And he couldn’t wait until morning. Something or maybe someone was coming, and he couldn’t delay.
Resolute in that decision, he wiped up his face with a washcloth and then exited the bathroom.
He smiled at Lux who was waiting with a wagging tail at the door.
Merlin shook his head wryly. “What to do with you, Lux?” he asked as he scooped the puppy up into his arms.
Lux only gave a high, happy bark; apparently pleased to finally receive the attention he desired.
“Hey Arthur, I’m going to the haunted house across the street. I won’t be long,” he told Arthur. “You can make sure Lux stays out of trouble,” he advised with an amused smile as he put his dog right into Arthur’s arms.
Lux stared at Arthur as if he were an alien, and Merlin couldn’t help but laugh. The dog turned to Merlin at his laugh and wagged his tail excitedly. He started barking cheerfully.
“With you as his owner, I doubt Lux can stay out of trouble,” Arthur jibed him. Merlin gave him an evil look. “What are you off about seeing the haunted house? It’s late and you know you’ll be asking for all those ghosts to come at you, doing their night time ritual of scaring people to death,” Arthur told him in a mock-serious tone.
“Very funny. Still going no matter what you say. If I don’t come back by morning, call the Ghostbusters,” he retorted.
“No, I’ll just send Lux and Cavall to bark the whole street down. That’ll scare the ghosts away,” Arthur said reasonably.
Merlin rolled his eyes. He quickly changed into a pair of jeans and a shirt, not wanting to see the haunted house in his pyjamas.
As he went to leave the room, Arthur’s voice stopped him. “Be careful, Merlin. Would you?”
Merlin nodded, acknowledging his words. He walked back and he granted Arthur a soft kiss on the lips. Lux, still situated in Arthur’s lap, whined a little as he recognized that Merlin was leaving.
“Good boy,” he said to Lux, petting him on the head.
“What about me? What am I?” Arthur asked. There was a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes.
“You don’t want to know,” Merlin shot back.
Upon leaving the room, Merlin heard Arthur asking Lux if he wanted to spend some quality time with Cavall. It was quite a sight to see the two dogs playing together as Cavall was a big, wolf-like Norwegian Elkhound while Lux was a small fourteen-pound dog. The two dogs got along well enough, thankfully. Merlin had read that Lhasa Apsos, despite their small sizes, preferred the company of big dogs versus ones their own size. Lux was the perfect fit and despite not having him for very long, Merlin already loved the dog dearly.
Downstairs, he saw that Cavall was awake. The Elkhound had been sleeping in the living room, but now Cavall’s silver – wait, silver? Cavall didn’t have silver eyes. His eyes were dark brown.
What was going on?
“Cavall, what are you doing up?” Merlin asked, trying not to let his uneasiness show in his voice. Even though Cavall or Lux were just dogs, he and Arthur had fallen into the habit of speaking to their pets as if they were human. As if they could answer back.
He approached Cavall closer and then he gasped in surprise when he saw that Cavall was completely white. If Merlin wasn’t mistaken, Cavall looked like a proper white wolf.
“Arthur!” Merlin exclaimed.
Cavall cocked his head at Merlin, looking confused at Merlin’s alarm. Merlin patted him on the head, half-worried that Cavall would truly act like a wolf and decide to attack him. But thankfully Cavall seemed as friendly and obliging as ever.
Arthur came down the stairs with Lux at his heels.
“Cavall just turned into a white wolf. I don’t know how else to explain it,” Merlin informed him. “I mean, I can’t see how a white wolf got into the house.”
He wasn’t expecting Arthur to appear relatively calm about seeing his dog turn into a wolf.
Arthur smiled weakly, rubbing the back of his head. He looked sheepish. “Cavall’s never done that in front of anyone but me. I don’t know why he does it… and I’m not sure why he did it in front of you now after all this time.”
Then Cavall returned to looking like his usual Norwegian Elkhound self. Merlin stared at the apparently shape-shifting dog and then looked questioningly at Arthur.
“Why didn’t you tell me? You know about the phoenix,” Merlin reminded him.
“I should have, I know. I just liked having this secret between me and Cavall. Something between me and the dog. It was nice. I don’t deny I was unnerved the first time Cavall inexplicably changed into a wolf. But soon I oddly felt calm and maybe even grateful to see him as a wolf. I knew that I couldn’t tell anyone. No one would believe me.”
“I would,” Merlin cut in, affronted.
“Yes, I don’t doubt that. I just thought it was safer to keep it quiet. If Cavall’s strange talent got out, I didn’t want him taken in to be experimented on. I didn’t want to take that chance,” Arthur confided in him.
“I understand,” Merlin said sincerely. “I know now, and your secret is safe with me.”
“Thanks,” Arthur said.
“I’ll be going then.”
“You’re still going to that house?” Arthur asked him incredulously.
Merlin shrugged. He attempted to reassure him. “Just the backyard.”
“Where the cursed tree is? I feel better already.”
Merlin kissed him again. “I won’t take long. I promise, Arthur.”
With a long sigh, Arthur nodded at him.
Then he distracted Lux by coaxing him to pay attention to Cavall and not to Merlin who was leaving.
After putting on his shoes, Merlin slipped out the front door.
Merlin thought he heard a wolf howl off in the distance as he made his short trek across the way to the notoriously haunted house. He shivered reflexively despite it being a warm summer’s night. Cavall had turned into a wolf and now he was hearing a wolf’s howl. They weren’t close to any places where a wolf would roam, so Merlin could only conclude it was a supernatural, magical occurrence. And he could already feel a headache coming on. He was both excited and anxious to discover the mysteries that he was almost positive he’d been waiting all his life to unravel.
He couldn’t help but get an eerie feeling from the long, melancholy howl that just couldn’t be from Cavall. The mournful sound was so unlike Cavall, and it seemed to tell a story to Merlin, a story of tragedy and loss. It set him on edge.
The howl stopped, thankfully, and Merlin shook himself out of his reverie to proceed with his mission.
As quietly as he could, Merlin entered the backyard of the house and approached the tree.
But he was taken aback by the glowing yellow eyes staring at him by the tree. A dark creature was there. It looked like it was guarding the tree.
With trepidation, Merlin neared the tree as the silent animal’s eyes surveyed his every move.
Merlin swore under his breath. It was a black wolf. Had that been the wolf that had howled?
The dark wolf looked slim, its fur sleek and its eyes piercing and unnervingly watchful. Merlin couldn’t help but think the creature was ready for its next meal.
Stepping back to distance himself from the unsettling wolf, his attention was redirected to the sudden presence of a plume of dark smoke and lightning.
A man revealed himself in the wake of the smoke and lightning. Merlin immediately recognized that it was the same blond man he had seen in his vision. The man with the same black eyes who looked like Arthur.
The stranger was wearing a sleek slate grey suit that looked like it could have been from the 1920s, and a grey top hat with clockwork pieces on the side of it. He also, quite oddly, had a wolf-headed silver cane in hand. Though the Arthur look-a-like looked about the same age as Arthur, Merlin thought that his fashion sense was more akin to something his great-grandfather would have worn. Did this man time travel from the past? With the recent turn of events, Merlin wouldn’t be too surprised. The black wolf appeared to be the man’s pet – if you could call a wolf like that a pet – as the wolf responded to the man’s presence by the creature bumping his head against the man’s hand.
“Good evening,” the stranger said to him, even sounding like Arthur. The man obliged the wolf and stroked it behind the ears. The wolf acted more like an affection-seeking dog than a wild wolf with his owner.
“Who are you?” Merlin demanded to know.
“I think you know who I am. At least my first name. But I’m only addressed by that name by those I deem friends. Otherwise, that would be beneath my station.”
So his instincts had been right. The Arthur look-a-like that he encountered in his vision was apparently named Arthur too. But how did that work? Two people resembling each other with the same name? Unless they were twins, which made even less sense. Merlin couldn’t imagine anyone’s parents naming their identical twins the same way. That was just asking for confusion. Anyway, Arthur’s only sibling was Morgana who had died when Arthur was little.
“What do you mean by station? Are you something like royalty? I saw you in a dream. You were talking to a King and accusing him of kidnapping.”
The other Arthur’s expression darkened when Merlin spoke about the kidnapping. A sore subject then.
“I’m the emperor of a world. Supreme Emperor, if you want.”
“Wait. What do you mean: a world?”
“I understand this world of yours is dull, but I thought you wouldn’t be one of those people who didn’t believe in the possibility of other worlds. Your name is Merlin, isn’t it? Or did your mother name you something different?”
Merlin’s eyes narrowed. “My name is Merlin, but how did you know that?”
The black-eyed Arthur shrugged, bored. “You all look the same to me.”
“You’re telling me other worlds actually exist? And if you’re talking about others who look like me, and there was that King… then these worlds contain parallel versions of myself? Is that it?”
“Yes,” the other Arthur acknowledged, putting on a tired air, and checking his pocket watch for the time. “It’ll all come back to you sometime soon. I’m just here because I have to give you something.”
But Merlin was continuing to fit the pieces together. If that King was another version of himself and then the boy who was kidnapped was another world’s version of the King, the conclusion was obvious. The boy – Gwydion -- was Merlin in another world. The discussion of him rejecting his ‘true’ name led Merlin to believe Gwydion’s birth name was, in fact, Merlin. According to the vision, this Arthur before him now had apparently been this Gwydion’s adoptive father until Gwydion was ten years old.
Merlin could already see a drama unfolding and he decided it would be wise not to bring up Gwydion to the other Arthur. He was still a stranger to Merlin and as such, he didn’t want to address a sensitive subject with him.
Merlin had to admit that he was surprised that this Arthur was being amicable enough. Especially after his first impression of ill ease when seeing him in that vision.
Did he get the wrong impression of the other man? Were his demon black eyes an unfortunate accident that weren’t meant to imply the man’s evil nature?
“So you’re another world’s Arthur? Of the one I know, that is. If we’re continuing with the other worlds existing theory.”
“That’s right,” the other Arthur replied shortly. Then a small dark box magically appeared in his hand. “And here’s what you need. Take it.”
Merlin couldn’t help but be wary of accepting any item from this Arthur. He automatically glanced to his completely dark eyes, and he shook his head.
“It’s a harmless device,” Arthur said. “But I can see it was a bad idea for me to be the one to give this to you. It wasn’t my bloody idea,” he ended up muttering.
“Why are your eyes like that then? All black?” Merlin ventured.
“Accident. I was experimenting with magic and things went a little wrong. Won’t do that again. My eyes used to be blue, long ago.”
“What kind of magic?” Merlin pressed.
“Does it matter? Look, just take this box, the device is inside. It’s an information-giving instrument called the Diamantine Compass.”
Curiosity getting the better of him, Merlin finally took the box from the other Arthur.
The box was made of a dark stone – obsidian, maybe? Slowly he opened the box and discovered an admittedly beautiful compass-like instrument that appeared to be composed of diamonds. It was called a Diamantine Compass after all, so it could only be that, right? The compass was the size of his palm.
The face of the intriguing compass was fogged up with white mist. Yet Merlin didn’t miss the clockworks peeking through the mists.
“How does this work?” Merlin asked as he lifted the delicate compass from its casing.
“It’s magically powered. You can ask the compass a question – out loud or silently – and the answer in writing will appear on the compass. If the answer is a long one, then you will see it in your mind’s eye. Also, the compass has the ability to give you answers to questions you haven’t even asked. You’ll find those details are important, too.” The other Arthur informed him, sounding as if he were rehearsing words from a script.
“Right. Wait, so magic is real?”
“You’ve seen me do magic. Of course magic is real. It’s just a matter of belief. This world of yours--”
“—is dull, yeah. I heard you the first time. Just because most people here don’t believe in real magic doesn’t mean this world is dull. There are plenty of other things in this world…and people can be imaginative without really believing in magic.”
“Well, now you have no choice but to believe it. You would be a fool not to.”
“Yes, fine. Magic is real. Is there anything else about the compass I should know?”
The other Arthur nodded. “The compass has strong security features. No one can steal the compass from you, but you’re the only one who can use it once you’ve touched it anyway. You can’t misplace it and the compass can’t break.”
“An indestructible compass. Great,” said Merlin wryly, sighing afterwards.
The other Arthur smiled at him tightly. “That it is. On that note, I’ll be on my way. Good night.”
“Wait, don’t--” Merlin said.
But it was too late as the dark-eyed Arthur had already vanished along with his black wolf pet.
At first, Merlin wondered if this was all a dream, but he still held the obsidian box with the diamantine compass inside.
No. He hadn’t imagined this. He really had just met another version of Arthur who had given him a magical device.
Merlin looked up at the notoriously bewitched tree and he shivered reflexively. Did that other Arthur have anything to do with the curse on the tree? Had the other Arthur been indirectly responsible for the girl’s fall from the tree and subsequent death? Merlin could believe that this other version of Arthur could place such a curse on a tree. The dark-eyed Arthur possessed magic after all, so he had the ability to enact curses. Also, his apparent status as emperor of a world undoubtedly gave him power to do whatever he wished.
But what did that even mean: to be emperor of a world? What did he do as a part of his job? Order his subordinates around all day while he basked in his superiority? The thought of it sounded ridiculous.
All that in mind, should he really trust the other man and keep this compass?
Despite the trust issue, Merlin liked the idea of the compass providing him with answers to the questions he had. He couldn’t stand the mysteries of his life, and he just had to take this chance. Life was about risks, and he wasn’t about to let this opportunity pass him by.
So with trepidation, Merlin took the compass out of the box. He wasn’t expecting the device to suddenly come alive and jump. The device landed on top of his inside right forearm, just below his wrist, and stayed there defying gravity when Merlin put his arm down.
Well, the other Arthur had indicated that the compass was magically powered. The compass seemed to disappear and then when it was completely gone, it reappeared again a moment later. Merlin bit back a gasp. The compass had become a part of him, like an animated tattoo on his forearm. Frankly, he was surprised that he hadn’t felt any pain at the change. He watched as the moving mist hid the clockworks ticking underneath.
Biting his lip, he poked at the compass now seemingly a permanent fixture on his forearm. The compass glowed for a fleeting moment as if to show it was activated, then the glow subsided to reveal the words:
I am activated. Strength of power source: optimal. Ready for use.
Maybe he should ask a question?
Or he could head back home since it was late and Arthur was probably waiting up for him.
Yet he couldn’t resist asking just one question.
But before he could do that, an unfamiliar female voice spoke inside his head.
“Hello. I’m your magic.”
“You’re my what?”
“This diamantine compass is powered by magic. Weren’t you told that? Of course that means only someone who is so magically powerful like you could use such a compass.”
“I didn’t think it meant my own magic. I didn’t even know I had any. How are you here now?”
“I’ve been asleep all this time. I’ve always been with you, but now you need me to power the compass. So here I am, awake.”
“All right. But do you have anything to do with the answers the compass gives me?”
“No. I’m just the power source. I have no control over what answers the diamantine compass chooses to give you.”
“Oh, and you can call me Athena.”
“You have a name,” Merlin said dryly in surprise.
Athena sounded quite headstrong as she said, “Well, of course I do. Why must you have a name, but I don’t?” she argued.
“That’s the name of a goddess though.”
“Yes, but it is fitting. I am very powerful after all.”
“You mean I’m powerful.”
“By association,” Athena quipped back.
“I don’t know if you’re going to help me or frustrate me.”
“Of course I’m going to help you. I’m your magic after all.”
Merlin relented. He conceded, “All right. I believe you. I just have to get used to you being inside me, or yeah…” he trailed off.
He was tempted to ask why in the world his magic spoke in a woman’s voice. But he had to deal with one thing at a time. Just discovering he had actual magic was enough for now. Maybe magic was the opposite gender of the possessor? He wondered how that ended up happening, but for now, he decided to just accept his magic having a feminine identity, a rather assertive one at that.
“I think it’s best to leave the backyard,” Athena suggested. “I’m almost positive that cursed tree has eyes and it’s watching us. It’s creepy.”
Merlin walked out of the backyard. He couldn’t help but agree with his magic’s assessment. The tree did feel rather eerie. He went to sit on the front lawn, near the street. “I’ve been wondering if that other Arthur had cursed the tree. He probably did, didn’t he?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. You should ask the compass.”
Merlin nodded, feeling slightly weird as his magic wasn’t in front of him and he probably looked like he was nodding to himself. He had to be careful, he realized, when he talked to his magic so he wouldn’t look mad talking to himself. He had to make sure to speak silently.
So he did as Athena suggested. He quietly inquired of the compass if the other Arthur he’d just met had placed the curse on the tree.
In a simple, sans serif typeface, the word – “No” – appeared upon the diamantine compass.
Merlin guessed that the “no” most likely meant he had given someone else the task.
“But he is responsible for the curse being on the tree, right?”
“Was the girl who was killed by falling from the tree the intended target?”
“Then who is the target?”
Merlin frowned. He didn’t like that the compass could deny him answers, but he supposed that everyone was still entitled to their secrets. Far be it for him to unravel all of them.
“It could be a child,” his magic guessed.
“Is another child the planned target?” Merlin asked the device.
“Yes.” Merlin read on the compass, but as soon as he read it, the word, “No” came up on the screen.
Then it said “yes” again then “no”, alternating between the two. That left him to believe the answer wasn’t as simple as the target being a child or an adult.
“Could you tell me about that other Arthur? What is his history?”
He is notoriously known as the Prince of Darkness. He is immortal, currently 1,504 years old.
Merlin knew it didn’t bode well that his name had darkness in the title. Wasn’t there a Prince of Darkness in the bible? As another name for the devil itself? And if the other Arthur was immortal too, that meant he was hard to stop as well.
“How did he become immortal?”
In his mind’s eye, the compass answered him:
Long ago, the Prince acquired immortality by following a spell granting eternal life. The spell called for great pain in exchange for the reward of immortality. To enact the spell, he willingly locked himself in a room, and then set himself on fire. He was burned alive. Out of the ashes, he was reborn as an immortal being.
“He must be mad,” Merlin remarked. “To want immortality that badly he was willing to endure unimaginable pain.”
Then Merlin decided to ask one last question before he returned home. There was the matter of that “affliction” that he heard about in his vision, but he wasn’t sure what it meant in the context of that vision.
He asked the compass about the meaning of this affliction when connected to the Prince of Darkness. That was who the King had been pinning the affliction on after all.
The words appeared in his mind’s eye as the compass answered:
This affliction is a strong bond between an Arthur and a Merlin. The bond is seen as negative to the Prince of Darkness and King Merlin, most notably, giving way to describing it as an affliction. So wronged by King Merlin, the Prince abhors the idea of a friendship with the King. Some may speculate the potential love he could have had with the King was converted into fatherly affection for his adopted son.
“Gwydion? The one who King Merlin kidnapped?”
“And Gwydion is another world’s Merlin then?”
“Can this affliction evolve? Does it have to be between an Arthur and a Merlin?”
No. An example is Gwydion and a boy who is not an Arthur at all.
“And what’s the boy’s name?”
A yawn escaped him, signaling that it was time that he really should return home to Arthur.
“How should I explain this to Arthur? About the diamantine compass and his other self and, well, everything that I had thought was meant for sci-fi and fantasy stories is actually true.” Merlin asked Athena.
“Simple. Don’t tell him. Things will be much easier that way.”
“I hate lying to him…”
“But you haven’t even told him about the vision you had before.”
“You know about that? Did you have anything to do with it?”
“Of course not. I don’t know why you’re seeing phoenixes or why you had that vision. I’m as clueless as you in regards to all of that.”
“Right,” said Merlin despondently.
And the mysteries continued, but hopefully they would be solved soon for his sake.
“Was the tree that fascinating?” Arthur joked with him after his return.
Merlin rolled his eyes at him. “I was being thorough.”
“Did you climb it?”
“I’m twenty-eight, Arthur,” Merlin told him in mild exasperation. “I’m too old to climb trees. Seriously.”
Merlin playfully punched him on the shoulder. He noticed that Arthur seemed not to see the compass on his forearm. What if it was invisible to others now?
“And you still look like you should be in uni. It must be your magical genes,” Arthur quipped.
Merlin was startled when he heard Athena speak inside his head, “I think he has a solid point,” she added to the conversation.
Merlin rubbed the back of his head, asking Athena if she had any proof.
“The proof is in my existence,” said Athena matter-of-factly.
How he was going to live the rest of his life with his ‘charming’ magic talking back to him, Merlin would have liked to know.
For now, Merlin settled for tackling Arthur down on the bed and challenging him, “Why don’t you magick this then?” he said with a devious grin.
“Isn’t it a little late for role-play?”
“Oh shut up,” Merlin said as he restrained Arthur’s wrists to keep him from moving his hands. “Last time you played the dark sorcerer, it didn’t go so well.”
“That’s because my name’s not Merlin, you idiot,” Arthur argued reasonably.
But then Merlin regretted discussing role-plays as he couldn’t help but think of that other Arthur. The Prince of Darkness who probably played the part of dark sorcerer better than Arthur ever could.
His pitch-black eyes flashed inside his mind, and Merlin suddenly lost all interest in doing anything but sleeping.
Merlin let go of Arthur and lay down beside him, gazing pensively up at the ceiling.
“Merlin, what is it? Your face just fell.”
“Sorry, love… I just. I changed my mind. Let’s just go to sleep, all right?” Merlin suggested lightly.
“All right…” Arthur agreed, still sounding understandably confused. He kissed Merlin on the lips.
“Love you, Arthur,” Merlin said quietly.
“Yeah, love you too,” Arthur replied easily.
The two of them fell asleep.
“Would you not eat in front of me?” King Merlin asked of him, though he was resigned to the Prince not bothering to respect his request.
The Prince looked up at him. “Just because you haven’t eaten in centuries doesn’t mean I should be denied. You chose to die like a human instead of immortality. If you’re not happy with being a ghost, then you shouldn’t have chosen to be one.”
“Always seeing humanity as a weakness,” the King said.
“Oh fuck off. You still think you’re a saint after all these years. It’s pathetic. You don’t even have the courage to see that daemon world version of you. Or what he used to be. Now he’s misplaced in a dull world. How terrible.” he said quite unsympathetically.
The King knew why the other man was so uncaring. After all, the Prince had insured that some people, including Arthur and Merlin of the Daemon World, wouldn’t be reincarnated in their home world. That they’d be prevented from doing so. And the Prince now had supreme control of the Daemon World with neither Arthur nor Merlin in his way.
A lot had changed over the centuries. At least for now the Prince was satisfied ruling a world. And, oddly enough, the Daemon World wasn’t a wasteland. But King Merlin wasn’t fooled. The Prince wasn’t one to be underestimated.
“I didn’t want to startle him. It’s too soon for him to see me.”
“I know you were watching. Don’t deny it. You were amused by the whole thing, you bastard.”
“Well of course he would be unsettled by your horrid black eyes. I was more occupied with other things myself.”
“Still working on item-collecting?”
The King gave him a look, not deigning to give him an answer.
“Do you have any idea what Gwydion’s birth father is up to?” the Prince asked casually.
The King was sure that the Prince had realized that he wouldn’t tell him a thing about anyone. He wasn’t about to hand information to his enemy.
“Nevermind,” decided the Prince. “I know you won’t tell me. I bet it has something to do with those daemon world versions of Merlin and Arthur. I think I managed to get Merlin to believe in real magic.”
“Whatever you think of Gwydion’s birth father, it’d be foolish to challenge him. He’s more powerful than you could ever be.”
“I would never let anything like that deter me.”
“Colour me unsurprised.”
Silence fell as the Prince focused on eating the food on his plate and the King continued to read his Lord of the Rings book.
“You do realize your plan involving Mordred will not be without flaws. Any child you father will be a monster. Not even you could control him,” King Merlin warned him.
The Prince viciously glared at him. “Of course you’d believe anything that could be an advantage to your army of ‘angelic saints.’ But you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course I don’t,” remarked the King softly. He could tell that the mention of Mordred set the Prince on edge as always.
It was only time…
The Prince practically growled and intentionally knocked his glass of red wine off the table. Some wine touched the ghostly King but, since he was transparent, the crimson liquid went right through his hand leaving no stain.
“We’re done here,” the Prince declared.
And then he promptly disappeared via his magic.
“Peace and quiet,” the King murmured to himself. He smiled.
Merlin dreamed that night. He found himself in a long, shadowed corridor. Palm-sized floating flames flickered along the grey walls, giving off just enough light and warmth to not leave one wanting.
He couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like he was inside a manor or castle judging by the paintings on the wall and how the hallway seemed to stretch on forever.
Ahead of him, a raven-masked man approached. He was wearing in dark clothing to go along with his black raven mask, presumably. His outfit was one that was most fashionable in the 16th century. Merlin wondered if a masquerade was in progress as he heard echoes of laughter and general gaiety from a distance. Not stepping aside in time, Merlin was too late to avoid the man passing him. But he soon found he hadn’t needed to worry. The raven-masked man hadn’t seen him and walked straight through him as if Merlin was an invisible ghost.
The man removed his mask and Merlin was rather startled to come face-to-face with his look-a-like. Another version of himself from a different world, perhaps? It was one thing to have a vision of that King, but another matter to be right there in front of this other world’s version of him.
A pretty young woman in a deep blue gown appeared by magical means. Her hair was a very light shade of blonde, almost white, and her eyes were blue. A diamond necklace graced her neck and matched the diamonds on her tiara headpiece.
She smiled at the man who looked like Merlin. “There’s a dark sorceress in your chambers, Gwydion. She wishes to see you,” she informed him.
Then she commented on the raven mask he held in his hand, saying how she thought ravens were beautiful birds and how unfortunate that they were so misunderstood.
Meanwhile, Merlin’s mind was reeling. This was Gwydion then? That kidnapped boy? If this was Gwydion’s memory, then Merlin didn’t doubt that there was a big gap of missing time. A gap that would explain how Gwydion came to be at a masquerade at some point in the 16th century.
Merlin returned his attention to their conversation. He would gain more information that way.
“What were you doing in my chambers, Brigit?” Gwydion asked her.
She looked down, and shrugged. She patted down the front of her big skirt in a nervous gesture. “I was just checking to make sure no one had stolen anything,” she told him, though Merlin thought she was lying through her teeth. A moderately convincing lie, but still a lie nevertheless. “I am your half-sister after all. I was only looking after you,” Brigit said rather sincerely.
So this woman was Gwydion’s half-sister? And the mystery continues to unravel, Merlin thought.
“I’m lucky to have you then,” said Gwydion, though he sounded like he didn’t take her words for the truth. “And was this sorceress Morgaine?” he asked her.
“Yes, that’s who she said she was. The Prince’s beloved half-sister. She’s very pretty, I thought. I know she’s not your type though.”
“I’ve been expecting her,” he said. “And I have what you want to manage your condition,” he assured her. An opaque bottle appeared in his hand.
Brigit reached out to take the bottle from him.
Gwydion held the bottle away from her. “Did you keep your promise not to hurt anyone?”
“I’ve been an angel, Gwydion. Truly I have,” she said all too sweetly.
Gwydion gave her a discerning look. “All right. It has been a while. I’ll help you now, and this potion should last you a year.”
“Thank you,” Brigit told him graciously.
Brigit’s eyes turned red, and when she opened her mouth, she revealed grown fangs.
She was a vampire.
In shock, Merlin stepped back in an unconscious move to get away from danger. Magic was real, there were other worlds, and now vampires were real too. Great.
Gwydion just stood there, unconcerned, as Brigit bit into his neck and drank his blood.
The scene faded away on that moment and Merlin was soon placed into another scene not long afterwards.
Now a paler-looking Gwydion was in his chambers with an undeniably beautiful dark-haired woman. She was sitting at the dining table, treating herself to some grapes in the fruit bowl.
“You don’t look well,” the woman remarked conversationally.
“I don’t care how I look to you, Morgaine,” he shot back as he sat down across from her. He pressed his palms upon his brow as if to relieve a headache. “I just want you to give me what you came here for. I’ve lived for over one thousand years and I’m tired.”
“Tired of your conditional immortality?”
Gwydion glared at her. “You may have chosen immortality, but I didn’t ask for it. I was one hundred years old. I was still mourning…well,” he paused, unable to say anymore. He cleared his throat. “Anyway. I woke up one morning to find out, inexplicably, that seventy years of age had been wiped away. I was a young man again. I wanted my birth father to change me back, to leave me to die of old age, but it wasn’t possible. So I decided to travel here, the world of my birth. I have had to live through hundreds of years. I’m tired of it.”
“You’re so amusing,” Morgaine commented, twisting her lips. “Anyone would love to be in your position. And at least your world believes in real magic. Better than a dull world.”
“Give me the information about where to hide my Raven Knife,” he ordered her. “And if that prophecy is true, then I can finally die as I should have centuries ago.”
“You have to find it first,” she challenged in amusement.
Gwydion gave her a sharp look. He stood up and asked her, “Stand up.”
Morgaine did so. He wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her toward him, and then he stuck his other hand down her bodice, retrieving a small piece of paper.
“Predictable, My Lady.”
“I couldn’t resist,” she said silkily, smiling at him. “The paper is blank. Only you can read it. At least according to the Prince. It’s such a peculiar prophecy that the Prince must find the best place to hide your cherished Raven Knife. He is far from fond of the Knife’s true wielder as you know.”
“Regardless, he is forced to follow the prophecy,” Gwydion said as he read the paper.
“And what is the location?” she asked curiously.
“You’re the last person I’d tell,” he said to her in a distrusting voice.
“Of course. How bold of me,” Morgaine said carelessly. “You know, maybe you won’t be a human next time. I’ve heard rumours.”
“Good,” Gwydion said firmly. “Living this long now as a human is enough for me. But don’t think not being a human will slow me down, Morgaine.”
“No. No. I’d never think that.”
And then the scene faded away. Merlin’s dream shifted again. He couldn’t help but wonder what this Raven Knife was and its importance, to have to be hidden according to a prophecy.
The next scene he came upon was much different than the others. Arthur was before him, dressed in medieval clothing, and he was pleading with him. Pleading for Merlin to forgive him. It was an odd sensation as he wasn’t an observer, but actually a part of this dream. Yet he couldn’t control his movements – he was trapped in this body and he was certain this time that this man was him. Or used to be him.
He found himself being cold with Arthur and walking away from him. Something unconscionable must have happened for Merlin not to forgive Arthur.
The dream ended abruptly, the feelings of intense frustration with Arthur still affecting him. He woke up in a cold sweat.
It was only when he woke up that he remembered that a white wolf with silver eyes had been beside Arthur. The creature had looked exactly the same as the one Cavall had mysteriously shape-shifted into.
Luckily, he hadn’t woken up Arthur. Merlin breathed out a sigh of relief. He heard the sound of small paws entering the room. Of course his little dog couldn’t resist taking a late night stroll.
Merlin climbed out of bed, and he took Lux into his arms. “What are you doing up? Do you ever sleep?” he whispered to the dog.
Lux only snuggled up to him, butting his head to cajole Merlin to pet him on the head, which Merlin did.
He smiled at his dog, and then he decided to consult the Diamantine Compass.
Upon silently asking it what Arthur had been seeking forgiveness for, Merlin didn’t gain an answer.
The Compass only had a picture of the night sky with a boy sleeping on the curve of a silver crescent moon. A fluffed pillow cradled the boy’s head and white stars twinkled in the miniature display of the evening sky.
“Maybe even the Compass needs to sleep,” Athena suggested.
Merlin rolled his eyes. This Compass was ridiculous, honestly. But then he decided that maybe he didn’t want to know what that last bit of his dream was about. Maybe it was too soon.
So he left that inquiry for another day. After settling Lux down in his doggy bed downstairs, Merlin went back to sleep.
He had work in the morning after all.
Sunlight streamed through the window of their bedroom the next morning. Merlin woke up before Arthur. He was actually looking forward to the day even though it was another horrid Monday. He felt something good would happen to him. Or maybe in his case, ‘good’ meant another strange thing?
That definitely wouldn’t surprise him.
He nudged Arthur to get him to wake up. “Hey Arthur.”
Arthur woke up slowly, rubbing at his eyes. When he looked at Merlin, he said quietly, almost in a strangely guilty sounding voice, “I’m sorry about your father.”
Merlin peered at Arthur oddly. “Where did that come from?” he wondered. “He died years ago. I don’t understand why you’re bringing this up now.”
Merlin couldn’t help but remember that last bit of his dream where Arthur was hoping he’d forgive him for something. Could what Arthur had just said be related to that?
Arthur’s eyes widened, then he shook his head as if trying to forget whatever had been on his mind. “Forget it. It was nothing. Some weird dream I’ve already forgotten.”
“All right,” said Merlin, his voice trailing off.
At least he wasn’t the only one experiencing odd dreams, but he sensed that Arthur’s dream was not one he would easily share. Merlin decided to go along with what his magic suggested, to keep quiet about the increased strangeness he’d been dealing with. He needed time himself to sort it out before letting Arthur in.
Merlin kissed Arthur on the lips before he got dressed. “Aren’t you going to get ready, Arthur?” he asked him since Arthur was still lying in bed.
“In a moment,” said Arthur curtly. “I just have this bloody headache. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?” Merlin asked him in concern. “I can get you --”
Arthur interrupted him, a little too harshly in Merlin’s opinion. “I’m fine! Just leave me.”
“Okay,” Merlin surrendered. “I can see you’re grumpy this morning.”
When Merlin was about to leave the bathroom, to his relief, he heard Arthur moving about in their room. Finally Arthur was getting ready. Merlin wondered just what this weird dream of Arthur’s had been about.
He was heading down the stairs when a case of vertigo hit him and he lost his balance. But he felt his magic aid him so he wouldn’t fall down the steps and hurt himself.
Afterwards, Merlin sat down on the stairs as he waited for the unpleasant sensation to pass.
“Thanks, Athena,” he said silently to his magic. “Do you know what caused that vertigo?”
“Maybe you just need to eat something,” she said practically.
Merlin rolled his eyes. “Seriously,” he said. “If that were the reason, I’d be dealing with this every morning. But I don’t,” he stated reasonably. “I was thinking. Maybe I won’t get more anxiety attacks because I have you, my magic. You’re what I’ve lost.”
“While that would be nice, I’m not sure the attacks will end. I told you before that I’ve always been with you even if you didn’t know it. I’m just awake now. I think what you’re missing is much greater than realizing you have me,” she decided, and Merlin wished Athena would lie to him because he didn’t want to dread the next anxiety attack that would come.
“Maybe,” Merlin conceded very reluctantly.
He just badly wanted to be optimistic and be reassured that he’d not get an anxiety attack again.
Feeling better, Merlin stood up and went down the rest of the stairs. Curiously, he looked to his forearm to check if the Compass was still there.
And the Compass had a message on it.
You have an important meeting today.
Merlin was convinced that his instincts had been right. Something good would happen today.
Arthur worked at DragonGuard Systems, a computer security company, which had helped to build and now it was a thriving business. While most days, he enjoyed going into work, today he felt awful. The shadow of that dream he had thankfully forgotten still haunting him. He had witnessed something terrible, something he so dearly wished he had never seen.
So he was relieved that now he couldn’t remember whatever ghastly thing he had seen. That was one dream or nightmare he didn’t want ever again.
He couldn’t even remember why he had said those words about Merlin’s father to Merlin. Where had that come from?
He did his best not to let his confusion about that dream distract him from his work.
When he returned to his office after a meeting, he found his chair turned around. He hadn’t been expecting anyone.
“Excuse me, who the hell are you?” Arthur demanded, hoping the stranger would face him.
The chair swiveled around so Arthur could finally see the person.
Arthur stepped back in shock.
The person looked like him. What the hell? Except for the unnerving pure black eyes, the man was a dead ringer for him. He was wearing a dark suit with a light purple shirt and silver tie. A black fedora was on his head. The man was clearly wealthy judging by his expensive-looking outfit. Arthur should know since he came from a wealthy family.
“How…why do you look like me?” Arthur uttered in disbelief.
His look-a-like looked at him coldly. “I’m here to tell you that you may have had some power in your past life but, in this life, you’re nothing more than a common man. I’m running things now. And you’re not getting in my way. Are we clear on that?”
Arthur stared at him, beyond puzzled by what this strange look-a-like was on about. “What…? I don’t understand.”
“Simply put, I hate you,” his look-a-like clarified. Unhelpfully in Arthur’s opinion.
Then the odd black-eyed man disappeared as if by magic. A stunned Arthur was left in his wake.
What did he ever do to this man who he had never met before?
~ * ~
While Merlin had been anticipating an important meeting, he didn’t know who it was with or what it would be about. The Diamantine Compass was silent on the matter to Merlin’s dismay. He worked at a book publishing company, The Sword of the Phoenix, as a designer. By the end of the day, he was feeling wrung out creatively.
So Merlin gratefully retreated into his office. He was so distracted with his thoughts that he didn’t notice that someone else was in the office with him.
It was only when Athena spoke up, saying that he wasn’t alone, that Merlin nearly jumped in surprise at the man standing in front of his desk.
The dark-haired man looked to be only a little older than Merlin himself. Definitely in his thirties at least. He had bit of a scruff, and his blue eyes seemed to hold a wealth of emotion and burden. While the man was wearing an average suit – shirt, jacket, trousers – but no tie, Merlin couldn’t shake the feeling that the man was not even human.
Maybe due to all that had been happening to him lately, Merlin swore that the man was surrounded by an ever-steady, pulsating magic. It was surreal to see. And Merlin just knew that he wasn’t hallucinating. He had to open his mind now to accepting the strange. It was the only way he could deal with his perception of reality being turned upside down. He had to embrace these new facts of his life.
“You’re looking much better than the last time we first met, Merlin,” the magic-enveloped man indicated conversationally.
Merlin was close to just standing there, staring at the stranger. What did he mean by meeting him before?
“Sorry, but I don’t think I’ve met you,” Merlin replied slowly, his brow furrowed. “Who are you?”
“Oh, excuse me. You haven’t yet…nevermind. My name is James,” James introduced himself.
He extended his arm so Merlin could shake his hand. Merlin shook James’ hand, albeit he still had reservations.
“And how do you know me?” Merlin asked him.
“Because we’re family, Merlin. At least, I still consider you family. I’m your uncle,” James informed him.
“You’re my what?” Merlin uttered in shock, reeling.
What unnerved him the most was that there was something about the man that wasn’t human…and yet, this person, James, was his uncle.
James was eleven years old when his Father, the God of Magic, took him away from his royal mother to live in the Heavens. He loved his mother very much, so he was sad to leave her and his brothers and sisters. But his Father had said to him that James would soon attain his godly status as he was meant to.
That he was a son of the God of Magic and he should be proud of that. Seeing his Father filled him with awe because he was shaped as a human, but he glowed so strongly that it seemed like he was composed of magic.
Any mortal man or woman who would look upon him in his true form would go mad, he told James. Someone like James’ mother was a special exception. Still, most of the time, his Father kept away from the mortal realms.
To bestow godly status upon him, James was taken to a circular room. The wall that curved around the whole space looked like the blue sky. The ceiling had images of animals and flowers that came alive, it seemed, every time you looked closely enough at them.
“I can not keep this from you, my son. The bestowing of your godly powers may hurt,” his Father explained to him.
“It will?” James asked, feeling especially anxious now.
“Yes, but do not worry,” his Father then reassured him with a smile and calming hand on his shoulder. “I have a solution for it, and you will not feel the pain if you do one simple thing.”
“What is that?” James asked.
His Father waved his hand and a winged horse foaling appeared before him.
The foaling was a Pegasus with a striking appearance. He was snow-white but his wings, mane and tail were a reflective silver colour. The young winged horse was having trouble standing being born not long ago from the look of it.
“He’s beautiful,” James uttered in awe. He immediately went to the young Pegasus and pet him on the head.
“This creature will be yours to look after. He is a magical creature, one of many who serve the gods and the goddesses,” his Father informed him. “You will grow to love him as you would your own family, and this dear Pegasus will serve you happily. As you will grow into adulthood, my son, so will your Pegasus. But as it will be with you, once the creature is at the height of physical excellence, he will become ageless. This is so he can continue to serve you throughout your immortal life.”
“Thank you, Father. I love him. I promise to take good care of him. But what must I do to help to ease the bestowing?”
“You only need to maintain contact with him, and the process will not hurt you,” his Father explained to him. “I promise you that.”
James nodded, showing he understood. He stroked the young Pegasus’s lovely silver mane, and he was pleased that the magical winged creature appeared receptive. He didn’t run away at least and didn’t try to kick at James defensively. Instead, the creature remained relatively still, his coordination improving slowly but surely, and he allowed James to touch him and pet him. The Pegasus was the best gift that James had ever received in his opinion.
As his attention was on his Pegasus, James barely noticed his skin glowing golden as he underwent the change of being elevated to the status of a god.
After the transition was complete, his Father spoke, “It is done, my son. And now you must name your Pegasus a name you find worthy of such a creature.”
James couldn’t help but be surprised that such a small act as contact with a magical creature could keep him from feeling the pain of the bestowing. He had many names in mind for his Pegasus.
He felt at a loss at settling on one name.
“The best name is there, son. Just let it come to you. Let your instinct guide you.”
James closed his eyes and let his mind go free. The name was there. What was it?
He had it.
“Silverlight,” James declared. “The name of my Pegasus is Silverlight.”
“A fine name,” praised his Father.
James couldn’t resist going to embrace his Father in gratitude. His Father hugged him back, though James could tell that he had caught him off guard.
“Thank you, Father. Thank you,” said James sincerely.
“You’re welcome. I’m glad to have you here with me,” he said to him.
His Father then told him that though James had great power now, he must be responsible with that power.
“This is your half-brother, Hephaestion,” his Father later introduced him to his new godly siblings. “And Ceridwen, your half-sister, who I hope will be like a mother to you.”
Hephaestion was so tall and strong to James. Ceridwen was almost as beautiful as his mother, but of course, James was biased to believing no one matched his mother in beauty.
His Father left James in the hands of his siblings. Hephaestion was kind to him, and Ceridwen thought James was a handsome little boy. She remarked that James’ mother must be quite pretty.
“Yes she is,” James acknowledged.
“Well that’s not a surprise,” Ceridwen commented. “She is a Queen after all. You’ll be quite handsome when you grow up, dear one.”
Hephaestion shook his head. “Nevermind Ceridwen, James. She’s an admirer of beauty,” he said in a slight teasing voice.
“Hephaestion! I was only being complimentary. Come along, my little one. Hephaestion and I shall show you around the castle and the grounds.”
She pulled James to her side as if he was her child and started talking in a clear, soothing voice about the different parts of the castle.
James found her presence comforting. Likewise Hephaestion was a solid, reassuring presence to him. James couldn’t help but smile or laugh at some of the antidotes Hephaestion told of his and Ceridwen’s time growing up in their Father’s castle.
When James was older, he dealt with Hephaestion making possibly the worst decision of his life.
“This isn’t love, this is stupidity,” James countered. “How can you give up your place as a god for a mortal woman? What is so special about her?”
“Father accepts it,” Hephaestion said, and then he explained further, “I honestly love this woman, and the only way I can truly be with her, to have a family with her, is if I become a mortal man. I’ll still possess some magic, so not everything will be taken away. A life as a god may be right for you, James, but I feel that it’s not right for me. Being with the woman I love will make me happier than I’ve ever been.”
Still, James did not quite understand his brother’s reasoning. He had never been as in love before or ever really as his brother was. Love was a strange disease, clearly, that made people a bit mad.
“Look,” Hephaestion continued. “I know how hard you try to prove yourself worthy of your status, but you don’t have to prove anything to us, James. No matter how you came to be, you’re still just as strong as Ceridwen and me.” He spoke with finality, as if he were imparting his final reassurances to James.
James couldn’t deny he appreciated the confidence that Hephaestion had in him even as he still doubted himself sometimes.
“You shouldn’t trouble yourself with those worries, my James,” Ceridwen put in. “Once you attained your status as a god, your Queen mother’s humanity didn’t make you weaker, but just served to guide your outlook on life.”
“Thank you,” James said as sincerely as he could muster. The lingering doubt would always stay with him like a curse. He was sure of that. “If you go through with this, Hephaestion, then there’s no going back.”
