Merlin, as Benjamin had said, had recovered from his nauseating feeling though had not been able to lose the headache. He was still feeling groggy so when he stood up he lost his vision for a second and stumbled back a few steps. Groaning and clutching his throbbing head with a hand he looked around his surroundings only to see a horrible sight.
There was a huge statue, tall and spindly with four long thin arms, a cruel curved beak, horrid shiny eyes and black/green feathers. Its hands, bony, long and all four of them, were outstretched and cupped together. Merlin was standing on them. He suddenly felt he should get off the palms of this monster. Its hands were some way from the ground so he hurriedly clambered down its leg, using its feathers as hand and foot holds. Once on the floor the statues eyes seemed to follow him around. It was horribly unnerving.
He assumed that he was free to roam the room but no further as there was a lever to open the huge doors but it had been completely broken off and it was impossible to open them that way. He tried to open the doors with his magic but they were far too heavy to move more than a few centimetres before he became exhausted.
It was all very well to be able to romp around the room but after a while of trying to find secret passages and having no success Merlin became quite disheartened. Benjamin had chosen this room very well. There really was no way out other than the doors. The lurid statues eyes kept following him about and he found nowhere, where he could escape from its all-seeing gaze. He had almost given up looking for a way out when he had an idea.
He observed the statue for a moment, accessing whether it was safe to climb. He came to the conclusion that it was but only if he avoided the broken away parts of the ancient stone.
As he began climbing the hundred-foot monster he found that it wasn’t going to be as easy as he had first thought. The detail on the stone was very fine and as it had been there for as long as anyone could imagine it was very crumbly. It was hard going but eventually he reached the top of its head. He had to stoop, as the ceiling of the room was only a meter or so from the statues head. Its head was pretty big (as was the rest of it) and Merlin could easily walk around on it without falling off after a few steps. However it was moss covered and wet and he had to be very cautious not to slip and fall to certain death. His first thought was to search the floor of its head in case there was some kind of hatch or something. He ferreted about the foliage for a few minutes and eventually found something. At first glance it looked like a square pebble or rock but if you looked twice you would see that it was actually a button of sorts. He tried pushing it, pulling it, turning it, kicking it, jumping on it and even talking to it but to no avail. He was convinced that it was a secret lever or something towards that direction but it just wouldn’t open. It finally occurred to him to use magic and he searched the furthest regions of his brain for a spell that would work on it.
“Indirubin jasm notornis pelorus.” He said quietly to the rock. For a second nothing happened but suddenly the square button opened. I cannot explain it any better than it just simply opened. It kept opening, folding outwards, until it began moving onto the head of the beastly statue. Eventually it had gone so far that a person could fit through it.
Merlin crouched down and peered over the edge of the hole. It was black as black could be inside and he couldn’t tell how far down it went. He picked up a pebble and threw it in to the hole hoping to estimate how far down it went by how long it would take to get to the bottom. He turned his head to one side so that he could tell exactly when the rock hit the bottom. Suddenly something small, hard and painful hit him in the face. He fell back with surprise and searched around for what had hit him. He found the pebble that he had thrown down the hole. How could it be the same stone though? He stared over the side of the hole again. A person must have thrown it back up. Mustn’t they?
“Hello?” Merlin called down the hole but there was no reply.
He strained his ears to hear even the smallest sound but was only met by silence. What now? It could be miles or meters to the bottom. Should he risk it? He dropped the pebble into the hole again just to be sure and once again it flew up and clattered to the floor. Taking a deep breath and swallowing a lump that had grown in his throat Merlin prepared to jump. He swung his legs down into the darkness and suddenly found his throat was dry.
Just jump, he told himself, it certainly can’t be as bad as being in here with that thing. He was referring to the statue. It was so unnerving, the way it just stared at you like it could kill you with its gaze. Merlin thought that if he stayed in the room with it for much longer it might. Taking another deep breath he jumped.
