30 December 2009

Merlin 10 - Valley of Thorns

MERLIN10. “The Valley of Thorns”

Nickolas’ mind wanders as restless and confused he dreams about the day, waiting for further events while at dusk, an ever-darkening forest surrounds him and Merlin. The darkness grows, with simplicity and irreverence, like smoke over ash, on them as they walk through the dense dark night taiga. As Nickolas looks to see how Merlin has fared the events recently passed, once more since leaving the open air, he notices that Merlin has not yet begun to walk steadfastly, showing signs of remorse, acting canny and taking tremulous steps.

Making slight haphazard efforts to evoke remorse amongst a drowning sorrow, Merlin walks low in the shoulders over the waving forest hills bathed in black sunshine, quite overwhelmed as the cold attempts falling down through the trees, as his hate begins to slow his mind. A dark and dimly lit night, shadows and conceals the failing light of a single blue moon, shinning onto the floor, lighting the face of themselves and the trees, as less than half of the sides that face them reveal themselves as they walk. The moon light fades as the forest mist brings an evening chill. The darkness rises throughout a woodland mystery of gathered trees and a nearly vacant floor.

While proposing questions in his mind, Nickolas leads the way, imagining himself with Merlin’s abilities, mimicking the movements of the wizard he had seen with acts of pretend magic as he goes, with Merlin following not far behind him. As the night grows older, the ground turns firm and rigid and without thought they walk in silence at a fair pace, forgetting their woes as they steadily walk, until Merlin’s detracted motivation upsets Nickolas with a boredom.

“Tell me of the witches you had mentioned,” said Nickolas to break his silence.
Merlin wearily replied, “The center of our sad souls in motion.”
Nickolas, “Are you well, we can always stop to rest?”
“The body snatchers are made by witches,” he said sullenly, passing Nickolas as he told.
“Why would they send their army with witches?” Nickolas then asked, continuing the trek.
“They charge to attack the good king Horus.”
“, and what of the garrison they cross?”
“Are we ever outside of the hourglass?” replied Merlin in a somber tone.

In the distance the shadows and darkness holds life, which Merlin first notices. What he sees, is in his course and he takes an aging notice of a gathering among the trees at a deep summit, on a silent hill in the middle of the forest. Merlin puts his arm before Nickolas as he attempts to walk passed, unbeknownst of the arisen situation, as Merlin wraps his hand on the shoulder of Nickolas forcing him to walk further not another step. Merlin lets go putting his finger to his own mouth, a gesture of silence, and with his other arm points to some men in the forest.

A fire and a large kettle rest above a moonlit hillside covered in flickering light that makes shadows dance above fallen leaves. The encampment surrounded by a garrison of three people, who are trying to awaken and discover the magic of the forest by sacrificing small animals and mixing them with powders in a boiling pot, as they call to the heavens in an ancient and forgotten language.

Angered and enthralled words, chanting and waving in their stance, the way ships do at port as they read from a large book, except for one who holds a small forest animal over his head, offering it to the sky before he stabs it and continues his incantations. The cultist repeats the rehearsed words of significance to a divine end, one intended to convoke, after every sacrifice. Bellowing into the wild, the words echo a power of divine intent into the blood, as it spills into the kettle.

With a crude fashion, he cleans the animal and puts pieces into a boiling kettle hanging over a fire, in a small clearing between the trees, in their believed privacy far from the edge of the woods. One of the three men are heard saying words of an indistinct language yet one that is slightly familiar, as the others are drinking as they reply in like and kind.

Younger of men, with three different embodied traits, hair and eyes the same. The first of the three has a red hair that has been soaked by the sun. The second a dark and crimson black with a shine, one that is much kept oft indoors, his steps washed. The third is a vast paleness, younger than the others are, yet is still very fair in aspect, white blond grey and lean, resting upon a tree reading the same sized book as that the others have.

