Excerpt: Merlin and his Mother

The baby Merlin and his mother share a sweet moment as she begins to realize her child is not like other boys…

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The child was always voraciously hungry. Meylinde fed it as much as she could, and since Rossa and Farah refused to feed it, reminding her plainly that this was not part of their job, they did have the sense to bring her more food, and healthier food, to help her keep up with the vast amount of milk the child required. He also seem to be growing at a faster than normal rate, but it was too early to be sure.

The infant was always able to look directly at things and hold its gaze on people, unlike normal infants. He would sit in his cradle and follow the movements of the three women, and watched in curiosity when a mouse one day slipped under the door, and moved across the room to find a bit of bread that had fallen on the floor. Merlin seemed to be listening to everything the women said, and intently watching everything they did. After a certain point, Rossa and Meylinde got in the habit of showing the infant what they were doing, whether it was spinning, or reading, or drawing, or praying. The child’s curiosity seemed insatiable.

At times he would lie back in his crib, staring upward, but with his brow knitted and intense, eyes quickly moving back and forth as though he were thinking, furiously thinking. His eyes would sometimes begin to move with extreme quickness, as though he were seeing numerous pictures in his head, and having difficulty processing them all. Sometimes he would hold his own head as though in pain, and sometimes fall asleep exhausted as though worn out by simply going through the images in his head.

Meylinde saw the child’s curiosity, and thought it might like to see some pictures, so she asked Rossa if she could bring by any book she knew of that had pictures or drawings, and also if she might be allowed some paper, crayons and charcoals for herself. She also asked if they could bring in some plants, which she was happy to pay for. Farah brought a few weeds that managed to grow in the barren dirt near her home, offering them with a cursory “This is all I have,” while Rossa brought in a flower in a pot. This became a source of fascination to the child, and Meylinde was careful to show him how she watered, pruned and cared for it. The child was just as curious when the bloom died as when it was fully blossoming, and Meylinde would let him handle the dried fallen petals and feel the firm flesh of its green leaves.

Meylinde would talk to Merlin quite freely when the midwives were out, although her conversation was vastly reduced when they were present. She would chatter on to him about everything she was doing, and gave her thoughts free verbal expression as she worked through various questions in her mind. She also told him stories that she knew from the bible, or the gospels, or stories she knew about people in the town, or those of people she had only heard of.

One night, with a single candle in the tower room providing the only light, and the rich deep blue of night falling visible through the small space of the open window, she looked over toward the window to see a small white owl perched on the ledge. She froze, feeling that she was in the presence of something special and magical, as she often felt in the presence of animals, or when appreciating the gifts of nature. The owl sat very quietly, without moving, and seemed to be observing the entire room. At that time Merlin was laying down in his crib, awake, but in one of his bouts of intense thinking.

Meylinde sat very quietly and merely watched the owl, taking its visitation as a good omen, and simply pleased to see something so wild and elusive close up. It sat quietly for a long time, then hopped forward a few steps and flew with a velvety noise of open wings to settle on the foot of the crib, looking in at the infant. Meylinde felt no danger from the creature, only curiosity, and she remained still, watching the wonder unfold.

Suddenly Merlin sat up in his crib and moved back to lean against the opposite side, staring directly at the owl. Meylinde watched as the two of them looked at each other for a long moment, then abruptly the owl turned in place and flew back to rest on the windowsill, and a moment later, was gone. The visitation left a warm pleasant feeling, and for some time afterwards, Meylinde and the baby seemed to be lost in separate reveries.

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The next day Rossa arrived with charcoals and paper, and such crude and limited crayons as they had back then, and Meylinde spent that day in drawing, making sure to hide her creations from the child, who was clearly very interested in what she was doing. His eyes stared at her back as he could see her at work, moving fluidly with the charcoal for a time, then putting that down, picking up a crayon, and making quick back-and-forth motions with it. She would turn and see the child staring intently at her, his little brow furrowed, and she would just smile, turn away and finish her drawing.

When she had finished three or four, the child was standing up in his crib and craning his neck to see what she was doing. She was just finishing one, and when she took it, being very careful not to show the infant, and placed it at the bottom of her pile, she heard a bang and turned to find the infant staring at her, a look of irritation on his face. He took his hand and banged it down on the side of the crib again. This made Meylinde laugh, and she turned away to continue her work. This brought even more furious banging from the child, but Meylinde would merely turn with a smile, laugh, and raise a finger to her lips. Eventually the child turned from her with arms crossed, pretending no longer to be interested.

That night, when the midwives had gone home, she brought Merlin over to her bed and sat with him as she showed him all of the drawings she had made. First, she had drawn a man and woman, and an adolescent, a young child, and an infant. And when she held the drawing up, she explained what each one was, which the child seem to be following with keen interest. On another page she had drawn a dog and a cat, and on the third a horse, and on the fourth a black snake. She was not necessarily the best artist, and the snake had large, crude arcs for scales, and large, outsized yellow eyes.

On another page she had drawn an image of the forest, and a deer, and a few sparrows drinking from a pool. On another page she had drawn a hovel and a pen containing pigs, some chickens and a few geese, with a cow leaning its head through the window. On another, she had drawn a landscape with a castle in the distance, a king and queen, and a knight in armor. And this page the child ripped out of her hand and examined closely.

