The Wanton Wyvern was painted in flaky lettering above the door. Arthur stared at it dubiously. A clearly drunk man ambled slowly out of the door, supporting his fellow who was gurgling some misshapen song or other, and veered dangerously towards the prince, swaying precariously on his feet. Arthur dodged smartly out the way. The man leered at him before sluggishly merging with the sea of people and vanishing.
Pulling a disgusted face, Arthur turned back to the tavern. Wondering if someone in there might be able to help him, he stepped through the doors.
He was immediately hit by an intoxicating stench of alcohol and smoke. Dozens of men sat all around the grimy tables, either smoking from long pipes or taking sips of ale from the flagons in their hands that left them with a thin line of foam on their lip.
Not wishing to mix with them unless necessary, Arthur cautiously picked his way through the throng towards the bar.
There was no one behind the counter, and after a minute or so of nobody appearing, Arthur became frustrated and rapped his knuckles hard on the wood. Suddenly, a wrinkly head leapt up.
“Ah,” he said as he produced a pipe from the inside of his jacket, popped it in his mouth and lit it before beginning to puff away. “I’m George, young sir. What’s your poison?”
“I wasn’t planning on staying,” Arthur said, watching as a man sitting on one of the seats by the bar toppled over after having belched loudly. “I was just wondering if anyone could tell me about a ship that was here a while ago.”
“Go on,” George said, resuming his smoking, sticking the pipe into his mouth and causing more billowing clouds of grey fog to fill the air.
Coughing and spluttering, Arthur waved the mist away. After a great deal of flapping, he could actually see the bartended again and, trying his best to ignore the toxic fumes from the pipe, he continued.
“My friend was press-ganged and taken away to work on a ship called The Emrys,” Arthur had to shout now because a small row had erupted in the back of the tavern. “Do you know where it was headed?”
“Pardon?” the bartended seemed not to have heard and leaned his ear towards Arthur.
“The Emrys,” the prince repeated, “where was it heading?”
“What was that? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” George put a hand to his ear and squinted his eyes, trying to listen.
“DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE EMRYS?” Arthur yelled into his ear, feeling his temper kindled.
“Ah, yes, The Emrys,” the man said, sucking thoughtfully on his pipe. “Beautiful ship t’was. You know what I heard?” he leant forward again and beckoned Arthur towards him, as if about to divulge in a great secret. “I heard they were press-ganging again to get members for the crew.”
“Yes, yes!” Arthur began to grow hopeful. “My friend was taken. Where did the ship go?”
The man was clearly trying to recall a long and forgotten memory as he finally removed that awful pipe from his mouth and tapped it on his chin. Arthur bit his lip and waited impatiently, rocking slightly on his heels.
“THE MOUNTAINS OF BERWYN!” George suddenly yelled, scaring Arthur to death.
“The mountains of Berwyn,” the bartended repeated. “Its where the Emrys was heading.”
“Are you sure?” excitement began to rise in Arthur’s heart.
“Absolutely,” the man looked quite pleased with himself.
“Where is it?” Arthur asked, leaning his head in on a hand as George vanished under the counter again and reappeared, holding a map.
“These are the mountains, right here,” he said, spreading the map out for Arthur to see. “Odd place though, if you ask me. Legend has it, that there’s a great deal of magic surrounding that place. And I wouldn’t argue with it if I were you,” he shuddered. “Really odd place, that.”
Wondering why the ship would be heading there, Arthur turned the map around and looked at it carefully for a moment. If it was indeed a magical place, then Merlin could be in danger…
What if he didn’t get there in time? What if he was too late? What if Merlin died some unnatural death? What if –?
“So, you want a drink or what?” George dragged him away from his frantic thoughts while rubbing a mug with a grimy rag.]
Arthur stared at him with wild, terrified eyes before realizing he had only asked if he wanted a drink, and quickly calmed himself down.
“I…err…no,” he muttered, feeling flustered. “Can I have this?” he gestured at the map.
The man nodded so Arthur folded it up again and stuffed it into his jacket. Deciding it was time to leave (and especially now yet another drunkard was staggering his way), Arthur quickly beat a hasty retreat and soon found himself out side the stifling pub one again.
He was going to have to hire a ship if he was to pursue The Emrys, so he joined the bustling crowd again, and muscled his way to the centre where he was driven along like a twig in a vast stream. After some time, he was brought to a boat hiring shop, but all that was outside it were rowing boats. Arthur had no intentions of braving the sea in one of them, so he moved on. But it seemed that either no one had the type of ship he wanted or if they did, wouldn’t lend him their services, so he was left rather forlorn by the edge of the crowd, sitting amongst a few barrels.
What good was he, the prince wondered, if he couldn’t even hire a boat? Merlin was depending on him for rescue; he was trusting in the prince to find him. Arthur couldn’t let him down, yet there he was, almost ready to give up hope. He felt useless and utterly wretched just sitting there, staring at the passers by of which there were many.
Too busy wallowing in self-pity and concern for his friend, Arthur didn’t notice the parrot land on a crate behind him and begin to preen its scarlet feathers.
“I HATE MORNINGS! I HATE MORNINGS!”
The prince fell of his barrel in surprise.
“Oh, sorry, sir,” a young, sandy haired boy apologized, popping out from nowhere and grabbing his parrot. “Wait…” he peered closer at Arthur, “aren’t you that prince?”
With a jolt, Arthur recognized the boy as Kaelan – one of the party of three who had taken on board himself and Merlin after they had resurfaced from the ancient temple all those weeks ago.
“Hey, Mum, Dad! Its Arthur!” Kaelan yelled over his shoulder.
John and Matilda, both as big and round as ever, pushed their way through the crowd. Matilda was swinging a basket full of chickens and John was covered in every type of hat imaginable. Arthur decided not to ask why.
“Aah,” John cried, leaping towards the prince and pumping his arm up and down, the hats shaking violently, “how are you? What are you doing in these parts?”
Arthur nursed his throbbing hand as John finally released it. Before he went on to explain, he had to take a deep breath. He wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was mentioning his friend, the friend he may never see again.
“You remember Merlin?” he asked quietly. Everyone nodded his or her heads, all grinning and oblivious. “He was…he was kidnapped by press-gangers. I’m going to find him.”
The grins slid off everyone’s faces. Even Goldrush the parrot let out a gloomy squeak.
“I’m so sorry to hear that…” Matilda came forward and, being the gentle soul she was, wrapped an arm around Arthur’s shoulder. “Where was he taken?”
“The Emrys. It’s taking him to the mountains of Berwyn,” Arthur informed her, feeling slightly shy. “I’m trying to hire a ship, but no one will take me…”
“Well,” John said thoughtfully, “you can always come with us. We’ve just come in for supplies and we’ll be off tomorrow. Why don’t you tag along?”
“Really?” Arthur looked up with both hope and surprise.
“Yeah, why not?” John said, having to grab a hat as the wind blew it off. “We were just heading back now. You coming?”
“Yes! Yes! Uhh…I mean, thank you,” Arthur said, grabbing his rucksack and beginning to follow the three as they set off down the street.The prince could barely believe his luck!