Into the open Air

Merida

Everything seemed different since Gawain had left. Riding through the hills and glens, which I had always enjoyed, was less fun. Dinners were plain and boring, hunting was slow and predictable. It was hard, especially because I hadn’t heard for him the past month. I just kept telling myself that no news was good news, but I just didn’t believe it.

One day, I was riding through the forest. My thoughts were everywhere, and sometimes I just forgot what I was doing. And when Angus stopped, I had no idea where I was for a second. But then I remembered, and it felt like my guts had turned into ice. The stone circle.

It had been ages, but nothing had changed. I felt like this circle wouldn’t ever change. Like it would just rebuild itself when it was destroyed. And then I heard that sound. I couldn’t possibly define that sound. Angus and I turned around, and we saw the little blue ghost floating between two stones.

I hesitated for a second, but then I spurred Angus on. The creature disappeared when we came closer, and a whole trail of them appeared. We quickly followed the wisps, and when we arrived at our destination, I felt the rest of my body freeze. The witch’s cottage.

I jumped onto the ground. It seemed like nothing had changed, but it had, because I had blown up her whole cottage. I reckoned that she wouldn’t want to see me, but I was really curious, and I couldn’t just walk away. Besides, the wisps had led me here, and they wouldn’t have done that without a reason.

I opened the door, and didn’t see her, nor her crow or her sweeping broom. I saw that she had refilled her stock with all sorts of carvings, mainly bears. ‘Sorry,’ I spoke awkwardly. It felt weird to just talk to myself out loud, but I knew she was here. ‘Sorry that I ruined your cottage. And thanks. Thanks for the lessons you’ve learned me. Without you, I wouldn’t have the great bond with my mother that I have now. And I wouldn’t have had the best friend that I do have now,’ I said with a lump in my throat. Did I still have that friend? Or was he already gone?

‘It’s okay,’ someone muttered. I smiled when I recognised her voice. ‘You can go now.’ ‘Okay,’ I said softly. ‘Goodbye. And once again, thanks.’ I walked to the door, but then I turned around. ‘Could you perhaps help me one more time?’ I said.

The short, old lady quickly shambled into the light. ‘Good to see you, dear. Now, what is it that you want?’ I didn’t know if it was bad conscience or just greediness, but her helpfulness sure was convenient.

‘Can I ask you something?’ She cogitated for a second, but then mumbled something that sounded like an approval. ‘Can you look into the future?’ I asked. She chuckled. ‘Of course I can,’ she said. ‘Can you also see what is going on somewhere else?’ She chuckled even harder. ‘What do you think I am, a woodcarver or something?’

I hesitated for a moment, but took a deep breath and just asked it. ‘Could you tell me something about a friend of mine?’ She walked towards me, her enormous nose nearly touching my chin. ‘Gawain, you mean?’ she asked. So she knew him! ‘Yes!’ I said. ‘What do you know about him?’

She rubbed her chin. ‘I can tell you something...but I want something in return,’ she said. Shit. I didn’t have anything with me, except my ring, but I wasn’t planning to give that away. I raised my chin. ‘I think you owe me something,’ I said with a princessy voice. She looked at me a little angrily, but then she nodded. ‘Fine,’ she said and she walked towards the door.

For a moment, I wanted to ask her what she was doing, but then I remembered and followed her outside. She closed the door, snapped her fingers and went back inside again. ‘Never conjure where you carve,’ she muttered and walked to the cauldron. She grabbed some ingredients and threw them in it.

‘Close your eyes,’ she said. I did, and through my eyelids I saw a bright flash. I opened my eyes and looked into the cauldron. I saw a lot of armed men, but couldn’t recognise any of them. ‘Oh my,’ said the witch softly. ‘What is it?’ I said. ‘These men...I think they’re allies. The enemy’s allies.’ I gasped. There were so many! ‘Where are they?’ I asked. ‘They’re not there yet. But it won’t be long.’

The image changed. Now we saw men, fighting each other on a large field. I gasped. I saw Lancelot, and Erec, Griflet, Lionel...all the knights of the round table, fighting bravely and unaware of the oncoming danger. And then I saw Gawain. He was fighting at least five men at the same time. He fought like a lion, fierce and strong, but he was tired. Sweat was dripping from his forehead. If the enemy’s allies came to join them, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

‘Hang on, Gawain,’ I said to the image. ‘I’m coming.’ I turned to the witch. ‘I’ve got to go. Thanks a lot.’ I turned around and ran outside, to the castle.

‘Maudie!’ I shouted when I arrived in the courtyard. She looked at me in great fear. I jumped onto the ground. ‘Maudie, where’s dad? I need to speak with him!’ I said. ‘He’s in the living room, pri-’ ‘Thanks!’ I said and ran off.

‘Dad? Dad!’ I shouted when I finally found him. ‘Calm down, Merida! My god, what’s going on?’ he said when he saw me. ‘Dad,’ I said panting. ‘We need to go. The knights, Arthur, they’re going to be defeated! We need to gather our allies and help them!’ He looked at me for a second and sighed.

