Darkness had engulfed the night. Without the moon, there was little the twinkling stars could do to dispel the darkness. Now and then the sounds of the crickets chirping merrily were interrupted by whooshing noise as the wind shook the trees or the tap of the night watchman’s stick as he patrolled the street. A keener ear would make out the sound of wolves howling in the distant forests. Similarly a keener eye would have made out the silhouette of a tall man of sturdy build pacing restlessly across the garden.
In spite of the restlessness, the gait seemed to have a majestic feel to it. However one could sense certain unsteadiness in the steps, possibly as a result of age. He suddenly he stopped in his tracks, drew out his sword and turned around in a quick motion. In front of him stood an older man in a strange gown and pointed hat. The stars seemed to illuminate his long snow white beard.
“Well, Arthur. Age does not seem to have mellowed down your reflexes. You definitely need them to survive in the current times, though.”
“Here you are, finally, Merlin! Never the one bound by time or by rules, eh? The mighty magician always lives in his own time and by his own rules. “
“Don’t rebuke me so, my king. Give an old man some slack.”
“The rumors I have been hearing about your dalliances do not seem to suggest age had done anything to the vitality of our royal wizard.”
“I don’t know who has been besmirching my name to you, his highness. But let us keep that for another time. I suppose you have not summoned me to this lonely place at this unearthly hour to discuss this topic.”
“You surmise rightly, Merlin. I indeed have graver matters to confer with you on. Serious mischief is afoot in our kingdom and I fear if we let things fester further, we will soon lose everything we have strived to build over the years.”
“I understand your concerns, my king. I am also partly responsible for letting such things come to pass. I should have checked my vices in my youth. While age has withered away my body and my magic, my desire has only grown stronger and wilder like the weeds in an unattended garden. Now they have taken a vice like grip over me and have led me to neglect my duties. I stand guilty before you, Arthur.“
“Don’t be unfair to yourself, Merlin. I share the blame too. My indulgence as a father has blinded me of my duties to my kingdom. But I have not stirred you from your bed at this late hour of the night to apportion blame. The reason I called you is to reprise each other of the delicate manner in which things are poised in the kingdom at this moment and decide how we can remedy things.”
“You speak words of wisdom, Arthur. It is indeed time for us to act like we have so many times in the past to mitigate the threats to the kingdom. Age has now left its mark on both of us. But we need to summon all our remaining strength to tide through this situation as well.”
“Morgana is growing bolder by the day. In the last month itself, I have survived three attempts on my life. In spite of my age, I can hold my own in a pitched face to face battle even today. But attacks on my back are a different proposition. If this continues, sooner or later a dagger is definitely going to find my back. I have lived my life and don’t fear death. But she will definitely weave her net of intrigue and will not rest till her son Mordred is on the royal throne.”
“Things are indeed spinning out of control, my king. However it is now too late for a direct approach, Arthur. If you have Mordred or Morgana arrested, it will lead to civil war. Most of the wizards, few of the knights and a good number of common people are also on their side. The wizards were always fearful and suspicious of the king and the church since the great purge of Uther. You and I managed to allay their fears and win their support. But over the years, I have grown careless. Morgana has been working on their fears."
“Also, I am sorry to tell you this, my king. But the people’s confidence in you has continuously eroded over the years. Everyone has been hearing rumors about illicit liaisons between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere and most have begun to believe it. But your lack of any action against them over so many years is showing you in poor light. People are saying, how can a man who can’t keep his own wife in check be expected to defend a country? Some say you fear the might of Lancelot. Further your lack of any action against Morgana and Mordred has further emboldened your adversaries. “
Arthur’s shoulders drooped and his head hung in shame. His voice had become weak and weary.
“I know it all, my friend. It has all been my fault. How difficult it is to build something! But it takes one mistake, a moment of weakness to wreck it all! That one moment of passion years back sowed the seed of the evil that faces us today. I wish I had resisted the temptation to lie with her that stormy night. The guilt has haunted me for years since.”
“The guilt of my own adultery has prevented me from acting against Guinevere and Lancelot. The same guilt and a father’s love have shielded Mordred and his mother all these years. I have deluded myself and tried not to see what a monster he has been growing into. But now I must act decisively.”
“As must I, my king. I have given myself to my passion for too long. But not anymore! Passion and fatherly love has been the undoing of both of us. But now we need to make amends.”
