After destroying the sinister Druid Stone and freeing his people from its dark control, Merlin finds himself a royal advisor without a king. Along with his friend Garth and Natalenya, his betrothed, Merlin treks north with the orphaned Arthur in hopes of keeping the young ruler safe from soldiers misled by their turncoat captain. Relentlessly pursued by his old nemesis Vortigern, Merlin and his band make for the fortress of Dintaga.
But dangers multiply when Merlin realizes that Vortigern is not his only enemy. Even his own sister appears bent on Merlin’s destruction. As the threat on all their lives increases, Merlin discovers their only hope is sailing to the lands of eternal darkness and once again cleansing the world from an ancient and powerful evil.
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The Merlin Spiral
By Robert Treskillard
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Robert Treskillard
All rights reserved.
The Wilds of Kernow In the year of our Lord 477
The sun had long ago sunk below the granite-boned horizon, and Merlin crept up the mound hoping to catch the stranger asleep. Halfway to the top he drew his sword—gashing his arm on a blackthorn bush. He bit his tongue and continued to climb through the shadowed grass, once again thankful he could now see, and see clearly. Unfortunately, the miracle that had restored his sight had not made him a perfect scout.
Whoever this man was who had camped so close to them, Merlin and Garth had to find out. Hopefully Garth would quietly scale the other side of the hill and not disturb the man's horse they had heard. If the stranger was alerted to their presence, and if he was one of Vortigern's men, Merlin might need to capture—or kill him.
They had all been wary ever since yesterday, when three of Vortigern's warriors rode past their hasty hiding place. Natalenya had cried afterward, and the orphaned Arthur had studied her with his gray-blue eyes, his little fists holding tight to her long, brown hair.
So when Colvarth had spied some flitting smoke near their nighttime camp, he had thought it wise to make sure they weren't being tracked.
The beeches lining the hillside twitched their ovate leaves in the light wind as if sensing Merlin's presence. At the top of the hill, the trunks reflected a ghostly flicker from the man's fire as the mold-scented smoke curled upward.
Leaves crunched lightly in the distance, and Merlin sucked in his breath, praying Garth wouldn't make any more noise. Merlin found a foothold and lifted himself enough to see over the grass where the man sat stiffly near a fire. His back was turned and his green cloak covered his head to keep the chill off. In the distance, his horse stood silently tied to a tree.
Setting his sword on the ground in front of him, Merlin pulled himself up and crouched behind a towering oak. The man didn't stir and must have fallen asleep before the fire, which would make it easier for Merlin to sneak up and see if he was one of Vortigern's soldiers—as long as Garth could keep his big toes off the branches.
Merlin picked up his sword and stole quietly through the trees. At the outer ring of the campsite he paused, spotting Garth behind a pine on the opposite side.
The boy waved to him, eyes bulging.
Merlin signaled for him to be quiet, and began circling left toward the hunched man. If he could glimpse the man's cloak pin, he would know what type of man he faced. For all of the warriors—those who now served the traitor Vortigern—had their cloaks pinned with a golden boar, a symbol of the recently murdered High King Uther. If this man had such a pin, then Merlin and Garth could slip away. They would then break camp and travel through the night ... despite their aching weariness.
But if the man awoke ... Merlin tensed his sword arm for action.
Garth walked out, gesticulating and pointing at Merlin. His head shook wildly. The only thing he didn't do was ruin their ambush by throwing a rock at the man.
Merlin made a face back at Garth and stepped farther sideways to peek at the dozing man's cloak—only to have someone grab his hair tightly from behind and slide a blade across his shoulder very close to his neck.
"Toss your sword or you're dead," the man said.
The metal edge bit into Merlin's skin as he felt his blood pulsing through the nearest vein.
He stiffened and dropped his blade.
"Good. Now tell your foolish friend to toss his knife in that pile of brush."
Garth snarled at Merlin and tossed his dirk away. "Why didn't you listen to me signals? I tried to tell you he was sneakin' up behind."
"Why'd you just wave your arms then?" Merlin said, looking sideways at the blade on his shoulder. It was of good quality—sharp and lethal.
Garth pointed at the hunched man. "I didn't want to wake this guy up."
"Lot of good that did us."
"Enough," the second stranger said. "Why were you sneaking up on me?"
"You mean you and your sleeping friend."
The stranger, pushing Merlin forward, approached the hooded man hunched near the fire and kicked him. He cracked and fell over, exposing a rotten, mushroom-spattered stump. A balled-up saddle blanket had sufficed for the head.