‘They’re not our allies, lass. The lords won’t send their men for a fight that isn’t theirs,’ he said. ‘The lords should help us when we ask them to! We would do the same! Come on dad, they won’t sustain without our help!’ ‘I don’t think they would want to help people who aren’t even our ally.’

I looked at my dad in absolute horror. ‘How can you say that? Gawain is our friend! He’s King Lot’s son, for god’s sake! Lot was your friend! Do you think he would forgive you if something happened to Gawain of any of his brothers?’ My father didn’t say anything. ‘Those knights have saved my fucking life! Without Gawain, I wouldn’t be alive!’ I screamed. My father still didn’t say anything.

‘If you’re not coming, I’ll go alone. I always thought you were so brave, but you’re really just a coward. Goodbye,’ I said furiously and turned around. ‘You’re not going anywhere,’ my dad said strictly. ‘You can’t stop me!’ I screamed without looking at him.

Suddenly I felt his big arm around my waist. ‘Let me go! I have to help them!’ I screamed. But my dad was way too strong. He picked me up like I was as light as a feather and brought me to my room. ‘I’m sorry Merida,’ he said when we arrived, ‘but I can’t risk losing you again.’ He turned around and left the room. I ran to the door, but it was locked. Shit.

I couldn’t fall asleep, but I had to. I would need energy tomorrow, because that would be the first time I would have a chance to escape. I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing my best friend, and all the other friends I had. After hours and hours, I finally fell asleep.

‘Merida,’ my father said. I was awake immediately. I actually wanted to run away and search the knights immediately, but there was a weird look on my father’s face that stopped me. ‘Get dressed. I’ll see you downstairs in a minute.’ I nodded and did what he said after he had left my room.

I gasped when I arrived downstairs. ‘Lord Macintosh, Dingwall, MacGuffin! You’ve come!’ I shouted happily. ‘We couldn’t leave our ally alone,’ lord Macintosh said with a smirk. ‘We’ve gathered quite a big army,’ my dad said. ‘Eat something, so we can go.’ ‘Thank you so much, dad!’ I said and gave him a kiss on his cheek. ‘And you too,’ I said to the lords. ‘You’re the best allies we could ever wish for.’

While I was trying to eat, which didn’t really work since I was so emotional, my mom came in. ‘Merida!’ she said a little angry. ‘What?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know what you’re thinking, but you’re not going. They have a whole army! They don’t need you! You’re staying here.’ Oh god, not now. ‘Mom, I’m going. You can’t make me stay!’

‘Elinor!’ my dad shouted when he came in. ‘Leave her be. I will take care of her, make sure she’s safe. And the lords will too. We have a complete army to protect her, dear. Please.’ I smiled, but my mother didn’t seem convinced. ‘Do you want her to die?’ she asked my father. ‘No! Of course not! But they’re her friends, and we have to help her save them, not save them for her.’

Lord MacGuffin came in. ‘King Fergus, can we go?’ he asked. ‘Aye,’ my dad said and walked outside. I grabbed my bow and sword and followed them. ‘Bye,’ I said quickly to my mother, who didn’t have time to raise objections.

When I saw the army that had been gathered, I was shocked. There were so many men. My dad wanted to say something to them, but I was faster. ‘Thank you all, brave warriors. You’re all very selfless for fighting a war that isn’t yours. That is what this alliance is all about! May the brave conquer the dishonourable!’ The warriors all shouted, and I felt amazing. I mounted Angus and left, with a whole army behind me.

After hours and hours, I heard shouting and the clash of arms. I turned around and looked at my dad. He wanted to say something, but I turned around and galloped towards the noise. I knew it was safer to stay with my dad, but I felt like I couldn’t lose any more time.

When I arrived at the top of the hill, I saw the battle and gasped. The enemy’s allies had arrived, and they were in the majority. I spurred Angus, who seemed a little frightened, on and we galloped down the hill.

I grabbed my bow when I saw King Arthur, who was being attacked by three men at the same time. I quickly shot an arrow and hit the man in the middle in his eye. He fell from his horse, and the two others quickly followed. King Arthur turned around and looked really surprised to see me. I smirked and nodded encouragingly, and then galloped away to help the others.

Suddenly, I heard a massive noise. I turned around, and saw my father, the lords and their army galloping down the hill, yelling loudly. I smiled. Now we were in the majority. I felt a flood of rage to defeat the enemy.

As I galloped through the grass that had turned completely red, I heard the noises of the people who recognised me or were shocked to see me. I ignored them, and kept firing arrows to everyone who wasn’t on my side.

I noticed that my combativeness infected everyone, even though it had started raining heavily. The enemy started withdrawing slowly, and my eagerness to win grew with every passing second. After I had fired most of my arrows, I decided to keep the last ones for emergencies and I drew my sword.

I was attacked by more and more men, who all assumed that I was an easy target. That made me even more furious and I defeated them one by one. It felt great to show that I was not incapable, like everyone thought.

