first Merlin wanted to head back to their hut in the forest, but Asha suggested
that they wander around in town for a while. She was rather curious about these
human towns. As a nymph, she had only ever hunted for men at the outskirts of
these towns and never had the chance to truly explore them.
Having had enough of the marketplace, they walked through the streets that lead into the quieter parts of town. And to Asha’s wonder, not every part of the town was, what she described, as filthy as the marketplace.
“I always thought that human houses were primitive and disgusting,” Asha said. “But a lot has changed in the past two hundred years.”
And as Asha spoke her mind, Merlin glanced around, making sure that there was no one within earshot to catch her words. Merlin was rather worried that one wrong utterance by Asha would cause for their identities to be revealed yet again. Even though Asha had already proven to him that her memory magic worked perfectly, deep down inside, he was still paranoid about the possibility of King Arthur finding out about his treason. Well, Merlin didn’t think of his actions as treason, but he knew that the advisors and ministers in Camelot would not give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Two hundred years?” Merlin asked.
“Yes,” Asha turned to him. “Have I never told you my age?”
Merlin shook his head.
“I am one of the youngest nymph in my tribe,” Asha said. “As of this winter, I will be two hundred and ten years old.”
She spoke those words with the pride of a ten-year-old girl who was telling everyone about her age.
“You certainly don’t behave like a two hundred year old nymph,” Merlin commented dryly.
“What do you mean by that!” Asha placed a fist on his chest. “Are you saying that I am a child?”
“I am saying that nymphs appear to mature slower than humans.”
Merlin immediately regretted saying those words.
“How dare you!” Asha stomped on his foot. Merlin bit his lower lip to stop himself from crying out in pain. “You filthy little man! I have lived longer than you will ever have! Your impudence is unforgivable!”
Merlin found it difficult to believe that the person in front of him was almost two hundred years older than him. She acted without the serenity and calmness of someone who had lived through even just one lifetime. Instead, her eyes were glaring with anger and her cheeks were puffed.
“Calm down, there are other people watching,” Merlin urged her.
But no matter what Merlin said, Asha refused to calm down. She turned her back to him and stomped away. Afraid of leaving her alone, Merlin had no choice but to follow her like a miserable dog. Without acknowledging his presence, Asha wandered through the town and took in the sights. She never as much as glanced at Merlin even though she knew that he was right behind her.
Merlin on the other hand, experienced for the first time the unbelievable furry of a woman. But Asha was no normal woman. She was a woman with the pride of a nymph, and Merlin had poked the dragon. At first he thought that she would calm down after a few steps, but he had never been more wrong. No matter how much he pleaded behind her, Asha never as much as glanced at him. Merlin knew that she could hear him. Her unforgiving anger frustrated him so much that he wondered if she should just return to the hut in the forest alone. But he knew that if he abandoned Asha here, the wrath that would follow would break him. It might even ruin whatever trust lay between them.
And just when Merlin was about to give up, did Asha stop. She pointed at the door of an inn.
Merlin let out a deep sigh. Asha was still clearly angry, but at the very least, she had calmed down enough to speak to him.
Merlin opened his mouth to speak, but had to stop himself. As he had walked behind her for most of the day, he only saw her back and her beautiful raven black hair. For a moment he took her for a girl and wanted to ask what she wanted to eat, but he reminded himself that this was an unnecessary question.
Asha was a nymph. And a nymph could only mean one thing when she stated that she was hungry.
“You should have told me sooner,” Merlin sighed. “I can’t find my way back to the hut at night.”
“Why do you think I lead you here,” Asha said. “We spend the night at the inn.”
Merlin could hear the singing and festive sounds leaking through the wooden door. There were countless half drunk men in there and all their eyes would without a doubt land on Asha if she entered.
“Are you sure?” Merlin asked. “There are a lot of men in there, so you can’t focus your magic on only one man.”
“Fool! I’m doing this for you!”
Asha shot him an angry glare and turned her back to him. She stomped towards the inn and threw the door open. Confused, Merlin followed her. Why did she say that she was doing this for him, he wondered. Going into an inn full of men was obviously to get her meal.
Merlin entered the inn and followed Asha to the bar counter. Even with the cloak hiding most of her body, the eyes of every man immediately fell on her. Ignoring the stares, Asha headed for the counter and spoke to the innkeeper.
“I would like a room for two,” she said.
“Uhm...ah...,” the innkeeper stuttered. He fumbled around and pulled out a thick ledger from underneath the counter. For a moment Merlin wondered if Asha had used her magic on him, but when he saw that Asha’s eyes weren’t glowing. The innkeeper was simply smitten by Asha’s beauty.
