Merlin 2: 35 “Soil’s Song”
The sun is bright in a clear sky and is busy enough looking for the moon that it drifts slightly slowly in the form of first autumn. The blue heaven is fain while clouds are faint and the edges of the leaves laced with wilt yellows and browns and horrible reds, venturous sights are wont to find weak growth. On the road Merlin and Nickolas walk untrusted and in handcuffs, by late of day a group of men approaches the band of captors. They have two horses and tow a wagon with almost a dozen walking aside it, nearly a dozen farmers in lite armor at the afternoon, at closer contact they are allies to the soldiers of the army with the silver arrow tattoo and unanimously decide to make an evening camp. The magical wayfarers are shackled to the wheels of the wagon, each of them with one arm raised and linked to the wagon steel as the soldiers use a portable thresher the size of a box to separate the wheat seeds and boil them in a kettle over fire for a bland mushy meal. Thereafter Nickolas pulls a pin from his boot and unlocks his shackle, following his example, Merlin slips his hand from the clasping metal band.
Nickolas: “How’d you do that?”
Merlin: “I pulled my hand, stretch your legs.”
The two freemen stand behind the wagon and watch the soldiers drift into sleep by the fire. With the guards in the distance, they rest their elbows on its edge and separate the wheat from chaff to eat the raw seeds by hand. An inviolate full moon reflects on the fire pit and all who surround in the ides of autumn where winter palls a shadow over life, the breadth of light fuels the sight of hunting owls and the two befriended travelers climb defiantly into the wagon and sit on the bench to watch the wrested warriors. From the trees, the scouts from their patrols come to speak to Merlin.
Meldún: “Shall there be a problem afore sunup?”
Merlin: “We are neither prisoners nor fugitive.”
Meldún: “…and what’s your objection?”
Nick: “I am neither friend nor foe.”
Meldún: “Then put vigil on the night and warn of an attack, if we are seized, and you say nothing, without your blessing I’ll kill you both.”
Morn, the severance to setting suns from the other side of darkness, the city behind the sun slides through ethereal warmth once more, even in the mooring of light. Meldún picks apples from a roadside tree and moves to the wagon and startles them, only to signal to the driver to begin rolling the caravan.
Nickolas: “It’s easy to appease those who defy logic.”
Merlin: “It’s easy to defy those who appease logic.”
Meldún: “Thus it’s logical to avoid defiance and appeasement.”
Nickolas: “Another truth to be, connote let sleep, fathomless mortals.”
Meldún: “Truth prevents deprecations.”
Merlin: “Our motive by your word hast a votive ordered.”
Meldún: “Here, have apples; the reception should be midday.”
Nick rubs his eyes awakening restive and disappointed with daylight, only to take and eat an apple from a woolsack.
Nickolas: “Speak truthfully of Quinn.”
Merlin: “He had worked for the state, sabotaging tother, and after tortured on grounds of conspiracy. The state he had defended turned again so regularly against a useful soldier, because he was born of foreign lands, but his soldiers favored him and thus rescued him in bloody revolt. He later earned my allied allay when this perilous vicissitude looked like suicidal Saracens or the strabismus peasants attempting to appease them.”
Nickolas: “He seems quite the dragon of a man.”
Merlin: “He is most indubitably.”
Nickolas sits ever regretful and bound in thought, staring at the road behind him looking for Ana, under a brilliant sun in a cerulean sky the golden sea of autumn leaves undulates to a lover's song whispered by the wind. Hereby they enter a town, a homestead of farmers and ranchers of whom had built sturdy single-story buildings, but of each a porch deck at shoulder height, wrapping around buildings of mortared stone facings beneath overhanging rooftops. Only these strongly built edifices stand as less integral wooden buildings systematically dismantled and used to build wagons and farming equipment by nearly everyone as they approach the main plantation house. There are at most an army of engineers by least a dozen at half travelers, one of which is the strange man with the scar on his face, his hair unnatural black and long and pulled from his eyes with streaks of white. He glances at Merlin and Nickolas in the wagon as he pays for weapons with the black diamonds he had taken from the wrested city where Ophiuchus’ serpent minion had been smote.
Quinn looks out his window to notice his band of soldiers entering the wallless camp town, by leave recuse his weathered face and leathered boots knock their steps to the wooden porch and down the very wide veranda steps.
Quinn: “Blessed are the lost in ventures.”