“I know. That’s why I wanted to say a proper goodbye to the both of you. Since this could be the last time we see each other.”
“Oh Hephaestion, is this all a way to avoid seeing me?” Ceridwen inquired in mock-seriousness. “What shall I do?”
“You’ll still have James to charm with your wit,” Hephaestion retorted with a smile.
James rolled his eyes.
Ceridwen looked unaffected. “I shall survive then,” she decided smoothly. She ruffled James’ hair. “Poor James will have to deal with giving Father grandchildren.”
“Won’t you two having children be enough?” James asked glumly.
Hephaestion and Ceridwen exchanged knowing glances with one another. James didn’t think he’d feel as unhappy as he did now.
Hephaestion was his older brother. He was supposed to stay here with him and Ceridwen. It just wasn’t fair.
After Hephaestion departed the Heavens, James was far from happy. A small part of him also couldn’t bear to see Hephaestion be just a man, prone to sickness, and with any moment being his last.
During his years with his royal mother, James had been sick a fair few times. He knew what it was like to be terribly ill. It was awful. Only the comfort of his beloved mother helped him get through the illnesses of childhood.
From his place in the Heavens, James caused rain to fall. His frustration over his brother’s leaving manifesting in storms within the world Hephaestion had chosen to live in with his mortal wife.
The world of animal souls it was called by some.
But by most, this world was known as the Daemon World.
“I recommend we sit,” James suggested. He waved his hand at the two empty chairs, one behind the desk and another in front of it. “I think you and I can agree that this won’t be a quick conversation. It never is with reunions.”
Merlin was understandably uncertain as to what to do, but he sensed the sincerity in the man’s voice. He believed that this James was telling the truth.
He sat down at his chair behind his desk while James occupied the seat opposite Merlin.
“So you’re my uncle? And according to you, we’ve met yet I don’t remember doing so.”
“Yes. I probably should say uncle by blood in your former life. Your father in your past life was my older half-brother. So I'm truthfully your half-uncle but it's a detail of minor consequence.”
“By past life --” Merlin asked, his eyes narrowing. He felt slightly ridiculous for asking this, but quite a few ridiculous, strange things had happened to him lately. Why not just throw the idea out there? “--are you implying I’ve been reincarnated? And I’m missing memories like meeting you because of that?”
James, his uncle apparently, nodded. “Yes, on both counts. But you regained use of your magic, haven’t you? At this point, you should be able to accept the reality of reincarnation. Numerous human cultures believe in reincarnation after all.”
“Okay. And are you human? You don’t feel human…I see this magic around you…” Merlin confided in him uncertainly. But he didn’t know how else to explain it – there was clearly some magical energy surrounding his alleged uncle from his past life.
“I’m glad to hear that your magical sensing abilities are working,” he remarked, smiling and sounding pleased. “You’re both right and wrong. I’m a god, but I was born to a human woman, a Queen actually. At eleven, I was granted my godly status. Because of that, my human side was overridden by my godly powers. Right now, I’m only symbolically human. I lived with my mother until I was eleven, so I did spend some years living as a human.”
“So you’re immortal then? How old are you?”
“I was born not long before the collapse of the Roman Empire.”
That meant James was a few decades older than the Prince of Darkness. “What are you the god of? Magic?” Merlin guessed randomly based off the magic around his uncle.
James’s mouth twisted into a smile. “No, but close. My father is the God of Magic. I’m the god of unnatural magic. My duty is to keep an eye on humans who possess magic in all the worlds. I’m sure you can guess the differences between natural and unnatural magic. Natural magic is magic immersed in the nature around us – in the flora and fauna. Magic becomes un-natural or out of nature when it’s ‘housed’ inside humans. My role is a guardian of those who have magic like you.”
“That makes sense even though ‘unnatural’ does usually carry a negative association.”
James agreed. “I know, but I’ve learned to live with it.”
“What sort of god was my father then?” Merlin was curious to know. “Did he look over a different type of magic?”
“Yes. His name was Hephaestion, and he was the God of Magic’s – his and my Father’s -- right hand man. He helped out with monitoring natural magic over all worlds. He could travel to all the worlds and be amongst humans when our Father couldn’t. You see, the God of Magic is unable to mingle with humans as any human who sees him will go mad. He is magic, the very source of it. I could understand the intense reaction people could have to just looking upon him. I myself was awed seeing my Father for the first time.”
Merlin could almost believe, no matter how somewhat ridiculous it sounded, that the all-powerful God of Magic was his grandfather. Going off of how fantastical it sounded, it was like he was living in a dream come to life. But he couldn’t deny the truth in James’s words because he did now possess real, honest-to-goodness magic in the form of Athena. That was definitely not a dream. So he had to believe the truth of being descended from a family of divine beings, especially ones who specialized in magic.
“What happened to him? My father from my past life?”
“I admit I thought your father was a bit mad for the choice he made. But you may not have been born if it weren’t for that decision,” James intimated. Then he paused and he added on thoughtfully, “Well, at least you would be a completely different person I would imagine.”
“What happened?” Merlin asked.
“During a trip to one of the worlds, Hephaestion fell in love with a woman. So much so that he wanted to be with her, properly, and have a family with her. As a god, he couldn’t be with a human like that. We may spend time with humans, but we can’t truly be with them in the usual way. As gods, our immortality and agelessness prevent us from simple lives with humans. If we want children with humans, then we can do that, but--”
“Yet you can’t stay, leaving the child without a father,” Merlin finished stiffly, getting the picture quite clearly. He could hear the judgmental tone in his voice. He could never condone that kind of behavior, and it was very unfortunate that gods did such a thing.
He could tell that James had heard the disapproval in his voice by his sheepish smile. “I confess that at that time when Hephaestion left, I had no qualms about that restriction with humans. I was enamored with life as a god that any downsides didn’t bother me. They were small compared to what I could now do as an immortal being with unimaginable power,” James admitted, not quite looking at Merlin.
“Though I’ve since had a change of heart,” he added quickly. Merlin wondered if he was trying to make himself look better in his eyes. “So I can understand your condemnation. It’s not right or fair, but it’s how things must be.”
Merlin nodded, accepting his answer. “I’m guessing that my father requested to be human then? To give up his place as a god?”
“Yes. And our Father let him. I had expected that Hephaestion would take over as God of Magic at some point, allowing Father to retire peacefully. I’m sure by now, Hephaestion would’ve been the God of Magic if things had been different. As it stands, Father still remains in the position. I don’t know what your father said to him. But it was convincing enough to persuade our Father to grant Hephaestion’s wish instead of forcing him to stay.”
“Will he ever retire?”
James shrugged. “A god’s life is a long one. I think he has a few centuries left in him, but I imagine he’d like to ask me or Ceridwen – my older half-sister, your half-aunt – to take his place.”
“And if he asks you?”
“I can’t say no,” he confided in Merlin, sounding like it was a terrible thing to have no choice in the matter. “It would be an honour, true, although I wouldn’t be able to travel to the realms of humans so freely. Great power doesn’t come without some sacrifices like they say.”
“What happened to my father though? How long did he live?”
James frowned, a sadness pervading him that gave Merlin a good idea about the answer. Unfortunately his former father hadn’t grown old as he’d hoped. Then again, the father he had had in this life had passed away of cancer. He never had the chance to know the man. Merlin felt he should have expected an unhappy ending to the life of the father he’d once had.
“He was with you and your mother for four years of your life. I expect they were happy years, and I’m sure he loved you very much. Regrettably, he passed away when you were four years old and your mother raised you on her own. When you regain your memories, you’ll get the whole picture. I don’t like talking about it.”
Merlin desperately wanted to ask the circumstances of his father’s death. If he had died of natural causes, surely James would have just said that? Merlin hated to think his father had been murdered if that’s what his uncle was keeping secret. What a terrible way to die.
“Did my mother from my past life know about his true identity? That he used to be more than human?”
“Quite likely, yes. Whether she believed it or not is another story. You must admit it is an extraordinary tale.”
“Yes I agree there. Is there any chance that my father from this life could have been Hephaestion reincarnated? Even if he had a different name? Would you know?”
“I don’t doubt he was. For me, I couldn’t bear to see Hephaestion reincarnated without his memories,” James admitted to Merlin. “Some people might not even regain their past memories. Your father may have been one of them.”
“Does that mean--?”
Yet Merlin was prevented saying what he had wanted to say by an oncoming anxiety attack. No, he thought. They weren’t supposed to happen when he wasn’t at home. This wasn’t right.
He could hear James stand up abruptly and call his name. But then a vision overcame all his senses.
It was like the end of his dream except fortunately, Merlin was now an invisible observer. He was in the medieval era again. If James was to be believed about reincarnation, then that had to be past incarnations of him and Arthur in these council chambers.
At a long table, Arthur was writing something on a piece of parchment, his jaw tight, and he seemed tense. Though he wasn’t looking directly at the past version of Merlin, Merlin could tell that Arthur’s demeanor was due to him being in the room.
“I’ve learned that Gwydion is very ill. I’m planning to go see him, and I’ll be staying for the wedding, as we agreed,” his other self told Arthur in a business-like voice.
Arthur stopped his writing, and after setting his quill down, he finally set his eyes on the past Merlin who was standing by him.
“Will Gwydion be all right?” Arthur asked, the concern evident in his tone.
His past incarnation looked annoyed, strangely in Merlin’s opinion. Why would he be annoyed when Arthur was only expressing concern as anyone would?
“Why should you care?” the past Merlin shot back in a shockingly sharp tone.
Really, this was unwarranted. First that dream and now this – why was his past incarnation so unforgiving of Arthur?
In answer to the other Merlin’s retort, Arthur remained silent and shifted his gaze away from the other man. Merlin noticed how his jaw clenched as if he was trying to hold back from speaking what he truly wished to say.
“Do you need me to --?” Arthur began to ask, but the past Merlin interrupted him.
“I don’t need you. I have that taken care of,” he told him.
Arthur’s eyes looked wet to Merlin as tears threatened to fall. He pleaded with the past Merlin, his voice trembling as he spoke, “Merlin, please. It’s been five years,” he stressed.
He reached out to touch his past incarnation’s hand. Yet the past Merlin ripped his hand away from Arthur.
“No. No touching. If you’re trying to weaken me by making me fall for this act, then you’re mistaken,” the other Merlin told him firmly.
“It’s not, I swear, Merlin, it’s not an act. I’m sorry, so sorry that I can’t take pleasure in anything anymore…” Arthur tried to defend himself. He sounded so desperate that it made Merlin’s heart ache.
Though Arthur looked like he would continue, the past Merlin turned away from him and he disappeared magically from the room.
The last image Merlin was left with was of Arthur’s miserable-looking face. One solitary tear fell down his cheek as he despondently stared at the empty spot the past Merlin had disappeared from.
Then Merlin woke up.
~ * ~
Ceridwen (Merlin's half-aunt)
He was surprised to see that he wasn’t in his office, but he was lying in bed instead.
Admittedly, seeing Arthur’s expression definitely made Merlin feel frustrated with his past incarnation for placing Arthur in such a state. He wished more than anything to find out the cause of this distance. When he regained his memories, he’d hopefully get his wish. And then he couldn’t help but conclude that these memories are what he had lost. What had been causing these anxiety attacks. The reasoning made sense.
He looked to his right to discover a pretty redhead at his bedside. He could also see magic surrounding her like an aura as he’d experienced with James. Yet Merlin also heard a soft, lilting music due to her close proximity. He idly wondered if she was a siren since the musical nature of her presence was enchanting. He guessed that she was Ceridwen, the half-aunt James had mentioned.
“Hello, Merlin. I’m your Aunt Ceridwen. James had to step out, but he should be back soon. Are you feeling all right, my dear?” she asked him.
Merlin sat up slowly. “I feel okay, I think. A bit of a headache. I’ve never had an anxiety attack at work. I don’t know why I had it,” he said with a sigh. “James said you were my half-aunt.”
Ceridwen waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, half-aunt, aunt, reincarnation or not, we’re still family. I was quite fond of Hephaestion, as James was too. Hephaestion was my younger brother. I always thought he was meant to take Father’s place. He was an excellent mediator, which was useful when James and I got into arguments. James can be incorrigible sometimes.”
“So my father was a middle child?”
Ceridwen nodded. “I wasn’t sure how James and I would go on without him when he left to live a mortal life. But we strived to make the new arrangement work. I was like a mother to James, being so much older than him and he was still a child when he came to be with us. He needed a motherly influence. Unfortunately sometimes we were at odds with each other. Nothing extraordinary, I expect. Humans have similar conflicts.”
“The stories my mum could tell…” Merlin contributed with a small smile. “She’d agree with you. I had my less than admirable moments.”
His aunt smiled at him.
“Where am I exactly? This place feels different, like I’m far away from home than I’ve ever been before.”
“You’re still in your world, but it’s a space strictly designated for gods and goddesses, the non-human realm so to speak or a Heaven. Each world has its own Heaven. These Heavens are for us gods and goddesses to stay in if we don’t want to enter the human realm when we visit another world. We also have our own world, the main Heaven, that’s solely meant for gods and goddesses. This Heaven is its own separate world like your world. It is therefore the biggest. That is where I, James and your father grew up and lived on a daily basis.”
“Heaven? I’m in Heaven? I thought the only time I’d be here is when I died. I’m not dead, am I?”
“No, no,” she was quick to assure him. “You’re still very much alive. James just wanted you to recover comfortably. We’ll make sure you return to where you were and no one will notice your absence. We can bend time a little, so don’t worry about that.”
“Whose home is this? James’s?”
Ceridwen confirmed his suspicions, “Yes. This castle of his is relatively small, at least in this world. The grandness of the dwellings largely depends on the belief of humans in the world a Heaven is connected to.”
“And in my world, the general population doesn’t believe in real magic.”
Ceridwen nodded. And then she added, “Also, the belief in multiple gods and goddesses isn’t as strong as it used to be centuries ago in your world. That makes the Heaven of your world considerably smaller. In comparison, my Father, James and I have the biggest castles in the Heaven of the World of Magic. The people there believe in us so strongly. Since they all possess magic, there is no room for denying our existence.”
“The World of Magic sounds like somewhere I’d like to go,” Merlin mused.
“It may not be the best idea. You’ll probably find it hard to leave. I myself feel that way.”
“You have a point there. My fiancé wouldn’t be happy with me escaping to a different world. Maybe I can get him to agree to come with me.”
“That would be quite the entertaining conversation,” Ceridwen remarked with a chuckle.
Merlin agreed. “If I can ask, what sort of goddess are you?” He wondered curiously. “James told me he was the god of unnatural magic. You have a specialty, or whatever you call it, too, right?”
“Of course you can ask me that. Not a problem at all. I’m the goddess of creative magic. The main role I play is insuring humans have their muses. Creativity, inspiration and imagination help to advance humanity, after all. Where would humans be without the ability to think outside of the box? It’s my duty to keep creativity thriving. My favorite creative mind is that of Leonardo Da Vinci. Although I fear I need a new favorite. It has been a long while since his lifetime, hasn’t it?” Ceridwen asked reflexively.
“Well for me, it has been, but I know with you being immortal…it doesn’t seem as long. It’s been five hundred years, I think, since Da Vinci’s time.”
“Don’t worry. Five hundred years feels like a long time to me too. I certainly feel my age every so often.”
“And yet you don’t look a day over twenty.”
“It must be the new cream I’ve been using,” Ceridwen played along, smiling in amusement. “You’re too kind. I thank you for the compliment. You know you don’t have to embellish your words. I consider you my nephew. You can speak the truth.”
“I was sincere. I promise,” Merlin said.
She smiled at him in gratitude, and then she placed a hand upon his cheek. “Even as an incarnation, you still have your father’s eyes. I would never be able to forget those eyes. Such perceptive, wise eyes. You weren’t able to know your father in this life?”
“Unfortunately, no. He died of cancer before I was born. My mum told me his name was Phillip.”
“What a shame,” she remarked sadly. “I’m sure he loved you very much despite not properly meeting you.”
“That’s what my mum always tells me,” Merlin said with a sigh. “It’s her way of making me feel better about never knowing him. She only has good things to say about him.”
“As any good mother would,” Ceridwen remarked with a half smile. She stood up then. “Well I must go. It was a great pleasure to meet you, Merlin. I hope you have a nice summer.”
She leaned down and kissed him on the brow. Oddly enough, Merlin didn’t mind the close contact. After the conversation with Ceridwen, he had easily accepted her as his aunt. It just felt right to him. Like he had known her all his life.
Ceridwen left the room. Merlin climbed out of bed. He knew it would be intruding, but since he was alone in the room now; why not have a look around?
The room overall had an ordinary appearance except for the ceiling which was unlike any ceiling Merlin had ever seen outside of a Harry Potter movie. Above him was a clear blue sky with clouds floating leisurely on past.
There were framed portraits on the walls, and Merlin thought there was no harm in looking at them. They were there to be looked at, after all. He did notice that something on the far wall had been covered with blue curtains. Biting his lip, and feeling undoubtedly curious, he went over to it. Were the curtains hiding a painting? He couldn’t help but think of “The Secret Garden” and how the portrait of Colin’s mother had been veiled off from sight. He tried to shove the curtain aside, and then remembering that he had his magic, he used Athena’s help in unraveling the hidden painting or whatever it was.
But even with Athena, the curtains remained in place. They only glowed golden for a moment before the glow faded and left the mystery behind the curtains a continued secret.
He sighed, and stepped away from it. He had gotten the message loud and clear. Better move on and find something else to occupy his attention.
Merlin was drawn to one big family portrait to the right of the door. He smiled upon seeing his father as he’d never seen him before. After all, he’d only seen photos of him that his mother kept in her albums. Never in a painting, and never with a fiery crown on his head.
In the portrait, the depiction Merlin believed to be of the God of Magic was on his throne in the middle. His three children were positioned in order of age. Ceridwen was at the left, Hephaestion was behind his father, and James was the last one at the right. Ceridwen was donned in a royal purple dress with a crown of gold upon her head. James wore robes of blue and silver with a silver crown on his head. The God of Magic was the most striking of the four in the painting.
James had been right about intense reactions when seeing the God of Magic for the first time. While the god possessed a human shape, he was composed of purely golden energy to the point where bits of energy sparked off him like an energetic fire. Merlin could make out his face, but his hair was hard to discern as the gold of his hair blended in too well with the rest of his being. The God of Magic’s eyes looked like the finest white diamonds had been slotted into them. As such, his white eyes were what stood out the most.
His father, as Hephaestion, gave off the appearance of being larger than life. He wore robes of gold and blue. The crown made of fire – at least from what Merlin could conclude – didn’t even char his golden hair. So it had been the same in the past. After seeing pictures of his father, Merlin knew that he had inherited his mother’s dark hair but his blue eyes were thanks to his father.
And seeing his father’s blue eyes in this portrait, Merlin could begin to see what Ceridwen was saying about the wisdom in his father’s eyes.
He jumped in shock when he heard a voice say his name. He turned around to see who the owner of the voice was, but he was still alone in the room.
Then the voice spoke again, “Merlin, my son. I’m speaking from the portrait.”
Merlin looked back at the portrait and noticed his father’s eyes glowing golden now. But there was no movement from him. Merlin could only hear his disembodied voice.
“Wait. But how?”
“A magic spell each of us did on this painting at the time of its making. It allows us to speak to anyone we choose to. I just wanted to say hello.”
“I’m feeling overwhelmed now, I admit. A lot has happened and I haven’t had the time to take it all in.”
“You’ll get acclimated. Don’t worry. You just have to be patient.”
“Do you know your future? After this portrait was made?”
“People come into this room, and they talk. I know. Even though you haven’t been born yet from my perspective, I’ve always yearned for a child of my own. In your past life, Merlin, you were my first and only child. I was never one to have many children though I had a long time to do so. I was looking for the right woman, and luckily, I must have found her because here you are.”
“I never knew that.”
“Well now you do.”
Merlin could almost see the smile on his father’s face.
“Never doubt that I’ll be looking out for you, no matter if I’m dead, my boy. Good bye for now.”
“It was nice to meet you, Father,” Merlin said quietly. He felt tears build at his eyes, but he wouldn’t let them fall.
He saw his father’s eyes return to their normal blue colour.
Swiping at his wet eyes, he caught sight of an interesting box on the desk below the portrait. On top of it, the box had an image of a dark blue cat with silver spots and star-shaped irises for eyes.
He opened the box, and saw it was full of letters.
There was one letter dated June 15, 2008.
The letter read:
I know we haven’t got on well. Sometimes I still blame you for my mother’s death when I thought you could’ve done something about it. What’s the use of being in your position if there are restrictions stopping you from saving a life?
Yes, you told me how things must be. I understand now, and have come to accept that I had to live among humans. My late mother was human, after all. But sometimes I wish she’d never met you. Then I never would’ve been born and she would never have died in childbirth.
Sorry. Bran’s watching me write this. He tells me I should be nicer here since this is for Father’s Day. So I’ll do my best to be more positive for the rest of this letter.
Being raised for the first ten years of my life by the Prince of Darkness should feel like a dark period in my life. Especially now knowing what the Prince’s true plans were for me. During my time with him, the Prince did care for me. At least I felt that he loved me as a father does a son. He taught me to be strong, and to be clever.
But you already know all that. I just wanted to thank you for getting me away from the Prince before his scheming led to my early death. King Merlin wouldn’t have so easily succeeded in kidnapping me if it weren’t for your support. I would have never had the opportunity to meet the people I met and form lasting bonds with them. I can’t imagine my life now without knowing them.
…and Bran’s doing a poor job of pretending to read his book on Wales. He says hello, by the way.
Lastly, I wanted to thank you for the gift. You know what I’m talking about. I know you got in trouble for doing it, but at least it was only a temporary punishment. I really do appreciate it. I can’t help but smile every time I think of the gift. It means a lot to me. I was okay when I died in the 16th century after securing the Raven Knife. I wasn’t alone, Brigit was by my side. I don’t doubt you were thinking of me. It was a painless death, and your gift helped in making the end infinitely more bearable.
All that said, Happy Father’s Day!
Thanks for everything.
P.S. I think Bran’s humming a Disney tune. (groans)
Merlin felt overwhelmed with the information yielded in the letter. While some details like the kidnapping were known to him, he hadn’t expected this sort of connection to Gwydion.
Was James, his uncle, Gwydion’s birth father?
If that was the case, then Merlin was Gwydion’s cousin with the added connection of Gwydion being one world’s Merlin too. He was related to another version of himself, Merlin concluded. He found the whole revelation quite bizarre.
And judging by the 2008 date of the letter, this meant that Gwydion had been reincarnated after his death centuries ago. Merlin wondered if Gwydion was still alive now in 2011. Also he wanted to know who this Bran was. He appeared to be Gwydion’s friend.
“Read the letter, didn’t you?” Merlin heard James’ voice coming from behind him.
Merlin turned around so quickly that his head spun due to momentary dizziness. “Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean – I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“Merlin, it’s okay,” James was quick to reassure him. “If I didn’t want you to look at the letter, I would have concealed it much better. You’re not intruding. There’s no need to apologize.”
“So it’s true? You’re Gwydion’s birth father?”
James nodded. Appearing weary, he sat down in a chair he’d conjured while Merlin took the seat at the desk. “We have a complicated relationship as you could tell from that letter,” his uncle told him resignedly.
“And Gwydion is a version of me from a different world.”
“Yes. He’s alive and well at the moment. You’ll be meeting him.”
“Soon. You won’t be able to miss him.”
“Who was the Bran in the letter?”
“He’s a good friend of Gwydion’s like you’re probably guessing. That’s all,” James told him, but Merlin felt that he was withholding information from him. “Anyway, we should go...”
Yet Merlin was full of questions. He needed his curiosity sated. “What about the gift mentioned in the letter…er, sorry. It’s just the gift wasn’t explained and I can’t help but wonder about it.”
James gave him a small smile, appearing understanding. “That’s all right. The gift is a matter strictly between me and Gwydion. So unfortunately it will have to remain a mystery to you.”
Merlin then recalled the mystery of what was behind those curtains. “I’m assuming you won’t tell me about what the curtains are concealing in the room?”
“It’s a portrait,” James answered smoothly, surprising Merlin with an actual answer. “That’s all I’ll tell you. It’s another personal thing.”
“Could you tell me about the Raven Knife? I had visions and dreams lately about it. Gwydion had it in his possession. I remember a mention about the knife having a true wielder. That sounded like it wasn’t Gwydion.”
“Gwydion made the knife, and he considers it his life’s work. As consequence, he is the knife’s guardian as well as expert on the knife. The Raven Knife has two owners you can say. Gwydion was more interested in the creative process in producing the knife, not actually using it.”
“What’s so special about the knife?”
“The Raven Knife can cut openings into different worlds to visit them. The knife is more valuable now because it’s one of the few things with the ability to be used for world travel,” James explained to him.
“Who’s the knife’s wielder?” Merlin was curious to know. After all, all magical swords like Excalibur for example had that one person designated as its wielder.
“It’s not my place to tell you that. You’ll find out.”
“I bet the compass I received wouldn’t give me the answer either,” Merlin decided with a sigh.
James looked at him curiously. “You mean the Diamantine Compass?”
“How did you know about that?”
“I’ve been keeping an eye on you recently.”
“So you’ve been spying on me?”
“For a good reason,” James was quick to defend himself. “I was making sure you were all right. I don’t look in on what you’re doing every moment of every day. I hope you’re not upset with me. When you received the compass, you regained the use of your magic. I have this alert system set up, and your magic coming alive tipped it off. It was easy to discover that you had obtained the compass.”
“Okay… I know you’re doing it in my best interests, it’s just so much has happened in a short period of time. It’ll take time to deal with it all.”
“I understand. You shouldn’t have this put on you all at once, but time isn’t a luxury you have at the moment. You will remember your past life before the summer is over, I guarantee you that, Merlin.”
“Great,” Merlin remarked, growing weary of a possible impending headache.
James squeezed his shoulder in an attempt at reassurance.
“So you seem to know about the compass. Do you know if it’s safe? The Prince of Darkness gave it to me, and he didn’t look like the most trustworthy of people. Not to mention he had been planning to lead Gwydion to an untimely death.”
“The Diamantine Compass is safe. Don’t worry about that. The compass was made by an enemy of the Prince’s. He probably hated the fact that he had to carry such a device, and he was itching to give it away to you and be done with it.”
“And the enemy is?”
“A member of the White Diamond Clan. Manipulating diamonds into different magical objects is a specialty of theirs. Here, show me the compass,” James directed him.
Merlin held out his arm to his uncle. The compass was still seemingly tattooed onto his forearm.
“I’ll just take it out for a moment, and you’ll see what it says on the back.”
“Okay,” Merlin agreed tentatively. “I didn’t look at the back, I admit.”
James swept his hand over the compass and it came loose, parting from Merlin for the time being.
“It’s not easy to spot unless you know what to look for,” his uncle informed him. He turned the compass around and directed Merlin’s attention to the back of it.
“See, it says ‘Branwen’ with a little white raven next to her name. It’s a common signature for White Diamond Clan members.”
Merlin peered at the engraving. The name was written in a sweeping cursive font with a white raven perched beside it. “Does she have anything to do with Bran considering their similar names?”
“You’re right. Bran is a part of the White Diamond Clan, the same clan that believers claim Branwen is an ancestor of. Bran was named after her.”
“Did he make the compass?” Merlin asked.
James shook his head. “I believe another Clan member crafted it,” he said. Then he cleared his throat and he changed the subject, “Yes, so Branwen. She’s seen as a goddess to those of the White Diamond Clan. As far as I know, she was a mortal, but she was a brave woman, and the power of legend prevails. The white raven is her symbol.”
“Why was she brave? What did she do?”
“Her kind, the Immortals, was hunted down for the special properties in their blood. While the gods gave her kind a protected world to live in, Branwen decided to stay behind. She wanted to be with the man she loved even if it was at the cost of her safety. The Immortals themselves have become myths as well. It’s unclear whether or not they even existed. They were before my time, so I don’t even know,” James admitted with a shrug.
“Did it work out for her despite the danger?”
“Yes it did. Branwen took precautions, and her husband helped to conceal her identity. She is said to have had many children in her time. She’s the matriarch of the whole clan. That’s why those of the Clan honour her.”
“Wouldn’t your father know whether she existed or not?” Merlin brought up. “I don’t know how old he is, but I’d imagine he has been around a while.”
“Oh I don’t doubt my father was alive during Branwen’s time long ago. He said he was born when man first succeeded in making fire,” he informed him. “But he chooses not to confirm or deny the stories about Branwen. He likes people believing in a person so strongly that he thinks it wouldn’t help learning the unspoiled truth. Let them have their beliefs, he says, and if they believe she and her kind existed, then they did.”
With that last statement, James gave him back the Diamantine Compass. The compass returned to being a tattooed fixture upon Merlin’s forearm.
“That must be nice, to believe in something so much,” Merlin mused with a sigh.
“Don’t you believe in something?”
“Of course. I believe in my mother,” Merlin answered easily. “She’s the strongest woman I know.”
“Good choice,” James agreed. “It’s time we get you home. Come on, follow me.”
Merlin followed him out. He was curious to see more of this Heaven.
Arthur came home to find that same man who resembled him in the living room.
“What are you doing here?” Arthur practically yelled at the very unpleasant look-a-like encroaching on his home territory. He clenched his fists, spoiling for a fight. “I thought you made your point clear. You hate me, though why you do I have no idea.”
“Your annoying dogs should learn some manners,” his look-a-like only said.
“Where are they? What did you do to them?” Arthur asked, unable to keep out the concern from his voice.
The frustrating stranger shrugged. He waved his hand up the stairs. “I made them fall asleep in a room.”
“How did you do that?”
“Magic. The real kind.”
Arthur looked at him in disbelief. “There’s no such thing.”
“I think you’ll soon find out how wrong you are,” he countered with a dark smile. “I’m the Prince of Darkness by the way.”
“Is that because of your dark eyes?” Arthur couldn’t resist asking. He wondered what had come first: that ridiculous title or the creepy black eyes.
“Funny,” the Prince said dryly.
“Why the Prince and not another title like King?”
“The throne I was meant to rule as King was ripped away from me by scheming bastards,” the Prince explained to him in a bitter tone. Arthur didn’t miss how much the loss affected the Prince from the anger shone through in his words. “It was the only --” but then he stopped speaking as if he realized that he was revealing too much. “Anyway. That was a long time ago. I came here to warn you about someone.”
“Who is that?”
“A boy by the name of Bran. He has dangerous, dark magic at his disposal. He has the ability to control people’s minds, make them do things that they wouldn’t do otherwise. The only way to stop the boy is to kill him.”
“You’ve given me nothing to make me believe I can trust you,” Arthur pointed out firmly. “And I don’t care what you say about him, I’m not about to be responsible for the death of a child.”
The Prince of Darkness chuckled, a cold mirthless laugh that set Arthur on edge. “Of course. I knew you would say something like that. Fortunately for me, I always think ahead.”
Then unwillingly on Arthur’s part, his eyes locked with that of the Prince’s black eyes.
“Listen closely now,” the Prince commanded him. “Bran is the bane of my existence, and he will be yours too. He needs to be destroyed.”
“All right. I understand,” said Arthur.
“Good,” the Prince said with a satisfied smile.
Arthur found his locked stare with the Prince end as the other man looked away from him.
“I’m glad this meeting went well,” the Prince declared. “Goodbye for now.”
He magically disappeared without waiting for Arthur to speak.
Arthur stared in confusion at the empty spot the Prince had departed from. He shook his head.
That was weird.
He heard Cavall and Lux barking in an upstairs room and went to release them.
Merlin couldn’t hide how awed he was and felt as he and James walked along the winding bridge leading away from his castle. The bridge pathway looked like actual honest-to-goodness gold while an image of a silver and white Pegasus broke up the gold monotony. The winged steed glittered with majestic grace even as a stationary image. Merlin wondered how it would look as a live creature.
All Merlin could see below him were the clouds and he could tell he was very high up, yet he could still breathe of his own volition, thanks to magic undoubtedly. On either side of him, he could see other castles forming the remaining landscape. The castles of the other gods and goddesses as Ceridwen had mentioned to him.
The bridge had no railings to prevent walkers from accidentally falling if they stepped too close to either side. But James had assured him that he had placed invisible magical force fields along either side of the bridge as protection.
“I can’t speak for the others. I’m only responsible for the property surrounding my castle. I know other gods and goddesses have their bridges unprotected, and don’t see the same issue of safety as I do. Although, for me, it’s more a way to do something purposeful with my magic. I have so much magic, that I look for ways to alleviate the pressure by enacting spells. Of course, they must be white magic spells… dark magic opens a whole other set of troublesome issues. Always best to avoid those sorts of spells,” James advised him, his voice indicating just how distasteful he found dark magic.
“I’ve seen enough TV and movies throughout my life to know that dark magic is bad news,” Merlin said frankly. “ Oh. I uh – do you know about TV and movies?”
“Yes I do. I’ve always done my best to keep up with what’s going on in the human realms. I’ve made it a part of my duty. And I feel I owe it to my mother too. Even if she passed away long ago, I feel like I’m respecting her humanity by seeing what all of you are up to. With all your technological advances. I’ve gone to the cinema too.”
“Under an invisibility charm, yes, but I went. It was entertaining.”
“I almost don’t know if I should ask what films you saw.”
“I remember seeing the early films…I couldn’t help but be intrigued by this new human invention. Then one year, one of my young daughters wanted to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and I couldn’t say no to her. That was in 1938? Yes. 1938, that was the year. She loved it, and it was nice to have seen that film when it first came out. It’s become a classic, hasn’t it? The amount of work put into it without magic? It must have been a labour of love.”
“Yes. It was the first full-length animated feature film to be produced in full color,” Merlin said.
He knew all this because his mum had told me how she enjoyed the movie when she was a child. How some moments made her dead-scared and she had nightmares after watching it. But still, she loved the movie – especially the seven dwarves.
But when Beauty and the Beast came out in the early ‘90s, his mum had been sure that one would’ve been her childhood favorite if the movie had been released years earlier. Merlin remembered his mum taking him along to see the film in the cinema when he was only eight. He had been more frightened of the wolves than the Beast himself, oddly enough.
Not wanting to think about those wolves, he added, “When you know Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was all hand-drawn, you can’t help but be impressed at the achievement. But why did you bring up seeing Snow White over another movie?” Merlin asked his uncle.
James shrugged. “I just remember how the film made my daughter smile and laugh at the dwarves’ antics. I was only being nostalgic. When you have children one day, you’ll understand.”
Still, he couldn’t help thinking that his uncle wasn’t telling him something. Something that Merlin believed he should know.
James smiled a bit sheepishly at him. “I’m surprised you haven’t asked about the Pegasus.”
“You mean the design on this bridge?” Merlin assumed.
He nodded. “He’s an actual creature, mine, as a matter of fact. His name is Silverlight. He aids me in traveling to different worlds. Other gods and goddesses might have gatekeepers, but for me and Ceridwen, we have our own magical animals. Ceridwen has an otter while a Pegasus is mine.”
“I was thinking how he would look as a live animal. I’d like to see him,” Merlin intimated.
“Of course you would. Silverlight is worth seeing.”
“Although,” Merlin couldn’t help but interject, “Are you not telling me something?”
James looked uncomfortable. He rubbed the back of his head. Merlin thought sometimes James seemed more human than a god. Once he had spent some time with his uncle, Merlin’s initial impression that James wasn’t human felt wrong. He had jumped to conclusions too soon. That was it.
“You’re overwhelmed with everything you’ve learned. You said as much yourself,” James reminded him. “I suggest visiting your mother. She’ll help you to understand. I don’t think she completely believes the truth, but she is only human, bless her.”
“Right. I can’t think of what she could tell me, but I’ll visit her,” Merlin agreed uncertainly. “Did she know about my father’s past life?”
“Trust me, Merlin, I don’t see how she could have kept it a secret from you if she had. I would hope your mother would have understood that you had a right to the truth about your father if she’d known.”
Merlin nodded. “I agree with you. My mum would’ve told me by now. I’m sure of it,” he decided confidently. “What about Silverlight?”
“Yes. I’d almost forgotten about him. I’ll call him.”
James appeared to be summoning the Pegasus non-verbally because he didn’t speak. With barely any movement from his uncle, Merlin watched as the winged horse, Silverlight, formed before them on the bridge.
The Pegasus was a stately creature. He was mostly white, but his mane, wings and tails shone a beautiful silver.
James stepped forward and he patted his steed on the head. Conjuring a carrot, he gave it to the magical creature, Silverlight eating it happily.
“How does this work?” Merlin wanted to know how Silverlight aided in traveling between worlds.
“Just watch,” James told him. “Go on then, my Silverlight. It’s one,” James told the Pegasus.
Silverlight neighed and then he shifted into a swirl of silver energy. A dark door with a silver handle appeared in his place. A small image of Silverlight trotted about the door like animated decoration before stopping at the head of the conjured door.
“You only have to open the door. You’ll barely feel anything. It’ll be like passing into another room. You may feel a little breeze passing by you, but that’s all,” his uncle reassured him.
“All right,” Merlin said, trying not to sound anxious. “Are you coming?”
James shook his head. “Unfortunately I have other things to attend to. There’s always something. It was good to see you, I have to say,” he said frankly. “Good luck. Make sure to visit your mother.” He requested of him.
“It was nice to meet you even if I’m feeling a little lost about this new reality I’m facing.”
James looked a bit guilty. “Come here,” he directed him.
Merlin let himself be pulled into his uncle’s embrace. He thought it would feel strange since he had only just met his uncle, but Merlin soon was able to relax and accept the sign of affection.
“I’m sure your father would do anything to be alive now. If only just to tell you that he loved you,” his uncle told him softly.
Merlin couldn’t help but recall the brief talk he had with that portrait version of the father of his past life. He believed his uncle.
“Thank you.” Merlin could only say before his voice betrayed him.
James looked on as Merlin took a deep breath and pressed down on the door’s handle. The dark door opened and all he saw was a long white hallway ahead of him. Like he had seen in films when people went on into the afterlife or heaven.
Although now it was the other way around.
He stepped through, looking back once to see his uncle giving him a small smile and a wave.
Merlin thought only a few seconds had gone by before he was back in his office. His office seemed so terribly normal and dull compared to where he had just been.
He looked at the clock on his wall and saw it was almost six. The best thing to do now would be to call Arthur. He had to tell him he was going to be home late. Hopefully his mum wouldn’t mind him stopping by unexpectedly.
Taking out his mobile, he went to Arthur’s number on it.
“Merlin?” Arthur answered the phone.
“Yeah it’s me. Listen, I’m sorry, but I’m going to see my mum. I’ll be home late.”
“Why the sudden need to see her?”
“I just got a sudden desire to learn more about my family history…it’s random, I know, but I want to do this now while it’s still on my mind. I hope you understand.”
“Yeah, sure. I don’t mind. You think there’s a dark secret in your family you don’t know about?” Arthur teased him.
“Ha, nothing that interesting, I’m sure of it. See you later. I love you.”
There was a long pause on the other end that made Merlin wonder if Arthur was still on the line. He was about to speak before Arthur finally broke the silence, “Merlin…” he said tentatively.
“What is it, Arthur? You sound off.”
“It’s nothing. It’s just been a long day. I’ll see you at home later.”
“I love you,” Arthur told him before Merlin heard him hang up.
Merlin clicked to end the call. It had seemed like Arthur had wanted to tell Merlin something, but he had decided against it. What could Arthur be hiding?
Merlin shook his head. No. He had to see his mum. Arthur would have to wait.
“Merlin! It’s so good to see you,” his mum greeted him at the door.
“Hello, Mum,” he said with a smile. “I’m sorry to drop in like this…”
“No need to apologize, dear. You must be hungry.”
“No, no, it’s all right. I’m not. I just – maybe we should sit down,” Merlin suggested them.
His mother nodded, and directed him to the kitchen so they could sit at the table.
Belle, her Merlin falcon, was perched on the kitchen counter.
She was a brown bird, about the size of a pigeon, and she held a curious gaze upon Merlin as he entered the kitchen.
“So this is Belle,” Merlin said with a smile.
His mother nodded. “She’s a good bird. Very intelligent. Sometimes I feel there’s more to Belle that meets the eye,” she confided in him.
“Can I touch her?” Merlin asked, unsure how this falcon was with strangers.
“Yes, it’s okay. You can,” his mother assured him.
Merlin reached out to pet the bird of prey on the head. Belle’s calculating eyes looked directly into Merlin’s own blue eyes. He suddenly got a flash in his mind’s eye of an orange and cream male cat. He wasn’t sure how he knew it was male, he was just absolutely certain of that.
He removed his hand from the falcon. Clearly he hadn’t experienced the last of his visions.
His mum went to make some tea.
“Mum, why did you get a falcon instead of a cat? I know you grew up learning to like birds, but I’d imagine a cat is a little easier to take care of than a falcon.”
At that, Belle appeared unhappy as she straightened herself to seem taller. It was as if she was trying to prove to Merlin that she was a good bird, not difficult to look after at all. She squawked in displeasure.
“Erm, I’m sorry, Belle,” Merlin apologized to her.
His mother turned around to face him and she confessed, “Why, I admit that it had crossed my mind to get a calm little cat to keep me company, but like you said, birds are a family thing. I recall how my grandmother, your great-grandmother, enjoyed the company of bluebirds. Those birds themselves were quite fond of her. It’s a longstanding tradition that I can’t help but continue. Although, you know those visions of the scarlet-gold phoenix you see?” His mother brought up.
Merlin nodded. “Yes what about them?”
“I didn’t want to tell you before because I thought I was only hearing things. I didn’t want you to think your poor mum was crazy,” she said with a half-smile.
“No, never. I thought you’d believe I’d be losing it after telling you about the phoenix,” Merlin countered.
“Oh Merlin, I’m your mum. I want you to confide in me. It was only the two of us for so long, that I wanted you to feel that you could trust me. And I could always see it in your eyes that you weren’t making up the story of the phoenix. A mother always knows.”
“Thanks,” Merlin said, finding it nice to know that his mother believed in his story. “What did you hear?”
“A cat meowing. I’ve never seen this cat, but I heard it calling out to me, it felt like. I was comforted by the sound.”
Merlin recalled how Arthur had told him that he had been calmed and even grateful to see Cavall in his strange white wolf form. And here was his mum dealing with a similar, positive feeling. Merlin didn’t doubt that the cat she had heard was most likely the orange and cream cat he had seen not a moment ago. It was far too much of a coincidence.
“So there it is. My confession. I haven’t heard the meowing since I took Belle home with me. I almost miss the sound, but oh, Belle is a sweetheart.”
“I believe you, Mum,” Merlin told her with a smile. “Did you say that my great-grandmother liked bluebirds? Her name was Mary Margaret, right?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?” She wondered. She set the cups of tea down on the table. They sat down across from each other.
Merlin was looking for the reason for why his uncle James had brought up Snow White. And it seemed a little too convenient that his own great-grandmother had held a fondness for bluebirds, the very type of bird commonly associated with the princess.
“Did she – this may sound crazy, maybe, but do you believe Mary Margaret looked like Snow White?”
His mother’s eyes widened. She looked more startled than Merlin had expected her to look.
“Sorry, nevermind,” Merlin said hurriedly. He started putting sugar in his tea, and it was only Athena’s subtle magical intervention that kept him from overloading his tea with the sweetener.
“No, no! I’m glad you asked. I just, oh, I can’t believe how the years have flown by. I had almost forgotten…” with that his mother trailed off, her brown eyes held a faraway look. Then she shook herself out of it and smiling at Merlin, she continued on, “But to answer your question, yes, from what I remember of my grandmother, she had a similar look to Snow White. She was quite a lovely, sweet grandmother, I recall. A professional singer too. Oh, she had an almost angelic voice. It’s a shame you never got to know her.”
“Did she ever believe she was Snow White?” Merlin asked her, his curiosity overcoming the feeling of how ridiculous the question was. If his great-grandmother had believed that, surely he would have known about it by now?”
