Merlin:The true story of my life.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story biopic told in the first person by Merlin.

Submitted: June 27, 2017

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Submitted: June 27, 2017

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Merlin

 (An scéal fíor de mo shaol)

The true story of my life.

Part 1: origin

 

I have lived longer than any man should live. I have lost loved ones. Seen wars ravage the land. Seen Kings come and go. 

My life has been intricately intertwined with others, for good, or bad. Fate has dealt me a full hand of cards, now I am at the end, at Last. There was a time, however, when I thought this day would never come, mind you; there was a time when I wished it would never arrive either.

But before I draw my last breath, I would like to set the record straight, well, as straight as I would like.

There has been much written about me in my lifetime. Some of it is the truth, some embellishments on the truth, and some, completely fanciful and untrue. 

It has been written that I have accomplished many good deeds. Apparently it has not bothered the authors of these accounts whether it was actually I, or someone else who had done them; more times than not, it was not I who was the hero of the tale, but rather someone else, usually guided by my hand, however, but never the less, it was others who were the real heroes.

Well, let’s start at the beginning, shall we!

 

 

My parentage.

My parents were an unlikely combination. My mother was a Queen of a powerful warlord of Powys the largest kingdom in this fair isle of Britain. Her name was, Cesalandus and she was a Druid.

 My father was a son of Rome and a general in their conquering army; a strange melting pot indeed to have been born from, to be sure. It was an arranged marriage; no love was lost between them.

During my upbringing I had a foot in each of the two different worlds my parents came from.

From my mother, I learned the history of Britain, the secrets of the Druids, their doctrines, beliefs and rituals. I also inherited my mother’s talent of far-sight, visions, and dreams of prophecy if you will.

From my father I learned commerce, diplomacy, warfare, strategy, sword fighting, leadership and soldiering.

I was nothing but a stripling of a boy when the Roman legions left our shores, called back to their own land, for internal fighting and constant attacks on their borders had left Rome vulnerable. With their departure our safe little lives had gone too. Britain was open to invasion; the tribes were back to bickering and squabbling over land. The warlords were back, the yolk of Roman obedience had at last fallen to the ground. From the insular fighting and backstabbing, my homeland had fallen into a dark and dangerous age.

With Britain free once more and my parent’s marriage of convenience no longer holding any weight, or use, my mother awakened me one night and intended to spirit us away back to her place of birth. Unfortunately for her, we were seen riding out of camp. Pursued by our father and his men, we led a merry chase until tragedy struck. As our horse leaped over a brook, I felt myself slipping from the horse’s back. I tried desperately to hold onto my mother, but as I tumbled from the horse, my hands gripped her skirts; there was a tearing of cloth and then a splash as I fell into the brook, gripping a length of her torn gown. My mother would have stopped and gave herself up for me. But I urged her to ride, for I knew that her recapture would mean severe punishment, or even death.

I was in a precarious position, for I loved them both, although they never loved one another, they both would have given their lives for me. yet I was not going to let either of them die for me, as I begged her to leave me and flee, and so, with a tearful eye my mother turned and fled as my father and his men crested the hill.

Jumping up and waving my hands, I delayed my father, long enough to let my mother slip away into the darkness of that moonless night.  

Although the call of Rome had mustered the legions and taken them away, some Romans turned a deaf ear to it, for they had spent many years garrisoned in Britain. Indeed many of them had taken to our pagan way of life and taken local women as their wives’, had children and settled down, Rome was nothing more than a distant memory for them.  So when one Roman general stood up and made a call to arms, the men freely rallied to his banner, he had an idea, he would take Britain for his own and start his own dynasty. He was Aurelius, a charismatic man, well loved by his legion of men. He was also a brilliant strategist, and he was my father.

In six months of brutal fighting, Aurelius and his army had swept across the land like a plague. Where there was opposition from local tribes, his red cloaked army struck with extreme prejudice, squashing any rebellion under their iron studded boots. But instead of the yolk of submission, Aurelius offered the hand of unity and brotherhood.  Forging allegiances with the smaller tribes, who would have been swallowed up by the more dominant tribes of the isles, giving them a place, and protection in this new growing regime.

My father needed a banner to rally his army under like the Romans used the eagle we usurpers of Britain needed something similar. It was I that took ink to vellum and drew a mighty White Dragon a fierce beast on a blood red field like the cloaks that adorned our shoulders.

So, under the adopted banner of a White Dragon, Aurelius’ army would swell in numbers, their army growing in magnitude with every new victory. There was nothing, it seemed that could stop this war machine, as it grew and grew, until the entire East had fallen under the White dragon standard. With just the north and west left, Aurelius headed west first, for the Picts of the north were no direct threat in their glens trapped behind the great North wall.

So onward towards Powys we marched, with twenty thousand men behind him, and me, his son, riding at his side in gleaming Roman armour and scarlet cloak draped over my young broad shoulders, we crossed the borders into Powys.

 Aurelius’ confidence was at its peak, who could stop his army? Who could out think or outwit him on the battlefield? With over confidence, arrogance sometimes creeps into a man’s heart, tainting judgement, poisoning reason and corrupting his soul.

I had seen subtle changes in my father’s character as his victories had mounted, he became arrogant, and his tendency for leniency was now swayed by punishment. Thinking himself invincible in battle,  his war stratagem had been replaced with mindless brutal frontal assault, for his swelling ranks gave him the luxury of taking many more casualties without having to waste time in building war engines, or having to supply and feed horses for cavalry. He depended now, on foot soldiers, cheap, expendable men. But, as I said earlier, who could stand in our way? Who would dare to think they could beat us in battle?

At the foot of a rising slope, we came to a halt, Aurelius’ White Dragons; the scarlet death as we were known faced our new opponents.

 Atop the hill in front of us he waited, sat on horseback clad in gleaming chain and gold gilded helmet, holding a round shield with The Red fire breathing Dragon of Britain emblazoned on it, was the warlord of Powys.

He had been busy, from the ashes of a Britain in turmoil; he had followed a similar path as we, conquering smaller clans, and forging them into a cohesive fighting force. An army of blue painted Britons howling and screaming as their Druids ran amongst their ranks, chanting and calling down the wrath of the gods onto our heads.

So, it was here at the foot of Mons Badonicus, that, father and son would be reunited with wife and mother. As Cesalandus dressed in war gear with a black flowing cape covered in raven feathers draped over her shoulders and face painted chalk white with a red line crossing her eyes, and lips daubed in blue, sat next to her brother, my uncle, the warlord of the west, known commonly by all of the Briton’s as, the Vortigern.

Looking down upon us, the Vortigern cast his eyes over his army, to his right then his left, then unsheathed his sword, raised it above his head, then began to bang it on the iron boss of his shield; quickly all of his army copied their lord’s actions. The sound was deafening, like thunder rolling down the hill filling our ears with its terrible clanging, a death toll.

In response, our trumpeters gave their signals, our army took position, our shield wall went up, we drew our gladius stabbing swords, sweat poured from our brows, hearts beat fast, and our breath was quick and steady.

Then they came, pouring over the hillock, down toward us, a sea of blue painted warriors, war chariots and riders, clashing and banging, a wave of human bodies determined to wash us away and drown us in a sea of our own blood.

The battle of Mons Badonicus, Badon Hill had begun.

Part 2: The Vortigern

“Now where was I? Ah yes, the Vortigern, king of the west, warlord of Powys, my uncle looking every inch the hero. His chain vest shone bright and silver, its links having been polished with sand and gently oiled. A great bear skin cloak draped over his mountainous shoulders with wolf fur trim and a golden bear’s headed clasp and chain around his neck. What a sight to behold!”

Anyway, forgive me if I digress a little, my mind is old and is want to wander away from the subject matter at times! So, where were we again? Ah yes, The Vortigern, King of the west.... oops, I’ve already said that bit haven’t I?”

“Get a grip you old fool! Right, anyway, the first battle of Badon hill, what can I say, it didn’t go well for my father, Aurelius, proud Roman general and member of the senate. In fact it was a bit of a shambles all-round. Mind you it came as no surprise to me; after all, I had inherited the far-sight from my mother, Cesalandus, who was a daughter of Powys, a Druid, the vortigern’s sister who sat next to her brother atop the hill watching the slaughter of her husband’s army without even batting an eyelid.

