The Adventure Begins
“Ho there!” called the messenger as his coral steed trotted through the open gate of the dilapidated estate.
A gentle tug on the reigns alerted the horse to stop in front of the owner of the property, Sir Ector.
The pompous, ample knight was watching with a mixture of amusement and impatience as the Wart attempted to help his son, Sir Kay, mount his war horse.
“Hurry up lad! We haven’t got all day,” he barked at Wart.
“Yes, sir,” Wart replied breathlessly and with a final push, Kay was astride his stallion.
Kay uncomfortably tugged on the gauntlets he wore and tried to adjust the helmet, which was tilted to the side and low over his eyes. Since he couldn’t see what he was doing, he misjudged the location of his head and accidentally slapping his father in the face.
Sir Ector jumped back, swearing vehemently. “You clumsy fool, watch what you’re doing!”
“Sorry Father,” Kay said and this time successfully adjusted his helmet. He shifted a little in the saddle only to realize that was a mistake as he started to slide off the horse.
Wart had to rush to the other side to keep him steady.
The messenger, realizing that no one was bothering to address him, cleared his throat importantly. “I say my fine fellow, do you wish to hear the news or not?
Ector turned his attention to the messenger, surprise written across his features. He had not seen the newcomer standing there. “Yes, yes, what is it?”
The messenger slid off the mare, patting her on the nose affectionately before speaking to the knight. He adopted a grave tone. “I have come with tragic news, your lordship. King Uther is dying. Merlin himself cannot do anything with his magic and has announced that it is only a matter of time.”
Sir Ector brightened at the good tidings before remembering that he was supposed to be unhappy with the news. “Truly a tragedy that. I do hope his passing is mercifully painless. Come! You must be starving. Get yourself into the kitchen and have Cook fix you up some vittles before you go on your way and tell him I said to give our extinguished guest the best mead in the house.”
“Thank you, my lord, I do feel a powerful thirst coming on” the messenger bowed gratefully and handed off his mare to the nearby stable boy who had quietly watched the exchange.
Once the man was safely out of earshot, Sir Ector spun on his heels to stare brightly at his son. “Did you hear that, Kay? Uther is dying!”
“Yes, Father,” replied Kay somberly. “I assume we will be paying our respects?”
“Of course we will! Have you forgotten that you are the next in line for the throne?”
“How can I when you remind me every day,” Kay muttered under his breath.
Only Wart overheard him since Lord Ector was too busy planning everything they would do once Kay was crowned king.
The stable boy brought Sir Ector his equine, saddled and bridled; coat brushed until it shone impressively in the morning light. The older man quickly mounted his charger. Though he had a gelding for riding on hunts, Ector mostly used his war horse since the gelding couldn’t hold his impressive girth for long periods of time.
All the same, the stable boy would wince whenever the knight rode either of his horses, feeling very sorry for the animals.
“Let’s be off! We must pay our respects to the king,” Ector waved his hand dramatically and kicked his horse in the belly to get it to move.
Kay followed, looking slightly wobbly astride his noble steed. “What of the Jousting Tournament, Father?”
“Forget the tournament! When you are king you may joust every day.” Sir Ector continued to talk loudly, but as they passed the depressing looking gate and further down the road his voice was cut off.
“Poor Drinian,” said the stable boy as he glanced one last time at the war horse before turning his attention to the young squire. “Wart, why aren’t you going with them?”
“I have to polish Kay’s armor and half a dozen other chores he assigned me this morning.”
“It must be exciting to be a squire,” the stable boy sighed woefully as he took a bruised apple out of his tunic and sliced it in half with a dull knife, offering a piece to Wart who took it gratefully since he hadn’t had time to break his fast. “I wish I was noble so I could also be a squire.”
Wart snickered around a mouth full of apple. “You’re too funny, Gwen! You’re a girl, so you wouldn’t be able to be a squire even if you were of noble birth.”
“Shhh,” the stable boy, who was in fact a girl disguised as a boy, glanced around to make sure no busybodies were nearby. “No one has to know that. I am just as good as any boy.” She scowled at him, daring Wart to say something to the contrary.
Wart held up his hands in surrender. “Don’t I know it,” he grinned ruefully as he remembered the many times Gwen had knocked him down.
“And anyway, you are lucky to be squire to Sir Kay. I am sure many boys are jealous of you right now. What with him going to be king and all.”
“I suppose,” Wart shrugged, though he doubted anyone was jealous of him.
“Too bad he’s an idiot,” Gwen added vindictively.
This time it was Wart’s turn to look around frantically. “Don’t talk that way about the future king!” he hissed. “Kay may be, well, you know, but at least he’s kind. He’ll make a good king.”
Gwen shook her head. “Not with Sir Ector around. I’m sure you’ve noticed how he does everything his father says.”
Wart shook his head vigorously. “Remember, Sir Ector is my guardian. I owe him my life for taking me in and I’d rather you didn’t say such things of him.”
Gwen shrugged. “I better finish mucking out the stalls and groom the messenger’s horse before he finishes his meal.”
“I doubt that will be anytime soon,” Wart replied dryly. “Our last messenger drank several tankards of mead and had to be taken back to his post by cart.”
