Rays of Gold

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Chapter 12: Arthur

Somehow, it is good to have a break from all those trainings that are necessary to give and hand out to that Stupid woman. It is also a good call even to at least be spared from seeing her every day. Too bad that it was only for within this week that I managed to escape that burden.

I heard that her lessons will resume right after Easter and Kay’s knighthood. Kay will be busy preparing for his own knighthood ceremony; and Merlin had mentioned that it would be the best time for Stupid to adapt most of the etiquettes and manners also necessary and expected of. But that also leaves me with something else to do.

“I heard about how strict you’ve been with the lessons you are giving to Eira, Prince Arthur,” Merlin mentioned on the first day that there were no lessons at all, and I was asked instead to see him just as I usually do every day since he had been my mentor, all the way until that Stupid woman arrived.

I stiffened for a second upon hearing that. In the end, knowing that there was no point arguing over the matter, I’ve been honest with my reasons. “If I won’t, she’ll not snap to the reality of what was expected of her,” I replied. “Do you think my teachings weren’t merciful, Merlin?”

Merlin shook his head. “Not for that matter, I’m afraid. I thought that we’ve gone over with the teaching of patience already.”

“That things come at the time that they were most needed,” I said. I remember that lesson that had been instilled onto me when Merlin had turned me to a small ant when I was a kid just to learn the cruelty of their government and the chain of commands that prompted me to understand that life could be so little to stress and rush everything up.

“No matter what happens, even though Eira was meant to be the Unknown Seer, you must understand and always remember that she was still a lady,” Merlin reminded. “And always remember to uphold the Code of Chivalry as much as you can because when all things fail, you’ll be told to remember to follow it and nothing else.”

“It would have been all easy if the Unknown Seer had been a man all along.” I huffed a sigh. “The prophecy could have been specific to say ‘she’ than a ‘he’.”

“Take that back away, Your Royal Highness. We both know that the old language could be a strange one at the behest. It brings forth the neutrality.”

“It could’ve been better to have someone with great skills that had been harnessed since they were young.”

“Now, now. The moment for that will come soon. You will not need to wait for another year to meet him.”

I raised an eyebrow at him at that mention alone. This was the first time that he had mentioned another who’ll be by my side to serve as a great aid. It had always been the talks of the Unknown Seer. This practically lifted my spirit and perked my ears to ask him for more.

Him?” I inquired with great interest. It had been the last time when he first mentioned the presence and arrival of the Unknown Seer. I’ve been enthusiastic over the matter of meeting someone who was meant to be a great help to me—that was why I was disappointed having to receive Stupid woman as that in the end. But this time, there had been a comparison at all; that this new one was better.

Yet, instead of answering that inquiry of mine, he dismissed the topic by an assurance. “You’ll meet him soon. I thought you hate knowing the future.”

It was always his comeback. All because of my petty statement of telling him that I hate having knowledge of how the future will be. For me, it wasn’t because of having the thrill of not knowing; but much more about making me anxious of when would it happen.

Take for example, if I was to know that a bad thing was to happen sooner or later, I would surely do everything in my power to avoid it from happening. But given that it was fated, I would consume myself that I should have tried the other way. Like I don’t even know which road will divert to happen and not to happen. Perhaps, I’ll just consume myself with guilt that since I know the future and it still happened when I’ve given all my effort not to, I’ll regret ever choosing the path.

If there was something that I’ve been thankful of knowing or even learning about since I was a kid, way too early for most people, it was the lesson that I will not make the same mistakes that my father does.

I blinked right away when Merlin immediately shoved a small vial at my direction. It was filled with bright blue liquid that glimmered with sparkle when it was hit by the rays of the morning sun that seeped in his room. I frowned, slowly and hesitantly taking it from him. Inspecting it with absolute curiosity, I asked, “What’s with this?”

“Easter’s still on Sunday. That gives you six days before Kay’s knighthood ceremony as well,” he started before heading back to his desk filled with countless papers and scrolls as if he was in the middle of learning new more information to fill in his head. His eyes were drawn onto the top-most paper that from my position, I couldn’t even hint what was written on. “Lessons with Eira will return after that day, am I right?”