I of course, had seen all of this unfold the night before, as I lay in my tent, the vision had come upon me, turning me into a gibbering wreck, frothing at the mouth and writhing on the floor as violent sanguine images flashed before my eyes like a lightning storm playing inside of my head.

I know what you are thinking, Why did I not tell my father of this impending disaster that awaited him? Well, I could have, but it would not have helped any, for he was a Roman, stubborn, arrogant and did not believe in this mumbo jumbo anyway. Also, how foolish would he have looked in the eyes of his men if had said, “Sorry boys, but my son had a dream last night; we are all doomed, best turn tail and run!”

They would have strung him up from the nearest tree and pissed on his corpse for being a cowardly fool!

“I could go into detail about the battle, how the Vortigern had hired an army of Saxon mercenaries led by Hengest and Horsa, who attacked us from the rear as Vortigern’s archers and charioteers and cavalry  hit us in the flanks, and his spearmen hit us head on, but I won’t, actually, I think I just have!

To cut a long, bloody story short, let’s just say that at the end of the day, over twenty five thousand men lost their lives, from both sides, the hill was strewn with body parts and the grass stained a dark rich red. The Vortigern had routed the enemy. My father, wounded by a stray arrow, was spirited away by his loyal bodyguard, and I rode up the hill to see my mother.”

 

It was a joyous reunion with my mother, we returned to the Vortigern’s stronghold. The hill fort of Dinas Emrys was a large and impressive stone structure, protected and fortified with great earthen trenches surrounding it. A large stone gatehouse was the only way in or out of the fort.  A stone broch tower dominated the courtyard, from on top of it you could see the valleys below as the lush green landscape stretched out as far as the eye could see.

 The Vortigern, or Vitalinus ap Guithellyn as he was named at birth. For Vortigern was not his name, but rather his title, which meant overlord or protector of the land, if you will, perhaps tyrant would have been a better title for him, for he was a large brutish man who ruled with a rod of cold hard iron.

I spent many months at the fort with my mother and uncle. Word finally came to us about my father, he had eventually left the shores of Britain, with Hengest and Horsa snapping at his heels, he had sailed to the shores of Gaul and disappeared.

Although my mother was Vortigern’s sister, Vortigern never really came to trust me, or feel comfortable by having me around. Although I might have been his nephew, I was also the son of his enemy!

Then one day I was summoned to my mother’s chambers. The once beautiful demure Cesalandus suddenly looked frail and gaunt to my eyes.  In fact she looked distinctly unwell. But it was not about worries with her health that she had summoned me, but more worries for my own welfare. For is it not the bane of a parent to forever worry about their children?

  The Vortigern had given Cesalandus’ hand in marriage to some Warlord from the south, a usurper from Brittany in Gaul who now wore the crown of Dumnonnia on his head, a reward for his sworn allegiance to him. The Vortigern had made it clear to my mother that I was not allowed to go with her, and would have to leave Dinas Emrys once she was married off.

So, once the winter months had passed and spring arrived, my mother was to be wed, and I, for all intense and purposes, was to be cast out to fend for myself. No doubt Vortigern saw this as a certain death sentence for me, however, he did not know me very well, or knew the power that I wielded. For if he did, then my death would have been far swifter and assured at the hands of his thuggish minions.

Winter finally arrived, a brittle frost coated the ground, the clouds were heavy with snow and the air was chill. As I walked through the courtyard, I came upon a small boy, no older than perhaps ten years old, held in a cage behind the blacksmiths workshop, he was chilled to the bone and shivering, thirsty and starving. I was appalled by his treatment. When I asked him who he was and why he was caged in such a manner, he replied.

“My name is, Merdyyn the Vortigern says that I am to be honoured by being sacrificed to the angry earth spirits to appease them, so that they will stop making his walls fall down!”

I immediately fetched a blanket for the poor wretch, a hot drink and some bread. I passed them through the bars of his cage and explained to him exactly what I wanted him to say and do when they came for him.

If there was one weakness I had found in, Vortigern then it was his belief in the supernatural and fear of wronging the gods and calling down their wrath upon him, for the gods were known to be fickle lords, who could change the fate of a man’s life as swiftly as the wind can change its course. With this knowledge at my disposal, I hatched a plan to put the fear of the gods into my uncle’s cruel heart.

It was at mid-day two days later, it had begun to snow, the Vortigern stood by his collapsed wall, wrapped in his bearskin cloak, looking foreboding. Young Merdyyn was brought before him, shivering and snivelling. A balding thin faced Druid stood beside him with a keen edged knife in hand. As the Druid began to chant and wave his knife about, young Merdyyn began to scream, rolling his eyes in his head, spittle flew from his mouth turning pink with blood as he bit into his protruding tongue. As the boy fell to the ground his body contorted and twitched. It was then that he shouted out the words I had whispered in his ears.

“Draig Goch, beware his claws and teeth and fiery breath, for he will pour death upon thee shall I be harmed!”

With a start, the Druid took several steps back as the young boy uttered the sacred names of the earth gods, known only to the Druids.

 Merdyyn rose to his knees and pointed at the Vortigern, and growled “the spirits of the earth, they fight one another in combat, Draig gwyn and Draig coch. Beware he who comes under the banner of the White Dragon, wielding the serpent sword, for he is your doom. Draig Goch has chosen me as his emissary, harm me and you shall answer to him!

I have to say, Merdyyn did a wonderful acting job, he even had me mesmerised!

As night fell, a great straw effigy of a White Dragon was burned at the foot of the wall, as Merdyyn had instructed, an offering to Draig Goch, the red dragon earth god and protector of the spirit of Britain, and with a handful of coin, Merdyyn was sent on his way back to his family a smile on his face.

And I, well once the spring thaw was upon us; I said my tearful farewells to my mother and headed south east, for I had had another vision. I had seen a woman, with golden hair, and the face of a fay; she stood by a crystal lake holding a sword, its handle engraved with two ruby eyed serpents. She looked out across the water, then drew back her arm and cast the sword into its depths. I did not understand the vision or its reasoning yet, all I knew, is that I had to find that woman, and that lake, and retrieve the serpent sword, for that sword and my legend were intrinsically intertwined in ways, I as yet, did not know, and so I headed toward the shores of the great white cliffs and crossed the channel to Gaul.

 

Part 3 Excalibur

A lot has been written over the ages about the legendary sword, Excalibur, the magical sword of King Arthur. As time has gone by, its legend has grown. Well let me tell you, some of what you know about Excalibur is true, some is pure nonsense, made up by the over active imaginings of some monkish dolt, scribbling away in a badly candle lit scriptorium, translating folklore stories from their original Celtic tongue into that confounded Latin, and, where there is no direct translation of certain words, the dolt decides to invent his own in their place, hence the naming of the sword, Excalibur. That certainly wasn’t its’ given name when I had it forged and named it myself.

Here is Excalibur’s story!

When I first landed on the shores of Gaul I was in my early twenties. My exact age escapes my memory. Anyway, what does it matter eh? Suffice to say, I was young, virile, in good health and had pressing matters at hand.

My visions had come swift and fast of late, they were no more than a jumble of images flashing before my eyes and running amok inside of my head. Confusion and a little annoyance crept into my demeanour. For visions are a fickle and maddening thing, let me explain.

Imagine taking a book, tearing it apart and mixing up the pages, then trying to make sense of the story as you read those jumbled up pages. Time and continuity have vanished; you are left with all the pieces to the puzzle, but no picture from which to reconstruct it.

Such is a mind plagued by visions. A woman, a sword, a lake, an army, a war, a warlord, I had to try and make sense of it all. Things did not go as I had planned, yet they did turn out better than I could have first imagined. For what I thought would have taken perhaps a few months to achieve my goal and return to my beloved Britain, actually took closer to twelve years, and went something like this.

 

Gaul was in turmoil; it had suffered the same fate as my beloved Isle, since the Romans had marched out and left the Gauls to fend for themselves.

Gaul had descended into a blood bath of warring clans, invading Visigoths and the dreaded Hoards of the Huns, led by their bloodthirsty leader, Attila.

On the good side, I was reunited with my father and his legion of White Dragons, which unfortunately were stuck without any manoeuvring space, with the Gauls at their rear ready to spill their blood, and Attila and his hoard in our faces eager to collect our heads to adorn their tent posts.