His mother shook her head. “No it wasn’t like that. She never believed she was honestly Snow White. As far as I know at least. She saw her as a character in a fairytale like everyone else, not a real person. Really, any girl with pale skin, dark hair and red lips could claim resemblance to Snow White.”
“You’re right. I didn’t mean to suggest. I just wanted to make sense of some things,” Merlin confessed weakly, knowing that was a poor explanation for wondering if someone in his family looked like a fairytale character.
“I’m glad you’re asking actually. I must say that I found my grandmother to look quite like Disney’s Snow White. It was remarkable. I remember putting picture of her next to the animated Snow White and the similarity was impressive. But then I was young, so I couldn’t help seeing a resemblance. It was not long after seeing the Disney movie for the first time. The thought got into my mind…no matter how unbelievable it sounded.”
“There must be a reason for the possible resemblance,” Merlin mused, thinking aloud.
“Well, to add to that, there is your father’s mother. She’s still alive, I think. She relocated to New Zealand not long after your father died. His death was hard on her.”
“Yes, I remember you telling me that. Her name’s Ella…wait, are you trying to say…?”
As if things couldn’t get any weirder. What did this mean? Was there a reason for him being related to fairytale characters on both sides of his family tree? Could they be incarnations and like him, not even remember their past lives?
Other worlds existed after all. Ceridwen had mentioned the World of Magic – would it be stretching the realm of imagination to believe there was a Fairy Tale World as well? So Snow White and Cinderella could have originally been born in the Fairy Tale World. For some indiscernible reason, they had been reincarnated into a different world: this world Merlin currently called home. And he was the result of the union. His father’s mother was an incarnation of Cinderella and his mother’s grandmother was an incarnation of Snow White.
This fairytale connection on both sides of his family ancestry couldn’t be a fluke. How common was it that two people with fairytale heritage in their blood could come together and fall in love? It was as if fairy dust had been sprinkled, and Merlin was the lucky recipient, the receiver of such fantastical magic.
“It’s not a coincidence,” Athena confirmed to him silently. Her confident tone only served to bolster Merlin’s belief.
His mother answered him with a nod. “Yes, I did see a resemblance to Cinderella. Your dear father saw it too. He told me that his mother actually named him after Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty. I knew Ella as quite the romantic. You have her eyes, such a startling, forget-me-not blue as they call it.”
“And my dark hair?” Merlin played along.
“Well of course from me, sweetheart. Who else?” His mother said with a teasing smile. He reached out her hand to ruffle his hair.
Merlin smiled, weakly batting her hand away from his hair.
His mother relented and soon, her expression grew somber. “Now, I think it’s the right time to give you the box,” she declared solemnly as she stood up.
“What box?” Merlin asked.
“Your father wanted you to have it, but he told him it was very important that I give you the box at the proper time. I think now is that time. It looks like you’ve made some discoveries very recently. I can see it in your eyes, you look different. If you could just wait a moment, I have to retrieve the box.”
Merlin waited a few minutes until his mother returned with a golden box in her hands.
“Is that, is that real gold?”
“I think so. It certainly is heavy enough,” she indicated. Merlin moved aside his tea cup so that his mum could set the gold box down in front of him.
“I don’t know how your father got a hold of this box. The only answer can be magic. He gave it to me for safekeeping while he was still in the hospital, dying from cancer. There was no opportunity for him to procure such a box. I was very pregnant with you at that time, as you know. I came to see him during visiting hours one morning, and he was so desperate, adamant, during that visit,” his mother explained, a touch of sadness in her voice.
She continued, “His eyes were almost like looking in that of a stranger’s. He had such a wealth of burden and age in them. It was as if he had gained the wisdom of a much older man over night. He asked me to make sure I give this golden box to you. That there was a time that you would understand. And since he knew that he wouldn’t get to see you come into this world, he wanted to leave you something tangible to remember him by. I was curious, I admit, about what he put in the box, but I can’t open it. I think only you can.”
“Thank you, Mum,” Merlin said. He hadn’t been expecting this, that his father had left him something despite his father never getting the opportunity to see Merlin being born.
“I’ll open it now,” Merlin decided. He felt bad that his mother had kept this box all these years without knowing what was inside. It felt right to finally reveal the box’s contents with his mother beside him.
The box was the length of his hands when placed side by side of each other, so the box wasn’t too big. The size of a modest jewelry box honestly. There was a lock on the box, which Merlin opened as discreetly as he could with his magic. The lock clicked open and Merlin was able to lift the lid of the golden box.
One item in the box was a rolled up letter. The paper felt like high quality parchment and a blue ribbon bow kept the parchment in its current form.
“It’s a letter from your father,” his mother said gently.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to read it yet,” Merlin confessed.
“Of course, dear. Whenever you’re ready,” she assured him.
Setting the letter aside, he saw that there was only one other item in the box. It was a small lynx figurine.
Belle flew over to the table, to have a look herself at what was in the box. She pecked at the box’s lid. Or maybe she had just been feeling neglected, Merlin thought as he pet her on the head.
“Oh come here, Belle,” his mum cajoled her falcon. Belle did so, situating herself on his mother’s shoulder, her intelligent dark eyes ever watchful.
When Merlin touched the lynx, he was surprised to see the little lynx come to life. It was an animated figurine, but it was so sentient that Merlin could only conclude magic as an explanation to its nature.
His mother gasped. “Oh my,” she voiced, her hand over her mouth in shock. The lynx was half the size of Merlin’s palm and presently, the figurine was walking around and acting like any animal – minus any violent tendencies, thank goodness – as the creature circled and then settled down to clean his paws. Or was it a female?
“Mum, I can explain,” Merlin started, though he didn’t know how to begin to tell her that this was magic at work.
Athena spoke up inside his mind. No one but Merlin could hear her, which made for a secret conversation without others being aware of it.
“It’s clear, isn’t it?” she told him. “Your father remembered his past life. That included all the magic knowledge he had during his centuries as a god, before he chose to live a human life. And he also regained his magic not long before he died. That’s why he acted the way he did that day with your mother. And how he was able to conjure this golden box with its contents.”
“Yet he still died despite getting his magic back,” Merlin pointed out grimly, speaking mentally to Athena.
“I hate to say it, but maybe sometimes, magic doesn’t solve everything,” Athena said unhappily.
Merlin knew how hard it would be for Athena to say that considering she was literally magic. On his part, it was hard to accept the fact that possessing magic couldn’t save his father from succumbing to the fatal effects of his cancer.
“The lynx is magic. Real magic,” his mother uttered. Merlin was surprised to hear the seed of true belief in her voice.
“Mum?” Merlin asked, puzzled. What was his mum not telling him?
She gave him a small smile. “When I was a child, I saw a golden man in my dreams. He had eyes that shined like the finest white diamonds. After seeing him, I couldn’t help but open my mind to the possibility that maybe, things like magic are truly real.”
“You saw…?” Merlin breathed out, thoroughly surprised. The God of Magic had appeared to his mother probably years before she had even met his father? What if the God of Magic, his grandfather, had insured that his mum and father came together? That’s why he had been keeping an eye on her when she was still young. Merlin didn’t imagine that he just appeared in people’s dreams unless he had a very calculated reason for it. The thought seemed unnerving, to have one’s life to be dictated like that.
Hopefully the God of Magic had a well-meaning reason for his actions.
“I believe it was a man of magic,” his mother said thoughtfully. “Or not even a man at all. I can’t say. But I felt that he was made of magic. I couldn’t see it as anything else but that. Sometimes he even spoke, either saying my name, Hunith, or strangely, Snow White. I suppose that’s why I became so interested in the stories of Snow White, and then how my grandmother looked like her.”
“Mum, I think, no, I’m sure that dad had magic. Before he died at least, he had it. That’s how he was able to make this box and the lynx. And maybe the letter too.”
His mother breathed out shakily. “I suspected, but the idea was just so strange… yet how he acted and looked that day. It was like he had remembered something he had forgotten, but he didn’t tell me. Maybe he was trying to protect me, but it had worried me a little bit.”
“I can’t even begin to comprehend how he was feeling at the time,” Merlin said. He thought it would be best not to tell his mother about his father remembering an extraordinary past life. Small steps. It would be too much for her to handle. Frankly, he wished he hadn’t had all these revelations unveiled to him in a short span of time. But it was too late to get off this roller coaster now for him.
“But I possess magic myself, Mum. I inherited it from him, I’m sure of it. I gained the ability to use it recently, so that may be this is the right time for me to receive the box.”
“Goodness. Well I guess that means your father and I chose the most appropriate name for you. We had settled on ‘Merlin’ before he died, so he knew what your name would be even if he couldn’t see your birth.”
Merlin smiled at his mum. “Yes you’re right about that. I know this is a lot to take in for you. Having magic is still new to me, but you’re my mum, and you should know that I have it.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me, sweetheart. Just don’t dabble in dark magic…I suppose that’s sort of advice I should be giving you now,” she said, looking quite bemused.
“Thanks, mum,” Merlin said. “I promise not to do any dark magic.” He flashed her a quick grin. “I better go. Arthur’s probably wondering what’s taking me so long.”
Merlin gently lifted the fragile tiny lynx who was now fast asleep. He could tell now that the lynx was most definitely a female. He placed her back into the box. Yet he was uncertain for a moment whether he should close the box on the little creature. But since the female lynx was magical, then he decided she should be okay. She had been in this box for years after all. Maybe the lynx returned to a non-sentient form when she was returned inside the golden box.
“Of course, of course. You must say hello to Arthur for me,” said his mother with a kind smile. They stood up and embraced each other as Belle ruffled her feathers, flustered, and flew off his mother’s shoulder.
“I will,” Merlin promised her.
Then she told him that she would get him a sturdy bag to carry the box in. Belle perched herself on Merlin’s forearm and then walked up his arm.
“Belle, what are you doing?” Merlin wondered, puzzled. Belle only looked at him like he was talking gibberish. She bent her head to survey what was inside of his ear.
“I don’t have anything in my ear,” Merlin said.
“She’s having you on, I bet,” declared Athena. Merlin could just see his twisted, mischievous smile inside his mind.
And then the falcon moved to roost on his head.
“Belle!” Merlin exclaimed.
His mother returned. “Oh dear. Belle, come here. Merlin’s head isn’t a nest,” she admonished the bird.
Merlin could hear Athena chuckling inside his mind.
“Haha,” Merlin said silently to his magic.
After his mother persuaded Belle to fly off his head, she gave him the bag for the box. “Here you go, sweetie. I hope to see you soon. Good luck with using your magic wisely.”
He thanked her and then after they exchanged goodbyes and brief hugs, Merlin left his mum’s. Athena lightened the weight of the golden box at Merlin’s request, so he could carry it more easily to his car.
In the car, Merlin asked the Diamantine Compass if it was true about the fairytale characters. That Ella and Mary Margaret, his own grandmother and then great-grandmother, were incarnations of the actual fairytale identities from the Fairy Tale World.
The Compass confirmed his belief.
When Merlin asked why he had fairytale characters on both sides of his family, the Compass said, “The fairytale magic accumulated from their happy endings insured that you would be as magically powerful as you need to be. This world you call home is dull, denying the chance for real magic users to thrive because most people here don’t believe in real magic. The fairytale magic you inherited has enabled you to possess true magic as is your burden.”
Burden, Merlin thought. Great. That sounded cheerful. He never thought those fairytale happy endings could have that sort of impact, but he was grateful to have his magic now and to actually interact with it -- or her really -- in the form of Athena.
He opened the box and took out the lynx from it. He couldn’t help but smile as the small creature licked his thumb and let Merlin pet her. He contemplated the reason why his father had left him this magical lynx. The letter he could understand, but there had to be more purpose to the lynx other than an interesting magical item to be entertained by.
Athena pointed out, “But the Compass does have storage space. I can store your golden box and everything inside it in the Compass. That way, you will never lose the box because the Compass is embedded into your forearm. Barring an axe murderer coming to cut off your arm, it’s the best thing to do to protect the box.”
“Thank you, Athena, for that great visual,” Merlin said dryly. “All right. If you can do that, then go ahead. I’d prefer to keep the box close to me. This is the best way to accomplish that.”
He returned the lynx to her home inside the box.
A glowing golden hand, undoubtedly that of a female’s, appeared to grasp the box of gold.
“Is that your hand?” Merlin asked, a bit unnerved at seeing a hand appear out of nowhere. It was odd to think that his magic had a hand. And he really could use the memories of his past life now to make sense of these things.
“Hands can be useful,” Athena only said matter-of-factly. Her ‘hand’ disappeared along with the box and a moment later, the Compass glowed fleetingly. “There. Your box is stored securely in the Compass.”
“Thank you, Athena,” he said to her. “Maybe I should name the lynx,” Merlin decided suddenly. “She deserves a name.”
“What are your choices?”
Merlin bit his lip. He turned on the ignition and backed the car out of his mum’s driveway. Then he felt like he was getting a light bulb moment and he declared, “Just the one. Perijä. It means ‘heir’ in Finnish. That name just seems right to me. That has to be her name: Perijä.”
“I say it’s never bad to go with your instincts. Even if your instincts give you a random Finnish word. You don’t know any Finnish, do you?”
“No, just that word. And I figure that the name choice is probably the least strange thing that has happened to me lately,” Merlin mused.
“You’re jealous,” the Prince remarked with an amused smile.
From his seat across from Morgaine, the Prince reached out to grab a red apple from the fruit bowl on the table. He bit into the apple as he stared his half-sister down.
“I am not, Arthur,” Morgaine said, sounding affronted. She stroked her black mink pet, Lumottu, as she spoke. “It’s just that I’m your sister and your wife! And Nimueh is just a conniving, manipulative witch. Surely you must see that.”
“It’s half-sister. And I don’t like you speaking ill of Nimueh. She is my advisor and highly regarded by me no matter what you say. You may be family by blood, but we only became familiar with each other in the eleventh century. I’ve known Nimueh for much longer than that. She helped me to look after Gwydion all those centuries ago.”
“Perhaps she was trying to stay on your good side,” Morgaine said curtly.
The Prince took another bite of the apple. His black wolf, Achilles, was getting restless. His glowing golden eyes showed his displeasure at Morgaine’s contrariness.
“The point is, Morgaine, that Nimueh is capable of expressing motherly affection as she was one to Gwydion. You, my dear half-sister, don’t have a maternal bone in your body. You rather seduce men and then you kill some of them when you’re especially bored.”
“Only the not so handsome ones. And so what, that simply means Nimueh is a good actress. She’s tricking you.”
“Which leads me back to my belief that you’re jealous. You are seeing what you want to see, Morgaine. Unfortunately, your version of the truth is a lie. If it bothers you that I may trust Nimueh more than you, then it’s a fact you must accept,” he said firmly.
Achilles started growling. “Quiet now, Achilles,” the Prince cajoled him, petting him on the head. He tossed the rest of the apple to his wolf.
“That’s not right. You shouldn’t trust her more than me,” Morgaine declared.
“Well then, maybe you should defect to the other side,” the Prince advised flippantly. “Though King Merlin would sooner set the Big Bad Wolf on you than ever trust you. I still can’t believe that bloody King managed to gain his loyalty.”
“Isn’t that Bran who inspired the Wolf’s loyalty?”
“Whatever,” the Prince remarked with a careless wave of his hand. “I’m sure that the King was the one who put the boy up to it.”
“Well this talk has been pointless,” Morgaine announced, sounding annoyed. She stood up, placing Lumottu over her shoulder.
“Goodbye, Morgaine,” the Prince wished her in mock-cheerfulness.
She rolled her eyes at him and left the room.
The next weekend, Merlin went over to Gwen and Lancelot’s. Over the last few days, Arthur hadn’t been feeling well and he had been in a rather grumpy mood Merlin had to admit. Yet unfortunately Arthur wouldn’t tell him what had led him to such a strop. Merlin assumed it was something at work that was stressing Arthur out.
At any rate, Arthur had gone to spend time with his mates while Merlin decided to pay Gwen and Lancelot a visit. Gwen had called a few days earlier telling him that she had a favour to ask of him. She and Lancelot were going with their young daughter, Lily, to Disneyland Paris and she was hoping Merlin could house-sit while they were away. Merlin had agreed and had set up a time to visit so they could go over any necessary details.
“Uncle Merlin!” five-year old Lily exclaimed happily after Gwen allowed him into the house.
Lily hugged him, and Merlin couldn’t help but smile at her exuberance. She was wearing a golden ballgown, a Belle costume no doubt, complete with fairy wings at her back and a star-topped magic wand. She looked ready to go to Disneyland.
Gwen greeted Merlin warmly. Lancelot came down the stairs and when he reached Merlin, he clapped him on the back.
Merlin got a sudden vision when Lancelot greeted him. It was of Lancelot dressed as a knight with a silver wolf by his side. Merlin was next to Arthur as Lancelot handed him a sword in its sheath.
“This is Excalibur. You must be aware though that this sword is more than a weapon of battle, Prince Arthur.”
“I’m in exile with Merlin, Sir Lancelot. I’m not a prince any longer,” Arthur informed him grimly. He slowly removed the powerful sword from its sheath.
“But you will be King one day,” Merlin assured him confidently.
“Your sorcerer is right,” agreed Sir Lancelot.
He heard Lancelot call him back to reality. “Merlin? Merlin?”
“Oh, sorry. My mind drifted off there,” Merlin apologized sheepishly.
“You looked like you were in another world,” Gwen remarked.
Merlin rubbed his brow. “It has been a strange past few days,” he admitted. “But nevermind me. I’m fine,” he assured Gwen who was looking at him in concern.
He gave her as big of a smile as he could, which appeared to assure her somewhat.
Merlin turned his attention to Lily, smiling at her. “And how excited are you to go to Disneyland for the first time?” he asked her.
She grinned up at him, and then spread her arms wide. “This much!” she answered enthusiastically.
Lancelot said, chuckling, “Gwen has been having a hard time getting Lily out of her costume. Who are you looking forward to seeing most, sweetheart?” He asked Lily.
“Oh honey, don’t start,” Gwen said with shake of her head. Merlin saw the amusement in his friend’s eyes.
“Belle!” Lily said easily.
Merlin smiled. The gown had completely given her away. He took the little girl into his arms. “Now I don’t remember Belle having fairy wings and a magic wand.”
“I’m being creative,” Lily declared.
Then she was looking at Merlin’s blue eyes as if she were transfixed by them. She turned to face her father and she asked him, “Daddy, will Cinderella be there too?”
Merlin was so shocked that he almost dropped Lily. That couldn’t be a fluke. Then again, children tended to believe in things that adults didn’t. And if it was true, and he had inherited Cinderella’s blue eyes, then Lily must have seen that. How, he had no idea.
“Yes, she probably will be,” Lancelot said to her.
“I could put some magic into that funny-looking wand she has,” Athena suggested through their mental communication.
“Don’t you dare. That’s just asking for trouble,” Merlin shot back at her silently.
“I’m bored. I need to be used. Come on, there must be some magic you’d like to do,” Athena probed him.
“Later. I promise, Athena. We’ll do something later. After I leave here,” Merlin told her firmly.
Arthur returned early from a game of footy with his mates. He had claimed that he was just feeling under the weather, and only Leon – good old sees through everything Leon – gave him a suspicious look as if he had sensed that there something more going on with Arthur. More than Arthur was willing to confess to anyone, especially – no matter how wrong it felt – to Merlin.
When he got home, Cavall and Lux greeted him, albeit Lux half-heartedly since the little dog obviously loved Merlin more than him.
He let the dogs out, and then sunk down on to the couch. Then he was overcome by the sound of a woman weeping in despair.
A vision followed where he was witnessing a memory of his five-year old self, but Arthur was positive it wasn’t from this life. The clothing more suitable for a history museum gave that away. It was him, without a doubt, but they were memories that he’d previously been unaware of. He had a feeling it was related to that forgotten dream he had days ago.
He was deep in the forest, and a shower of rain swept through the wooded area. In a clearing a few feet away from where his younger self hid anxiously, there was a heartbreaking scene taking place. A woman – no it was a nymph he was certain of that – with long blonde hair was collapsed over a body and she was weeping inconsolably.
Three brown-haired nymphs remained near the tearful nymph in a show of support.
Arthur saw the five-year old him appear guilty, but Arthur wasn’t sure why. Although he did notice the purple finch who was on the shoulder of his younger self.
“Krola,” the five-year old whispered to the finch. “Will the rain ever stop?”
“I don’t know,” the finch answered.
Arthur was startled to realize that the finch had actually spoken, but it felt right to him. Somehow it made all the sense in the world that the little bird could talk, and that his younger self had a close bond with the bird.
“Hephaestion, my son. I can’t bear it!” the blonde nymph exclaimed in anguish, continuing to cry. She looked up at the sky then. “No, please not yet,” she said, speaking to someone Arthur couldn’t see.
“It’s my fault,” the five-year old him said quietly to the finch, Krola, apparently. “I shouldn’t have come.”
The dead man’s mother whispered something in her son’s ear. She brushed his hair aside affectionately and kissed him on his brow.
A moment later, the mother and her nymph companions stepped back. They watched as the man’s body glowed and was lifted up into the skies, the rain still falling like tears to the ground.
The companions embraced the grieving mother. Then they separated and each nymph moved into particular positions, it seemed, and each one raised a hand. The blonde nymph magically transformed into a big old oak tree while her three devoted companions turned into younger oak trees around her. That change signified that they were dryads.
And the rain still fell.
The five-year old Arthur walked away. The finch had turned into a small grey furball of a kitten and the younger Arthur carried her in his arms, stroking her to undoubtedly soothe his nerves.
The scene shifted to another day in the forest, Arthur thought. Although with the rain still falling, it was difficult to tell.
Now his five-year old self had a Norwegian Elkhound walking nervously beside him. That had to be Krola again. Why it made sense to him that Krola could change into different creatures, he wasn’t sure.
The younger him was carrying a single white rose over to the oak tree that the blonde nymph had transformed into.
Solemnly, he placed the white rose in front of the tree, the flower leaning against the tree’s bark. Then he bowed his head, and the puppy did too.
“I’m sorry,” the five-year old Arthur said.
“Thank you, child,” the voice of the dead man’s mother echoed around the immediate area. “But do not blame yourself for the sins of your father. Stay true and you will have a blessed future, young prince.”
The scene changed yet again. Arthur was in what looked like a medieval dining hall. He saw himself and Merlin in the big room. Krola as a white wolf was beside the other him while this past version of Merlin had a scarlet-gold phoenix perched on his shoulder.
Unfortunately this memory had the two of them arguing, and Arthur found it hard to watch.
“I should have known. You condemned my father to death, and that was only the beginning,” Merlin shot out angrily. “You couldn’t stop there. But instead with me, you condemned me to hell. It may have been a few days, but as they say, a fleeting time in hell can feel like an eternity to the victim. So thank you, Arthur, for that.”
The Arthur from memory visibly cringed at the accusations. “I was just a boy when your father passed away--”
“Murdered,” Merlin interrupted him sharply, his blue eyes glittering with anger. “I may have been able to look past it before. You were so young and so pathetically under your father’s thumb after all. But I don’t have room for forgiveness now.”
“Merlin, please… I have faith we can work this out. I’ll give you all the time you need. I understand you’re upset with me. You have every right to be.”
“For days, Arthur, I had my free will stripped away and my magic – no one has any right to control it but me.”
“I told you the reason for why I did what I did,” said the Arthur of memory tiredly.
“I don’t care,” Merlin raged. “You still did it. Yours was the face I saw as my world collapsed around me. You just stood there, a cold unfeeling thing, and so ready to destroy the bond we had built especially during our time in exile.”
“Merlin, please, I’m sorry for all I’ve done to divide us. My heart aches with the loss of the closeness we used to share. I don’t know what else to say,” Arthur’s former self admitted wearily.
“Then I will speak,” Merlin said. “I want Camelot to thrive as a magic-accepting kingdom just as much as you do. I will continue to do my best to insure that. I may have sworn my loyalty to you and to Camelot, but I don’t love you any longer. Not like before.”
“Merlin, no, you don’t mean that,” he pleaded with him.
“What we had before, it will never be like that again,” Merlin continued to emphasize his stance.
Before Arthur’s past self could respond, Merlin and his phoenix magically vanished from the room.
“You don’t mean that,” Arthur’s past self repeated softly, but he looked like he didn’t quite believe his words since he looked devastated.
Arthur was grateful when the memories ended and he woke up. He desperately hoped he could forget what he’d seen particularly that last memory where his relationship with Merlin had gone sour. He never wanted that to happen to him and the Merlin he knew. He couldn’t bear it.
Unfortunately, he still remembered all that he had witnessed. Maybe seeing these memories of some past life of his was a good thing. He had been short with Merlin these last few days. He knew Merlin wasn’t happy that Arthur had been so moody and hadn’t confided in him as to the reason why. These visions had to be the push to get Arthur to rectify the situation before it could result in a break up. And that would be terrible considering they were engaged. To be on the path to getting married and ruin all that? Arthur couldn’t risk it.
It was that blasted Prince of Darkness’ fault. He had set Arthur on edge with talking about killing a child of all people. Arthur didn’t see a boy having some mind control power being enough reason to throw away his own life and murder him.
Seeing that blonde dryad, the mother of the dead man, made Arthur surer than ever that he didn’t want the loved ones left behind to suffer in grief. It was an awful feeling and he couldn’t inflict that on anyone.
And really, the Prince was a hypocrite as he himself had used mind control on Arthur. He was certain of that. Common man, his arse. Arthur was onto him, no matter how powerful this Prince appeared to be. He hadn’t won this time. Arthur hadn’t any inclination to follow what the Prince wanted him to do. After all, he had only told him he ‘understood’ what he meant about Bran needing to be destroyed. Arthur hadn’t actually agreed to kill anyone.
Yet it was probably best to avoid any contact with the boy in question. If Arthur ever encountered him, that was. Who knew what the Prince would make him do if Arthur met this Bran.
Bran (March 2011 photo manip by reni_m)
Merlin was grateful when Arthur appeared to be in a better mood the following week. He still didn’t tell Merlin what had been bothering him in the first place, but then Merlin was keeping information from Arthur too. So really, they were both even.
And as James had informed him, Merlin would remember all the details of his past life. Judging by his visions sometimes involving Arthur, but clearly a past version of him, Merlin had to conclude that Arthur had past life memories to remember too. Arthur could be having memory flashes like him. Hopefully they would both fully remember their past lives at the same time and they could have a proper talk about them.
While he debated attempting to bring up the subject with Arthur, he never felt it was the right time. Athena advised him against it because well, Merlin was only getting bits and pieces of a past life and some of Gwydion’s life. His magic thought it’d be better if he continued to sort out these new revelations and acclimate himself to his new reality of multiple worlds and possessing magic. And then, when he and Arthur both remembered, both of them would know and they could finally discuss where to go from there.
Although there was the matter of the Prince of Darkness. Merlin didn’t trust the Prince at all not to make a mess of things. He felt a sense of foreboding thinking about the black-eyed Arthur from another world.
Fortunately, a welcome distraction came that weekend when shockingly, people moved into the infamous haunted house. Arthur was out walking the dogs while Merlin had stayed at home to do some graphic design work.
Merlin couldn’t help but be uneasy. After all, there was still the issue of the cursed tree in the backyard. He had to warn the new neighbors about it.
So he walked across the street to talk to them. He had to admit that he was curious as well to see who would move into such a house. Surely the new people had to have heard the stories about the house and why no one had lived in it for years?
A boy rushed out of the house before Merlin could cross the walkway up to the front door to ring the doorbell.
The boy stopped when he saw Merlin. Merlin was surprised that this eleven year old boy appeared to recognize him. But truly what was most startling about the boy was well, everything about him. Merlin was positive the boy of slim stature had to be albino. To describe him in one word: colourless.
Virtually only his clothing gave the boy any colour to his appearance. He was wearing a grey shirt with Captain America’s shield emblazoned on it and jeans shorts. But barring that dose of normal, the boy’s skin was so pale that it looked like it had been bleached. His hair was pure white defying the idea that only older people had white hair. His eyelashes were near invisible that they only served to make his tawny golden eyes even more striking. Merlin didn’t even know people could have eyes that colour.
Merlin felt a bit awkward to be caught staring at him. The boy had appeared to notice and put on a pair of dark sunglasses to hide his startling eyes from sight. With his eyes hidden behind the dark shades, the effect helped slightly in masking his overall strangeness.
Merlin went up to him. “Hi, I’m Merlin. I live across the street. I’m sorry for staring… it’s just--”
“Not everyone sees an albino everyday, I know. There’s no need to apologize. You’re not the first to stare. I’m Bran, by the way,” the boy introduced himself.
Merlin was struck by how mature the boy sounded. But when he told Merlin his name, the pieces fell into place. This couldn’t be a coincidence. The boy’s name was Bran… Gwydion’s friend.
“Wait. Are you Gwydion’s friend? You’ve been reincarnated, I’m assuming.”
Bran nodded. “You’ve been in contact with James?”
“Yes. You know him?”
“Well, by virtue of him being Gwydion’s father, yes I do. I’ve remembered my past life since I was five, six years ago now. You’re lucky you haven’t remembered yet. It’s better to remember when you’re older.”
“How do you know I haven’t remembered?”
“You would’ve recognized me if you’d remembered,” answered Bran logically. “But don’t worry. It’ll all make sense soon.”
“Where’s Gwydion then? James told me he was reincarnated too?”
Bran twisted his lips in amusement. “Actually, I was on my way to hunt Gwydion down. He ran off again. He does that. I’m sure I’ll find him.”
“You’re not telling me something.”
“I can’t tell you what’s happened to Gwydion because it’s better to see for yourself. Oh, and if you’re going to see Robin and Ophelia, then you should know they’ve been reincarnated too and remember their past lives. So if they act a bit…odd to you, then that’s why. They know who you are – the you in your past life at least.”
“Did you all move here because of me?”
“Most likely yes. You live with Arthur, right?”
“Yes. We’ve been engaged as of six months ago. What difference does that make?”
Bran shrugged, appearing like he had misspoken. “None… just, congratulations on your engagement.”
Merlin raised his brow at Bran. “Thank you. Look, the reason I came over was to warn you about this house being haunted. And the cursed tree in the backyard. A girl died falling from that tree. It’s probably best to get it cut down.”
“Thanks for the warning. The tree has been taken care of. No one else will die from it.”
“Good. Well, I don’t want to keep you from finding Gwydion. It was nice to meet you, Bran.”
“Thank you, and to you likewise. It’s good to see you’re doing well in your reincarnated life. I had a lot of respect for you in my past life,” he said frankly.
Then Bran gave him a small wave and went on his way.
Merlin stood there. He wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to meet this Robin and Ophelia. He had accomplished what he had come here for: to warn about the cursed tree. And that led him to meeting this Bran who he had only heard about. Simply put, he had gained more than he had planned on. He was especially curious what Gwydion was like in this life.
He couldn’t help recall that dream about Gwydion, when that woman – Morgaine – brought up Gwydion possibly being reincarnated as something other than a human being. But as to what, Merlin could only guess. Had to be some sort of creature, right?
The door opened yet again before Merlin could ring the doorbell.
An older blond man with light blue eyes had opened it. “Oh, you must be Merlin. I’m Robin. Robin Lancaster.”
Merlin guessed that the man was probably in his mid-thirties, seven years older than him.
“Yes. I talked to Bran. He told me about you and Ophelia. That you knew me in my past life, the life I haven’t remembered yet. So maybe it’d be best if I come back when I remember. I suspect it’s a hassle to talk to someone who doesn’t have all his memories.”
“No, honestly, it’s not a problem. Come in,” Robin invited him in. Merlin couldn’t say no, so he walked into the house. What was the harm? And if Robin was okay with Merlin not being fully aware of things, then all the better. “My sister, Alice, well, twin sister knew you much better than me. She met you way long before I met you. She was quite fond of you, in a role model type of way. I remember how she really liked the little red dragon carving you gave her.”
“Oh okay. Thanks I guess. Is she--?” Merlin began to ask. He wondered if Alice had been reincarnated too, and if she had, then she appeared to live elsewhere
“Alice died six years ago, I’m sad to say,” said a woman’s voice from the top of the stairs. “I’m Ophelia. Nice to meet you,” she said to him as she came down the stairs.
Upon seeing Ophelia who looked to be in her teens – sixteen years old maybe –, Merlin could only assume she was Bran’s cousin or related to him in some way. She had the same pale skin and snow-white hair, though her eyes were a pale green shade and not as striking as Bran’s tawny eyes. Overall, she gave off an ethereal look as if she wasn’t of this world. She was wearing a turquoise summer dress with straps, and a necklace with a white raven pendant was around her neck.
“I’m sorry to hear she’s gone. Can I ask how Alice died?”
“Car accident,” Robin informed him shortly, obviously not much for discussing his twin’s death. “Alice had been interested in seeing you in this life, but it was tricky with you not remembering yet. And she and I were busy raising Ophelia and Bran. They kept our hands full.”
“Hey,” Ophelia protested, though she didn’t look serious about it. She shook hands with Merlin. “Don’t listen to a word Robin says,” she said conspiratorially to Merlin. “Poor man is in complete denial about getting a grey hair the other day.”
“You made that up, Ophelia,” Robin said firmly. “There was nothing there.”
“I made you look. I win,” she shot back at him, teasing him. She grinned.
“I guess this is what Bran meant about you two acting a little oddly,” Merlin put in, somewhat bemused by the interaction between the two of them. There had to be nearly a twenty year difference between Robin and Ophelia and yet they seemed to act like an old married couple, honestly. Or close friends who had known each other for years, which conceivably they probably did if their past lives were taken into account.
“Bran has a point,” Robin confessed. “But don’t worry. Ophelia behaves in public.”
“Oh you didn’t just go there.”
“Alice called you a little devil, didn’t she?”
“I thought it was a nice term of endearment,” countered Ophelia smartly.
“Where did all of you live before coming here?” Merlin wondered.
“Rosebrooke Castle,” Robin said smoothly. “The castle is still our main residence – well, mine actually since I inherited it from my mother. I don’t know how long we’ll stay here, but hopefully we’ll make some money when we sell this house.”
“What do you do for living, Robin?” Merlin asked him.
“I have an unconventional job, let’s say,” said Robin. “It’s not a 9 to 5 job. I collect important items that can be a bit tricky to get. I do get paid something for every item I get. It’s good work. At least it gives me something meaningful to do. These items…well, we all have things that we consider valuable to us even if maybe they don’t appear valuable to others. My job is to make sure the items go where they are most needed.”
“Sort of like a treasure hunter?” Merlin tried to deduce.
“Except without the ‘X marks the spot’ treasure maps,” Ophelia contributed.
“Something like that,” Robin agreed.
“Bran told me that you lot were here because of me and Arthur? Is that right?”
“Yes,” Robin acknowledged. “Sorry. The financial investment is more of our cover story. But yeah, we thought it’d be nice to be here when you two remembered. Ophelia actually had a little adventure with your Arthur back in her past life.”
“You did?” Merlin asked in surprise. He hadn’t been expecting that.
“Oh yes,” Ophelia confirmed. “I guess you can say Arthur and I became friends after it. I was a bit of an adventure-seeker in my past life. Now as well, I suppose.”
“I can vouch for that,” Robin said. “Why don’t we sit down? Are you hungry?” He asked Merlin.
Merlin had to admit he was feeling a little hungry. “Yes.”
The three of them entered the kitchen.
“I’ll get something together,” Robin said.
“I’m sure you’re curious about our past lives.”
“Did you two have a big age difference then too?” Merlin asked.
He and Ophelia sat down across from one another.
“Not as much as it is now,” Robin informed him as he prepared some sandwiches. “This new life of ours is a switcharound for us. I was nine years younger than Ophelia when I first met her. Ophelia likes to tease me, as you saw, because now I’m the older one. It goes to show how maddening reincarnation can be. Bran was four years older than me in my past life, and now I have to act as his parent. Fortunately since he has his past memories, he doesn’t require much disciplining.”
“I of course don’t have issues with the arrangement because Bran’s my cousin – in this life and the previous one,” said Ophelia. “I was always older than him. I’m used to putting my foot down. Not that Bran is a troublemaker.”
“That’s more you,” Robin teased her.
“Arthur and I lucked out then since we’re both around the same age.”
“Very lucky,” Ophelia emphasized. “Robin and I were married in our past lives. It’s never easy to adapt to a situation like this topsy-turvy one.”
Merlin could see the reason for that. After all, it was generally frowned upon for a sixteen year old girl and a man two decades older than her to be together. He could imagine Ophelia was just waiting to get older to make their relationship work.
“You two haven’t--? You know,” Merlin couldn’t believe he had just asked that. It was none of his business even if these people apparently knew him and Arthur too. The whole thing felt awkward to him. It shouldn’t matter to him if Robin and Ophelia had slept together – considering their peculiar situation, the rules got complicated.
Robin answered him as he set the sandwiches down on the kitchen table. “No, we haven’t. I won’t allow it. Not yet at least.”
Ophelia only sighed resignedly, not bothering to give her own answer. But her expression spoke volumes.
Chapter 2: Merlin Remembers
In the park, Bran’s attention was diverted to a brunette girl a little older than him. Maybe thirteen?
There was undeniably something about this girl. She was sitting on a picnic blanket reading a book. Nearby, a bag nearby spilled out a few more books and a small bowl full of strawberries was opposite it. A vase of red, yellow and lavender roses was stationed on the blanket; which was especially peculiar because what thirteen year old did that?
This world often felt like night and day to the world of his past life, the World of Magic. He remembered how everything just felt so alive, how the trees sang with life, and how when you listened closely enough, the nymphs played their lilting melodies as an ode to magic. Even now, the World of Magic was still like that despite the passing of time, change of fashions and advancement of magic-imbued technologies.
When he’d remembered and reunited with Gwydion, gaining his Raven Knife in the process, Bran had initially yearned to return to the World of Magic. He’d wanted to leave the dull world that he had been reborn into.
Now he recognized that it had been an impulsive decision brought on by the shock of remembering a past life where he’d lived to an old age. To be only five and remember all that was so painfully traumatizing. It didn’t help that Alice died in the car accident not long after Bran had remembered.
While Alice had been younger than him and Gwydion in their past lives, she had been a close friend of theirs. Gwydion had even married her.
During that traumatic time, Bran with Gwydion had run away to the World of Magic. They had managed it for a few weeks with Gwydion’s eighteen year old half-sister, Eilonwy, helping them out. But then Bran had grown guilty for leaving Robin and Ophelia. He knew that running away had been the wrong thing to do.
When they’d returned home, Robin and Ophelia had been grateful and relieved to see them return. Then, as expected, Robin had promptly taken away the Raven Knife and grounded Bran for half a year of no traveling to other worlds. Ophelia probably would’ve exacted a more severe punishment, but she hadn’t remembered until the following year. Bran had respected Robin’s decision.
He may remember being an adult, and he could act like one, but his body was small and there were things he couldn’t do and dangers that he couldn’t ignore. Not to mention he didn’t possess the full amount of magic that he had had in his past life. The only real magical abilities he had now were associated with being the Raven Knife’s wielder and that stupid mind control power.
Sure, he had Gwydion by his side who still had as much magic as he’d possessed in his past life. Gwydion was just as powerful magically as he’d always been. But Bran had realized, rationally, that he couldn’t continue to live in the World of Magic.
If there were people like this girl who seemed to be magical in a way, then there had to be more to this dull world than first impressions would give him. Despite this world not being on par with the magic levels of the World of Magic, it was not a world beyond hope.
“Hullo,” he introduced himself to the intriguing girl. “Sorry to interrupt you. I’m Bran.”
The brown-haired girl looked up at him, replacing a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Oh hi. I’m Mithian,” she said, standing up.
She had a distinctly French accent. If that wasn’t another sign then Bran didn’t know what was.
“Are you from France?” he asked her.
Mithian nodded. “My family and I moved here last summer actually.”
“I just moved here with my godfather and cousin the other day. You know this area much better than I do, I’m sure.”
“Oh well yes. I guess,” she said with a shrug. Then Mithian bit her lip and looked down at the book she’d been reading. Bran could see that she seemed a bit uneasy at looking at him. “Are you – do you not go outside a lot? You just look so pale…um…,” she paused.
Bran could tell she was uncertain on how to bring up his strange appearance as politely as possible.
Here we go again, Bran thought.
“It’s just a genetic condition. That’s why I look how I look. I might burn more easily in the sun, but I can still live a normal life,” he told her.
Then he thought to himself that really, his life was far from normal by traditional standards.
Mithian appeared pensive. “Oh, I’m sure I read this in an encyclopedia one time…is it albinism?”
“Yes. But don’t worry it’s not contagious,” Bran joked lightly.
“I would never think that. Oh!” she exclaimed hurriedly. “I’m sorry if I said something offensive…”
“You didn’t. Really. Don’t worry about it,” Bran assured her. “I came here to look for my wayward bluebird. Have you seen him, Mithian?”
She smiled. “Well, there was a sweet little bluebird who approached me. I gave him a bug to eat and then he sang a little tune. He had the loveliest sky blue colouring. He flew up that big tree over there,” Mithian pointed to the tree up ahead to her right.
“That sounds like Gwydion. The flirt,” Bran informed her, grinning.
Mithian giggled. “Sorry to hear he flew off on you. Does he do that often?”
“No, he was just so excited to explore the new area that he couldn’t wait for me.”
“Why don’t you keep him in a cage?” Mithian wondered.
“Gwydion really doesn’t like that,” Bran explained. “But it’s all right. We make it work. He’s good about returning home.”
Of course he wouldn’t say that Gwydion could just magick himself out of a cage rendering the enclosure useless. And then Gwydion’d be all annoyed with him for caging him up. No, Gwydion was far from a typical bluebird.
“Good luck with getting him,” Mithian wished him.
“Thanks. I’ll be back,” he said before he headed off in the direction she had pointed out to him.
Merlin returned back home after the lunch with Robin and Ophelia.
He sat down at his desk in the study. After spending time with people who knew more about his past life than he did at the present distracted him from doing his work. It was all so jarring and well, Merlin felt frankly impatient to just remember this past life of his.
“Athena?” He asked her. “Could you bring out Perijä?”
Athena did just that and brought the lynx out of the Diamantine Compass.
“I think she was missing you,” remarked Athena.
Merlin smiled softly at the little lynx. He stroked the animal’s fur with one finger. “What’s the story behind you, I wonder? Why did my father leave you for me?”
He was taken aback by a flash of memory unraveling before him in his mind.
Merlin saw his father from his past life with Perijä – looking like a normal-sized lynx -- beside him. And then he saw himself at four years of age. He couldn’t help but marvel that he could actually remember something from that young age. But he didn’t mind at all considering he got to see the father he never knew in this life. He would take what he could get.
A fawn with shaky legs was beside his younger self. “Look, Father, Zlota’s a fawn for the first time,” his four-year old self said enthusiastically.
His father’s lynx nosed the fawn to help the smaller creature with her balance. Yet Zlota, as the fawn’s name was, still lost her footing and fell to the forest ground, her long legs splayed out.
“And how is it as a fawn, Zlota?” His father asked the fawn as if he expected her to speak.
Merlin felt that he shouldn’t have been surprised when the fawn did actually speak. Not to mention that he felt the presence of a strong bond between the fawn and him.
“It’s not for me,” Zlota said promptly, working on standing up again.
His younger self sat down beside Zlota and helped her out. Afterwards, he kissed his fawn on the forehead affectionately.
“It’s easy to see that Zlota will be some type of bird,” Perijä said self-assuredly.
“Yes, yes, you always say that, Perijä,” his father addressed the lynx with a wry shake of the head.
Then the memory faded away leaving Merlin more puzzled and yearning for more moments, more visions of his father.
Also, there was the matter of talking animals and the fawn he felt was especially close to him. Now he realized that in those other memories of his past life, Zlota had to have been there too. Even though he hadn’t seen her in those other visions, Merlin was convinced that her presence had still been a part of him. It was only now, in this flash of memory that he got to see Zlota come to life before his eyes, become a real entity.