“Under what name would you like to put the room?” the innkeeper asked and turned to Merlin.
Merlin quickly understood that the innkeeper assumed that he was her husband.
“Merlin,” he muttered.
“And your last name, sir?”
“Swanwick!” Asha interjected.
“Merlin Swanwick?” the innkeeper asked.
“Merlin and Asha Swanwick,” Asha stated loud and clear for everyone in the room to hear.
“Very well,” the innkeeper nodded and handed Merlin the keys. Asha grabbed them before Merlin could get them, shattering his dignity as a man in front of everyone.
“We’d also like to have some dinner,” Asha said.
“What would you like to have?” the innkeeper asked.
“The best your kitchen has to offer.”
There were some wide eyes in the room. Asha acted as if she so wealthy that money was of no concern. And even though her pockets did not have a single coin in them, money was truly of no concern to her.
The innkeeper lead them to an empty table in the corner and promised that he would return in a few minutes with their food.
“I thought you came here to eat,” Merlin said.
“I did,” Asha answered. “Didn’t I just order?”
“I thought...,” Merlin began, but stopped himself. Before they entered the inn, Asha told him that she was doing this for him. He still couldn’t think of why she was doing this and he was afraid that questioning her would only reignite her anger, but there was one more question he simply had to ask.
“Why did you introduce yourself as my wife?” he asked.
“Haven’t we been living together like husband and wife?” Asha asked.
“Yes, but — “
“By the definitions of humans, we are a married couple.”
Merlin exhaled profoundly. He understood and didn’t understand Asha’s straightforward nymph reasoning.
“All right, but why Swanwick?”
This time it was Asha who exhaled with frustration.
“You really aren’t a bright one, are you?” she poked his forehead. “When a couple gets married, the woman takes on the husband’s name.”
“But I have no — “
Asha cut him off again.
“We demons have no surnames and neither did your father. So as a human, the only surname you could have, is your mother’s; Elizabeth Swanwick.”
Asha licked her lips and smiled.
“Asha Swanwick...it does sound quite suitable, don’t you think?”
When Merlin offered no comment and instead simply stared at the men who were staring at Asha, she scowled and kicked him under the table.
“Ouch!” Merlin grunted but he did not complain. He had expected for something like this to happen if he ignored Asha.
“But why did you come to this inn? How will this help me?”
Asha nodded at the people who were sitting at the other tables. “The book by the Church didn’t mention much, but maybe some of these people here might know something about Elizabeth Swanwick.”
Merlin took another look at the people. The inn had quite the mix of individuals in here. There were those who were clearly foreigners. There were craftsmen and traveling merchants. Soldiers and mercenaries. People from all walks of life had gathered in this inn.
“My instincts as a nymph tell me that at least one of them here will know something about your mother and father.”
Merlin wanted to ask Asha why she bothered to help him, but he decided to save that question for later. For now, he was just grateful for her help.
Moments later, the innkeeper placed two large plates on the table. One plate was filled with grilled pork and mutton. Another plate had cooked potatoes and bread.
“Bring us one more plate,” Asha requested.
The innkeeper bowed and obeyed her order as if she was the queen. One could almost think that he was proud to be allowed to serve such a flawless beauty.
“What is the empty plate for?” Merlin asked.
Merlin shook his head. Instead of asking more questions that made him seem like a clueless fool, he decided to observe.
With a smile in her eyes, Asha placed some mutton and bread on the empty plate. So delicious of the scent of the perfectly cooked meat that it caused for the mouth of every man in the room to water.
Asha made eye contact with a mercenary and gestured for him to come over.
“You, warrior,” she said and Merlin could see a faint purple glow pulsing in her eyes. “Have you heard of a woman by the name of Elizabeth Swanwick?”
The mercenary, who had only one eye and carried a scar on the right side of his face, shook his head.
“No, m’lady,” he said. “I’ve never heard o - “
“You may leave,” Asha cut him off.
And like that, Asha interviewed the men one after the other with the food on the table making the men obey Asha’s every order without too much magic.
Finally, after nearly a dozen men, a merchant turned out to know the Elizabeth Swanwick.
“Aye, I have heard stories about her... I met her once,” the man answered.
Merlin’s eyes widened when he saw the man. It was the merchant whom Asha bought the pig from.
“That is good enough,” Asha said and gestured for the man to sit down. She then pushed the plate towards him. “Please, have some.”
Merlin felt rather surprised that Asha was able to speak to the man without as much as blinking an eye.
Without using fork or knife, the merchant used his hands and dug into the food.