Merlin: “Are there no roads to harrow?”
Merlin hopped from the wagon and met amiably the regal quartermaster. The elder dressed as a cavalryman is quick to wrap his arms around Merlin, followed by them grabbing the other’s forearm to shake limbs, only to enwrap Merlin again in joviality.
Quinn: “Besting Norns, this serving forest plateau good friend, I had thought your face would find the valleys no more.”
Merlin: “My watch for bedlam hunters has come again to evil empires, without your wandering troop I am cant a priori.”
Quinn: “Who’s the lark?”
Merlin: “A forester on impulse and man-at-arms ceding to life a hunt of which I share, in immortality by way of youth presenting.”
Quinn: “Bring him within, a drink ere wont to have.”
Merlin waves Nickolas to the deckhouse, but the wagon and wayfaring guards doth not see the gesture, and when he sees Nickolas dismount he points blade to his throat, his blade taken and hilt turned skyward with blade to rest and forced against the chest of the guard who takes his weapon and lets him pass. Inside the tables covered in maps and from the ceiling lanterns resting on beams crossed and hanging from the ceiling.
They drink from bottles holding whiskey water. It is potently acidic causing their faces slightly with cringes as they move to query Quinn.
Quinn: “Where is Ana?”
Nickolas: “She’s wayfaring safe passage, of peaceful way and amnesty.”
Quinn: “Happily whilst what may. I am Quinn. She can carry a torch, she’ll be alight.”
Merlin: “Why are your men farming and baiting travelers with wagons of wheat?”
Aghen (Quinn’s guard): “We’ve been harvesting alacritous the fields before the snow, stockpiling in the homes of the missing and dead with mint to repel rodents, marking on maps and symbolic markers where finished, then again in the town next.
Quinn: “A pall has cast on all these lands, the minds of men got sick and cannibal, if weren’t beat all they’re bested death comes of fire, so would that it were Ana becoming present.”
Nickolas: “We fought them at a diaspora near a sunken castle, here.” (Directs to map)
Quinn: “It is the, sunken castle, or the heart of the disease.”
Merlin: (pointing) “…and to here we fought a group of Saracens led by Etain, the college of war, a calamity with a wyvern here, and again by worse at an equinox fest, where among the dead were several thugs with your silver arrow hidden on their shoulders.”
Quinn: “Now there’s another woman with fire in the eyes.”
Merlin: “She wasn’t alone, Quinn. Tripled her powers were with foes of my rank, what do you know them to want?”
Quinn: “A theory of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state, but without intelligent design corrupt ranks feud to control the flow of commodity.”
Merlin: “Slavery, you would think that they might not call it property at that point.”
Quinn: “To that effect we’ve been hitting those points of weakness, but quickly their duty becomes absolute power as they are treated lavishly and act unfairly to the new vain serfs of bondage.”
Aghen: “A system of social organization in which all enterprise and wit is controlled by a tyrant, dominated by a single and propagating wave of monarchy disguised by titles of incorporation and mystifying symbols.”
Nickolas: “…but like beasts their muster is their strength, and thus becomes their fear, their shared sacrifice is not shared and is such their weakness, this is like any other war.”
Aghen is so impressed with Nick’s response he begins to pour and offer him another drink. Merlin and Quinn also take up mugs.
Merlin: “…and burning of the dead?”
Quinn: “Soon learned and sooner regret.”
Aghen: “Anything that foams at the mouth, with empty villages and fattened lonely cattle, this war is of wayfarer stories.”
Merlin: “It is a tale of two cities.”
Quinn: “Come, let me show you something.”
As Ana arrives, the clouds gather darkening the air of the moon sky as the sunlight shines near the sunset as it rains where the sun radiates the far ends of the horizon hidden by nature. The glow of autumn tinges the leaves in fading colors as she comes into town on a horse sidesaddle, with a second horse carrying a prisoner in bonds, tossed over packsaddle, and bound hands to legs under the steed’s belly. Quinn approaches her, offers his hand to help her dismount, and opens his arms at repletion of embrace of amiable memory.
Quinn: “I see you’re still capturing grooms.”
Ana: “He was setting fires to homes, and reportedly in differing towns when our fates crossed, hopefully there’s a bounty. Where’s Nicky?”
Merlin: “He’s somewhere.”
Quinn: “Ah, always on the move I see, Aghen, put him to work chopping some trees, kill him if he tries to escape.”