I bit my lower lip. “What’s the point of this then?”

“Your lesson for the week. We seldom have these times nowadays, do we? Let’s take the opportunity now that Eira was meant to be next with the Lady of Forest Sauvage, and Kay was in the middle of his preparations for knighthood.”

“I thought that we were all done with this already, Merlin,” I sighed. The last time that he had me transformed as an animal was about three years back. When he had me became as a beaver just because one of his wise friends appeared to be one.

“Go on. Drink it first before I tell you. It’s always like that as well, right?” He inquired before raising his head slightly to look at me with narrowed eyes. “Or are you already questioning my standing as your mentor, Your Royal Highness?”

“You’re not to turn me to a fish right now and let me die with the lack of water?” I questioned as I opened the vial and immediately pulled it away from my reach upon pressing my nose with my fingers, turning away at the foul smell. “What is with this? Does it really need to smell like this?”

“You’re truly questioning me now, do you?” he chuckled lightly, still looking on the papers that he has on his table.

Knowing that I actually doesn’t have a choice, I kept on pressing my nose as if that will throw away the smell. I have the intuition that when something smell unpleasant, expect that it wouldn’t also taste good. And just as I pushed myself to indeed drink it up, I would much want to throw up right after the first drop to my tongue.

“Drink it until the very last drop. Don’t waste a single one,” I heard Merlin encouraging me to do just that. There was sternness on his voice that forced me to completely accept on doing it despite my own struggle to comply.

I gulped all of the content in one go, knowing that if I was to do multiple takes, I would surely not be able to empty the contents of the vial. And the taste of it was actually weirder than its own smell. It has that strained impact of a burning sensation on the throat, not even leaving any foul taste on the mouth after that gulp. But the erratic beating of my heart all at once and my own breathing had caused me to cough or even clear my throat as if that would help with calming my entire nerves.

Without even looking back at me, Merlin started murmuring a long series of spells right at me. Some sort of language that I was unaware; and it wasn’t surprising since most of the spells with his magic were from a language that was unheard of. One that he claimed to be archaic on its own context.

The entire room started to spin all around me. I immediately staggered on my footing, searching for something to hold on; but my legs started to feel liquid underneath me and the floor seemed to fall. I didn’t remember falling, but the hard stone made me realize that I indeed fall. I breathe in heavily, feeling the intense pulse of my heart and blood. A few snap of seconds later, the pain receded and I was looking up at the ceiling; feeling my entire body sweaty and seeing Merlin’s face hovering right at me.

He raised his hand right in front of me and said, “A trip… to the future.”

At that, he pressed his hands by my temples and everything just faded to darkness.

The darkness in the sky. The brightness of the fallen banners.

The simple thought of everything makes me cringe.

The coldness of the rain. The warmth of the seeping blood.

Everything seems to be fading from my own vision.

The calmness of my mind. The regrets of my heart.

“A-Arthur…” someone whispers my name just as the familiar warmth of a hand pressing against my cheek make me open my eyes despite having the need to struggle to do so.

The ugliness of the aftermath. The beauty right within my sight.

A teardrop falls, touching my eyelashes first and then my cheeks. Somehow, I know the difference between the sadness of the Heavens and of a person.

The loud scream of my dying body. The silence of life.

“We could’ve been happy,” I mumble, looking at the void of a face obscured by shadow. “And we were.”

The black crows circling overhead. The white light at the end of the road.

I immediately bolted upright from bed with a sharp sigh. With wide eyes, I felt my entire body drenched wet. My heart was beating frantically and my breathing was erratic. I looked around the room, realizing that I was inside my own quarters, trying to remember what happened.

I remember having that conversation with Merlin regarding the Stupid woman and Kay’s knighthood. I remember drinking that foul smelling vial. Even remember the non-existent tremor in my veins, and Merlin’s words to me.

“A trip to the future.”

I looked on my hands, seeing them shaking. The last thing I could remember was the worst thing that I could ever imagine. And it was slowly fading from my own memory.

