This is the beginning of a series of flash fiction stories that will run every weekday in November. You can also find more flash fiction from me, Neil Vogler, and Sean Craven here or just wait until the compilation is published at the end of the month.
Anyway, this series is a prequel that delves into how the Order of the Scarlet Knight began. In this first episode, the grouchy Marlin meets Merlin in Britain about 4000 years ago.
It was almost four thousand years ago, in what came to be known as Britain, when I first met Merlin. I had just been exiled from the village when my latest attempt at conjuring killed Bleeth’s chickens. My woman, Beaux, had decided she’d rather share a bed with her grubby sheep than with me.
The only place I could take shelter was a cave out in the woods. It wasn’t much of a cave, more like a hole in a rock. I didn’t even have room enough to stand up without hitting my head.
I did manage to find enough dry wood to get a fire going. Not a great fire, but enough so I wouldn’t freeze to death. I also managed to catch a squirrel, which would have impressed Beaux; she never thought I was any good at hunting or gathering. The squirrel had accidentally fallen out of a tree and broken its leg, but I counted it as a victory.
As I sit by my fire and roast my squirrel, Merlin appears. These days everyone likes to depict Merlin as an old man with a long white beard and all that, which isn’t true in the slightest. He has a neat black beard with short black hair. It has a little gray in it since he’s nearly forty, ancient in those days, but he’s in good shape. In the firelight I can see his skin is a bit darker, much tanner than anyone I’ve seen before.
“Greetings, stranger. May I partake of your hospitality?” He speaks my language perfectly, though with a bit of an accent.
“I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer,” I say. I gesture to the squirrel and my fire. “There’s a village not far from here. You’d have better luck there.”
“No, the time is not right for me to appear there. Not by myself. I need your help, Marlin.”
“How do you know my name?”
“I know a great many things about you, Marlin. I know Beaux still loves you. She will return in time.”
“Now see here—”
He sits down across the fire from me. He looks me in the eye and then says, “What you seek is a calling.”
“What I seek is a roof over my head and some food in my belly.”
“You’ve tried a great many things to prove your worth, but none have taken. Why is that?”
“Might be because I’m not very strong. Or very brave, if you must know. Can’t be a coward if you want to be chief.”
“You don’t wish to be chief.”
“I don’t? Then what do I want to do?”
“You want to be a beacon of light.”
I laugh at that. My squirrel has started to blacken, so I pluck it from the fire. I hold out the spit to him. “A pity I can’t offer you any better, stranger.”
“It will be enough,” he says. He waves his right hand and instead of a tiny squirrel on the spit, there’s a plump chicken. He pries a leg quarter off of it. “Go on, it’s real.”
“How did you do that?”
“You will learn, in time. What you must know for now is that a darkness is rising. I can fight against it, but I need help. Your help.”
“Me? I don’t see what good I’ll be to someone who can turn a squirrel into a chicken. Care to teach me that trick? It’d make Old Greetha green with envy.”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Then what am I supposed to do for you?”
“I am a stranger to this land. I know nothing of its people or customs. I need a guide. I need someone who can clear the path for me.”
“Me? You want me to do that?” I laugh again. “I’m sorry, my friend, but I’m the most hated man in the village. They exiled me.”
“They don’t hate you. They have no respect for you. We must give them a reason to respect you.”
“Behold.” He waves his hand again and a pillar of flame shoots to the ceiling of the cave. I just about wet my skins when he walks through the flame. Yet when he emerges, there isn’t a bit of him singed. I touch his hand; it’s ice cold.
“If I am to save this world from darkness, I need your help.”
I consider this for a few seconds. Mostly I think of the look on the chief’s face—on all their faces—when they see him walk through fire with me at his side. Then they’ll see who’s a joke. “I’m in.” We didn’t shake hands back then. Instead, I hold up my left thumb. He presses his to it to seal our agreement. “Say, stranger, I didn’t get your name.”
“You can call me Merlin.”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Episode 2 heads south to where another meeting is taking place that gives birth to a coven of witches, plus there's also a big announcement from author Laura Diamond...