The next day Gaius found Merlin had fallen asleep on the floor by the bed, head resting on his arms that were folded on the side of the bunk. The physician couldn’t help but notice the bandage around his right forearm was already wet with blood and went over to wake him so that he could re-bandage it.
“Merlin,” He said, placing a hand on his nephew’s shoulder, “come on. Time to get up. You need a new bandage.”
Merlin lifted his head; eyes blurred with sleep, and yawned.
“How’d you get on? Find anything?” He asked, dragging himself to his feet and stretching leisurely.
“Not yet, I’m afraid.”
There was a pause.
“Is he going to be alright?” Merlin asked eventually, gazing down at Arthur who, for once, was sleeping without squirming in pain.
Gaius set his jaw and didn’t answer. There was another pause.
“Come on, let’s get that arm of yours fixed up.” The physician finally said, motioning Merlin out of the room.
Once Merlin’s arm had been re-bandaged the young warlock made to go back to Arthur but Gaius stopped him.
“You don’t need to worry about that. I’ll take care of him until you get back.”
“Get back from where?” Merlin asked, puzzled, reluctantly walking down the stairs he had reached.
“I need a fresh load of books. I’ve read through these ones.” Gaius said, gesturing widely at the stacks of books lining the room and covering the tables.
“Okay.” Merlin said with another yawn and ambled sleepily out the door, glancing back at his room but brushing the worry on his face aside.
Gaius made his way up to the spare room and began to tidy up a bit (a deed that was well over due), scuffling about as he threw an assortment of clothes into the cupboard.
“Merlin, is that you?” Arthur asked, hearing the noise and apparently not asleep as Gaius had initially thought.
“No, its me.” Gaius answered.
“Oh.” Arthur sounded disappointed.
“You wouldn’t happen to know what day it is, would you?” The physician asked casually, folding up a shirt and placing it in a chest of draws.
“No.” Arthur said bluntly.
Gaius was slightly surprised. He didn’t expect Arthur to know the actual day, especially while in the state he was, but the physician had thought he would at least understand what this day meant to Merlin.
“Its Merlin’s birthday today.” He said, standing, arms folded, a few metres from the bed.
An array of emotions flitted across Arthur’s face. First there was confusion and puzzlement but it was quickly overlaid by guilt for not remembering.
Arthur felt truly awful now. He had wanted to make Merlin’s birthday special but now his servant was going to have to spend the day looking after him.
Gaius went out the door and left Arthur thinking over what he was going to do.
What sort of present would he want? A scarf? No, he had enough of those.
Arthur didn’t have a clue what to get him but as his best friend he had to find something…
Merlin returned to Gaius’s workshop some time later, a wheelbarrow filled with books coming with him. He slammed them down in front of Gaius on the table and they both sneezed as dust filled the air.
“Right, Merlin you take that half and I’ll take this one.” Gaius said, pulling one of the towers towards him.
Merlin nodded and hauled the other pile into his arms and staggered back up the stairs to his room where he sunk into a chair, slammed the books on the floor and set one on his lap to read.
“Merlin?” Arthur asked.
The young warlock looked up.
“Do you know what day it is?”
“Wednesday. Why?” Merlin asked curiously.
“It’s your birthday.” Arthur told him, grinning widely at Merlin’s ill memory. Merlin frowned for a moment and then realized it was true. How could he have forgotten his own birthday? He asked himself incredulously, “So,” Arthur went on, “I’ve thought long and hard about what to get you but the only conclusion I’ve reached is a scarf and that’s just boring so, what do you want?”
“You mean you want to get me something?” Merlin asked foggily.
“Yeah, why not?”
“Well, erm…” Merlin thought for a moment, “When you’re better you can buy me a drink,” He said, then added, “Or three.”
“Gladly.” Arthur replied.
Merlin was surprised at this. He remembered asking Arthur to buy him a drink before but the prince had reclined in his prattish way. It was almost scary how much he had changed since Merlin had turned up…
“I never told you when my birthday was.” He said a moment later, wondering where Arthur had got the information.
“Oh, Gaius mentioned it.” Arthur said, turned over, went to sleep and began snoring.
Book after book was scanned under Merlin’s watchful eyes. He read ‘The History Of Ancient Artefacts’, ‘Many Men’s Adventures At Sea’ and a book called ‘Interesting Facts About Greek Temples And Relics’, which Merlin had to rename ‘Boring Rubbish About Nothing In Particular’.
In short he found nothing and was ready to give up when he chanced upon a book that had been hidden under ‘The Answers To Everything Roman’.
It was titled ‘Myths Of The Old Times’ and looked pretty much the same as all the other books; big, brown and about as old as a fossil.
He opened it with interest, fascination written across his face as he found it to be very much like his spell book in appearance. He swiped a sheaf of loose parchment away as he turned the next page.
The heading caught his eye.
Was that good or bad? Merlin hadn’t a clue but something told him to read the following paragraphs.
Many years ago, when magic was not forbidden, The NightmareChild was created. The great sorcerers – Jethro, Koran and Nimueh – for took a secret meeting in the mountains of Berwyn to assemble a weapon. This weapon, The NightmareChild, is believed to have the ability of holding the spirits of lost enchanters, warlocks and sorceress after they have died. The purpose of this is not yet fully understood but the men of the west think it to bring visions upon whomever the cube chooses. These visions are believed to one-day drive the watcher mad with the horrors they see.
Jethro, Koran and Nimueh cast the curse of Many Deaths upon the cube as well as innumerable other enchantments. No soul knows of a way to unbind these curses once they have taken hold of a living being. It is said to be impossible. Once The NightmareChild’s victim has been established there is no cure. The NightmareChild’s victim will die.
Merlin took a deep breath. This was it.