“Arthur Pendragon,” Morgause whispered.
Her breath steamed in the cold. Her crystals sat alone on their pedestal, awaiting her attention. She leaned low over them, gazing into them, so that her breath clouded the shiny facets.
Whether the seeing crystals actively obeyed her, or whether they were simply a screen for the projections of her mind’s eye, she did not know; nor did she care.
They worked, and that was all that mattered, after the long years of study under the tutoring of the Priestesses. It had taken her a whole year just to find a scrying medium that suited her, and another year to find someone accurately. It had taken her longer still to learn to find someone she loathed with all her heart. She had to overcome her own unbidden revulsion, her wish to avoid even the sight of one she hated so much.
It was difficult, but not impossible. She could over-ride her heart. That was a lesson she had learned well. She narrowed her eyes, closing down her gaze to the depths of the largest crystal of the cluster, and murmuring the focussing chant she had been taught.
She held the memory of him in her mind – blond hair, blocky shoulders, and blue eyes. The largest and clearest of the crystals seemed to beckon her gaze into its glassy depths, and she narrowed her focus until she saw nothing but the tiny flecks and planes of the crystal’s internal world.
“Arthur Pendragon,” she whispered, again.
He had blond hair, a prominent nose, and slightly crooked teeth. He had smooth, sculpted cheeks, and a distinctive smell, of Stockholm tar, and horse sweat, and armour polish. As the memory of his scent came to her mind’s eye, the image of him came to the crystal.
“There you are,” she said, pleased with how quickly she had found him.
Her view of him seemed to be from one side, as if she hovered over Arthur’s shoulder, looking down on him. As her grasp on the vision grew, her sight expanded, so that she could see more of where they were. He was face to face with his manservant – that irritant whom she had tried to kill, and somehow failed.
They were surrounded by the honey-coloured stone walls of Camelot. Arthur was standing, and his servant was settling his mail hauberk around his shoulders. It seemed the prince was on his way to the practice field. She had caught them at an intimate moment.
Even soundless, she could see that Arthur was happily sounding off on some idea. His brows were jumping in time with his mouth, and his free hand was waving up and down in brisk excitement.
The servant was nodding, distracted, while trying to tie the laces of Arthur’s wrist armour – not an easy task when Arthur wanted to wave his hands around. As she watched, she saw the servant raise one finger and wag it at his master in admonishment. The prince curled his lip and shook his head, rejecting whatever advice he had been given.
He was an arrogant pig, and she felt her hatred of him rising. His servant only sighed, and shook his head, as if resigned to being ignored.
“Arthur Pendragon,” she said, savouring the taste of her hatred. “How I hate you.”
She narrowed her focus, going for a closer view of her enemy’s face, and as she did so, the servant snapped his head up, and their eyes met.
It was like being slapped in the face, like being smashed in the face by a wall of icy water.
Huge dark blue eyes. For a moment, the eyes filled her vision. She could see only eyes, nothing but eyes. They gazed into her soul, gouging into her like knives.
“What are you doing here?” she heard him say. His voice was in her head, inside her mind, and she staggered back from the crystals, trying to break the link. But his eyes were in her mind, looking back, staring into her with an expression of cold anger.
“Show me where you are!” His command echoed in her head, seeming to vibrate in the very bones of her skull. She clapped both hands to her head, and cried out in desperation a spell for driving out another’s possession.
The eyes vanished.
Morgause found herself lying on the black marble floor, her hair in her face. The floor was ice cold under her, but she welcomed its bite. Her mind was empty, and all hers. The giant presence had gone, banished with the breaking of the link.
She brushed her hair away from her face, sitting up. Her seeing crystals sat inert on their pedestal. She felt no magic coming from it now.
“You!” she hissed.
Who would have guessed it? Arthur’s servant was a sorcerer – and a frighteningly powerful one, too. That babyish little brat was hiding power like this? No wonder she had failed to kill him.
She would not fail again, now that she knew what he was.
// // //
Arthur snapped his fingers under Merlin’s nose. “Merlin!”
Merlin jumped. Arthur saw his eyes refocus and the taut expression relax. “Sire?”
“Snap out of it, man!”
“Snapping out right away, Sire,” Merlin agreed.
“What on earth came over you?”
His servant bent his head to Arthur’s arm again, and his fingers resumed their quick movements. “Nothing, Sire,” he said to Arthur’s wrist. “Do you want to wear your surcoat today?”
“Forget the surcoat, Merlin! You looked like you saw a ghost.” He glanced over his shoulder, in the direction of the Merlin’s glare, but there was nothing there. They were alone in his chamber. Merlin had been glaring ferociously at a blank wall. “What on earth just happened?”
The dark blue eyes flicked up to him, and then away again. “I thought I heard something.”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
He hadn’t, he recalled. He had simply suddenly noticed that Merlin wasn’t listening to him, glanced at his usually-bland face, and then saw the unexpected expression of rage.
“Well, no, Sire, it was nothing.” Merlin held his head low, in the expression which meant I know nothing, don’t look at me. Arthur had not been fooled by that expression for quite some time.
“Not nothing. Answer me, Merlin, or I swear I’ll … I’ll …” he raised his finger and wagged it at Merlin, “I’ll think of something worse to do to you than put you in the stocks.”
“Ooh, there’s a threat.” Merlin turned away to the table, and if he rolled his eyes, he did it facing away from Arthur, so that Arthur had no excuse to smack him.
“I mean it, Merlin.” He closed the distance between them. “What did you hear?”
Merlin turned to face him, caught at bay against the table. “Well, Sire, it’s … I thought I heard my name being called. That’s all. But as you can see,” he gestured to the room with both hands, “there’s no-one there, is there?”
Arthur shook his head. “You didn’t hear your name being called. Nobody glares like that when they hear their own name. You looked like you were ready to punch someone. Come on, tell me.”
Merlin pursed his lips, and shook his head. “So, what will it be? Surcoat or no surcoat?”
“Forget the surcoat. Come on! Tell me! What did you hear? Or …” he paused, snapped his fingers, and pointed at Merlin. “You didn’t hear anything, did you? You saw something!”
Something in Merlin’s eyes changed, at those words. There was his answer. “Ah-ha! So, you saw something. What did you see, Merlin?”
Merlin shook his head. “Surcoat it is, then,” he decided. He picked up the surcoat, and scrolled it up in his hands so as to slip it over Arthur’s head. From a lifetime of habit, Arthur lifted his hands so that his servant could put the big garment over his head and his arms in one movement.
“Tell me, Merlin,” he said, as soon as his face was clear of bright red fabric. “You know, I can keep on asking all day. I can keep on asking all week. I can keep on asking all year.”
