Piercing eyes gleamed with fanatic intent from the cloaked figure. He stood outside the tower window perched on a narrow ledge like some dark raven poised for flight. He smiled in satisfaction at the things he had just witnessed, many things that were in his favor. Now he knew the dragon still lived and from time to time leaves his lair to venture out leaving the treasures unguarded.
At first, he had been enraged that they had all slipped through time together. He did not need Tony, or even Margo, although she had been somewhat handy just to gain information on what was being said, what the others knew and what they intended. He had leached all the information out of her that he could manage in the span of a few hours. Then he sent her back with her friends. He found his attraction to her to be extremely puzzling.
What he did need was Arthur and Merlyn to work together and lead him to the location of the treasures. But this could not take place until certain events played themselves out in time. It was still too soon and they would need watching to be certain events were not changed from their original patterns before they could lead him to the treasures. He had to move them forward in time.
It was going to be very touchy now that John had regained his memory and knew he was Merlyn. He wondered if he had also regained his skills. Merlyn would know how to manipulate time if all his faculties were restored.
The sound of voices growing louder as they came up the stairs had sent him scurrying out the window to hide and hopefully, overhear their conversations. That had taken a great deal of his energy, for he had grown old in that accursed future while he waited for the new Arthur to be born and for Merlyn to come looking for him. It was just a rare stroke of good fortune that Merlyn met with atmospheric anomalies that disturbed his transit from so many years in the past and gave him amnesia. It had been very clever of Merlyn to go back to his younger years before attempting the journey. Yes, Merlyn was clever, but not invulnerable to an occasional mistake in judgment.
If only he could get his hands on the chalice, and with what he had learned; he would have more power than anyone who had ever lived. He struggled to be patient. Even though he was a little mad, he was not stupid. So he waited and listened as they all came to the room where he had purposely lit a torch so they would come to him. He knew they were looking for Elizabeth. He also knew they were out there and he wanted them close so he could listen and learn of their plans. They must be feeling very vulnerable and have clearly realized that they were now in the past.
He had no idea how to manage them now they were here. He could hear them questioning Merlyn. They were stunned to learn his identity when all along they thought he was Mordred. It was all he could do to keep from laughing aloud.
It was not until Margo moved near the open window and saw him out on the ledge that he was given the opportunity to take care of the elimination of the very two that were in his way. Margo recklessly came and leaned out to see him better. Tony thought she was going to fall, so he grabbed her but in doing so, lost his balance and sent them both plummeting out into space. This presented the chance to send them forward in time. There was not a cloud in the sky and this was a delicate challenge to his ability that he could not resist, but he had learned from a master. He was very capable of weaving the threads of the spell to make them vanish. In fact, it was so elementary to him that it was accomplished in the blink of an eye and they were gone.
Arthur stood staring in disbelief at the open window that yawned out where the two had just vanished before his eyes. Merlyn grabbed his arm and pulled him from the room, down the stairs and out into the courtyard.
“Let’s get out of here. Now!” he said. Arthur started to say something but Merlyn would hear none of it.
“Just move and do it quick.” They ran down the road following the circular path not daring to look up to the window where Tony and Margo had disappeared. The steep descent allowed them to run fast and reach the level ground so they could take shelter in the forest. Breathless and in shock, Arthur stopped to take a moment to recover. Merlyn shook his head and spoke in low breathless tones,
“We must get away from here.”
Arthur had regained some of his ability to speak after the sprint down the hill and he protested angrily,
“But they may be hurt, we have to help them.”
“We cannot help them now. They are no longer in this time with us. We have to get away from here or we might find ourselves in the same dilemma.
With this, Merlyn took off running again and Arthur did not hesitate to follow him. They ran across the bridge, plunged into the dense shrubs. Soon they were covered with scratches from thorns and branches. At last, they came to a clearing that allowed them to continue running without hindrance and they just kept going. After a while, they slowed and both dropped to the ground dripping sweat and exhausted. Both men were fit and young but they had been running for at least four miles.
“Do you think we are out of range of whatever that was?” Arthur looked wild-eyed at Merlyn. “Just what was that anyway? The air hummed like a shock wave and nearly made me deaf. My ears are still ringing. What caused that to happen?”
Merlyn removed a water bag from his pack and took a sip, then handed it to Arthur with a kind of lop-sided grin.
“That, my dear Arthur, was Magic.”
“Well where did they go? What happened to them?”
“That I cannot tell you. I didn’t make the spell. But what I can tell you is that it was someone who knew what they were doing.
