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Chapter Twenty-Five

Dark Clouds Gathering

I continued to travel with no real destination for another week. I had decided that if my fate was so far entwined within the inner workings of the universe as everyone seemed to claim, then it would make little difference where I went because it was likely that I would end up where I needed to be at the proper time and nothing was going to stop it from happening.

            And if not, well, I wasn’t going to be too upset about it.

            Rumors of war turned into more than rumors. Every town I went through had an edgy quality shown through the manners of the people, watching me and any newcomer with suspicion bred of fear and distrust. I did little to dissuade them of those thoughts. I was hardly the sweet-faced boy I once was. I had not looked into a mirror recently, but I knew I would be harder—colder.

            When I stopped for the night at inns along the way, I always listened to the news without adding any input myself. There were stories of Arthur amassing his army and gathering as many men as he could. But there were other tales about Morgan la Fay, the great sorceress, and how her armies seemed to grow every day with mercenaries, or, perhaps with men forced to fight for her under a spell she had enchanted them with as some of the gossip said. I didn’t think she needed it, myself. I knew she was quite convincing enough without her enchantments, especially when one didn’t know her. There was also talk of whether Merlin would fight her and if he would win. Some seemed to think she was stronger than him now, and I disagreed on that point. I knew Merlin, though perhaps more humble, was by far the greater sorcerer. He had already escaped Morgan once, and I knew that without being on her ground and without giving her a chance to set traps, he would be able to take her down quickly. At least, that was my hope.

            Whether the rumors were true or not, and I thought that most were likely embellishments at best, there was war coming, and it was coming soon. I also knew that Morgan’s army would outnumber Arthur’s. By how many, who could say, but I was certain of it. That was just how she played. She would not go into battle unless she had a good chance at victory. A wave of guilt washed over me, thinking that I had deserted Arthur at the time he needed every loyal knight the most. But I was hardly loyal, was I? And I hadn’t exactly deserted them either. I was still unsure of what I was going to do about the coming battle. I only knew that I couldn’t get anywhere near Arthur because I would not kill him, not after all this.

            Then one night, I was staying at an inn, a poor one, as usual. The talk was that the two armies were amassing nearby, though no one was certain where. I might not have paid any heed to it, but I had seen several men in the town earlier who I thought were Morgan’s. I didn’t rightly know what I felt about this information, thinking it was so near. I think I was trying to feel nothing, but inside my heart stuttered for fear of what would happen to my friends—my family—without me there to help or to share in their fate if the worst befell.

            I was staring into my ale cup in deep contemplation, so I started when a hooded figure sat on the other side of my table. I gripped my dagger and shoved it threateningly into the stranger’s face when a dry chuckle sounded from the shadows of the hood and a slim hand moved up to push it back, revealing none other than Merlin himself.

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