Merlin bowed his head and sighed. “All right. Since you’re clearly prepared to make a mountain out of a molehill even though it’s nothing – I thought for just a moment that maybe I saw someone.”
Merlin’s hands were plucking his surcoat into place, fussing over him as if he were a horse being prepared for a parade. “Who?” Arthur demanded. He stood patiently as his sword belt was strapped around his waist. “Who, Merlin?”
Merlin stepped back. “Morgause. I thought I saw Morgause watching us.”
That shook him. “You thought you saw Morgause? Standing there?”
Merlin’s eyes were sombre, but his words were garbled, as if he was having trouble describing what he had seen. “I don’t mean she was there, there, as in standing there. I mean … she was there, watching us, but she wasn’t there. But it was just a trick of the light, anyway. I was mistaken. There’s nobody there.”
He turned away, as if he considered the conversation over, and picked up Arthur’s sword in both hands.
As was his habit, as he had done ever since his very first week as Arthur’s servant, he raised the sword between his hands for Arthur to inspect it. They both knew that the blade would have been cleaned, polished and flawlessly sharpened, but Merlin seemed to get some satisfaction from showing Arthur what his own sword looked like. Arthur did not mind indulging the odd little ceremony.
He ran his eyes along the long blade, nodded, and Merlin stepped closer again and slid the long straight blade into the scabbard that already hung at his thigh.
Arthur looked at his servant’s serene face, so close to his own, and remembered the expression of anger on it, a moment ago. Nobody glared like that at a trick of the light. The expression on his face had been as if the real Morgause had stood here, not simply a mirage of her.
“All done.” Merlin stepped back, folded his arms, and surveyed his prince with the smug air of a sculptor gazing at his latest masterpiece.
“Merlin,” Arthur said. “Listen to me. I …” Words failed him, briefly. “Look, I’m not sure how to say this.”
Merlin grinned at him, and wriggled happily. “Er, you could just say ‘thanks, Merlin.’ I’d be happy with that. Actually, it would be rather nice, now and again.”
Arthur couldn’t help smiling. “No, that’s not what I meant.” He closed the distance between them, and put his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. He lowered his voice, so that he spoke for Merlin’s ears only. “Merlin, if you think you see Morgause again, hanging about, you come and tell me immediately.”
Merlin narrowed his eyes, and put his head on one side, quizzically. “It was just a trick of the light, Sire.”
“It might not have been.” Arthur drew in a deep breath. “I have been told, by someone who knows about these things, that some sorcerers have ways … secret tricks … of spying on people.”
Merlin rocked back on his heels. “Scrying, you mean?”
“Scrying, that’s exactly what they call it. You’re not as uneducated as you look, Merlin. Morgause might really have been right here in the room, watching us.”
Merlin scrunched up his mouth. “It was just a feeling I had, Sire.”
“I don’t care if it’s just a feeling. If she’s watching me, I want to know, so that I can avoid giving her information. If you ever think you see her again, you come and you tell me right away.”
Merlin nodded, reluctantly.
“Good man.” Arthur punched his shoulder. “Thank you, Merlin. Now let’s go teach Sir Ellyan how to fall off a horse, shall we?”
// // //
In the days since the ousting of Morgana from Camelot, Arthur had claimed a disused hall, which had once been the private chamber of one or other of his great-great-uncles, for his own use.
He’d had a table made up for it. He hadn’t been able to get a solid round table, so instead he’d had a carpenter put together an ordinary long feasting table, but in segments, so that it formed a large octagon. There was no head, there was no foot; and therefore there was no up or down, no place settings, and no seating in order of rank from highest blood to lowest. Here, at least, Sir Ellyan, son of a blacksmith, and Sir Leon, son of a Duke, could sit side by side.
To begin with, only the small group that he privately thought of as ‘the knights of that table’ had come here, but Merlin, of all people, had warned him against turning the table into an exclusive clique. Arthur had made a point of inviting others, and, slowly, other knights were beginning to join them in the evenings, after dinner. The almost-circular table was already becoming known as a meeting place where Arthur Pendragon was not the Crown Prince, nor the Commander-in-Chief, but merely another knight.
Tonight, however, only a small handful of knights were here; Sir Gawain, Sir Lancelot, and Sir Percival.
Merlin was here, too, sitting on Arthur’s right; as usual playing his favourite game of being with the knights, without actually being one of them. He had a big fat foxed book spread out in front of him, but he was leaning his chin on his crossed arms, eyes closed, clearly closer to sleeping than studying. Sir Gawain and Sir Lancelot were sitting on Arthur’s left, one on either side of Sir Percival, trying valiantly to teach him to read.
It had been a vexing discovery, learning that his newest and largest knight had not, in fact, been speaking figuratively when he claimed to have been raised under a tree. Sir Percival had only decided to become a knight because he had seen knights riding through his forest, and decided that armour looked nice. He had already established himself as a superb tracker, and a woodsman second to none, and a brave fighter, but he had almost no concept of what it was that other human beings did when they were indoors.
Still, he was making amazing progress, for a man who had had to have the concept of chamber pots explained to him.
“Moo-unn, ta, ta- in – moo-un-ta-in. Mountains. Co–ve-er-ed. Covered. With, great, v- v- ve- ver. Verda. Verdant. Verdant?” Sir Percival put one huge finger on the page to mark his place, and frowned from one of his tutors to the other. “What does that mean?”
“Green,” Sir Gawain said.
“No, it doesn’t,” Sir Lancelot said.
“What does it mean, then?” Sir Percival asked.
“Um,” Sir Lancelot scratched at his chin, “I think it means…”
“Green?” Sir Gawain asked, grinning.
“Merlin?” Sir Percival asked plaintively, referring to the one man in the room who had the least likely chance of knowing what it meant.
“It means covered with plants,” Merlin said, without opening his eyes. His chin was resting on his crossed arms. “Plants are green. So it also means green.”
Then again, Merlin did spend rather a lot of time mewed up in that tower with a physician. Probably, Gaius was making Merlin read as preparation for becoming a physician himself.
Arthur sipped his mead, and bent his head to his reports. “Sir Lancelot, did you say that the patrol to Greenhill saw a wyvern?”
Sir Lancelot looked up. “Half of them say they saw a wyvern. The other half says it was a big bird.”
“Perhaps it might be worthwhile taking a ride out that way and having a look,” Arthur mused, and brushed his lower lip with the end of his quill, thoughtfully. That might be an entertaining quest. He could fit it in after his army went into winter quarters, and before the really cold weather bit down. He had only been Commander in Chief for a fortnight, and already he was bored with General Staff work.
“If it was a wyvern, they’d all know about it,” Gawain put in. “I’ve seen a wyvern. Nasty beasts, and big as ponies. You’d have to be blind to think it was a bird.”