Was it possible that I’ve been seeing the future all this time? But why was the only thing that I could take note of had been the last details, and it was starting to grow foggy? As if my mind was telling me to forget it, and simply just do so?

Hearing the trumps from outside my room made me snap to attention. It had been the familiar sound of the trumpets of the Easter mass ending. That would also mean that Kay was finished with the knighthood rites.

“Kay’s knighthood ceremony is drawing closer,” I remember Merlin telling me before.

“It will be in two weeks. It’s almost Easter,” I replied back then.

“What do you think must Eira do in order to prove her loyalty?”

“What makes you ask that, Mentor? Shan’t we talk more about Kay’s knighthood?”

“Yes, we are. I am asking you a question relevant to the event as well.”

“Supposedly that something is to happen with Kay’s knighthood, is there?”

“I thought you hate knowing about the future.”

Kay’s knighthood ceremony…

I almost curse underneath my breath, remembering that encounter from back then.

If there is something meant to happen, it will surely happen today. And my mind is still edgy about what happened for the past few days that I’ve been… I don’t know, asleep? Do you even consider a person to be asleep for days?

I slap my cheeks, ensuring myself that I am awake this time. I didn’t hesitate to leave Merlin’s room in a rush, despite the feeling of completely being drenched as if I’ve just jumped into the pool and be done with all my attire for the party. It’s just that instincts had given me the courtesy to hurry up to where I am originally meant to be despite the improperness of my appearance right now.

I dash down the halls, heading straight to the ballroom where I know everyone will be gathered. Damn with everyone having to look at me at this moment; they will not hinder me from heading straight on despite the lack of formal clothing. It is Easter and it isn’t my knighthood ceremony at all. Let them gossip about the prince going straight to the party on his casual clothes, completely drenched as if he had fallen straight into the tub before coming here.

The first guests that had seen me had turned to me with wide eyes. They didn’t matter. But I know that they immediately whisper something about me, elevating the gossip to another one afterwards after bowing and curtsying at my direction. As I trail on the ballroom, I am sure that the words had already reached everybody ears, but no one will dare approach me and tell me otherwise.

They know my father’s powers; they will not condone themselves to immediately be on my bad side if they want to save their skins from danger the moment that I am king.

After a few searching amidst the murmurs and the sounds of music and laughter, I finally see those I intend to confront straight away. Just by the farther side of the ballroom, close to one of the large pillars that serves as the foundation of the room, I notice Kay on his best regalia and the Stupid woman dressed up properly for the celebration. The two of them are talking, not to mention smiling at each other over some matter.

It is Kay who’ve first catches my eye and with a raised eyebrow, he looks completely shocked as he says, “What on earth happened to you?” The moment that I draw much nearer, he almost mumbles the next words for no one else to hear but me and Stupid. “You know that you could first have a change of clothes?”

“I am about to do so,” I answer, trying to ease my breathing with all these. My eyes shift here and there, in search of a potential danger that is supposed to happen that according to Merlin will happen and will put Stupid to prove that she’s really the Unknown Seer. “But I find it appropriate to send my regards to your knighthood as soon as I can.”

Stupid bites back her tongue to stop herself from laughing. She even raises her hand to cover her mouth if ever she fails to hide that smile. And I will kill her upon seeing that she incredibly fails in doing so.

Kay waves a hand as if to dismiss me right away. He bites back a laughter of his own. “Thank you, Arthur,” he remarks, “I appreciate it. Is this one of Merlin’s lessons?”

I don’t know if I can call it actually a lesson when I’ve learned nothing but clung into the fading memory of what I’ve seen.

Neglecting Kay’s words, I turn to Stupid and whisper, “Hey, Stupid. Merlin had mentioned to me that today’s the day that you’ll be able to prove yourself as the Unknown Seer.”

The smile she has immediately disappears as she bites her lower lip. She is visibly surprised or shaken with my words. “I… I didn’t receive a letter of warning from Merlin regarding that.”