I quickly fell in at my father’s side, taking up shield and sword, and with a handful of men at my command, we began carving our way through the Gauls at our backs, for they were a lot easier and less frightening to face than Attila. It was said that Attila was unbeatable, unconquerable, for he wielded a magic sword forged from a strange metal found in the heart of a shooting star that fell to Earth from the heavens.  Isten kardja was its name, the sword of God, or as the Romans called it, the sword of Mars, god of war.

I was under no illusions of the sword’s power, not any magical or mystical power that is, but the power of propaganda.

Rumour mongering can be just as powerful a weapon as any sword, or spear or axe. It may not chop into flesh and bone, but it cuts deep into the mind and heart, poisoning it with fear and superstition, turning a man’s’ bowels to water and eating away at his resolve, like an infected wound.

Like a lightning bolt my vision became clear, I knew what it meant, what it was trying to tell me. Fight fire with fire. If the White Dragons were to survive, then we too needed a symbol to believe in, we needed something to rally to, something just as strong and powerful to put our faith in.

I had not been idle during the many months of fighting in Gaul, I had sent out spies to look for something. A lake, a forge and a woman, finally word came to my ears, all three had been found as I had described. I headed off immediately for a small village nestled in the heart of Broceliande forest on the shore of a small lake; I rode for Paimpont village with all haste.

I could feel the raw energy of the Earth seeping to the surface of the small pristine lake. Earth magic and the Gods resided here; their spoor was thick and heady like a field of heather on a hot day.

I followed a small stream that bled into the lake for half a mile, deep into the forest, until I came upon a lone roundhouse, a blacksmiths forge works was built next to the simple dwelling.

As I approached, a woman stepped out into the sunlight, her hair was tied back and as golden as a sunbeam, her face white with rose tinted cheeks and eyes as blue as Lugh the sky god himself, she wore a leather smithy apron and her bare arms were that of a smithy.

She was not surprised to see me, nor showed any sign of fear, seeing as I wore Roman armour with a gladius blade hanging at my side.

She was Vivienne a blacksmith and a Druid like me. She too had the sight, not as powerful as I, but still potent never the less, for it had showed her my face and my purpose for seeking her out.

The coals of the forge burned a fierce red as I pumped the bellows and Vivienne pulled out the glowing orange metal strip that was to become the most famous sword in history.

Sweat glistened on her face as she worked her magic. Sparks flew from the hot metal as it was hammered, taking shape before my eyes. The muscles on her arms twitched and bunched from the hammering, her breathing was deep like the bellows I pumped, exhaling in time to her hammer strokes. She was breathtaking to behold as she worked her magic on the soft metal. I knew in an instant that our destiny’s were to be intertwined forever; for my heart told me that I had found, at last a love of my own.

Vivienne worked tirelessly for 6 days, honing the metal, shaping it to my instructions as I described the blade which my visions had shown me.

The sword was of Roman design, a gladius like my own, but the blade was three inches longer than usual. The handle was made of stag horn, the pommel of gold and silver, the hand guard was two golden serpent heads with red enamel eyes, and running down the length of the blade the serpents’ bodies were inter-twinned and gilded in gold.

By the light of the full moon at the lake’s edge, we undressed and waded naked into the cold water, stopping only when we stood in the centre of the reflected face of the moon on the rippling surface of the lake.

We stood in the doorway between our world and the Otherworld of the gods, our offering was the sword held by both of us. Its metal was of the Earth, its birth was in fire, the hissing of its first hot breath had been quenched in water, its baptism was by our hand, Brother sun and sister moon. Its birth was complete. Vivienne let go of the sword.

‘Name your child!’ she whispered in her Gaulish tongue.

Holding the sword aloft, I imbued it with power, I named it. ‘Caledfwich’ in my native tongue, which means hard breaker, for none shall stand in its way, it shall shatter all who stand against it, and whom shall ever wield Caledfwich shall never be defeated, for they shall become unconquerable, they shall become Kings.

It was time for the White Dragon legion to do what they did best, conquer. My father adopted the same tactics as he had with the Britons, persuading the Gaul’s that they would be better off rallying under the White Dragon banner then Attila’s crossed sword and skull banner.

If there is one thing the Romans loved, it was spectacle and theatrics. Their empire was full of amphitheatres and Gladiatorial arenas as testament to this. It was easy for me to make them believe that the Gods spoke through me. I used all the tricks taught to me by my Druid mother, sleight of hand tricks and theatre. It was all smoke and mirrors and deception, herbs that made me froth at the mouth and bleed from the eyes when my visions came. It was time for me to step out from the shadows, to become a figure head for my father’s legions, an emblem of hope, a mascot if you will.  To the Romans I was, Ambrosius the far-sighted, son of Aurelius. To the Gaul’s, I chose a more familiar Celtic name; one that they could identify with, it was time for me to reveal my alter-ego. I became the great warrior Druid, and voice of the Gods, Merdyyn Emrys.

 My spies did their work well amongst the Gaul’s, adding fuel to the fire by spreading tales of the unbeatable Legion with their God blessed serpent sword. Wherever we had a victory, I was there, Caledfwich held high for all to see, and so, the legend of Excalibur was born.

Part; 4 Merlin, King of Britain.

Those years spent in Gaul are engraved into my old beating heart like Ogham script chiselled into a granite dolman slab. They were my formative years, my transition from boy, to man. They were years filled with comradeship, not only with my Legion of faithful Men, but with my father. They are memories that have warmed my old bones on many an occasion down the lonely cold path of my life which I have tread, with sore, tired feet.

Many battles we fought, more victories than defeats we won. I could go into great detail of the battles, but my hand aches from all of this scribbling, and if truth be told, one battle is much the same as another. Blood, death, screams of dying men echoing in your ears. I will, however tell you of one of the most painful days of my life.

We had faced the Huns and held our own, our Shield walls and Testudo formations had stopped those dreaded horsemen in their stride. Just when we thought victory assured, a stray arrow found its way through a small gap in our shield defences, sinking deep into my Father’s throat; he died moments later, blood gurgling from his mouth as I cradled him in my arms. Oh, the pain of losing a parent is like a sharp blade cutting away a piece of your heart. Let me tell you, that pain never goes away, it may lessen with time, but that nagging wound is left there as a reminder for all time.

Next we knew the Huns were at our throats. I looked up and there he was on horseback, breathing down at me like some deadly phantom; Attila, eyes dark and deadly, hand raised, Isten Kardja poised to strike me down. Ha! Not today barbarian! In an instant Caledfwich was in my hands, the two legendary blades came together and kissed, the harmony of their touch rang out across the battlefield, then the unthinkable happened, Isten Kardja shattered, breaking clean in half.

That was it, the Huns; their black hearts full of superstition, turned tail and fled. Attila, looked as if a devil from the deepest pits of hell had arisen to take his soul, his face was ashen, as he stared into my eyes and saw the raging power within them. Kicking his horse, he tugged on the reins and fled with his men.

We had been saved, Caledfwich had broken the spell of the unbeatable Huns, but we had lost our general, and still had the entire Hun nation between us and Rome. I took my father’s place as general of the legions, I turned my White Dragons around and headed west towards the shores of Brittany and sailed back across the channel, back home to Britain.

Much had changed in my beloved homeland since last my boots had treaded upon it. My Uncle, the Vortigern was dead, the Rot had taken him, his belly had swelled like a pregnant women’s, as his innards putrefied inside of him turning into bloody slush.

I also learned that my mother had died in child-birth. The only consolation to ease my pain upon hearing this news was that her husband, Uther Pendragon Warlord of the Dumnonni of the western isles had been a good husband. At last, my mother had found happiness in her last few years, and with her dying breath, she had given birth to a daughter, my half sister, Modron they called her, The Fay she was nicknamed, because she had inherited her mother’s timeless beauty and her far-sight talent.

 Not long after my mother’s passing, Uther re-married, for he needed a male heir to carry on the name of Pendragon. Igraine she was called, fair haired and sweet of nature, she bore Uther what he craved, a strong son they named, Owain.

In exchange for his help to usurp the High-crown of Britain, I promised to take Owain under fosterage and teach him the Roman ways, and so it was that we turned our attention to Dinas Emrys and its new King.

In my uncle’s place, his son now wore the crown of Britain, Vitalinus, my cousin. But unlike his father who possessed the iron will to rule and lead and had proven his worth many a time in battle, Vitalinus was an untested milk-sop, a spoilt brat brought up at court who couldn’t find his way from one end of a sword to the other. He was not fit to wear the precious crown of Britain; he was not fit to rule this land.

