Arthur kicked open the door and staggered in his legs shaking. Suddenly his legs buckled and he crashed to the floor, dropping Merlin who he had carried all the way from the forest to the chambers of Gaius the court physician. Groaning, Arthur untangled himself from the unconscious Merlin and hurried over to a nearby table, which had hundreds of potions and books on it. Arthur bulldozed the books of the table and dragged Merlin on to it.
“Gaius! GAIUS!” Arthur swept the room with his gaze.
“What? What is it?” Gaius tumbled out of a chair, which he had fallen asleep in.
“It’s Merlin! His leg’s broken and he’s unconscious!” Arthur whipped his forehead with his sleeve, which was crusted in blood. He wasn’t sure whether it was Merlin’s or the snakes.
“What do you mean? What happened?” Gaius demanded, hurrying over to the table.
“Hunting…snake…poison…my fault…” Arthur told him while trying to catch his breath. Gaius expected Merlin for a second.
“A snake you say? Did it look like this?” Gaius grabbed a book that was on the floor and began flicking through it furiously. He abruptly stopped on a page and showed it to Arthur. The picture was exact replica of the snake Arthur had killed.
“Yes. Yes that’s the one!”
“Tell me Arthur did Merlin get any venom on his skin?” Arthur had never seen Gaius like this before. The old man had suddenly grown two feet higher and his eyes had turned into lasers.
“Uh…yeah. He was covered in the stuff.”
Arthur could tell this was bad news as Gaius swung around and began rummaging in a chest of old parchments and dusty books.
“The snake you were hunting was a Basilisk.” Gaius said while still rummaging, “ The basilisk does not need to pierce its prey, it does not need to get its venom into the blood stream. It simply covers its prey in poison. The venom then sinks through the skin and takes over the body by invading and controlling cells. Thank goodness you were wearing gloves!”
“What?” Arthur head was chaos. Gaius however took no notice of Arthur as he had just found what he was looking for.
“Ah, here it is!”
Gaius stood up and pulled a magnifying glass out of his pocket. He was holding a tiny book, about the size of a teaspoon. He opened the book and began glaring at it through the glass. Arthur went around the table and peered at the book over Gaius’s shoulder. The book had strange letters in it that Arthur had never seen before.
“What does it say?” Arthur asked, “Is it a cure?”
“No. Nobody knows the cure. Nobody save one man. This man must be found.”
“Who is this man?”
“A sorcerer by the name of Kerfane.” Gaius fixed Arthur with his gaze and raised his eyebrow.
“And this Kerfane is the only one who knows the cure?”
“And somebody has to find him?”
“My father will never allow a sorcerer into the kingdom!” Arthur ran his hands through his hair in frustration.
“I’m afraid that he will have no other choice.” Gaius raised his eyebrow to even further heights.
“What do you mean?” Arthur asked, puzzled.
“ If Kerfane is not fetched and brought here to save Merlin then the kingdom will be destroyed.”
“The basilisk does not merely kill its victims but instead does something far, far worse. It turns its victim into a monster. Almost like its self. Merlin would not be able to control himself and could destroy Camelot.”
Arthur stared at Gaius in disbelief. There were a few moments of silence.
“Are you serious?” Arthur swallowed a lump that had gathered in his throat.
“I’m afraid so.”
Suddenly Merlin, who was still lying unconscious on the table, began to cough violently. Gaius and Arthur flew to the table. Merlin’s skin had gone pale and looked clammy. There was also bubbly, white foam frothing around his mouth.
“How long has he got?” Arthur turned anxiously to Gaius.
“Maybe six at most before the transformation in complete. The process is very slow and painful.” Gaius replied, sighing heavily.
“ Then I’d better get a move on.” Arthur said in a tone that meant no nonsense.
“You can’t go sire!”
“Why not! He’s saved my life more than once why should I not help him now?! Besides if what you say is true then Camelot is indeed in danger.”
“But I have not completely explained the matter!”
“Then get on with it!” Arthur said rudely.
“Kerfane lives at the top of Mount Jenn Gusch. That on it’s own is trouble enough. But there’s more. Three trials that Kerfane invented must be passed to get to him. If all three trials are not completed you would get to the top of Jenn Gusch and find nothing and no one.”
“What kind of trials?” Arthur demanded.
“That’s what this book is for. It describes the trials and how to pass them.” Gaius replied, waving the book about.
“ Go on.”
“ Well the first trial,” Gaius looked down at the book, “Is a tunnel. A tunnel of riddles. The book does not describe the actual riddle but it does say that once you enter the tunnel you must answer the riddle or you will never be able to escape it.”
Arthur nodded. He was good at riddles.
“The second is a cave.”
“What, just a cave?”
“It is said that things are not as they seem inside. Things change. You must be calm to find the exit.” Gaius said looking up from the book. Suddenly Merlin began coughing again, sending flecks of foam onto his chest.
“Isn’t there anything you can do for him?”
“I can try one thing…” Gaius said looking about. He went over to another table and began sorting through various bottles and jars. He came back carrying a pestle and mortar, a jar of beetles and a dangerous looking red sludge.
“Scarab beetles and chilli pulp. It should wake him up. Its very strong!” Gaius explained, selecting some especially large beetles from the jar. He then proceeded to grind them viciously into powder with the pestle and mortar. Arthur looked on in distaste. Gaius poured the powder into the pulp and mixed it. The concoction went a dull red colour.
“Hold his nose.” Gaius ordered. Arthur did as he was told and pinched Merlin’s nose as Gaius tipped the entire potion into Merlin’s mouth. For a moment nothing happened then Merlin abruptly sat bolt upright.
“Wuh? What happened? Arhh my leg!” Merlin slumped back down and groaned.
“Oh yes of course! It’s broken!” Gaius seized a box of bandages and a long wooded plank, “ I’m sorry Merlin but this is going to hurt.”
Merlin swallowed and gritted his teeth. Gaius placed the plank under Merlin’s leg for support and proceeded to bandage it up tightly. Merlin winced in agony every time Gaius had to move his leg.
“Here, take this for the pain.” Gaius handed Merlin a small phial of misty liquid. Merlin took it and gulped it down. He gagged.
“Ugh! What is this stuff!”
“ Pig ear wax, frog spawn and crushed spider legs mixed in boiling water.” Gaius replied as though commenting on the weather.
“WHAT?!” Merlin gasped, horrified.
“Well it can’t have been as bad as the scarab beetles!” Arthur sniggered, grinning evilly.
“Scarab beetles?!” Merlin said, aghast.
“Anyway enough of that. What about the last trial? What is it?” Arthur asked Gaius, trying not to laugh.
“Ah, yes. Well the book does not describe the test in such detail as was used in the other two. All it says is beware the lion headed eagles for they will devour you should you not show courage.”
“Well that’s helpful.” Arthur said sarcastically.
“What exactly is going on?” Merlin demanded.
“I’ll explain later Merlin. Arthur you need to get Uther. He needs to know about all this.” Gaius said.