Arthur had followed the map for sometime and he was getting close but it was also getting dark. He had made good progress and he had time to rest so now he was in search of a town or village that would take him in for the night. According to the map there should been one in the next mile or so. Arthur prodded his horse in the sides with his heels and it galloped on ever faster.
Eventually he came to the little village. It reminded him of the small town in Scotland that he and Merlin had stayed at a few months ago after their shipwreck. It had small houses dotted about close together with straw roofs and wooden walls. It also reminded him vividly of Merlin’s home village Ealdor. Wait a minute…he recognized that chicken…he’d know that chicken anywhere. This was Ealdor!
He goggled down at the map and sure enough it was. How could I have missed that? Well it was pretty dark and he had been riding a horse but even so…
He was now in the centre of the village and he was defiantly recognizing a lot of stuff. There was that well and that fence and there was Merlin’s mother. Merlin’s mother?! Arthur suddenly wondered what he was going to say to her. He couldn’t exactly say that her son had been kidnapped by a homicidal manic.
“Is that…Prince Arthur! Your majesty!” She recognized him and bowed.
“Hunith.” Arthur dismounted his horse and bit his lip, still not knowing what to say.
“Why are you here? Is Merlin with you?” She stood up from her bow. Arthur wished people wouldn’t bow to him. He was just a human like everyone else. He reflected on how much he used to love it when people bowed and curtsied to him whenever he went by but now he just did want them to. He had Merlin to thank for that.
“No…he’s not with me…”
“Oh…how is he?”
“He’s…fine…” Arthur lied. Hunith beamed like the sun.
“Why are you here? Can I do anything for you?”
“I…well yes. I was wondering if I could stay the night. I’m going…somewhere tomorrow.”
“Of course! Where are you headed?”
“The Valley of Shadows…”
Hunith’s eyes suddenly went from friendly to terrified as she heard the name.
“Why would you go there?! It must be awfully important!”
Arthur thought quickly. Should he tell her what was really going on? She should know. But was it right to make her worry? He decided she had a right to know. Merlin was her son after all.
“I’m going because of Merlin. He’s been kidnapped.” He said rather bluntly. Hunith just stood and stared for a moment before recovering her wits.
“I don’t know.”
“I…uhh…come inside. Tell me everything.” Hunith beckoned Arthur towards her hut. Arthur tied his horse to a nearby post and followed her into the basic house. He found her slumped on a bench, a glazed look in her eyes. Arthur shuffled his feet agitatedly and waited for her to say something. After what seemed like a lifetime she did.
“What did he do to get kidnapped?”
“Well I don’t really know. I have this letter…” Arthur delved into his pocket and produced the parchment, which he handed to Hunith. She took the letter and began reading it. Only a few second in of reading she suddenly gasped.
“Don’t worry! He’s not going to die!” Arthur immediately tried to comfort her, thinking she was scared about that particular bit of the letter.
“No! No! What do you make of that?” She held the paper up and pointed furiously at the sentence, which said, “Yes, I a mere boy have kidnapped this great warlock.”
“Which bit?” Arthur said stupidly, wondering whether she meant the bit about the boy or about warlocks.
“The bit…never mind…” Merlin’s mother suddenly sat down once more. Arthur shifted uncomfortably again. Why had she go so worked up about that particular sentence? That brought him to the question that he had asked himself earlier. Why had the writer called Merlin a great warlock? Why had he called Merlin a warlock at all? He was disturbed from his thoughts by Hunith.
“You are going to save him aren’t you?!” Hunith asked, her voice drenched in concern.
“Yes. I am.” Arthur said firmly.
Hunith nodded in thanks and relief.
“You can have the place where you last slept. I’ll tend to your horse.” With that she went out, a pail of horse feed in her hand. Arthur watched her go. She had taken that better than he had expected. For some reason he felt as though she was keeping something from him. Something important but he just couldn’t put a finger on it. He was to tired to think about that now though so he found the old mattress he had slept on when he had last been there and fell asleep.