I frown at him, suppressing my own anger. I can’t imagine how come Merlin had been so sure that this woman will be the Unknown Seer when she turns out to be this ignorant with almost everything. I click my tongue at that regards and scold myself that it surely had been right of Kay that I’ve changed into much desirable clothes first before heading to this party. It just appears that I’ve wasted my time of being here right away to completely prove to myself as well whatever Merlin had seen out of this woman. In the end, turning away from the two of them, I reply back, “Never mind.”

But before I can even take another step further away, Stupid immediately shouts, “Wait!” Just as a hand of hers closed around my wrist in an instant.

Immediately, about a few inches away from my face, a whistling arrow passes right in front of me. Its arrowhead hitting the stone flooring in an instant that causes the imminent chaos in the ballroom.

There’s the flutter of fabric, the screams and thunderous footsteps of the gathered guests as they all flee for safety. It had been Kay who suddenly surrounds his arms around me and Stupid as he urges us two to safety and out of whatever potential danger exists.

“First day as a knight and I am here trying to save the day,” he mumbles as he leads us farther against the walls and to the crowd of people still leaving the perimeter.

“Secure the exits! Don’t let anyone escape!” Someone from the other side of the room shouts to the guards in attendance.

I grit my teeth, shaking Stupid’s hand away from mine and without any hesitation at all, I break free from Kay’s protection as well. I hear the two of them shouting for my name, but I fight my way to get in between the fleeing guests. I tell myself that I am not running, and I am not going to continue letting this turmoil recedes the rest of the day. This will surely be news to the King’s Court, and everything will be like day one again; wherein I’ll be needing to be close to Merlin at all times and be guarded by carefully chosen knights.

It is actually a good thing that ballrooms always showcase their best weapons. There is always the best armour present, the best shield and swords hanging on the wall. Just as the best armaments of bows and arrows are there for whatever reason that they were there.

I immediately unhook the bow and the sheave of arrows from the nearest wall. Using the opportunity that guests had scattered on as a long series of barriers against for the threat, I scan my eyes to where the first arrow surely came from. To be honest, it had only been the one and only as well.

If there is something I know about an intruder or assassin, he’ll be all by himself. And he’ll not escape right away now that his ways of leaving had been closed all around him. He’ll stay in position and wait for the right moment to flee.

My eyes spot a shadow that almost blend too well by the lining stained windows of the ballroom. They’ve been opened for the festivities, allowing the warm breeze to at least cool the otherwise close and hot place. All the same reason that someone could just climb up right there at the time wherein everyone will be gathered around, and be done with whatever was ordered of him.

I nock the arrow onto the string, pulling it taut as I aim directly at the spot that will at least injure him. One that will be enough to cause a graze, a trickle of blood to drop and be used to hunt down afterwards.

But before I even let loose of the arrow, a strong flash of light appears right from the middle of the room. And when it recedes, my eyes easily adjust back.

At the same time that a man’s body drops at the middle of the ballroom as if instantly collapsing from his stand. I notice that the bow and arrow that I’ve been holding earlier on had been lying on the floor, just as the rest of the guests stop from fleeing to turn their attention at what causes the light. As it so happens to be, it had been all due to Merlin.

He lowers his hand after a few second and trails his eyes onto the fallen figure right in front of him. It had been the same man whose shadows I’ve noticed earlier on that had been hiding by the window panel earlier. I see his mouth open to mutter something in almost a whisper, one that I can’t hear at all, and in an instant, the dark figure of a man right there suddenly erupts to a column of black smoke, leaving without any trace.

I frown at that, realizing with closure look that the fleeing guests are frozen on the spot. As if they are statues right at this moment. I trail my eyes to the rest gathered, seeing that aside from Merlin and me who could move right now… Stupid seems shaken upon witnessing the man disappearing as well.

Merlin’s eyes move from Stupid and then to me before lifting his hands to beckon the two of us to draw closer to where he currently stands. The place where the man was is now vacant without any mark of a person being there, except for that arrow that remained stuck onto the stoned flooring. He tells the two of us, particularly to me, “Eira had saved your life, Prince Arthur. Despite it being pure coincidence for your part, we’re not going to deny that her actions had proven that Eira is meant to aid you. But… I doubt that it had been coincidence alone.” He turns to where Stupid is and inquires, “You’ve surely felt something, have you, Eira?”

