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
Duncan felt the silence this time. Could it have been possible that Merlin knew more pain in losing one he cared about? But he hadn’t actually killed Nimue, at least not directly. The pain written in Merlin’s face was so stark and clear, he wondered how the magician lived with it. Yet as he watched, Merlin closed his eyes and tucked all the emotion away. When the magician’s eyes opened again, they were as Duncan remembered all along their trip. It was if the grief were gone.
“So you see, my new friend, I too know pain. Sometimes the scars we carry so far outweigh even what we are and what we do. Had I never given her the path to her first death, she may have lived out a normal life, or perhaps found her Immortality and lived with it. I caused her death, rebirth and final death because of my love for her.”
Methos said, “It’s no wonder you were in such a disheveled state when you arrived in Camelot. Gods, what you’ve been through. How long had you been imprisoned?”
Merlin laughed, shocking Duncan with sudden levity. “It took me another two weeks to even find that out!”
Duncan smiled haltingly, then wider as Merlin’s amusement flooded over them. Soon, he chuckled and finally joined in with Merlin and Methos in laughing at such an absurd fact.
“So what happened?” asked the Highlander.
* * *
Travels of Merlin Book 8 Part 2
488 AD South of Edinburgh
As soon as I was able, and that took a while, I began to travel for Camelot. With deep drifts of snow blanketing the countryside it was difficult. I stole food. I killed animals along the road, anything to stay alive and moving. Repetitive deaths had left me weak, but thankfully not nearly what I had been after creating Camelot.
I forced every last speck of thought about Nimue from my head. I cast spells to block off parts of my mind when I could to help. I spent my time formulating a plan. I could stay with Arthur and his knights and meet the enemy, or I could take the attack to the enemy.
I wanted to kill Morgan. She deserved no mercy and would get none from me. That’s when I seized upon my best option. If I was with Arthur, then I would have to protect him and his men from whatever Morgan threw at them. If I took the battle to Mordred’s army, then I could do some serious damage, but had no knowledge of how effective my actions would be. I could slay half the army before becoming powerless, but would that be enough to guarantee Arthur’s victory?
My best option was to take on Morgan, since I wanted her dead anyway. To take her magic out of the fight, I would battle her alone. That didn’t guarantee Arthur’s victory either, but it did guarantee I could slay Morgan. That would be enough for me. Besides, Arthur needed to show his men victory without the aid of magic so that they would become confident that they could handle it. It would usher in the beginning of the end of the Age of Magic.
Finally, my power returned to the point I could transport myself a distance and began to do that along with my walking. I traveled the length of England in two days. I wanted to hail Arthur and talk to him in private, but not knowing for sure where Morgan’s army was, I dared not wait. My strength may have been returning, but my mind was still lagging. I had forgotten I could check on that army at any time.
The end of the first day’s travel, I sat at a small fire and poured water into a shallow hole I had dug. I had found a small depression cut into a hillside. It was, thankfully, out of the snow, allowing me to use the fire to dry my robes and undergarments. Death to an Immortal may be less of a concern than a normal human, but dying from exposure is very painful. I couldn’t afford the energy it took to be reborn again anyway. Using the old magic, I opened a window to view the invading horde. What I saw frightened me. There were so many. Even Arthur’s knights would pale at the sight.
Within my window, I saw a vast carpet of blackness moving across the snow. As if a million roaches banned together to crawl across a white floor, such was the sight to me. I did not need to count, that would have taken another week. I could estimate and the number I drew in my head nearly made me quit.
At the head of the vast host, rode Mordred. He shouted and screamed at his troops, urging them onward. When someone fell, Mordred ordered his men to march over the fallen man. In that I saw something I could use. Arthur’s men would fight for him and his ideas. Mordred’s men would fight because they were told to. A slim advantage it was, but it might be enough. I had to hope it was.
Near the back of the host, slaves carried a palanquin, within which rode Morgan. Apparently she still didn’t trust Mordred enough to ride with him. Even though I hated her now, I had to see the wisdom in not being near such a dangerously unstable Immortal.