I, on the other hand was a battle hardened veteran; I had broken my teeth in the crucible of war, the blood of the conquering Romans flowed through my veins. My White Dragons descended on Vitalinus like a swarm of bees, in a frontal assault, whilst my new ally and step-father, Uther Pendragon and his army struck from the rear.

 At the site of our great defeat against the Vortigern, at Badon Hill our armies over-ran Vitalinus, I took my cousin’s snivelling head with Caledfwich, and took the crown of Britain for my own at the same time.

It was then that I did something unprecedented by a conquering force. I took down the proud White Dragon emblem of our brave fighting men and replaced it with Drag Coch the Red dragon, protector of Britain.

Why? I hear you ask. The answer was simple. I wanted to unite the people of this fair Isle, I did not want them to look upon the White Dragon as the symbol of yet another conquering force who would subjugate them and abuse them. No! I wanted the people to rally to us and support us. I wanted to show them compassion and let them live under a familiar and respected banner. And that banner was the Red Dragon of Britain ingrained into their lives and history, it was more than just a symbol it was the living breathing spirit of the land it was that which gave them food to eat, water to drink, milk to churn into butter and the very sweet free air to fill their lungs.

It worked anyway! For soon this precious Isle became a land of peace and happiness and prosperity, where the laughter of its inhabitants could be heard from coast to coast.

 

Part 5: The time of Arthur.

They say, never let the truth get in the way of a good story. In the case of Arthur this could not be more true. For in every telling of his tale, his stature and his heroic deeds grew, like a tiny nut that is fed and nourished, grows from meagre beginnings into a majestic Oak.

Arthur, that was not his birth name, played such a small part in my very long life, twenty four years perhaps before his demise. Yet the bards sing of him as if he were the greatest hero of all time. But then again, offer a storyteller a free meal or cup of ale and he will make the dullest of tales sound like the greatest story ever told. The more lavish the story, the better the benefits the bard received. With each telling of the tale, more embellishments were added, until the truth, as it was, becomes so obscured as to disappear all together.

 Bards are not historians, they are weavers of dreams, hopes and aspirations, their loom is the imagination of their captive audience, the colourful threads they use to weave these tales, are their rich words, and the finished colourful tapestry, the eager hungry minds of the listener.

I know what you, the reader is thinking; you want to hear about Camelot, the Knights of the Round Table, Lancelot and Guinevere and the quest for the Holy Grail. Well I am sorry to disappoint you, but all of these tales; as good as they are, sprung from the imaginings of overzealous, hungry and thirsty Bards with dust in their throats from wandering the long roads of our fair land.

In my overly long life, Arthur was but a single short thread, oh, but what a rich colourful thread he was.

Let us Begin.

Owain Pendragon was ten years old when he came to my court, he was an inquisitive lad, keen to learn, keen to play and keen to cause mischief; and I loved him like the son I never had.

He learned all of the courtly manners needed for his privileged position in life. He was a natural with sword, spear, bow and shield. He had an eye for the women, and they definitely had an eye for his curly brown locks, oiled beard, burly warriors’ physique and crystal blue eyes.

But, wait! I hear you cry, we want to hear about Arthur, not Owain. Oh but you already have my keen readers, for Owain and Arthur are one and the same, let me explain.

We were out hunting boar in the forest one day, when a great brown bear sprang upon us; it ripped the head from my mount. I drew Caledfwich, ready to strike it down. I struck the bear wounding it, but the pain of my sword bite enraged it even more, it smote me down with a mighty paw, shattering my leg, A terrible wound, that for the rest of my days I have had to lean on a staff of wood, limping like a half-cripple; but I digress once again, forgive an old man for his failings, now where was I? Ah yes, that ruddy bear...

Owain struck with spear, wounding the woodland beast grievously. Grabbing the fallen, Caledfwich he plunged it into the bear’s skull killing it instantly. In Owain’s hand Caledfwich’s blade gleamed in the sunlight as if it were sheathed in heavenly flame. I knew then that I had found my heir to the high crown of Britain, Lugh the sky god had shone down and revealed his will to me. And only a fool ignores the will of the gods.

Owain skinned the bear and had a great cloak made from it. Its claws and white teeth he had fashioned into two bracelets, one for him and the other I still wear, even now on my old withered wrist. And so, he became known as the bear, or in my native tongue. Arth Ddangtgwyn, and so, Owain became known as, Arthur White-tooth.

Twelve battles we fought side by side. Arthur leading his proud Red Dragons into battle, for my leg had finished off my days on the battlefield. I may not have been able to wield Caledfwich again, but my mind was as keen as ever, and worked out our war strategies, helping us defeat the Picts in the north by the great wall. In the east we pushed the Norsemen back into the sea. In the south-east the Anglo Saxons were slaughtered. Together, warrior and strategist, we protected our beloved Land and its people from all who would do it harm. We brought piece to this land with its lush green forests, this fair and beautiful land, this chosen land of the gods, with its blue sky, its  green sea and rich fertile Earth; our beloved Britain.

The banner of the Red dragon of Britain flew over this isle, not only as its protector, but as a warning to all those who coveted what we had; for if they wanted a piece of our land, then they would have to face the wrath of the Red Dragon, Merlin the wizened, Arthur and the sword of the gods Caledfwich, or Caliburn as it became known.

We had fought all the enemies of Britain and driven them back. At last Britain became a peaceful nation under our banner. The people prospered, the land flourished and all was right with our world.

 I was growing old; my fortieth year had gone by. My hair had a smidgen of grey in it and my leg ached all of the time. I was at last happy and content in my life, for the first time in over a decade I could relax. It was time for me to abdicate and name my Heir to the high crown of Britain. And in so doing, I could kill two birds with one stone. One, I could enjoy the freedom of my youthful years once more and travel without the weight of a nation and its people on my shoulders, and second, I could start by crossing the sea to Hibernia and seeking council with its King as an emissary of the King of Britain, hoping to broker a treaty of peace between our two Islands.

 The coronation of Arthur was a grand affair, Warlords and high-born from all over Britain came to see their new High king crowned, and I was reunited with my half-sister, Modron the Fay. It was a joy to see her; she had blossomed into a thing of beauty, Modron. She was not short of admirers for sure. It warmed my old heart to be in her company, as she reminded me of my beloved mother so much. She was also reunited with her brother, Owain, whom she was blatantly enamoured with and him with her.

  From every corner of the Isles, people came to see the Bear stand on the great stone of anointment. It was said that the stone was cut from the great stone temple from the southern plains, dedicated to Lugh Lamfada the far reaching sky god. And if a man’s soul was found wanting and not worthy of Kingship, then Lugh would reach out and strike them down with his spear of divine flame, Gae-Assail.

Arthur passed the test of the stone; I never doubted it for a second.

First I draped the Red cloak of Padarn across his shoulders. It was said that the cloak would only stay on the shoulders of a just and honest man worthy of its touch.

Arthur then took in his left hand the cauldron of plenty, a small cooking pot symbolising that, he and the land were one and the same, and would nourish all of its inhabitants.

 I then slung the drinking horn of Bran Galed across his shoulder, for all in his Kingdom would never go thirsty.

Next the knife of Llawfrodedd was sheathed at his hip; the knife would help him feed twenty four loyal men at his side.

 Next I placed the whetstone of, Tudwal Tudglyd in a Pouch at his belt, to keep his blade sharp and keen, to protect the land and its people from all enemies.

Next I placed Caliburn the sword of Kings on the stone of anointment at his feet.

Arthur knelt down and took the sword from the stone, swearing to protect all the land and its people, to rule wisely and cast fair judgement on all matters.

Last but by no means least, Arthur’s elite guard, The Dragons claws; twenty four loyal men formed a circle around Arthur and laid their swords down and knelt before him forming the chariot Wheel of Morgan Mywnfwar.

Arthur was the axle on which the wheel turned the swords were the spokes, holding the wheel in place and the men and their shields were the wheel. Wherever their King travelled, they would be by his side, protecting him and delivering his Justice and his word throughout the land.

The coronation was complete, the horns and drums sounded and the people cried out, ‘All hail to, Arthur our King and protector, all hail, King Arthur.’

I have to say I wiped away tears of joy on that day, to see the fruits of my labour blossom. In twelve years, the young boy who had come to my court, fresh faced with long curly hair and snot nose, now stood before me, battle hardened and draped in kingly finery, and loved by the people, and I.