Garth snorted. "How'n did you know we were comin'?"
"Those that are quietest ask the questions. Tell me your names."
Merlin felt suddenly cold with the blade at his neck. "I'm called Merlin ... mab Owain ... sworn servant of Uther." If the warrior was loyal to the High King—and he wasn't purely Vortigern's man—maybe that would save their lives. Possibly even allow them to clear their names and tell the truth about Vortigern, who had slain Arthur's father two days ago to usurp the High Kingship. Merlin, Garth, and Natalenya had been living as vagabonds, along with Uther's ancient bard, Colvarth, in an attempt to save their lives and that of Uther's young son and the future king, Arthur.
"Either you're lying or you're a fool. The High King is dead."
The fire flared up for a moment, and Garth dropped his hood back and peered closer at the man standing in the dark behind Merlin. "Caygek ... is that you?"
The blade shuddered as it pulled away from Merlin's neck. The man let go of his hair. "By Crom's mound," the stranger said, "Garth ... Garthwys? What are you—?"
Merlin spun, the blade now pointing straight at his chest. The man wore a blue tunic over brown breeches, and stood a little shorter than Merlin. His arms and face bore the spidery blue scars of a druid—meaning this was likely the same man who had helped Merlin save his father and the monks at the Druid Stone. Though not much older than Merlin's eighteen winters, Caygek had a blond, curly beard that hung thick to the middle of his chest, and a head of long hair to match. But his eyes were what caught Merlin's interest. They were red and the skin around was puffy—almost as if he'd been sick. Perhaps weeping.
Merlin backed up, almost stumbling over the rotten log and into the crackling fire. "If you mean us no harm ... then you have nothing to fear from Garth or me. We thought you were following us—that you were one of Vortigern's men."
Caygek squinted his eyes. "I don't follow anyone. Not anymore."
Distant sounds of crashing, cracking, and rustling from the woods to the east made the three freeze. Soon they heard the clopping of hoofs. Merlin lunged to grab his and Garth's blades. "The fire," he realized. "Vortigern's seen the smoke!"
Caygek scanned the eastern darkness, alarmed.
Merlin yanked Garth by the cloak. "Let's go."
Garth refused to budge. "What about Caygek?"
"He's a druid."
"Take him with us ... He'll be caught, an' he knows about us."
Caygek ran to his horse and cut the reins knotted to the tree. He hastily tried to mount the horse, but it bucked, reared, and sent him sprawling to the ground.
"There's no time." Merlin pulled Garth toward the hillside.
The approaching horses pounded closer.
Caygek held on to the reins as his horse wheeled around him, nearly trampling his face. He finally let go, and the horse ran off toward the south.
The shouts of approaching warriors were close.
Caygek scuttled down the hill and caught up to them, clutching his saddlebag and cloak. "I'm coming."
Merlin called back, "Go away."
"You've no choice," Caygek said, running with them.
* * *
Merlin ran, leading the way back, and hoping they'd have time before Vortigern found their trail. Breaking through the pines to their hidden camp, Merlin stopped in time to avoid the point of Natalenya's dirk finding its way through his tunic.
"Who are you?" she said, peering into the darkness.
"Natalenya! It's me, Merlin ... Merlin."
She dropped the blade and wrapped her arms around him. Garth crashed through the branches and into Merlin's back. The three of them fell.
"Very careful woodsmen the lot of you are," Caygek said, breathing hard. "Now why's Vortigern chasing you?"
Merlin was about to explain that Vortigern wanted to kill Arthur, who was just a child, when Colvarth stepped from the dark trees holding the very boy and a small dagger. "Who is this you have brought, Merlin? This is unex—" But his words stopped short as he and Caygek faced each other.
Merlin rolled Garth off his legs, and stood. "This is Caygek—"
The druid bowed. "Colvarth ... or should I say Bledri mab Cadfan? We have not met, but I have heard much of you."
"Are you mad to bring a follower of Mórganthu into our midst?"
"He came without my permission, and I—"
Garth stepped into the center. "I can explain ..."
In the distance, the sounds of horses could still be heard.
Merlin took hold of Colvarth's shoulders. "Vortigern! We have to leave now."
Natalenya had already mounted, and thankfully the horses they'd taken from Vortigern two days before had been equipped with four-horn military saddles, which allowed her to ride fairly safe in a sidesaddle position. She rode up with Colvarth's black horse.
After glancing quickly at Caygek, Colvarth shook his aged head at Merlin. He handed Arthur up to Natalenya, braced his staff, and clambered onto his horse. Within five breaths the rest of them were mounted, Caygek riding with Garth. They followed Colvarth into the darkness and away from Vortigern's men.
