19. Back in the Flesh

“Your Majesty,” Merlin said as he walked into the great hall of Camelot.

“Merv, my churl!” King Arthur greeted the enchanter. “You’re back! What news have you for me from the east?”

“Your Majesty,” Merlin greeted as he knelt. “It’s bad out there. Avoid the east at all costs. The Saxons are dropping like flies. More importantly, the Damsel who arrived at your kingdom with a mysterious sword. She was here yes?”

“Hard to forget, yes,” the king replied. “Balin managed to pull the sword out.”

“Yes, yes,” Merlin said. “And proceeded to behead Lady Viviane of Briosque.”

“Yes,” the king replied. “We were all very surprised. Especially when he stole my sword.”

“Steal… your sword, my liege?” Merlin asked, puzzled.

King Arthur cleared his throat.

“Yes,” King Arthur said. “While you were gone, the strangest thing happened. Excalibur was returned to me.”

Merlin was stunned.

“Returned to you?” he asked. “How?”

“Well, Lady Viviane brought it to me. She just… showed up with it.”

“But that’s impossible,” Merlin said, baffled. “The Excalibur was destroyed. It shattered during your duel with King Pellinore.”

“Yes, but I can assure you,” Arthur insisted. “This is the same Excalibur that broke, one and the same.”

Merlin froze.

‘Excalibur,’ the mage thought uneasily. ‘It chose her?’

“This… this was not written,” Merlin muttered to himself. “None of this was written.”

“Hm?” Arthur uttered inquisitively

“Hm? Oh—nothing,” Merlin said. “Maybe… maybe, it’s nothing.”

“I’d show you the blade itself so you can identify it firsthand, but Balin took it from me,” King Arthur said, pounding the armrests of his throne with his fists. “That Balin. Did you know I recently knighted him? After he pulled out that mysterious sword from the scabbard? But, you’ll be glad to know that he’ll soon be… unknighted. He used to be my prisoner, you remember? For cutting down Sir MacGilleChrìosd?”

“Your cousin,” Merlin said, trying to hurry the conversation along. “Yes, yes.”

“Yes,” King Arthur said. “That Balin. One and the same! That’s the one who managed to free the mysterious sword. Then he proceeded to steal my sword!”

King Arthur seethed silently on his throne, beating the gold armrest of his throne with a tightly clenched fist.

Merlin cleared his throat.

“As I was saying,” Merlin said. “The mysterious sword the Damsel brought is Tyrfing, and the Damsel is a treasonous individual, perhaps the falsest one I have ever come across. I have personally been tracking her for some time now and know her intentions well. She seeks a champion to slay her own brother.”

“Why?”

“For her brother cut down her lover.”

“How terrible!” Arthur replied. “Who would do such a thing to their own sister!”

“Yes,” Merlin said, narrowing his eyes at the king. “Yes, yes.”

Merlin cleared his throat once more.

“The sword is cursed,” Merlin pressed on. “The wielder will not only slay his best friend with it, but also the man he loves most in this world, and will ultimately be the cause of his own destruction.”

Merlin spun about and lifted his arms for dramatic effect.

“Beware the Damsel!” Merlin warned the court, sending gasps running throughout. “The Damsel is the falsest Damsel that ever did live. She’s fiddly as fay, and not to be trusted. And that brings me to my next point.”

Merlin lifted his arms up into the air.

“A plague approaches from the east!” he shouted. “It travels west from the Angles and the Saxons, who contracted it from their battles with the Romans, who themselves contracted it from trading along the Silk road. And now it is here! And it will cause all who contract it great suffering. Painful swelling in the upper thighs, rotting off of the hands and feet, and obliteration of the lungs.”

More gasps ran throughout the court.

“Good, they deserve it, those bloody bastards,” King Arthur said. “Those Vikings stick around like a thorn in my foot. God knows it took everything we had just to uproot them from Powys, push them back east past Penngwern, past Cameliard and past even Listeneise! We shoved ‘em right to the edges to the isles. Let ‘em suffer for all I care. Maybe this illness will help diminish their numbers. Without manpower, they’ll be damned fools to attack us!”

The king huffed as the court murmured.

“Enough Briton blood has been spilt by those devils,” he spat. “Curse you, Vortigern. Was it worth it to invite these monsters here? And for what? To help defend us from the Painted One? Now, the Painted Ones are the least of our problems…”

He looked about his court, with hatred, regret, and gastronomical demands overflowing from his heart.

“Ancelot! Bring me ale!” the king barked at a servant. “And more pastries, damn it!”

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