At his side, Merlin snapped his head up. For a moment, Arthur thought he was going to say he’d seen a wyvern too, but Merlin’s eyes focused on the far wall. “Sire,” he said urgently.
“Merlin?” Arthur asked. That hard look was back on Merlin’s face.
Merlin looked at him, and without saying a word pointed a finger at the space above the empty space in the middle of the almost-circular table.
“Ah!” Arthur said. Spy on him, would she? He set his quill down in his inkwell, and folded his arms. “Everybody, don’t say anything. We’ve attracted the attention of an unwanted guest.”
“Arthur!” Merlin blurted, sounding shocked.
“It’s all right, Merlin,” Arthur said smugly. “We’ll just wait until our guest goes away again.”
“Our guest?” Sir Lancelot asked.
“We’re being scried,” Arthur explained. “Morgause is watching us. Merlin can tell when she’s looking. It is Morgause, right, Merlin?” For a moment, he wondered if it might be Morgana watching, and his heart leaped, half with hurt, half with eagerness.
Merlin nodded, but his eyes were fixed, unblinking, on Arthur.
All the blood seemed to have drained from his face, making his expression seem as hard and taut as marble.
“Ah, right, scrying,” Sir Gawain drawled. “Well, I know what to do about that.”
He raised his hand, and extended the backs of two fingers towards the empty space above the table. “You know where to find us, my sweet!” he called, and waggled the fingers tauntingly.
“An excellent suggestion, Sir Gawain!” Sir Lancelot agreed, and raised two fingers as well. After a moment’s hesitation, so did Sir Percival.
“She’s gone again,” Merlin said. “She didn’t like that.” He didn’t sound as if he liked that very much either. His voice held very little enthusiasm.
“Excellent!” Arthur said happily. “See, Merlin, you’re not quite as useless as you look. I knew there had to be a reason I still keep you around.”
Usually, Merlin’s response to a comment like that would be a wry grin, or a retort, but he just stared at Arthur as if he had never seen him before, his lips pursed sourly.
“So … Merlin can tell when he’s being scried?” Sir Gawain asked, looking thoughtfully at Merlin.
“We only found out this morning,” Arthur said, grinning happily at Merlin, but for some reason Merlin was still not grinning back. In fact, he looked downright glum. “He says he can see whoever is watching him.”
“That is a very useful trick,” Sir Percival observed.
“He saw Morgause this morning in my chambers, watching us, as if she was standing in the room,” Arthur boasted. “Go on. Tell them, Merlin.”
“Arthur!” Merlin cried out, louder, in protest. He half raised himself out of his chair in agitation.
“What?” Arthur asked. He couldn’t ignore the upset expression on Merlin’s face any longer. “What’s wrong?”
“If I thought you were going to blurt it out in front of everyone, I wouldn’t have said anything!” Merlin cried. “I knew I shouldn’t have said anything!”
“Don’t be silly, Merlin. This is good! Thanks to you, we now know that Morgause spies on us. And now we can prevent her finding anything out. And now she knows we know, and her game is up.”
“It’s not good!” Merlin burst out. He looked ready to flee the room, casting his eyes wildly at the others around the table. “Sire, if word gets out … people will think I’m using magic!”
“They will,” Gawain agreed. “They will think that, Arthur.”
Arthur hadn’t considered that, but he dismissed the idea immediately, waving it off with one hand. “Don’t be so paranoid, Merlin! You’re not using magic; you’re just able to see things other people can’t.”
Merlin shook his head, his eyes fixed on Arthur. “People won’t think that. They’ll think it’s magic. They’ll hear that I can do this thing, and word will get to your father. You know how he reacts when someone has been accused of magic. You know what he’ll do.”
“My father will listen to reason,” Arthur promised. “I’ll explain to him how useful this is, and that you can’t help it, and he’ll see sense.”
Merlin shook his head again, and his voice dropped down to almost a whisper. “People have been executed for less.” He was still gazing into his eyes with an expression of desperation.
No, not desperation… Fear.
A shiver of realization ran over his skin. Merlin, afraid? Merlin was never afraid! Merlin had faced down all sorts of monsters without a second thought. He’d galloped off with Arthur to face a whole dragon, without even seeming to blink at the sheer size of it. But here he was, and he was afraid.
Had Morgana felt that same fear?
Arthur stopped, wondering. Perhaps this was what had turned Morgana so very, very bitter. Fear of discovery, fear of his father, fear of what would happen if word got out – let alone the fact that she really did have magic, and not merely a little oddball talent like Merlin.
And Merlin was right, he realized. His father would never understand. His father would immediately label Merlin’s new ability sorcery, and Merlin would be forced to flee for his life.
He couldn’t have that. He could not bear to havetwo people he cared for allied against him …
He nodded, coming to his decision. Merlin was still gazing at him, imploringly. “Very well. Merlin, you have my word. Your ability will remain a secret, unless and until you tell me I can share it. To that I swear.”
He looked around at the knights, and saw in their faces that they would abide by his unspoken command.
Gawain raised his hands, palms out. “I swear, I won’t make a peep. Not to a soul – and not to any iron stoves, either.” He crossed his fingers over his heart.
“Nor me,” Sir Lancelot agreed. “On my honour, as a knight of Camelot.”
“I won’t tell,” Sir Percival promised.
“There,” Arthur said. “You see? Your secret is safe.”
Merlin nodded. His eyes swept around the table. “And I promise I’ll tell you if I feel her watching. Any of you.”
“Good,” Sir Lancelot said heartily.
“I have just one small question,” Sir Percival asked. His right index finger had not moved from marking its place on the page, Arthur noted – a fact which really told you everything you needed to know about Sir Percival.
“And what is that?” Arthur asked.
“What is the meaning of that sign we all just made with our hands?”
// // //
Morgause turned, as the sound of her sister’s step came to her ears. “Sister,” she greeted, and went forward to meet her.
The two women embraced, and Morgana stepped back to look into her eyes. “You sounded distressed in your message, sister,” she said.
“I have made a disturbing discovery,” Morgause said. She turned, and led the way across her chamber to the pedestal on which her crystals lay. “I was scrying yesterday morning, trying to learn what our brother is doing.”
Morgana’s smile was as cold as ice. For all that Morgana preferred her warm furs and snug chambers to Morgause’s chilly fortress, her heart was far colder than Morgause’s own. Frozen by loneliness and dread, Morgause thought; and how long might it take her sister to learn that she need not be so cold, now that she had a sister like Morgause?
“And is Arthur hale and hearty?” Morgana asked.
“He is well, but his servant has been hiding a secret all this time.”
“He has magic, sister.”
“Merlin? Magic?” Morgana was incredulous. “That’s impossible! Merlin can’t possibly have magic.”
