For the next several weeks, I’ll be posting chapters of a novel I wrote in homage to Highlander: The Series.
I will add this disclaimer every week as well…
I do not own the characters for this novel. I am not receiving monetary reimbursement of any type for this piece of fiction.
Oh, most importantly…enjoy.
Highlander: The King and I Chapter Fourteen
After a day’s practice, and the storytelling, Duncan felt refreshed. He was still a little annoyed with Methos’ constant silent looks. He even told the elder Immortal to stop, but was also sure that command would be ignored. He may have been older, but sometimes Methos was more of a child than not.
However, he was far away from all of it as he moved through his kata again. His movements were fluid, not unlike smoke drifting on the wind. His face was placid, perhaps carved from marble. He was at utter peace with himself and everything around him. His exercise ended and the ballroom was silent.
Duncan bowed towards the others then accepted the towel Methos threw to him.
“That was all it took to defeat Ahriman?”
Duncan lost most of his inner peace, though he kept a small bit. “All? Every champion throughout history has had to find their own way. Since the demon is again imprisoned, all of us have been successful. It took much to learn my way. The price was too high.”
Merlin took a swig of his water. “I see your pain Highlander. Though I would posit that it hurts less than when I mentioned it the other day.”
Before Duncan could protest, Merlin waved it away with his hand. “Let me tell you how high a price can be. I’m not competing Duncan, just remembering.”
* * *
Travels of Merlin Book 8 Part 2
488 AD South of Edinburgh
She shuddered, a trembling that shook every limb and caused the wooden frame of the bed to rattle louder than the torrential rain falling outside the cave. Suddenly she sat up, sucking in a huge breath and releasing it with a spasm of coughing. Her lustrous hair flew around her in a cloud of iridescent strands, shading her features from me.
Finally, her spasms stopped and she sat there, bent over enough that her hair continued to hide her beautiful face. I began to worry that something was terribly wrong. Then I heard the laughter, low and barely discernable with the rain, but it was there. Suddenly, Nimue threw her head back and laughed at the ceiling, falling back on the bed until tears cascaded down her cheeks.
I couldn’t wait any longer. “Nimue?”
The laughter stopped so abruptly, I wondered if I had heard it at all. She slowly got up and straightened her hair before looking at me.
“My dear Merlin. My dearest love. I am going to live forever! With you!”
She rushed to me and nearly knocked me over in her zest. She devoured me with kisses and passion. I managed to carry her back to the bed and the rest of the night passed in the blink of an eye.
We lay together in the early morning light, feeling the cool breeze waft over our naked bodies as we lay entwined.
“There are rules.” I said.
She snuggled closer, even though it had to be impossible to do. “I don’t care. As long as I’m with you, I’m safe. And now with Immortality, I am as powerful as you in the old magics and no one can harm me.”
I said again. “There are rules and you must learn them. You will find that perhaps I haven’t done you a favor after all. You may live for centuries, or only moments, depending on how you follow the rules.”
“But I am Immortal!”
I sighed. “Yes, but should I or anyone else take your head from your shoulders, you will be dead and gone, Immortality or not.”
She looked at me for a long time, just digesting the most important rule of our game. “So, this gift too has a price.”
“Yes, but I am here to teach you and you will do well I think.”
“Teach me what I must know my love, but first, teach me what I need now more. Teach me how to bind Mordred.”
I showed her again, and she echoed the instruction with enthusiasm and skill. Mordred would never know what hit him. I almost pitied him.
At the end of that week, Morgan returned, and with her was Mordred. Even without the presence warning of our nature, one could feel Mordred’s malevolence, he wore it like a dark cloak. Mortals shrank away from him like roaches exposed to light. No one stayed near him longer than absolutely necessary. Even Morgan, with her calm easy grace, could be seen to tremble slightly when forced to turn her back on him.
A page found Nimue and I and delivered the message that I was to meet Morgan for the evening meal. Nimue bade me to go and she would stay at the cave. I was unsettled, but decided it was more important to know what Morgan had done and was going to do. I still worked for Camelot.