{One=black, two=red, three=blond.}

One, “Why are we outside, trying to do this?”
Two, “one day we will be gods and you will know.”

They speak with loud voices as they speak their names, unwitting of their surveillance. Merlin and Nickolas stand below in the cover of darkness, watching the darkest one wring and work the sacrifice until wrought, soaking his hands with blood.

“What are they doing out here?” asked a beleaguered Nickolas.
“Some archaic incantation by no doubt whelps of an ancient order.”
“Pagan rites or dances for the dead?”
“Quite right, druids seeking adoration, trying to awaken dead gods of lore.”

Merlin slinks surreptitiously from the one of two sitting against a tree, closest to them. As Merlin puts his back to a tree behind the light, he pulls Nickolas with him, out of sight. Merlin whispers to him, “I’m going to clear the air, these are druids and no harm but nonetheless we're going to scare them off and take a rest.”

Nickolas, “They'll meet gods; ill surprise them, like no other.”
Merlin, “Circle around them; hark as I lull them, than bring your surprise with you.”
“All right,” Nickolas agrees. Shaking his head smiling, he sneaks into the wood.

The mist seethes and assuredly enough, Merlin’s eyes begin to glow, as he clears the dark clouds from above the encampment uphill, as Nickolas quickly makes around the group to one direction, silently swallowed by the darkness.

As Merlin moves closer, he can see the book held is ornate and bound as the books at clergy and has a large blood red ribbon lying across the open page. He picks up a fallen branch and begins to walk again toward them, slow and laboriously taking no efforts to go unnoticed.

Nickolas witnesses them as amateurs as they prove themselves pagans trying to awaken dead gods and long forgotten lords to attain magical abilities, spilling their drinks and such, as youths either in vain or in vanity.

Merlin scares the confidence out of them and pretends to be a resurrected god, standing only feet from their cauldron, showing signs of an elderly one with only the ability to creak as he walks, it was the cane. As soon as he has their attention, his eyes fill with fire, his hair beginning to glow like the lights of the stars, his skin a similar glow and the staff lifted from the ground covered in an engraving of swirls and symbols that glow with a bright fire as if embers were within the wood.

At the very sight of this, the carver with hands over the pot drops his knife, into his brew.

Merlin, “I have come from beyond from which you called to me,” he said noticing that they each carry the same sacred tome.

Two, “What did you read?”
One, “What do you wish?”
Merlin, “I wish to help you summon more of this planet's true kings,”
Two, “We did not call to you, this is our meal, these are our books.”
Merlin, “You will need more than spells if you wish to defeat me to stay alive.”
Three, “We're not your enemies, we are your worshipers.”

Merlin looks around at the camp and at them, making sure to contain his amusement, trying not to smile at their actions. They are monks of sorts. The first of them is standing over the pot wishing he had not dropped his knife into the meal, staring at the surface, tempted to reach to the bottom of the scalding culmination. Another is on the ground at the bottom of a tree, holding his hands to the ground, wrapping his arms around the tree behind him, looking back and forth to the night's, almost cover of darkness. The third is holding a book with a page open that has a picture of what he believes to be Merlin, as he stands agape, but cannot tear his eyesight away from Merlin.

At first he does not speak, staring at them with eyes void and irreverent, flame rolling and dancing across his persona, making them sweat and submit to anxiety as Merlin stands before them with skin that looks hot to the touch, the air above his skin emits waves of heat and vapor, even against the darkness.

Merlin, “My joy is bound no more as I see I am not truly the last.”
Three looks to his book and then up to Merlin asking, “What world do you hail?”
Nickolas steps forward, holding a short dagger and his hair pulled back and soaked with blood on his hands saying, “Your patronage ill befits you dark one.”
Merlin, “Be not troubled, the saviors of my resurrection will defend.”

