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Before Camelot

Chapter 1

Most sacred water, root of grass

Amalgamate in bowl of brass

Components of the tree of life

Return this soul to mortal strife.

As Leah MacLeod read the spell slowly to herself, her hand began to shake. Grasping her pen firmly to steady herself, she began to scratch notes to herself on a piece of loose-leaf paper. She had thought it would be more appropriate to study by candlelight and write with quill and parchment, as it seemed out of place using a flashlight and modern writing materials. However, Merlyn had insisted. He was very much against forsaking modern advancements.

It had nearly been a year since he had come to her home. She hadn’t quite believed him when he told her who he was, but the more he talked the more she found she wanted to believe him.

He was Merlyn the magician, tutor of the legendary King Arthur of Britain.

He told Leah that she was to become part of Arthur’s education. Merlyn decided to use his knowledge of the future (which was to him the past) to teach Arthur of different ideas. This would serve to be one of his last lessons before he pulled the sword from the stone and was proclaimed King of all England.

In order for this bizarre instruction to take place, Merlyn would need to transport Leah to the past. However, having had no prior experience in medieval life, she would be at a severe disadvantage in most situations. Merlyn could not transport anything from the future with her, besides herself. Therefore, he was going to provide her beforehand with the one advantage he could think of--magic.

Leah was a bright girl of sixteen. She had always been intrigued by tales of legend and fantasy. Therefore, once she overcame her doubts on the whole matter, she accepted Merlyn’s offer. It required that he come to her house each night for a year and instruct her. He taught her basic spells at first, such as moving objects with magic and making requested items appear. She had rather been expecting to use a wand, but Merlyn assured her that wands were really just for show. Magic came from spell ingredients, gestures, incantations, and most importantly, the will of the magician.

Once Merlyn saw that she was catching on to the basic concepts, he gave her a leather-bound book titled Ye Olde Book of Magick and Sorcery. She then studied nightly the spells it contained. The easiest spells were at the beginning and the hardest at the end, so it was perfect for progressively learning.

The whole arrangement, however, had begun to be a bit of a strain. She was forced to work at night so that her parents didn’t catch wind of what was going on. She also needed time to do her regular homework, and therefore her social life suffered. She only saw her friends occasionally, and stopped playing video games nearly altogether. She wasn’t about to quit, though. To her mind, if one was going to do something, one had better do it right.

At any rate, she had passed the easy spells months ago. She had learned everything from how to turn a dog blue to controlling magical creatures, but she had now reached the most dangerous and difficult spell in the book--indeed, in the world.

The spell she now studied was that which would bring the dead back to life.

This was the last spell, but she had been studying it for months. It was so delicate and perilous that Merlyn insisted she devote at least four months to learning it. The thought of the whole thing sent chills up her spine.

Leah shut the leather-bound book with a shudder. One more night...perhaps one more night and then she would be done. Her master would be satisfied and she could move on.

As she lay down to sleep, she wondered what moving on would mean for her.

* * *

Arthur burst into his tutor’s study. “Merlyn!” cried the wiry sixteen-year-old.

The ancient wizard turned slowly around to face his pupil. “Calm down, my boy, what is it?”

“Merlyn, won’t you turn me into something? It’s been so long since my last lesson, and I would love to be transformed into leopard or something exciting such as that.”

A tawny owl, perched on the windowsill, had been watching the entire exchange. “Come, Wart, you know very well there are no leopards in England.”

“That doesn’t mean he can’t turn me into one, does it?”

“Why, my boy, you’d disrupt the entire ecosystem!”

“That’s enough, Wart, Archimedes.” The two stopped their banter and turned to face the magician. “The fact is, Wart, I’m not turning you into anything at all. This lesson is going to be of a different nature than the others.”

“But Merlyn, I love turning into things! Didn’t you say that is the best way to learn an education?”

“I can’t recall ever saying that, although perhaps it is true,” Merlyn replied. “At any rate, I think you’ll like this lesson.”

“Well, what is it?”

“I shall be transporting someone of your age from the future to your time. Together, you will go on an adventure and learn from each other.”

Arthur was intrigued. “Someone from the future?” he asked thoughtfully. “How far in the future, Merlyn?”

“Oh, several centuries, I should think,” the old man said, looking a bit muddled. He sometimes became bewildered by his backsight. Since he had been born at the end of time and lived backwards, while everyone around him lived forwards, one can forgive the poor man for being confused now and again.

He looked a bit more sure of himself as he continued. “Yes, that’s right. From the twenty-first century, quite a ways in the future.” He was now talking more to himself than anyone else, and Arthur and Archimedes looked at one another and shrugged. It was accepted between them that Merlyn was quite an eccentric man, and they had seen much stranger behavior from him than this.

“Very well then, when do I begin my adventure?”

Merlyn looked at him as though waking up from a dream. “Everything’s ready now. Yes, yes, you can begin right away. Now come stand over here, my boy, and prepare yourself. I’m going to send you elsewhere in England for your adventure. Don’t you worry about getting back. When I see you have learned what you are there to learn, both you and your companion will be returned to your rightful homes.”

Arthur walked toward the magician, excitement coursing through him. “One more thing, Wart,” the magician added as he placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Your companion will be a magician apprentice whom I trained. You’ll have to be of help as far as adapting to our time period, though. Do be polite and try not to suffer from culture shock for long. It will only hinder your journey. All right now, get ready--leg of lamb and toe of frog, teleportation in a fog!”

There was a loud poof! and the magician and owl were left staring at the spot where the boy had been.

“Let’s just hope you didn’t send him to Bermuda,” Archimedes said sardonically.

Merlyn, not one to be criticized at his trade, turned to the owl. “Very well, Archimedes, if you’re so smart, I think you should go assist our young friend on his journey.”

At this the poor owl’s eyes widened. “Please, Master, let’s not be rash--”

“Safe journey, friend, I’ll return you when Wart’s task is finished.”

And with that the owl disappeared in a puff of smoke.

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