He was interrupted by a loud hooting sound as an own flitted by.
“I am too old now and my magic has grown weak. I am no match for the powerful magic of Mordred. Mordred has the blood of the high king and the elder race running through his veins, giving him the best of both the humans as well as the elder race. That makes him extremely powerful. I know only one who can stand up to his power: my son, Salazar!”
“Salazar? But you always considered him of no consequence. You mocked all his claims of magic prowess. You even refused to acknowledge him as your son. It was you who had me banish him from the kingdom for his insolence!”
“Father’s love works in strange ways, my king. I knew the dangers he faced if he took on the mantle destiny had woven for him. I foolishly thought I could shield him from his responsibilities and protect him. Scorning him was the only way to get him out of harm’s way and keep the eyes of the enemies off him. In spite of all my efforts, he has not escaped Morgana’s attention. My spies tell me she had sent assassins after him in Egypt. “
“But it is not going to be easy. He must hate me so much for what I have done to him. I cannot summon him just like that. He has his own will and a strong one at that. I need to think of a way to convince him. Before that I must convince myself that we really stand a chance and I am not sacrificing a son at the altar of a lost cause.”
“How age has beset with us with fears and doubts, my friend. Haven’t we so many times in the past fought against greater odds and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat? Aren't we still the same Arthur and Merlin? We never know how things will turn out. But we can’t just sit idly and watch everything we have lived for destroyed in front of our eyes. We have to wrest the initiative and try to win one last battle before we go down in one magnificent blaze.”
Arthur stood erect with his head held high and his body quivered with emotion as he spoke.
“That’s like my old Arthur. Your spirit brings me back fond memories of our days of adventure. How wonderful indeed were those days! I wish we could relive those days one last time. Yes, we shall do our best. If anything, history will definitely not find us wanting in action.”
Arthur’s gait had lost all its unsteadiness and a sense of purpose could be seen in his sure steps as he laid out his plan.
“Before I take on Mordred openly, I need to win back the faith of my people. First thing I am going to do in the morning is to bring Lancelot and Guinevere to trial. Their brazen adultery shall not go unpunished any longer. I have suffered a lot for my sins. They should be made to pay for their sins as well. The people should know the kingdom still has a rule of law and a king powerful enough to enforce it, even against his queen and his most powerful knight!”
He paused to let Merlin take in what he had just said and then continued.
“You might not like what I am going to propose next. But at this hour of dire need, we need help from every quarter. And the church has always been the staunchest supporter of the king. At this juncture, when the people’s confidence in the king is dipping, only the church can help in restoring public confidence. I know this will antagonize the wizards further. But they have forced my hand by throwing in their lot with Mordred. and I have no other option but to ally with the church. The church will also help limit the fallout of action against Lancelot. I cannot fight against the wizard, the church and the knights loyal to Lancelot at the same time. So I need the church absolutely behind me.”
“I understand your precarious situation, my king. But I request you to give me one last chance. There are still some wizards who hold me in esteem. I will try talking to them. If I can convince them as well as bring Salazar back, maybe we may not have all the wizards against us. That way we can still maintain the balance between magic and religion. You know what tragedies were wrought upon this country by your father’s great purge. Shouldn't we try to avoid it if we can?”
“Time is something we sorely lack and you ask me for time! But we have been through so much together and you have my unwavering trust. So I cannot deny you. And I even I hate needless bloodshed and would like to avoid it if I can. A week is all I can give you while I deal with Lancelot. Make best use of the time and do what you can. After a week, if you have not had much success, I will pay a visit to Cardinal Erasatz and the second great purge shall begin!”
Arthur’s voice had by now taken a tone of menace. Then his voice softened a bit.
“I need you to do one more thing for me, Merlin. You need to use all you remaining magic and protect little Geraint at all costs. If something were to happen to me, he is the only one who stands between Mordred and the throne."
“I shall protect your grandson with my life, my king. And have faith in me. A week is a lot of time and you will find age has not completely stolen my talent to work miracles.”
The city clock stuck five times. A silver lining could be seen through the dark clouds as the sun tried to make its way through the dawn sky. Merlin slunk away into the darkness. King Arthur retired to his chambers to use the remaining hours before the start of another hectic to catch a few quick hours of sleep.
Click for other Chapters: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 9
Picture Credit : http://www.incredipedia.info/2009/01/legend-of-king-arthur.html