The mere sight of her though ripped apart the walls in my mind and Nimue’s memory came back to me. The picture in my water window vanished and I lay on the ground, wracked with guilt and shame. Uncontrollable weeping swept over me and I succumbed for most of the night. My love was dead, if not by my hand, by my actions. I would never forgive myself for my selfishness. The night did not pass quickly for me, wrestling away her memory again, desperately trying to lock her away where I couldn’t think about her until such time as I was ready to try. I felt that time would never come.
By morning, I had managed to put her away again. I hadn’t slept at all. I looked a sight, but didn’t care. While true the shunting of thoughts about her may have been easier the second time, it was still a titanic battle with myself. Reaching Arthur and preparing him was all I cared about now. Just outside the barren earth, before the snow, I found a stout limb and fashioned into a serviceable staff. It helped me keep going. I continued traveling the way I had been until enough strength returned for me to transport the rest of the way in one casting.
I arrived outside the gates of Camelot in the late afternoon. The massive gates were flung wide and people were going about their business. No one noticed my arrival. Dizziness hit me and forced me to my knees. I let it pass by watching the people I could see, gauging how they acted. I wanted to know if they suspected an army was coming. Someone had cleared all the snow from the gates area. There were merchants hawking their wares within the courtyard. I even spied a minstrel circulating through the small crowd lightly strumming his lyre.
It was so clear that they knew nothing. Any other time, I would have been greatly bolstered by seeing such open friendliness and helpfulness between mortals. But knowing what Mordred’s army would do to these people made me sick and afraid. I lurched to my feet and stumbled for the main keep. I had to find Arthur.
Find him I did, in the Great Hall of Camelot’s keep, being the only building with guards. I had created Camelot with mighty magic, but did not know the layout. Not having the time to deal with the guards, I cast a small bit of magic that made them sleep at their station, unaware of anything around them. Even though it would last only a few minutes, I still felt more guilt added to my plate. Rather than face that guilt, I threw my power at the doors and they swung open violently.
Arthur was holding court and appeared surprised, though who wouldn’t be at the sight of me. He examined me and I saw the hint of a smile. Again though, I had no time for pleasantries.
I cried out. “Arthur! Saddle your knights! War comes to England!”
He countered smoothly. “What? Tell me why I should ready my people to fight.”
I leaned on my staff, trying not to let dizziness overwhelm me again. “Forgive me, but time grows short. Mordred marches and he has numbers to turn the hills black. He comes for you.”
Arthur considered carefully, yet quickly. I was amazed and proud of how much a king he was. He showed no nervousness, only confidence and trust.
He stood up. “How long?”
“Three weeks, four at most. He’s driving them like a demon, letting them rest long enough to eat; then pushing onward.”
Again he considered quickly and said, “That might be a boon. If his troops are tired, then perhaps we may persevere as we are fresh.”
“He brings magic with him.”
Arthur crossed the courtroom in long strides, politely waving everyone away until he was close to me. “Merlin, please do not alarm everyone with that sort of talk.”
Such a leader he was to not have his people frightened of something beyond their capabilities. Another time I would have clapped him on the back and congratulated him. This was not the time. Ugly truths were coming and he would be better off facing them.
I said, “Mordred has a witch on his side. I know not the full extent of her powers, but they are enough that I knew their presence from two leagues. I advise caution, but rally your troops Arthur. We win this war, our dream is realized.”
I lied so easily this time it never occurred to me. I am still not sure why I did. He trusted me though and did not notice.
Arthur asked me. “Where have you been?”
“There is no time to talk of that now, you must march. Take Excalibur and lead your men. When all is done, we will talk at great length. I must go and deal with the witch.”
Before he could ask or say anything else, I left; partly because I had to do what I said and find a way to deal with Morgan and partly because I had found myself lying again. I told myself that it was the pain I had endured and the necessity of responsibilities that I had. Yes, I lied to myself as well.
I stopped at a tavern, knowing I needed nourishment before proceeding on my journey. As I ate, I vowed to train myself to be more like Arthur and what he had created at Camelot. I didn’t know it yet, but I had fallen victim to a new magic, one that Arthur wielded with sharp elegance. It was the magic of truth and ideals.