His eyes stared back and forth over the image, as though it was something he had seen before. She watched as he leaned and narrowed his eyes, looking first at the king, then the castle and all around the drawing, then back again to look at the entire scene. Then, to her amazement, he laid the sheet between them on the bed, and pointed to the castle.

“Castle,” she said.

His finger moved over to the man with the crown.

“King,” she said.

His eyes grew wide at the word. And then he turned quickly to look into the open space of the room, seeing nothing, but thinking intensely. He seemed to be working out a problem he could not fully understand. Abruptly he turned back and pointed to the woman.

“Queen,” said Meylinde.

He looked at the drawing for a moment more, then pointed to the knight.

“Knight,” she said. “Knight in armor,” she said.

The child looked intently at the figure. He had a crude helmet with a horizontal slit across it, and you could not tell who it was.

“He has a helmet on over his head,” said Meylinde. “It’s just a man under there, but he is wearing a helmet.” She made the motion of putting a helmet on her head to show him.

The infant looked up at her, then looked back at the painting. He pointed at the knight, and then at the queen.

Meylinde did not understand what he meant. She leaned in closer and he once again pointed at the knight, and then at the queen.

“No,” she said, “the king and queen are together. They are married. And they live in the castle.” She then pointed to the castle.

The child furrowed his brow and stared at the picture even longer. When Meylinde felt he was ready, she took it and put it at the back of her stack, then began to show the next picture. But she could not get far before the child reached out both its hands with a grasping motion, and would not be satisfied until she had once more given to him the picture with the castle and king, which he put off to the side.

She had more pictures of animals, and more of the town and a lake nearby, and Blaise’s hermitage, and second to last was a picture of the owl sitting in the window of their room. Merlin also took this one from her and held it in both hands, staring intently at it. Then he let fall one hand, turned his head and pointed to the room.

“Yes,” she said, “that is this room.”

The child looked at it more intently, understanding for the first time that these drawings represented real things. He looked at the cradle in the drawing, then over at his own cradle, and he saw what was similar about it. He looked at the chair, and the table, and the window with the bars, and the simple wooden shutter open next to it. Then he pointed out the owl.

“Owl,” she said. “He came to visit us the other night.”

Merlin stared at the drawing and he could see the features of the owl, such as the black dots across its white fur, and he realized what it was.

“Actually, I think he came to get a look at you,” said Meylinde.

The child put this page down on the bed as well, but moved it over, careful that it not obscure any of the picture showing the king and queen.

The last picture was of an infant sitting up in its cradle. It had very intense dark spots for eyes that seemed to be looking straight out off the paper, and a bit of blanket discreetly covering his crotch.

The child seemed to be confused by it and, putting his finger into his mouth, he leaned forward to stare with curiosity.

“That is you, Merlin,” said Meylinde gently. The child still seem to be confused, so Meylinde leaned forward and pointed her finger at his chest. “You,” she repeated.

His eyes widened as he reared back in shock, and put both hands over his mouth. His eyes stared intently at the picture, moving back and forth over it and taking in its every feature. Meylinde watched in quiet delight.

The child looked at the picture, then leaned back and put both hands to its head, moving his fingers through his hair. Meylinde did not understand. He rubbed his hair, then pointed behind them to the table. She still did not understand, so she did it again.

She rose and from that angle, she could see the charcoal on the table. She retrieved it, brought it back and sat back down on the bed.

The child reached up to rub his hair and then pointed at the head of the baby in the picture. Meylinde put the paper down and drew a few hairs on its head.

The child squealed in delight.

She drew a few more hairs and more, until it looked more like her baby.

“Yes,” she said, “that looks more like you now.”

The child made her draw fingers on his hands, which she had just left as a very crude appendages, and made her add the toes as well. Then he pointed to the second toe of his right foot, where the black claw had not fallen off yet, and Meylinde added that to the picture too. Each addition seemed to make him more and more pleased, and by now the child was laughing with a careless happiness.

Then he grabbed a piece of paper himself, one of the earlier drawings, and turned it over, also grabbing a crayon. He turned around, and drew behind his back, looking over his shoulder every so often to ensure that his mother couldn’t see. She did not try to look, but sat there patiently, a faint smile on her face.

He suddenly turned and presented his drawing to her. It was a woman with hair tied back and loose robes, sitting in a chair reading. It was crude and childlike, but it was obviously her.

“Oh,” she said, it’s me! That’s wonderful, Merlin.”

He held up a finger, then turned around again, drawing even more on the paper. He would look back over his shoulder, periodically, with a mischievous eye, and she would crane her neck, pretending to try to see. The baby smiled and turned away once more, until he turned and once more held the drawing up to her.

There was now a woman next to her, with a hand on her shoulder, wearing a covering on her hair and more formal robes.

“Ah, Rossa!” said Meylinde. “How lovely.”

He held up his finger again, and once more turned away to draw. She heard a strange rhythmic breathing, and realized that he was laughing lightly. After drawing gracefully for a moment, she saw his hand move in quick, rough strokes. He turned his head to present a smiling face to her, then suddenly turned to show her his drawing.

There was another woman next to Rossa now, it was obviously Farah, but her eyes were angular and angry, her hair askew, and her mouth drawn into an angry sneer.

“Oh, Merlin!” His mother said, shaking her head in protest, but unable to suppress a smile. “That’s not nice at all.”

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