Aghen: “As you wish my liege.”
Quinn hugs her again then turns to walk with his arm around her shoulder to continue his walk before letting her go save the points of chivalrous flattery. Nickolas exits the outpost of an old diner and calls his beloved. She jogs over to him as he of her and hugs, kissing her cheek like lost family.
Quinn: “Merlin, you’ll want to see this.”
In a small roundish cabin of a single room is a cage holding a member of the undead with bloody stumps where limbs once hung.
Quinn: “We burned them, just as the books and elder scrolls had writ, aside casualties, tho few, I wished to know how long the bones of the dead could hunger.”
Merlin: “What did you glean?”
Quinn: “There were two, but this one eventually ate the other without a word between them, before digging its hands to carrion.”
Aghen: “The abomination must be burned your highness.”
Quinn: “As daylight dies this fire burns. We’ve been reaping the fields left by the creeping death, and filling every house and barn before winter, we’ll sell to cities and towns, a windfall and such to more with you here.”
Merlin: “I was wondering more about your warriors.”
Quinn: “Scales of the serpents, Aghen, burn this hovel.”
Ana: “Allow me.”
They exit the wood hut and embrace the evening air, Ana’s hands ignite as she enters the cabin as Aghen watches in amazement with Merlin and Quinn and Nickolas pulls him from the doorway.
Quinn: “We fought a strange creature as my fighters and I took its head, it had teeth and sickened our minds, without our dogs, one, took ten men before we felled it, deep hollow fangs and shedding skin.”
Merlin: “…and why not bring the dogs of war?”
Quinn: “We don’t bring the dogs to the undead; they’re salty as it is.”
In the center of town two spikes, one with a head, the other with its body.
Quinn: “Its blood is a deeply rooted poison, which we must vanquish, whereat the dead requites these.”
Merlin: “Behoove ought injuries of fear and hatred, this, is a termagant.”
They turn to see the small and isolated building once used for village silo, burning in the street of a much larger thoroughfare way of late choring and relieved guards. Ana walks from the fire through the doorway, as it is the last brace to become cinder and ash, holding in her palm the ashes of death.
Merlin: “I go to the den of the death; a purge would haste more swiftly take with force, or a lending armory in the least.”
Quinn: “Whence wheretofore doth thou stake this claim? A good foe needs good friends.”
Merlin: “Dost to me cold yonder, heretofore hell waits.”
Troy arrives very close to the fire, scaring the soldiers to defenses and alarm, the bale and thrush of flames spraying cinders and battering embers to brighten coals an illumine ardor the same as the phoenix, whose reflections of fire merely shine against its plume. The phoenix Alerion mocking and taunting the soldiers as Merlin runs to intervene, his hand swings into Troy’s for camaraderie, as the avian squawks Troy remits his handshake and slaps it in the face, by spires of flames it moves to nest amongst the combustion.
Merlin: “What word?”
Troy: “In mist she was standing, ere she was lost.”
Merlin: “You can fall down and eat. In the morning you find the fiery witch.”
Troy: “She’s right there.”
Ana: “Then I’m nowhere.”
Feigning silence Ana’s attention shifts from all the men, for in the distance the fire burns deafening silence, whereas the phoenix in her ear sounds of diamonds chiming, as does the fire of that it nests a riverbed to a cliff. The hearts of all men in pressure in percussion, torches fluttering like flags from the forest in great numbers whose bearers’ hearts beat as war drums. The fog drifting in the leaves of pallor is not mystifying by the flames, because it is the smoke of other fires, of other torches, of foreign soldiers in the night. Mercenaries of devotion and haughty cloy are now become conscript to the Saracen empress, Etain, whom has on a night very likened to this given promissory decree of peerage to the man, his troop, and his commander, whom is to triumphantly sacrifice Quinn with fire.
Of this task undertaken Etain’s mercenaries have followed Alerion the phoenix as a polestar, a cavalry racing after it in cover of darkness, in its distance the leaders of caravan by two races ahead, to keep sight and at far distance the following. By two to race forward to keep sight of the closest riders, riders two by two followed by even wagons with scores of men, led into sight by a hazy crystal that glows in proximity to the phoenix and insists their haste.