Knowing time was still short, I gathered up the food and other items and whisked myself away. I traveled quickly, throwing away thoughts of secrecy or safety for speed. The landscape was carpeted in white and stillness. The land was expecting something, you could feel it. All sounds seemed hushed.
I wanted to engage Morgan away from her army. I wanted it her and me, no other interference. I also needed time to rest before I attacked. My powers may have been impressive, but I was also very weary. I was also growing nervous that she may hold the power to defeat me. I was confident that she did not yet know I had escaped my prison, but that surprise would not hold her long. I had to plan and execute flawlessly. Being fatigued, I was no longer sure either was possible.
Before I was ready to consider where I was, I found her army. Luckily, I was still far enough away that I was not noticed. They were moving so much faster than I anticipated. I only hoped the warning I gave Arthur would bear up to reality. I hoped also, that he would heed my warning and muster for war. I almost changed my plans for the sheer size of this army frightened me. Arthur didn’t stand a chance. So, having no other choice, I trusted him to do his part and steeled myself to do mine.
Over the next two weeks I scouted the army, flitting about with magic to gauge their size and fervor. I needed to know exactly what Arthur would face. Information would be invaluable to him, if I could get it to him. Or, did I engage Morgan and take her out of the equation?
I waited for Mordred to call a halt. It was an excruciatingly long wait as well. As the massive host ground to a stop, I moved off towards my target. I took a bold approach and walked directly through the men, moving purposefully with as much outward confidence as I could muster. I didn’t have to because the men were exhausted and did not care who walked by them. They just needed rest.
At last, I put my plan into effect, pausing briefly to bend light around me, effectively making myself invisible. I found a woman alone and entranced her quickly. Making sure no one else could see her, I twisted light around her until she appeared to be Morgan. I brought her to the palanquin and propped her up. I peered inside and Morgan was actually asleep, a huge advantage. I bound her with yet another spell and removed her, enveloping her in my own invisibility. Finally, I wrestled the disguised woman into the palanquin.
I was exhausted and could feel my grip on my magics slipping. I was out of time. With a silent sigh, I hefted Morgan over my shoulder and moved away from the camp. She was light, so there was no further strain physically.
The last bit of luck I had, came just as I stole away from the camp with my burden. Mordred forced the host to move again. So, I made my way about a mile before my powers slipped and the army had moved away. I dropped Morgan inside a small area of bushes, free of snow. She was awake, though my binding still held. My fatigue was great and I could see she was fighting the binding. Her eyes bored into mine and the hatred was evident. With my failing power, I entranced her to sleep again. To my surprise, it worked and she slumped to the ground. Without a thought to her faking, I collapsed beside her, already asleep.
I finally awoke two days later. Morgan was there next to me, staring her fire at me. I felt the power and I involuntarily shivered. However, being mostly rested, she was no longer a match for me. Thinking that was a mistake.
I used a small amount of magic to bring food, only then remembering I had supplies left over. I removed those supplies and ate everything I could. Only a small amount remained. Finally, I turned to Morgan to offer that last food to her. She threw off the binding spell that I had forgotten to strengthen. Eldritch energy surrounded her, lending a fearsome countenance. I stepped back and defended myself.
As we began to fight, somewhere to the south, Arthur’s forces met Mordred’s. In our small arena, Hell came to earth. She called lightning from the sky and sent it at me. Morgan formed huge fireballs and hurled them. More electricity flowed from her hair and fire shot from her eyes, all directed at me. She held nothing back.
I deflected her onslaught. I dodged missiles of destruction. I blocked more and used my magic to build an impenetrable defense. The bushes were destroyed. The land around us was scarred and cracked from her rage. She never said anything, just hurled her magic at me.
Finally, I went on the offensive, trusting my magics to keep me protected. I too, hurled electrical energy and fire at my enemy. She deflected as easily as I had. I switched tactics, trying to bind her again. She expected that and blocked, though she had difficulty. Being a magician, I loath physical violence, but I moved closer to her during each of my attacks. I kept her busy blocking and deflecting until I had the chance to strike. I clubbed her with my fist, knocking her away and to the scorched ground.
She tried to get up, but her arms gave out and she muttered into the dust. As I moved towards her, she managed to right herself and turn over.