What if Zlota was that scarlet-gold phoenix he had been seeing throughout his life? Maybe his anxiety attacks had wanted him to realize he was missing her, Zlota the phoenix. His father’s lynx had hinted at Zlota becoming some kind of bird. That had to be a clue that the phoenix and Zlota were one. Somehow.
Merlin knew he was missing a key detail. Although querying the Compass was tempting, he had enough new things to digest like what he’d learned about Alice, Robin’s twin sister. A person he had known in a past life had already long since died. It was almost painful to learn she was gone. After he remembered, he would never get the chance to talk to her and reminisce as it were about their past lives.
It was simply best to wait until he’d naturally remember on his own.
Merlin looked to the lynx sitting in his hand. “So you could talk at one point, right? Can you talk now?” He wondered thoughtfully.
The lynx stood up and she nuzzled herself against Merlin’s thumb. Merlin took that as a no.
“I guess you had a bond with my father. That’s why he left you for me. In some way, it’s like you’re here to look out for me when he can’t. But you’re so small,” Merlin said.
Athena spoke up then. “Actually, she has a lot of compressed magic inside of her. It’s rather impressive that your father made her when he was so ill. Maybe she can’t speak because the magic is meant for something else. Though I do think the lynx could’ve had the ability to speak if your father had engineered her that way. Don’t underestimate her. That’s all I can say.”
Merlin looked thoughtfully at the lynx. When he heard Arthur call his name, having returned with the dogs, Merlin put the lynx – after a little kiss to her forehead – back into the Compass for safekeeping.
He then left the study to see Arthur.
Bran looked up at the tree. “Mind helping me out, Gwydion?” he asked the bird silently.
“Okay. Hold on,” Gwydion said.
Gwydion sounded the same as he did when Bran first met him in their past lives. Their first meeting had taken place when they were just children. Gwydion had been ten while Bran had been eleven.
And now in this life, everything seemed to come full circle as Bran was again eleven, and Gwydion sounded like a ten-year old boy even though he looked far from a boy in this life. Not that Gwydion minded all that much as he had a fascination in dealing with new situations and disliked the hum-drum of repetitive tasks.
It was the opposite of Bran who had thrived in his past life as a nobleman’s son in the time of King Merlin’s Camelot. He had trained as a warrior using magic and weaponry. He found the regimented day comforting and right. His family had been a part of the warrior faction of the White Diamond Clan. As his family’s heir, he’d strived to always do his best and make his parents proud.
He had had three younger sisters to be a role model to. He’d made sure he set a good example for them. His next eldest sister, Arya, had always joked that Bran was too mature to be real. He remembered the many times he had trained with her, Arya always ambitious and determined to defeat her older brother. And there were even a few times that she had.
Bran saw grooves appear on the tree, so he could have footholds as he climbed up the trunk of it. He was high up in the tree before he spotted Gwydion. Bran grabbed a thick branch and held on to it, then boosted himself to sit on the branch. Years of his past life climbing trees in medieval forests certainly helped. The muscle memory was still there. Yet Bran really would rather not peer down to see how high up he was. He wasn’t afraid of heights – to have that fear had been considered a weakness in his past life and he had done his best to bottle it and overcome the fear.
Even so, he knew it wouldn’t be any help to test this “not being afraid of heights” developed skill.
At Bran’s eye level, Gwydion was perched on a little branch he probably conjured himself.
“What took you so long?” Gwydion spoke into Bran’s mind.
The rest of their conversation took place through their mind-to-mind communication.
Bran looked at him. “No wings,” he quipped back. He stroked Gwydion’s back gently with only two of his fingers. Gwydion only fidgeted a little bit. Bran knew that Gwydion didn’t want to admit he enjoyed it. The protests were usually half-hearted at best. “I heard you sang to that girl, Mithian.”
“I did not,” Gwydion protested.
“Gwydion…” Bran started.
“Well I didn’t want to freak her out if I started speaking in English. The only option was in my bird voice.”
“She thought you were sweet. I told her you were being a flirt.”
In his mind’s eye, Bran could imagine Gwydion sticking out his tongue as if he were human. “I was only being polite. I wanted to thank her for giving me a bug. I like to eat bugs,” Gwydion said plainly.
“The mysterious eating habits of bluebirds. It leaves me riveted,” Bran teased, smiling. “So Mithian is Belle’s incarnation, right? Somehow reborn into this world.”
Gwydion didn’t answer him. Instead he just fluttered his wings as if he was intentionally being stubborn about not giving a reply.
“Honestly, Gwydion. You’re the fairytale expert. After all, you were reborn into the Fairytale World and you were friends with Sleeping Beauty’s descendant. I guess it’s unsurprising that her name’s Aurora too. Royalty does like to recycle names,” he mused. “A lot of little girls in this world would be awfully envious of you. I myself thought Princess Aurora was pretty cool, though it was unexpected that she’s more of a tomboy,” Bran remarked, remembering two years back when he and Gwydion had gone to the Fairytale World.
“All right, okay. But it’s not like you need my confirmation,” he noted. “Mithian is definitely an incarnation of Belle. She had to have been born in the Fairytale World in her past life. And maybe one day, she’ll remember that. For now, it might be better if she doesn’t. She could be tempted to return to her old world. I wouldn’t blame her. It’s not like this world can compete with the Fairytale World especially to a fairytale character.”
“Hmmm…that brings me to Merlin, one of our new neighbors…”
“I wonder how he’s taking being Cinderella’s grandson and Snow White’s great grandson.”
“Not to mention he’s also your cousin and another world’s version of you, Gwydion. Couldn’t you have waited so you could speak to him? I didn’t tell him what you’d been reborn as, but I’m sure he suspects you’re not human now. I’d imagine he’d be surprised to see you as a bluebird.”
“I look quite normal though. I don’t see what there is to be surprised about,” said Gwydion.
Bran raised his brow at him. “You’re hilarious,” he said dryly.
“I try to be,” replied Gwydion and he moved to perch on Bran’s finger, his little talons curled around his finger. Bran held up the hand Gwydion was perched on before his face. “While we’re discussing Merlin, I found out that my bluebird parents--”
“Mr. Bluebird and Mrs. Bluebird, may they rest in peace,” Bran couldn’t help but say. Maybe being so high up in this tree was making him feel lightheaded and a bit silly. Trust Gwydion to always bring out the best in him.
“Well maybe not the rest in peace part so much. But this is good news though. They were reborn into this world as Merlin falcons a few years ago, and one of their offspring, a female, was recently adopted by Merlin’s mother.”
“Seriously? It really is a small world after all. Did James tell you about that?”
“Yes,” said Gwydion. “I guess it was some sort of ‘reward’ to be reborn as bigger, slightly more fearsome birds.”
“You’re plenty fearsome as a bluebird, Gwydion,” Bran pointed out to him.
Gwydion was about to respond when the big branch Bran was sitting on began to shake. Yet there was no strong wind that would merit such a strong shake. Gwydion left Bran’s finger and flew a little ways down as his sight was obstructed by the leafy foliage.
“What is it?” Bran asked of Gwydion.
“Morgaine! Damnit,” Gwydion declared, flying back up to Bran. “She knows you’re at this tree somehow. She’s here to kill you on the Prince’s bloody orders, I bet.”
“Can you do something?” Bran asked. The branch shook more violently than before and Bran shifted over closer to the tree trunk.
Gwydion used his magic to push back Morgaine’s magic. But it was hard going as both parties were just as determined to make their spells effective: one to protect Bran competing with the other to get him to fall from the tree.
“I could magically send you back to ground,” Gwydion suggested as his spell just managed to overpower Morgaine’s. The branch still shook, but it was like a table shaking yet the disturbance wasn’t strong enough to make an object fall from the table.
“Then she’ll just chase us by ground. We need a definitive solution,” he declared as he sat with his back against the trunk of the tree. “We need to make her leave at least this time around.”
“What about your mind control ability?” Gwydion brought up, a touch of trepidation in his voice. Bran knew that Gwydion was well aware about Bran’s opinion about that power. “I know it works by eye contact, but maybe it works without that too,” he suggested.
“That’s not an option,” answered Bran curtly.
“But just to compel Morgaine to leave,” Gwydion couldn’t help but push his point.
“No means no,” Bran said in return, not budging an inch.
“Nevermind. It was a dumb idea. Sorry,” Gwydion said quickly.
“No, it’s okay. It’s forgotten,” Bran assured him.
Then the branch began to shake even more viciously than before. It left Bran clinging for his life by one hand onto a branch that was becoming detached from the trunk.
Gwydion conjured a golden arm and hand, the arm attached to the trunk, and he grabbed Bran’s hand to keep him from falling. He nervously stood on the conjured arm, and monitoring to insure the hold on Bran was keeping steady.
Bran sighed. His fingers felt sweaty from the stress of keeping grip and he just felt heavy and tired. Something had to give. “I think I’d just better fall. I could do more on solid ground…if you could--”
“Yes of course I will,” Gwydion said promptly, understanding that Bran wanted him to guide his fall and make sure he didn’t injure himself.
Bran purposefully let go and fell from the tree. He felt his descent slow as Gwydion’s magic slowed him down so he wasn’t rushing up to meet the earth in an unpleasant way.
He landed on an adequately sized pile of hay. The troublesome branch fell a few feet away from him with a loud thud. “Really, Gwydion? Hay?” He asked to himself with a shake of his head. At least the hay felt soft.
Gwydion flew down to him as Bran sat up.
“How are you?” Gwydion asked.
“As well as I’m going to be landing in hay,” Bran answered with a shrug. “I don’t see Morgaine around. Maybe she left.”
“Yeah. It’s lucky I got rid of that cursed tree in our backyard,” Gwydion said with relish.
“I could even feel the dark magic coming off of it. There was no way I would have dared to climb that tree,” Bran said.
Then he saw Mithian approaching him. “Are you all right?” she asked as she neared Bran. “There was this creepy woman…I thought she was a witch or something because she gave off that impression. When I told her to go away, she did to my surprise. She ended up muttering something under her breath.”
“I’m fine. You didn’t tell her where I was, by any chance?”
“No. She didn’t even ask me about you. She looked annoyed. I’m not sure if it was because of my presence or what.”
Gwydion then told Bran silently. “What if Mithian sent Morgaine away?”
“And how’s that?”
“I’m pretty sure Morgaine can’t stand to be around reincarnated fairytale characters or just fairytale characters in general,” Gwydion confided in him. “They bother her. The ‘good ones’ that is.”
“That’s one weak point we can exploit,” Bran decided.
“Thanks, Mithian,” Bran spoke to her. “You’re right. She was bad news. Hopefully she won’t be coming around here again.”
“I hope not,” she said. She sat down beside him. “Oh, you found your bluebird. How nice,” Mithian enthused.
Gwydion flew to perch on her knee. Mithian stroked his feathery back.
“Watch it, Gwydion. She just may steal you away,” Bran joked in his mind to him.
“Haha,” said Gwydion dryly.
Mithian looked at him thoughtfully. “Why do you wear those dark sunglasses?” she asked curiously.
“To protect my eyes from the sun. My eyes are a very light colour leaving them sensitive to bright light.”
“Can I see them?”
“Okay,” Bran said quietly, trying to sound nonchalant about it. But truthfully, it was his eyes that made everyone gape without fail. With his eyes hidden by the sunglasses, he had the chance of blending in somewhat, but without them, it was a lost cause.
Not that he minded his strange appearance too much. In his past life, it had been easier of course since his family and the majority of the White Diamond Clan had similar pale colouring. It was a big part of their identity. Undoubtedly, it was a sharp contrast to how it was in this life where Bran felt like a minority, always standing out. He was grateful that he had Ophelia who sympathized contending with a startling appearance.
He took off his dark shades. He looked directly at her.
Gwydion couldn’t help but give his input to Bran. “Honestly I don’t see what the fuss is about.”
“Oh, I see what you mean,” Mithian remarked tentatively. Bran wasn’t sure what to make of her reaction.
Yet wait, was she blushing?
“I could put my glasses back on,” Bran offered for lack of anything better to say.
“No oh no. It’s perfectly fine. It’s just – you have a bit of hay in your hair,” she told him. She reached out to remove the piece of hay from his white hair.
And yes, Bran didn’t miss it now. She was blushing.
Mithian gave him a small smile.
“Should I sing?” Gwydion asked Bran rather cheekily. He had moved to perch on Bran’s shoulder, his usual spot, by then.
“It’s not necessary,” said Bran silently to him.
“I think it is,” Gwydion shot back at him stubbornly.
And Gwydion sang in his bird voice.
“Your bluebird is such a sweetheart,” Mithian commented.
“That’s one word to describe him,” Bran said dryly.
But when she smiled brightly at him, then he found that he didn’t mind Gwydion’s decision to sing.
Because of course his life couldn’t get any stranger now. Arthur had been overcome with another vision just as he was returning from walking Cavall and Lux. The intriguing thing about this vision is that he was sure it couldn’t have been a memory from his past life.
It felt like it could be from a future life, the life he could have after this one. He had looked a few years younger in this vision, so it definitely didn’t have anything to do with his future in his current life.
He was on a flying brown horse with golden brown wings. At least a dozen men were after him on flying steeds of their own.
“He must be stopped!” One of the pursuing men shouted. “You know Queen Morgaine’s orders. He must not meet that woman!”
“She’s no woman. She’s a mermaid!” exclaimed another man.
Some men laughed at that.
Appearing to ignore them all, Arthur said to his steed, “We have to find this Merlin. He’ll help. He has to, Krola.”
Then a deep voice sounded out over the skies, like an intercom had turned on somewhere.
“Attention, fliers, another world has collapsed. Mind the cracks.”
Arthur veered to avoid a crack just being formed. He saw the sea up ahead.
He prodded his steed to go faster, to lose their assailants.
And then the vision was over leaving Arthur confused. Although admittedly, he found the experience of flying on a winged horse thrilling. He wouldn’t mind at all doing that despite the circumstances of the flight involving him outracing adversaries. Whether they had planned to capture him or kill him, Arthur didn’t know, but he was glad he didn’t find out his possibly grim fate in the vision.
Back home, Arthur let the dogs loose in the house. He announced he was home, and Lux jumped on Merlin eagerly once he emerged from the study.
“Hey,” Merlin greeted him. He lifted Lux off the floor and carried the dog in his arms.
“Hey you too. We have new neighbors across the street? Just saw a car in the driveway. I didn’t see any of them.”
“Oh yeah. I went over to meet them. Family of three: a godfather and his two godchildren.”
“Sounds nice,” said Arthur distractedly. His mind still half on the vision he had seen not long ago.
“Yeah, they’re all right. Not at all deterred by the house being notoriously haunted,” Merlin said.
He lightly punched Arthur in the shoulder to get him to pay attention and get his drifting mind focused. To that effect, Arthur did his best to look like he was listening.
Merlin continued, “Robin’s the godfather. He’s in his thirties. Then there’s Ophelia who’s sixteen and Bran who’s eleven.”
Arthur was sure he paled at the mention of Bran despite not being able to see himself in a mirror. The Prince probably had been aware that this family was going to move near Arthur and Merlin. Arthur had to do his utmost to avoid the boy.
Merlin looked at him oddly. “Is there anything wrong, Arthur?” He asked as he adjusted Lux in his arms.
Arthur shook his head. “No, no. Nothing’s wrong,” he reassured.
He regretted speaking so quickly. Talking fast was a surefire indicator that he was lying.
And Merlin knew that. “Something’s unsettled you. Do you know any of the new neighbors now that I’ve told you their names?”
“No I don’t.”
Except for some self-entitled man calling himself the Prince of Darkness wanting Arthur to kill a boy named Bran, then no, he didn’t know them.
Well he had to admit the name Ophelia sounded vaguely familiar. Maybe she was someone from his past life. All he could recall is that he had been a bit overwhelmed by her presence. But Arthur couldn’t remember what exactly he did with this woman named Ophelia. Or if even the woman across the street was that same person from his past life. Maybe seeing her face to face would help.
“Merlin, do you – would you ever believe in the existence of mermaids? That they’re actually real?” Arthur asked him tentatively.
Merlin raised his questioning brow at him. “Why have you been thinking about mermaids?”
“Just please. Answer the question,” Arthur pleaded of him. His vision made little sense, and he wouldn’t know where to begin in explaining it to Merlin.
Merlin set Lux down on the ground. Undoubtedly the small dog went off to be with Cavall. “Well I’ve never personally seen a real mermaid, but that doesn’t mean they’re not real,” he said decisively.
He believed that Merlin was telling him the truth, that he wasn’t simply humouring Arthur.
“Thank you. I knew I could count on you to not look at me like I’ve lost it.”
Merlin gave him a small smile. “Of course not. I wouldn’t ever think that. With Cavall’s transformation and my seeing that scarlet-gold phoenix, we’re both on the same page with witnessing strange things. After all that, maybe mermaids do honestly exist.”
“Cavall...” Arthur uttered.
That had to be Krola, the white wolf always by his side in those memories and visions he’d been having. And sometimes, she had taken on a different form, had turned into a different animal like Cavall had been changing from a Norwegian Elkhound to a white wolf.
“Arthur, are you really all right?” Merlin asked him in deep concern.
Arthur nodded. “Yes. I’m good. Better than good. I know you were working on something. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“I’m thinking of going to Lancelot and Gwen’s. Since they’re on holiday with Lily, I might as well do my duty and house-sit. And with luck, I can get some work stuff done,” Merlin said hopefully.
“All right. I hope you do,” Arthur told him.
Merlin smiled at him and he kissed Arthur.
After Merlin had left, Arthur was swept up in another vision of the future. This time he figured it was of the future because it was just as peculiar as the last vision. At least this time no one mentioned mermaids.
He saw a dark-haired woman looking quite ill-tempered as she spoke to her advisors, Arthur assumed. She was addressed as Queen Morgaine. It had to be the same Queen Morgaine brought up in his earlier vision.
“Whoever holds that blasted child holds the hope of all the worlds,” said Queen Morgaine in obvious frustration. “I want that baby killed.”
“Queen Morgaine, there has been an incident,” one of her advisors said. He was a nervous looking man who seemed to be terrified of her.
“What is it?”
“Your Highness, I regret to inform you that --” yet the man couldn’t finish. Morgaine glaring daggers at him probably had something to do with it. Maybe he feared being killed by her himself.
“My Queen, what Gerald wishes to say is that the Princess Rapunzel is absent from the tower you imprisoned her in.”
“WHAT?!” Morgaine exclaimed angrily. “Do you know how valuable her hair is? How could you let her ESCAPE?”
All her advisors looked like they desperately wanted to be somewhere else at that moment.
Then the scene changed and Arthur saw a young woman with impossibly long blonde hair running away into the forest. She looked like she was carrying a precious bundle in her arms. Arthur concluded that the bundle had to be the baby Queen Morgaine had been so stirred up about. Looking up, Arthur noticed cracks spread out across the sky, similar to the sky he had witnessed in the previous vision. Yet this sky held fewer big cracks in it.
The scene faded away. Arthur decided that this future life of his was quite a strange one. It had appeared that some sort of end of the world or worlds as it were apocalyptic scenario was occurring. Yet there was this baby who had been deemed the hope of stopping the apocalypse.
Arthur wondered what the mermaid had to do with all this. His pursuers had mentioned her for a reason after all. He admittedly was bothered that this clearly unpleasant Queen was named Morgaine, which was similar to his dead sister Morgana’s name. Arthur took comfort in the fact that they physically didn’t look alike.
“I have a friend who’s coming over,” Bran announced to Robin and Ophelia.
They were in the living room. Robin was checking his mobile for messages from Charlie, most likely, and Ophelia had her legs across his lap, her feet bare. She was perusing some fashion magazine.
One thing about having a ridiculously magically powerful bird was that he speeded up the organisation process for their move. They still had some of their belongings back at Rosebrooke Castle, but the things they really needed were here at least.
Ophelia looked up. “Oh a friend? Already?”
Robin looked up too, clearly interested.
And then Gwydion, the traitor, couldn’t help but divulge, “The friend’s a girl.”
Ophelia smiled almost wickedly. “Oh my goodness, a girlfriend! Bran has a girlfriend!”
“It feels like just yesterday you were just a baby, drooling on my shirt,” Robin unhelpfully contributed. He looked just as gleeful as Ophelia.
“She’s not a girlfriend. She’s just – Her name is Mithian. I was being nice and invited her to come over.”
“Well you know what that means,” Robin said ominously. “Parental supervision.”
“As long as the supervision doesn’t involve talking too much about me.”
“Robin would never do that,” Ophelia said.
“Maybe yes, but you would, Ophelia.”
“Well I’m not your parent, so I think I can say whatever I like.”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” said Bran with a resigned sigh.
“Bran, you haven’t told them the best part,” Gwydion reminded him. He poked Bran’s neck with his beak to gain his attention.
“Mithian’s an incarnation of Belle…the one born into the Fairytale World in her previous life.”
“Is she really?” Ophelia asked in astonishment. “What is she like?”
“Mithian’s all right. She’s from France and she likes to read. Gwydion says her magic signature is distinctive and --”
“Everyone in this world is rather blind not to see it,” declared Gwydion magnanimously.
“Not everyone is as clever as you,” Robin shot back lightly.
All of them laughed. Bran kissed Gwydion on his little blue head.
Sometimes Gwydion couldn’t stop himself and be all smug like he knew everything. And really, yes, he did know a lot of things, but certainly the first word Bran wouldn’t use to describe Gwydion was ‘humble.’ Yet as a bluebird now, Gwydion looked so sweet that it was difficult to despair of his faults for long.
“Did Charlie message you with anything interesting?” Gwydion asked after the laughter had subsided.
“Yeah, it’s a potential lead on the location of one of the Excaliburs. You know the one used by the Arthur originally born into this world long ago. His Merlin did a damn good job of hiding it. And while that’s good for the weapon not falling into the wrong hands, it’s bad for us because we can’t find it either. King Merlin doesn’t even know where it is, but says it’s the necessary price to pay for insuring that one Arthur’s sword is as well concealed as it could be,” Robin relayed all this wearily.
“Oh Robin,” said Ophelia sympathetically. She shifted position to sit down beside him, putting her head down on his shoulder. “I know how much you want to find that Excalibur since this was the world of your past life and that sword is a part of your world’s history. Or legend to most people of this world, but still my point remains. Don’t give up.”
“I’m sure if that Merlin is ever reincarnated, he’d appreciate your efforts. Maybe even hand you the sword himself,” Bran said with a smile.
“Thanks. But I’m sure I’d have to give him a really good reason to get Excalibur from him.”
Gwydion gave his input, “I’m sure saying you need the sword to aid in ending the apocalypse would be persuasive enough. And since I’m one world’s Merlin, then you can trust my word on that.”
“Good to know,” said Robin.
Then Bran impressed upon Gwydion the importance of removing a tree from his room. Just while Mithian was here. It wouldn’t do to have her see a tree growing right in a bedroom. She may be a reincarnated fairytale character, but she didn’t remember that, so best not to find opportunities to shock her.
Even though Gwydion had conjured his own mini-forest room (because what use was a bedroom meant for humans to a bluebird?), he still stuck in a tree in Bran’s bedroom. While Gwydion tried to deny it, Bran knew the real reason for the tree was because Gwydion didn’t like sleeping alone in his forest room. Bran refused to believe for a moment that Gwydion was sharing his bedroom with him just for protection purposes. Gwydion didn’t fool him.
Merlin couldn’t help but draw a red dragon, remembering what Robin had told him about it. How he had given a dragon carving to Alice in his past life. Somehow his subconscious mind couldn’t resist doing a doodle of a dragon amidst his graphic design work.
He sort of remembered Alice now as his mind was on her. The recollections were vague, but still something. She’d been a little girl, blonde hair, blue eyes. She had been crying, and Merlin had attempted to comfort her, to make her smile again, by making this red dragon carving with yellow-gold eyes. He told her…
What had he told her?
That she could think of the dragon as a good luck charm. That maybe she would find that real, live dragon she was seeking.
And Merlin recalled how he had discreetly placed protection spells on Alice because she was wandering on her own. She had declined his help to travel with her, so Merlin did the next best thing to insure she wasn’t harmed. She had been only seven then after all.
Then unexpectedly, a vision assailed him. This one seemed especially peculiar, which was saying a lot considering his previous visions.
Merlin saw a young woman with impossibly long blonde hair. He immediately couldn’t help but believe that had to be Alice. Though why she had such long hair here like Rapunzel, he didn’t know.
She was carrying a bundle of blankets in her arms. Merlin guessed there was a baby bundled inside, but he couldn’t get a look at the baby’s physical appearance.
She knocked urgently upon the doors of a great castle, though the castle appeared gloomy and sad.
A thin blond man opened it, and Merlin was startled to see that the man was Robin. Albeit a much younger version of him as he looked about eighteen, the same age as Alice here. Judging by his thinness, Merlin thought that he hadn’t been eating too well. It seemed ludicrous if Robin lived in this big castle, but maybe the lack of appetite had to do with some sort of loss he couldn’t shake. Robin’s expression looked sad and despondent, which gave credence to Merlin’s reasoning.
“Alice,” Robin breathed out like a prayer. His voice sounded scratchy from disuse. “Or is it Rapunzel now?”
The baby in her arms began to cry, calling for her attention. Alice hushed the child gently, which seemed to help as the baby quieted.
“Alice, if that baby is--” Robin started.
“Just help me get all my hair inside, please, Robin,” she asked of him. He nodded and dutifully moved her blonde hair inside, though he was careful not to step outside of the castle. Merlin wasn’t sure why he didn’t step out as it would have been much easier to maneuver the hair that way. While holding on to the baby with one arm, Alice was left pulling her hair closer to her and moving it inside the castle.
It took about a quarter of an hour, but they managed it, and Robin shut the door.
“And don’t think you’re going to continue with wasting away,” she declared fiercely. “You will eat properly, or I swear.”
Robin sighed tiredly, rubbing his brow. “You’ve been carrying the baby for too long, Alice. Let me,” he offered, opening up his arms.
Alice gratefully accepted the offer as she handed the blanketed baby to her brother. “Robin, you’re my brother, my twin, my only real family in this world. I can’t lose you because you can’t take care of yourself.”
Robin seemed not to paying attention to what she was saying. He was looking at the baby. “He’s so small,” he whispered.
“I could heal you, Robin, make you healthy again with my hair… if you’ll let me,” Alice pleaded with her brother.
Robin started trembling, and tears came down his face. He fell to the ground yet the baby was still securely in his arms. Alice fell down beside him. She put his head down on her shoulder and embraced him.
“I came here for you, and I promise you I won’t leave,” she assured him firmly. “You will get better. If you won’t do it for me, then do it for the baby. He will save us all, and he can’t do that without our help.”
“I’m sorry for being useless,” Robin said hopelessly.
“Don’t you dare apologize for something that’s not your fault,” Alice told him firmly.
Alice kissed her brother on the head. With that last image, the vision faded away and Merlin was brought back to reality, inside a spare room at Lancelot and Gwen’s.
Merlin wondered what in the world that was about. Was this a memory from a past life? He didn’t think it could be. It just didn’t make sense to him for Robin to have been in such a broken state of mind in his past life, and still be the same man he met earlier.
“Athena, do you think the Compass could tell me what year that vision took – or more like will take place?”
“I hope so,” said Athena, though she sounded a bit pessimistic about it.
Merlin went for it and asked the Diamantine Compass. Nothing to lose after all.
The Compass answered him, saying the year would be 2512 AD.
Merlin stared at the date. That was centuries away. And then there was Alice mentioning how the baby would save them all? Could that be implying that an apocalypse was happening at that time? Or was he just jumping to conclusions? He was both intrigued and anxious by this seemingly grim future. Hopefully it was true, that the baby would stop the apocalypse, and hopefully Robin would get better. He wondered what events led to Alice being reincarnated as Rapunzel. While it might have been nice to have magical healing hair, it must have been a right pain managing that long hair.
He hated to think that at some point in his future life, Robin would become a broken man, a shadow of himself. What a dismal thought. Merlin certainly didn’t want to tell Robin about it. It would only make him wonder and worry about a far off future when he’d be better off focusing on his life now.
“So you must be Mithian,” Robin said when Mithian arrived to see Bran.
She nodded. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Lancaster.”
Bran introduced her to Ophelia. She complimented Mithian on her shirt which had a woman with long brown hair in a green dress on it. The long dress had golden trimming and slightly puffed sleeves at the shoulders. The woman was in a forest with a tree branch curved over her head. Some sort of gilded head ornament was across her forehead.
“Oh my aunt bought this for me. She thought it sort of looked like me, so she wanted me to have it. She likes medieval depictions like that,” said Mithian.
“Your aunt has good taste,” praised Robin.
“Well we better go then,” Bran started. He saw the mischievous look on Ophelia’s face. He doubted he would get out of this unscathed.
“Oh no,” Ophelia spoke up all too cheerfully. “But you must see the pictures of when Bran was younger…”
“Ophelia, please, it’s not necessary,” Bran pleaded with her. He could see Robin shaking his head at Ophelia’s antics.
“It’s all right, really, I don’t need to,” said Mithian.
“Ophelia, we should just let it be,” Robin told her.
“Nothing embarrassing, I promise, Bran,” Ophelia attempted to reassure Bran.
“Sorry about this…Ophelia can’t resist, so we’ll just humour her,” he said to Mithian.
Meanwhile, Gwydion perched on Robin’s shoulder, was laughing – at least in Bran’s head. Bran gave him a reprimanding look.
“This should be fun,” declared Gwydion inside Bran’s mind.
“Oh Gwydion. You wouldn’t be saying that if you were the target,” Bran pointed out.
So a triumphant Ophelia got out one of the family albums they had. She showed Mithian a few photographs of Bran as a baby. When a photo of Alice holding Bran came up, he somberly explained to Mithian about who Alice was and that she’d passed away.
Then Ophelia, randomly, showed some photos of herself making silly faces. Everyone couldn’t help but laugh at those shots. And then there was one of Ophelia sitting down with Bran as a baby cradled in her arms because Bran had been too heavy for her at that young age to carry standing up.
Before Ophelia could continue, Bran smoothly thanked her and suggested that was enough photos for now. Ophelia gave him a knowing look, and nodded, ruffling his hair, and releasing him and Mithian. Gwydion flew to Bran, settling upon his shoulder.
“Your godfather and cousin are really nice,” commented Mithian as they walked to Bran’s room.
“And don’t worry about the photographs. They were sweet.”
“I guess Ophelia’s evil scheme worked then,” Bran joked.
They entered his room, sans Gwydion’s special tree. Mithian remarked upon the picture on the wall of a younger Ophelia, Bran, and Gwydion on his shoulder. The picture had been taken not long after Bran’s reunion with Gwydion six years ago.
“Gwydion must be very old for a bluebird,” said Mithian shrewdly. “I thought they only lived five years, although that’s in the wild.”
“Gwydion’s not a normal bluebird. He’s one to defy convention,” Bran told her.
“Oh okay. He certainly has a lot spirit in him.”
“And a lot of magic too,” Gwydion put in silently.
Even though he couldn’t speak to her properly so he wouldn’t freak her out, Gwydion still couldn’t resist speaking his mind. Bran knew it was a common thing Gwydion did to sometimes amuse himself. Usually Bran was left with what Gwydion wanted to say because of their mental link. It was probably a good thing that Gwydion had to keep up appearances as a bluebird. Half the time, the comments Gwydion made were best not heard by the intended recipient.
Mithian looked at Bran’s desk, noticing the silver case upon it.
“What is in that case?” She asked.
“It’s a family heirloom. Just a fancy-looking knife. It’s called the Raven Knife,” Bran informed her.
He was lying about the family heirloom bit of course. He frankly wasn’t sure who his mother and father were in this reincarnated life.
The truth was he’d found the Raven Knife at a castle ruin one early summer day. He, Ophelia, Robin and Alice had been spending time together as a family. That had been not long before Alice’s untimely death.
“Gwydion, only me or you can make the Raven Knife visible, and it wasn’t me,” he said to Gwydion silently. “I thought it’d be best to keep it concealed.”
“It’s just Mithian. She is Belle’s incarnation after all. It shouldn’t be an issue. And anyway, the Raven Knife is an example of my craftsmanship. I want to show it off.”
“You know I can’t tell her that my bluebird, Gwydion, made the knife in his past life when he was human… That would be a little too much for her.”
“So she won’t know it was really me who made it. As long as she sees it. I know she’ll be impressed by it.”
“Gwydion, you’re always so humble, it surprises me sometimes,” said Bran dryly.
“Why be humble when you can be amazing?” countered Gwydion.
“Could I see the Raven Knife?” Mithian asked him.
“All right,” Bran said. He opened the case and inside was the sheathed knife. The sheath was a dark silver colour with little diamonds in a V-design near the middle. This V-design of diamonds bookended the white raven at the sheath’s center on both sides. The raven’s spread out wings made a similar V-shape to match the layout of the diamonds.
Bran removed the sheath to reveal the Raven Knife. One unusual feature of the knife was that the blade wasn’t just made of silver, but also there was a diamond core embedded amidst the silver. The diamond bit was spectacular, as reflective and beautiful as any diamond.
Bran knew that Gwydion had added the diamond embed on the blade and the white raven on the sheath when he realized that Bran would be the knife’s wielder. So Gwydion aimed to incorporate touches that spoke of the knife’s wielder being a member of the White Diamond Clan. Then there was the normal-coloured black raven upon the knife’s silver hilt. That was an obvious reference to Bran meaning ‘raven’. Of course, Gwydion also signed his own name upon the edge of the blade as was his right as the knife’s maker.
“Wow. I’ve never seen a knife like it. The diamond is impressive. And oh, the raven! Your name means raven, right?” She asked.
Bran nodded. “One of my ancestors had the name. It’s a name that’s passed down every so often in my family.”
That was technically true except his namesake was Branwen instead of Bran.
“It’s signed ‘Gwydion’,” Mithian indicated, pointing at the signature. “Was he the knife’s maker then? Did you name your bluebird after him?”
“Yeah because he couldn’t come up with a more original name,” Gwydion answered smartly.
“You wouldn’t even let me change your name. You gave me the evil eye,” Bran mentally shot back at him.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Gwydion in mock-innocence.
Bran nodded. “Yes I did. Gwydion’s quite fond of the name. Likes to sleep by the knife’s case every night.”
“Very funny,” said Gwydion.
Bran put the knife away in its sheath and then in the case. “So that’s the knife. I could show you something else. Not as exciting, I suppose, but it isn’t easy to make.”
“What is it?” Mithian inquired with interest.
“I do origami sometimes. I think I finally managed a decent-looking origami rose.”
The real reason was because an activity like origami gave Bran something else to concentrate on other than all his memories of his old life. While his past life had been a life he looked back on fondly for the most part, he still had experienced battle more times than he’d care to count. Coupled with being just eleven in this life now, he sometimes felt that his young mind couldn’t quite handle all those memories as well as he would’ve liked. So doing something like origami helped to relax his mind and deal with the memories better.
Gwydion brought him a piece of blue paper that he carried in his talons.
Bran gave him a look.
“The red paper mysteriously vanished. Really strange, I tell you,” Gwydion explained in pretend bewilderment.
“I’d like to see,” declared Mithian with a smile. “It would be nice to learn how to do a rose.”
So Bran showed her.
“What is it, Robin?” Ophelia asked him. He was looking at the photos in the family album Ophelia had shown to Mithian earlier.
“It’s Alice, isn’t it?” She figured out, speaking quietly. She noticed him looking at a picture of Alice holding Bran as a baby.
Robin glanced up at her. “Yes, sorry… I know it’s been years since she passed away, and I thought it would get easier with each year that went by. But I think I’m just fooling myself.”
Ophelia sat down next to him. She put her hand over his. “Don’t apologize for feeling like that. Alice was your sister, your twin, and don’t they always say that twins have a stronger bond than other people? And more so, you two were a team – raising me and Bran. Everyone deals with loss differently, and it’s okay to feel grief for years afterwards. It just shows how much you miss her, how much you cared for,” she told him, hoping to reassure him.
“I still feel that hole in my heart, you know, with her gone,” Robin confided in her with a resigned sigh. “It feels like that hole, that empty space, won’t go away. You’re right. We did have a close bond as twins…and sometimes I worry I’m doing the wrong thing and Alice isn’t here to give me advice. It’s ridiculous, I know. I wish it was easier to let her go, but it isn’t.”
“You’re doing a great job, my love. Don’t worry about that. And you still have me, Bran and even Gwydion…” she said with a small smile.
“What would we do without Gwydion?” He wondered.
“Gwydion’s quite well-versed on answering that question,” Ophelia said, grinning, and happy to see Robin looking a little better. The mood lightened, thankfully.
“Of course he is. I don’t doubt that,” said Robin with a smile. He stood up. “I should go and see Charlie about that Excalibur. Are you staying here?”
“To keep an eye on Bran and his lady friend?” Ophelia asked in amusement.
“And Gwydion too. He can be a tricky little bluebird, we both know that.”
Robin moved to leave the room, but Ophelia couldn’t help but speak up, “Robin, wait.”
He turned around to face her, and Ophelia kissed him without preamble. Robin deepened the kiss, to Ophelia’s pleasant surprise.
“If Bran’s friend sees us,” Robin brought up between breaths.
“I just wanted to say goodbye,” she said as innocently as she could. She smiled brightly at him, her hands around his neck. “So goodbye, sweetheart.” Then she kissed him on the nose.
He unexpectedly swept her off her feet, making her gasp in shock.
“You’re incorrigible, you know that?” Robin told her.
“I’m impressed. You can still carry me without breaking a sweat?”
“Oh honestly, Ophelia, you’re like a feather.”
Ophelia raised her brow at him. “Are you implying I’m too thin?”
Robin gave her a disbelieving look. “It’s called a metaphor.”
“Now I’m sure that’s a simile. You’ve been out of school for a while. It’s understandable you’re confused. But don’t worry, you’re still my Prince Charming.”
Robin shook his head. “Goodbye, Snow White,” he quipped back at her, a name he sometimes called her due to her snow white hair. He kissed her again before he set her down on the table.
Ophelia smiled, pleased with herself. “Think of something more original next time, Robin!” She advised him as he left the kitchen.
“I’m already on it,” he assured her.
Even after a few days, Merlin still hadn’t met with Gwydion’s reincarnated form. Bran told him that Gwydion was just being stubborn and possibly Merlin not remembering yet was a deterrent for Gwydion. Yet Bran promised that he’d try to convince Gwydion to see him.
Merlin didn’t hold out much hope for the persuasion. He’d just have to remember his past life. That’s all there was to it. Apparently according to Bran, Gwydion had gone invisible every time Merlin was in sight, so he wouldn’t even catch a glimpse of his reincarnated form.
With the impending meeting on hold, Merlin woke up Thursday morning with an unpleasant burning feeling upon his Compass-embedded forearm.
“What the--?” Merlin couldn’t help but utter a little too loudly as it woke up Arthur.
“What’s wrong?” Arthur asked in concern. He sat up.
“Nothing. I’m fine. Don’t worry,” Merlin hurriedly assured him.
He practically leapt out of bed before Arthur could venture further with his questioning.
Merlin locked himself in the bedroom. He looked over his forearm and saw to his great dismay, that the immediate area surrounding the Compass was all red. Like a kind of strange infection.
He asked Athena if there was something he could do about it. Maybe removing the Compass would do the trick?
“I don’t think it’s an infection from the Compass. It’s a warning. I don’t know of what. I can decrease the pain from the burn.”
“Thanks,” he said as he felt the irritating pain sensation subside. “What about the redness?” He asked.
“I can’t do anything about that. I think it’ll remain until you’ve dealt with the problem you’re being warned about.”
But he didn’t know what the problem was.
He decided to ask the Diamantine Compass, and it told him that someone would be in danger and that he needed to help this person.
Upon asking who this person was, the magical device was coy and told him that Merlin should know who this person is.
How was he supposed to help someone who was going to be in danger when he didn’t even know their identity?
Merlin groaned. He left the bathroom, feeling admittedly frustrated. He didn’t like not knowing something if in fact, someone would be in trouble and he’d be able to help them.
“I’m sure you’ll learn who it is,” Athena tried to assure him, her strength of belief giving him hope.
He decided to get ready for work.
“Merlin, why is your forearm red?” Arthur asked him. Apparently Arthur had sneaked a look, but as expected, he didn’t see the Compass or at least he didn’t bring up seeing it. Merlin highly doubted Arthur would keep quiet about it.
“Oh! Um…it’s a weird apple allergy,” Merlin explained in such a rush that his mouth spoke before his brain could inform him what a pathetic lie that was. “It doesn’t hurt, trust me. There’s just this annoying redness. It’s nothing. It’ll pass.”
Arthur raised one eyebrow. He looked incredulous. “An. Apple. Allergy,” he repeated in disbelief. “What did you do, Merlin, rub an apple slice all over your arm? Do I have to toss all the apples now? Or maybe I’ll just eat them. Shame to get rid of apples.”
Something about what Arthur had said and the deprecating, sarcastic tone he said it in amused Merlin. He let out a laugh, and then he felt like he couldn’t stop laughing.
Arthur just continued to stare at him like he was mad.
All the overwhelming number of things he’d learned over the past few weeks, all the pressure and weight of knowing that his life was not as average as he’d once thought – had finally built up to a point that Merlin had to release it somehow. Everything he’d discovered seemed so extraordinary and a bit ridiculous and he still couldn’t believe that it was the honest-to-goodness truth.
He almost wished he was just crazy. That everything about other worlds, other versions of himself, his father being a god once upon a time, his familial connection to fairytale characters, having a past life and possessing real magic were just elaborate fabrications. But Merlin knew that this wild, nonsensical hope wouldn’t come true. His new magical reality was as real as the sun rising and setting in the sky.
Merlin didn’t notice that Arthur had left the room as he was in the grips of laughter. But Arthur had returned with a bucket of water, which Merlin soon discovered was ice-cold when Arthur helpfully dumped it over his head.
That got Merlin to stop laughing. He glared at Arthur, his arms crossed. Water dripped from his black hair down his face.
“You’re such an arsehole,” Merlin shot back at him in mild irritation.
“Hey. You were laughing so hard that you looked like you couldn’t breathe,” Arthur defended himself. “It’s important to, you know, breathe. So you’re welcome. I saved your life.”
Merlin sighed, deflating, and he shook his head. “Fine. All right. Thanks.”
“So was I really that funny?” Arthur asked him. “You’ve never found me that funny before,” he declared.
“Yes Arthur, you were hilarious. I love finding ways to inflate that great big blond head of yours,” Merlin said in a dry tone of voice.
“And that’s why I love you,” Arthur said cheerily.
Merlin put the empty bucket over Arthur’s head in a small play of revenge. His lips twisted into a pleased smile. “Yeah, I love you too,” he said to Arthur’s bucket-covered head.
Bran thought he was home alone, but he realized too late how wrong he was. He felt his vision darken, and he was sure it was a blindness spell. He knew his spells after living his past life in the World of Magic. Though he didn’t possess his full magical abilities, memory still counted for something.
He was about to send a distress signal to Gwydion via their mental link, but the stench of chloroform got to him. An all too silent attacker had come up behind him and a cloth soaked in chloroform was shoved up against his face. Bran felt himself fall as he was knocked unconscious.
~ * ~
He was stuck inside his mind, fighting to return, to wake up again.
“Bran, I’m scared,” said Gwydion silently to him.
Bran didn’t understand what he meant. Being restrained by the Prince of Darkness, Bran could only watch in horror as Gwydion took the dagger and stabbed himself in the abdomen.
Gwydion had been put in a terrible position, but he was only eleven, and Bran couldn’t believe that he’d chosen to die. The damned Prince had given him no better option: Gwydion’s beloved star cat or Bran yet with the nasty twist that Bran would suffer no matter Gwydion’s final decision.
It was no choice in the end. But Bran didn’t think Gwydion capable of taking such a drastic measure.
“Gwydion, no!” Bran exclaimed as tears shone in Gwydion’s eyes and he collapsed to his knees.
Bran watched him touch his bleeding abdomen, looking oddly both confused and pleased at the blood on his hands.
