1. On Parts

Read it to me!

A young man walked north from Camelot towards the lands which held Merlin’s machines. His name was Balin, and he carried with him a fine set of magical tools—loaned out to the young man from Camelot’s workshop—hanging from his belt, as well as several parts of different sizes and shapes in his many pockets. The man was ordered by his ruler, King Arthur, to fix a machine that the royal court believed to be malfunctioning. The Knights of the king’s court were busy with many, much more chivalrous errands.

Balin—who was not a knight like Sir Percival, or Sir Lanceor, or his own dear younger brother Sir Balan—was available at the time to do the king’s bidding and investigate the issue. King Arthur sent Balin on this adventure. He was to go inspect the situation. And, if possible, Merlin added with a serious look, repair the machine if it is broken.

Then the old, bearded enchanter turned to the king.

“I must take leave in haste, my liege,” Merlin said.

“And why’s that, my churl?” King Arthur asked, curious.

“I have to investigate an illness that’s spreading among the Angles.”

“An illness? What sort?”

“A bad one, my liege,” Merlin replied. “A very bad bug indeed.”

“What happens when one catches said bug?”

“Their hands rot and fall off,” Merlin answered. “And, sometimes, they get large, painful boils that fester upon their… inner thighs, and upon the neck.”

“Oh, dear!

“Yes, it’s bad,” Merlin continued. “And almost always, after the hands fall off, they die.”

“How horrid!”

“Yes, yes,” Merlin said with a sigh. “Off I go then. I bid you adieu, my liege.”

“Goodbye,” King Arthur said, then cupped his hands to shout as Merlin approached the exit of the throne room. “Return as swiftly as possible when possible, my churl.”

“Yes, my liege,” Merlin said, waving as he continued to walk out of the throne room.

“And be sure to protect yourself!” King Arthur shouted to Merlin. “No one will be there to pick you up if you fall like when you fell in Badon!”

“Ah, yes,” Merlin said, slapping his forehead.

The enchanter turned about and knelt, before rising again and then murmuring a few magical words to himself, casting an invisible barrier that not only protected him physically, but also protected him from noxious airborne particles by filtering the air within the small bubble in his peripersonal space.

And so Merlin went on east, while Balin travelled on north of Camelot towards the enchanter’s machines. The young man walked a great distance along open fields and very low hills until he came upon the gigantic machinations of Merlin’s design. They chugged loudly as they turned and spun and worked. He carried on walking until he came across some narrow metal pipes in the tall grasses beneath him.

He stared at them for a moment, then decided to keep them.

His pockets, however, were full. To make room, he decided to rid himself of some one-and-a-half inch gears that were sitting in one of his pockets.

“A shame,” he murmured to himself as he casted them aside. The small gears landed with a soft thud upon the ground.

He grabbed the pipes, then continued on his way towards Merlin’s machines. He passed by more incredible machines, as well as a very empty Crown storage crate, and walked along for several miles until he arrived at one of Merlin’s older machines.

It was designed to churn the air with large vertical-axis fans. But it was still. A static gestalt of motionless cogs and arms. The air was unperturbed here. The winds of magic stagnant and concentrated, thick with potential energy and rich with possibility.

Balin walked towards the monstrous, magnificent machine and scanned the many signs appended to it. One-by-one, he read the strange symbols, which he had studied back in the libraries of Camelot as per Merlin’s instructions.

Finally, he came across a sign he was looking for. He approached the machine and scanned its side as he walked along. His eyes ran along the mucked up surface of the once gleaming chrome metal, and the many small panels that protruded from its flank like boxy pustules.

“Here we are,” he said, stopping to tap upon a panel scrimshawed with one long horizontal line and four shorter lines emerging from the right side of it.

He pulled on the panel door, revealing a tangle of cogs that consisted of a broken one-and-a-half inch gear.

“Uh,” he muttered to himself as he patted his pockets and harrumphed when he pulled out a narrow pipe. “Hm.”

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