Seize the Skies
"A Young King Arthur Story"
By John Pirillo
“Seize the skies and you’ll never regret losing the ground.” Merlin
Arthur had a different agenda these days. When he wasn’t going through tough exercises that caused every muscle in his body to ache for days, then he was tailoring garments for the Dark Lady, Lady Morgana, or for the Dark Lord, Lord High King Uther Pendragon. The mirror of terror is what the common man whispered about them, when they dared trust someone, which usually didn’t last long, because the Dark Lady had whisperers everywhere who would hear any spoken words and bring them back to her.
But this day and this hour his energies were being spent on a different agenda. He was surveying a piece of swamp for the Dark Lady, upon which she hoped to one day build a castle. Her needs were simple. It had to be very dangerous, kill most who entered it, and have enough solid ground for her to build her castle and little more. It had taken him days to stretch out from the fields of the village, between the Swords…great mountains that pierced the sky with crows of snow and ice, but were barren of trees and foliage, and populated with black, evil stone rumored to cause sudden death to all who touched them, leaving them with gaping holes in their bodies.
Hence the name: Sword Mountains.
But that was only one direction. The other was the distant sea, which was usually reachable by a number of beaten roads over which traders and other luckless souls traveled to the realms. Luckless, because all who entered the clutches of the Dark Lord and Lady, rarely ever left.
Arthur snapped out of his dark reverie and brightened. Merlin.
He turned to look and Merlin slid off beautiful silver mount, a unicorn, he had found in the Golden Forests behind the Crystal Cave. He had raised it from a foal and no it was stomping, ready to pound the earth anywhere and anytime, giant of a horse with one wicked horn between its eyes.
“Good Spirit.” He said soothingly, and he dismounted.
Spirit, the horse’s name, nickered in a sweet melodious voice, then began satisfying its hunger on the thick sods of grass and flowers that grew abundantly so near the swamp Arthur was approaching.
“Merlin!” Arthur greeted happily.
“I thought you might need a hand in this project, so I brought my best scout.”
He clapped a hand gently on the mane of Spirit and it turned its head from its food and rubbed its cheek against Merlin’s arm. Arthur envied that touch, as Unicorns would allow none to touch them who were impure in any way. They were made of pure magic and pure love. None could fool them or lead them astray. Those who tried, usually got stomped beneath their hooves.
“And a right pretty one, he is, Master.”
Merlin laughed when Spirit rose up slightly on its back feet, and flung its hooved feet towards Arthur, who quickly backed away.
“You should be careful not to insult Spirit, you know he’s very sensitive about his gender.”
Arthur laughed, and then bowed to Spirit. “I apologize master of the earth and wind.”
Spirit nickered in a satisfied tone, then went back to working through the sods beneath him, but still keeping a wary eye on Arthur, who made sure he was on the other side of Merlin just in case.
Merlin pointed to the weeded path that strayed into the leading swamp, its edges damp with moss and bitter flowers…a kind of flower used for healing by many of Arthur’s kingdom.
“Ah, I see medicine.”
Arthur sighed. “I see stinky clothing, perhaps a bite or two and a swollen face from the bugbites.”
“The bugbites would never bite you, Arthur. You’re much too sweet for them; they prefer salty old dogs like myself.”
Spirit chose that moment to snap a piece of Merlin’s bottom, causing him to yelp.
He sighed. “You’re right, Spirit. The bugbites don’t discriminate against young or old, sour or sweet. They just bite.”
Spirit shook its head yes, then returned to its feast.
Merlin sighed once more, and then joined Arthur at the swamp’s edge. “It’s not a safe path this way, lad.”
Merlin went back to Spirit and took his long staff from its holder on its side. He wove intricate patterns in the air above the swamp waters. The waters began to boil and receded, revealing a path of slimy rocks that twisted and turned in many directions, but always led south.
“What way is that?”
“Where she must build her castle.”
Arthur and Merlin stopped their way across the path of slimy rocks and surveyed a small islet in the middle of the swamp. Arthur nodded his head, as if having been spoken to. “Exactly what she would want. Dirty, filthy, ugly, lots of horrid creatures.”