“Oh, but he does, sister.
"But he's just a servant!" She was shaking her head, still unable to believe it.
"No. Merlin is a sorcerer – and a very powerful one. He perceived my scrying, and he was able to force a link with me. It was all I could do to break the link, let alone strike back at him.”
Morgana reached behind her, and sat down in one of Morgause’s high chairs. “Merlin has magic. That worm! He has magic, and he said nothing to me about it! He left me alone to deal with it on my own!” She was looking around her wildly, as if trying to see through the stone and into her own past.
“Now, now, sister.” Morgause went to her, and knelt at her side, and stroked her hair affectionately, soothingly. “We will have our vengeance on him, and for the hemlock too.”
“Yes,” Morgana smiled. “Yes, we will.”
“We will have to take extra care with him. When he saw me, he spoke to me with the Silent Speech.”
“From this distance?”
“Yes, even from this distance. I did not think it was possible either. The strength needed to do that makes him a very powerful sorcerer indeed. He will be a formidable adversary.”
“Oh, this is bad news.”
“No, no!” Morgause smiled reassuringly. “This is good! This is a good thing, sister. One with such power cannot hide it for long – I’m surprised he has managed to hide it as long as he has. He even concealed it from me! But he can’t hide it forever. And he can’t hide it at all if we let Arthur know about it.”
Morgana smiled. “You are so clever, sister.”
“We can drive a wedge between Arthur and his loyal dog. Arthur will either kill him, or exile him. And he has nowhere to go. Who of us will take him in? The druids? The Sidhe? No-one will lift a finger to help the servant of Arthur Pendragon.”
“And then we shall have our revenge.”
“And then you will have your revenge, sister,” Morgause promised.
// // //
“Oh, I hate this,” Arthur said, leaning back in his chair to stretch his back. He kneaded his knuckles into his eyelids. “When my father gave me sole command, I had no idea he was including this. ”
Outside, behind Arthur, the wind beat against the black window panes. It was going to be a cold night, but in here the snapping fire kept the rooms comfortably warm. It would be pleasant, in fact, if not for the mountain of regimental accounts. His bookkeeper wrote them all up, but Arthur had to check them all and sign them under his royal seal.
Merlin spoke up. “And here was me thinking that you liked those new Florentine double-entry things.”
“Oh, I do. Usually.” He opened his eyes and sat forward over his desk again. “When they make sense. When they don’t … I want to throw the damned ledger out of the window.”
Merlin sat diagonally across a corner of the desk, close enough to share the light from Arthur’s brace of candelabras. He was mending a tear in Arthur’s cloak.
His needle rose and fell in a graceful loop; a steady, surprisingly elegant rhythm. Each loop raised his hand exactly far enough to draw the thread through, and no further – a perfect example of conservation of energy. His face was composed, serene; as sublimely absorbed in his work as if it were a form of worship.
Arthur picked up a piece of paper. “Look at this, for example. Sergeant Fuller lost a hauberk in mud. A whole hauberk! In mud!”
“He says it was very muddy.”
“How do you lose a hauberk, Merlin? It’s not as if it might accidentally fall off! Does he really think the Treasury is going to pay for that? Well?” He shook the page at Merlin.
Merlin didn’t lift his gaze. His needle didn’t hesitate, rising and falling smoothly. “Sergeant Fuller’s youngest son has joined your father’s diplomatic mission to Goteborg,” he said. “It’s a long way to Sweden.”
Arthur glared at him, and then glared at the paper. “So Sergeant Fuller thinks the Royal Treasury will pay to keep his brat in one piece, is that it? I’m going to take it out of his pay until it’s paid off. Just see if I don’t.”
But he picked up his quill, dipped it into his ink, and made a note in the book that the hauberk issued to Sergeant Fuller had been irreparably damaged, and was therefore listed as a combat expense. He put his signature next to the note.
“That’s nice of you, Sire,” Merlin said, smiling down at the mound of fabric on the desk, although Arthur was sure he could not have read the note upside-down.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Merlin.” He put the quill down, and screwed the lid back onto his inkwell.
He sat back, his elbows on the armrests of his chair, and watched the slow rise, rotate and fall of Merlin’s needle. Outside, the wind rushed around the battlements.
Merlin began double-stitching the end of his seam. “You’re staring at me,” he observed.
Arthur leaned forward, set his elbows on the desk, and folded his arms. “I have a suggestion to make, and I’m not sure how you’re going to take it.”
“Ah?” A quick glance in his direction was darted from under black eyebrows.
“Perhaps you can consider it and let me know if you’re willing. I’ve been thinking about nothing else all day.”
Merlin glanced sideways at him again, his brows quirking up and the barest hint of a smile lifting one corner of his mouth. “Don’t worry. If I don’t like it, I’ll just scream and slap you.”
Arthur shook his head. “I’m serious.”
“And I’m not?”
“No. Listen. You said you could see Morgause this morning.”
Merlin’s thread paused in mid-air, at the height of its lift. He pursed his lips unhappily. “Ah. You are being serious.”
Arthur flexed his lips against his teeth in a humourless smile, and nodded. “Deadly serious. Merlin, when you saw her, could you see where she was?”
Merlin turned his head on one side, considering the cloth he was sewing. “I felt her there, more than really saw her,” he qualified. “I think … she was somewhere dark, and very cold. Shiny.”
“Perhaps, next time, you could try to watch her back?” Arthur sat upright, and unfolded his arms. He watched the emotions waver on Merlin’s face, waiting.
It was a moment before he replied. “I don’t know how,” Merlin said. “I don’t know what I did this morning.” The needle moved again. His face was placid, inscrutable, but Arthur had the feeling he was listening intently.
“Would you be prepared to … to learn? If you can see her scrying, perhaps it is something that you can learn yourself? Would you be willing to try?”
Merlin looked up at him, staring at him as if he had never seen him before. His eyebrows were going up and down. Surprise – doubt – surprise – doubt – surprise… his face seemed uncertain as to which expression suited it.
“You want me to learn how to scry? ” he asked, amazed.
“If you can. Think of it this way.” Arthur sat forward again, and began explaining, emphasising each point with a thump of his forefinger on the desk. “The defence of Camelot is my responsibility. I have carte blanche in how I go about that defence – my father has delegated it to me.”
“And Morgause has no compunction against using dirty tricks – she will throw at us whatever she has at her disposal.”
“I know,” Merlin repeated.
“No matter what my father thinks, it’s stupid not to respond to a tactic that my enemies are already using against us. Scrying – if you can – will be an extra arrow in my intelligence quiver.” He threw his hands up and out. “It makes perfect military sense.”