He was surprised to hear the Prince echo his words. There was shock and deep concern in the Prince’s stricken yell. Despite the Prince’s ill-intentioned plans for Gwydion, he appeared to still care for him even though Gwydion wasn’t his son to look after anymore.
But Bran’s primary focus was on Gwydion. It wasn’t the time to consider if the Prince was as bad as he was made out to be or not.
Fortunately the Prince had released him as he was intent on getting to his former son. Gwydion had since completely fallen to the ground, managing to remove the dagger from his abdomen, giving a little sigh of peace. A light shower of rain began to fall in the forest they were in.
Bran stood in the Prince’s way. “Get away from Gwydion.”
“I’m not going to have a boy stand in my way. You’re just a nobleman’s son, thinking you can enchant Gwydion with your unnatural looks,” the Prince of Darkness accused of him darkly.
“No. He and I are friends. It’s that simple,” said Bran quietly. “It was your impossible proposition that forced Gwydion to do what he’s done. You’re a danger to him.”
“I want you…to…go, Father,” uttered Gwydion weakly from the ground.
The Prince had heard Gwydion, but he still remained rooted to the spot like he couldn’t believe that Gwydion had told him to leave.
Bran ignored the Prince. Instead he went to Gwydion who was still clinging on to life. He sat down beside him and held his hand. Gwydion’s eyes were half-closed, his blue eyes darker and so unlike their usual lively blue. Gwydion’s star cat, Vaella, was lying beside him meowing mournfully, her silver spots glowing in the dark of the night. The rain continued to fall, but now it was falling harder, more urgently.
Bran peered up at the sky, considering it, and he prayed. Yet this time, somehow, he felt it was most appropriate to seek the help of the God of Magic’s son, James.
Then the scene shifted and he was older now. At eighteen, Bran held his firstborn child, his daughter Nymeria, in his arms for the first time. She had hair as red as her mother’s, as red as dragon’s fire.
Bran had called her his little flame.
His surroundings faded away and then reformed into numbing darkness. He was sure he was blind. He couldn’t see a thing.
Then Branwen appeared, how he always imagined her. She was a woman of unspeakable beauty and grace with long white hair and a diamond tiara upon her head. She wore a long flowing white gown. Her eyes were purple, the eye colour of the Immortals.
She smiled softly at him, though her eyes were sad. “The wolf calls. The once-heir comes. I will always be with you, my child.”
Branwen faded away, though Bran still felt her presence nearby.
“Bran, Bran! You need to see it!” A twenty-two year old Gwydion told him excitedly. “I finished the Raven Knife. We need to test it.”
“I haven’t seen you this happy since you started courting Alice,” Bran pointed out. Yet he was just as enthused as Gwydion about the Knife being ready for use.
“Less talking, more following me,” said Gwydion efficiently, though he smiled that ‘I’m so in love I don’t what to do with this feeling’ smile upon the mention of Alice.
Merlin’s hands were sweating around lunchtime. He worried that an anxiety attack was imminent. To his relief, it wasn’t an attack, but a flash of a memory instead. Although it was inconvenient that he was dealing with it while at work. It was still much more preferable to suffering an anxiety attack here. If a fellow employee would see him that would lead to awkward explanations.
Merlin believed this memory to be before he and Arthur had gone into exile. He recalled the fleeting memory when he saw Lancelot, when Lancelot’s past self had given Arthur Excalibur.
But here, he was still in Camelot and it was before everything had gone wrong and forced him and Arthur into exile. Whatever that ‘wrong’ thing was.
He saw his past self in a lady’s chambers with a woman. The chambers were most likely hers. She looked like she could have been Arthur’s sister, Morgana, had she lived into her twenties.
Notably, there was a green and blue butterfly upon her shoulder. Zlota was a firefly nestled in his past incarnation’s hair.
His former self and the familiar woman were looking at a book of spells when a knock at the door interrupted them.
The Morgana look-a-like opened the door.
The person at the door was Arthur with his white wolf.
“Morgana,” he said, sounding quite put upon. “Could I please have my manservant back?”
“Wow, you even said please,” Merlin remarked.
“Shut up, Merlin,” Arthur shot back at him. “You’ve been stealing my manservant, Morgana. This must be rectified.”
“Oh honestly, Arthur. We’re not children anymore. Stop sounding like I’ve stolen your precious toy.”
“You stole my sword once,” Arthur pointed out.
“Your wooden sword,” Morgana corrected with a wide smile.
Merlin’s past incarnation laughed. “Oh boy. What a tragedy.”
Arthur noticed the book of spells in plain sight. “I hope I don’t have to remind the both of you to exercise caution with your witchery,” he warned them, waving his hand about in a strange mimic of performing magic. “Like better concealing a magic book, for one.”
“Witchery? Where did that word come from?” Morgana asked intently.
Arthur just gave her a sharp look. “Good day, Morgana. Come on, Merlin. The fire in my hearth won’t build itself,” He told him, and pulled Merlin along by his arm. Zlota commented on the funny word ‘witchery’.
The memory flash ended and Merlin was brought back to reality with a gasp.
Or was it reality?
Because Morgana was now before him, but she was a ghost and most strikingly, she looked like she was in her mid-to-late thirties.
“Morgana?” Merlin uttered in surprise. “I just saw you in a memory.”
She smiled quietly. “Yes. From my past life in Camelot I expect. I’m from the future, the future life you have yet to live.”
“Are you…have you passed on?” Merlin ventured lightly.
Morgana looked unbearably sad and her eyes glistened with unshed tears. “Oh Merlin. I have two children. I failed them, Merlin. I should have been stronger, but I was killed despite my best efforts,” she told him, sounding quite miserable about it. “I can’t bear to see how they’re doing now. It’s a grim future. The worlds are in dire trouble. But that’s not why I came to see you. I want you to do something. You need to go and help Bran. Now. Please, Merlin. It needs to be you.”
“Wait. What’s wrong?”
“It’s where he lives, you know where it is. You will have an ally there, but your magic is still needed. Please hurry.”
And then she faded away into nothing before Merlin could ask her anything more.
“We better go,” Athena said. She started to release magic to transport Merlin away.
“No, Athena… we can’t do it here. Better in a more discreet place. I don’t know how I would even begin to explain vanishing from my office.”
With that, Merlin left the office claiming a lunch break, and Athena magically transported him away when he was in his car.
Merlin opened the door to the Lancaster home. But when he saw what was happening in the foyer, he was half-tempted to close the door and make his escape. Yet he steeled himself because if he had to help Bran, then that’s what he had to do. There was no chance he’d back out now.
He slipped inside and watched as a big grey wolf had his mouth clamped over an unknown man’s leg. The suspect-looking man was lying on the ground, trying to shift away from the wolf, but he was unsuccessful. He gritted his teeth, trying to stop from screaming out in pain most likely.
“Don’t even bother,” the wolf told him harshly. At this point, Merlin just took the wolf talking as he attacked this man in stride. Because he hadn’t witnessed enough strange things lately. Clearly.
He decided to speak. He could guess that this man was an intruder who might have harmed Bran. He needed to know where Bran was.
“What the hell is going on?” Merlin demanded to know, putting on his most authoritative-sounding voice.
At that moment, the grey wolf bit off a part of the man’s lower leg like it was a piece of meat. The intruder screamed bloody murder.
“Don’t fuck with the Big Bad Wolf,” the wolf said gruffly. He finally turned around to face Merlin while the injured man scooted away from the wolf, trying in vain to stop the blood now coming from his half-eaten leg.
“You’re another Gwydion?” The wolf asked him.
“Another Gwydion? I just need to know where Bran is.”
“I suppose it’s actually another ‘Merlin’…but you have full magical abilities?”
“Yes. Is Bran all right? What’s happened to him? Who is he?” Merlin wanted to know, pointing to the intruder. “And who are you?”
“Bran’s in his room. He’s alive, but I think Tauren – that’s the bastard of a man hopefully bleeding to death behind me – did something to him,” he informed him with an evil look directed at Tauren. “I’m Charlie Potter, a descendant of the Big Bad Wolf from the Fairy Tale World. I’ve been exiled from my home world and I’ve known Bran, Gwydion and the others for two years. That’s all you need to know.”
Merlin felt uneasy being in the presence of the wolf or Charlie as he was called. He was one big wolf, his height reaching above Merlin’s waist. “I’m Merlin, but you probably knew that, I expect.”
Then the grey wolf transformed into a man with brown hair and a scruffy beard. He was dressed business casual. Seeing a white dress shirt and efficient grey trousers on him seemed a stark contrast to his dangerous looking wolf form.
“What do we do with Tauren?” Merlin asked.
The man was fighting a losing battle. He only grunted in continued pain as dark blood seeped from his torn out leg.
“You should kill him,” declared Charlie curtly.
“Wait. What?” Merlin uttered, not expecting Charlie’s bluntness.
“I think Tauren here might have taken advantage of Bran. He deserves to die. It’s that simple.”
“What are you…?” Merlin trailed off. Then he realized what Charlie was insinuating, and a seed of anger grew inside him.
“Bran is no child. He’s an incarnation. It’s a different story,” Tauren muttered bitterly.
Merlin glared at Tauren. “That’s no excuse. So what if he remembers his past life or not. I saw Bran, and he looks like a child to me. That’s what matters. You have no right to force something upon him without his consent.”
Tauren didn’t look like he was listening. “Yeah, whatever,” he said flippantly. “You wouldn’t understand.”
Charlie glared at him. “I hope Death tortures you, you bastard,” he drawled, looking at the man with disgust.
Merlin had heard enough. He may not remember his past life, and he hadn’t yet used his magic to do something as big as killing a person – at least in this life – but he felt it deeply necessary to do so now.
He made a fist with his right hand and willed Tauren’s heart to stop with Athena’s help.
Then he just had to go further and he directed Athena to set Tauren on fire, to effectively burn him to death. Only Tauren’s ashes remained once Merlin was done with him.
“Come on, I need to see Bran,” Merlin said quickly as he went up the stairs. He didn’t spare a glance at the big pile of ashes on the floor, all that was left of the man.
Charlie followed after him. “Shit. That’s impressive.”
“I don’t make a habit out of doing that,” Merlin said.
“Of course not. Best to kill in moderation,” said Charlie thoughtfully.
Merlin hoped he was just making a joke. Although his attention was elsewhere, so he didn’t have the energy to concern himself about Charlie’s true nature and why exactly he was exiled from his world. Judging by the big grey wolf he could turn into, the reason didn’t look good. He could’ve been falsely accused. That was certainly another likely possibility.
He entered Bran’s room where a short and thick barked tree was impossibly growing inside of it as if the wooden floor was soil. Bran himself was lying in bed, almost as if he was lying in his own coffin – the knife pointed upward in his hands emphasized the effect of him not just sleeping. It was akin to days of old when Kings were buried or sent off in a pyre with their trusted weapons grasped in their cold hands.
Although interestingly here, there was a golden glow surrounding Bran. Luckily Merlin could see the boy’s chest rise and fall slowly indicating he was still alive.
Merlin went immediately to Bran. “Bran, wake up,” he urged him. He nudged his shoulder to rustle him awake.
Bran’s eyes opened and with that, the glow subsided and seemed to return to the knife in his grasp.
But Merlin noticed something wrong with Bran’s eyes. They looked clouded over, the tawny gold dulled. If Merlin would make a guess, Bran was blind. Or had been blinded by Tauren.
“Bran, are you all right?” Merlin asked him.
Bran didn’t quite look at him directly. Instead, he gazed to Merlin’s right, making a guess as to where Merlin was speaking from.
“Except for not being able to see, I think so. I was blinded by the man who attacked me. I’m sure he was sent by the Prince of Darkness to kill me.”
Merlin gave a long sigh. There was the Prince, rearing his ugly head. Of course he would be the one behind this. Merlin recalled James telling him how the Prince thought of the White Diamond Clan as his enemy, and if Bran was a part of that Clan, then this included him too.
“Is it possible to magically fix the blindness?” Merlin asked. He figured that sometimes things didn’t have a magical solution, but hopefully Bran’s blindness could be reversed with magical assistance.
Bran shifted position so that he sat on the edge of the bed. He said quietly to the knife to ‘return home’ and Merlin watched as the knife vanished from his grasp – presumably returning to the place it was usually kept in. A sheath or something, Merlin assumed.
“Yes, there’s a book of spells--” Bran started, but Charlie was ahead of him. He took out a thin book from one of the drawers.
“Is it this book, 2010 Edition Book of Spells?” Charlie asked.
“Yeah, Gwydion and I got that book last year when we were in the World of Magic. I’m sure it has a spell to reverse what I have.”
“Was the knife that just vanished the Raven Knife then?” Merlin guessed due to the mention of traveling to another world and the Raven Knife being a knife used for world travel.
He had noticed a black raven on the knife’s hilt. If Gwydion was the Raven Knife’s maker along with the mention in a vision that the Prince disliked the knife’s wielder, then the pieces fit together. Of course Gwydion would stay close to the person who was the knife’s sole wielder, and Bran was his good friend after all.
Bran nodded. “That’s it. My name means raven, so the knife became known as the Raven Knife. Some people call it Gwydion’s Knife too, in honour of him making the knife. That certainly makes Gwydion happy,” he intimated with a soft smile.
“Your name definitely gives it away. I’ll go ahead and heal you now,” Merlin declared.
He took the book from Charlie.
“It should be under ‘B’,” Bran said.
The spell book grew thicker as Merlin opened it and thinking of going to section B, the book obliged him and that section was before him. He barely had to turn a page as Athena magically perused the book until Merlin reached the correct entry.
“I could do the spell now,” Athena told him as Merlin scanned the page.
Yet despite Athena’s confidence, Merlin couldn’t help but be nervous because he hadn’t healed anyone yet. If he did it wrong, Bran might lose his sight forever. Maybe his barely remembered experiences of his past life would help him here. He had to have used healing magic on others back then, right?
Charlie told him, “You can do it. I mean you’re Merlin. Nothing to worry about.”
“If I could actually remember what it means to be Merlin, that’d be even better,” Merlin mused, biting his lip as he concentrated.
“I could try to contact Gwydion,” Bran suggested. “But I’m worried I’ll be blind permanently if I wait too long.”
Merlin shook his head. “No, that’s all right. I’m here, I’ll do it,” he said quickly. He gave a half-smile, and then realized a second later that Bran couldn’t see his face due to his blindness. “I’m just being careful, that’s all it is.”
He knelt down in front of Bran and he spoke the Latin words of the spell. While he wasn’t fluent in Latin – certainly not a language he’d learned in school – Athena helped him with a magical boost to aid in proper pronunciation. Truth be told, Merlin did believe he wasn’t half-bad at speaking in another language.
Merlin swept his hand over Bran’s eyes as the instructions directed him. He let out a sigh of relief when the reversal spell appeared to have worked. Bran’s eyes looked normal again.
“You did it,” Bran said. “Thanks. You need to return to work, don’t you? I’m sorry about that. I don’t want to take up any more of your time.”
Merlin shook his head. “No, it’s completely fine. You were in trouble, and I would have felt worse if I wasn’t here when you needed my help.”
Charlie cleared his throat. “Well you two. I’d better go and take care of some things. I’m glad you’re all right, Bran. Are Gwydion, Robin or Ophelia coming soon? It’d be wise not to be on your own now.”
Bran sighed, looking down at his hands. “Gwydion will be here soon. Robin’s at Rosebrooke, I think, and Ophelia’s out shopping…she’ll probably come home soon. I dread telling them about this.”
“I bet Gwydion will tell Robin and Ophelia. Isn’t that how usually is, you tell him first and he informs the others?”
Bran shrugged. “Yeah I suppose so.”
“Good luck with that,” Charlie wished him. “Goodbye, kid.” And he ruffled Bran’s hair, at which Bran frowned at him a little and patted his hair to fix it.
“Thanks for being here, Charlie,” Bran thanked him.
Charlie nodded at him. “Not a problem. It was nice meeting you, Merlin,” he said.
“Yeah you too,” replied Merlin.
And Charlie left the room. Merlin watched him go.
Then he turned back to Bran. “Why wasn’t Gwydion here?”
“I didn’t get through to him via our mental communication in time. I think you were meant to help me now instead of him. So you could see that you didn’t need a full awareness of your past life to do what you just did now. This is all a bit hard for me since I used to have full magical abilities in my past life, but now my magical powers are greatly reduced. It’s rather frustrating to depend on others…spending 24/7 with Gwydion seems like overkill. But I guess it’s necessary now after Tauren.”
“Were you born in the World of Magic in your previous life?” Merlin guessed after Bran mentioned having full magical abilities.
Bran nodded. “Yeah, as a member of the White Diamond Clan, the warrior faction. The members who make special diamond items like the Diamantine Compass are a part of the inventor faction. As you can imagine, they’re the highly creative group and they’re quite the dreamers too. You have to think outside of the box and dream big to produce what they do. ”
At the mention of the Compass, Merlin looked down to his own. He noticed the redness around the Diamantine Compass had completely gone. “That makes sense. You can see the Compass?”
“Yeah. Any member of the Clan could,” Bran said logically. “I mean, hate to say it, but some called the inventor faction a bunch of crazies, but er…it was meant in a fond way. I think.” He gave a half-shrug.
“This Compass does have an attitude, so I could understand that opinion of the inventor faction. Still, the Compass is impressive,” Merlin had to add. He certainly had a hate-love relationship with the magical device.
“Yes. The Diamantine Compass is a great accomplishment for that faction,” Bran agreed.
“By the way, why was the Raven Knife glowing?”
“Because Gwydion is an overachiever, which you’ll know all too well when you remember,” Bran let him know. “He didn’t just make a knife to use to travel to other worlds. He conjured a magical raven from scratch. Within the Knife is the spirit and soul of that raven. The raven’s bound to serve and protect me and Gwydion as we’re the two owners of the Knife. That’s the reason for the glowing shield. This particular raven is even cleverer than an average raven and has magic too.”
So the Raven Knife was a sentient being in and of itself, Merlin concluded.
A bluebird suddenly appeared upon a branch of the tree in the room. “Thanks for helping Bran, Merlin,” the bird told him.
He sounded like a boy to Merlin as he spoke. It was disconcerting to hear that voice coming from a bluebird. Merlin stared at him. Gwydion was a bluebird? He was surprised that he hadn’t even thought of that possibility.
“You could go back to your regularly scheduled life.” Gwydion said curtly.
“You’re Gwydion?” Merlin asked in disbelief.
“Yes. I’m a bluebird now in this life. I understand it’ll take some time to process.”
“It’s good to finally see you after you concealing yourself from me.”
“Gwydion is terribly shy,” Bran teased him.
“Bran, stop it,” he retorted in a petulant tone.
“All right. I’ll go now. Please be cautious, Bran,” Merlin asked of him. “After what happened to you…”
Bran gave him a small smile. “Yes I understand. Gwydion won’t let me forget it. Don’t worry about me.”
Just before he exited the room, Merlin saw Gwydion fly over to Bran’s side.
Toward the end of his workday, Merlin was hit with another vision. This one alarmed him a bit. It was another future vision, but Robin looked a few years younger than in the vision with Alice. He could be sixteen here? Or fifteen?
Robin was at the balcony of his castle. Merlin noticed worrisome cracks throughout the early evening sky. Vines of red roses decorated the stone walls on either side of the balcony. A great thick forest could be viewed feet away from the castle as if the forest locked in the castle from the outside world.
This future Robin was holding a dagger and Merlin was horrified when he looked intent on slitting his left wrist. Merlin knew Robin was in a bad state after that vision with Alice, but it was hard to see him willing to hurt himself here, maybe even kill himself.
Yet the hand holding the dagger was shaking and Robin was clearly hesitating. A black raven flew toward him. With his beak, he grabbed the dagger by the hilt and took it away from Robin.
Robin’s blue eyes settled on the raven, but Merlin felt that he wasn’t really looking at the bird. That his true attention was elsewhere.
The raven dropped the dagger down on to the small round table at the balcony. Curiously, the raven remained perched upon the table and didn’t fly away.
Robin didn’t seem to have the energy to scold the raven for making mischief and doing as ravens did: steal shiny objects. But what if this raven had been aware of what Robin had been meaning to do and had come to stop him?
Instead, Robin collapsed to the balcony floor and put his face in his hands. His shoulders shook and Merlin could hear him sobbing.
He uncovered his face, which was tear-streaked and his eyes were red. He looked the definition of tired and miserable. Not the look any sixteen year old should have. “Please just leave me alone. Please,” he pleaded with the raven.
Yet the raven stayed despite his protests, cawing at him as if to tell Robin ‘no’.
The vision faded away.
Merlin thought on what Morgana’s ghost had told him. That she had two children in this future life. He knew that Robin and Alice were siblings in their future life, so couldn’t they be Morgana’s children as well? That made sense to him, and connected the different visions too.
He had to believe there was a reason for these future visions. So Merlin couldn’t resist matching them up with what Morgana had told him. Morgana would be heartbroken to see what would become of Robin. He himself couldn’t stand to watch Robin fall apart before his eyes.
It made seeing these future visions a bit of a torture, honestly. If only bad things would happen to bad people and good things to good people. Sometimes reality could be a cruel mistress.
“So Tauren was killed. Thanks to the Big Bad Wolf, and more so to that Merlin you gave the Compass to. Really, Arthur,” Morgaine spoke critically of him. “If you want Bran killed, you may as well do it yourself. What is keeping you?”
“I didn’t like Tauren. I’m glad he’s dead. Cheers,” Arthur said dryly. “And can’t you see I’m trying to have a bath? Could we discuss this at another time?”
“No,” said Morgaine briskly. “We have to talk about this. You’ve been weird lately.”
His wolf Achilles was beside the bathtub, and he growled in threat at Morgaine.
“I hate your damned wolf,” Morgaine confided in the Prince. She glared at Achilles.
The Prince dunked his head underwater, wetting his blond hair, in lieu of answering his wife.
He lifted his head back up. “Tell you what. I’ll buy you an obscenely expensive necklace if you’ll leave right now,” the Prince suggested.
Morgaine crossed her arms over her chest. She frowned. “It better be expensive. And I want a new dress too.”
“Done. Anything for my wife,” he said smoothly in a half-distracted tone.
“If you’d get rid of Nimueh--”
The Prince groaned. “Again with Nimueh,” the Prince said in annoyance. “For the love of everything, why don’t you two just wrestle it out in the mud or something? Actually, that sounds like a brilliant idea. I’ll watch.”
Morgaine pursed her lips and swept out of the room. Luckily his words had done the trick.
Sometimes the Prince wondered how his life might have been different if the World of Magic hadn’t been so irreversibly altered. That world had been his home, and he would have been King of Camelot if it hadn’t been for that bloody plague.
Once upon a time, centuries ago, the World of Magic had been a normal world. The majority of people hadn’t possessed magic while few were magic users. It’d been far from being labelled a World of Magic. But then when Arthur had been very young, a plague had reared its ugly head and wiped out all those who didn’t possess magic. The non-magic users, the majority of the world’s population, had grown very ill and then died. The world had been reshaped, now magic users were the kings, the rulers, of what was once Arthur’s world.
While Arthur’s mother and father had died from the plague, he had somehow withstood the plague’s death grip. Though he still suffered from the plague-caused sickness, Arthur’s body had been strong and didn’t give in to death. He hadn’t had a lick of magic in him, and yet, the universe had decided that Arthur should still live.
Due to being a well-liked magic user, Balinor had taken the throne of Camelot after Uther had succumbed to the plague. The Pendragons no longer had Camelot. Arthur had to live with the knowledge that he was now irrelevant in the world of his birth. Everyone in the World of Magic possessed magical abilities. They would never accept someone like Arthur who was not a wielder of magic – being good with a sword didn’t matter.
When he had been five, he’d been taken by a man named Agravaine to live in the Dark World. He’d come to believe that King Balinor had been biding his time, waiting for the right moment to kill Arthur. As long as Arthur had lived, his birthright – though on shaky grounds at that time – still had posed a threat to Balinor’s reign of Camelot. Agravaine had told him that Balinor had been pretending with him – keeping Arthur hidden away in one set of chambers. The King had just been making Arthur comfortable until he passed away from the plague.
Being taken to the Dark World, away from the tense atmosphere of Camelot, had saved Arthur’s life. He had grown up in his new world with a steadily growing anger against his former world, and despair at what he had lost and could have had.
He’d learned that the only way to make his plan of revenge work was to gain magical abilities. It had killed him a little inside to turn to magic. After all, magic had been the reason he’d been effectively kicked out of his own world. But dark magic became a comforting addiction to him. Dark magic was the sort of magic that even a magicless person like Arthur could gain access to with welcome ease. He just had to have the ambition, the desire to want the magic; and Arthur had all that. Revenge consumed him. Gaining power became his passion.
Arthur had learned to accept the need to possess magic. He relished how magic had made him powerful, and a legitimate threat to King Balinor, and his son, Prince Merlin. It was his former world’s Merlin that he despised the most. That Merlin was in his place. Arthur should’ve been the Crown Prince, on his way to being King of Camelot.
With a fiery hatred, he saw Merlin become King and be beloved by all his people, the great harbinger of Camelot’s Golden Age. Arthur became known as the Prince of Darkness, the enemy in the shadows plotting the destruction of all the worlds.
Some even dared to call him the Mad Prince, thinking they could belittle him by calling him crazy. Someone to be sectioned. The good King Merlin, the arsehole, allowed horror stories of the Prince’s violent acts like stabbing children in their sleep to grow and spread. That further gave reason for the Prince being mad and out of his mind. A crazed murderer.
Before Merlin had ascended the throne, Arthur had made one play of revenge. He had loved the irony of it. He got some delight out of Merlin dealing with the knowledge that one world’s Merlin had been adopted by the Prince of Darkness, enemy of his World of Magic.
It had been almost too easy. With Nimueh’s help, Arthur had come at the right time to a world where a Merlin was about to be born. Back then, he hadn’t been aware of the true nature of this Merlin’s father. All Arthur and Nimueh had known was that the child’s father had been nonexistent, which suited them just fine.
But the most important element was this Merlin’s mother had been very ill. Giving birth had taken a toll on her. It’d been the perfect timing for Arthur and Nimueh to swoop in and take the newborn.
Nimueh’s reassurances to Merlin’s sick mother that her son would be well looked after were enough to placate the woman. She died with hope and peace in her eyes, believing that her son would be all right.
And Nimueh hadn’t been wrong. Arthur did insure Merlin had been happy and felt loved. He’d been especially pleased when the boy liked to go by another name, Gwydion, instead of his birth name Merlin. He, like Arthur, wasn’t terribly fond of the name, which showed that the boy certainly had good taste.
But everything had come to a halt when Gwydion was ten years old. Gwydion’s birth father, the god of unnatural magic, finally decided to give a crap about the boy. With the god’s aid, Gwydion was removed from Arthur’s care and taken to the World of Magic so that King Merlin could keep a closer eye on him.
So maybe Arthur had had plans for Gwydion that would lead to his death. The boy would have still lived to adulthood even if his quality of life would have most likely suffered.
Arthur had realized how fond he’d grown of Gwydion. When he was gone, Arthur had felt out of sorts for some time afterwards.
But it was when Gwydion met Bran and forged a strong bond with him, Arthur knew it was over. Gwydion would never love him like he did before. Ten years of having him, and it seemed like it was all so fleeting. Like only yesterday Gwydion was a tiny baby who’d looked up at him with the bluest eyes he’d ever seen.
The bathwater was cool at this point, but Arthur warmed it up with a light touch of his magic. He submerged himself fully into the water, vaguely wondering if he could drown himself. He couldn’t die due to his immortality, but the thrill of being on death’s brink had not been lost.
Before he saw the edge in front of his closed eyes, he thought that yes, the universe was a fucked up trickster laughing at the misery it put on its inhabitants.
All for the sake of a good laugh.
Fucking bastard of a universe.
On Friday evening, Merlin had come home late to find the house dark. But Arthur had said he was home when he’d rung him, hadn’t he?
He heard Lux barking in his usual greeting. His dog ran happily to him in the dark. Merlin lifted his small dog from the ground when he was at his feet, carrying him in his arms. Lux greeted him by licking his cheek.
Turning on the lights, he found Cavall lying on the floor of the living room. He was in his white wolf form, which still startled Merlin a bit. Cavall stood up upon Merlin settling his eyes on him. But Arthur’s dog didn’t move. His now silver eyes only stared at Merlin, almost judging him. Frankly, Merlin felt the look was somewhat malicious.
“Cavall?” He asked tentatively.
Then Arthur emerged from the kitchen. Merlin nearly dropped Lux at the unexpected sight of Arthur with pure black eyes, even the whites of his eyes were – Merlin wondered if maybe this was the Prince of Darkness. Yet something didn’t fit…no, this was Arthur, his Arthur. But not him at the same time.
Arthur’s mouth twisted into a cruel smile. “I’ve fooled you. All this time.”
“What?” Merlin intoned, puzzled. “What are you on about, Arthur? Why are your eyes black like that?”
Lux started whining anxiously. Merlin shushed him, petting his head to comfort him.
“I’m the Prince, the Prince of Darkness,” Arthur said so seriously, so convincingly that it planted a seed of doubt inside Merlin. No. That couldn’t be true. Yet maybe just maybe…if Arthur really was telling the truth now. Oh god. Oh god. No.
“And after years, you still were too blind to see who I truly was. How could you be such an idiot not to see it?”
“But your eyes. Aren’t they permanent? How could you change them back to blue?”
“They’re not permanent. Fuck, Merlin, I have so much magic you can’t even fathom it,” he told him with twisted relish. “You think I can’t change such a dumb thing like eye colour to trick you? Honestly I thought you were smarter, but I guess you enjoyed fucking me too much to bother being perceptive. Such a fool. Complete idiot.”
And then Arthur, the Prince of Darkness, whoever this was laughed a cold laugh.
Merlin felt static electricity surrounding him, feeling Athena releasing a spark of magic to defend him. Merlin took a deep breath, and then released it.
“You’re not Arthur. Not the one I’m engaged to,” Merlin declared solemnly. “You’re some imposter who’s putting on a good disguise. I don’t even think you’re the Prince of Darkness. Maybe someone who knows him, but you’re not him.”
Arthur gave him a disbelieving look. “You poor, deluded man. Why can’t you see what’s right in front of you?”
Then Arthur approached him, and Merlin reflexively stepped back. He still held on to Lux, an earnest grip now. As if letting go of his dog would cause Lux to disappear forever. He couldn’t do it.
“Look at me, you blind idiot. I’ve been the Prince all along. Our first meeting wasn’t at the cursed tree, but at uni. You laughed at me when I introduced myself as Arthur, saying how unfucking believable it was that my name was that when your name was Merlin. And then you purposefully avoided me for the next week because the whole Merlin-Arthur thing weirded you out. You were worried we’d date and then break up and that you’d never be able to pick up a book on Arthurian legend ever again.”
Merlin stared, wide-eyed at him. Damnit. That was all true. Arthur had managed to sway him and they had begun to date, Merlin’s worries had been unfounded.
Looking carefully at Arthur’s pitch black eyes, Merlin believed. He believed in what Arthur or the Prince was saying.
How could he have been so short-sighted not to see the truth? After all the time he had known Arthur, Merlin truly hadn’t known the real him.
“So I think it’s time we went our separate ways. You’re beneath me, honestly,” the Prince said in such an honest tone that Merlin couldn’t help but flinch in response. “You’re better off with someone just as slow and pathetic as yourself.”
Merlin glared at him. “Fuck you.” He shouted back at him, wanting to express his anger at the Prince for pretending to be someone else all this time.
With Lux in his arms, Merlin left the house, slamming the front door behind him.
He went to his car and placed Lux in the backseat. He himself sat in the driver’s seat and he wasn’t sure whether to scream or cry. Silent tears came down his face, almost unbidden, and he let them fall, doing nothing to stop them. He leaned his elbow against the window frame, his hand resting against the side of his head.
Merlin knew he should drive, leave now, but he couldn’t. The last few years of his life had been a lie. He stared dully at the silver band on his ring finger. His engagement ring.
Angrily, he removed the bloody ring yet he didn’t have the heart to throw it away. So he tossed it in the glove compartment instead.
“Merlin…” Athena spoke softly, but she seemed unsure what to say.
“Just…thank you for being here, Athena. You don’t need to say anything. It’s all right.”
Then he pulled out of the driveway and headed to Gwen and Lancelot’s house. Since they and their daughter were still on holiday, their home was blessedly empty.
That’s just what Merlin needed now.
First Morgaine, then Tauren, now this. Bran was ill, sick enough that it concerned Robin. While Gwydion could have magically taken care of any average illness with little fuss, this time was different.
But this was a memory echo of a sickness Bran had when he was sixteen in his past life. And it was haunting him now, giving him a high fever and making him lethargic and a little delusional. It was a price to be paid for remembering your past life. An old ailment could come back and haunt you.
As a consequence, healing Bran with magic was much trickier. The best they could do for him was give him the usual medication combined with Gwydion’s magic and hope Bran would pull through. Robin tried not to be too worried about Bran being only eleven now, younger than he’d been when he’d first contracted this illness in his past life. But children were resilient, weren’t they?
Robin sincerely hoped that would prove to be true here.
Bran was asleep now in his bed. Gwydion was pretending to be sleeping in his little tree home in the room. Robin had sent Ophelia off to bed, but he doubted she would follow his advice and get some much-needed rest.
Suddenly Bran had shot up and then he had a desperate look on his face. He turned to Robin. “Please don’t let them take my blood,” he said earnestly, deep in some tortured delusion. “Please. It’s not what they think it is. It’s not Immortal blood. Please. They’ll lock me away and I’ll take forever to die…please. Help me.” he asked of Robin, so intent and worried about this perceived danger.
Robin gripped his hand firmly to comfort him. “I’m here, Bran. Don’t worry. No one will take you away. I won’t let them. Your blood is safe. Don’t worry.” he assured him.
Bran still looked a little anxious. “Are you sure?” he asked in a small voice.
“Yes I’m very sure,” Robin said to him quietly. “You’re never alone.”
He then urged Bran to drink a glass of water. Robin kept the glass steady as Bran drank from it. Deeming he’d had enough, Robin replaced the glass on the table nearby.
“Is Gwydion--?” Bran asked in a sleepy whisper. His eyelids were already drooping. He looked about ready to go back to sleep.
“Yes Gwydion’s here,” Robin told him.
Appearing to have heard Bran, Gwydion flew over to him, landing on Bran’s hand. “Oh, Gwydion,” he breathed out tiredly. He raised his hand so that he could kiss Gwydion on the head. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“You’ll be better, I promise,” Gwydion assured him.
Tears came down Bran’s face, and he looked so distraught over something that Robin didn’t dare to ask about it. Gwydion shifted position, perching on Bran’s head, as Robin took Bran in his arms, embracing him.
Bran’s shoulders shook and he sobbed as Robin continued to hold him.
“It’s harder in his weakened state to deal with all the memories of his past life. Especially the bad ones,” Gwydion deduced sadly. He moved to Bran’s shoulder, and nestled in the crook of his neck.
“We’ve all had that trouble,” Robin sighed.
He had remembered his past life at sixteen, and there were times where he couldn’t handle it all as easily as he wished. He’d been close to taking up smoking to relax himself. But his mum had laid down the law and he’d had to let go of that idea. Fortunately physical activities like running or hiking had helped him.
His heart broke for Bran who had remembered so much sooner than Robin thought was right. How Bran managed to live each day with the weight of those memories was a wonder. Robin tried to help him by suggesting origami or visiting other worlds with Gwydion – being careful not to get into trouble, of course.
Once Robin heard Bran quiet down, crying himself to sleep, he gently laid him back down to bed.
Gwydion was on Bran’s chest now.
Ophelia came into the room. She yawned. “How is he?” she asked in concern.
“Bran’s a fighter,” Robin said with a small smile.
“Of course he is, Clan pride and all that,” she said, smiling back at him.
The two of them watched a now sleeping Gwydion, still on Bran’s chest, moving up and down in rhythm with Bran’s breathing.
Robin decided to move Gwydion back to his nest in the tree later.
Horrified, Arthur just realized that he’d driven Merlin away. And even worse, he’d finally remembered everything of his past life. He now faced the very real possibility that he would never see Merlin again, that they’d never recover from the fight they’d just had.
Oh God. The things he’d said. He hadn’t meant them. The bloody Prince of Darkness had been behind this. He’d changed Arthur’s eyes, twisted his words; and Arthur could only remain trapped inside his own body as he’d said terrible things to Merlin. Enough to make Merlin leave and to make him reevaluate his relationship with Arthur.
And Merlin believed, oh god, that he’d been living a lie. Arthur had made him believe that. No. No. No. This couldn’t be happening.
“Well, that was something,” the Prince reappeared again. He was wearing a light grey dress shirt with a silk black tie and also dark trousers. Another blasted dark fedora was on his head.
“Fuck you. It’s always you fucking things up.”
“Hey, don’t blame me. Blame King Merlin for saying such ‘nice’ things about me,” the Prince said sarcastically.
“How can you even still be alive? That prophecy involving Gwydion was supposed to get rid of you. But now you’re immortal. Probably the last person who should be. You don’t deserve immortality.”
“No prophecy said I would die, only lose, if my plan to bring all worlds into ruin, into darkness would be thwarted. Defeat doesn’t mean death. Hopefully your sad mortal brain can process that reasoning,” the Prince sneered at him.
“If there was a way to kill you, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” Arthur shot at him darkly. He began thinking of all the ways he’d relish killing the Prince.
“Oh Arthur, Arthur. I would’ve thought you’d be more interested getting your Merlin back,” the Prince said cajolingly. “Just like old times, right? Your actions driving Merlin away. Let’s see if it takes him five years again to reconcile with you and forgive you for your nasty words.”
“They were your words. What do you have against me? Is it because I was able to have what you didn’t? I was King of my world’s Camelot, and you--”
“Shut up. Just shut up,” the Prince of Darkness retorted angrily. “You don’t even know, do you? About the nature of Merlin’s reincarnation? You two don’t belong together. He’s better off with someone else, or alone, I don’t care. As long as he isn’t with you. You were forcing something that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”
“I don’t believe a word you say. You just want me to be miserable.”
“Fine then. If you don’t want to know about Merlin…”
“You’ll just be lying.”
“This world has dulled your senses. Honestly have you even looked at him? Hair as black as night, eyes forget-me-not blue…”
Arthur blinked at him. “What the hell are you getting at?”
“His great-grandmother on his mother’s side was an incarnation of Snow White, and his grandmother on his father’s side is Cinderella’s incarnation. How could you be so blind?”
Now Arthur remembered the existence of the Fairytale World. Despite having his Excalibur that he used to travel to other worlds, he’d never visited that world. He had been busy running Camelot as King after all. “People from the Fairytale World were reborn in this world?”
“Some of them.”
“Why weren’t Merlin and me reborn into the Daemon World? That’s our world. We should have returned there.”
The Prince shrugged. “Maybe you didn’t have your lucky horseshoe with you,” he said carelessly, clearly not too concerned over Arthur’s frustration.
The Prince continued on, “But so you see, the fact is that you’re beneath Merlin. Why would he ever choose you when he’s been reincarnated with such a fairytale-laced ancestry? Why he even gave you the time of day, I don’t know. Frankly, I was helping by breaking the two of you up before you married each other. It would have only gone downhill from there. You should be thanking me.”
“No, actually, right now, I’m still very much hating you,” Arthur said fiercely.
He glared at him. He knew that it would be useless asking the Prince to change his eye colour back to his natural blue. If he had to be stuck the rest of his life with demon black eyes, shit…what the hell was he going to do? Arthur couldn’t stand the fact that he resembled the Prince of Darkness more so now with his fully black eyes.
“Well. If you feel like that, then you leave me no choice,” the Prince said quietly, a threat underlying his words.
It made Arthur nervous, and a few minutes later, his fear was not left unfounded.
Merlin stroked Lux in his lap. He sat in the darkness of Gwen and Lancelot’s living room. He didn’t want to think about Arthur or the fight they’d had. It hurt too much, and he just wanted peace, to breathe in and out, and to not think.
His eyes closed, and soon, as his breathing slowed and he fell into very welcome sleep, Merlin dreamed.
Strangely, he was dressed as a prince, complete with a blue cape at his back. He was running from someone, but he wasn’t sure who. Unfortunately he hit a dead end by way of a cliff with a long way down to the sea below.
The man chasing after him caught up to him. It was Arthur, or no, it was the Prince of Darkness. His eyes kept shifting from Arthur’s blue to the Prince’s creepy black eyes that left no white for reprieve from the desolate darkness.
Arthur/Prince, whoever he truly was, stood in front of him on the offensive. He had a sword at the ready to attack Merlin.
“You’ve come to the end. You might as well face your death like a man.”
“There’s always a way out,” Merlin declared defiantly.
Arthur/Prince looked incredulously at him.
To show him, Merlin walked backwards until he reached the very edge of the cliff. He then spread his arms wide and closing his eyes, he then fell over the cliff.
“Merlin!” Arthur/Prince shouted in outrage upon losing him.
But Merlin was surprised when he didn’t feel himself speed up as gravity took hold of him. No. He suddenly transformed into a great phoenix of scarlet-gold coloring. He started to flap his expansive wings, flying up instead of falling down.
He was his phoenix daemon, Zlocisty, but he usually just called her Zlota. The golden phoenix.
Just like that, with a startling jolt, Merlin’s memories of his past life came rushing back to him. Growing up in the Daemon World. A world where everyone Merlin knew had their souls outside their bodies. The souls took on an animal form that could speak and interact with others. Unless you possessed magic and underwent the ritual like he had, then the daemon and their respective human couldn’t bear to be more than few feet away from each other.
There was his mother’s orange and cream male cat daemon, Cieplo, who he remembered was always a warm, reassuring presence in his childhood just like his mother was. Like his reincarnated mother was in this life.
That’s why he saw a glimpse of Cieplo in his mum’s Merlin falcon, Belle. Maybe a part of Cieplo was in the bird somehow. And the same might be true of Cavall. A part of Krola must be inside of the Norwegian Elkhound too. That had to be why Cavall could turn into a white wolf at whim.
He remembered the terrible sadness he felt when his father died when he was only four. He’d been killed by Uther’s orders. How his mother tried to remain strong for him, but years later, Merlin knew that she was just as devastated as he had been. It must have been so hard for her to not lose herself, knowing she still had a son to look after.
And how in this life, his mum had to deal with a similar situation with her husband dying yet she had to be there to take care of Merlin. She had to pull through the loss and the grief somehow.
In his long ago past life, his Zlota had settled into her final daemon form when Merlin was just shy of fourteen years. The settling of his daemon had happened a few years later than was typical. Merlin thought the wait was well-rewarded when he saw Zlota was an awe-inspiring phoenix, not to mention that she could also transform into a small, more conspicuous firefly.
When he had come to Camelot, he had been nervous considering the ban on magic. Zlota’s firefly form had allowed Merlin to keep a low profile. If she’d been in her phoenix form out in the open in Camelot, Merlin might as well have given himself up and asked to be sent to the pyre.
Surprise hadn’t even begun to cover what he’d felt when Arthur had told him that he’d seen Merlin do magic at the fight in the marketplace. Arthur had promised he’d keep the secret of his magic. That shocked Merlin even more.
He had found out by then that when Arthur had been little, only five, he had spotted Merlin’s father doing a little bit of harmless magic. Regrettably back then, Arthur had wanted to please his father King Uther. He followed his father’s laws and went to report to his father about seeing a man perform magic.
And here was Arthur, years later, defying his father by keeping Merlin’s magic secret. Merlin hadn’t even needed to plead with Arthur to spare his life.
“I don’t understand. I thought I’d be dealing with an uphill battle getting you to see the good in magic. What led you to having a different view on magic than your father?
“I guess it’s just your lucky day, Merlin,” Arthur said with a smile. “Now you better learn how to best be cautious with your magic. Because if my father finds out about you, then I don’t know how much I can help you.”
“And I suppose you know best how to conceal magic use?” Merlin retorted with a raised eyebrow.
“Of course, Merlin. I am the Prince of Camelot after all. Who better?” Arthur quipped back smartly.