“I haven’t eaten something this good in a long time,” he said with a full mouth.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Asha said and rested her chin on her folded fingers.
She waited for him to finish the plate before she began to question him.
“What can you tell me about Elizabeth Swanwick?”
The merchant was obviously still hungry as his eyes were fixed on the other two plates.
“Well, she is someone who was executed by the Church,” the merchant said and sucked on his fingers. “The Church said that she had slept with a demon and that she was a whore — or was it a vixen? Worse than the devil himself.”
Merlin gritted his teeth. Even though he had never met his mother, he did not like it when someone talked like this about her.
“Yes, I know that,” Asha told me. “But what can you tell me about the time when you said you met Elizabeth Swanwick?”
The merchant wiped his fingers on his pants and glanced around nervously.
“Do not worry,” Asha assured him. “My husband and I are not members of the Church. We are simply doing research for the head of a noble family.”
While she said that, she placed several pieces of mutton on his plate.
“All we ask for his what you remember.”
“Well...,” the merchant cleared his throat.
“It was over twenty year ago, but I remember it well. It was during my time as an apprentice. My master and I were traveling merchants and we went from town to town, selling our goods at a profit.
“One day, it rained as if God was crying like a woman, and we couldn’t continue to travel because our cart would have gotten stuck in the mud. We had nowhere to sleep, but then this woman, Elizabeth Swanwick came and gave us a few blankets so that we could sleep in the stalls with our horses
“I think she was the daughter of the owner of the inn who allowed us to sleep there. She was quite young at the time, fifteen or sixteen perhaps. But I remember her well, because it’s so rare to meet a girl who is so kind even though she wasn’t rich herself.”
“Do you remember anything about her appearance?” Asha asked.
“It’s been over twenty years, m’lady,” the merchant laughed. “I can barely remember the face of my master, let alone the face of the girl I met only one time.”
He stuffed a piece of mutton in his mouth before he continued to speak.
“I remembered her well, but she was still only one girl. At the time, I didn’t think about it much and I soon forgot about her. But years later my master and I came to Camelot to sell our goods, and I saw the Church executing sinners at the marketplace. It was big event really, bigger than any of the other public executions the Church has done before. Almost felt as if they wanted the whole world to see and hear of the sins these people committed.
“I would usually ignore these kind of things. Seeing people getting their heads chopped off just didn’t suit me, but I knew a lot of people liked to watch these kind of things. Then I saw this girl on the stage. She seemed rather familiar and it took me a few moments to realize who she was. I stayed at the marketplace and waited until it as her turn. The Church read out her name and the mortal sin she had committed: sleeping with a demon. The bishop said that she had given herself to a demon and betrayed God and all his holy angels.
“I didn’t believe it, but a lot of other people did. They cursed her and threw rotten fruits and vegetables at her. It was a mess. None of the Church officials did anything about it. It was all part of the show, I suppose. After a while, her head was put on a wooden board and the Executioner came with his big axe and chopped her head right off.”
The merchant stopped speaking and swallowed his food with some wine. Asha and Merlin could tell that he wasn’t done talking. His eyes were lost in the memories from long ago. Memories he probably had never thought of until now.
“Usually...I would forget these kind of things,” he said. “I mean, I didn’t know her and I did nothing to help her. But when during the execution she was different from the other people. She didn’t cry, nor did she beg for her life. She appeared so calm that some of the Church people might have been afraid of her. And when it was her turn, she kneeled down on her own. I think the Executioner even hesitated a bit. It’s not every day that you see a person give up their life with so calmly.”
Holding a cup of wine, the merchant nodded. “Yes...I think she was either a really brave girl...or maybe she was mad with fear. Maybe she was so afraid that she appeared emotionless.”
“And you are sure that her name was Elizabeth Swanwick?”
“Yes,” the merchant nodded confidently. “I remember that very clearly – Elizabeth Swanwick.”
Asha pulled the plate away from him and did not place any more food on it.
“You may go now,” she said and Merlin noticed how she had subtly laced magic into her voice.
The merchant blinked a few times and did not move. For a moment Merlin was worried that the merchant might be resisting her magic, but he noticed how the man’s eyes were fixated on the mutton.
Merlin was impressed by the merchant’s desire to eat more. He placed three pieces of mutton on the empty plate and pushed it towards the merchant. He then took the plate and followed Asha’s orders.
“Hmph,” Asha sniffed and pouted her lower lip. She felt rather offended that her magic had been overpowered by a man’s desire to eat more meat.
She then turned to Merlin and rested her cheek on her palm of her hand.
“So...do you think this was your mother’s story?”