“Military sense, yes,” Merlin agreed. “It’s not as if it’s magic, after all.” Some private humour briefly lifted the corner of his mouth, but the sad little smile was gone almost as soon as it appeared. He picked up his scissors, and snipped his thread.
“There you go! It’s not as if it’s magic. And we’ll keep it between the two of us. It will be our little secret. There won’t be any risk to you, I promise. Think about it, Merlin. Let me know?”
He watched Merlin drop his gaze to the mound of red fabric in his lap. His fingers traced the familiar golden dragon on the cloak’s shoulder, as if it was new to him. Then he looked up, and Arthur was surprised by the intensity of his wide eyes.
“Learning to scry will be … interesting,” he said. He was beginning to smile; a rather wolfish smile. “I would like that, very much.”
He had expected to have to persuade Merlin. He had expected him to overreact, and panic, as he had in the hall around the nearly-circular table. He hadn’t expected the eagerness in those eyes. “Excellent!” he said. He reached out and clapped his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “I hoped you would say yes. I’m glad.”
“It might even be fun.” Merlin’s grin had returned to its full strength, his cheeks dimpling into deep creases and his eyes twinkling.
“You can practice in here, where no-one will see, and no-one will disturb us.”
“There is only one problem.” Merlin leaned toward him, and dropped his voice to a confiding whisper. “I don’t have the faintest idea where to start.”
“Don’t worry. Geoffrey of Monmouth hoards books like acorns. I know perfectly well he keeps a secret stock of banned books in there somewhere.”
Merlin nodded, still grinning. “I’ll look forward to it, Sire.”
“Anyway, I think it’s time to call it a night. The numbers are starting to get blurry, and I’m going to start making expensive mistakes. I might accidentally write off a hauberk.”
Arthur pushed back his chair, stood up, and walked around his desk. He crossed the floor to his bed, and sat down on the edge of his mattress. Yes, now that he was here, actually sitting on it, he could feel how much he wanted to lie down.
Merlin walked over to him, and went down on one knee at his feet. Arthur raised his foot and set it into Merlin’s hands, and Merlin took hold of his long boot by the toe and heel, and pulled.
As he did every single night, Merlin made the same joke. “Push, push, push! Come on! You can do it!”
One final yank and the boot came off. The air was suddenly cold on Arthur’s socked feet, and he wriggled his toes. Merlin tossed the boot heedlessly over his shoulder, and peeled off Arthur’s sock. That too was flicked over Merlin’s shoulder.
“You know, it’s one thing for you to throw your possessions around, Merlin. Please be so good as to not toss around mine as well?” Even as he said it, he knew that his rebuke was going to be ignored. Merlin had put him to bed too many times, and their private rituals were as time-worn as nursery-rhymes.
“Do you want me to draw the bed curtains, Sire?” Merlin asked, addressing Arthur’s knee as he took hold of the other boot.
“Yes,” Arthur said. “It’s going to be a cold night.”
He pulled, and Merlin pulled, and between the efforts of two grown men, the right boot was hauled off as well. Then he got to his feet, and Merlin helped him out of jacket, shirt and trousers, and then helped him into the soft stretched old shirt and loose trousers he kept to sleep in.
Arthur opened his bedclothes, and climbed in. He sat with his spine against his headboard.
Merlin walked the circumference of the bed to the furthest bedpost, and untied the golden cord that held the bed curtain out of the way during the day. The thick fabric unfurled in his hands, and he drew it across the side of the bed, casting Arthur into shadow as he sat in his bed, as if he sat in a warm soft cave.
Merlin spoke through the bed curtains. “You don’t really want me to scry for Morgause, do you? You want me to look for Morgana.”
There was nothing to answer to that. Merlin knew him too well.
He heard Merlin move away, and after a moment he heard the candles on his desk being blown out, one by one. The room grew incrementally dimmer with each puff of breath.
Merlin appeared around the foot of the bed again, with the last candle in one hand, and began untying the cord at that bedpost. He drew the curtain across the bottom of the bed closed.
“She’s my sister,” Arthur explained, at last, although Merlin had said nothing to rebuke or challenge him. “I thought of her as my sister before I knew she really was my sister. I can’t help worrying about her, wondering if she’s all right. She’s out there, all alone.”
“She’s not alone,” Merlin said. “She’s with Morgause.”
“Yes,” Arthur said, bitterly. “Morgause, who abducted her, and twisted her, and turned her against all the people who love her.”
Merlin appeared around the foot of the bed again. “You’d take her back, wouldn’t you?”
Arthur gritted his teeth, and refused to answer him.
There was steel in Merlin’s voice; the same steel that sometimes, on very rare occasions, cut straight through Arthur’s wishes and feelings, and bit deep into the truth - as if Merlin somehow saw things that no-one else did, under the busy pageantry of daily life. As if he knew things that no-one else did.
He’d learned to heed that voice, when Merlin used it.
“I know,” he said, “that after all the things she has done, after all the deaths she has caused, that I would be a fool to take her back. But she’s my sister, Merlin. I can’t help feeling that there must be a way to make it all right again.”
Merlin sat down on the edge of his bed – an intolerable familiarity from any other servant but him – and rested the base of the candlestick on his knee.
“None of us gets to choose who we love. If we could make a nice neat rational decision who deserved to be loved, it wouldn’t be love. But … if you let Morgana back, she’ll be your doom, Arthur.”
He had said all of this with his eyes on the stone floor, as if he was seeing something else. His face in the light of the single candle was as solemn as a monk’s.
“Are you willing to scry for her anyway?” Arthur asked.
Merlin nodded. “I’ll try – but for your sake, not hers.” Merlin stood up, and untied the last of the bed curtain cords. “Good night, Arthur.” He drew the curtain, finally, closing Arthur into the warm dark privacy of his bed.
“Good night, Merlin,” he said, through the curtain. The light of the candle faded away, leaving him alone, and pondering Merlin’s words.
// // //
The domain of Geoffrey of Monmouth had never been a favourite haunt of Arthur’s as a boy, and it had not become one now that he was a man. He was fully grown now, and a soldier, and the heir to the throne, but Geoffrey had grown no less fat, and no less condescending, and he still all-too-clearly remembered Arthur as the snotty-nosed little brat he had been.
Geoffrey stood up behind his great heaped desk when he saw Arthur entering the library, as was due Arthur’s rank. “Prince Arthur,” he greeted, folding his plump hands over his belly. “What a pleasure to see you here. How may I serve you today?”
“I need a book.”
Geoffrey blinked his eyes. He raised a ringed hand, and gestured languidly, first to his right, and then to his left, without a word, then folded his hands again. The long shelves stretched away on either side, full of books.
Arthur cleared his throat. “I need a particular book,” he clarified. “I need to find a book about scrying.”