Merlin crossed his arms and frowned at him. He still thought that Arthur was a prat. A well-meaning one, but a prat all the same.
That was how only a few weeks after Merlin had been made his manservant, the two unlikely friends established an especially close bond. They inevitably fell in love.
Arthur had remained quiet on why exactly he had had a change of heart regarding magic. Certainly King Uther had not been the one to birth this change of opinion in him. Eventually, Arthur had only revealed to Merlin that he had seen the light one day after Merlin’s father had died. Merlin had let it go, and he’d let him keep this one secret.
Although Merlin had noticed Arthur sneak out to visit a big old oak tree surrounded by three smaller ones. There was an intriguing white rose etching upon the tree that Arthur had looked at thoughtfully, tracing the petals gently.
Merlin himself always felt a kinship to the big oak tree. He had never found out why he felt that way around the tree. Yet due to that, he always liked to read by the oak tree, leaning his back against the tree bark, or just admiring the lovely white rose etching some artist must have put there.
After a year living in Camelot, Merlin had saved Arthur with his magic as he always did. But this particular time had led to huge consequences. Arthur’s father had been in the room, and he had seen Merlin visibly use magic. Luckily, Merlin had managed to escape the pyre, and he along with Arthur had headed into exile. Arthur had stood by Merlin, even risking his chance of being King by accompanying him into exile.
“I’m sorry, Arthur,” Merlin said softly. “It was my mistake, and now you’re stuck here in exile with me.”
“Shut up, Merlin,” Arthur shot back. “Saving my life wasn’t a mistake. Don’t ever think that. I suppose we were both deluded in believing you’d never get caught. I’m just glad that we escaped before you’d gotten killed. I could have never lived with myself if you’d died, Merlin, died and I could have done something about it. And like you said, I will be King one day with your help, of course.”
“Yes. I won’t let you down, Arthur. I promise,” Merlin assured him.
Then unfortunately, Morgana had killed herself by jumping off the castle ramparts. Merlin had learned that Uther was subduing the daemons of magic users so he could bend them to his will, to make them do what he commanded. Apparently the King had decided to stop killing sorcerers, and instead use them for his own selfish plans.
Knowing this, Morgana had chosen to ‘save herself’ from that terrible fate and fell to her death, her daemon, Tiresias, dying with her.
A year into their exile, Arthur and Merlin had traveled to this world they’d now been reincarnated into. The travel between worlds had been thanks to Arthur’s Excalibur given to him by Sir Lancelot. Excalibur could cut openings into other worlds to allow them to elude Uther’s men.
And now, oddly enough, Merlin had been reborn into that same world they’d escaped to. They’d called this world the Non-Daemon World then. Arthur and Merlin had met the Merlin of the Non-Daemon World, who had been a manservant to his Arthur as Merlin had been to his own. Although the other Merlin had been luckier because he hadn’t been driven into exile as Merlin had been with Arthur.
Later on, Merlin had met Alice in the Non-Daemon World. She had been an orphan, looked after by her relatives. Yet she had run away, and Merlin had met her and helped her as best as he could.
He later learned that she had a twin brother, Robin, who was a Dragonlord. He’d inherited the talent at a very young age due to the death of his and Alice’s father. He was taken to another world to be educated in the art of being a Dragonlord.
Eventually, when he was of age, he was placed in the employ of Lady Ophelia’s household as nobility of the World of Magic typically had a good number of dragons on their property. There was a high demand for trained Dragonlords to take care of the dragons. After Ophelia’s first husband had died in battle, she was left a widow with two children. But she found love again with Robin and she had married him.
Disaster struck for Merlin and Arthur’s relationship after a year into their exile.
Arthur betrayed Merlin and turned him into King Uther. Uther subdued his daemon Zlota and subjugated Merlin under his ruthless command. For Merlin, it was hell on earth for those few days. It was all due to a prophecy requiring Arthur to betray Merlin, and then for Merlin to truly forgive him. Only then would the Prince of Darkness lose.
Arthur had risked his relationship with Merlin due to the noble purpose of saving all the worlds from the Prince’s dark plans. Yet despite those reasons, Merlin still had a hard time coping with Arthur being so willing to ruin their strong bond, so willing to put Merlin through hell.
Merlin recalled one moment during the five years before he forgave Arthur. He had had a row with Arthur. This particular time involved Merlin’s apprentice, Rhys, which made it personal to Merlin.
“I want you to leave him alone. Rhys is my apprentice, my charge, and you have no right to ask him how I’m doing. I won’t have him be some sort of go-between. He has other duties that are more important.” Merlin told Arthur firmly.
“What, so I can’t even ask how one of my oldest friends is doing? We hardly talk to one another these days. Truly talk as friends. It’s all just official business. Please, Merlin, don’t make a fuss about me just wanting to know how you’re feeling, how your day is going,” Arthur pleaded with him.
Merlin shoved him out of the way. “Don’t waste my time or Rhys’s time again.”
He started walking away from Arthur.
“Do you honestly think I don’t see it?” Arthur shot back at him. “Rhys may not have the build of a knight -- more likely a strong wind might just blow him over -- but the boy is blond with blue eyes. Why the hell did you pick him over all the others? If I recall correctly, he was the only one with those features.”
Merlin turned back around. He gave a hollow laugh. “Seriously? You think I chose him because he vaguely looks like you? I chose Rhys because he has the most potential. Stop seeing what isn’t there.”
Then Merlin quickly walked away from Arthur before he could respond. Zlota looking ready to attack Arthur had forced Arthur and Krola to retreat, much to Merlin’s relief.
Back then, Merlin hadn’t wanted to admit to Arthur that maybe a small part of him had chosen Rhys because of the resemblance. It was his way of coping with his broken bond with Arthur. While he still couldn’t find it in himself to forgive Arthur then, that hadn’t stopped him from missing their close relationship.
But he had been speaking the truth about the potential.
Rhys had been the only one who Merlin had felt was eager and willing enough to put in the effort and flourish under Merlin’s guidance. While his relationship with Arthur lay in tatters, focusing on teaching Rhys was one of the few bright spots he had during those years.
Thinking back now, Merlin didn’t deny he had been selfish to be annoyed that Arthur didn’t choose him over saving the worlds. But again and again, he saw Arthur looking cold and like stone as Merlin stood in front of Uther, learning that he was now trapped and Uther would subdue his precious Zlota. And Merlin would effectively be a puppet, and Arthur just stood there letting Merlin suffer.
It was as if Arthur had taken a piece of Merlin’s heart which Merlin had so lovingly given him and squeezed it, the red blood running through his fingers. Arthur’s face only yielded a look of determination to make Merlin feel as much pain as possible.
Uther had been smarter than he looked and he hadn’t trusted that Arthur had turned against Merlin. So he had locked him up in a tall tower, as Arthur had told Merlin later, and it was thanks to Ophelia’s aid that Arthur escaped the tower to rescue Merlin.
Toward the end of Merlin’s time as Uther’s unwilling servant, he recalled meeting his uncle, James, for the first time. James had actually been the one to kill King Uther in revenge against him killing his older brother, Merlin’s father, Hephaestion. That act by James had lifted the dark spell from Merlin, freeing him.
Then the prophecy had become irrelevant. A new prophecy came to being that involved two other people who would stop the Prince of Darkness. It was as if some higher power had known that it would take Merlin years before he forgave Arthur. So a new prophecy was made that would have a greater assurance of success.
This new prophecy only clearly defined Gwydion, but when he played his part, it was easily revealed that the other person of the prophecy was Bran. That hadn’t been much of a surprise considering how strong of a friendship the boys shared.
It went as far as Gwydion transferring a life-threatening illness that a sixteen year old Bran suffered – courtesy of the Prince of Darkness -- unto himself without Bran’s permission. Fortunately Gwydion survived the ordeal of the awful sickness. Being part-god due to his father had helped him to beat the sickness.
Merlin had been lucky enough to see this new prophecy played out. The new prophecy entailed Gwydion truly loving, deep down within his soul, another person who, for him, was Bran.
Seeing the golden light created from this moment and seeing this light grow and spread had inspired Merlin.
He had had a change of heart as a result. Soon after, he decided to finally forgive Arthur, which effectively ended five years of tension between them. Their love for one another was stronger than ever before.
Once Merlin had remembered his past life, he sat there, breathing quietly. Hearing the sound of his steady breath helped to calm him. Lux was down on the floor now, looking anxious, as he wandered around on the floor. Merlin knelt down to pet him behind the ears, and then he decided to get his dog outside.
After he let Lux out, he finally thought about the fight he’d had with Arthur.
With the knowledge of his past life, Merlin realized that the Prince’s manipulations had been behind Arthur so viciously breaking up with him. Merlin should have seen it, but he’d let himself be tricked and left Arthur just like that. Mind control had to have been involved.
Then he jumped when he noticed that King Merlin, or his ghost rather, had appeared. He was wearing a gold crown on his head. His robes were deep blue with an embroidered likeness of Archimedes, the King’s dark blue phoenix with silver-tipped wings and silver eyes, etched onto the robe at the upper right hand corner below his shoulder. The phoenix was outlined by delicate golden thread so it would stand out against the robes.
Soon after he’d been freed from Uther’s control, Merlin had met King Merlin when he had spent a year in the World of Magic. Arthur had needed time to re-establish order in the Camelot of the Daemon World. So Merlin had gone to stay with King Merlin at his palace and help out with any tasks the King needed of him. Merlin had traveled all over the World of Magic, and it had been a worthwhile experience.
“I should have expected to see you,” Merlin decided.
His other self from the World of Magic smiled quietly. “I apologize for not coming sooner, but I thought it’d be best to visit once you remembered. It’s good to see you,” King Merlin said honestly.
The King became corporeal for a moment, which surprised Merlin, and the two embraced in a half-hug.
“How can you do that? Solidify like that?” Merlin asked him as the King returned to his transparent appearance. “Or is it just because you’ve been a ghost for so long, you know all the tricks?”
King Merlin nodded. “Hard not to considering I’ve been a ghost since I died so long ago. Figuring out the ‘tricks’ certainly helps to pass the time.”
“Is there a reason why you look you’re thirty-something? I remember seeing you older. You didn’t die in your thirties.”
The King looked sheepish. “Well since I agreed to continue helping in the fight against the Prince as a ghost, turning down reincarnation completely, I requested to be de-aged. It’s vain of me, I admit, but if I’m to be a ghost forever and the de-aging option was open to me, I couldn’t resist taking it.”
“Fair enough. So you can’t be reincarnated at all?”
King Merlin shook his head. “No. The hard part is seeing Freya reincarnated – she was Robin and Alice’s mother. She passed away some years ago while the twins were at university. I visited her of course, but it wasn’t the same. Yet I made my choice, and I have to accept that there are downsides to it.”
Merlin remembered that Freya was King Merlin’s wife in his past life. The two of them were quite in love with one another from his recollections. It’s never easy to be separated from the one you love.
That left Merlin thinking of Arthur and how much he loved him. Yes they fought sometimes like now, but still, they would always find their way back to each other.
Merlin gave a long sigh. He opened the door for Lux to return back inside. The puppy didn’t bark as he usually did in the presence of strangers. Even if King Merlin was a ghost, that didn’t even faze Lux. Or maybe the dog wasn’t even aware that the King was a ghost.
King Merlin smiled at the dog, kneeling down to pet him with a solidified hand. The dog seemed to enjoy the attention.
“You have a sweet dog. What’s his name?”
“Lux. His name is Lux,” Merlin said.
“Vita Magica Lux,” King Merlin murmured thoughtfully as he stood up.
They walked back to the couch to sit down.
Merlin remembered the motto of King Merlin’s Camelot. Life Magic Light was the translation. Maybe something subconscious inside him recalled that motto and that’s why he named Lux that name.
To occupy Lux’s interest, Athena conjured a dog toy resembling a chipmunk for him. Merlin soon discovered that it was a squeaky toy. Wagging his tail, Lux expressed his delight at biting the toy just right to make the squeaky sound. Merlin wrangled the chipmunk out of Lux’s mouth and threw it some feet away into the kitchen. Lux went off after it, and soon, faint squeaking sounds were heard as well as the pup’s happy barks at conquering the chipmunk.
“Arthur and I had a big fight,” Merlin confided in his other self. “That’s why I’m hiding away here. And feeling like an idiot. The Prince probably finds this so amusing, that he has succeeded in dividing me and Arthur.”
King Merlin looked sympathetic. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “I can make a good guess about what the Prince did exactly.”
“I know mind control had to have played a big part,” Merlin declared grimly.
“Yes, unfortunately so,” King Merlin agreed. “I expect the Prince of Darkness trapped Arthur within his own body, so he was forced to watch as he drove you away. The Prince even used some of Arthur’s memories for an added touch. And then for extra guarantee, the Prince applied some mind control that Arthur could use against you. The mind control magic centered at the eyes, as that’s the easiest place to put it.”
“How do you know all this?” Merlin was curious to find out.
“It has been the Prince’s style as of late. When he sees me, he likes to gloat about it and he inevitably tells me what he did. I imagine it was particularly easy for the Prince to work his magic on Arthur--”
“—because they’re two versions of the same person from different worlds. The similarity can make magic work more smoothly. I know. I feel like an idiot,” Merlin said in frustration. “Arthur’s eyes looked exactly like the Prince’s. I don’t even know if his eyes can return back to normal.”
“They will. That spell isn’t permanent.”
“If you’ve been talking with the Prince, then you know what world he apparently is Emperor of, right?”
King Merlin looked uneasy, like he wasn’t too happy telling Merlin this.
“Oh no. Don’t tell me. Not the Daemon World,” Merlin guessed. “No. Seriously? Is that why Arthur and I were reborn in this world? So the Prince could have our original world?”
“Unfortunately yes… he, well, the Prince hasn’t destroyed the Daemon World if that’s what you’re thinking. He rules with his half-sister, Morgaine, as his wife; but it’s his advisor Nimueh who’s truly his real confidante.”
“But how did that happen? How could whoever approved this have allowed the bloody Prince of Darkness to rule a world?” Merlin wanted to know, feeling justifiably outraged.
“Sometimes tough choices have to be made. The Prince lost, as you know, thanks to Gwydion playing his prophetic part. Yet, despite that, the Prince was undeterred and managed to gain immortality. Though he can’t destroy all the worlds anymore, he still has a part to play in the future of the worlds. So he needs to be alive,” King Merlin informed him regrettably. “It’s frustrating, I know, but one way to appease him was to give him a world to rule. This was finalized around the twelfth century. By this concession, he’d be more focused on being a leader rather than thinking up plans to cause misery.”
“Oh, right. So he was bribed. ‘Here’s a world for you, Prince of Darkness, now, be happy with it and don’t misbehave,’” said Merlin bitterly. “Not sure how well that’s worked after what he’s done with me and Arthur, and then sending that wretched man after Bran…”
Then Lux came back, trotting along with the chipmunk toy carried in his mouth. He settled down, appearing tuckered out, fortunately, as he relinquished his hold on the toy and laid his furry white head over his paws. Merlin took him in his arms so that Lux could rest with his head on his lap.
“Unfortunately, the Prince can’t be completely stopped from anything else he does,” the King told him. “He has lived all these centuries – honing his magical talents and gaining allies -- while you’ve been resting waiting to be reborn. The Prince is quite adept at making deals and making certain people like him enough to agree to his conditions.”
Merlin dearly wished the Prince wasn’t immortal. If anyone deserved to die, it was him. He was like an infuriating trickster, making a mess of things wherever he went.
“I know you must hate to hear all this especially since it involves the Daemon World, but the Prince expressly wanted that world. He knows all too well that the World of Magic will never accept him. I suppose the Daemon World was his second choice.”
Merlin swore again. “Just great. Brilliant,” he said darkly. “Second choice! Fuck him. I really should go see Arthur,” he declared.
Before he stood up, King Merlin stopped him. “Wait, I should tell you something.”
Merlin turned to look at him, wondering. “What is it?”
“Gwydion isn’t the only Merlin who’s related to you,” the King began.
Merlin’s eyes widened. “But how?” he asked, puzzled.
As far as he knew, King Merlin, his other self from the World of Magic, was the son of King Balinor and one of the most powerful Empaths in the World of Magic, Queen Hunith.
“Ceridwen, the God of Magic’s first child and your father’s half-sister, as you know, is my true mother. I only just found that out after my death. I almost feel grateful I wasn’t aware of it during my lifetime. But I’m glad that Ceridwen finally revealed the truth to me.”
“How does that work – her being your birth mother?”
“Magic, of course. She is the goddess of creative magic after all. She well, she tricked my father into believing he was sleeping with my mother one night by changing her appearance. I was conceived then, and Ceridwen was able to magically transfer me into the Queen’s womb. So the woman I’ve always seen as my mother was the one who carried me for the majority of nine months. Yet I was born with Ceridwen’s express blessing. It’s powerful magic to be carried inside a goddess even if it’s for a brief time.”
“And your parents didn’t know?”
King Merlin shrugged. “My father and mother were trying to conceive during this time. They saw nothing suspect about it. Ceridwen did as smooth a job as she could so no one would raise questions. So overall, nothing has greatly changed. Queen Hunith is still my mother, but I have a bit of Ceridwen in me as well.”
“That was the last thing I was expecting, but I’m glad you told me. So you, me, and Gwydion are sort of related as cousins,” he concluded.
“Yes. I know you’ve been dealing with a lot lately, and you’ve just remembered. But I wanted you to know the truth about me before it slipped my mind to tell you.”
Merlin nodded. “Thanks for letting me know. I’d better go,” he said.
“Of course. I hope all goes well,” King Merlin wished him.
Merlin gave him a small smile back. “It was nice to catch up with you after all this time,” he told his other self.
He carried Lux in his arms, complete with his new toy, and departed from the house.
In the specially designed oasis Ceridwen had set up, with King Merlin’s help and input, the King stuck his bare feet in the tranquil lake.
Only his old nursemaid Guinevere had known that he had encountered the Prince of Darkness before the Prince had been taken away from the World of Magic. It hadn’t been much of a meeting, but oh he had seen him, and oft times the King wondered if he had been much older, then maybe he would’ve been able to actually help the Prince...
But alas, he had only been three years old, the Prince only five.
He’d come into the chambers the ailing boy was kept in. He’d found some colourful wildflowers and he’d felt sorry for the boy not much older than him. The blond boy looked very ill, and he’d hoped he’d feel better soon. At the time, Merlin hadn’t been aware who exactly this boy was, that he would have remained the Prince of Camelot if the plague hadn’t come. How now, Merlin had taken his place as the current prince of the same kingdom, and one day, Merlin would be King.
He’d placed the collected wildflowers in a vase on the bedside table near the sleeping boy. He looked very pale and his face was set in a frown. He looked dreadfully unhappy, the sickness making him so Merlin had assumed.
Then his nursemaid Guinevere had entered the chambers, and scolded Merlin gently for wandering off into this room. That he would upset his mother and father if they’d learned he was in this room.
“I don’t want to upset them, especially Mummy,” Merlin had said earnestly. “You won’t tell them, will you?” he asked hopefully.
Guinevere shook her head at him, bemused. “No, child, but promise me you won’t come here again.”
“I promise,” said Merlin. “Will the boy feel better? He looks sick.”
“Don’t worry about the boy, little Princeling. Someone will see to him.”
Then she lifted him up so that she carried him in her arms. “Now we should go. There’s a dragon hatching taking place very soon,” Guinevere had told him.
“I like the blue ones most,” he had declared.
“Yes I know, dear one,” she said.
As they walked away from the boy’s bed, Merlin saw his eyes open. The boy’s blue eyes looked sad, and a bit lost too. He made a passing glance at Merlin and then he peered in confusion at the wildflowers at the small table beside his bed. The boy put one hand over his brow, and his other arm was outstretched across the bed. He looked miserable and made a small groan. Merlin wondered if the older boy would cry because his eyes seemed a bit wet.
But then, Guinevere had taken Merlin away, preventing him from seeing more of the boy.
Unfortunately, his destiny involved him being pitted against the Prince of Darkness, his world’s Arthur. An Arthur forced out of a world where he could have been King of one of its kingdoms if fate had been in his favour.
Undoubtedly, he could see why the Prince forced the Merlin and Arthur of the Daemon World to be reborn into another world. As a roundabout revenge for being forced out of his own world long ago.
Chapter 3: So this is goodbye
“Gwydion, Gwydion…” Bran kept repeating weakly. Then he stopped, maybe too exhausted from fighting the illness.
Ophelia checked his brow. “He’s really burning up. Nothing’s working,” she said worriedly.
She stroked Bran’s hair, attempting to comfort him. In too quiet whispers, Bran started speaking in Latin, the words didn’t make coherent sense like he was grasping for words that weren’t coming out right.
“We have to get him to hospital if it continues like this,” Robin decided.
Gwydion spoke from his present perch on Bran’s upper arm. “But since this is an echo of the illness the Prince of Darkness put on him in his previous life, then…”
“No. You’re not transferring the illness on to yourself,” Robin shot down. “You’re a bird now, Gwydion. We don’t know how that’ll affect you. And you know that Bran will be upset with you for risking your life like that,” he reminded him.
“But I can’t just watch him die. My magic isn’t even working on him. I don’t like not being able to help Bran get better,” Gwydion argued.
Then Ophelia spoke up, suggesting, “We should put Bran in a lukewarm bath. To cool his body down.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Robin agreed. “And Gwydion, I understand how frustrated you feel. Believe me, I feel the same way. I know we have an unconventional set-up here, but I’m the oldest here in terms of this reincarnated life now. So I’m pulling rank now. If you could respect my decisions, then I’d appreciate it. If we cooperate, then Bran will get better.”
After a pause, Gwydion assented, bowing his feathery head. “Okay, Robin.”
“Thank you,” Robin said. Then he lifted Bran into his arms.
“Gwydion?” Bran asked for him again in a whisper.
“Yes, I’m here, always,” Gwydion assured him.
Bran reached out to pet him, and then he turned his head toward Robin’s chest as if he wanted to hide away from the world.
“It’ll be all right,” Robin comforted him quietly as he slowly carried him out of the room to the bathroom.
Walking beside Robin, Ophelia stroked Bran’s hair. “Poor, poor Bran,” she said sympathetically.
Gwydion just stayed on Bran’s chest, quietly hoping for some sort of small miracle.
~ * ~
After finishing with Arthur, the Prince of Darkness stepped out of the house. He looked across the street where Gwydion was living with his strange little family.
The Prince could sense that Bran was very sick. He looked up at the night sky, knowing that someone was eavesdropping. It had to be James. There were limitations on what he could do, but oh, could the god of unnatural magic be an eavesdropper like the best of them.
“I’m not going to make a habit out of this,” the Prince said out loud to himself.
He whispered a few words under his breath. The spell was done. Yet he felt his eyes changing. Upon conjuring a lit mirror, the Prince realized his eyes were now a normal blue, the eye colour he’d been born with.
“Go back to how you were,” he commanded them.
And his eyes returned to their full black colour.
Maybe Morgaine was right. Maybe he was acting off lately.
This immortal life was taking a toll on him.
“I feel better,” Bran declared. It was not long after Robin had put him back into bed after his bath.
Robin pressed his hand to Bran’s brow to check his temperature. It felt normal. Gwydion checked Bran’s vitals with his magic, with Bran assuring him that he really did feel better. Inexplicable the recovery may be, but it appeared to be real. Gwydion hoped it wasn’t a fluke and Bran wouldn’t relapse.
“Bran’s okay,” Gwydion announced after his check.
“Oh my goodness,” Ophelia uttered with a smile. She hugged Bran to her.
“Could you guess who did it? Like maybe James?” Robin wondered.
“My father may dislike it, but he generally has to stay out of human affairs like healing people. I’m sure he would have helped Bran in a heartbeat if he’d been allowed to. I can’t tell if this was just Bran defeating it on his own. The lukewarm bath might have helped, but I don’t think this is just temporary relief from that. I think he’s well and truly better. There may have been external help from somewhere,” Gwydion said, honestly puzzled.
“I’m better. That’s what counts. We should focus on that,” pointed out Bran.
“Well we’re talking about Gwydion here,” Robin reminded him.
“Can’t rest until the mystery is unravelled,” Ophelia nodded.
“Of course a mystery is meant to be solved,” Gwydion said.
“Oh Gwydion, don’t ever change,” Bran told him. Gwydion was on his finger now.
“What’s there to change? I’m perfect,” he said smartly. He was pleased as Bran stroked him gently.
“I love you,” said Gwydion solemnly to Bran via mind-to-mind communication.
“I love you too, my little bird,” said Bran silently in affectionate reply.
“Someone must hate me,” Merlin declared to no one, well, maybe Athena and a sleeping Lux.
Because when he’d opened the door to his and Arthur’s home, what looked like Cavall transformed into a white wolf and a black wolf that might have been the Prince’s pet were fighting each other in a battle to the death.
Seriously, this sort of stuff should be restricted to nature documentaries. Merlin really wasn’t too enthused about seeing animals attack each other before his eyes. Especially considering wolves weren’t exactly his favorite animals as they’d scared him when he was younger.
And now lucky him, he had a front row seat to watch two battling wolves.
Yet he shoved his fears aside because Arthur was his priority now. He would just have to brave getting past the wolves and hope they didn’t turn their bloodthirsty attentions on him.
“I could store Lux in the Compass for you,” Athena suggested.
“Good idea. The wolves might see him as a free meal,” Merlin said.
After Athena had put Lux inside the Compass, Merlin opened the door again.
The two wolves were still going at it. The black wolf had a small puncture wound to his side. When the dark wolf saw Merlin enter, the wolf growled in threat at him and made to leap in his direction.
“Fuck!” Merlin just managed to cry before the white wolf got in the black wolf’s way.
Merlin fell to the ground as the white wolf protectively covered Merlin with his body.
Then the white wolf -- Cavall, Krola whoever the creature truly was -- growled in warning at the black wolf.
The white wolf pounced on the darker wolf and forced him to the ground. Merlin watched in entranced horror and a twisted delight at the white wolf got the upper hand over the black wolf. The lighter creature started ripping the black wolf to shreds. The defeated creature only whined in pain and misery as it lay near death.
“Cavall!” Merlin exclaimed, trying to get him to stop, but the white wolf was too intent on his eating his enemy. Then he changed tact and called him by a different name, “Krola! It’s over, you did it.”
Nothing. The white wolf didn’t stop.
“Krolewska, just stop now. The black wolf’s finished,” Merlin said, choosing Krola’s full name and hoping that would make the necessary impact.
It fortunately did. Cavall looked at him, returning to his Norwegian Elkhound form.
“Good dog,” Merlin praised him, patting him on the head when he came up to greet him. “And if you’re really in there, it’s good to see you again, Krola,” he said to Arthur’s white wolf daemon of his past life.
Cavall licked his hand happily.
Merlin asked Athena to release Lux now, and she did. He took his puppy and placed him in his doggy bed. Cavall followed after him.
He got an unwanted message from the Prince of Darkness when he returned to the black wolf’s corpse. There was note written with a white pen on black paper saying that the black wolf wasn’t really the Prince’s wolf. Like he’d be dumb enough to leave his actual wolf with Cavall. No, the black wolf was a conjured substitute.
Merlin tore the paper after he’d read it. Whatever. He was sure Cavall as a white wolf would have defeated the Prince’s actual wolf pet just as well as he’d had the substitute.
Merlin couldn’t find Arthur on the ground floor. Cavall nudged him with his nose, directing him to go up the stairs.
Arthur was sleeping on their bed, but Merlin could tell that it wasn’t a natural sleep. He didn’t move and instead, remained lying down on the bed, his face up. Arthur’s hands were clasped together over his stomach. At least Merlin could see him breathing, steadily inhaling and exhaling softly. So he was still alive, thank goodness.
Then he saw the glass bell jar on an equally conjured round table. Merlin immediately thought of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”, but in this case, the rose was a black one. Fitting, Merlin mused, since the Prince was clearly behind this. He bet the only colour rose the Prince could conjure up was a pitch black one.
There was yet another message from the Prince of Darkness – same black stationary, white ink – telling Merlin what would happen to Arthur if he didn’t save him in time.
The note said:
”Well you could probably guess the score here. If you don’t find the right cure for Arthur by the time the last rose petal falls, then he will never wake up and he will die.
That gives you, oh, about twelve hours. That rose has a little charm on it to make it die faster.
I sincerely hope you fail.
The Prince of Darkness”
Merlin swore. He guessed that his magic wouldn’t help Arthur then. Of course the Prince wouldn’t make it that easy.
As he saw one rose petal fall from the enchanted dark rose, Merlin turned to the Diamantine Compass. He asked the device what and where the cure was.
But the Compass proved no help.
“Answer locked by the Prince of Darkness because, and quote “I’m not a fucking idiot” end quote.”
So it seemed that the Prince could even prevent the Compass from releasing certain information. Maybe the Prince could have been behind the Compass not telling Merlin who he meant to kill with that cursed tree. Of course now Merlin knew that it had to be Bran since he was an incarnation – fitting the “not an adult but not quite a child either” puzzle Merlin had been perplexed by before.
Merlin went over to Arthur. He knelt down beside him. “Athena, is there anything you can do?” He asked futilely.
“Well, I could suggest that the cure for Arthur is most likely in King Merlin’s world, the World of Magic. If there’s any world that would have a magic cure, then it’d be that world.”
“Not to mention it’s the Prince’s birth world too,” Merlin noted with a sigh.
“And there’s the Raven Knife…” Athena reminded him of the Knife with the ability to travel to other worlds.
Merlin nodded. “I have to go talk to Bran and Gwydion. I’m sure they’ll help.”
“Don’t worry, Arthur. I’ll save you,” he promised Arthur.
He leaned over Arthur and kissed him on the lips.
Then with a heavy heart, Merlin left the room with Cavall following after him.
He realized that he should probably eat something though. His stomach was complaining of the lack of food. He grabbed a pear from the fruit bowl, but then Cavall barked suddenly. The Elkhound sounded like he was warning Merlin of something.
“What is it, boy?” Merlin asked, puzzled.
Cavall only whined in response.
“Well then,” said Merlin. He replaced the pear he’d grabbed and took a plum instead to eat.
Cavall growled, but Merlin ignored him. He wasn’t sure what the dog’s problem was. I mean, it wasn’t like he was eating a poisoned apple. He wasn’t going to put himself into that mess with the aura of fairytales so strong around him these days.
But when he bit into the plum, and after he swallowed, he started choking. Merlin swore silently. Were plums not safe anymore either? This was ridiculous.
The Prince of Darkness appeared. He grabbed a red apple in mockery and bit into it himself. He watched, unhelpfully of course, as Merlin fell to the ground, continuing to choke. Merlin grasped at his throat as he tried in vain to breathe.
Cavall growled at the Prince. Lux had woken up too and he was barking his high alert bark, seeing something was wrong with Merlin.
“Fairytales, aren’t they a bitch?” The Prince said casually, taking another bite of the red apple. “You know why Gwydion was reborn as a sweet little bluebird in the Fairytale World? His godly father was aiming to protect him, knowing he’d be safe there amongst the kind-hearted princesses and loving forest creatures. But of course Gwydion returned to Bran’s side in this world like a bee is attracted to honey. It’s unfortunate, really, that your father Hephaestion gave up his god’s status. He could have protected you too, you know. Oh well…too late now.”
And the last thing Merlin saw before he lost consciousness was the Prince of Darkness magically disappear, leaving Merlin to his fate.
Sunlight streamed through the window when Merlin woke up. It was early morning. He gasped out for breath. To his astonishment, he saw Athena as a human manifestation beside him, leaning over him like she had just kissed him. She had long black hair down to her waist and light clear blue eyes. She was in a Tudor-style blue dress for some inexplicable reason.
“What…how?” Merlin uttered in question. He sat up, rubbing the back of his head gingerly. “I thought I would die.”
“I was worried too,” Athena said quietly. “I wasn’t able to help you when you lost consciousness. I tried and tried. But finally I got through. It was the lynx your father left you, Merlin. The compressed magic the lynx possessed saved you when my magic couldn’t. I told you it would prove helpful one day. I had to transfer the lynx’s magic with a kiss.”
She smiled radiantly at him, a golden sheen glowing off her human shape.
“Thank you,” Merlin told her sincerely. “The lynx is gone now? Even as just a miniature figurine?”
“Yes. I used up all the magical power of the lynx. She performed the task she was meant to: saving your life. After that, the lynx had no reason to remain.”
So the Prince had been wrong, Merlin thought. Despite his father giving up being a god, he still had the ability to protect his son long after his death. The lynx, Perija, had been there when he needed her most.
“I never expected to see you like this,” Merlin noted.
“Nor I, but it’s nice seeing you from this perspective,” Athena told him. She embraced him, and he reciprocated easily.
After the hug, Merlin voiced, “I only have a few hours now to get the cure for Arthur, don’t I?” He looked at the clear signs of dawn reigning over the land.
“About six hours. There’s still time,” Athena reassured him.
After Athena returned to her place inside of Merlin, he pet Lux and Cavall affectionately. He hoped the two dogs had gotten some sleep during the night.
He stood up, intent on obtaining the cure and saving Arthur.
When Merlin rung the doorbell, Ophelia answered it. Merlin was concerned when Ophelia looked sad. Something bad had happened.
“What is it?” He asked her as Ophelia let him in to the house.
She put her hand over her mouth, and shook her head. The mobile she held in her hand almost dropped to the ground.
Before the device hit the ground, Merlin used his magic to summon the mobile to his hand. “Sorry, here,” he said, moving to hand the mobile back.
“No,” Ophelia declined, stopping Merlin from returning the mobile to her. “It’s – Robin, he left not long ago. Just to Rosebrooke, but I got this message from the Prince and--”
Merlin looked down, really looking at the mobile’s screen now. The message was still on the phone.
And it appeared that the Prince wasn’t just putting Arthur in danger.
The text message was:
I have Robin. Don’t bother with getting James’ help. Robin will suffer more if you do. You have my word.
The Prince of Darkness
Merlin looked up from reading the grim message. Ophelia appeared to be trying her best to not cry.
“Ophelia, I’m so sorry,” Merlin said sympathetically.
“It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. The Prince has always been interested in giving us problems, seeing how much he can mess with our lives. Alice’s death was no accident, for one.”
“I wish I could help… what do you think you’ll do?” He asked her.
She shrugged, looking defeated. “It’s too new now. I can’t quite even comprehend losing Robin much less think how to save him. I haven’t told Bran or Gwydion yet as they’ve gone to the Fairytale World. I got the Prince’s message after they left. I don’t know how to even begin to tell them… oh god,” she breathed out. Merlin embraced her as she looked like she really needed it.
“I’m sure James is aware of this. I know the Prince warned against him helping, but maybe James can figure a way around it. Don’t give up hope,” Merlin advised her gently.
“Yeah, I’ll try,” Ophelia said softly. She pulled away from him, and hurriedly swiped at her wet eyes. “Anyway, what’s brought you here?”
“Arthur’s in a forced coma at home. The Prince threatened to kill him if I don’t get the cure in time. I thought the cure would be in the World of Magic. But with Robin in danger, I don’t want to impose… I know you’ll have to tell Bran and Gwydion about Robin, and they’ll be focused on getting him back. I could try contacting James, maybe.”
“No, no, it’s all right. I wouldn’t stand for anyone to die as a result of the Prince’s scheming. Bran and Gwydion will help you,” she assured him firmly, leaving no room for argument. “The cure for Arthur is the cure-all in the World of Magic as you thought. It’s one of the most potent magical medicines in that world, which you can assume from its name. The cure-all was only developed a few decades ago. It’s dreadfully expensive too, but Bran can get a hold of it.”
“Thank you,” said Merlin. He was grateful to hear that Athena’s guess had been right.
“I can check when Bran and Gwydion will return. It shouldn’t be too long now. They said they’d only be going for a little bit. I almost wish I hadn’t let them go since Bran was sick just yesterday. I worry he’ll relapse, but Bran insisted he’s feeling better than ever.”
“I’m glad he’s okay. Shame he got ill soon after the Tauren incident…” Merlin remarked.
“Yeah,” Ophelia agreed. “Bran needed a break in another world. At least he’s with Gwydion, so that eases my mind.”
“Oh and if you’re hungry, feel free to take anything you like from the fridge,” Ophelia offered.
Then she went up the stairs to check on when Bran and Gwydion would come back.
Merlin planned on avoiding any sort of fruit like the plague. He settled on yoghurt and some cereal with a glass of water.
Unfortunately, he was struck by another future vision in the midst of his early breakfast.
This time, he witnessed someone dead on the floor of the same castle he’d seen before. Sadly the dead woman looked like Morgana. Back in the days of Camelot, she’d been Arthur’s adopted sister.
She looked the same age – mid to late thirties -- as she had when he’d seen her as a ghost that time at work, a time that seemed like forever ago now.
A short distance away from the body, he saw who he assumed to be Morgaine. The Morgaine King Merlin had told him about.
Robin and Alice looked a few years younger here. Fourteen maybe? They were being forcibly restrained and kept separated from one another.
“You killed our mother. You will regret that,” warned Robin solemnly.
“But that day is not today,” Morgaine said unconcernedly. “I think you’ll like the punishment I have for you,” she said to him. She caressed his cheek in a falsely affectionate fashion. “The outside world can be such a mean place for those as handsome and charming as you. I’ve half a mind to take you myself.”
“Leave Robin alone!” Alice exclaimed.
“Gag her,” Morgaine ordered.
“You will fall,” Robin shot back at her defiantly, trying desperately to get out of the hold Morgaine’s men had him in. “The worlds might be starting to collapse, but there is still hope.”
“Well I do wish you luck with that quaint little notion,” said Morgaine insincerely with a hollow laugh. “You’ll be trapped in this castle for the rest of your life. You’ll suffer a very painful death if you try to leave. So don’t even think you can rescue your sister. You won’t be able to.”
“Take Alice away,” she directed the men with her. “She’ll be known as Rapunzel now.”
Alice was shaking her head wildly, attempting in vain to speak through her gag.
“I have something to take care of. Leave without me,” Morgaine informed her accomplices. They departed with a frustrated Alice who tried to unsuccessfully kick at the men holding her.
Once they were gone, Morgaine turned her attention to Robin. She had frozen him in place after she’d told the two guards restraining him to leave.
“How selfish of you to keep your sister considering the magical qualities of her hair.”
“You’re the one who wants to use her for selfish reasons,” Robin pointed out, glaring at her.
Morgaine looked amused. “You’re – untouched, are you not?”
“What are you talking about?” He asked.
“I think we can come to an arrangement,” she said softly, a smirk on her face. “After all, I can’t have you be alone all the time in this cold castle. There may be times when you need a little warmth,” Morgaine said the last word with dark intent.
Merlin didn’t miss what her aim was and by the look of Robin’s wide nervous eyes, he didn’t either.
She cupped her perfectly-manicured hand over his cheek in cruel tenderness.
Robin couldn’t shy away from her as he was frozen in place, and he could only hang his head in defeat. A tear fell down his cheek, which Morgaine wiped away a little too hard. Blood appeared where the skin was cut by her sharp nail.
The vision ended and it left Merlin desperately wanting to forget this. He didn’t know how he’d be able to go through with getting the cure for Arthur when half his mind was on Robin’s grim future life. It hurt to think about it. Now he understood how Robin turned out to be so broken when Alice reunited with him four years later.
He wondered where was he during this period of time? Had he even been reincarnated yet at that point? Merlin would have liked to think he would have helped if he had been alive during that time. Then again, he might not have been aware of the situation due to not remembering his past lives and the visions he was seeing now.
He couldn’t help if he didn’t know where the help was needed.
“It was like you guessed before. Morgana was – or will be – Robin and Alice’s mother,” Athena brought up to him quietly. She probably sensed that Merlin’s mind was in turmoil.
“Yes,” Merlin said with a sigh. “She would be a good mother, I’d imagine. After all, Morgana was a good person back in Camelot. She was the last person to deserve that fate, to be forced into the position of killing herself,” he said sadly.
It was also unfortunate that Arthur never really got to know Morgana in this life since she’d died as a young child.
Merlin was grateful when Ophelia returned to the kitchen. He needed to take his mind off the vision and focus on something else. He needed to save Arthur before it was too late. Even if the vision broke his heart to think about, he had to focus on the good he could do now. At least he had the consolation that Robin and Alice had reunited a few years after that vision. That would have to do for now.
Ophelia frowned at him. “Are you all right?”
Merlin guessed that his face didn’t do that great of a job hiding his unhappiness upon seeing that vision.
“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. You have enough on your plate with Robin. What did you find out?” He asked her.
“I believe Bran and Gwydion should be returning in five minutes. Bran will be able to retrieve the cure for Arthur.” She assured him, her smile small.
Merlin could see she was thinking how she couldn’t save Robin. Merlin was grateful that Arthur was where he could see him, for all intents and purposes, safe and sound at home. Merlin knew Arthur was physically okay and not fatally injured or anything. And all Arthur needed was a cure.
Unfortunately Robin had been taken by the Prince of Darkness, and it was all too easy to imagine the worst was happening to him right now.
~ * ~
When Bran and Gwydion returned, Bran was all wet as if he’d been in the water.
“What were you two doing?” Ophelia asked them, eyeing them suspiciously.
“I might have jumped down a waterfall…” Bran began sheepishly. He saw Merlin there. “Oh hi Merlin.”
“Hi,” replied Merlin.
Gwydion only looked at Merlin like he was wondering what the hell he was doing here. Merlin remembered he and Gwydion had always had a strange familial relationship with one another.
He saw Gwydion as a loose cannon. Gwydion was the Merlin who was so intent on immortalizing his own brilliance that he was only steps away from losing sight of reality and letting magic consume him wholeheartedly.
And being raised for the first ten years of his life by the Prince of Darkness gave Gwydion a kind of experience that Merlin could never understand fully. Bran was one of the few people who could ground Gwydion, bring him down to earth in a way.
“That was five times, he jumped it,” Gwydion announced all too freely.
“I should’ve screwed your beak shut. Traitor,” Bran shot back at him amicably.
“Come on, Bran. Let’s get you dry. I need to tell you something too,” Ophelia told him.
Merlin could tell that Bran caught the serious tone in Ophelia’s voice for he nodded, frowning.
Ophelia took him up the stairs while Gwydion stayed with Merlin.
“So you remembered?”
“You sound so happy about it,” Gwydion indicated dryly.
“Unfortunately Arthur’s in trouble now. The Prince will kill him if I don’t cure him in the next six hours.”
“Where’s Arthur now?”
“He’s at home, in a coma in our bedroom. I need to get the cure-all from the World of Magic.”
“And you need my Raven Knife for that, right,” Gwydion said, understanding.
Merlin recalled that Gwydion had always seen the Knife as his since he was its maker. With Bran being the knife’s wielder, the Raven Knife was truly a knife of two owners: maker and wielder.
“I could keep an eye on him for you. Make sure he’s left alone in his current vulnerable state. The Prince of Darkness seems to avoid confronting me like the plague, so he won’t bother Arthur if I’m there. Not sure why that is, but it serves its purpose especially now.”
Merlin imagined that Gwydion’s father James had a hand in keeping the Prince away from his son.
“That’s a good idea, thanks. I appreciate it.”
Gwydion flew away to do what he’d suggested.
When Bran came down with Ophelia, he looked as Merlin had expected: grim-faced and clearly in shock.
“Bran, if you can’t do it, that’s fine… I know you’re more concerned about Robin.”
Bran peered at his Raven Knife. He shook his head, looking carefully at Merlin. “That may be true, but I can’t do anything about Robin now. But getting the cure-all is something I can do. So there’s no point in debating the matter. I need to focus--” he took a deep breath, looking like he was doing his best to keep his composure. “—on completing this task for you. It won’t take long, I promise.”
“You should get Eilonwy to help you,” Ophelia suggested.
Bran nodded. “Yes, that’s a good idea,” he acknowledged. “Where’s Gwydion?” He asked Merlin.
“He decided to keep an eye on Arthur.”
“Oh, yeah. Okay,” Bran said curtly, still sounding like he wasn’t quite all there.