Stupid bites her lower lip for a second. Her hands are shaking but tries to ease herself as she balls the front of her skirt, and her eyes are pinned onto the protruding arrow still. “The same sensation that I got before coming here.”

“What is going on in here?” I inquire, quite hating the fact that I am being considered as just some ‘accessory’, since right here and there, my mentor mentioned that Stupid was my ‘saviour’ for a moment there. I look around swiftly, realizing that everything around the three of us remain frozen in time. “What is this?”

“Magic,” my mentor answers without missing a beat, as if to make me be surprised and be thrilled with the mere mention of it. But I also know that he knew that it doesn’t have that effect on me compared to how curious I’ve been earlier on our first meeting. We can say that I’ve gotten use to the idea already of knowing the presence of magic.

“The people aren’t moving,” points out Stupid, which is foolish at its behest since both I and Merlin can see it with our own eyes. “As if they’ve been frozen in time.”

“Yes, and no,” Merlin replies back, his voice soft and almost inaudible. “I’ve entrapped us three in a world where we are the only ones present. Half of my magic is to eradicate the last few seconds of their memories. After all, if I don’t, we will not be able to explain the reason of where the assassin had been. And also, we will hate the notion of added security when it was evident that the one who’ve tried to do the assassination is a magic user as well.” My mentor stares at me for a second, as if to notion to me that it is true that my life will always be in danger for those who are vying for the throne; and we’ll be back to the discussion that the day of confliction and all is going to happen soon.

“It is bound to come, you one said, Merlin,” I reply back.

He smiles softly. “Yes. They’re to come. One by one. The day is bound to come. But for now, allow me to completely present to you the one who’ll be of absolute guidance to you.” He ushers a hand to where Stupid is standing, despite the fact that I’ve been wishing that he’ll imply another person as such. He looks at where Stupid is and tells her, “It will be proven by you taking the arrow yourself, Eira.”

My frown deepens. “Why would she do that?” I point at the arrow myself. “That arrow surely will be dangerous if it is truly meant to do the kill.”

“For you, Your Royal Highness,” points Merlin before intently looking at Stupid. “But not for someone who understands too well the reason behind that dripping juice of a poison on the arrow.”

Stupid looks completely stupid at where Merlin is for a second, hesitant at first. But with a nod from my mentor, she finally turns her attention to the arrow and easily removes the deeply embedded arrow to the stoned-flooring as if it had been floating in water. And she didn’t even flinch with the red-coated arrow with a paper tied close to its feathers. When she unwinds the paper, the arrow immediately disappears in the wind; then, she reads what’s written on it: “The golden rays of spring, and the fading light of autumn.” She frowns and then looks at the two of us. “What does this mean?”

I gulp in hard, easing a little as I look back on to my mentor who’ve already deduced the meaning of the words.

Merlin then raises his hand just as everyone around us start to move back to where they are before the arrow even cause the chaos at all. But the three of us remain into our positions in the middle of the ballroom. And before dropping his hand to allow the movement of the celebrations continues on, he remarks, “We already know the meaning of the words ourselves. Why don’t we trust ourselves a little bit?”

When the bustle all around us erupts again, with both me and Stupid caught off guard with the sudden movement, Merlin easily slips through the crowd with barely a look back at us.

“Arthur…” Stupid mumbles that only I could hear her.

“Eira!” Kay calls out for her, causing her to turn back to where Kay had been standing with a confused look and a nervous chuckle. Completely unsure of how come the two of us end up in the middle of the room when his last memory surely had involved the two of us just within our reach.

“Tell him that I’ll change into something appropriate for the celebration,” I tell Stupid before finally turning away and deciding to leave the party.

Despite being against my will, I know that I must return to the party. It is only common courtesy and out of respect for Kay’s knighthood ceremony. But my mind had been elsewhere; already knowing the meaning of that strange letter from a person who wishes to kill me like too many others had tried to do.

After all, today marks the start of spring. Running straight into the traps of assassination is surely coming.

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