“Scrying?” Geoffrey’s brows rose, and he stroked his beard thoughtfully. “I’m afraid I don’t have any books about scrying, Sire. All texts on the, ahem, esoteric arts are banned, by royal decree.”
“I know that you keep some anyway. And I know that you supply them to Gaius, when he needs to find something for my father. I need one of those books that you officially don’t give him.”
“Yes, well, you see, that is Gaius. He is a man of much greater age and experience.” Geoffrey smiled. “However, you are still at an impressionable age, Sire, and the maturity level in some of those books may be too advanced for you.”
Arthur gaped at him.
Then the part of his brain that answered to the title Commander in Chief spoke up for the affronted youth. “I’m not taking it for my own titillation, sir,” he snapped. “The military safety and well-being of this Citadel and all who live in it is my responsibility. Those books possibly contain military intelligence of the highest value.”
“Of the greatest importance! And if you want me to come back with a squad of soldiers and go through your stacks, shelf by shelf, book by book, believe me, I will.”
Threatening to unleash soldiers on the tidy order of his shelves had the desired effect. Geoffrey deflated. “Well, when you put it that way … the books are filed under 791.457. You should find … about six titles there.” Geoffrey leaned back and folded his arms over his stomach.
“Thank you,” Arthur said curtly, and turned on his heel to go.
Geoffrey cleared his throat. “Not that way, Sire.”
He turned back. “So where is it?”
“It is a banned book. Hardly suitable for the open stacks where just anyone might come across it.”
“It is in Cabinet 55.” He raised a finger and pointed. “In the East Wing. Press down firmly upon 567.91, and the door will open for you.” Geoffrey lowered his finger, and tucked his hand back into its opposite elbow.
Arthur left him, and strode away down the corridor, aware of Geoffrey’s eyes on his back. He turned the corner out of sight.
// // //
An hour later, he was back in his chambers, with a stack of books on his desk, and a new respect for the long ago builders of the Citadel. A door designed as a bookcase, how clever! Perhaps he could get someone to build him one. It might even be tactically useful – although it was hard to imagine how.
He sat down in front of them to look the books over.
He did not, he realized, have much of an idea where to start.
He’d never been much of a scholar. His Latin had to be beaten into his hide with a cane. His Greek was non-existent, because his tutors had put the case to his father that that language was unlikely to stick in his head, when he had such trouble with Latin. He’d had better success with Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy and Music, the classical Quadrivium, but only because his tutors had thought to relate everything in his syllabus to chivalry.
And then he’d become a knight and given it all up anyway, and his tutors had been only too happy to resign and leave.
Merlin would have a better grip on all of this. Merlin was studying to become a physician, and Arthur had an idea that his education would probably have to progress a little further than basic conversational Latin. Still, Arthur had offered to teach him, therefore Arthur would have to read them first.
Arthur sorted the books into two stacks, English and Latin, and picked up the slimmest volume of the former.
I, (the letter had flowers around it) Antoninus of Camulodunum, do ʃet down here-in in writing my Knowledge of the practice of Scrying as it is performed among the Wiʃe men and Women of this Strange Iʃland, for the Benefit of my Succeʃʃors, and in the Underʃtanding that the afore-mentioned Inhabitants do not, through Habit, illiteracy and a Belief that Civilized Letters are unbefitting their Rituals, Write or Cauʃse to have written any of theʃe Practices, and that before many Generations ʃhall have Paʃʃed their Deʃcendants will have Thrown off the Cloak of ʃavagery and adopted our Civilized Roman culture, and theʃe Rituals will be forever Forgotten.
Well, that was nice, thought Arthur, who was himself descended from both Roman and Briton. He was uncertain whether to be amused or offended at the old text. Clearly this had been translated from Latin; but had the original also been one continuous sentence?
“Thoʃe of the Barbarian Tribes who poʃʃeʃs the Power of Diʃtant ʃight, do uʃe a Plethora of means of Transferring their Viʃion from their Immediate Environments to that of the Viʃta which they Deʃire to Perceive. It has become Apparent to me that theʃe Methods do ʃhare as a common Motif the Preʃence of an Object or ʃubʃtance upon which or Within which the Practitioner of the Art perceives their Viʃions, in the Manner of a ʃhadow-play caʃt upon a drawn curtain.
On Obʃervation and after Queʃtioning, it appears that no Rites, Spells or Incantations are required, yet my Informants aʃʃure me with every ʃign of deeply held Conviction that not all are able to ʃummon these Viʃions. The Practioner Merely ʃits down in a quiet Place, cloʃeted with his Inʃtrument, and Gazes into it until ʃuch time as a viʃion appears to him, if he is able to do ʃo.
My informants have told me that it is possible to School the Mind and channel the Thoughts toward a Desired Perʃon or Place with ʃufficient Intenʃity that the Mind’s eye travels verily to that location but that ʃuch an Intenʃe Focus has to be Learned and diligently Practiced. They tell me that they Begin with ʃeeking the Image of one with whom they are Intimately Familiar, who is Cloʃe At Hand, and For Whom they Feel Affection. Once they are able to ʃummon a Viʃion of that Intimate, they Progreʃs by Stages until they have the ʃkill to ʃee Viʃions of Acquaintances, or even Enemies, at astoniʃhing Diʃtances.
My informants have told me alʃo that the Inʃtrument that beʃt ʃuits a Practitioner is Unique, and has to be Diʃcovered by each during the Courʃe of their Education in the Art. Some make Uʃe of Flames, ʃome of Bowls of Liquid. Others uʃe Mirrors, Cryʃtals either Spherical or Faceted, glaʃs, or Smoke. What matters only is that the Practitioner is able to allow their Gaze to fixate in the Inʃtrument, to the Exclusion of all elʃe in their Surroundings, in order to See not the phyʃical outer Subʃtance of the inʃtrument but somehow the internal Pattern or Structure within, inʃide which the Viʃions form.
By this Method, paʃʃed down through Generations, the Tribeʃmen, while sharing none of the Particulars of the Art but agreeing unanimously in the General ʃenʃe are able to Communicate with each other and Perceive the Actions of others be they any diʃtance Separated.
This is all I have Learned on this Subject. I will next travel North to Inveʃtigate the People known to us as Picts, to diʃcover if their reputation for ferocity is warranted.
Well, Arthur thought to himself, that seems simple enough. He would park Merlin down in a chair, shove a bowl of water under his nose, and see what happened. If nothing happened, they could just repeat the experiment with flames, crystals, glass balls, et cetera.
Hell, he would try puppies, flowers and a string of dancing girls, if he thought it might work. Here, Merlin, sit and stare at these charming young ladies, and tell me what you see…
He got up from the table, feeling suddenly very cheerful for the first time since Morgana had … left.
