"A Young King Arthur Story"
By John Pirillo
The rose is the moon of the dragon bee's delight
The moon is the lovely of the night
The noon is the anchor of the day
As we work our hours away.
--- A Villager's Song ---
Arthur remembered one day as he was doing his daily exercises of raising and throwing his lance, as well as his sword over and over a thousand times and no less, that when he was still barely nine he would sneak out into the village at night and listen to the songs of the wives to their children. He never had that himself. He never knew who his mother was, or his father. So all the more reason to absorb the nightly works of the parents, whose children's sleepy eyes drooped with pleasure before they swam off into dream's sweet embrace.
Sarge caught him slowing. "Lad, do you feel like a windmill, or a knight?"
"A knight, Sarge."
The other knights laughed.
Arthur then saw that he was crossing his sword in a windmill direction about his body. He had no idea why he had fallen into that movement. He was horrified. He immediately began lifting and dropping his sword in the motions taught him by the Sarge. Lift high, drop low. Lift high. Drop low.
Sarge gave him a scowl, but said no more.
Arthur found himself back in that village once more, laying on the rooftop of a roughly hewn building that housed three different families. In those days families couldn't afford their own homes, so they would construct a house in common. Common houses they were called. And common they were. No plumbing. No windows, except those things that were holes in the walls, which let everything inside at night and during the day, including rain, snow, hail and dirt and grime, as well as the loud complaints of the villagers who seemed to never get a break from the drudgery of their lives.
King Uther and the Dark Lady, Morgana, saw to that. Arthur grimaced at the thought.
"Windmill!" Sarge shouted.
Arthur again was surprised to see his arms criss crossing in a windmill design.
Sarge looked on as the knights scattered to their homes, loved ones, and ones they wanted to be with, soon leaving just Arthur standing there, embarrassed and shining as red as a ripe tomato.
Sarge walked over. "What's gotten into you lately, lad? You've been coming along fine. Even the older knights are starting to accept you. Least was." He said with a grumble that bode no well for Arthur.
"Sarge, I don't understand it anymore than you."
The Sarge put his face into Arthur's and scowled even larger. "King Uther and his Lady will be watching our exercises tomorrow. See to it that you make no mistakes. Heads could roll." He lowered his voice, looking to both sides before speaking. "Or worse!"
"What could be worse than losing your head, Sarge?" Arthur asked a bit too loudly.
Sarge clamped a sweaty hand over Arthur's mouth. "Don't you ever be talking like that around me, or anyone else for that matter."
He dropped his hand. "Least not so's any but those you can trust would hear it."
"But who can I trust?"
Sarge grinned. "Why no one of course."
With those final words he rumbled off, singing a simple ditty about drinking and women, women and drinking and a horse that did funny things.
Arthur didn't get it when Sarge would break into laughter, cocking an eye back on him, but he gave it his best and smiled. The Sarge laughed even harder, and soon disappeared into the knight's quarters. Arthur slung his sword back into its rack inside the chambers, then slipped out of his leathers and boots, sliding once more into his tailor's cloth, which was light and simple, with tons of pockets for his tools. He looked up and saw the sun was no longer so high. He had to hurry. He had an order from the King's Chamberlain, and it didn't matter if it was the King or not. Anything that reflected badly on the King reflected badly on Arthur and his head was at stake as such.
Lately, more and more of the court were begging for his work. He couldn't deny them, as they always said how much the King thought of his work and would be disappointed if he could spare no time to help those in need of it.
Arthur would reluctantly agree, while inside he fumed. The villagers whom he often threaded for were going without clothing and mending because of this round of vampiric use of his work. At that thought, he shuddered. Vampires. Where did that evil word ever come from anyway?
He exited the knight's chambers, and then slogged through the wet mud and droppings of the horses and livestock that lived in the yards about the chambers. He made it to the exit from the castle, then nodding to the Guard there; he made his way across the wet moors that led to the Crystal Caves. It was a long walk, especially when he was so tired.
He had a beautiful horse he could have used, but that would have left tracks to Merlin's cave, and he didn't know how to hide that or why he needed that. He was supposed to be going into the village and his quarters there. His uncle usually covered for him and very well, but it only took one time for the entire world to come crashing down on his shoulders. And in this dark world that the King had made, such falling down inevitably led to heads falling off. Or worse if he was to believe the Sarge.
Arthur sat in front of the stone oven warming his hands. It was late. There had been a very thick fog across the moors and into the forest paths as he trekked home. He didn't like walking that late. There had been whisperings of some strange creature in the forest that would pounce on men and eat them if they were unprepared. Weirdest thing was that no one who had survived seemed to remember what it looked like.
"Coin for your thoughts, Arthur."
Arthur looked up from his stool at Merlin, who was leaning on his living staff, its single leaf on top dancing in little steps, even as it remained attached. Merlin's eyes were somber; his face lean and bronzed from the sun where he spent much of the day in the open, doing whatever it was that he did upon the tallest hill of the region. Arthur never asked, because Merlin was quite secretive when he wanted to be.
