It was dark, impossibly dark.
A lone figure emerged from the gloom. It was clad in a long, jet-black, sweeping cloak made of some kind of shimmering silk that covered every aspect of its body. Maybe what was most frightening about this was the fact its face was hidden. Instead there was a murky black pit, full of shadows.
The figure stopped walking towards the prince and stood, silent, with his hands inside the long ghostly sleeves that flowed around him like a cloud of velvety silk. He did not speak.
Arthur did not know why, but something was keeping him silent, also. He only sat, staring with wide, terrified eyes.
For some time the cloaked figure stood there, watching him, before it slowly raised an arm and pointed into the thick darkness wrapped around the trees to its left. Arthur’s eyes followed where it was now gazing, but all he saw was danger.
The figure continued to point, its arm straight. It clearly wanted him to go there, but why should he trust this stranger? Arthur, being Arthur, would have demanded the answer to that question, but before he realized it, and with absolutely no power over himself, he began to walk down the path the figure was designating.
Darkness took him. In a matter of seconds, he was enveloped in the gloom and he soon found himself groping around for something, anything, that he could catch hold of to stop him falling.
Judging by the sound of soft footsteps behind him, the figure was following. It stopped when he did, but still did not make a sound.
Eventually, the darkness thinned and a small clearing came into view. In the centre, there stood a stone. It had some kind of lettering on it that seemed to shine faintly with a dim blue light.
In the stone there was a sword, stuck fast and emanating a gentle golden glow. The hilt was also golden, and the blade was long, though half of it could not be seen for it was embedded in the rock.
Captivated by the elegant weapon, Arthur did not notice the shadowy figure glide around him and stand a little way from the stone. Once again it pointed.
Tentatively, he approached the rock, and as he grew closer, he discovered there was a warmth surrounding it. Putting his hand on the hilt, it fitted perfectly into the shape of his palm and sent an electrifying sensation up his arm. It felt so…right.
Gently, he pulled. Without a moments hesitation it slid out of the stone, making a soft ringing noise as the very tip was released. It was balanced in his hand perfectly while he gave it its first swing. He was sure it flashed as he did so, but it was so quick, he couldn’t be certain.
The figure drifted silently towards him. He turned to face it as it pulled a long bundle wrapped in scarlet silk out from its cloak and held it in both hands, waiting for him to take it.
Slowly, he put out a hand and pulled away the silk to find a scabbard. He was surprised to see the Pendragon crest engraved on it – a magnificent golden dragon. After taking the scabbard, he slipped the sword inside it, where it made a satisfying click as it fell into place.
“Its name is Excalibur,” the figure finally spoke, its voice strong and smooth. “You will need its services before the end.”
Arthur watched as it retreated, fading until it was gone altogether. The sword lay heavy in his hand as he looked down at it. He fixed it to his belt before taking one last glance around the deserted clearing and making his way back through the forest to the ship that awaited him.
After a night of little sleep, The Neptune was cast off and the journey began. Arthur wanted to be of some use, so he asked for a job to keep him occupied. He didn’t expect quite the amount he was given…
There was lookout duty – that was pretty simple – and dusting the cabins, but there were more difficult tasks, which involved knowledge of knots…
Take the ‘Alpine Butterfly’ for example. When John had mentioned it, Arthur had glanced around, expecting to see a butterfly fluttering past. John had laughed heartily, causing Arthur’s face to burn with embarrassment.
Kaelan showed him how it was done, and when Arthur finally thought he had perfected it and used it on the rigging, the sail had fallen down, thereby creating more work for the young prince. But after a hectic few minutes – though it had felt like years – the sail was eventually put to rights, and everyone continued with their various chores.
All day, Arthur was pestered by Goldrush the parrot who loved to swoop in from no where and settle abruptly on his shoulder, making him jump and drop whatever he was carrying, which very often was a bucket of fish (Matilda would spend a lot of the day catching and cooking them). After muttering a few curses, the prince begrudgingly gathered up the slimy fishes and replaced them in the basket.
The first day past so quickly, Arthur was shocked to see the sun setting over the horizon, casting a sheet of burnt orange over sea.
He didn’t sleep well that night either. It seemed he wasn’t cut out for sea life, what with the constant rocking of the ship and all. The parrot that sung like a bunch of drowning cats outside his window every night wasn’t helpful either…
Also, he was worried about Merlin. Arthur wasn’t an expert but he did have an imagination, and one that often liked to get carried away. His mind would not stop playing out gruesome fantasies over and over again, both scaring and annoying him. He wasn’t sure which emotion was worse.
Days turned to weeks in no time at all. That also meant that Merlin had been on his own vessel for the same amount of time.
Was he well treated? Did he get enough to eat? Were people kind to him? Did he have a proper bed? What work did he do? Was he safe?
All these question buzzed continuously around the prince’s head. He would often get a sharp telling off now and then for not paying attention, because he had been staring into space, trying to work out the answers, which of course was impossible.
Compared to his friend, however, Arthur may as well be living the life of luxury in a great palace, surrounded by doting servants that waited on him hand and foot.
If the prince had known the conditions Merlin was living under, he would have done anything possible to speed the ship up, even if it meant shouting at the sky to make the wind faster, for Merlin’s stay on The Emrys was not pleasant.
Gruelling, filthy, long and hard were a few of the words that might have described Merlin’s chores on the ship. It seemed that Sheridan was intent on keeping to his word and giving him the most work. This, however, did not mean he got any praise for it.
Merlin slaved away above and below deck, preparing meals, moping, dusting, polishing, cleaning and anything else Sheridan could think of. And he was not even given any food for it. But that did not mean he was left to starve. He was given a few crumbs, but it wasn’t enough to sustain any person, let alone one who worked all-day and frequently part of the night.
The young warlock did have a plan to sort out this lack of food, however. He was scullery boy, which meant he prepared all the meals for the crew, so he often nibbled a little at each plate of food, but only such an amount so no one would notice, and if they did then just mistake it for loose rats.
What was maybe the most depressing aspect of the work on the ship, was the fact that whenever he finished all the jobs on his list, he was immediately handed another, which involved yet another set of what seemed to be pointless tasks.
Merlin was not sure how he got them all done in time, though sometimes he didn’t and Sheridan wouldn’t hesitate to take action. Merlin would find himself countless times at the mercy of the whip.
Every night he would crawl into his little pile of ropes to lick his wounds. He’d tried once before to take lodging in a hammock and even though no one inhabited it, he was thrown out regardless and told to sleep on the floor where he belonged.
All this misuse was slowly but surly wearing Merlin away. His ribs began to show, the bruises that covered his body never seemed to disappear, he would repeatedly find himself too thirsty to talk, and he was always tired, which was utterly different from his normal perky and enthusiastic self.
After the first week had past, Merlin had abandoned dreaming of a miraculous rescue and was instead thinking of throwing himself over the side of the ship, preferably before Sheridan did.
But all he wanted, all he really wanted was a bed to sleep in, food to eat and most importantly, people who cared. People like Gaius and Gwen, his mother and Morgana.
But whom did he miss the most? Do I really need to say?
It was Arthur.