They look more confused than before, they turn to Merlin, just as Nickolas takes the one nearest him at his mercy, standing between too many obstacles hostage, and Merlin flares his eyes and leans his walking stick forward, pointing it to Nickolas. However, the pale and bright one gets the drop on Nickolas and stabs him in the back, above the heart and in the seconds the red one slits open his throat. His fate untimely, unprepared he can only drag the tip of his dagger along the arm of his captive just moments prior, as he falls unwillingly to the dirt.

Merlin laughs, and eventually thanks them for stopping the enemy, while thinking of a special anecdote significant for others to remember of something so unique.

“Hail to thee. You have saved me,” Merlin said with two voices in his chest, both low, one echoing the other.
Two, “We have done more than that; share with us your power.”
One spoke, the words stuttering and stumbling out of his mouth, “y…, y…, aye, or we will return you to your source chasm.”

“I have lied, that man was my hunter,” Merlin said to them. His tall cane glows and captivates in the cold night.

Nickolas begins to rise, but no one notices with the exception of the wizard. The two men of color walk to Merlin.

“You must teach us your gift,” the orange colored one said, staring at Merlin’s supernatural affects and not looking him in the eye, gazing in amazement. As he said this to Merlin, Nickolas reconvenes, shortly twitching as he lay regenerating to composure.

Merlin holds a stone, one that appears as he opens the long fingers on his hand and fills it with a clouded radiation, the color of his flames but brighter, charging the stone only to toss it to the kettle. It begins to boil as Merlin sees Nickolas wake and rebuild and begins to turn his eyes and the ink, buried beneath his skin, into bright lights, as they stand awestruck. The light may be distractingly bright but the air is still, the hillside bright as day, yet the trees and the bottoms of leaves still dark and unrevealing.

“You will abide to oblige my wishes. You will sacrifice of your allies to me and I will give you great power,” Merlin spoke to them in his onerous, doubled and touted voices that seemed to echo, before and after, the words. Nickolas has risen and steps back between the nearest trees, silent as an assassin in a memory.

Merlin closes his hand once more and opens it to reveal, a holding of fire that when lifted to his face, he breaths into his mouth as he brings his cupped hands toward him. keeping his hands aflame, the hair on his head ignites as a candle from within, turning to a thick blue flame, while burned he is not, as he offers his hand of torch upward and begins to embellish intense flames in the color of the fire pouring down to him, in which he bathes.

Nickolas has full risen and is standing at the pot with a large wooden spoon sampling the food they had begun to boil, taking a sample as he stares, and drops the spoon into the mixture.

Nickolas says in a boisterous clamor, “We make to dine on the souls of man.”

They look to Nickolas, whipping their necks in shock and back to Merlin once more, thrice again filled with fear. In their confusion, they turn to Merlin and he is showing a fire from beneath the skin, a purified energy that shows only the dye of his skin, eyes and hair, glowing with a dark outline. The flames begin canvassing his surface, from the tattoos that are across his arms and neck and face and at the thought of fleeing, when turning back they meet Nickolas, as he has two blades held with arms extended, pointing to both sides of the pot at them.

They stand in fear, now less one night dwelling worshiper, as the youngest has fled. At the small fireside within the trees, witness Merlin’s flames begin to turn a radiant and bright color, low and red, the heat felt upon the face.

Merlin again speaks to them with thunder in his voice, “You are trespassers in my domain and have awakened me and my forester. The penalty is death!” The resounding presence echoes and tears into the ground.

His eyes bright, the light bellowing from beneath his skin and with their penance paid, the remaining bolt like lightning, gone in a flash. All is amusing to Merlin and Nickolas who laugh and begin to eat the remains of the food, left behind by the monks of an archaic order.

“May I?” asked Nickolas as he loomed over the cauldron, and after tasting he iterated “it’s quite good,” before resting next to the fire.
“It was more of a meal and a ceremony for druids.”
“It’s almost a meal.”