“It’s best I go in through Gwydion’s room,” declared Bran.
“Bran--” Ophelia started in, concerned.
“I’m fine, Ophelia. Honest,” he assured, albeit it sounded weak to Merlin’s ears.
She squeezed his shoulder in comfort. Bran smiled lightly at her. “You can come and see Gwydion’s room if you like, Merlin,” he told him.
Ophelia gave Merlin a pointed look, and he acknowledged it, understanding that Bran was far from okay. And he also wondered if Bran would even be able to properly use the Raven Knife now.
He hated to say it, but Arthur’s Excalibur wasn’t as sophisticated as the Raven Knife. While both blades cut openings to travel into other worlds, Gwydion had built upon Excalibur. He put in advanced magic into the Raven Knife like the clever raven so the Raven Knife would have a sort of high-level artificial intelligence. But one thing remained relatively the same. Both blades would break if the wielder was emotionally compromised.
In his past life, Merlin recalled how Arthur had been largely unable to use Excalibur to travel to other worlds during the five years they’d had their riff post betrayal. When Merlin hadn’t forgiven him yet. Arthur had told him he’d felt the sword tense as if it were about to break and he’d been uncertain about using it. Clearly Arthur’s unhappiness at the sad state of his relationship with Merlin had a big role to play.
So that left Merlin worried for Bran and using the Raven Knife at this moment in time.
Bran showed Merlin into Gwydion’s room. Merlin was surprised, and reconsidering the fact that he really shouldn’t be.
Gwydion’s room was like walking into a forest with grass sprouting an assortment of colourful flowers, tall trees and Merlin swore there was a pond off in the distance.
“A little much, right?” Bran spoke up.
“For Gwydion, no, not really,” Merlin quipped with a small smile.
Bran smiled back at him.
Then he removed his Raven Knife from its sheath.
He watched as Bran moved to find that snag in the empty air to cut through. He remembered that during their exile, Arthur had explained to him how Excalibur cut openings into other worlds.
“I have to relax my mind, let it wander from my arm all the way down to Excalibur’s silver edge. I must focus, let myself become the very tip of the sword and then move purposefully, touching the empty air. All to seek that snag I can cut through, and then I’m able to slice into a different world. Of course I have to insure I make the opening big enough to enter through.”
Bran moved the Raven Knife to find that snag, but then Merlin heard a cawing sound in protest. It had to be the raven spirit inside the Knife.
The Knife slipped back inside its sheath of its own accord. Luckily the Raven Knife had this protective mechanism to keep it from breaking when Bran wasn’t in the right state to use it.
“I think I just need a moment,” Bran uttered quietly.
“It’s okay. I understand you’re worried about Robin.”
“Probably it would have been better if Ophelia had told me after I got the cure-all.”
“Robin’s your family now, Bran. You had the right to know as soon as Ophelia could tell you. I’m not going to stand in the way,” he told Bran firmly, meaning it. “There’s still some time to help Arthur, don’t worry.”
Bran took a deep breath and then exhaled. He hung his head, grasping the hilt of the Raven Knife like a lifeline.
Merlin embraced him, which seemed to help Bran a little as he returned the hug.
Pulling away from him, Bran confided in him, “Even after I remembered my past life at five, I still couldn’t help but see Robin as my father. I guess five years of seeing him as nothing but that left a permanent impression on me.”
“Well I’m sure whatever’s happening to him now, he knows how lucky he is to know there are people who love him and want him back safe and sound. That’s what’ll keep him going.”
“I really hope he’s all right even if that feels like false hope.”
“I hope so too. Robin’s a good person. He deserves a happy ending, so to speak,” Merlin said with a smile.
He tried not to think of the future vision he had just seen of a 14-year old Robin and Morgaine. Instead, he chose to remember the other more reassuring vision a few years later when Alice returned to Robin and vowed to help him.
Bran gave him a weak smile in return, but the brief talk seemed to help him.
“I’m going to give the Knife another go,” Bran decided.
Fortunately this time, the black raven on the hilt flew down the blade until it reached the tip – becoming smaller as the animated bird arrived at that point. There was a fleeting glow at the tip as the opening was made, and then the glow subsided.
“Good luck,” Merlin wished him.
“Thanks. I won’t take long. Just an hour at the most.”
With that, Bran entered the opening, walking through it. After Merlin saw him seal the opening closed with his fingers, he left the room.
“Ophelia, I’m going back home. Bran said he’d only take about an hour,” he informed her.
“Yes of course. I know you want to be with Arthur now.”
“Will you be all right?”
“Yeah yeah. Go, I’ll be fine.”
“By the way,” Merlin couldn’t resist asking. “Who is Eilonwy? You mentioned her earlier to Bran.”
“She’s Gwydion’s half-sister who lives in the World of Magic. And consequently, Eilonwy is our go-to person in that world. She’s twenty four now.”
“So James is her father?”
Ophelia nodded. “He’s still able to have children… it’s a bit surreal, but James is a god so he can still father children if he wants to.”
Brigit was one of James’ children then, Merlin recalled that vision with her and Gwydion he’d had weeks ago. Terrible luck that she was made into a vampire though.
“Well I’d better go. You’ll be okay?”
“Yeah. I think James should be seeing me soon. I’ll be fine,” Ophelia told him.
“I’m sorry about Robin,” Merlin told her.
“Thanks. And you too with Arthur.”
He nodded, acknowledging the thought, and left.
“Hey,” Merlin said to Gwydion.
His cousin – which seemed weird to think of Gwydion as such considering he was a bluebird now – was settled in a conjured nest on an empty space at the table.
Cavall and Lux were also in the room, doing their part to guard Arthur. Although maybe Lux just followed Cavall so he wouldn’t be alone. Cavall was lying on the floor beside the bed while a playful Lux attempted to get his attention by climbing up on him.
Merlin pet Lux when the pup moved to greet him.
“Smart dogs you have,” remarked Gwydion. “If Cavall was just an average Elkhound, he’d probably be waiting to get his teeth into me.”
“Yeah well he has Arthur’s daemon Krola inside him – how, I don’t know. That must make him more aware that you’re not just an ordinary bird.”
“Yes, you’re right about that.”
“Ophelia didn’t get the chance to tell you about Robin…”
“Oh don’t worry about that. I know. My father came by and told me. Absolutely terrible that the Prince took Robin, but my father will do what he can to get him back. I have faith he will.”
Then Gwydion offered, “I could tell you a little about how the World of Magic is now.”
“All right,” Merlin agreed, sitting down. “Go ahead. I figure with everyone possessing magic that they don’t have the usual transport like cars or the Tube or airplanes.”
“No, adults – once they pass the teleport test – can magically go from one place to another. For an alternative transport, there are winged horses. Usually dragons are reserved to be ridden by Dragonlords as dragons are notoriously proud and stubborn creatures. Though there are dragons bred to be smaller than average and those can have human riders, if you’re willing to put in the effort needed to work with such a magical creature. But that dragon issue was present way back in our past lives, so that’s nothing new.”
Gwydion continued, “Since children can’t magically teleport yet – at least legally – there’s a way for them to get around by magic means. The most popular winged creature used as a travel device is a dog. Some of the dogs look like your dog Lux but with wings. There’s a parental lock on the winged dogs to limit where the children can go…usually just locally.”
“And what about traveling to other worlds? Like what the Raven Knife and Excalibur do?”
“The average person, at least in the World of Magic’s Camelot, can’t travel to other worlds. It’s limited to just traveling within the world. If you’re really into travel, if you’re very wealthy – the wealth part is important – and you know the right people, then you may get a world-traveling device at an exorbitant cost. The Raven Knife and Excalibur are special in that they weren’t bought and were ‘destined’ to be meant for one wielder. Other world-traveling devices can be programmed to accept the commands of more than one person. Of course that feature costs extra, so most just stick to just one ‘wielder’.”
“I guess Bran’s lucky then that the Raven Knife you made was meant for him,” Merlin said. “I know in his past life, he had that diamond he used to travel to other worlds before the Knife, but--”
“The Raven Knife is much sleeker, sophisticated and could be used as a weapon when need be.”
“And the Knife is priceless; it united you and Bran together.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Gwydion acknowledged.
“How is Camelot in that world now? Still as impressive as centuries ago?”
“Well the city has gotten bigger, but it’s generally still a place where residents enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and are happy to live there. Queen Madeline, a direct descendant of King Merlin, currently rules Camelot. She was elected, but we magic users see the world differently, and Camelot citizens believe in the importance of keeping someone of King Merlin’s bloodline in power. Since King Merlin was the harbinger of the city’s Golden Age, people don’t want to tempt fate by choosing someone not related to King Merlin by blood. It’s with good cause as it looks like Camelot is experiencing an eternal Golden Age.”
“Compared to this world where Camelot is only a story of myth and legend.”
“Yeah. Funny how things can be so different from one world to the next.”
Then a portal opened up and a woman in her twenties with sandy brown hair stepped out of it. Merlin guessed that she was Eilonwy, Gwydion’s half-sister.
She was wearing a shaded purple and blue ruffled skirt. Rather amusingly, she also wore a fitted T-shirt with Merlin à la Disney’s Sword in the Stone flailing his hands about in dismay as the errant sugar pot poured too much sugar into his cup.
But the most important thing was that Eilonwy held a vial in her hand. Merlin sincerely hoped that was the cure-all.
“Nice shirt, Eilonwy,” said Gwydion in a tone that clearly suggested he was far from fond of the shirt.
Eilonwy smiled at him, sweeping her hand across his little body. “I thought of you when I saw this shirt. I couldn’t not buy it. I was thinking of making a little bird-sized shirt just for you,” she teased him.
“Not in a million years,” said Gwydion stubbornly. He stepped backwards to increase his distance from his mischievous sister.
Eilonwy turned to Merlin. “Hello, I’m Eilonwy, Gwydion’s half-sister. Bran wanted me to give you the cure-all,” she indicated, handing him the vial. “Oh, and Gwydion, Bran’s at Rosebrooke. He wants to see you there.”
“All right. I’ll go there.”
Then Gwydion disappeared.
Merlin peered at the clear vial. It looked like golden fairy dust that glowed.
“There are instructions for how to apply it. Only a little bit will be needed. I need to take the rest of it back home since the cure-all is under very restricted access. You can only use it for Arthur to save him.”
“Okay. How did you get here to this world if Bran’s not with you?”
“Oh! Well my father gave me this hummingbird device,” she said, indicating the small silver, blue and gold hummingbird she had appear in her hand. “It was a gift for my 21st birthday. I can’t visit every world in existence since Father put a lock on the hummingbird. He can be overprotective. But still, I can travel to this world. That’s what matters now.”
“So how do you use this cure-all?”
“You let a small bit of the fairy dust fall directly over his heart. The fairy dust will remove the dark magic surrounding his body, which takes some time, and cures him fully by the end of the process.”
With Athena’s help, Merlin made sure he put a bit of the cure-all over exactly where Arthur’s heart was. The curing fairy dust appeared to work as it lifted the dark magic the Prince had put on him.
“Bran wanted me to give you this,” Eilonwy told him as the cure-all worked its magic on Arthur. “A member of the Inventor group of the White Diamond Clan was selling some of his wares while Bran was there. Bran thought you’d like a diamond phoenix because of your phoenix daemon. With your magic, you can alter the phoenix to have feathers or change the colouring on it. The one thing you can’t change though is size.”
Eilonwy showed him the little phoenix that was about the size, maybe slightly bigger, of the lynx Merlin had had. Half the size of his palm. The phoenix was made of blue diamond with interesting golden accents throughout the miniature bird.
Merlin appreciated the small gift. He was glad that he would be able to make adjustments to make the phoenix resemble Zlota more. Particularly his daemon’s scarlet-gold colouring. Although how it looked now wasn’t half-bad either. And the phoenix was a sentient creature like the lynx had been.
He couldn’t help but smile as the phoenix moved about his palm and spread her wings a bit. Just seeing a phoenix again, moving about, made him feel like he had Zlota back again. A silly thought maybe since this clearly wasn’t Zlota, but he still couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
Merlin wished there was a way to repay Bran for getting the cure-all and buying this miniature phoenix for him.
Arthur began to stir, Cavall’s ears perking up at the same time.
“I should go. The cure-all’s working, so I’ll just take the rest of it back home. I’m glad I could help,” Eilonwy told him with a smile.
Merlin returned the vial to her.
“Thank you. It was nice to meet you too. Maybe we can see each other again, under more pleasant circumstances.”
“Yeah, that’d be good.”
After she gave him a small wave, Eilonwy exited via the portal, and the opening soon closed up after her departure.
Merlin decided to remove the Diamantine Compass from his forearm. He felt it was time to let the Compass go for now. He’d store it for now and maybe use the Compass later if there was really something pressing he felt the need to know.
He put down the phoenix inside Gwydion’s nest he’d left behind. Merlin thought the nest looked too empty so the phoenix just had to be there. Athena took out the Compass for him, and with the diamond device came out the golden box from his father. Merlin set both on the table.
His attention was drawn to the phoenix in the nest, which Athena had altered all too easily to look more like a phoenix with feathers and scarlet-gold colours. It was just as Merlin remembered Zlota. The miniature phoenix was perfect.
He sighed though. What he wouldn’t give to have his daemon Zlota back. Lux was great, and he was quite fond of his dog, but it simply wasn’t the same as it was in his past life when he had Zlota by his side. For now, in this life, he just had to learn to continue to cope with not having a daemon. He stroked the phoenix’s feathers, trying his best not to shed a tear. It wouldn’t do him any good or solve anything.
“You miss Zlota, don’t you?”
Merlin nearly jumped when Arthur spoke up behind him.
“Arthur!” Merlin exclaimed. He hugged him, grateful to see him alive and well, the Prince’s curse thwarted. Arthur's eyes were their normal perfect blue -- as far from the unnerving black of before as possible. He kissed Arthur for good measure, Arthur reciprocating just as enthusiastically. Merlin kept walking backwards until his movement was halted by a wall. They kept their lips locked in earnest the whole time.
“I guess we have a lot to talk about since we’ve both remembered our past lives,” Arthur declared after he reluctantly pulled away.
Merlin nodded. “I should tell you about Athena.”
Arthur raised his brow. “Athena?”
“Yeah. She’s my magic. She named herself. I even saw her as a human manifestation not long ago.”
“Okay, I’m thinking what you’ve been through lately is far more interesting than what I’ve gone through. Now I don’t recall your magic working like that in our past lives. I don’t see that being a detail you’d keep from me.”
“It’s just in this life. Trust me. Her presence was as much a surprise to me as it is to you now,” Merlin assured him. “I have to admit that having her with me helps with not having Zlota…” Merlin decided.
Merlin could feel Athena’s pleasure at his sincere remark.
“Well then I’m glad you have her. Are you really related to Snow White and Cinderella – their incarnations or whatever?”
“Yes, that’s true. Who told you that?”
“Had a couple of run-ins with our favorite enemy the Prince of Darkness. Next time I see him I want to kill him. Even an immortal man can be killed somehow,” Arthur declared hopefully.
“Yeah you’re right. There has to be a way,” Merlin said with a nod.
Merlin was puzzled by the sudden odd feeling that was now overcoming him. It felt like his heart was being squeezed, and he couldn’t breathe.
He. Couldn’t Breathe.
“Art--hur--” Merlin said softly, feeling alarmed and a bit afraid.
He collapsed. The last thing he heard was Arthur’s stricken exclamation of, “Merlin!” as he rushed to his side and the pitter patter of paws approaching him.
“So this is goodbye,” said Gwydion quietly. He looked unhappy as he hung his head from his perch of a conjured floating branch at Bran’s eye level.
“No, just sort of a ‘see you later’,” Bran told him, trying to reassure him.
He was sitting a thick grey stone bench out in the rose garden of Rosebrooke Castle.
“Maybe in the Fairytale World I had a mate and had nestlings, but that was before I remembered my past life. I was only doing what bluebirds do. Once I remembered you, I knew I just had to return to you. That was just how it had to be. I don’t think I even want to leave you…”
“You can still visit me. I’ve been thinking that there’s a reason why you were reincarnated as a bluebird. And maybe it’s better for you if you live among other bluebirds and not with us humans. I mean, really, Gwydion you sleep in a nest now. I know most other bluebirds were never human in a past life, and on that level, they can’t understand what you know, but other bluebirds comprehend what it truly is to be a bluebird. That’s something that I can’t quite fully grasp. I think you’ll be happier. Don’t tell me that you like people thinking you’re a pet bird with your wings clipped.”
“No I don’t like that, but I don’t want to be away from you. And with the situation with Robin…”
“If your father contacts you about him, then you can let me, Ophelia or Charlie know. This is hard for me too, Gwydion, but sometimes I feel I’m holding you back from being who you truly are in this life. So you’ll live your life and I’ll live mine, and we’ll catch up every so often.”
“All right. Okay. I understand. Maybe you’re right. I was considering going to North America. I could relocate there next week maybe.”
“Thanks to the wonders of magic, you’ll get there in excellent time,” Bran joked lightly.
“Yeah. I want to see Mithian before I leave too.”
“How sweet. You like her.”
“You do too,” Gwydion retorted.
“We’re both guilty on that count,” Bran acknowledged. “Sansa will always hold a special place in my heart, but I know she’d want me to be happy in this life too even if it’s not with her.”
“Sansa would be very glad you have me in this life. I don’t doubt that,” said Gwydion solemnly.
“Of course she’d be thrilled,” said Bran dryly, a small smile playing on his lips.
“Do you want to go back to our home in Oxford?”
“No, I think I’ll stay at Rosebrooke for a little while longer,” Bran told him. He kissed Gwydion on his feathery head.
“I’ll see you later,” Bran reassured Gwydion, reiterating his earlier words. “I love you,” he told Gwydion in a heartfelt tone.
“I love you too. See you,” Gwydion told him just as fondly. He flew away. Bran waved at him in farewell and watched Gwydion in the sky until he was a blue dot off in the distance.
“Merlin, oh god, Merlin,” Arthur said in a rush, still in disbelief. There was nothing he could do. Merlin’s heart had stopped and he’d stopped breathing before Arthur could even make an effort to revive him.
The Prince of Darkness had something to do with this. And he would pay. Arthur couldn’t accept that he’d lose Merlin like this. He would get Merlin back.
Because Merlin couldn’t be dead. Even if his heart had stopped beating, and his breathing had halted, Arthur wouldn’t, couldn’t believe it.
He beckoned Cavall to come with him, in hopefully confronting the Prince. Even though he wasn’t Krola, truly, he still had a part of Arthur’s daemon inside him. Arthur felt grateful to even have that.
Predictably, Lux stayed by Merlin, propping his little head on Merlin’s arm. The palm-sized, almost fragile-looking phoenix that he’d seen Merlin stroking earlier flew down to perch on Lux’s head. The miniature phoenix looked concerned down at Merlin.
“Merlin isn’t really dead. I’ll fix this,” Arthur said out loud. He felt a little better declaring that.
He decided to summon the Prince of Darkness from the lower level of his and Merlin’s house. Arthur knew he’d look like a mad person if he started shouting obscenities out in the open. And he didn’t want to stray too far away from Merlin, so leaving the house was out of the question.
“Come here, you arsehole. I want to talk to you!” Arthur called him out.
Fortunately, or unfortunately -- depending on how you saw it -- his connection to the Prince by being another world’s version of him allowed him to ‘contact’ the Prince in such a manner.
“Seriously, what the hell is your problem? Why are you being so loud?” The Prince said in mild irritation as if he didn’t know what he’d done to anger Arthur so much.
This time, the Prince had no hat. He wore a white dress shirt with a black silken tie and grey trousers, which seemed relatively casual for him.
“You killed Merlin,” accused Arthur flatly. “You think you’re just going to get away with that?”
“Well he managed to cure you, which wouldn’t do. He had to die.”
By Arthur’s side, Cavall growled reproachfully.
“I doubt Merlin knew that detail.”
The Prince didn’t appear too concerned. “Oh well. That’s not something I was interested in telling him. Ruins the surprise.”
“I want to know what’s happened to the Daemon World. I know you know yet you won’t tell me. I deserve to know the truth.”
“Can’t you put 1 and 1 together?” The Prince said condescendingly.
“You’re ruling my world now?” Arthur concluded after a moment, desperately wishing that this wasn’t true. “How dare you? What made you think you had any right to?”
“Really, you only were King of Camelot – even if your territory expanded to all of Albion, that’s still just a fraction of the Daemon World. That doesn’t make the world all yours.”
“It’s still my world because I was born in it. You’re an outsider coming into a world you never truly understood.”
“Considering I’ve been Emperor of the Daemon World since the twelfth century, I beg to differ that my knowledge is lacking.”
“Why did you do it? Why the Daemon World?”
“Because I took pleasure in knowing how angry you’d be at taking ‘your’ world. I found that entertaining. And you may not believe it, but I have been a good leader of the Daemon World. It’s far from a miserable place.”
“The only thing I believe about you is that you’re a miserable liar. And what are you – five? You wanted my world because you enjoyed seeing me angry about it? That’s pathetic.”
“The golden age of five… now isn’t that when you condemned Merlin’s father to death in your past life? Someone shouldn’t have been eavesdropping…” the Prince sing-songed the last bit, sounding quite amused.
“Shut up. That doesn’t count. I was too young then, and I regret it every day of my life.”
“Yes I’m sure you do. You know, there’s one thing I don’t regret. It’s actually pretty funny.”
Arthur had a bad feeling that he’d find this far from amusing. Something inside him made him dread what the Prince would say next.
“That cancer Merlin’s father had in this life? I might have strengthened the cancer with a bit of dark magic to prevent him from fighting it off as well as he otherwise might have. I’m rather proud of succeeding in that.”
Arthur nearly growled at him and pushed him to the ground. He wrapped his hands around the Prince’s throat, wanting to strangle him even if his immortality wouldn’t give Arthur the satisfaction of his death.
“I don’t know what your problem is. It means we have something in common now – well besides the glaringly obvious. Your actions led to the death of Merlin’s father in one life, and my actions led to his father’s death in a different life. Here I’d thought you’d be congratulating me.”
“No. What you did was a deliberate act of evil. I hate being connected to you. All the worlds would be happier without you, I’m certain of that. You disgust me,” Arthur declared fiercely, his eyes blazing.
He removed himself from the Prince. As the Prince stood up, unaffected as he swiped invisible lint off his clothing, Arthur flexed his fingers.
Arthur felt his power to drain magic from magic users return. He could only hold the magic until a magic user said the spell to awaken the magic within him. Then he could wield magic just as well as any magic user. That was how he’d escaped the tower Uther had locked him in. Ophelia, since she was a sorceress from the World of Magic, gave Arthur the ability to use magic and leave his prison by magic means.
Arthur concentrated and attempted to drain some of the Prince’s magic.
It seemed to work a little as the Prince’s face started to wrinkle, the magic keeping him ageless being drained by Arthur.
The Prince laughed. “I haven’t lived this long life while you slept for centuries to be thwarted so easily. But nice try,” he said.
Arthur felt the magic he’d taken leaving him, returning to the Prince. The Prince’s skin de-aged again smoothly like it’d never been wrinkled.
Arthur relaxed his hand, feeling frustrated that the draining didn’t last on the Prince. “I’d like to see you say to Merlin’s face that you’re responsible for his father’s death.”
“That’s kind of hard, isn’t it? Since Merlin is dead and all. Maybe this is a good thing. He’ll get to see his father in the afterlife. And my plan to separate you and Merlin is coming along nicely,” the Prince decided with a smirk that Arthur wanted to rip off his face.
Then the Prince of Darkness magically disappeared in a mix of fierce wind and lightning.
“You’re a bastard!” Arthur shouted after the Prince even though he was long gone.
It didn’t make him feel any better, unfortunately.
As Arthur headed back up the stairs with Cavall, he noticed in passing that it had started to rain lightly.
Entering his and Merlin’s bedroom, he wondered if he was asleep and was now in the midst of a dream.
He wasn’t sure how to rationalize what looked like honest-to-goodness Aslan being in the room. And Arthur was sure this lion was an actual lion and not the result of movie magic.
Aslan had one of his big paws over Merlin’s heart. Lux and the little phoenix still on the dog had moved a little away from Merlin’s body. The two creatures adopted respectful stances in the presence of the great lion. Cavall too bowed his head in Aslan’s presence.
The lion looked up when Arthur came in. Arthur felt the lion’s gaze pierce deep into his soul.
“Are you the God of Magic?” Arthur guessed tentatively, not sure if he should look at the lion directly or not. That guess felt right to him. He remembered Merlin telling him in his past life that the God of Magic couldn’t be seen in his true form by mortal eyes. There was the risk of madness. So it made sense that the God of Magic would appear in an animal form. “Merlin’s grandfather?”
“Yes I am. I’m glad you can tell who I am. I do like it when people are intelligent.”
“You’re here to save Merlin, right?”
“Yes. The Prince of Darkness overstepped his bounds. Merlin is not meant to die now. His magic is keeping him alive even now, but only just. I’ll be able to revive him. You’ll have him back.”
“Thank you, honestly. I know there are all these rules with magic and bringing the dead back to life is frowned upon, but, I’m not ready to lose Merlin in this life. We still need to get married and grow old together, and do everything we’re meant to do.”
“I am the God of Magic, Arthur. It falls to me to make those rules. Of course when it comes to family, I help them when I can. I regret not being able to help Hephaestion as my power isn’t infinite,” the God of Magic admitted, a deep terrible sadness lacing his words. “Regardless of that, what matters now is that Merlin can be saved. He should wake up soon.”
Arthur saw, to his immense relief, Merlin’s chest rising up and going down as he breathed in and out slowly in his slumber.
Arthur felt tears prickle at his eyes. He swiped at them hurriedly, preventing the tears from falling.
“I need a moment with my grandson,” Merlin’s grandfather told him not unkindly.
Arthur nodded, moving away so that he could still see Merlin, but it was enough distance to give him and his grandfather some privacy. Cavall stood beside him while Lux and the phoenix remained by Merlin.
He watched Merlin open his eyes and wake up, shifting to a sitting position. He could tell that Merlin knew right away who the lion was by the way he smiled at seeing him. Merlin put his arms around the lion’s head in an embrace and laid his head upon the lion’s mane, his face now concealed. Arthur wondered if Merlin was crying.
Not wanting to intrude longer than necessary, he decided to leave the room completely. He needed to give Cavall his food.
Arthur looked forward to spending time with Merlin after nearly losing him. But he respected the need to be with family first. Maybe not from a personal perspective as he’d never been close to his own father. And his father had long since died, so the point was moot. Not to mention he’d never known his mother who died shortly after he was born.
Yet if she hadn’t died when he was little, Arthur would’ve liked to think he would’ve been close to Morgana like he was in his past life.
Nevertheless, it had been a very long time since Merlin had seen his grandfather after all. They deserved this reunion. Arthur would have Merlin for the rest of their lives together either way.
Bran was startled, but he tried his best to hide it, when he saw the Prince of Darkness in his room at Rosebrooke.
The Prince didn’t speak, and the silence only made Bran more unsettled. As Bran moved to retrieve something from the wardrobe, he could feel the Prince’s black-eyed gaze upon him.
“I think you know where this came from,” Bran said, taking out the blue blanket with Bambi the fawn, Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk featured on it. He showed it to the Prince.
The Prince’s black eyes prevented any expression of emotion through his eyes. Yet Bran could still tell that the sight of the blanket didn’t leave the Prince unmoved.
“When I was left as a baby at Rosebrooke Castle, I was wrapped in this blanket.”
The Prince remained quiet. He only looked at Bran, seeming to do his best to keep his mask in his place.
Bran grew frustrated and he threw the blanket onto his bed. “I am a very old man in a child’s body. Whatever you need to say, say it. Don’t use the excuse that I’m too young because you and I both know how wrong that is.”
“It doesn’t matter now. I still need to kill you. You were a mistake, a cruel joke played on me. It doesn’t matter.”
But Bran saw how the Prince’s black eyes were shifting colour before returning to darkness. His eyes were blue momentarily, which proved that the Prince’s control was faltering. Bran didn’t think the Prince meant what he was saying.
“I tried to deny it, but I knew it was true. You kept sending people after me, but only now, it’s you who are actually here to take up the task. You kept delaying because killing me became all too personal for you. Not like in my past life. And also, you knew about Robin, Alice and Ophelia. Only you could have placed me with them,” Bran told him. Pausing, he then admitted, “I didn’t tell anyone about my suspicions.”
“Not even Gwydion?”
“This doesn’t change what I need to do.”
“You don’t have to do this. You can just let me live,” Bran suggested, though he had a bad feeling that the Prince wouldn’t be so easily dissuaded from his plan.
“It has to be this way. I can promise you that it will be painless,” the Prince assured him, a touch of unhappiness in his voice.
“No, please,” Bran said quietly.
Yet it was too late. He was already feeling very tired, and he couldn’t resist the urge to close his eyes and sleep.
“Don’t fight it,” the Prince advised in a whisper.
Unable to defeat the spell’s power, Bran succumbed to it.
TEN YEARS EARLIER:
The Prince wasn’t sure why he had gone through with it. The woman, Amelia, had intrigued him due to her having a grandmother who was an incarnation of Ariel. Just looking at her very red hair was an indicator, to those who believed, that there was a touch of fairytale magic inside her. He should have foreseen that he would’ve been played for a fool. Her eyes were tawny gold just like Bran’s had been. But the last person on his mind at that time was Gwydion’s blasted friend.
Nine months after he had slept with her, he was horrified to discover that their newborn was Bran reincarnated. If the startling albino appearance wasn’t the clincher, then the reincarnation energy that the Prince could sense inside the baby was undeniable proof.
He took away the newborn Bran from his mother, knowing that Amelia wouldn’t quite understand just who her child was. He made sure to erase her memory of ever having a child as well as meeting him in the first place. It was a kinder thing to do.
He made great strides to insure King Merlin was unaware of the identity of Bran’s birth father in his reincarnated life. And it was just short of miraculous that he had kept the truth about Bran from Morgaine.
Nimueh had known about Bran because the Prince had entrusted her to help look after the baby for the first six months of Bran’s life. After all, she had helped him with taking care of Gwydion all those centuries ago.
But then Nimueh advised him to give Bran up, that it would get too unpleasant if Bran remembered his old life and was faced with the Prince as his current father.
Fortunately, the Prince knew just where to place him. Rosebrooke Castle. Bran’s five year old cousin, Ophelia, was living with those twins, Robin and Alice, who were in their mid-twenties.
King Merlin had done his own maneuvering with help from the God of Magic. He had insured his Queen, Freya, would be reborn as a duchess and would raise the reincarnated Robin and Alice as her children. They had inherited her wealth which had gained them financial security. More importantly, Robin and Alice had remembered their past lives for years at that point. They understood who Ophelia was though she hadn’t remembered herself yet. And also, the twins would understand that this baby was Bran and they would know best what to do.
It was the only option and it was the best one, the Prince knew. Because now, he didn’t have the heart to kill a helpless baby. So he had to give Bran away to those who could best look after him.
He bought a blue blanket with Bambi the fawn, Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk on it. Hopefully that would throw Robin and Alice off about the identity of the person who had left them Bran. And honestly, he thought the blanket was nice-looking and soft enough to suffice for the baby.
When the Prince, carefully concealed of course, was near enough to Rosebrooke Castle, he said his goodbye to his son. He knew Bran wouldn’t understand a word he said, but the Prince said them anyway.
He told the baby that he would hate him when he remembered. That this was for the best. And to stop looking at him like that with those wide golden eyes.
Bran gurgled, smiling up at him, as he clapped his hands together. He was just a baby, and all he had known was that the Prince and Nimueh had been good to him.
“Please don’t, just stop that,” the Prince pleaded with him. “This is goodbye, okay? I…” he paused, and the baby just stared at him, his unusual golden eyes piercing his dark ones as if Bran was more perceptive than a baby should be.
No, the Prince was seeing things. No one was supposed to remember their past lives at this young age. It just wasn’t allowed.
“I love you,” he said quickly, so fast that he wasn’t sure it was even coherent. He kissed Bran on his forehead, and then did the spell to transport Bran to the front entrance of the castle. He didn’t trust that he wouldn’t be sighted if he had carried Bran directly to the entrance. Better to do this at a distance.
He did a mild inclination spell to insure someone opened the door right away to find Bran. And the spell worked.
Alice opened the door, and he saw her gasp in surprise to see the baby on the ground before her. The Prince heard her call for her brother Robin as she took the baby in her arms.
Robin came to the door with a little Ophelia fast on his heels.
He saw Ophelia clap her hands excitedly and exclaim in delight, “Oh a baby!”
Robin pulled her up into his arms so that she could better see the baby. The Prince heard Ophelia comment on how the baby looked similar to her except for the eyes.
Robin and Alice exchanged knowing looks with one another. That was when the Prince decided it was his time to leave.
He had done what he’d come to do.
Trying to set aside those distracting memories, the Prince carried Bran to his bed. He grabbed a pillow. Though he felt some reluctance set in, he did his best to bury it, and he covered Bran’s face with the pillow. Applying pressure on the pillow, the Prince smothered his son to death. His jaw was clenched, and his mind was carefully not focused on the unpleasant task at hand.
He removed the pillow when he knew that he had succeeded.
Bran was dead.
The Prince took the Raven Knife, and he placed the knife’s hilt in his son’s hands, the blade facing up. It was a harkening back to the past. After all, dead knights of old were sent to the afterlife with their faithful swords in their cold hands.
He took the Bambi blanket from the bed and he looked at it, trying not to let the tears fall.
“You didn’t have to kill Bran. He was your son, and killing him is killing you. Don’t deny it,” James said from behind him, having suddenly appeared.
The Prince didn’t have the energy to be irritated at the god’s abrupt arrival.
“He was better off dead than alive and living with the knowledge that his father is a terrible man. His Clan abhorred me, and Bran learned that growing up in his past life. I can’t have asked him to accept that in this incarnation, he was the son of the man he had always seen as the enemy. I was sparing him.”
“I heard what Bran had said. He wanted to live. You didn’t give him a chance. Being a father means you have to listen, and not assume you believe you know what’s best for your children.”
“You’re the last person I’d ask for advice on this matter. Just leave me. Go away,” the Prince demanded of James, glaring at him.
“Very well. I’ll be monitoring you. It would be best if you lie low, and don’t go about ruining people’s lives like you did with Merlin and Arthur.”
“Fine!” The Prince agreed in an angry shout, his dark eyes blazing. “Go away,” he demanded once again of James.
“Gladly,” agreed James. He magically disappeared from the room.
The Prince returned his attention to the blanket in his hands. He couldn’t look at Bran lying lifeless on the bed.
Feeling the softness and warmth of the blanket, the Prince could almost remember how Bran had felt, wrapped as a baby in this very blanket all those years ago.
The truth was that he hadn’t deserved a son like Bran. The Prince had needed him to die. Bran had been a false hope to him. That the bloody King Merlin had been wrong: that he could father a child who wasn’t a monster. Yet the King had been right because Bran hadn’t truly been the Prince’s son. Not if he had carried the memories of another life, another existence where the Prince was his enemy.
Of course it wouldn’t matter who Bran was reborn to. Once he remembered his past life, his steadfast nature and his inherent nobility would prevail. And Bran had proved that by not abusing his mind control power despite being damned with an appearance that would never allow him to blend in, to always have others staring at him and whispering behind his back.
Those reasons were why he had given Bran the ability of mind control after all. As a way to deal with close-minded people. The Prince, painfully, had to admit that Bran had been a stronger person than he ever could be.
And now, he was stuck with the knowledge that he had killed his own son.
That terrible realization was one of the worst feelings in the world.
“I’ll be going now, Arthur,” the God of Magic told him.
“Wait,” Arthur spoke up before the god could magically disappear. “Could I ask you something?”
“Of course. What is it?”
“I want to know more about the odd future visions I’ve been having. I’m assuming they’re of my future life.”
“Merlin asked me about this too. He has been having visions of the future as well. So yes, they are snapshots of your future life, the next time you’ll be reincarnated. But that’s hundreds of years away.”
“Is there any reason why I’m having them?”
“You’ll remember your past lives in your future incarnation, as usual. Yet before then, the visions you’re having now will aid you though you may not consciously be aware of it. Still, having seen the visions once, you can never truly forget them. They will quietly guide you into doing what is needed of you. For you, the most important thing is to meet the mermaid.”
Arthur was going to ask ‘why?’ but the look on the God of Magic’s lion face told him that he probably wouldn’t give him an answer.
Some things had to remain a mystery, unfortunately.
“What about the baby Morgaine was so up in arms about? The one to end the apocalypse?”
“I’m certain you’ll figure that out on your own. I insist though that you try to focus on this life, spend time with Merlin, be happy together. You’ve both had a chaotic summer so far, and need a bit of a break.”
Then the God of Magic vanished with the roar of a lion marking his departure.
Arthur smiled lightly when he saw Merlin with Lux and his little phoenix hitchhiker come down the stairs.
“I thought I’d really lost you there,” Arthur told him.
“It was terrible,” said Merlin emphatically. “I can’t believe I only remembered my past life yesterday and it feels like my life before remembering is so far away. How do I deal with it all?”
“Believe me. I’m in the same boat as you. It’ll be a challenge, but we’ll get through it together.”
“I put out some food for Lux too,” Arthur told him. “Where did you get the miniature phoenix from?” he asked.
Merlin gently lifted the almost palm-sized phoenix off Lux as the puppy went off to eat.
“There you go, Sweetie,” Merlin murmured to the phoenix.
He let her on to the kitchen table, but she chose to fly about the kitchen instead.
“Bran got it for me,” Merlin answered Arthur. “He has the Raven Knife, so he went to the World of Magic to get the cure to save you. I wasn’t expecting the phoenix, but it was a thoughtful gift all the same.”
“Has Gwydion been reincarnated too?”
“He’s a bluebird. Feel free to wrap your head around that,” said Merlin.
“Huh. If I’d choose a bird for Gwydion it’d be more of a raven or crow.”
“Not a Merlin?” Merlin retorted.
“No. That would be a bit redundant, wouldn’t it?” Arthur decided.
“Yeah, suppose so. Are you hungry?” Merlin asked him as he shuffled around the kitchen looking to prepare lunch. “After being cursed and everything.”
“It appears that cure satiated my hunger for the moment, oddly enough. But if you’re hungry, go ahead,” Arthur told him. “Are you going to name your phoenix?”
Merlin put together a sandwich for himself as he spoke, “Yeah, that’d be a good idea. I can’t name her Zlota since that wouldn’t be fair to either of them. This phoenix needs her own identity. Greythorne will be her name. Grey for short.”
Arthur raised his brow. “That sounds like a name more meant for a grey wolf, not a scarlet-gold phoenix.”
“Then it’s perfect. An unexpected name is what I need,” Merlin told him with a nod. “What do you think of Greythorne?” he asked of the little phoenix who had landed on his shoulder.
The phoenix chirped in what Merlin assumed was acceptance of the name.
Merlin spoke to the phoenix as Arthur continued to put on an air of disbelief. “It makes you feel ten times bigger doesn’t it? No fluffy names for you.”
The phoenix seemed to nod in response.
“I should tell you,” Arthur slowly began once Merlin had sat down with his sandwich and drink. Greythorne was now on the table, peering at Merlin’s plate with interest.
While Arthur knew he just had to tell Merlin this, he disliked talking about a sore subject. And the Prince was the sorest of them all.
“I met with the Prince to give him a piece of my mind when I thought you’d died,” Arthur told him. “I just knew he was the culprit, and I wasn’t wrong. He told me the truth about your father’s death.”
“What did he say?” Merlin asked quietly.
“The Prince confessed that he added some dark magic to the cancer your father was contending with. That this made the cancer more powerful and more difficult to fight off.”
“Right. Dark magic. I should’ve guessed,” Merlin said grimly.
“Sorry. I know it’s the last thing you want to talk about. I don’t know what the Prince got out of doing that to your father. Maybe he wanted to prevent you from knowing your father in this life. After all, the Prince was our enemy… any way to ruin our lives, he’d take it.”
“Yeah. That’s certainly like him,” Merlin nodded, half-listening. Then he sat up straighter. “Wait. I almost forgot. Before he died, my father left me a letter. He remembered his past life and regained his magic not long before he died, you see. So he conjured a golden box with a letter and a miniature lynx for me. The lynx is gone now as she’s already served her purpose. My mother had been keeping the golden box until a few weeks ago when she decided it was the right time to give it to me. I haven’t looked at the letter yet.”
“Wasn’t your father’s daemon in our past lives a lynx?” Arthur remembered.
Merlin nodded. “Yeah. I’ll be back. I need to go get the letter.”
He stopped halfway up the stairs. “Wait. I could use my magic.”
“Handy that,” Arthur quipped.
Merlin gave him a sardonic look. He called for the letter to appear in his hand.
Merlin took a breath. “Well here it goes.” He declared.
Arthur reached out to grasp his hand. “It’ll be all right.”
Merlin gave him a small smile. He unrolled the letter and silently read:
I dearly wish I were still alive now to watch you grow up. Maybe in one life, I will finally be granted that chance. After two lives, maybe the third one will prove to be a success.
I’m sure my Father is watching over you. He loves you very much, you know, just as he does all his grandchildren.
Your mother (for she would frown upon me not mentioning her, so I must) and I love you, and we hope that you’ll lead a happy, satisfying life. I don’t doubt your mother will support me on this.
You may face danger and trouble what with the magical abilities you possess, but as long as you have an understanding and loving confidante by your side, then you will be all right.
I’ve included a biography of sorts of my past life and this life. It’s been magically copied from the memories inside my head. I hope the text will prove readable as I’m not feeling very well at the moment. I’m writing this with my magic because writing by hand seems like a bad idea now.
I miss you, Son. Even though you haven’t been born yet, I still do. I remember when you were a little boy in my past life, not even five. You were such a good, happy child. I enjoyed spending time with you and teaching you what I knew.
Though my time with you was fleeting in my past life, and you may barely remember me, I’m grateful for every moment I had with you. From cradling you in my arms for the first time with your dear Zlocisty as a small baby rosefinch on your little chest to seeing your curiosity shine as you began to explore the world.
I have left you a bit of Perija to spend some time with you before she carries out her task.
Fare well, Merlin.
Merlin smiled to himself at the touching letter. He’d almost forgotten about Zlota being a rosefinch first. He recalled how in his past life, his mother had told him about it.
“You okay?” Arthur asked him.
“Yeah. I’m good. Brilliant, actually. I wish I’d read the letter sooner.”
Two books appeared, one thick the other thin, upon the table.
Arthur eyed them, puzzled. “What are those books?”
“Oh, my father said he’d leave me a biography of his life or lives I suppose would be the right word.”
“You’ll get to know more about your father now after never getting the chance to before,” said Arthur with a smile.
Merlin nodded, touching the covers of the books in anticipation of reading them both.
“I have some good news about Morgana. I know she’ll live into adulthood in her next life. She’ll be Robin and Alice’s mother.”
Merlin didn’t want put a downer on the story by then telling Arthur that Morgana would die when Robin and Alice were fourteen. Still, Morgana would finally live a longer life than she’d managed in her last two lives. And finally having her chance at establishing her own family was a nice thing too.
“That’s good to know. Did you see her with me at any point in a vision?”
Merlin shook his head. “No, sorry. If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t have one future vision where I saw my future self. Now that was rather frustrating. I asked my grandfather on why that was the case, and he said I’m not meant to see my future self. That it’s far too soon to see what I’ll be up to in my next incarnation.”
“Makes you really curious, doesn’t it?” Arthur acknowledged. “I’ve seen my future self in my own visions, but it only makes me more curious. Your grandfather told me it’s important I meet this mermaid. And apparently Queen Morgaine, in the future, doesn’t want me to do that. But she was evil, I think, so that’s a perfect reason to defy her, right?”
“Yeah. I bet you that’s the same Morgaine who’s currently the Prince’s wife even though she’s also his half-sister.”
“Seriously? An Arthur and Morgaine united never goes well. They haven’t made a Mordred yet, have they?”