And then I saw him. Gawain. He was fighting ten men on his own. He looked focussed and he was fighting like a bear, but the other knights were strong too. I grabbed my bow and shot two of them down. They noticed me, and one of them ran towards me.

I jumped onto the ground and kicked his upper body. He was surprised by my strength, because he fell down immediately. I kicked his head and stabbed him between his eyes. This was the first man I had ever killed. And it didn’t feel great or something, but it gave me a rush of energy to defeat the others.

Another man attacked me, and he quickly joined his dead comrade. I wanted to see how Gawain was doing, but I was immediately attacked by two other knights. I fought them at the same time, constantly turning around, but when I discovered that that didn’t work, I started fighting one of them. I quickly killed him and turned around to fight the other one, but he was quicker, and kicked me down.

He came walking towards me with his sword in the air. I was scared for an instant, but then I saw something familiar. I blinked, and a second later the man was lying on the ground, and his head was a few feet away. I stood up and picked up my sword. ‘Thanks, Lancelot,’ I said. ‘No problem,’ he said with a smirk and galloped away.

Gawain was gone, and so were many other men. But there was one, who looked at me as if I was a incapable dog. ‘I never thought that I would kill a woman in combat,’ he said and drew his sword. I drew mine as well. ‘And I don’t think you ever will,’ I said and attacked him.

He was by far the most skilled man I had fought, but my anger helped me stay focussed. ‘Come on, stupid girl, you know that you’ll never defeat me. You’re way to weak. Give up, and I’ll spare you,’ he said. ‘You just want me to give up because you are the one who’s scared. But I don’t negotiate with swines,’ I said and attacked him with fresh anger.

I saw he was getting tired, and that gave me new energy. I attacked fiercely so that he had to walk backwards. After some moments, he tripped over someone’s dead body. I smiled. ‘Who’s the weak one now?’ I said and stabbed my sword in the space under his armpit, that wasn’t covered by his armour. He looked at me furiously, but then his eyes closed.

I removed my sword from his bleeding flesh and looked around. The enemy had withdrawn and they had formed a line far from where I was standing. ‘No one else?’ I screamed. They looked at me and at the dead body on the ground. Nobody said anything. Then there was a signal and they turned around. I smiled. The enemy had been defeated.

I turned around and walked towards the other people, who were standing far behind me. They started clapping and cheering. ‘That’s enough,’ I said when I arrived. ‘I’ve not done anything more than you.’ King Arthur stepped forward. ‘Merida, you’ve saved my life, and many others’. And you’ve killed their leader! You deserve a life-long applause!’ he said.

I gasped. ‘Was that lad their leader?’ I said in shock. King Arthur laughed and nodded. ‘I’m sorry for underestimating you, Merida. You’ve proven yourself to be an excellent warrior. I owe you an enormous apology.’ ‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘I wasn’t that nice to you then, so I guess we’re even.’

‘Merida!’ I heard. I turned around and saw my dad with tears in his eyes. ‘That’s my girl,’ he said softly and started weeping. I smiled and hugged him tightly. ‘I’m so proud of you,’ he sobbed. Suddenly, I realised something. I stepped back and looked around, but I didn’t see him. ‘Where’s Gawain?’ I asked anxiously. Nobody said anything. ‘Where is Gawain?’ I repeated. Lancelot stepped forward and put his hand on my shoulder. I looked at him, and saw the tears in his eyes, as he pointed at the tent where the injured were healed. I gasped and ran away.

There he was. My Gawain. His armour had been taken off. He had some upper body injuries and a big wound on his head, but his legs were by far in the worst condition. A big, white blanket had been wrapped around his leg, but it had turned almost completely red.

‘Gawain?’ I said softly. ‘Gawain?’ No response. ‘Is he...dead?’ I asked Lancelot. He shook his head. ‘But we don’t know if he’ll survive.’ Had everything been useless? Everything we had done?

‘Really, Gawain?’ I said. ‘After everything I have done to save you? After everything that we have been through the past year? Are you just going to leave me here? All alone? Well, I won’t let you. You can’t just leave me here.’ I grabbed his hand.

‘Gawain, wake up! Come on! I won’t let you go! Not now! Wake up, for god’s sake!’ I said, and started crying. ‘Gawain, you have survived everything! You are not going to die from a leg injury! You could die from a head injury, but your leg? Come on, Gawain! I won’t let you!’ I started crying even harder and I laid my head on his chest. ‘I won’t let you! Come back, Gawain! You’re not going to die from a wounded fucking leg!’ ‘I won’t die from a wounded leg, but I nearly dead from a wounded heart.’ I looked up. He had opened his eyes! ‘Gawain,’ I screamed. ‘Hey,’ he said and smirked. I started crying even harder, and then I did something I had never thought I’d do. I pressed my lips against his. When I realised what I was doing, I looked at him. He seemed just as surprised as I was, but then he started laughing, and so did I. ‘Don’t ever scare me like this again,’ I said half laughing and half crying, and I kissed him again.


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