Mordred met me at the door, shifty and wicked in shiny black leather. The sneer that rode his lips was the closest he ever got to a smile. He was never still either, always moving and in what seemed random directions. Mordred’s eyes though, locked on you and you felt the pressure, the hatred and the disdain.
I did the only thing I could do, I ignored him completely. It was probably a dangerous thing to do, but I still felt Morgan had him on some sort of leash and she wasn’t done with me yet.
Morgan crossed to me and threw her arms around me. I returned the embrace, but felt her stiffen slightly, she knew. There was no way to disguise that I belonged to another. Mordred missed it completely even though he was watching like a hawk.
She whispered to my ear. “I did not expect our time together to be forever. I just wish I had the time to say goodbye.”
I answered in her ear as well. “Our time I will always treasure as special to me.”
Morgan separated from me and accepted the chair I pulled out for her. Servants were arriving and beginning to set a feast to the table. Mordred dropped onto a bench, seemingly uncaring of what was going on around him. He even took a cut of beef from a just placed platter and attacked it noisily.
Morgan grimaced slightly then turned to me with her best smile. “Tell me of my camp while I was gone.”
I returned the smile evenly as I sat at her right side. “You know well what has transpired here, your messengers departed on time daily. How fared your journey?”
“I fared quite well Merlin. Our army will march this winter and we will crush Arthur, for who likes to fight in winter? I’m certain Arthur will not be prepared to fight while the land is locked in ice.”
I stopped eating what the servant had placed for me. I had six months at most to warn Arthur. She knew I was an agent of his, even let me know she knew, yet she still was telling me her plans. She was dangerous, far more so then Mordred could ever think of being. I decided she was bluffing to leave me no time to warn Arthur.
Morgan continued, “But enough of boring war talk, tell me of your new student. How fares Nimue’s studies?”
I am not sure why I told her, but I did. “She is the most gifted student I’ve ever known. She has learned everything I know, in only a month. Things that took us several lifetimes to learn, she does as if she’s known them as long as we. She is our equal and quite possibly our better. The Old Magics sing in her blood.”
It was Morgan’s turn to pause in her eating. It was not fear that coursed briefly across her eyes, but cold calculation. So, her plan for me involved Nimue somehow. I had come to suspect that too, the circumstances of my meeting my young student seemed rather coincidental.
Morgan finished her brief pause. “How is that possible? Is she a goddess to learn so much mystical art in a month?”
I laughed. “No, she is not a goddess, though perhaps she could fill the station should it become vacant. She is gifted beyond my ability to describe.”
Morgan put her food down and lightly cleaned her fingers with a napkin. “Perhaps a demonstration of her newfound talents is in order. I am truly curious to see what she knows.”
I thought through all the angles I could and found nothing that would endanger Nimue or myself. I was confident I could protect her if need be. The only thing I had left to figure was how to warn Arthur quickly and maintain protection of Nimue as well.
Morgan and I left together, me leading her to the cave. I was sure Nimue would not be happy to see me bringing Morgan, but Morgan and I had an understanding that our relationship was over, or so I surmised from her whisper to me earlier that evening. I was sure she would behave herself. Morded stayed inside.
The walk to the cave was not exactly a far journey, but it was uphill, so Morgan and I did not talk much, she seemed out of breath along the way, but kept her head down and the pace up. It was like she knew where she was going. I never remembered the journey being so short.
The feeling of another Immortal came to us and we found Nimue in the cave, against a wall, clutching her stomach. I rushed to her to see what was wrong.
“What is this feeling?” she whispered.
I hugged her briefly. “A warning system to let you know another of our kind is near. It allows you a brief moment to prepare to be attacked.”
“Nimue, my sweet!” called Morgan, striding up to the newborn immortal. “I hear you are a student to end all students of magic.”
Morgan’s eyes did not hold the smile that curved her lips, something was very wrong, but I decided to wait and see what Morgan planned to do. Nimue not only could cast powerful magic, she could do it quickly and ruthlessly.