These books would have to be hidden away. He stacked them carefully, thinking. He would put them into the great oak linen-chest over there by the door. No-one ever had cause to open that chest.
// // //
As usual, Merlin opened the door and walked in without knocking. It was a habit that had annoyed Arthur, in the beginning, but he was now so used to it that as often as not, he didn't even glance up any more.
“Sir Leon said you were looking for me, Sire?”
“Merlin! Just the person I wanted to see,” he said, getting to his feet and rubbing his hands together in anticipation. “Close the door and come over here.”
Merlin obeyed, a little warily, his brow beginning to crinkle in a worried expression. “What are you planning now?” he asked, approaching Arthur’s table. “You’ve got that look.”
“Are you ready to start learning to scry?”
Merlin’s brows shot up, and he looked back over his shoulder at the closed door, as if suddenly checking to see that no-one had been hiding behind it. “What, now? Here?”
“Yes, now, here. Why not now, here? I’ve given orders that we aren’t to be disturbed until the bells ring four o’clock. This is the most private place you’re likely to get in Camelot.” He patted the back of a chair invitingly. “Come here.”
Merlin rubbed the back of his head and stared at the floor in confusion. “Er… It’s just … a little bit soon, isn’t it? I didn’t think you meant to start the very next day.”
“I don’t want to lose any time at all. Come on, Merlin, sit down here.”
Arthur folded his hand around Merlin’s shoulder, and, a little reluctantly, he allowed himself to be steered into the chair at the head of the table. Arthur sat down at his right side.
“All right,” he said, and cleared his throat. “I have looked up how it is done, and it seems very simple indeed. You just have to look into a bowl of water, or something similar, really hard, and ignore everything else, and then you think really hard about what it is that you’re looking for. And if you can do it, Zim-Zala-Bim, it shows up. Easy!” He threw up his hands, to demonstrate how simple Zim-Zala-Bim was going to be.
“It can’t be that easy,” Merlin said, still looking doubtful. “Surely there must be more to it than that.” His lips were pursed, as if he was considering a purchase that he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to make, and Arthur was a merchant he wasn’t entirely sure he trusted.
“It is that easy! It’s not as if it’s magic. Either you can do it, or you can’t. And we’ve already seen a strong clue that you can.” He clapped his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “Trust me! It’s easy! I’ll show you!”
He got up from the table, leaving Merlin sitting. He went over his washstand behind his dressing-screen, and fetched his water-jug and wash-bowl.
He set the bowl down in front of Merlin, and poured a cupful of water into it. He set the heavy jug down on the table, and took his seat again at Merlin’s side. He folded set his elbows on the table, and interlaced his fingers. “Now, all you have to do is stare into the water, clear your mind, and see what you can see.”
Merlin leaned forward, with his neck stretched out, and looked into the bowl as if he expected to see something other than water in it. Then he retreated from it, drawing back into himself like a wary turtle. His hands had been resting in his lap, and now he folded his arms.
“You know those times when I tell you something is a bad idea, and you ignore me and go ahead anyway, and it turns out I was right?” Merlin said.
“This isn’t one of those times. Come on, trust me. Nobody is going to know. There’s just you and me here, and nobody is going to come bursting in on us.”
“It’s not other people I’m worried about, Sire.” He shot a glance at the door, and then inclined his head closer to Arthur and lowered his voice to a whisper. “I don’t know what I’m getting into here. We might be unleashing something we can’t control.”
For all Merlin knew, he could be summoning monsters from out of the water. Hadn’t that thing, the Afanc, come from water? Merlin was probably imagining a horrible roaring beast leaping from the bowl into the room, disrupting this quiet Thursday afternoon.
“Nonsense!” he said. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Merlin. I’m right here.”
He shifted forward, and folded one arm around Merlin’s shoulder, so that their faces were close. He lowered his voice to a confiding murmur. “You’re as safe as houses in here. There are armed guards outside that door, and we’re in the heart of a fortified city, with a whole army around us. And I’m right here watching you. I won’t let anything happen to you. I’ll keep you safe, I promise.”
For a moment, Merlin’s anxiety relaxed into a wry smile. “You have no idea what I’m worried about! I’m not worried about things, I’m worried about me. Once I start, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop.”
Ah, that was what was worrying Merlin. He was spooked by the resemblance to magic. “Don’t worry. I read up about this. People used to do this all the time before the Romans came. It’s perfectly safe.”
He put a hand around the bowl, and pushed it, very slowly, very gently, until it came to a stop in front of Merlin.
Merlin stared at the bowl, as if it was a strange animal, and then, as if coming to a decision, planted his elbows on the table, set his cheeks in his palms, and stared resolutely into the water. “Right.”
“All right, now try to find Gaius. He should be easy to find. You know him, and he’s just on the other side of the castle.”
“But I already know where he is,” Merlin objected. “He’s in his tower, grinding herbs.”
“That’s makes him even better as a person to start with. Concentrate, Merlin. Pretend I’m not here. Try to imagine Gaius.” He released Merlin’s shoulder, and sat back to watch.
Merlin stared, unblinking, unmoving, into the bowl. He stared for a long time.
Arthur sat and watched, trying not to fidget.
His mind wandered, after a few minutes. The wind blew around the battlements, and he wondered idly if there was a storm brewing out to sea, and if they were going to see any dirty weather tonight. He wondered if the castle stables had finished checking the condition of all of the hay stacked in the royal barn, as he’d ordered. It wouldn’t do to have mouldy hay, this winter of all winters. He wondered if he should go and check on it. In the corridor, he heard the guard changing.
Eventually, long after the sounds of the guards’ boots had died away, Merlin groaned and sat up. “Aaaargh!” He massaged his eyelids.
“Nothing at all.”
“All righty then. Not a problem. Let’s just try something else.” He pushed the bowl away, and raised one finger at Merlin to command him to sit still. “Wait right there.”
He went away, fetched a fat wax candle from his desk, and brought it to the table. Merlin watched curiously as he struck flint to steel, and lit the candle. “Try this,” he said, and pushed the candle in front of Merlin.
“A candle?” Merlin queried.
“Bowls of water are only one thing you can use. The book mentioned staring into flames.”
Merlin stared at the flame flickering on the wick. “Flames, or just one flame?”
That was a thought. The book hadn’t specified. Arthur pursed his lips, and tried to remember if the difference might have been lost in translation, but couldn’t recall. “Try one flame, and then if that doesn’t work we can try staring into the fireplace.”
Merlin sighed, but he obediently focused his eyes on the bright little flame.
Arthur went and sat on at the foot of the table, facing Merlin. He folded his arms on the tabletop, rested his cheek on his upper wrist, and resumed his patient watch.
After only a few minutes, Merlin shook his head, and met his eyes. “I can’t.”