Rain began to fall, and the already sodden paths became slippery. Merlin had hoped this would slow their foes as well—but they could still hear the crashing of Vortigern's reckless men.
Merlin stirred his mount next to Colvarth, who was hunched over, scrutinizing the path ahead. While wise, Colvarth was advanced in years, and they didn't have time to wait for him to weigh out a decision.
"May I lead?" Merlin asked.
Colvarth sat up, and his leather-wrapped harp jangled on his back. "We must find the main road eastward ... or we will be lost."
"That's what they expect us to do, and that's where most of Vortigern's men are. They're trying to flush us out."
"Where then do we go? Northward and westward is only trackless woods ... and then the coast ... we cannot swim away."
"King Gorlas," Merlin whispered. "Dintaga, his fortress, is on the coast."
Colvarth's eyes were dark slits in the gloom. "Gorlas is no friend. Uther was going to him out of necessity ... to raise more warriors for battle, but there ... was no love between them. Only after Uther had scoured Kembry, and there were still not enough warriors to fully repel the Saxenow ... did he consider going to Gorlas."
"Then we use that to our advantage. We remind him that Vortigern is Uther's man."
Colvarth coughed. "Do not speak such of that ... traitor. I am Uther's man—his bard."
Merlin trotted his mount in front of Colvarth. "Then persuade Gorlas to protect us."
"That is madness, I cannot—"
Arthur began crying, and the sound echoed through the woods. Natalenya desperately tried to comfort the boy, but he would not quiet.
The sound of the pursuing horses grew louder and clearer.
* * *
Ganieda ran to Mórganthu, who knelt to catch her. "Grandpa, oh Tasgwyn." Her tears fell freely upon his cheek, and she squeezed him tightly—all the while holding the two strange objects she had fetched from beneath the Stone in her father's forge.
"My daughter's daughter," he said. His voice was like a warm bath driving off the chill that blew through the burned-out smithy. And its lilt was like her mother's, with that wonderful Eirish accent that she loved to imitate. Grandpa held her close, though after kissing her cheek he pushed her to arm's length with his one hand. "What have you discovered? What are these?"
Ganieda looked into his face and saw not just curiosity, but hunger. His eyes, dark and shrunken, searched desperately at the oddities hidden in her hands.
What were these things? she wondered. In her left she felt the curved smoothness of the long fang. As she thought about its sharpness, a spark of warmth filled her arm.
In the other hand she held the cold, somewhat firm ball, through which she'd seen an image of her brother. Curse him. Stringy tendrils hung out through her fingers.
Grandfather tried to pry open those fingers.
She lashed out at him without even thinking. The fang scratched his hand. No—she had fully gashed it, and a thrill climbed up her arm. She suddenly felt taller, stronger.
Grandpa yelled and flailed his only hand backward.
She slid the orb into her bag and hid the fang under her shift. "No, Grandpa, don't touch them again." She had flung the language of Kernow aside and now she spoke in the druidow tongue her mother had taught her. Ah, but he would understand. He spoke it too. He was the leader of all the druidow. The most respected o' men in all the world, ya hear?, her mother had told her during the past many years. And her grandpa had come to them but two weeks ago, bringing his Stone, now ruined, and all his druidow.
Sucking his wound, Grandpa nodded. The blood covered his teeth and dripped down onto his beard.
"Where, then," he rasped, "is your mother? Where is my daughter?"
Ganieda's tongue caught in her throat. She turned away and shook her head.
"What? What are you saying? Did her little infection from that armband get so bad that—?" He clucked his tongue, and took two deep, deep breaths. "Oh, to think that my lineage has come down to this," he cried, "and in such a little time."
Ganieda looked at him, and he was crying.
"And all because of that Merlin, that scourge upon my house, has this happened. And so you, little vengeful girl, you are all that I have left in the world. Come, then," he said. "Come ... come back to my tent in the woods. Remember the dried strawberries and smoked meat? You—you are hungry, yes?"
Her stomach was burning. The strength she felt from the fang didn't fill that emptiness. She would go with him. Tellyk padded over to her, and she stroked his fur, climbing onto his broad back.
Grandfather's smoldering gaze flitted to her bag—which hung from her belt over the side of the wolf—but he said nothing.
He led the way, first picking his way through the smoking debris of the smithy and then out onto the clouded and thundering moor.
Excerpted from Merlin's Shadow by Robert Treskillard. Copyright © 2013 Robert Treskillard. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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