Nimue curtsied. “Thank you milady, but you give praise where none is due. My teacher has no peer.”
I smiled. My cheeks burned slightly at the compliment.
Morgan narrowed her eyes a bit. “Show me something my dear. Show me something spectacular.”
“Yes, my dear Nimue, impress us all.”
Mordred slunk into the cave. He must have been near us in our journey that I didn’t feel his presence. Morgan didn’t appear too surprised and that didn’t register with me.
“You!” Nimue snarled.
I prepared my magics silently. Mordred would not harm her. She faced him, trembling in unconcealed rage. Would if fire could have shot from her eyes, he would have fried where he stood.
Nimue’s raspy voice kept on. “All those years of touching me, hurting me end now. You shall now feel the wrath of killing my parents! Now you will grovel before me as you have so many times made me do before you.”
I moved before her, trying to calm her, but Mordred shoved me into the cave. As I fell to the floor, he said, “You have no parents wench. You’re Immortal and we have no parents, nor children. You were a plaything to pass the time.”
I scrabbled to my feet, already mouthing a spell to deal with him, but Nimue had been prepared. She lifted one small hand and pointed at Mordred, finishing the last bit of incantation of the binding. I moved to her, while Mordred laughed at her.
Her hand glowed with eldritch energy, power ready to unleash.
“I bind you Mordred, forever.” She whispered as she let the energy go.
I saw Morgan step to Mordred with a satisfied smile on her face. I saw the horrible truth and turned to grab Nimue and stop her, but it was too late. Morgan finished her own incantation and Nimue’s spell reversed and slammed into us instead. A shining curtain of intermixed shadows and light descended from above and encompassed Nimue and I, cutting us in our cave from the outside.
“No!” I screamed.
Morgan cried, “Yes! You are by far more powerful than me Merlin, as is your young student here, but experience teaches as well, and Nimue is a neophyte compared to us. She falls prey to a simple ploy, but more importantly, the true target is caught in the amber as well.”
I was an idiot, falling prey as truly as Nimue had. Concerned with her safety from Mordred to the point I ignored the true threat. I had failed to protect Nimue.
Morgan looked at me through the curtain. “Now, with you out of the way, so to speak, I can finalize my plans for winter. Fare thee well Merlin.”
She stepped back, grinning with evil abandon. With a flick of her wrist and a harsh word, the mountain fell before Nimue and I; shutting us away in darkness. The sound was tremendous, but I heard nothing over the guilty tirade my inner voice was screaming at me.
Finally, the trembling stopped and the ground settled. I heard Nimue’s voice and light flared from her slender hand. Her face was etched in anger and sorrow at the same time. Her eyes searched mine frantically.
“Oh Gods, what have I done?” she cried, shaking beside me.
All my strength left me and I collapsed beside her. “Nothing my love, nothing anyone else would not have done.”
She sobbed and we fell together in the dirt, spent and defeated. Arthur and Camelot would fall. Britain would be scoured. Nimue and I would live forever in our cave, never to leave. At least we had each other in our immortal imprisonment. Our love might provide some nourishment. Nimue’s light went out and we huddled in the darkness. Our despair was great and we were sure even the Goddess had turned her eye from us.
How much time passed, I will never know. Eventually, my mind climbed out of my entombment and began to function. I cast my own light, of a more permanent nature upon the rocks. In their new glow I began to take stock of our situation.
“How did the falling rocks not harm us Merlin?”
It was good to have a question to answer. “The binding will lock away the target, but also keep them safe from harm. It is a purposeful binding that will make your target live on to regret that he lives. Eventually madness sets in.”
“What a joyful thing to look forward to. Do you hate me that I did this thing?”
I stopped pacing the cave and came back to her, gently helping her stand. “Nimue my love, I cannot harbor anger for you. We were victims of a foul plan that was well executed. There is no blame here for you. I however, should not have allowed this to happen. I should have seen this plan moons ago.”
Nimue hung her head and whispered, “Do you still share love with me?”
I gathered her to me. “Forever and always.”
“Even as we begin to die again and again?”