Merlin is normal within the blink of an out looking eye. He drops a crooked branch alongside the pit of the fire, and it begins to burn without signs of symbols or scars. Consumed is the meal, but not before tales of the times shared and fire tricks, before Merlin reveals his plausible itinerary and its complicit relation to his destination, as the fire stirs in the night. They sleep and rest next to a hearth surrounded by white stones.

In the morning, they hike north, with autumn being confused with the spring, the pines are huddled together and clench their needled arms, as orange leaves litter along the floor of a morning wood as burgeoning branches precociously blossom and flourish .

To only one side, the wolves are walking with them, keeping a constant distance, not paying much attention to the two of them, walking among the ferns and pines. Their heads hang low with sharp ears as they watch the tops of the fallen foliage, as they circle about with an organized chaos, keeping their noses near the ground. As countless numbers, it seems or enough of them circling the same area, scavenging for miscellaneous items of prey, or possibly in a hunt for a large number of rodents trapped among the pack.

Nickolas, “Will they ever attack us?”
Merlin, “They circle burrowers…, unless you provoke them or it’s bitter as they starve.”
Nickolas, “We saw those naught, last night.”
Merlin, “Last night's meal probably drew them our way.”

Never looking back, Nickolas is wary constantly, walking of their surroundings.

The ground cover is a strange decay as they travel uphill, broken and rotted wood chips, a red thick sawdust floor, and large immovable stones lay lodged into the ground periodically through the woods. As the stone face of a damp mountain nears, the trees take position more errantly than at the forest’s edge.

A short cliff, of the mountain in the woods, no taller than a castle wall, where the stacking stone and the lands meet, jetties looking over where the mountain slightly tears into and upward through the soil. The loam becomes rocky and cragged as they begin having to walk up a steep hill through water and traveler worn paths.

Their travel takes them passed the last of the forest dales, they arrive at an opening to see a valley in the mountain and the rising sun, in the valley are roses growing everywhere except for the area where they stand, a small clearing with carpenter tools strewn about, and cutting and carving benches.

Not the site of a smithy but a workplace full of one’s fashioned tools, among a red gravel walkway to a small domicile with rose engravings and paintings. The house is small and knives hang from many of its shutters and windows, bees and honey boxes outside the shelter. The small dwelling and path connect into the roses through the golden dawn valley that invisibly stretches to their exit at the horizon because of a rose archway that crosses overhead of a garden tunnel. Among the rose trees, vines and bushes, red and pink freshly fallen petals nearly cover the hall of spikes and lace below a looming red air of effervescence.

In the yard stands a cogent figure, dressed as a butcher and painted red in extreme. He sharpens a lengthy knife, cleaving and cutting the meal meat from a slain dog, and without a moment to hide, instantly noticed become the two disillusioned travelers.

They notice that the rose-plants are dripping with blood near where the carver stands, the butcher takes the bucket below the table that has collected full of blood and tosses it's contents onto his plants, drinking the last of the blood from the pale, it runs his face, and he drops the bucket.

Butcher, “Come closer.”

Merlin puts the back of his hand across Nickolas’ chest. The stranger in blood pulls from his waist a whip of the rose plant intact with thorns, wrapped around his waist that loosens and falls like a silk sash.

As he begins to swing and sway the whip, it begins to glow like molten gold through the air, a flagrant lash waving in the ambiance, the thorns shedding moments of ash.

Nickolas gathers his emotions and softly speaks, “dear god...,” to him.

Merlin, in a dancing wave, leans forward, extending his fingertips before himself, as a white wind blows from him, taking with it ashes of sand from his skin. The cold air draws from behind them a few wolves gather but are timid and flee as soon as they notice Nickolas spot them. The effort is useless, only warming the man at such a distance, and rapidly causes Merlin exhaustion. Nickolas rushes to step forward and at the corner of his eye, drove an ardent Merlin rushing to attack the butcher of the roses. Their fight in long and short is as follows. From within Merlin, lightning blocks the initial crack of the whip as he rushes, but drawing the thorned line behind him, his assailant brings its end to Merlin’s face, where it wraps around his forearm, and a cry of agony fires let Merlin from his pain, as the thorns cut into him as the torturer pulls the line. The light in his soul shows anger, in his anguish his eyes turn black as he drops to his knees.