As the sun set over Viroconium I rode out of the gates alone, the warmth of the setting sun on my face and the excitement of the open road in my heart.

Part 6 My Hibernian odyssey

Faith, hope and belief, these are potent emotions and ideals. A man, who possesses such things in his heart, is a man who can achieve great deeds in his life; like a pebble that is thrown into a lake, ripples form and spread out across its surface, affecting the course of all things that it touches. Individually, each of these emotions, or state of mind as We Druids call them, are powerful driving forces in a person’s life. The more of these gifts that a person possesses the heavier the stone and the bigger the ripples they cause in the pond of life, and the further their influence is felt by others.

I have met many weighty pebbles in my life. Pebbles which have sent out ripples on the water, and in so doing have changed the course of history, some for good, some for bad

 On the Isle of Ynys Mon, a sacred place for we Druids, is a secret undiscovered tomb of such a pebble, a place I would visit from time to time and contemplate the what ifs in life. If this pebble had succeeded, the face of the pond of life in Britain would have been changed forever, and perhaps I would never have been born,

A small stone, overgrown with weeds and covered with lichen is all that remains of her resting place; her epitaph all but worn away by wind and rain, looks nothing more than scratches on stone, once read;

yma yn gorwedd y frenhines cyntaf Prydain

(Here lies the first Queen of Britain)

y llewes yr ynysoedd gyda grafangau haearny

(The Lioness of the isles with iron claws)

y fflam llid gwallt.

(The flame haired fury)

Boudicca.

 

Beaten and wounded on the battlefield against the power of the Roman army, Boudicca, brave, tortured and forlorn Queen of the Iceni, was spirited away by her Druid advisor and brought here to Ynys Mon the seat of all Druidic learning, so recently defiled by the boots of the Romans, who commited such atrocities against our order.

With the blood of the Romans in my own veins, I carry this guilt with me till the end of my days. For the blood is our legacy, it is our link to the past. The sins of our fathers pumps through our veins, and oh, the pain it sometimes causes me when it rises to the surface of my consciousness can be unbearable.

But it was not to Ynys Mon that my visions were leading me, it was to the Emerald Isle of Hibernia, and my meeting with a young man who was about to send out his own ripples on the pond of life.

Hibernia.

The rain fell in heavy droplets the air was humid and a spidery mist swirled around me and my enterauge as we entered the gates of Tara, the seat of the Hibernian High-King, Niall of the nine hostages.

 We were greeted by the King’s guard, the Fianna, woad painted warriors with unruly hair and a wild untamed demenour dancing in their eyes.

Now let me tell you, these natives of this cold, wet misty isle are a supersticious lot. Untouched by the civilised hand of the Roman Empire. They lived a more simple life then we Britons, who had our straight stone highways to travel from town to town with concrete villas dotted across the landscape. These savages lived in little more than holes in the ground, they had no roads to speak of, just muddy cattle trails, my sodden boots were testament to that.

If their is one thing you could say about the wild Hibernians, they were a superstitiuos lot. They worshipped unpredictable and pernacious gods, which suited their own unruly demenours perfectly. Their principal god was, Nathrach Glas the Green Serpent.

 We Britons and Gauls knew the slithering one as Crom Crauch, a cruel god demanding blood sacrifices and the heads of the enemy to adorn his temples.

Now I am not a man to throw aspertions upon another man’s beliefs and gods, for this world is big enough for all.

Gods are like the crashing waves on the rocky shore, they are endless and there is always another one following behind ready to bash itself against the rocks and shout out its name.

Nathrach Glas was the wave of the moment but there was another wave waiting its turn to crash on the shore and wash over the footsteps of the old god and wash them away.

Yes, the nailed God was his name, I had heard of him during my years in Gaul, the Mighty Roman Empire bowed before him, now. The first ripples of his empending arrival had already wetted our shores. The time of the old gods was drawing to its end, and with it so was my time in this land, my visions had showed me as much, but I will dwell on this later and share it with you in due course. Now let us get back to the time in hand.

I Looked up at the iron grey sky above, sniffed the musty peat scented air, chose my moment well then banged my staff heavilly down. There was a flash of lightning followed by a great booming thunder clap that rolled across the sky above our heads, and you would swear a tremor ran through the ground and sparks crackled around my sodden feet.

The Fianna looked visibly shaken, by the power I commanded over the raw untamed elements.

I announced myself in their barbaric tongue, Maelduin the wizened, advisor and emmisary to Arthur, King of the Britons. I had timed my introduction perfectly, a little smile crossing over my face.

I had come to this land to forge an alliance with the High King, Niall Nóigiallach of the nine hostages, a man as wild hearted as a stag and as cunning as a fox and unpredictable as a bull.

It was my intention to stop him raiding our land and taking slaves, killing the innocent and stealing our treasures.

No small task indeed, but I am, Maelduin the Wizened, and nothing is impossible to the likes of one such as I.

All courtly etiquette was followed closely and precisely, for these serpent worshippers were quick to anger, for if they thought they were being slighted in the smallest of ways, they could be laughing and smiling hosts one moment, then a wrong word spoken, a look or the smallest gesture out of place, and they turned into snarling, howling beasts that would strike your head from your shoulders in the blink of an eye.

It was at the feast that I first set eyes on a slave, he was a man, a Briton who had been captured during a raid, he was pitiful to look upon, his hair was lank and dishevelled, his body covered in filth, scabs and sores from the countless beatings and lashings he had endured from his master Milchu, a Druid like myself, but a more severe and ruthless man. A true follower of the serpent Nathrach Glas.

There was a flash of light before my eyes as images so intense danced before my blurred vision; Tara burned, its great stone broch crumbling beneath the flames. Milchu who sat at my side was tethered to a wooden frame his tortured body flayed of its flesh screamed and shouted calling upon his god to save him, his words pounding in my ears like the roaring of a dragon.

Anáil nathrach orth bhais betha, do cheol déanta.’

 The words were haunting, chilling me to the bone. And standing before the burning tower was this slave, he was much older than he was at this time, it would be many years before this vision would come to pass; it could even be after my death. He was dressed in fine reverent robes those of a holy man I did not recognise, and in his hand he brandished a shepherds crook. All at once I knew what I had to do.

 

Our meeting had gone well; King Niall had agreed to our peace treaty, he would be given thirty head of cattle a year for as long as he wore the crown. I presented him with a golden rope neck torc as thick as my wrist.

 We took to our boat and sailed back toward our shores with one extra body in tow.

 

My new acquisition, had not been cheap, Milchu had proven to be an accomplished barterer even for the likes of myself.

The slave was called, Qatrikias he had endured six years of humiliation and degridation at the hands of his captors. But he had endured them with courage, bravery and an unerring faith in his god, for he had wetted his feet in the waters of the nailed god. In his darkest hours he had tilted his eyes skyward and fell to his knees and held his calloused hands out in front of him as he prayed to this god.

But what is this? I hear you shout, Merlin has bought this slave so that he can not fulfill the vision and play his part in the burning of Tara?

Actually, I bought him so that he could fulfill his destiny. For if I had not, he would have died within a year, sacrificed to Nathrach Glas by his master, the Druid, Milchu.

Setting foot back on my beloved shores of Britain, I set Qatrikias free and asked him what he intended to do with his life.

 He stood tall and proud and said he would dedicate his life to spreading the word of his god and one day he would return to Hibernia and cast out all of its serpents.

And in that statement I had no doubts that this remarkable young man would do just that.

 

Part 7 The Pictish Uprising.

My old bones ache and creak like a rusty door hinge in urgent need of greasing. Oh how I wish I could rub some goose fat into these old joints to ease their constant pain. My eyes, once vibrant blue and as keen as a hawks’, now are little more than watery irritations, constantly squinting through the milky blurred haze before them.

I am old, too old and ready to make my final journey to the Otherworld. But alas, my story is still not finished, and I will not succomb to the ever more enticing embrace of death until it is told in its entirity. The weather outside is cold. The wind howls and the snow drifts are deep. I can hear the waves crashing on the rocks outside. Inside my tomb, yes I sit in this stone sepulcre scribbling away, rolled parchments heaped up in a corner and empty flasks of ink littering my writing table. A hundred candles flickering, and dancing off the dozens of natural crystal formations that grow out of the cold rock walls of this tomb. a brass brazier burns its hot coals warming the air.

