Author Reading: Merlin Scolds Uther and Pendragon

This is a scene from The Swithen Book 2: The Sons of Constance, which takes place in the generation before King Arthur is born (Uther, present in the scene, will become Arthur’s father in Book 3). What has happened is that a man of Pendragon’s court is annoyed at the close place Merlin has by the king and is attempting to discredit him. He has asked Merlin to foretell his death and been told that he will hang. Then he disguises himself as someone else and receives still a different prediction. In this scene King Pendragon talks to his brother Uther about the deception, and then Merlin shows up to lay down some law. This is one of my favorite scenes in the series and has some great Merlin moments.

That night, after he had dined and retired to his private chamber, Pendragon told Uther, who had just returned that day, all that had transpired, and that Merlin had been, with certainty, exposed as a fraud, and liar.

“I can hardly believe it,” said Uther, “but I guess to imagine someone like that is as wondrous as he says he is,” he shook his head, “it’s just too good to imagine.”

“And to be caught out so easily!” said Pendragon. “I’m ashamed, honestly. How could I have let him get so close to us, and to take his advice so readily, without really knowing who he is?” he said. “Or whom he truly serves.”

“No need to be tough on yourself,” said Uther. “He gave us great intelligence—he did, in fact, save my life,” he said, “and help us kill Hengist, and capture his castle. Those are real, tangible benefits, and they are not inconsiderable.” 

“I know,” said Pendragon. “But one has to wonder… did he just tell us a few correct things in order to win our trust, hoping only to deceive us later?” 

“He also helped us achieve what we returned for,” said Uther. “We thought we would be several years in bloody war, trying to reclaim our rightful place as leaders of this country, and because of Merlin, we walked in and did it,” he snapped his fingers, “in a heartbeat.”

“Of course I know that,” Pendragon said, “but when I learn that he is not infallible—and honestly,” and he turned and looked at Uther square on, “how could we ever believe that anyone is infallible? And knows things that no one else on earth could know? He helped us achieve our goal, but… maybe because it somehow aligns with hisgoal. And we don’t really know what his ultimate goal may be.” 

Uther paced back and forth, clearly troubled. “I don’t know,” he said. “He seems so trustworthy, and the advantages he offers us,” he opened his hands, “well, they are advantages no one else can offer.”

“And perhaps,” Pendragon said, “too good to be true.”

“But he showed us all of those different guises,” Uther said. “And he knew so many things that no one else could know.”

“Many different guises,” said Pendragon, “but what does that really prove? He showed us what he wanted to show us in order to get us to believe. When I think back on it, it’s just a blur of numerous disguises and reveals. But… maybe it was meantto be a blur. When he is tested on matters on which he is not prepared beforehand, he gives incorrect answers.”

“Are they incorrect?” Uther said. “We have not seen yet.”

Pendragon stopped in place and looked seriously at his brother. “How can the same man both break his neck in a fall and hang in place?” he asked. “And who knows what more he will say tomorrow?” 

Uther crossed his arms, and pursed his lips as he thought, staring downward at the rugs on the floor. “I don’t know,” he said. “It seems unlikely, but…” and he shook his head in wonderment, “I am loath to give up such an obvious advantage so quickly.”

“He tells us himself that his powers come from the devil,” said Pendragon.

“Exactly,” replied Uther. “Why would he tell us that so openly if he meant to deceive us?” 

Pendragon took a break from pacing to take in a long breath, and let it out in confusion. “I don’t know,” he said. “But he is deceiving us, I saw that plainly. You will see it tomorrow, and we can see how you feel then.” The king’s face was clouded with the dark thoughts that were whirling in his brain. “Thinking you can trust this person, then learning that you can’t, thinking you can trust that person,” Pendragon said to Uther, “one can never know for sure, and it is so wearying.” 

“Well, you know that you may trust in me,” said Uther, “if no one else.”

“I do, and I am so glad to have you,” said the king, placing his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I didn’t realize, being king….” He shook his head and let the thought go. “Having at least one person I can trust—”

But at that moment a corridor opened in the space beside them, extending much further back than the stone wall of the room that they were in, accompanied by a low moaning wind as the air was sucked violently back into the newly-opened space. The eerie sound made the small hairs on each brother’s arms stand straight in place, and when the corridor was opened fully, Merlin stepped down into their room, at which point it closed behind him. The low keening of sucking wind stopped the moment the opening closed and disappeared into the air.

The wizard’s appraising eye rested first on one brother, then the other, with a gaze that held no affection, or pity. For their part, he had appeared so suddenly, and precisely when they were talking about him, that they had trouble meeting his gaze, and shuffled bashfully, eyes lowered to the floor.

“King Pendragon,” Merlin said, “and brother Uther. I am glad to find you both together, for I would speak to you before you lead me into this farce tomorrow.” 

“Farce, Merlin?” asked Pendragon.

“You be silent,” said the wizard sharply, “lest you make me more angry than I am.” He directed an extremely severe glance toward Pendragon that made him drop his eyes at once. “You brothers,” he shook his head in amazement. “The more I get to know you, the more insane I truly think that you are.”

Both of them swallowed and stood quietly in place like two schoolboys facing a scolding.

“Do you believe that I do not know that this man is testing me?” he said, voice low and laced with contempt. “And do you think that I do not see directly through his scheme?” he said. “He wants to discredit me in order to advance his own place in your court, king. And you are on the verge of letting him do it because of his simplistic tricks.”

Pendragon tried to shore up his courage, and lift his eyes to face the gaze of the wizard, but when he saw the fury in Merlin’s eyes, he could no longer keep his gaze steady there.

“And you, Pendragon,” he said, “do you believe that I am unaware of the many and varied ways in which you have lied to me?” 

Pendragon swallowed.

Merlin balled his hands into fists, and set his shoulders, and his eyes looked to the side of the room as he stood, body trembling, for a long moment before he spoke again. When he did, his voice was low and desolate of affection. 

“Do you think, for one second, that I do not know how this fool who you are allowing to test me will die? Yes, in fact I do know. And tomorrow,” he said, pointing a damning finger at the brothers, “I will tell him still another death than the ones I have told him already.”

Pendragon’s shoulders dropped when he heard this. “Truly?” he asked, whirling on the wizard in amazement. “Can a man really die in all the ways that you have said?”

“If he does not,” said Merlin, “then you truly are deceived, and you should have me buried alive at night. But if he does,” and he strode before them with hands on hips, “then believe me forevermore. I see perfectly well what this man’s death will be.”

Then Merlin snapped his fingers, causing the two brothers to raise their eyes to meet his fiery gaze, and pointed finger. 

“And I see yours, too,” he said. “And when you see how this man dies, you will come to me and ask me about your own death.” 

There Merlin stood before them, hands on hips, causing his shoulders to stand tall and wide, and his robes to hang straight off of him, making him appear huge and fearsome, which was not even to mention the sneer of contempt that made his face tight and vindictive, eyes flashing with undisguised fury. Pendragon’s lip began to tremble as he realized he was indeed terrified of the angry wizard. 

Merlin pointed at Uther, but his eyes remained fixed with a terrible steadiness right on Pendragon. “And I say now to Uther only this; that I will see him rule as king before ever I leave this realm.”

Pendragon gasped in sharp astonishment, then collapsed forward as though punched in the gut. Uther’s eyes widened and went unfocused as his head fell forward into his hands. Then the wind rose with a loud screaming wail as the hole in space opened up behind the wizard. He stepped backward, it closed a moment later, and he was gone, leaving silence in his wake.

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