Butcher, “You will return to the ground and the blooms will sing your name.”

The thorns cause the newly wrapped lash to latch and viciously tear at his skin, the stoic villain knows if Merlin takes his whip that he will be unmatched.

This signals the end, as Merlin pulls him in, he puts his free hand on the thorny doom and pulls, putting the other next to it. From his wounds on hands and arm he begins to shine an immense internal light, he breaks the spiked cord and the butcher falls back and with the length at his arm Merlin leaps and wraps the thorny vine around his neck as he lies on his back. As our villain grabs to the wrapped cord moments too late, Merlin reaches into his sleeve and pulls the dagger Horus had given him. With a swinging motion over his head, he slams the point of the blade into the rose vine and rises up, standing on the hilt of the knife's handle. With both hands, he pulls the other end of the short, indurate branch around the butcher's neck and tightens the piercing rope, until it lacerates his windpipe, and with blood spilling everywhere, the fire in his eyes dies.

Screaming as he walks he sits, falling on his rear as one does, on the walk before a table and looks to a slowly approaching Nickolas.

Nickolas, “The throes of time, sure hated him?”
Merlin, “You...come here!”
Nickolas, “If you murder me, I wish it not be done that way.”
Merlin says, “Something to do with blood and tattered clothes?”
Nickolas says, “More to do with wanting to see more of such interesting fates.”
Merlin, “Bring me the dagger, in the ground over there. I need to cut out these thorns soon, and I’ve not the talons.”
Nickolas, “Here, take mine," said Nickolas as he threw the one in his hand to Merlin’s side.”

As he pulled one of the thorns, he moans as he finds that a broken thorn has begun to take short root into his arm. Nickolas stands and watches in dreadful awe.

“Will you be well again?”
“I hold deep in muddy waters, much like these cursed things, lest we bleed ourselves,” said Merlin with a sound of pain for every thorn pulled.
“Good, I’m going in to find more appropriate wear.”

Nickolas goes inside and finds a brown leather armored coat that hangs only to his waist. He decides to wear it, with it not completely closed, one large lapel hanging down, after making much noise searching through things, he comes out again.

“Becoming a chef are we?” touted Merlin.

A timid look of content paints Nickolas’ face as he replies, “He's got a lot of goods left inside, and perhaps you should look for an appropriate medicine.”
Merlin, “Then, as long as he's dead, bring me the bucket he drank from.”

Nickolas walks away and gets the waved blade next to the drying foe, as Merlin pulls the last of the thorns from his arm closest to his shoulder. Afterward he places his other hand below his arm and holds his wounded one close to him, looking for further damaging thorns.

Nickolas brings back the almost empty bucket and Merlin takes it to drink, losing grip in balance of his wounded arm, shifting the weight of the near empty bucket to his good palm, he drinks the remaining blood like it were cold water from a mountain after reaching the edge of a arduous desert wasteland crossing. Purged from the inside, pain and wound begin to remit as a faint pale blue light shines from beneath the incisions upon his arm, and quickly fade, his wounds now sealed from beneath and bleeding no longer, as he flexes his arm.

“You've healed?” Nickolas said in disbelief.
“I’m healing, or I’m not languishing or can’t you tell?”

Merlin waves his arm about at his elbow, just as Nickolas says, “I was going to assist you.”
“There was not time,” Merlin replied.
“A lot of things inside, no doubt stolen to be food for fiendish thoughts.”
“Then we must look, inside the house of pain,” said Merlin as he stands, using only his good arm to do so, using his fist as he does, making sure to not stretch the palm of his wounded hands.

Merlin stands, and not without a scream of anguish he stands arching back with his hands forward as he lets a small white ball of fire at the dead or dying foe from his hands, the bloodshed of fallen to feed his roses.