Gwen wrinkled her nose at the thought of mead. Cook had once let her take a sip and she had vowed to never drink the vile stuff again. “All the same I should finish my chores.”
“As should I.”
After waving goodbye to each other the two friends parted ways to their respective duties.
Sometime later in the day, an elderly man with a long white beard and pointed gray hat sat on the back of a donkey muttering to himself as he read from an overly large tome. His spectacles were perched on the edge of his nose.
By the way his brow furrowed angrily as he shook his head, a passing traveler would have guessed he was outraged with whatever he was reading, but the old man never stopped turning the pages.
The man and the donkey arrived at the dwindling estate when the sun was high in the sky.
Gwen, having nothing to do, was lounging in the shadow of the stable door to escape the blistering sun. When she saw the traveler, she hurried over to take care of the donkey, but he waved her off. “Not now, not now,” he began impatiently. “Where can I find Arthur?”
“Arthur?” Gwen asked in puzzlement.
The man squinted down at her. “Yes, scrawny fellow, has hair that sticks up everywhere and is the ward of Sir Ector.”
“You mean Wart?”
“My goodness! Is that what they are calling him? Never mind, go get Arthur and tell him it is urgent I speak with him.
“Yes sir,” she took off toward the castle where Gwen knew Wart would be in the kitchen doing the dishes at this time of day.
As he waited, the wizard tapped his foot irritably, and muttered to himself while tugging anxiously on his beard. Finally, the stable boy came back with Wart.
“Arthur, my lad,” said he. “Come! We have no time to waste.” With a smack to the donkey’s rump, it disappeared in a cloud of purplish-black smoke and reappeared as a majestic white unicorn.
Both of them cried out in surprise.
“Get on! Be quick about it…both of you.”
“Both of us?” Wart asked at the same time Gwen said, “Are you a wizard?”
She ran a loving hand over the unicorn’s flank.
“I’m Merlin and yes I need both of you. Now get on, we haven’t got all day.”
“Merlin!” breathed Wart in awe as he had heard many stories of the great wizard. “But I can’t,” he added regretfully. “I have to finish my chores before Kay gets back.”
“Don’t worry about it, after today you won’t have to do chores again.”
With that he snapped his fingers and both children found themselves on the animal’s back. Merlin got on behind them and whispered something to the unicorn in the magic tongue.
The magnificent beast took off faster than an arrow could fly.
Gwen held on tightly to the creature’s mane even as she marveled at her luck. Never in her wildest imagination had she thought she would someday be riding such a rare stunning being.
Meanwhile, Wart worried about what Kay and Ector would say when they came back to discover only half his chores were done and he had gone off with the stable boy and a wizard.
The unicorn galloped further into the forest. On and on it ran.
It was the most comfortable ride Wart had ever been on in spite of the fact he shared room with a bearded man and a girl pretending to be a boy. He could feel the muscles bunching under him as the animal galloped, yet at the same time it felt as if he were riding on a soft pillow.
“Where are we going?” he turned his head to the side to ask Merlin.
“We haven’t time,” Merlin muttered. “Must hurry before it’s too late!”
“Too late for what?”
“Why, to find the true king of course!’ the wizard acted genuinely surprised, like Wart should have known this.
“The true king?” Gwen exclaimed. “What of Sir Kay? Isn’t he to be king?”
Merlin snorted. “Kay is no more meant to be king than I an owl. No, no, we must find the son of Uther Pendragon.”
“His son is dead,” Wart reminded him quietly. He began to wonder about Merlin’s mental stability if he couldn’t remember that the queen and son had died at child birth.
“No he isn’t, no he isn’t,” the wizard chanted happily. “I have hidden him safely so that one day he could become the greatest king Camelot has ever
Gwen turned to look back at Wart and both of them raised their eyebrows at each other.
“Why couldn’t he have become the greatest king of Camelot and stayed with his father?” Wart asked, feeling sorry for the son of the king if Merlin’s story was true. He knew what it was like to never know your father.
“Why because of Mordred of course!” Merlin exclaimed. “Don’t you know anything child? Mordred is jealous of Uther’s son and wishes him dead!”
Wart wisely held his tongue even though he was curious to know who Mordred was.
“Where is King Uther’s son?” Gwen asked in the quiet that followed.
“Hidden away,” Merlin answered mysteriously. “We have to find him.”
“I can’t!” exclaimed Wart. “I have to get back to my chores before Ector finds I’ve gone away without finishing them. If I don’t get back in time I’ll be sure to get a lashing!”
“All ready taken care of my lad, all ready taken care of,” the wizard mumbled into his beard and began pulling out an assortment of things from his bag.
Wart contemplated jumping off the unicorn and running back to the castle and then quickly dismissed the thought since the animal was traveling so fast he knew it would hurt.
Gwen, he noticed, was leaning forward and almost seemed to be urging the unicorn faster. Of course she didn’t understand. She was just a girl pretending to be a stable boy and didn’t care about such things as honoring your duties.
He gritted his teeth and hoped whatever adventure Merlin had in store for them wouldn’t take too long.
“There!” Merlin proclaimed some time later. The unicorn slowed to a stop in front of a lake with a rushing waterfall, causing the water around it to churn furiously. “There is where we must go.”