The thundering sound of hooves grows louder and closer, Ana points to the trees and Merlin looks to see at great distance in deep shadow assassins approaching by what everyone else sees as small candles, in truth they carry torches and daggers as soon they are to gather. Quinn’s army gathers their weapons and wits and prepare for battle, but Nickolas takes to horseback and charges into the woods. Soon the forest burns and the sky glows with anger, Ana walks thru the fire pit where the phoenix nests, petting its chest as she passes forward toward the battle. The first insurgents are reticent to attack patently she, and this opportunity allows her to set them afire with the flames they carry. Arrows begin to fly into the camp startling the phoenix that opens its wings with majestic breadth and forces the fire against her back. The newcomer intruders only see her walk carrying a tide of hellfire. By the second gusting of incendiary torrent, Troy runs and leaps to grab the saddle horn and be carried aloft, as Quinn throws a bottle of the drink, which shatters on the face of an interloper and erupts in the fire of torch in hand. Nickolas comes rushing in return to the camp, from the sound of tyranny to the sound of terror, screaming for Ana to take his hand he has an arrow in his saddle, in his back, and a wound in his neck.
Merlin’s anger is joy is disdain. He walks with his soul as his guide using confrontation in choice to hide not, with magic of light that looks like water thru wind he sends effulgent gusts of white and blue to his closest foes, his gathering enemies begin to stalk him. Standing aside walls of cabins that burn from the other side Merlin makes the fires of rooftops slide in blankets of liquid fire. His whispers of inveterate aged hexes warn the roots of trees to retract deep into the earth causing towering pillars of fire to topple on anything of the floor. The ashes of leaves do not lose their cinder and burn through skin unguarded by armor a sulphuric rain of detriment in some by anguish to be scratching at their eyes. The war party is beyond him and whom he has felled, the wagon of soldiers from arrear dead he takes a horse tethered in ill fate and rides post haste.
The ground grows harder in the cold of the base of the foothills of a mountain, the burning forest glows from the distance but the uninviting terrain holds many shadows, surprise attacks of both troops fills the night. The moon hidden and the torches extinguished aside the lives of many and none realizes the terrain has become level for a valley of graves before a cave entrance. Wells without water, skies lofted by tempest and storm, for them is bespoke the eternity ad infinitum, soon yet an astral mourning. It is a Saracen assassin that falls first into an open grave in the dusk of dawn, a star falls over the sound of the villain’s malady, and the view affronting them is the valley of pits each with a heavy metal post by each hole, on each a chain to a gruesomely groaning specter of the undead.
Quinn: “Wherefore this councils your sins, as can be said, ours?”
Merlin: “It is only a suggestion to not pass.”
Ana: “As to deter our framing? Sell me your luck, and I’ll borrow your memories.”
Nick: “You’ll tell me if you misstep.”
Merlin: “We cut our way to that cave, and it’s inroads to the breach.”
Quinn: “…and you just happen to know where you’re going?”
Merlin: “You could say that.”
Quinn: “Then what about the two big ones in the back that are not shackled and carrying halberds? I suppose we’ll just ask them to take each other, and they’ll politely withdraw to a romantic retreat.”
Ana: “Burn them within an inch of their lives, ghouls sleep on piles of treasure, if we live you can keep it.”
Quinn smiles livening determinately the discussion, then raises his sword overhead and swings heavily toward the ground above his feet decapitating the nearest of the ghastly undead, his men join the vanquishing of chained monsters aided by Ana’s fleeting fingertips fanning flames and Merlin’s use of a sword is methodic and deadly. As the pits begin to light the floor, the fiends crawling quashed and those leaping cut into two, their grimy black blood sticking to blades unlike assaults to living flesh. The cave entrance waits with miserable darkness, and the two ghouls like those of the past maul the lesser lurid animated corpses to amass new conflict in hopes of victory. The skin of the ghouls is flaccid and slimy as Nickolas soon finds that it tears and liberally relents under bashing, he punches with furious anger into the beast’s chest and retrieves its heart. The creature swings an arm to grasp him, then both, but misses Nickolas who throws the heart against the wall, when it bruises and breaks so doth the will and livelihood of the cursed ghole.
Ana steps into the second grave robber and consummate devourer, as it hacks downwardly to the earthen hearth she reaches into its chest and burns its chthonic heart. The others have reached the foreboding tunnel darkly silent to watch her burn its heart until only ash remains, a curtain of fire fades into the air and ashes fall as she wills herself to burn the remaining slimy tar from the skin of her arm.