“I can neither confirm nor deny that,” Merlin told him unhelpfully. “Although King Merlin told me that it’s Nimueh who the Prince trusts more. She’s his advisor now.”
“Same Nimueh who was Gwydion’s adoptive mother until he was ten?”
“Yes the very one. I don’t know how reassuring that is. I could only speculate why the Prince chose to marry Morgaine instead of just marrying Nimueh who has been his ‘partner in crime’ for longer.”
“The Prince was sometimes called the ‘Mad Prince’, yeah? There’s your answer,” decided Arthur.
“Maybe that’s it,” Merlin said, twisting his lips into an amused smile. “No, Greythorne,” he admonished half-heartedly as the little phoenix hopped onto his plate and investigated the leftover crumbs on the plate.
She just looked too sweet as a small bird that Merlin just couldn’t find it in himself to scold her. Luckily, because Greythorne was a magically made miniature, she didn’t require food for sustenance. According to Athena’s expert advice. Yet Merlin didn’t think that the phoenix having a little food and water here and there would hurt. For the taste.
So he let her take a crumb or two into her beak. He stroked her scarlet-gold feathers with a smile, hearing her chirp happily in response, the sound similar to a baby chick.
“I think Lux with Greythorne may prove to be a thorn in everyone’s sides if they decide to strategize together. They’ll soon take over the whole world,” joked Arthur.
“Yeah, shut up, Arthur,” Merlin shot back at him, rolling his eyes.
“By the way, did you see a baby in your future visions? The one that would stop the apocalypse?”
“Yeah, there was a baby in one of my visions. Same one, I’m sure. I never got a good look at him.” Then Merlin started, sitting up straighter.
“What is it?”
“My grandfather told you that you have to meet a mermaid, right?”
“And Morgaine didn’t want you to…and what’s one reason to avoid a man and woman from uniting?”
“But this is a mermaid, not a woman.”
“You’re ruining my point, Arthur,” Merlin pointed out, frowning at him.
“All right, I get it. Maybe, maybe this baby we both saw is my son or will be my son. But how would that work? I mean, with a mermaid?”
Merlin couldn’t help but let out a laugh.
“Merlin!” Arthur exclaimed at him.
Greythorne ended up looking at Arthur with intense curiosity, tilting her to the side.
“Sorry, sorry. But there’s the ‘The Little Mermaid’…Ariel got legs there, didn’t she?”
“Yes Merlin, and if real life was a Disney movie, that would be brilliant.”
“Hey, I’m related to Snow White and Cinderella’s incarnations…and the Fairytale World is a real world.”
“Well then why don’t you go off and live in the Enchanted Forest?”
“Too late. You’ve already enchanted me,” Merlin retorted with a grin.
Then he began to laugh again, the Arthur with a mermaid thing still unbearably funny to him.
Arthur waved his hand resignedly. “Yes, yes. Go ahead. Just continue laughing, Merlin.”
In the corner of one of Rosebrooke’s smaller gardens, Bran was put in a coffin inside a small mausoleum beside a young apple tree. Gwydion had conjured the mausoleum and coffin. It was the last thing he ever wanted to do as he’d thought that Bran would surely live into adulthood in this life. Surely.
But Gwydion had been wrong.
The Raven Knife, the blade that bound the two of them together, had been placed in Bran’s hands, to be with him even in death.
Nearby, Ophelia sat cross-legged on the wrought iron bench that Alice had gotten for the garden and had spray-painted a bright blue. Gwydion was perched on a branch of the apple tree.
“So the raven will be responsible for looking after the Knife?” Ophelia asked.
Gwydion nodded. “It would be best since the raven is always with the Raven Knife either way. I’ll get updates and check on the Knife, of course, and my father said he’ll insure the Knife’s protection.”
After a long moment where they looked to the mausoleum, both lost in thought and memories.
Gwydion broke the silence by saying, “I still can’t believe Bran’s gone. He was encouraging me to leave, but I hadn’t expected Bran to die. I feel like I failed him.”
“Isn’t it always like this? When the Prince wants to carry out something, he’ll make sure to get it done? He’s probably pleased now that we’re all feeling guilty for not doing enough. And poor Robin, when he’s able to come back, he won’t like to hear Bran’s died. It will break his heart.”
“I wish I knew more about how Robin is. My father only said that he managed to rescue him, and that Robin’s alive. The fact he didn’t want to go into more detail has me worried.”
“We just have to be patient,” said Ophelia with a sigh. “I’m sure with the help of your grandfather, father and your Aunt Ceridwen; Robin will recover.”
“Yes, yet it’s hard to be patient,” Gwydion noted in frustration. “I did figure out who cured Bran when he was sick. It was the Prince of Darkness.”
“But then how could turn right around and kill Bran afterwards?” Ophelia wondered. “It makes no sense.”
“I don’t understand it either,” agreed Gwydion.
He didn’t want to tell her that he believed the Prince had been Bran’s birth father in this life because there was only so much a person could take. Gwydion worried it was his own fault.
With him being one world’s Merlin, and his close bond with Bran, that could’ve twisted fate to make Bran a son of Arthur in his reincarnated life. So that they’d fit the Arthur-Merlin mould in some manner. As to why that was necessary, Gwydion didn’t know.
But if it was true, then there was a high chance the next time Bran would be reincarnated, an Arthur would be his birth father again. He hoped desperately the Prince wouldn’t be that Arthur.
“Gwydion?” Ophelia addressed him, taking him out of his reverie. “Are you still relocating to North America?”
“Yeah. I don’t have a definite date, but I will keep in touch, of course. I just want to see what it’s like, but with Bran, well, you know… I’m not so sure what to do anymore.”
“He wanted you to go where you’d like to, Gwydion. If you’re interested in going across the pond, then go. As long as you visit. I’ll be holding you to that,” Ophelia told him sternly.
“I’ll do my very best. I promise, Ophelia,” Gwydion told her. “I think Charlie will be coming soon.”
“Yes,” said Ophelia too softly. She then put her hands over her face, covering it. Gwydion heard her let out a sob.
The only thing keeping Gwydion from breaking down was the belief that Bran would be reincarnated again.
This wasn’t the end of Bran’s story.
Chapter 4: Lasting Bonds
Merlin and Arthur were walking their dogs and Greythorne. She was magically concealed so the average person wouldn’t do a double take at seeing a small scarlet-gold bird on top of Lux’s furry head. For his part, Lux seemed quite comfortable with having this new bird companion. Certainly the pair was an odd couple.
They were in the park, having let Cavall and Lux loose to play and Greythorne to fly around amongst the trees.
Then the two of them with their pets were transported elsewhere as their surroundings changed.
They were now on the shore of a fast-moving stream. Merlin bet that if he fell into it, the water would overwhelm him, taking him away before he even had the chance to think of a magic spell to save himself.
Merlin shooed Lux and Greythorne away from the raging stream, not wanting them near the tumultuous water. Fortunately, they obeyed him and the pair went off to follow Cavall who was walking about, sniffing at everything in investigation.
James appeared before them. “Hello again, Merlin, and it’s good to see you, Arthur. I’m sorry to say this is where I must come bearing bad news.”
“Is it Robin?” Merlin guessed immediately. “He was taken by the Prince,” he informed Arthur.
James rubbed the back of his head, looking quite uncomfortable. “Actually, the good news is that we have Robin now. He’s alive, and while he’s not too physically injured, he still isn’t exactly well. But we’ll make sure he has a smooth recovery.”
Merlin noted the tone of James’s voice – clearly he wouldn’t get anywhere with getting more details out of his uncle. The discussion was closed.
Was this a precursor though? To what Robin would go through in his future incarnation? Did Morgaine now have anything to do with what Robin briefly went through under the Prince’s captivity?
Merlin sincerely hoped not.
“What is the bad news?” Arthur asked.
“I fear it’s something I don’t like having to tell you, but you must know. Bran is dead. The Prince killed him.”
“No, that can’t be true,” uttered Merlin, stepping back in shock. “He was only a child! He was supposed to live a long life. It’s not supposed to be like this. No one’s meant to die that young. That can’t be…”
“Merlin,” Arthur started quietly.
But Merlin ripped his arm away from him. “No.”
“Merlin, at least you got the chance to know him a little in this life,” Arthur reminded him. “I didn’t even meet his incarnation.”
“This is still wrong. How dare the Prince. How dare he!” declared Merlin angrily.
“We are looking into putting an end to the Prince,” James spoke up, attempting to be reassuring. “The downside is that when the Prince’s time comes to an end, we may be inviting a greater evil.”
“As long as I get to kill the Prince of Darkness,” said Merlin viciously.
Then he walked off in the direction that the dogs and Greythorne had headed off to. Arthur didn’t even have a chance to stop him.
“What is this place?” Arthur asked James, thinking a change of subject would be wise.
Though he was half-tempted to go after Merlin before he found a rabbit or some other creature to strangle in his frustration.
Arthur could only imagine how he felt. While he’d known Bran well enough in his past life, that still seemed like ages ago to him. But Merlin had interacted with Bran as he was now, and Greythorne had been a gift from Bran after all. Seeing him not long ago, Merlin must be reeling from the shock that Bran was now dead.
“It’s uh,” James began, looking unsettled as he watched Merlin leave. He looked to Arthur, regaining his bearings. “Yes right. This is the Oasis. Ceridwen and King Merlin helped to create and design the place. All of this is a sanctuary for ghosts as only in the Oasis can ghosts look solid as if they’ve never died. It’s a nice respite for them.”
“Is Bran here? As a ghost?” Arthur asked. After all, ghosts became ghosts because of unfinished business. And being murdered was certainly grounds for becoming a ghost.
James nodded. “King Merlin has been a ghost for centuries and he will help Bran to cope with being a ghost. It is best for now that Bran not see anyone currently living as he still needs to properly deal with his new unfortunate situation. But Bran won’t be alone at least. That’s the important thing.”
Arthur smiled tightly. “Good. I’m glad to hear it.”
A fleeting vision swept his mind’s eye as he saw himself falling into the sea, Krola back in wolf form falling beside him. Arthur could even smell the sea breeze. It seemed so real. He knew it had to be a continuation of that one vision he had where he’d been chased in the skies by Morgaine’s men.
Arthur willed himself to stop the vision as he could feel himself struggling to tread the uncooperative waters of the sea. He didn’t think he would last long.
Thankfully, the vision ended as he’d wanted.
“You all right there, Arthur?” James asked him, gripping his arm to keep him from falling down. “You’d paled and looked shaky on your feet.”
Arthur nodded, pressing his fingers to his brow. “Yeah. I’m okay. I should,” he paused. The scent of sea breeze was still upon his nose. It distracted him. “I should find Merlin before he gets lost here.”
“Thank you,” Bran told King Merlin. “I appreciate your help. What should I address you as? I’m used to calling you, ‘Your Majesty’ and the like.”
“Merlin is fine. There’s no need for formal titles here. I know you must still be in shock, Bran.”
“I just think I need to be alone for a bit. I’ll see you in a little later,” Bran assured him.
King Merlin nodded. He patted his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I’ll always be here.”
Bran hung his head. “Yeah. Yeah.” He said quietly.
The word ‘always’ equaled to ‘forever’ to him, and he half-feared that he’d forever be a ghost, that he’d never be reincarnated again. Reincarnation wasn’t an absolute guarantee after all.
Or what if he would be reincarnated and die as a baby? His future seemed so uncertain now.
King Merlin departed, a slight frown on his face as if he knew just what Bran was thinking.
Bran decided to climb a rocky outcrop in the midst of a deep blue lake. A dive would be nice.
As he dived in the water, Bran swore he saw a vision of Branwen, but this time a young raven was on her shoulders.
“Bran, my child,” she spoke softly in her melodic voice.
Bran reached out to her, seeking the comfort of her touch, but then she vanished like a wisp of smoke.
He swam back up to the surface, lying down on the lakeshore.
“Oh god oh god oh god,” he said in a near panic.
He put his hand over his eyes. He didn’t want to be a ghost. Why couldn’t he just go home?
Why couldn’t it be that simple?
He wanted to see Gwydion again, and Ophelia, and Robin…
“Hullo,” a voice next to him said casually. “Are you all right?”
Bran turned to his right, where the small voice was coming from. The speaker was a male hooded siskin – a black and golden bird of smaller size than even Gwydion.
“Hi. I’ve died, and now I’m a ghost. I’m not quite all right. Maybe I’ll get there, but now I just I don’t know…I’m not sure what to do. I’ll just lie here for now.”
“I understand. I’m a ghost too. I was eaten by a scary big bird, and I ended up here. It’s a nice place.”
“What world were you born into?” Bran asked him. He propped his elbow up, his hand now resting on his cheek.
“The World of Magic. I lived in South America.”
“Oh lucky that. I lived my first life in the World of Magic. In Albion.”
“What a great coincidence! What’s your name?”
“I’m just a little bird. I don’t have one,” the hooded siskin told him, sounding a bit sad about not having a name.
“Do you want me to give you one?”
“Oh, would you? That would make my day. How exciting, a name!” The black-gold bird exclaimed. He practically jumped to his right then left. Then the small bird hovered a few inches above ground, flapping his wings in his exuberance. “Do you need time to come up with one?” He wondered as he settled back down on the ground.
“What about, ‘Rhys’?”
“Rhys…” the bird tilted his head to the side, contemplating. “Rhys I like it! Thank you.”
“It suits you, I think,” Bran said with a soft smile. ‘Rhys’ meant enthusiasm, and this hooded siskin certainly had some of that.
“If I can ask, how did you die, Bran?”
Bran shrugged. “I didn’t feel a thing when I died. It was uneventful. I can’t imagine being eaten by a big bird.”
“That’s because you’re too big for the big bird that had me for a meal,” said Rhys with a sure nod.
Bran smiled, shaking his head. “Yeah suppose I am.”
“Mind if I touch you?” Bran asked him then.
He sort of missed being able to stroke Gwydion’s feathers now that they were separated by the divide of life and death.
“Okay. I don’t mind at all,” Rhys agreed.
So Bran stroked his black-gold feathers, getting a closer look at the bird.
~ * ~
Robin wasn’t sure what to do with the baby ring-tailed lemur he’d been given but to pet it. The little lemur seemed to enjoy it when Robin rubbed his belly. Certainly, the lemur helped to take his attention away from wondering when he’d regain his missing memories.
Now he just felt so, so confused and everything was unfamiliar to him. Robin wasn’t even quite sure what sort of person he was, how was he supposed to act? What was his personality? His likes and dislikes? Who were his loved ones? Besides his twin sister – he was grateful that he at least remembered Alice, though the full details were still rather vague.
Did he have friends? Enemies? Well, he already knew the Prince of Darkness didn’t like him as that’s why he was here according to James: to try to recover from the damage this Prince did on him.
There were so many questions that he needed answered, but nothing would compare to actually getting those memories back. Now only uncertainty lay ahead of him, and Robin couldn’t stand it.
As he watched the steady glow of the fireflies come into the room, Robin spoke, “You’re here to help me, right? James told me you’d be in the form of fireflies. Would you be able to recover the memories I’ve lost?” he asked hopefully.
“If all goes well, then yes. I’ll assess you to see the extent of the loss and if there will be anything preventing me from healing you. The Prince of Darkness has his tricks that make it necessary to be thorough.”
“Yeah, James told me about that. What do I call you? James told me you were his father, and that you were very powerful, but not your name.”
“Kian. Call me Kian,” the deep voice coming from the fireflies informed him.
“Okay then. Kian.”
“Now what do you remember?”
“I remember my name is Robin, and that I have a sister, my twin, Alice… and then there are the dragons. I see a lot of dragons. Is that all right?”
“It’s a start. A good one though. Now please, I need you to relax while I look you over. Concentrate your attention on the young lemur. This may take some time, but it won’t hurt.”
So Robin did just that, feeding the lemur with some of the food on the little table next to him.
There were leaves, fruit and flowers to choose from. The monkey-like creature took the big leaf he’d been offered in his small hands and proceeded to eat it. The lemur made squeaky noises that Robin thought sounded happy enough.
Mithian entered the small mausoleum with a heavy heart, but she wanted to be here to say goodbye. She had been shocked to learn from Bran’s cousin Ophelia that Bran had died. That was the last thing she had ever expected to happen. It was terribly sad, and just wrong as he had even been younger than her. But there was no changing the past now. There was only hope for the future.
There was a sufficient glow inside the enclosure, giving off just enough light for her to see.
Besides the coffin in the middle of the mausoleum, the small round table caught her eye. An image of a white raven spreading its wings was painted on one half of the table. On the empty portion, there stood a statue of a young woman with long white hair and crystal clear tiara upon her head. She wore a white medieval dress. The only colour on the pleasant looking woman was her remarkably purple eyes. She cradled a baby in her arms, and she looked down upon the child fondly as a mother would.
To the woman’s left, a white piece of paper with the thickness of cardboard was propped up by a stand. On the paper, the words in fluid cursive script said,
Our Beloved Lady Branwen
Guide our passage into the afterlife
Fly us home
Mithian touched the statue briefly, finding it a lovely piece of work. She turned her attention to the coffin. The coffin was constructed of well-polished stone of a deep blue colour. She heard the sound of a raven cawing as she considered the coffin. There was something she wanted to put inside of it, but she didn’t think she had the strength to shift the lid.
A black raven suddenly appeared on top of the coffin in front of her. The raven tilted his head at her, cawing at her in question.
Mithian held up the miniature blue bird statue she had brought. “I just want to put this in the coffin if that’s all right.”
The lid opened halfway then of its own accord almost as if the raven had something to do with it.
The raven appeared to vanish into thin air, and then she saw the raven reappear on the hilt of the Raven Knife that was in Bran’s hands.
But she thought it wasn’t the time to contemplate this clear use of magic. She had more important things to concern herself about.
A seemingly preserving glow enveloped Bran as he lay upon a cushion of white silk. He only looked like he was sleeping. Not seeing his chest rise and fall as breath left and exited his body proved that he was truly dead.
He wore an outfit consisting of a dark blue jacket with moon silver buttons and dark trousers. Upon his head rested a silver coronet encrusted with white diamonds. It was like Bran was a young prince or lord, gone far before his time. Even in death, with his startlingly golden eyes closed forever, Bran still exuded that intriguing strangeness that had caught her eye when she had first met him.
She laid the blue bird statue beside him, near his shoulder.
She spoke then for though she knew that Bran couldn’t hear her, Mithian still had the desire to explain herself.
“I brought you a blue bird because I thought that way; Gwydion could always be with you symbolically. I didn’t know you for very long, but I liked you, truly. I miss you, Bran.”
Mithian kissed him softly on the lips. She pulled away and the coffin lid slid closed
Images from her frequent dreams came to her mind’s eye. Of being imprisoned in a castle, of the beast in the shadows, of the enchanted red rose in a glass bell jar. Of the beast turning into a handsome prince, and the power of requited love.
Mithian wasn’t sure why she was being reminded of the dreams now. She shook her head, extinguishing the images from her head.
She sadly looked back one last time to the coffin.
When she exited the mausoleum, Mithian saw a little rosefinch on the ground. The poor bird looked like it had a broken wing. The rosefinch made sad, pained sounds, requesting help.
Mithian knelt down before the rosefinch.
“Oh you poor creature. Let me see you,” she said. She gently put the male rosefinch on to the palm of her hand.
The small bird fell quiet and she wasn’t sure why. She wasn’t an expert on fixing broken wings, and thought maybe to take the bird back home to ask her mum what to do. Yet she couldn’t help but kiss the rose red bird on his feathery head.
Mithian was surprised when the bird was able to fly again, the injured wing had miraculously healed. Had her kiss something to do with it? That made no sense, and yet, she couldn’t discredit the idea completely. She’d seen magic inside the mausoleum after all.
She thought the rosefinch would fly away now that he was healed, and she said goodbye to him, and went on her way.
But the rosefinch remained close to her for some inexplicable reason.
“I’m sure you have family to go back to? Or would you like to come home with me?”
The rosefinch answered her in birdsong, and perched on her shoulder. He looked intent to stay there.
“Um okay… nice to meet you. I’m still not sure what’s going on, but you seem like a sweet bird, so we’ll just take it one day at a time. How about that?”
The bird sounded like he was approving of her suggestion.
So she nodded and started walking back home with her new rosefinch. He needed a name, Mithian thought.
And so she considered possible names on her way home, passing them by the smart little bird for his opinion.
“Merlin,” Athena said quietly. Arthur and Merlin were back home with Lux, Cavall and Greythorne.
Merlin had fallen asleep on the couch while reading one of the books his father left him.
It had been an emotionally exhausting day for him, and he wished that some things were just a bad dream. It was just wrong that Bran was dead. Because he couldn’t be.
“Yeah?” Merlin murmured, rustling himself from his unhappy slumber.
“Your engagement ring is still in your car, remember? It would be a good idea to retrieve it…” Athena suggested. “I know you’re upset about what the Prince did to Bran, but can’t you feel it? This life isn’t the end of Bran’s story. You have to have faith in that, Merlin.”
“I know, I hope so too…but still, he was a child. Doesn’t matter how many memories he was carrying inside his head, he still only lived eleven years in this life. I can’t get over how wrong that is. And how the Prince believed he had the right to cut Bran’s life short like that,” Merlin said bitterly. “But yes, you’re right, Athena. I need to get my ring back,” he acknowledged.
Arthur entered the room. Greythorne was perched on Arthur’s head, which would have made Merlin laugh any other day, but he didn’t feel much like laughing at the moment.
“Hey, you’re awake,” Arthur said. “The dogs have fallen asleep. Busy day for them.”
“Yeah. Yeah,” Merlin said idly, giving Arthur a small smile.
“Look, Merlin,” Arthur began.
But Merlin didn’t want to hear it. Arthur had already said enough to try to make him feel a little better about the dreadful news of Bran’s death.
Merlin put up a hand. “I’m fine. I appreciate you trying to help, but I just need some time. I have to get my engagement ring back, actually. It’s in the glovebox of my car.”
Arthur raised his brow. “And why is that?”
Merlin looked sheepish. “Well when we had that fight and I left, I took off the ring because I was so frustrated with you,” he explained. “That’s all in the past now, of course.”
“I could retrieve your ring for you,” Arthur offered easily. “No problem.”
“No, you don’t have to,” Merlin started, standing up.
Arthur shook his head. “I want to do this. No point in arguing over it. I’ll just take your keys.”
“Greythorne’s on your head,” Merlin told him randomly.
Arthur smiled at him. “I know,” he said. He gently grabbed the phoenix off his head and gave her back to Merlin.
“There you go, your own mini-daemon,” Arthur quipped, winking at him.
Merlin eyed him, and then he smiled fondly as Greythorne blinked up at him and nuzzled against his stomach.
Arthur grabbed Merlin’s keys and waved at Merlin before he left the house.
~ * ~
Arthur stared; transfixed by the silver band he’d retrieved from the glovebox. He was reminded of the silver of his Excalibur, the great sword that had granted him the ability to travel to other worlds. Excalibur had been the blade that had inspired the Raven Knife’s creation.
A memory came unbidden to him then.
It was during his and Merlin’s year in exile, and it wasn’t long after Arthur had gained Excalibur.
Merlin had been persuading him to use the sword to travel to another world as they’d yet to do that.
“Come on, Arthur. It’ll be an adventure,” Merlin told him as they lay by the fireside.
Zlota was beside Merlin in her nest and Krola was lying on his side by Arthur.
“But we’re in exile, Merlin. If we go to another world, we’ll be escaping our problems in this world. What if we decide to never come back? And leave Camelot to my father’s tyranny?”
“Arthur, the Daemon World will always be our world. Going to see other worlds doesn’t mean we’ll never return here. I love this world just as much as you. It’s our home,” Merlin said sincerely. “But we need to get a break from the grimness of exile. We deserve a chance to explore a different world. You have Excalibur now, Arthur, and you need to see all it can do.”
And then Krola and Zlota chimed in, agreeing with Merlin.
“It’ll be like a quest,” said Krola.
“Discovering other worlds would be exciting, and Uther’s men won’t suspect where we are,” put in Zlota.
“All right, all right!” Arthur said, raising his hands. “It’s three to one. I know when I’m beaten.”
Merlin grinned at him. “Let’s see Excalibur again,” he declared.
Arthur unsheathed his precious sword, the reflective silver catching the firelight.
Arthur smiled to himself as the memory faded out.
Everything would be all right. He had to believe it would be.
~ * ~
~ * ~
One hundred and one years after killing the only natural son he’d ever had, the Prince of Darkness was in the World of Magic at the shores of the Baltic Sea.
Curious children approached him, their parents watching them with uncertainty since the Prince was a notorious enemy of the World of Magic after all.
The children’s winged creatures were on alert as the children asked the Prince questions.
He answered them in their native Polish language. The Prince spoke quite fluently as living a very long life had given him the chance to learn different languages at a high level.
Though the Prince never told the children exactly why he was just sitting here at the beach.
Later, one particularly fair-haired boy recalled how the Prince had trouble looking him directly in the eye, and a guilty, sad look came over the Prince’s face as the boy spoke to him.
As the sun began to set, the Prince stood upon the sea shore, watching intently as the sun descended.
The final known account of the Prince was that he had started walking into the Baltic Sea as darkness began to fall upon the land.
His body wasn’t found in the sea, so drowning was ruled out. People were left to believe he had vanished like a ghost in the wind.
The Prince of Darkness was gone.
In the following centuries, the Prince’s wife, Morgaine, became known as the Evil Queen by those who opposed her.
Yet the gods had the Prince’s advisor, Nimueh, on their side. She had yielded to what they wished of her, on the condition that she keep her immortality and agelessness. On the other hand, Morgaine was stripped of both and was forced to find other means of keeping her beauty and youth; her own magic helping her a little bit. The god of unnatural magic was particularly vocal about Morgaine’s punishment.
Nimueh was nothing if not smart enough to take an opportunity when it was presented to her. Morgaine was too far gone for the gods to even consider pulling her to their side. And Nimueh knew that it was the Prince who had suggested it be Nimueh that serve the gods, as her motherly qualities had served the Prince well.
Nimueh became known as the Lady of the Lake.
She gave birth to a beautiful raven-haired daughter, who she named Morgana as Nimueh knew she was an incarnation of the Daemon World’s Morgana.
Twenty years later, Morgana gave birth to equally beautiful twins, a boy and a girl, both with golden hair and blue eyes. She named them Robin and Alice under her mother’s suggestion.
Nimueh doted on her grandchildren. Though she told Robin and Alice to address her as Nimueh. “Grandma” made her feel old, though her skin was always young and smooth.
Like any woman, she wanted to keep the perception that she was still just a young woman though she had lived through hundreds of centuries already.
Meanwhile, worlds began to collapse under the weight of Queen Morgaine’s dark vengeance, and people cried doomsday. That the apocalypse, the end of the worlds, had come. Most worlds turned away from electricity and began to rely on the land, on nature again as electrical systems shut down – all Morgaine’s doing.
Worlds once unaware that other worlds existed besides their own now had seen the light. Formerly dull worlds accepted the reality of more than one world in existence.
Public access between many worlds opened up and for a decent price, people could travel to one world to another. Yet as the worlds collapsed and fell, this travel became more harrowing and dangerous.
Formerly dull worlds began to turn to magic, real magic, and the always resilient World of Magic sought to help. Worlds like the Daemon World adopted speedy winged steeds as a popular form of transportation.
Morgaine made a terrible blow against Nimueh when she killed her daughter, and forced Robin and Alice apart, locking Alice away in a tower to use her magical golden hair for herself, and trapping Robin in the castle that once was home. Now at only fourteen years old, it was his prison.
Nimueh was unable to help either of her grandchildren. For four years she waited until she could bring her grandchildren back together. The twins were stronger together after all.
She bided her time, and hoped that the Arthur of the Daemon World would encounter one of the last few mermaids remaining in the worlds.
~ * ~
~ * ~
Robin walked slowly, the wounds on his back from Queen Morgaine’s whipping making it difficult to move. He heard the melancholy melody of Ortega’s “It’s hard to say goodbye” piece coming from the Piano Room. That upset him as the last person to ever play the piano had been his mother. The piano had remained silent since then. She had played Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. That same day, she had died at the Queen’s hand.
Now two years later, Robin feared that he was forgetting how his mother looked when she smiled or that intent look she had had while she played the piano, her skillful fingers gliding across the keys.
He entered the Piano Room, the melody halting as he arrived. Robin let out a sigh, collapsing face down on the cool hardwood floor so as not exacerbate his wounds.
He would just stay here, easy, and wait for infection to set in, and for the fever to come. Maybe he could get hallucinations – that way, he could see his mother again, and have Alice back with him.
Then he heard the sound of a raven’s call for attention.
Robin peered up, his chin over his folded hands. A raven was perched on the piano bench. The bird looked like he was carrying something in his beak. “You again, huh? I don’t know how you got inside, but I suppose it’s nice to have company. Even if it’s with a bird meant to come when you die. Which I probably will, soon enough,” he said, tiredly resigned to his fate.
The raven cawed again, this time in disagreement. He flew down to land in front of Robin’s face. He gently put down what he’d been carrying in his beak. The raven prodded Robin’s cheek with his cheek, drawing his attention to the small pouch.
“All right. Okay. I’ll open it,” Robin acquiesced.
He untied the string of the pouch and looked inside to find golden fairy dust that sparkled as he exposed it to the light of the room.
“Fairy dust. Nice. That should help with my back. Thanks,” he said to the raven.
The raven touched the pouch with the beak, clearly insisting that Robin use the fairy dust now.
“You’re a strange guardian angel,” Robin noted to the raven as he went to pour some fairy dust into a glass. Ingesting it should help in healing the damage on his back. “But you’ll have to do.”
Robin smiled at the raven who rolled around on the table in a mood for play, his task done.
~ * ~
~ * ~
Arthur opened his eyes on the sandy shore. Krola had returned to her white wolf form, and his daemon now shook out her wet fur beside him.
Sitting up, he coughed, expelling the water caught in his lungs.
A mermaid with vividly red hair and blue eyes was looking down on him. She wore white seashells on her chest and her tail was green with her fins as white as the seashells.
The mermaid must have saved him, retrieved him from the sea he’d been forced to fall into.
“Are you all right?” the mermaid asked in concern.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said with a slight smile. “What’s your name?” Arthur asked breathlessly.
“Ariel,” the red-headed mermaid told him.
Her blue eyes had flecks of gold in them. She was beautiful.
“My name’s Arthur,” he told her, still a little overwhelmed that he was talking to a mermaid.
Merfolk were one of the more elusive beings in all the worlds.
Arthur stood, looking up to see Queen Morgaine’s men, still on winged steeds, had reached him. They looked ready to shoot him down with arrows. He knew he couldn’t stay still for long. He needed shelter.
“They’re after me. They didn’t want me to meet you I think.”
“I can help you,” Ariel told him.
Before Arthur could ask how, he nearly got hit with an arrow that he managed to avoid by moving quickly out of its way. Krola was getting anxious.
Unexpectedly, Ariel’s mermaid tail turned into legs, and she now wore a simple white summer dress. The work of magic, it had to be.
“Run. I know the way,” she told him quickly.
Then Ariel started to go into a run, as if having legs wasn’t new to her at all. She was quite strange, Arthur thought.
Arthur ran, following where she led. Krola raced a bit faster than him due to her wolf form. As consequence, Krola reached the cliff overlooking a deep lake first. It looked to be a long way down.
With trepidation, Arthur saw Morgaine’s men gaining on them by foot. There wasn’t much time before the men caught up to Arthur.
Jumping the cliff was the only way out. Unless he wanted to be at the mercy of Morgaine’s lackeys.
“Here,” Ariel said, offering her hand.
He looked at her hand then at her smile of reassurance, locks of her red hair being whipped about in the wind.
He took her hand.
“No choice but to be ready,” his daemon said logically, though she sounded nervous.
“It’ll be fine. Trust me,” Ariel assured him. “You know how to swim?”
Then there was nothing else for it. The three of them jumped.
When they landed in the water, danger averted for the moment, Arthur couldn’t help but kiss her. She smiled brilliantly at him.
~ * ~
~ * ~
“You looked tired, so I let you sleep,” Robin told Alice with a small smile.
He held Bran in his arms, feeding him a bottle of milk.
Alice smiled appreciatively at her brother. “Yeah, I guess I was. The journey was exhausting. Bran’s looking all right.”
“Children are resilient, aren’t they?” Robin said thoughtfully. “That’s enough for you, little one,” he said to the baby.
The baby looked up at him with wide golden eyes as Robin took the bottle away and set it down on a nearby table. He patted his hand over the little bluebird tattoo just above Bran’s heart. Nimueh had deigned to put the marking on Bran the day he was born. She’d acted as midwife to Bran’s mother when she’d given birth. Nimueh had cited the bluebird was there for protective purposes, like a sort of magical marking.
The baby giggled, and Robin smiled at him affectionately.
“He’s a lovely little child,” Alice said.
Robin looked to Alice. “We aren’t kidnapping him, are we?”
“No. Nimueh assured me that she got the mother’s indisputable consent. And according to the mother, the father had left long before she started showing signs of pregnancy, their brief time together more like a fling. We aren’t doing anything wrong. Anyway, Bran’s birth parents live in the Daemon World, a different world completely.”
“Right,” said Robin still sounding a bit uncertain.
“Nimueh wanted me to take the baby, and really what else I was supposed to do? She’s our grandmother, Robin,” Alice reminded him. “She may be a bit off-kilter sometimes, but when Nimueh says how important the child is and that you and I must look after him, I can’t just give the poor baby to someone else. And now, at least, Morgaine won’t be able to trouble us while Bran is growing up.”
“Well when you put it that way…” Robin remarked, bemused.
Alice stood up, and leaned down to kiss the baby on the brow. “Mummy and daddy love you very much,” she said warmly to Bran.
~ * ~
~ * ~
Arthur visited the apothecary to get a potion for a shoulder strain. Seeing most people inside the potions store showed the evolving state of the Daemon World. Maybe it was a result of the apocalypse, but his world was beginning to lose the reason for why it was called the ‘Daemon World.’
Possibly as a defensive mechanism, daemons started retreating inside their humans, becoming souls inside their bodies as humans of other worlds were more familiar with. That meant for the unlucky of the Daemon World, there was a loss of an actual conversation with one’s daemons as the humans could only speak to themselves. Their daemons turned into shapeless souls and remained dreadfully silent.
To possess a healthy daemon was growing rarer these days.
And he could see most customers in this place didn’t have daemons, indicating that their daemons had retreated inside their bodies. What pained Arthur more was to see those who looked like they had ailing daemons, whose heads were bowed and they looked just plain unhappy.
He was lucky to have Krola, who was still quite healthy, though she certainly wasn’t like the daemons of old. She hadn’t settled into one form when he matured. Instead, Krola was able to transform into a white wolf and a brown Pegasus with golden-brown wings. Arthur didn’t know what to make of it, but the Pegasus form was certainly useful for traveling.
Arthur wanted to make this a quick trip as others were staring at him – half in envy at his healthy daemon and the other half in annoyance at him daring to come here flaunting his daemon while they weren’t so lucky.
So Arthur stood firm as best as he could and tried to ignore the judging stares. He wouldn’t feel guilty, no he wouldn’t.
At the counter, there was a young woman of about fifteen, a decade younger than him, with a short haircut and dark eyes. She was nearly pleading with the seller for a certain potion.
Arthur’s eyes widened because he knew just what this transformation potion did. But by the look of the girl’s hooded siskin daemon, he understood why she asking for it. The poor black-gold bird looked disinterested in everything around him and he looked underfed like he’d lost his appetite.
“You don’t know what I went through to get the money for this potion. It has to be enough. Seriously, I’m this close to considering suicide! Just have a heart, for goodness sake!”
“Listen, young lady. You’re not of age. You need parental consent,” said the seller stubbornly.
“My parents are out of the equation. They’re dead,” the girl said flatly. “Just look, please, my daemon Rhys is miserable and this potion will help us both. Please.”
“Nothing wrong with having a soul inside your body. There’s a reason why all the other worlds have it that way and we don’t.”
“I don’t want to conform,” retorted the girl.
“Hey,” Arthur spoke up. He dropped two gold coins on the counter. “Just give her the potion. Don’t punish her just because she doesn’t have parents. You’ll be saving a life if you help her,” Arthur advised him.
The seller stared at him, then at Krola, and he mumbled something about, “a hoity-toity person thinks he’s so great because he has a healthy daemon.”
But fortunately the seller relented and shoved the potion into the young woman’s hand. “Ah whatever. With the gold coins, that’s more than the potion is worth. Money wins this one. Just a word of warning: the potion tastes like crap,” told the seller curtly.
“I didn’t pay for it to taste good,” replied the girl. “As long as it works.”
She moved aside for the next customer.
“Thanks,” she told Arthur. “I appreciate it--?”
“Arthur. My name’s Arthur.”
“My name is Laynie,” she introduced herself. They shook hands. “This little fighter is Rhys,” she said with a sad smile.
The poor hooded siskin only moved closer to the crook of her neck, nuzzling her, as if he were afraid of Arthur and sought comfort from Laynie.
“Laynie, Laynie, Laynie…” Rhys only murmured.
“Sssh, you’ll be well soon enough,” she assured.
“I hope the potion works and Rhys gets better,” said Arthur.
“Thanks. What an impressive daemon you have.”
“This is Krolewska, but I just call her Krola.”
“Hello,” Krola said. “Thank you for the compliment.”
Arthur could definitely see that Rhys was even more anxious when Krola spoke. Of course to a small ailing bird daemon, Krola’s big wolf form was far from a calming sight.
“Well, here it goes,” Laynie announced, as she got ready to down the potion.
“Good luck. Hopefully I’ll see you around,” Arthur told her, and he meant it.
Laynie smiled at him. “I hope so too,” she said before she drank the potion.
She transformed into a female hooded siskin – a change that would be permanent. Her male daemon finally was beginning to look well again, flying around Laynie who now was the same species as him.
The hooded siskin pair flew out of the apothecary when Arthur went to open the door for them. He waved goodbye to Laynie and Rhys wondering if he’d ever actually see them again.
But at least now, they were together and both were healthy and happy. That’s what mattered.
Still after months of the number of cracks decreasing in the skies, Arthur couldn’t help but smile at the gradual improvements in these apocalyptic days. It felt like hope was in the air, a hope for a brighter future.
As the grey skies began to let drops of rain fall, Arthur sought shelter in a half-damaged church. It looked like the stone structure had been bombed.
He walked up the aisle with Krola walking resolutely beside him. Arthur was silent, the drip-drop of rainfall the loudest sound he heard.
Seeing a slightly worse for the wear statue of the Virgin Mary with child, he was compelled to kneel before it.
But the silence of the sanctuary was broken by an angry voice that had Arthur turning around immediately.
The voice came from Queen Morgaine. The last person he ever wanted to see.
“You men are all the same!” She exclaimed. “How dare you! Do you realize how you’ve destroyed everything??”
“Well if I’ve done something to upset you, then I’m clearly doing something right,” Arthur shot back sarcastically.
Krola readied her attack stance, growling under her breath. “Leave now,” she warned the Queen.
“You and your stupid daemon!” Queen Morgaine said in irritation. “You’ve done enough damage for a lifetime. I’ll make sure you won’t be able to do anymore,” she threatened.
Arthur fell as the air was sucked out of his lungs by magic.
Then a dark-haired man with an extraordinary scarlet-gold phoenix magically arrived, standing in front of him. He blasted Morgaine away with his hand.
Arthur could breathe again. He knew the man his age just had to be Merlin, as he was known as the only person to have a phoenix daemon.
“Arthur is under my protection, Morgaine. The wisest thing for you to do is to leave,” Merlin said loud and clear. His voice was so commanding and firm that Arthur was glad not to be the one on the receiving end of it.
Queen Morgaine glared at Merlin, standing up and straightening her dress roughly. “I want that child! That wretched child is a nightmare.”
“And this is the sound of me not caring,” Merlin said flippantly. He approached her slowly. “You know what I do to people who intend to kill the child? I rip their hearts out, slowly and so painfully that they scream in agony for hours afterwards. Then I let them die. Watch it, Morgaine. Leave Arthur ALONE,” he demanded.
Morgaine growled in anger, and left abruptly without deigning to deliver a response.
“Thanks for saving my life,” Arthur told him. “If you really are Merlin, then let me tell you, you are not an easy man to find. I’ve been searching for you for almost two years now.”
“Yes I am Merlin,” he confirmed with an odd little smile on his face like he knew far more than Arthur did. “Why did you need to find me?” Merlin asked.
“People have told me that you know how to end the apocalypse, that you know how to contact the Lady of the Lake who is working toward the same goal. Nimueh is her name, I think… I wanted to see you, to lend my support to you in ending this apocalypse. But now looking at you, you seem familiar to me. Have I met you before?” Arthur asked suddenly.
“Quite possibly yes,” Merlin said, again with a secret smile. Arthur felt desperate to unravel the secrets this Merlin knew. “It’ll all make sense soon. I can help you, but you see, you have done quite well without me. You’ve seen the better state of the skies, haven’t you?”
Arthur nodded. “I don’t know what that has to do with me, but well, I did meet a mermaid if that means anything. After all not everyone can say they’ve met one of the merfolk. She saved my life and we spent some time together…”
“Sounds like a fairytale,” Merlin remarked casually.
“Maybe a little bit,” Arthur acknowledged.
He wasn’t the type to relate his life to fairytales, but certainly meeting a mermaid was an experience beyond imagining. One he’d be hard-pressed to ever forget.
“You sound so enthusiastic,” Merlin’s phoenix daemon voiced her opinion.
“Zlocisty,” Merlin admonished her gently.
“Is that how big true phoenixes are?” Krola asked. “I never saw a real, live phoenix before.”
Merlin nodded. “Yes phoenixes are this big.”
“And most have scarlet-gold feathers like me. Good luck finding the ones who have shades of blue in their colouring,” Zlota said matter-of-factly.
“This is Krola,” Arthur told Merlin, indicating his daemon. “But I’m guessing you knew that already,” he said shrewdly.
Then Arthur couldn’t resist asking, “Is your father alive?” He paused, confused why his mind decided to ask that. “I don’t know where that came from.”
“Yes, he is. Alive and well,” Merlin answered him easily.
He looked so happy that the happiness was contagious. Arthur grinned.
Arthur didn’t know why it was important whether or not Merlin’s father was alive, but he was glad that his question yielded a positive answer all the same.
“And don’t worry about asking questions like that. It’s a good thing. It means you’ll soon remember what you need to,” Merlin assured him. “Would you like to go hiking in the mountains, Arthur? It’s just in Wales.”
Arthur raised his brow. “Is this a date?”
Merlin shrugged, flashing a grin. “Sort of. It’s really whatever you make of it,” he said logically.
“Okay, yeah. Sure. And then we can strategize.”
“Of course, but first, you must appreciate the view.”
Arthur nodded. “I’m up for that. It could be an adventure.”
Merlin corrected him amicably, “Well more like a quest because there’s this sword waiting for you and…”
~ THE END ~
End Notes: My intention was that Rhys, Merlin's apprentice, was reincarnated as a hooded siskin, and then a hooded siskin daemon in the life after that. I guess Rhys wins with interesting incarnations. ;)
And my favorite Disney princess/heroine is Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" so I couldn't resist the chance to insert her into the story prominently what with the fairy tale touches in the story. I really liked Mithian from "Merlin", so I thought it'd be cool to give her that name in her reincarnated life.
A potential of a sequel for The Raven Knife is not likely (at this point in time at least). I will be using ideas from "The Wolf and The Phoenix" and this sequel, "The Raven Knife" in other stories. Currently, the Merlin's Fall series deals with ideas from the TWATP-universe, but it's very much an AU. Essentially, Merlin's father stays a god and now he's the current god of all magic. Merlin, as his son, is his heir. Arthur is a human who has lived in the world of the gods and goddesses since he was a boy. He and Merlin are friends of course. ;)
Thank you for reading this story! I'm so glad I finished it. The story was definitely a labor of love (even on the not so good days, the scenes that I was so proud of kept me going in finishing this longer than expected story *cheers*).
I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I did writing it. <3