They ransack the shelter ever careful, weary of tricks and traps, taking what they can, including a bow and supplies that Nickolas does not want as Merlin offers it to him. Merlin takes these things, stepping outside to the unlucky animal. The table stands with an indent in its center and a furrow to the edge where blood does drain. The harrowed dog lies butchered, divided as if for sale at market, and upon learning this, Merlin gathers things to burn to cook a free snack, including the door of the shelter and makes fire. Taking the door of the shelter with him causes Nickolas to rescind his motivations of plundering and join Merlin for a breakfast.

“Hold the door here,” asked Merlin of Nickolas. He complied with Merlin’s request, watching Merlin walk away from him only a pace or two, simply to turn back and hold out his palm. A rush of air travels from him to the door, a gust that looks of a ball that smashes the door to fragments and parts.

The wood burns bright and fast, especially the ashen tables from outside as they watch, laying the meat on the coals. As they sit waiting, tending to wounds of mind and body, Nickolas notices a wolf external, watching them from the same place where they had entered the small valley plateau, but it scares and runs at Nickolas’ accidental locking of stares with the lupine, and it runs into the woods, disturbing the fog.

Nickolas ponders and asks, “Where does one learn such things?”
Merlin, “The burn is something he hath learned by and of the army burning the coastline behind us.”
Nickolas, “You knew him from somewhere?”
Merlin, “No, just another demented clergyman.”
“They had not fought us in the same way?” said Nickolas, questioning Merlin’s honesty, heavily staring into the trees.
“Not all of them fought with you.”

Merlin stares at a white quiver of bone and scales, lying next to his leg and takes an arrow from it as he sits to begin turning the meat to its other side. With the pieces being cooked and doled, Nickolas takes his and begins to feast, once again as if starving. By and by, as the final blow of the battle begins to repeat in his mind, he notices a wolf at the edge of the forest. The wolf slowly turns away, as if in amazement, dashing into the woods whence nearly out of sight.

To answer Nickolas’ question as he looks to him, he replies, “Some know great things, some bark at the moon and wait for wizards to scare them.” He says this as he notices wolves beginning to come to the edge of the forestation and sit alongside one another, staring at the fire, at them and the fallen sadist.

As they leave, Nickolas turns back and sees the wolves, still in wait at the edge of the forest. The two of them walk over to the body as one of the pallid wolves of the many all sit patiently at the forest's edge walks forward and sits primly halfway between them and its brood behind it, Merlin thinks nothing of it and turns forward again, continuing to the rose archway and they enter the valley of thorns.

A tunnel of roses of diverse colors of red, turn and slowly face them as they walk, the same way a flower will follow the sun in a day’s time, as if the two were derived from the sun. Flowers, vines and arching branches to some extent sway, as if in endearment as they pass below unharmed, across a path of scarlet, as rose petals fall ahead as well as behind the two. When looking up, between the plant growths, the sun shines brightly into their eyes.

They exit the rose garden at the end of the valley at a steep inclined clearing with steps carved into the stone, exiting the garden that seems like a bowl only as they look back, with only a few feet to stand at the top of a rise, at a ledge above a river that flows down the mountain.

A tiny path follows the stream downward, and far below are those whom Merlin expects to be, Ana and Troy, and the expecting couple, as well as the bird, diving and rising with steam and flames in a playful manner near them in the water.

A pond to their right, a pond farther to their left before the stream continues along the mountain’s landing juxtaposes a road along the foothills of the mountains. A forest grows ahead cut away from the mountain by the winding road, with another road leading through, away from the mountain that travels at least two ways from a tiny city far in the distance, through the middle in front of them, below their position. To the left, the mountain wraps north before meeting the horizon, the mountain and the horizon meeting far ahead on the left.

Merlin, “Pick a rose now, for the patrons below are my party, and they nor I, will hark back to this nest of hawthorn and thistle.”