Soon the comforting long sleep will take me, I yearn for its release.

Maudlin old fool that I am. Let us get back to the story eh?

Those damned Picts!

As I have stated earlier, the Romans were ones for spectacle, their capitol city was full of monuments to testify to that. Triumph arches, arenas and chariot racing tracks to name but a few. Well here in Britain they had also left their mark; Vallum Aelium, the Great North Wall stretching across the landscape from Segedunum on the banks of the River Tyne in the land of the Brigantes in the North East to the Solway of Firth in the land of the Pictish Carvetii in the west.

Now the Picts would have us believe that the wall was built to keep them at bay, for even the might of the Roman army could not tame them.

Not true! The wall was built as most huge and imposing Roman structures were built for, and that is for pomp and circumstance, nothing more.

 Emperor Hadrian wanted to make a statement to the Roman Senate, to flex his military muscles, and so, up went the wall. It was not to contain the Picts at all, it was politics pure and simple.

Oh dear, I think I have digressed yet again? Forgive me, now lets get back to those damned Picts.

Britain under the wise rule of Arthur had seen twelve years of peace. The people had flourished, the land had become rich and that made others envious for what we had.

Beyond the wall, the Picts squabbled amongst themselves, their petty little Kings killing and butchering one another for a small sod of grass. Pity they did not kill each other off all together.

Some more bold than others, would often venture south of the ruined wall reaving cattle, sheep and slaves to sell to the Ceorls of Orkneyar.

News came to Viroconium of a warband of Picts who had pushed south, burning villages and taking slaves, their King was called, Golarg Mak Mordeleg.

A small contingent of the Red Dragons was assembled, and with Arthur at their helm, they rode north toward Camallan.

But where was I, Merlin the Wizened? I hear you ask. I had been travelling, and had spent the last two years in Paimpont with Vivienne the smithy. We had become enamoured with one another. For we were rare creatures, Vivienne and I. We had the old blood in our veins. We had served as eyes and ears to the Gods, our understanding of the invisible world around us drew us together. Ah, Vivienne, sweet golden haired love, how I have missed your sweet scented caress over these long years.

Yet again just as my life was becoming comfortable my visions ripped through me. I awakened screaming out Arthur’s name. For I had seen a dreadful thing, I had seen Arthur’s funeral barge with me at the tiller sailing westward toward the setting sun guided by the sea god Manannan Mac Lir, riding on the back of a great water horse the kelpie, taking us to the invisible Isles of the gods, Tir nan Og. And so I left swiftly heading back to Britain and Viriconium. Alas I was too late, Arthur had left two days earlier. With all haste I rode like a devil northwards, hoping that I would catch up with, Arthur and change the course of my vision.

The Battle of Camallan

As it was to be known, the battle in which Arthur was killed by Mordred.

Smoke from burning buildings had stained the sky as Arthur and his men approached the smouldering remnants of Camallan. Bodies of the innocent littered the ground, lying in pools of blood turned black, mixed with the ash from burning buildings.

It was an ambush, the Picts lay in wait and when Arthur and his men neared the middle of the village, they struck.

Arthur threw up a shieldwall, but they were surrounded, spears and arrows came from all directions.

The Red Dragons faught bravely and killed many a flea ridden Pict. But like my poor father years before, an arrow made it through the shieldwall and hit arthur in the leg. Seeing the King of the Britons wounded. Mordeleg, the blood fury in his veins, charged the faltering shieldwall and made it through. It was said by a survivor that he bayed like a wild beast and levelled his lance at Arthur.

Arthur drew Excalibur and met his foe head on. Excalibur shattered Mordeleg’s buckler shield and took his arm clean off. Mordeleg fell to the side spurting blood from his grievice wound, and in a last desperate lunge, pierced Arthur in the side with his lance.

Arthur cut through the shaft with a single swipe of Excalibur and fell upon Mordeleg, plunging the King Blade into his throat and out through his back. Mordeleg fell dead onto the black ashen ground.

It was at that moment that I arrived on horseback. Leaping from my mount and stumbling to the ground, I cradled the dying Arthur, Owain Ddantgwyn in my arms and I wept tears of such sorrow that my heart was torn asunder.

The Time of Arthur was at an end. I knew what I had to do, for my visions had showed me. I left a prophecy for the people of Britain, not to despair for the passing of Arthur. For as Arthur had arisen to become King, so would another rise up one day, worthy to weild excalibur and wear the crown of Britain. To lead this beloved land and its people once more to greater glory. For Excalibur and the crown of Britain would be waiting for one bold and brave enough to claim them as their own, on the western Isle of Manannan Mac Lir known as Avallach.

Part 8. The voyage of Maelduin.

Much has been written by those doltish monks about Avalon, bah! They could not even get the name right! Avallach is an island that lies to the far west of Britain across a great sea, not some hill in the middle of a marshland. Neither was the great sea voyage taken by one of their own, for I alone, Ambrosius Aurelius, Merrdyn Emrys, Merlin the Wizened, Maelduin the Druid, knows its location. For it was revealed to me in my visions. I alone have taken the voyage to that cold lonely rock with the body of Britain’s greatest King, Owain Ddangtgwyn, Arthur Pendragon. As you can see, those damn monks re-writing the rich history of my homeland in their hap-hazard foppish ways, ruffles my feathers, and boils my piss at their lack of respect and understanding of the true history of Britain, which is why I have, after so many years, taken quill to parchment and decided to set the record straight.

 

The funeral of arthur was a sad affair, the whole of Viroconium mourned their great king’s death. His body was laid out in state for the people to see and drop good luck tokens into the soul pot laid upon his chest.

There was feasting and games of skill and combat played in his honour.

After three days the funeral pyre was lit and I swear every man, woman and child of Viroconium and its surrounding hamlets came and lit their memory candles in his fire.

I watched over all of this through waterlogged eyes and heavy heart. For I had not only lost my King, but also a foster son. The grief was almost unbearable to endure.

As the the first rays of the rising sun broke across the horizon, I carefully gathered up Arthur’s ashes with a willow brush and laid them onto a golden square of cloth and fastened the ends with silver apple leaf shaped twine, then placed the ash apple parcel inside the soul pot and sealed it shut with beeswax. Capturing his essence for the next true King of Britain to use and be guided by.

It was the eve of our voyage when the loyal twenty four warriors of Arthur came to me and begged me not to leave our beloved shores. They beseeched me to once more take up the crown of Britain and wield Excalibur one last time as their lord and master.

Oh how my hand ached to hold aloft the mighty Caledfwych again, and become lord of the Red Dragons. But, alas it was not my destiny to do so. My time as King had passed. The gods had other work for me to do, now. The best I could do was pass on the leadership of Britain to mine and Arthur’s beloved half-sister, Modron the fey, with the wise council of the twenty four to guide her untested hand.

In this act, I felt I had greatly let down my loyal men. But when the gods drown your senses in their calling, all other things must be put aside and their wishes must be obeyed. And so it was with sad farewells and heavy heart that the funeral barge of Arthur took sail and left the shores of Britain.

We made our voyage in a, Knarr; a Norse merchant vessel. With eight crew and a hold stocked full of salted pork, dried meats and fish, and oats and bread. We set sail down several tributaries until we reached the Hibernicum sea. Pulling in our oars, we unfurled our white sail with the Red Dragon of Britain emblazoned upon it, and sailed northward along the coastline, for that is the course my visions had shown me.

As we sailed north past Orkneyar into the cold north open sea, the weather turned so cold that the sea became iced over and treacherous, with huge floating ice mountains threatening to rip out our hull and crush our vessel. These huge floating masses of ice were also homes to enormous roaring white bears and mighty tusked seals as big as oxen.

Onward we sailed past an island with smoking topped mountains spewing fire and hot coals into the sky. Other islands spewed boiling water upwards from great steaming holes in the ground. Some islands were barren, others were inhabited by animals or unfriendly tribesmen.

We also saw huge seabeasts lurking beneath the surface of the water, singing their hypnotic songs to one another and calling we surface dwellers to join them in the deathly cold embrace of their water deep kingdoms.

 We witnessed packs of huge black and white fish hunting  seals like packs of wolves,` crunching and crushing their prey in their snapping jaws.