I actually smiled. “I cannot think of a lovelier companion in death than you my love.”
Then time passed us by. We spent our time together, finishing our meager supplies. Nimue and I talked, loved and even laughed in our prison. As the weeks moved by us, we began to fail. Then we began our deaths. We made our bed together and lay upon it, as not to disturb each other. We tried everything to conserve what little strength remained.
Once, upon my awakening, she sighed and moved closer to me. “Merlin, we cannot continue like this. There must be a way to escape this hell.”
I stared at the ceiling after brushing her head with a kiss. She was right, there had to be a way. Every spell has a counter. Even Morgan had a counter for the binding. She redirected it. Perhaps I could find a way to redirect ourselves out of the trap.
Nimue whispered, “How can the magic be dispelled?”
I shrugged, feeling the tired muscles protest. “Only the caster can reverse the spell and Morgan is not about to dispel it.”
I felt her stiffen slightly, knowing my sweet Nimue was about to die again. The despair was too great. I knew I was losing what little grip I had left on sanity. When I had died a thousand times from building Camelot, I had a purpose to sustain me. Now I had only abject failure.
Nimue was not dying though. “Merlin, how could she dispel it were she to try?”
My brain was so bitterly tired from berating myself. It had not functioned well for a while. There was comfort in allowing it to process non-acidic thought again.
“Well, my love.” I croaked, “She could not truly dispel the binding because it is her Immortality that powers it. To dispel it, she would need to lose her head.”
Nimue sighed and snuggled closer. “Morgan did not cast the spell my love. I did.”
I had forgotten, and how that was even possible, I never knew. What I did know, was what she would say next.
“Were I to die, would you be able to escape?”
In a time of great changes, another change occurred. I lied.
“No. I am trapped with you for all time.”
“Sweet Merlin, ever the knightly one. I am doomed and willing to accept that. If my death can set you free to save Arthur; that is what you must allow to happen.”
“No.” I said again.
“Need I take matters into my own hands again my love?”
I shook my head. “There must be another way. Something we have not thought of yet. Give me time and I will think of it.”
Nimue’s hand caressed my cheek. “There is none and you know it. You cannot protect me and save Arthur at the same time.”
“Arthur’s probably already defeated by now.”
Her hand stopped. “Don’t say that Merlin. Never give up hope. I will give you time if you give me hope. Together we will be free.”
With that, she died again. I lay awake, scouring my knowledge for any hint of an escape from our trap. I knew, as she had said, there was no escape. Only by her death could I emerge.
After my next interlude in the realm between life and death, I awoke to find Nimue standing over me. She offered her hand to me and I rose. No words were spoken as we crossed to our table where we had ground herbs so many times. Her hands were warm and smooth, so very much warmer than the air in our prison.
Upon the table, my sword lay unsheathed. The steel glimmered in the faint magical light. I tried to back away, but with surprising strength, Nimue held me fast.
“My love,” she said. “There is no other way. By either your hand or my own, my life must end. Should I take my own life, you will be miserable for all eternity. If you take my head, knowing how strong our love is, there will be a healing.”
Nimue raised a hand to my lips. “Hush Merlin. There may not be any other way to escape this hole, but there may be a way to return to you in time. Your knowledge and power are unequaled. If there is a way, you will find it.”
I took the sword from the table. She was wrong, there would be no healing. I would be miserable anyway. She pulled me in and kissed me tenderly.
“I love thee Merlin.”
“And I, thee, sweet Nimue.”
The next action occurred without my will. For years after I would always think she controlled me, but she didn’t. She was right, saving England was of far more importance than the love of two Immortals.
My sword arced up and around. Nimue was smiling lovingly as her beautiful neck separated from her shoulders. I heard a sigh of relief. The almost invisible iridescence of the trap spell winked out, proving that the magic was indeed cancelled. Then the Quickening hit me.
I have taken many heads in my life and each one is unique. Some were violent, some not. But never before, nor after had a Quickening enveloped me as this one. Nimue was alive again, though in spirit, and we made love once more. When the energy passed, I laid there across our beds and wept.