“You haven’t given it long enough!”
“No, I mean, I can’t. All I can think of is you, staring at me. I keep wanting to laugh. It’s not working.”
Arthur rolled his tongue over his teeth. “All right. I will go to my desk, and clear some paperwork, and I will not look at you.”
Merlin nodded agreement.
Arthur was halfway to his desk, when a better idea occurred to him.
“No! Hah!” he said, spinning on his heel, and snapping his fingers at Merlin. “I’ve got a better idea! I will go up to the battlements, and you can try to find me. I’ll be even closer to you than Gaius.”
Merlin agreed instantly. “I’ll try.”
“I’ll come back in ten minutes. Now, remember, Merlin: if anything happens, you have only to shout, and the guards will come in. They’re right outside.”
“I’ll be fine,” Merlin said, as eagerly as he had previously been reluctant. “Go, Arthur, go. Let’s try this.”
He left the room, careful to shut the door fully behind him, and headed up the corridor to the spiral staircase that led up, and up, and opened eventually on the battlements high above.
He didn’t get there. He met Sir Leon, coming down. “Sire!” the knight greeted, and pressed his back against the wall to allow Arthur to pass.
“Good afternoon, Sir Leon. All’s well?”
“All’s well, Sire. I’ve just come from checking the sentries. All present and correct, Sire.”
“Pass the word to the sentries tonight that they have permission to light braziers if they want to. It’s going to be a blustery night tonight.”
“I will, Sire. I wouldn’t wonder if we got some lightning.”
“May the Gods look out for sailors on a night like tonight,” Arthur replied. “Well, winter is around the corner.”
He leaned his shoulder on the stone to the side of the arrow-slit in the tower wall, and looked out on the Lower Town below. Sir Leon joined him on the other side.
“How is Squire Robert’s leg?”
“He’s resting easy, Sire. It was a clean break, the Physician says. The rest of the garrison are keeping him supplied with mead.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“He was a bit worried that he wouldn’t get paid. He was off duty when he fell.”
Arthur nodded. “Then tell him that I’m so displeased at him falling off that wall without permission, he’s confined indoors and on vegetable-peeling-duty until further notice. I can’t have soldiers falling off things ad hoc! It messes up my patrol rosters!”
Sir Leon grinned, and gave a bow. “I will impress on him the severity of your displeasure, Sire.”
“Then I will bid you good evening, Sergeant.” He clapped Sir Leon’s shoulder as he went past him down the stairs.
“Good evening, Sire.”
Was it too soon to go back down to his chambers? He wasn’t sure. He dawdled his way down the staircase, and paused in another arrow slit to stare at the Lower Town again.
Smoke was rising steadily from chimneys. At this hour, it was usually a sign that the people in those houses were feeling cold, and had lit their cooking-fires early. He stood and stared at the rooftops.
All those people down there, and they would all be his one day. In the time that Morgana had ruled, not one of them, not a single one, had sworn allegiance to her. They’d held their faith with their rulers, when all had seemed lost, when the sensible thing for a peasant to do would have been to roll with the times, the way Cenred's subjects had immediately accepted Morgause as their ruler. He felt both proud and humbled at the thought of it. All of those people, and he was responsible for protecting all of them. The defence of Camelot was in his hands alone.
His father had put the defence of Camelot into his hands, but sometimes he did not know where to start. How was he to fight back against magical enemies? He knew nothing of magic, or magical weapons, except that swords and lances were useless against them. And how was he to even start fighting his own sister, who knew him as well as he knew himself, when even the thought of her hurt?
Well, at least he could start with this little scrying trick of Merlin’s. If Merlin could do it, it would be very useful. It would be the first, the very first step toward defending Camelot. He pushed himself away from the wall with a sigh, and clumped down the stairs back to his chambers.
When he opened the door, Merlin bounced up from his chair, and whirled to face him.
“Arthur!” he cried, as if he hadn’t seen him for days.
“Did it work?” he asked, although the grin lighting up that long face told him everything he needed to know.
Merlin spread his arms, still grinning, and gave a little bow, finished with a proud flourish of his hands. “You didn’t go up to the battlements at all!” he crowed. “You met Sir Leon on the stairs and chatted to him for a while.”
Arthur strode up to him. “You saw me!”
“Clear as day!” Merlin was bobbing with glee like a puppy, and he burst out laughing in spontaneous delight. “It worked, Arthur! It worked!” He capered around in a little circle, laughing, his eyes closing into happy crescents like a kitten.
Arthur laughed too – partly because it had worked, but partly simply because Merlin’s joy was so infectious. He clamped both hands on Merlin’s shoulders, and gave him a vigorous shake. “Well done!”
Merlin might try very hard to pretend that Arthur’s good opinion meant little to him, but there was no pretended indifference now. Merlin was puffing out his chest as if he had won a tournament and been declared Grand Champion of the World.
“I gave up on the flame itself, actually.” He pointed his finger, to just below the candle’s wick, to the little pool of melted wax that glowed there. “So I tried looking into the wax instead, just to see if it worked, and it did! It did! It worked!”
He put his hands on either side of Merlin’s face, to stop the bouncing. “Really, Merlin, well done. I knew you had it in you.”
That made Merlin wriggle a little, in embarrassment. His face went red, and Arthur released him.
He found himself surprised at how proud he felt of Merlin, at that moment. He’d learned to scry in less than an hour. He’d merely snapped his fingers at something that old Antoninus thought took years of practice!
“What does it look like?” he asked.
Merlin opened and closed his mouth a few times, trying to find words to describe what he had seen. “It’s … as if I’m looking at a drawing of you, without much background – only, the drawn part is real, not a drawing. I didn’t see everything, just you, and him, and a bit of a sketch of where you were. But you were as clear as day.”
“Did you hear what we were talking about?”
Merlin shook his head. “No. There’s no sound. But it worked, Arthur! It worked!” His face crinkled up again in that huge grin. “And aaah, I’m so relieved! It’s nothing at all like I was worried it would be.” He dumped himself down in the chair next to the candle again, and sat rocking himself back and forth, happily.
“What did you expect?” Arthur asked, curiously.
“I thought I would see … something scary, but all I saw was you. I’m not worried about seeing you! I was scared I would see something that would pull me in, and show me … things, that I really don’t want to see.”
“Didn’t I tell you to trust me? Huh? Didn’t I say it would work?” He sat down next to Merlin, and clapped Merlin’s shoulder again. “Well done! I knew you had it in you.”
“I want to do it again,” Merlin said. “I want to look for Gaius this time.”
“You don’t need to do it right away. We’ve accomplished a lot today.” It was always better to end a training session on a positive note, and this applied to people just as it did to horses. “But well done!”