You can also read this and see story artwork on my blog: http://talesfromamodernbard.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-voices-beneath-chapter-twenty.html
The Return of Merlin
In the months following the execution of Lancelot, things more of less fell back into their normal pattern. I was not as dour as I had been, and Arthur and I had, for the most part, repaired the bond that had been lost when I had foolishly thought to push him away. There was still just the nagging worry I felt about Lancelot’s words in the prison. But I tried to shove them aside, telling myself that Lancelot had only been angry for being caught and by myself of all people. Talking proud as most prisoners are wont to try and prove their usefulness before anyone makes a firm command to send them to the gallows.
Everyone seemed to put up my previous bout of depression to Lancelot’s multiple escapes, and I did nothing to dissuade them of that thought, in fact, I began to tell myself that as well, and in all truth, it might very well have been part of my problem. In any case, I was doing my best to keep up my spirits now that he had finally been brought to justice.
But something else begun to bother me, as the months passed, and that was that we had heard nothing at all from Merlin. No messages, no word of any kind; not even any gossip coming in from neighboring kingdoms. It seemed, for all intents and purposes, that he had dropped off the face of the earth. I knew Arthur was worried and nearly beside himself, though he didn’t let it show, having to keep up appearances as king. I myself was even more worried, for I knew what Merlin had been going to do, and I would forever feel responsible if he had somehow met his demise on my account. I did trust him, and I knew he was more powerful than Morgan la Fay, but I still worried, for I had no idea what knowledge she had garnered in the past year and a half, and had never really known the full extent of her powers before that. I considered telling Arthur on several occasions where Merlin had gone, but decided there was no real point in it. He wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, and I was still reluctant to tell Arthur about my connection with Lady Morgan. Not now when things were starting to get better. I know I was a coward about it, and I would pay for it later, I can assure you, but right then, I had had enough grief. But I was still worried for Merlin’s safety.
It was now nearly four months since Merlin had disappeared. Small rebellions had started cropping up as they will no matter how good and just a ruler one has. They were all easy to quell. The other knights thought nothing of them, seeing them as normal occurrences, but I had other fears. Perhaps it was my paranoia that made me think so, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether Lady Morgan was behind it, either directly or indirectly. Lancelot’s words still haunted me, and these few acts of rebellion, as small and harmless as they might seem, only pointed to something bigger in my mind. Whether Arthur thought there was more to it too, he never said, but I sometimes wondered, to the point of asking him myself, whether he ever thought much of his sister, and whether he knew where she was or what she was doing.
And then one day we were having our monthly meeting of the Round Table, talking over what had been accomplished in the kingdom over the past few weeks and what we hoped to achieve in the next. Arthur was just discussing the trade for that year’s harvest when there was a hail and cry out in the courtyard and we all were up and rushing out to see what the commotion was. I stopped short on the steps, my hand automatically on the hilt of my sword, but I rushed forward with a cry as I saw the lone rider who was approaching, responsible for all the outcry.
“Merlin?!” Arthur cried, on my heels as I came to a stop beside Merlin’s horse and took the reigns. I feared he would fall for he seemed in very poor condition indeed. He slumped in the saddle, his clothing torn and bloodstained. He seemed even thinner and paler than usual, if that were possible.