As I stood on the prow of the Knarr and looked out across the sea, my minds eye would ever focus on the form of Manannan Mac Lir riding his seamount the Kelpie, looking over his shoulder at me and beckoning me onward, leading me ever westward toward his island home.

We sailed north then westward, for weeks we would not spot any land, just the never ending ocean swells. Then suddenly from out of the haze a land mass appeared. It stretched as far as the eye could see. It was green and lush and vibrant against the stark grey sea.

Turning southward we followed the curve of the land with its white sand beaches and towering treelines. Was this Tir nan Og, the promised land of of the gods?

After many days following the coastline my eyes opened wide, for on the beach stood a group of people watching us and pointing, they were tall and stood proud and defient. Their skin was dark, their black hair long with feathers and trinkets woven into it. Were they the souls of fallen warriors?

Suddenly a vision came upon me, my body turned to mush as I fell to the deck frothing at the mouth, my body cramping up painfully. I clawed my self up off the deck and looked over the prow. My vision floated before my eyes, stark and wonderful.

It was like a forest of giant limbless trees, their huge straight trunks stretching into the clouds. Trees of glass and crystal and shining metal, gleaming with bright star filled light. And towering before me on a small island in the bay was this forest’s gaurdian. A giantess, a queen in flowing robes and sandalled feet, wearing a crown and carrying a torch of flame beckoning us to her shore. Avallach! The sacred garden of golden apples.

Then suddenly the vision melted away like a morning mist.

It was not long before, Mannanan Mac Lir on the back of his waterhorse guided us to a small island. Pointing at it with his spear, he nodded and sank beneath the waves. We came ashore at last and were greeted by his children.

Like the people we had seen on the beaches, the natives of the Isle of Manannan were dark of skin and tattoed and spoke in a strange tongue, which took me a while to understand. But eventually I learned to converse with them to some degree of ease.

I found them to be wise beyond their years. They were children of the earth, like myself. They were born of the land. They understood its whispers and learned its secrets. They understood the healing and intoxicating properties of herbs and plants. They could read the future in the stars and understood the cycle of the seasons, shown to those that know, by studying the sun and moon. We were kindred spirits, and I found great peace and joy to be in their company.

There was a reason Manannan had led me here, for deep within a rocky cave the earth magic was strong here, it was heady and potent and intoxicating. My head swam from its vapours. It was here I knew that Arthur, Caliburn, and the crown of Britain would rest undisturbed until the chosen one of the future would seek them out and claim them ones more, for Britain and its people.  

With my work done, we stayed with our native friends through the cold winter, and then set sail on the spring winds back home to the shores of Britain.

 

Part 9: King Ælle and the Suth Saexe

As death’s veil draws itself tighter across my slumped shoulders, there is just enough time for me to scribble one last tale of my colourful life. Once more I would lead my proud Red Dragons into battle for the glory of Britain, and lead its people into a new era.

I had been away from my beloved Britain for just over one and a half years. I returned to a land in turmoil. My beloved Britain was in the deathly grip of a myserious plague, and the southern shores of Britain were under the rule of Invaders from across the seas. Upon hearing of Arthur’s death, a tyrant king had amassed his forces and attacked the south eastern shores at Ceint, and set up a camp of military might, readying themselves to push inland led by their self proclaimed King, Ælle.

The people of Britain said these dark times had fallen upon us since Arthur’s death. For the land without a King was a land truly forsaken by the gods. And how quick the people were to cast aside a millenia of tradition, and give up faith, and turn away from the old gods of Britain, to embrace the new untested, Christ-god of the Holy Roman Empire.

As the folk of Britain quickly took the Christ-god into their hearts, and pushed out the old gods. I could feel the power of the old ones dwindle as they retired to their misty Isles, far across the western sea.

The time of the Druids was coming to an end. Even some of my brethren had cast away their runestones and taken up the cross, so that they could lead the people into a new age.

I however could not, for my destiny was too intricately entangled in the old ways and the with the old gods. I had become a relic, a thing of the past. Soon even the name of, Merlin the wizened would fade and become nothing more than  a fairy tale told to children sitting around their hearth fires, for I had glimpsed as much in my mind’s eye.

Do not be fooled into thinking that the thought of my eventual demise saddens me, for it does not. For from stories and written tales, my name and legacy will endure and pass over into the magical realm of myth and legend, and what more can a mere mortal ask, then to have their name live on forever in the endless tales of heroes.

But I digress once more my patient reader, for was I not about to tell the tale of my last great adventure?

Then let it be written and done with.

We marched out of the gates of Viriconium amidst the shouts and cheers of the people as we headed toward Ceint and the invading Suth Saexe army, led by their King, who had the audacity to call himself, Bretwalda; which means lord of Britain. How dare this, upstart, Ælle call himself that? For I alone had the right to that title. Merlin the wizened, Ambrosius Aurelius, the defender of this great Isle, oh and how I planned to make this would-be Usurper pay for this insult.

Our white standards fluttered in the wind, emblazoned with the Red Dragon with a new added black cross to appease the rising number of Christians in our swelling ranks. I was not happy about it, but these new confounded Christ worshippers were springing up like thorny vines in a rose garden. Wrapping themselves around everything they came into contact with and squeezing the life out of it. For their angry, selfish god was not like the family of old gods I worshipped. Gods who did not mind the presence of others in their midst, indeed they welcomed and were tolerent of other dieties.

 Not so this god from the heat drenched lands of the east. This god was as unforgiving as the searing heat of the sun. It would not tolerate any other god before it, and its growing number of worshippers were just as intollerent of my kind, and would have us expelled or nailed up on a cross of wood like the effigy they wore on thongs around their necks.

Even this, Ælle used the power of this new religion to bend the gullable to his will. For he said that he carried a chest which held tablets of clay with the written words of this god upon them from the hot lands of Ludaea in the east. It was said that he came across three fleeing priests who had the chest in their possession, they were escaping an elite cohort of Roman soldiers sent to the capitol city of Jerusalem to retrieve any and all relics pertaining to the Hebrews god.

I smiled inwardly at this gossip, for was it not the same propoganda Atilla had used to weave the supernatural legend of his sword Isten kardja, and had, I myself not used this same tactic with Excalibur.

Ælle was obviously a wily fox, but he had met more than his match in me!

Well we would soon see who the victor would be, The Red Dragons of Britain, or a clay tablet from a far off dusty land.

 A great dust cloud followed us for we were so many, and even more brave men joined our ranks along the way, from Dumnonia, Mercia, Glouvia and Cerin. We eventually numbered four thousand by the time we spotted the campfires of the Suth Seaxe.

We pitched our tents, set our campfires burning, sharpened our weapons and polished our armour. Half of our warriors painted their faces in the blue woad of battle. The other half, fell to their knees with clasped hands and prayed to the Christ-god, which reminded me of Qatrikias the slave I had freed years earlier.

 Come sunrise on the morrow, blood was to be spilt and death was coming on black ravens wings to devour the souls of the fallen, as we proud Britons prepared ourselves for war.

I stood on the hill of Caer Gloui leaning on my walking staff overlooking the encampment of, King Ælle and greeted the rising sun.

The Suth Seaxe army had not been idle, they had built earthen mound fortifiactions, they had also constructed a double wooden fence around themselves with archery towers evenly dispersed.

This was not going to be a simple route. This was going to be a long and costly siege. I returned to my warband and gave the orders for siege weapons to be built with all haste.

For this, Ælla had miscalculated and made one great error when he had set his dirty boots on My Kingdom and declared it his own.

He had not reckonned on me. For I am, Ambrosius Aurelius, son of the great Roman General, and war strategist. I am the Victor of over a dozen battles, Vanquisher of the terrible, Atilla King of the Huns. Winter was coming and I could not afford a siege into the cold months, or keep an army happy in the snow and sleet. No I needed a quick victory against these invaders, and so we went to work.

We worked night and day for seven days. We sweated and never stopped until our weapons of mass destruction were ready. fifty Onegars and twenty five ballista. However we did not load our weapons with rocks, for that would have taken too long to batter those defences down. No, I wanted instant results, and so as dawn broke across the horizon we catapulted burning oil pots in their hundreds over the defensive walls.

By mid noon, the sky over Caer Gloui was blacked out with thick acrid smoke and the distinct smell of burning human flesh. The cries of the burning Saexe echoed in our ears; the sound was terrifying and haunting as the splintering gates were flung open and men in their hundreds, on fire and singed poured out escaping the inferno of their camp.