"In that case I would be a pauper. For I have none and I am still a pauper."
Merlin gave the hint of a smile. "But rich in the lore of the woods, the depth of the land, and the breadth of its waters. Knowledgeable about the rain, the snow, the mist and the fog...."
"Merlin. I'll never be a magician like you."
Merlin caught his breath, about to say more, and then sat down on the opposing stool next to Arthur. "I think you need to get out more."
"I do. Every morning. Early. Before the sun rise, and then until it sets. Sword up, sword down. Spear up. Spear down."
Merlin finally smiled warmly. He put a reassuring hand to Arthur's shoulder. "Some day you will become a great knight. Maybe even the greatest."
Arthur shrugged. "Perhaps, but I'd rather leave that to someone more suited to its craft. I prefer the silence of the woods and the breath of the hills. Like you."
He gave Merlin a hopeful look.
Merlin sighed. "Our destinies are intertwined, Arthur, but yours is not alone with mine. You have a larger destiny to fulfill."
Bitterly. "Yeah. Make clothing for the gruesome twosome."
Merlin actually broke into a peal of laughter, almost falling off his stool. Finally, he stopped, wiped the tears from his eyes and gave Arthur a close look. "Wherever in the world did you learn language like that?"
Merlin nodded. "He's a gruff one, but of good heart. You should listen to him."
"I do, or he whacks me on the behind and even behind metal as I am much of the time, I can still feel it."
Merlin laughed again, but not so long. He rose and gestured to Arthur. "Come, I have something I want to share with you."
They left the warmth of the caves and stepped outside. The mist rose almost to Arthur's waist now and would soon climb even more. Merlin was unphased by it, he continued along a path only his eyes could see. They walked for what seemed like hours and upwards. Finally, Merlin stopped. "What do you think?"
Arthur didn't realize it at first, he was too busy trying not to stumble on anything or lose Merlin in the fog, but then he saw the gigantic stones in a strange array about a center piece with a ritualistic star in hollow. "It's amazing."
"Oh, this is not what I have brought you for."
Merlin waved his staff. "This is."
The fog within the array of gigantic stones blew away from inside and the center became filled with a pure white light that emitted from the center of the hollowed stone. Then he saw it. A great sword, majestic and beautiful stuck in the stone. And from the sword rays of light lanced upwards, filling the sky with dancing light.
Arthur stood there, his jaw fallen and mouth wide open as the lights seemed to twirl and dance about each other, then weave in and out, and start all over again.
"What is it, Merlin? It's so beautiful."
"Hope, dear Arthur. It is the color of hope."
The light danced for a long time, probably most of the night. Arthur lost track of time as he and Merlin stood there watching the carnival of lights that rose and exploded like some kind of foreign weapon, or fairy magic, then collapsed back into the hollow of the stone, then back forth again only to disperse in all directions. Purples, reds, greens, deep azures, magenta swirls, chocolate bursts, blue strokes, lightning flashes of white streaking them all, enfolding them, holding them close until it expanded, absorbed the colors, then itself exploded into a shower of new colors and lights that danced jigs of unearthly beauty for a few moments, before themselves collapsing into a new formation of light and color.
Arthur watched, his heart pounding with joy. And something else. He couldn't analyze it, because he was swept up in the lightshow, an infinitesimally small piece of something so big, so huge, and so vast that he felt like a speck of dust. He honored what he saw, felt his very soul itself bowing in amazement and awe.
"What....Is...It?" He stammered between lips heavy with astonishment.
"It is the Song of Light. The hope of man." Merlin finally said as the light collapsed one last time and then ceased to brighten the hollow of the center stone. The fog began swirling in again. Merlin turned about and headed into it. They walked in silence a long time, until they reached the Crystal Caves.
Arthur was tired, and yet not so tired. He climbed onto his cot, and rather than fall asleep as he was wont, he lay there, his eyes open gazing at the ceiling, still seeing that wonderful cacophony, symphony of colors and light. "What does it all mean, Merlin?"
Merlin was standing before the stove, warming his hands. He was silent a long time, and then he spoke. "It is preparing the world for the coming of a new age. For the rise of a great one to rule over the lands and bring peace and justice. It is the hands of the angels stirring the pot of creation. It is the hope of the Bright One, the Center of All Things. It is your future, Arthur."
Merlin stood there silent a long time, expecting Arthur to comment further, but he didn't. When he turned he saw Arthur laying there, his arms over his chest, his mouth slightly open. At that moment Merlin felt more love for the child than he had for any being on earth. Quietly, he stole to the cot, and drew Arthur's rough tailored quilt over him, then went back outside.
In the heavens a bright star grew even brighter, flashing like an angel's eyes when it sees the Bright One before it.
"Yes. I know. Soon. Soon." He said, a gentle smile on his lips. "Soon."
Then he turned back into the caves and joined Arthur in sleep, resting on his own cot, preparing for the future and the next day. Much to be done. Much not yet done. Much undone that needed mending. But time for all things. Later.
He feel into a deep and restful sleep, his soul guided on wings of light to the realms where only a soul such as he could reach.