“It’s over Morgan. You lost.”
She smiled grimly. “I think not Merlin. How you escaped, I shall never know, but I will not let you defeat me. Mordred is even now slaughtering Arthur.”
Away, over the hills in the distance, lightning fell from the skies. I could feel magic in the air, but after our battle, everyone would be able to.
“I warned him Morgan. He was ready. There is no slaughter.”
Morgan sank to her knees. “No.”
Fearing a trick, I backed away and kept my defenses up.
“Merlin, I have been so wrong. I tried to control Mordred and his anger. I tried to love you then lock you away. I will not fight you anymore. You are too strong for me.”
Behind her, in the distance, lightning stabbed from the skies again and again. I wondered at the display. It could not have been natural, but the only powers that could cause it were Morgan or myself. I had to help Arthur, but I couldn’t leave Morgan. I prepared to bind her again, albeit more powerfully than the first time.
“I am done fighting, but you should know something. Mordred and I figured you would come to Arthur’s rescue, so we planned for it. Arthur and his army are doomed.”
Something was wrong. She hadn’t expected me to escape the prison she left me in. She had no cause to believe I would be a factor in the battle either. I finished my spell to bind her and nothing happened. I was confused. I cast it again and the same result. On the horizon, more lightning struck downward.
She made no move to defend herself, yet my magic did not touch her. It was impossible. Nothing made sense. In confused frustration, I cast fire at Morgan, bathing her in eldritch heat. When the fire subsided, she sat there, unharmed, smiling at me.
Then I knew. I quietly murmured more magic and shredded the illusion before my eyes. The Morgan before me vanished and I saw the real Morgan, steps away, casting magic to call lightning from the skies. She had fooled me by building an illusion after I had felled her. Anger enveloped me. She had fooled me again.
I dropped all my shields and prepared the same binding that Nimue had used when we were trapped. Morgan turned and smirked, calling another lightning strike, on me.
My world erupted in sound and fire. Skin was flayed from bone by electrical energy. It was a Quickening in reverse. Somehow I managed to stay on my feet, standing barely and smoke pouring from what was left of my robes. The ceramic shakers of salt and pepper in my pocket had shattered, adding their remains to the ground. Standing became too difficult and I fell to my knees.
Morgan came to me, sensually swaying her hips and looking lovely as death. She began to laugh, truly enjoying herself.
“The mighty Merlin; felled by trickery. You truly are a master of your arts and I would have no way to best you. However, your heart is too pure and trickery is beneath you. Such fine ideals, if they did not kill you.”
My body protested, but I reached around behind me and drew my sword. I had to get her close enough to strike. She was too smart for that though.
Morgan stopped. She raised her hands to the heavens and began to chant. My mind was so shattered that I knew not what she was casting. I also knew I could not stop her. My head went down in defeat and then I saw the pile of black powder next to me.
Her voice began to build towards the climax of her casting. In desperation, I grabbed a handful of pepper and threw it in her face. My arm screamed in pain, echoed by tortured muscles through my sides and back. I was in agony.
Morgan stopped her words, surprised. She made to continue moments later then sneezed. I seized that moment and with the last of my strength I lunged forward and pierced her heart with my blade.
My Immortal gift had already begun to heal me, thank the Goddess. I lurched to my feet and gathered my thoughts and energy. I should have taken Morgan’s head, but something stopped me. I regret that, I truly do. I moved myself by magic to the site of the battle.
The scene was incredible. No one fought except for Arthur and Mordred. Wasting no time, I cast a fog over the battlefield. Next I moved the clouds aside and caused the sun to always be in Mordred’s eyes. Since each was a part of my magic, the fog did not protect him from the sunlight I allowed to peek through.
I could do no more. I made myself watch for Morgan. I knew her Immortality would revive her, but not what she would do then. She apparently knew when enough was enough. I did not see her again.
My attention turned back to the fight and I saw what should have been the end. Arthur skewered Mordred. The scream of pain echoed across the land, no doubt continuing the myth of dragons living in our lands, such was the sound. Yet, Arthur chose escape. He drove the sword into a stone and vanished. My strength was gone. I passed out.