Looking down upon the carnage I and my army had wrought, I hid the feeling of horror that welled up inside of me, for I was a war general, and this was no way for a soldier to die, but I had to remain firm and sure in the eyes of my men. With blank expression I gave the order for our archers to release their arrows and put the poor, screaming souls out of their misery.

I lost count of the volley of arrows that fell upon the heads of the Saexe. Their dead were heaped up around the gates like piles of autumn leaves beneath the branches of a mighty oak.

As the night began to fall, word came to me of the Bretwalda. Ælla was not in the encampment. He and a contingent of his army had escaped and headed westward.

 Taking two hundred men, I quickly fell into pursuit of him, taking to the Watling street road.

We finally caught up to the fleeing Saexe, they had barricaded themselves into an old ruined fort, Anderetta.

I am not an unreasonable man, and so a messenger was sent under a flag of truce. My offer was simple, hand over, Ælle and the rest of his men would be spared.

Unfortunately, they declined my offer and sent an arrow through the chest of my messenger.

We burned Anderetta to the ground. King Ælle was dragged from the burning fort and brought to heel at my feet.

Ælle stood before me, defient with hate burning in his cold blue eyes for the devastation, I and my Red Dragons had wrought against his plans of domination over Britain. Spitting in my face, Ælle was a warrior-born to the last, unyeilding and stubborn, and for that I respected him.

 My justice was swift and decisive. With his own sword, I spilled his guts out onto the dirt at my feet, and before he died, I slit his throat from ear to ear and had this chest with its clay tablets brought before me.

 

 

 

Part 10; The End.

My tale, my life at last draws to its conclusion. The candles which light my final resting place sputter and burn their last. A cup sits on my ink stained table. Its deadly contents waiting to be drank. Hemlock is my chosen brew, paralysis and numbness followed by the deep sleep of death.

I have lived ninety eight years. My once youthful, lithe body honed in battle, is now a thin sagging bag of flesh. My eyes once as keen as a hawk, squint and blur, even now as my skeletal hand scribbles on this velum. I can not remember the last meal that I ate, for my body no longer needs sustenance, it is finished, crippled and worn to the bone.

But, dear reader, do not pity me, for that is not what I desire of you. I am Merlin! I desire nothing of no man. My life has been rich and filled with adventure and wonder. What more could anyone ask for?

 

The storm outside howls and whistles. Is it a lament to herald my impending end? Ah, that it was, however I think that the gods do not care that much for a mere mortal to cause such a fanfare, such a fuss, even for the mighty Merlin.

Who would have thought that the greatest Druid, general and King of Britain would end his days on this desolate rock in a cold grey raging sea, when only a few leagues to the west lies a vast continent full of greenery and natures riches in uncountable abundance.

Yes, reader I have sailed to its shores and travelled in-land and what a land it is. Its flora and fauna are strange to me, not like my Britain. It has grassy plains that stretch to the horizon and are home to herds of horned beasts that roam in their millions.

 It is also home to men. The natives of this land are true children of the Earth. The richness of their knowledge and culture warms my heart. They are one with the land, its power runs through their veins mingled with their blood, bone and flesh.

When first I encountered them a tear broke from my eyes, tears of sorrow, for these children of nature would suffer terribly in centuries to come from invading men from the east. My visions were vivid, blood stained and devastating. I mourned their passing before its time.

My far-sight can be a wonderous gift, but also a terrible one.

 

As I look around my tomb my tired old eyes fall upon a large wooden chest covered in a film of dust. Ha! I had almost forgotten about this. The chest of King Ælle.

After I had defeated Ælle in battle, I returned to Viriconium with my army and loot. I sent for Vivienne who arrived a month later. We had a winter wedding and I made her my Queen.

And so a year had passed since the victory of the South Saexe and their upstart would-be King Ælle. Peace had once more drawn its comforting arms around this beloved Isle, and I, Merlin the Great sat on the Red Dragon throne  of Britain once more.

With peace, prosperity and merriment in my land, you would think that I too, would be at peace, however nothing more could be further from the truth.

The crown of Britian lay heavy on my wrinkled brow, and my heart yearned for distant shores. The pull of the misty Isles of the gods beckoned me, their magnetic lure pulled at my very soul.

It was a divine calling that I had not ignored, for I had readied a ship with provisions and waited patiently for the spring to arrive so that I could journey once more to Tir nan Og, where my weary bones would at last find eternal rest.

 

It was a late evening in spring when I was deciding on what to take on my voyage when I came across the chest, I had forgotten all about it. Suddenly my curiosity awakened, What was its contents? What had Ælle so sure that he could not lose a battle as long as he had what lay inside of this chest?

I knelt down and reached out to open the bronze clasps. As my fingers touched the cold metal my head spun as visions flooded through my brain.

I felt the heat of the sun on my face, blistering hot. There was a city of stone in a land of sand. The land was beset with famine, plague, unrest.

I took a sharp breath at the suddeness of these images flashing through my consciousness.

A boy-king crippled and dripping in gold with skin as brown as a chestnut leads an army from a mighty chariot pulled by four pure white horses. He thrusts A spear  forward in his hand as his army sweeps forward.

I see his face, his eyes are dark, sad. There is no joy or malice in his actions towards these poor people. He is a puppet, his hand is forced by those that sit at his side and drip their poison into his young nieve ears.

People thousands of them are hurded like cattle out into this burning hot land away from a mighty stone city its walls adorned with symbols of a sun disc with golden rays stretching from it ending in hands holding crucifixes.

My head swims, all goes dark and I feel as if I will vomit, then suddenly it is night and a full moon sits in a clear sky.

 A man dressed in a goat-skin robe with a large silver disc hanging around his neck and wearing a headress of a horned bull stands before an alter cut out of the rock high up on a mountain ridge.

Behind the priest is a small offering table also made of stone, the scraps of a meal spread on it, and lying prostate on the ground behind the high priest are twelve acolytes dressed in white cotton gowns.

An ornament stands out from the alter. A stick like the trunk of a tree with six branches, three to either side with a silver disk at the top of the trunk. Candle flames flicker at the ends of the branches.

To the left of this alter is a round sacrifiacial alter, a goat lies on it its throat cut, its blood runs down a gutter into a trough where the priest scoops it up in a cup made from a goat’s horn. Turning back to the horned alter. The priest pours the blood over two stone tablets sitting on the alter.

My fingers tingle as I flip the latches on the chest and lift the lid. Falling backwards I let out a cry as my head throbs from the impact of my vision.

 

I came too in my beloved’s arms. Vivienne was cradling my head in her lap as she stroked my brow and whispered qently soothing words into my ear.

I composed myself took a sip of water and peered into the chest.

Sand! It was full of sand. I reached in and took a handfull letting it sift through my fingers. This was no sand from the beaches of Britain, but the native sand from that sun bleached land of my visions.

I began sweeping it aside until my fingers touched something solid. I dug my fingers into the sand and lifted out a stone tablet. It was heavy, with a green tint to it and it was covered in the most curious little pictures I had ever seen.

At the top of the tablet was the image of the tree-like ornament I had seen on the alter. Below it was ten neatly carved vertical lines depicting animals and birds and plants and body parts. And curiously at the bottom of the tablet was the image of the sun disc with its outstretched rays I had seen on the temple wall of the dessert city. Curious, very curious indeed.

I knew immediately that these little pictures were some sort of coded writing. But for the life of me until this very day, I have not been able to decipher. So, whatever story or information they hold still remains a mystery. I have no doubt that the whatever it is, is very important but alas its message eludes me.

 

Well, my hand aches with all of this writing, my eyes are sore and heavy, and my beloved Vivienne awaits me. I have no desire to write anymore. My story, at last is told.

I am coming to you my beloved Vivienne. What sweet bliss to hold you in my arms once more and smell the flowers in your hair and to hear the musical tones of your voice.

Embrace me, my love, for your Beloved Merlin has come to join you in the everlasting land of dreams.

 

An empty cup falls from a limp hand. A single candle sputters its last and a veil of darkness falls on a secret tomb as an age of magic comes to an end in the last sighing breath of the legend that is Merlin.

 

 

P.S

If you have taken the time to read this, then any comments would be nice to read.

Cheers,

Celtic-Scribe63.

© copyright Celtic-Scribe63 all rights reserved 2017

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Celtic-Scribe63. All rights reserved.

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