He said that after a poison snake revealed itself in the slime, then slithered away to be joining other ones hidden in the swampy grasses.
Merlin laughed. “Don’t hurt their feelings Arthur. Even the poison ones have their purpose. And feelings.”
Arthur suddenly remembered how Spirit had acted and stepped to a higher stone away from the slime.
Merlin laughed again. “They won’t strike you as long as I am with you.”
“Why not? They can’t help their nature.” Arthur protested indignantly.
“Why? Because it is not my nature to let them.” He laughed.
Arthur puzzled over that several moments, then leaped onto the beach of the small islet. No sooner did his boots strike dirt, and then the waters, which had receded, began pouring back into view. So fast that water splashed onto Arthur’s boots, washing away the slime upon them and replacing the slime with bits and pieces of moss and soil.
The skies turned black as charcoal and the heart of the Dark Lady as Arthur and Merlin got their fire going in the middle of the islet. A myriad of tiny creatures poked their heads from the bowers of trees, shrubs, holes and grass to watch them, their tiny eyes sparkling with curiosity.
Arthur warmed his hands over the blazing fire, kicked his boots off, and warmed his toes as well.
Merlin stood at the edge of a small pond, looking into its depths, where tiny fish swirled in fractal patterns that spread outwards and downwards. “Curious.” He finally said, turning away to look at Arthur. “Why would she choose such a holy place to build her darkness?”
“Why are you asking me? You’re the master!”
Merlin laughed. “Of something’s. Not all. No soul on this planet could know everything there is all at once, but must grasp the knowledge piece by piece as the Light reveals it to him.”
Merlin sat down opposite Arthur, spreading his cloak on the moist grass, to deflect its dampness. “Arthur, you’ve been negative since the moment I’ve arrived. What is bothering you?”
Arthur took a deep breath, relaxed a tiny bit, feeling the tension subside, then looked at his friend and mentor. “Merlin, why do people have so much need for wealth and power? Uther is always conquering a new village, a new land, a new people to accumulate power. Morgana never tires of torturing and tormenting the very people who serve her, while building ever more circles of dark magic about her. I just don’t understand why they have these great needs.”
“I doubt they do either.” Merlin said finally after a long pause.
“What do you mean?”
“First, I think we need to attend to some hungry beasts.”
Arthur jumped up, looking hurriedly around. “Where?”
Merlin barked with laughter. “Arthur!”
Then Arthur’s stomach growled like an angry lion, causing his body to quiver with need.
“Oh.” He finally said, humiliated by his fear. He sat back down. “That kind of beast.”
Merlin didn’t reply, instead he plucked a wild flower and set it before the flames of the fire. “That which is sweet and pretty, shall nourish our spirits with that which is fulfilling and rich.”
The flower began to grow and as it did, it spread itself out into a table, then began sprouting pints of liquid, plates with steaming vegetables, bowls of soup, and hot, sizzling fish.
“Wow!” Arthur cried out and reached for some of the food.
“Wait!” Merlin commanded.
Arthur stopped himself. Then bowed his head. “We thank the Light for that which It has given us and are grateful for the abundance we are supplied.”
After they finished the meal, Arthur asked again. “You still haven’t answered my question.”
“Arthur, people are like our hungry stomachs. Until they are full, they will never realize h own empty they are.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It does. A man who is half empty seeks to fill himself with that which he imagines will bring fulfillment. For some that is power, control, and money, magic, whatever. All have a craving to be more than they are. It is natural to the human condition.”
“But why do they want so much?”
Merlin looked into his hands, spreading his fingers out, as if enclosing a great secret. “Some are never happy with what they have, no matter what they accumulate. Those must sometimes…with the Light’s permission or not…discover the truth.”
“How, if they work contrary to the Light?”
“Why then the Light will work contrary to them!” Merlin said with finality, flinging himself down on his cloak to sleep. Spirit walked over and stood over him, nickering softly.
Arthur pondered Merlin’s words.
Tomorrow he would head back to the castle, to give Morgana what she wanted, but what would she do with it, once she had it. He yawned. Those are questions for another day.
He lay down near the fire, his stomach full, and his heart warm with friendship and danced off into the happy oblivion of deep sleep.