“Tony and Margo could be anywhere now. We can only hope they are back where we all started and are safe. Which reminds me, this might be what also happened to Elizabeth or it could have been a natural cause that sent her away. The more you do this, the easier it becomes. There are many things that can cause it to occur. Lightning storms, an eclipse, or even a full moon is a possibility as long as you know how to make them work. Sometimes you can just stumble into the right vibration and off you go whether you like it or not. But this last bit was pure magic. I could hear it and smell it.”
Merlyn stood up and motioned for Arthur to follow.
“Come on, we must keep going.”
“Where are we going?”
Merlyn thought for a moment before he started walking as he explained.
“For now, let’s go see William, Matilda and the boy. We will need a little help with more supplies before we set out to another destination, and I need to check on that young man. His safety is of prime importance.”
They walked all day, only stopping briefly to take a sip of water and continue on. It was nearly sundown when they left the forest and they could see the cottage in the distance. The smell of wood smoke was an indication that supper was cooking and Arthur had never felt such eager anticipation to see his friends as he did that moment. They were nearly at the door when a tall youth walked from the house carrying a water bucket and headed down the path to the nearby stream. Arthur stopped in shock and looked at Merlyn.
“It happened to us too. Didn’t it?”
Merlyn looked down at the ground, shook his head, then turned his eyes on Arthur and they were filled with tears.
“Yes. Yes it did.” Then he pointed to the youth that was bending to fill his water bucket. “There is the future King of England and his time has come.”
As Merlyn started to walk toward the young man, Arthur grabbed his arm.
“Wait just a minute. What if whoever did this to us, is here with us too? Isn’t that a possibility?”
Their conversation had attracted the boy and he came hurrying toward them, then stopped as he recognized whom they were and dropped the bucket, then came on running.
“Arthur! John! Is it really you? Oh, I have waited so long to see you again. I have so much to tell you.”
He laughed and ran up giving each of them a strong hug.
“Why didn’t you come sooner? I guess Lamrey couldn’t make you come so you must have been very busy.”
Arthur could not bring himself to say that they had only been away since the day before. It was almost too much to digest so he just kept quiet smiled at the boy and drew the small wooden horse from his tunic to show him he still had it.
“Well come inside, Matilda will be so happy to see you. William is ill and we could use a couple of hands around here.” He chatted all the way back, telling them all the news of his animals, his new horse, a real one, and how he kept up all the chores on his own since William had been ill.
Later that evening after all the welcome talk had quieted; they sat in front of the cottage and looked up at the stars. It had been a terrifying day that ended in a warm homecoming with friends. Questions about Margo and Tony were deferred by saying they had gone on a trip to a different place. It would have been difficult to explain. As long as young Arthur was with them, Merlyn and Arthur spoke of the welcome peace they felt and talked of the constellations of the stars. At least, Arthur had that pleasure before the turmoil that was sure to come perhaps as soon as the morning.
With Merlyn’s words ringing in his ears, Arthur was apprehensive because he knew what should take place next. But for some reason, things were not quite the same as the legends told. There had been no fostering with a lord who had a son named Cai and there was no tournament scheduled where they would go to a gathering of kings from the surrounding lands. Would the sword be in the stone as in the legend? Arthur was eager to have a chance to discuss this with Merlyn. There were differences in the events, as he knew them to be.
At last, young Arthur stood and announced he was headed for bed. He had been up since early morning and busy with his work. He smiled at each of them and went inside.
“Good Night Arthur.” Merlyn watched him go then turned to gaze up at the stars once more.
“Ancient stars; there is the true magic, Arthur.”
“How can you be so relaxed and casual right now? We are in a real pickle here.”
“Now pickle is a curious thing to say. I suppose you mean that we can expect more trouble. Is that right?”
“Yes that is exactly what I mean. I am worried about many things. Like what do we do if this magic caster shows up looking for us and sends us off somewhere we may not want to go? I think we should get out of here first thing in the morning if not sooner so that our friends will not be in danger. But that is not really what is bothering me so much. I know you are the greatest wizard in all history. So you should be able to handle any kind of trouble.”
“Well come on and tell me what really is bothering you then.”
Arthur thought that Merlyn had developed a most penetrating gaze since his memory returned, compelling was the word that came to his mind. There was more there than just memory. All the power of his greatness was returning as well.
“All right here it is then. I am sure you are aware of the legends of King Arthur. Many books have been written about him. He has been a legend for centuries. But the story has remained fairly consistent when it comes to how he became King. Now here I am right in the middle of the event and things are not the same.”
Merlyn just smiled and looked up at the stars again. “I suggest that you wait and see what happens. It will all play out as it is meant to. If it is different than you expect, then perhaps it will turn out for the best. We have a long way to go before this adventure is finished, Arthur. The fact that you are here plays a very important part in the outcome. I will tell you this much. By being here, you are fulfilling a promise. One day you will understand that.”