“I think so,” Merlin nodded. “My father only told me that she was executed by the Church. If the Church stated that she was executed on the grounds of sleeping with a demon and the name he mentioned matched the one in the book, then Elizabeth Swanwick was likely my mother.”
“You’ve not only inherited her blood,” Asha smiled.
“What do you mean?”
Asha poked Merlin’s chest. “She has a kind heart, just like you.”
Merlin took a sharp breath and felt his face flush.
“You are just like her. You helped me when you could have easily let me die.”
“It’s only natural...”
“Not in this cruel world,” Asha said. “Your mother may be a filthy human, but she has a kind soul...I can see why your demon father may have given up his pride as a demon for her.”
Merlin gritted his teeth when Asha referred to his mother a filthy human, but he decided not to argue with her about that. He knew that she only meant well with her words.
After dinner (Merlin discovered that Asha could eat a lot if she chose to), the pair retreated to their room upstairs.
Asha was overjoyed when she found that the bed was twice as large as the tiny straw mattress Merlin had in his hut.
“It’s so soft!” she exclaimed as she rolled on the bed.
Asha’s joy was contagious and Merlin dropped himself on the bed. The moment his body touched the mattress, he felt himself relax.
“Good Lord...,” Merlin groaned and he closed his eyes. What he had been missing all his life! He didn’t know that such incredible comfort could exist in this world. The mattress made by a master craftsman was truly a world apart from the straw he slept on.
“How can we get one of these in the forest,” Asha said with a long sigh.
“I don’t know,” Merlin said. “But I will find a way.”
“Make sure that it’s as large as this one,” Asha said and rolled onto her stomach so that she could face Merlin. “That way we can sleep together more comfortably.”
“Aye,” Merlin simply agreed.
Asha continued to roll on the bed, but Merlin remained motionless. He wondered if he had misheard Asha or not. Judging by the way Asha spoke, it seemed as if she was planning for them to truly live together. And the way she said it was so natural and without hesitation that he almost didn’t realize the significance of what she had said. Was Asha truly planning on staying with him indefinitely? Even though he had clearly denied that he was going to open the Grimoire book, did she intend to stay with him? Or did she think that she was succeeding in her seduction.
Merlin sat up and watched as Asha was completely oblivious to his contemplative expression. He was asking himself a difficult question: was Asha succeeding with her seduction? If Asha’s end goal was to have him open the Grimoire book, then no; Merlin was sure that he would never make such a foolish mistake. He knew that the moment he opened the Grimoire book, even if Asha promised that she would not harm him, the other demons would tear apart his fragile body.
But if Asha’s goal was to have his heart jump whenever he saw her; to make his chest surge with a loving tenderness whenever she smiled...then Merlin had to admit to himself that Asha was succeeding. Nay, she had already succeeded.
“Are you feeling sad?” Asha asked.
Merlin blinked and pulled himself out of his own thoughts. He saw that Asha had stopped rolling around and rested her gaze on him.
“No, no...,” he shook his head.
“It’s all right, you can cry,” Asha patted his head. “It’s only natural for someone to feel sad when they hear of how their mother died.”
Those were comforting words, yet Merlin could not help but think of how merciless the nymphs treated the father of their children. It seemed that such care only applied to the mothers in Asha’s view.
No matter how Merlin thought about it, he could not quite get over this twisted way of thinking. And as Asha patted his head, he decided to let it go. It was no use thinking about something that he could not understand.
“Let’s get some sleep,” Merlin said and laid down on the bed. “Tomorrow we still have to make our way back to the hut.”
“What a boring man,” Asha lay next to him. “If I was on bed like this with another man, he would have mounted me by now.”
“I’m not just any man.”
“Yes, you are Merlin Swanwick, son of Elizabeth Swanwick.”
“And you are Asha.”
“Swanwick,” Asha added. “Asha Swanwick.”
Merlin couldn’t help but laugh. Asha scowled and gave him a light punch.
“If you were truly my wife, then I would have mounted you by now,” Merlin returned.
He watched as Asha opened her mouth to deliver a cheeky reply, but no words would come out. She had never expected for Merlin to speak such bold words.
“You are a man after all,” Asha uttered after a few moments. “It would be strange if you did not feel any sinful desire right now.”
“Would it be really so strange?”
“Yes,” Asha stated confidently. “Look at me, there is no man in this town who would not betray his wife to spend a night with me.”
“You sound very confident,” Merlin commented dryly.
“I am a nymph.”
Merlin simply laughed.
“Aye, you are a nymph.”
Even though he had seen her confidence dozens of times, he still found it ever so intriguing — and amusing — when Asha openly displayed it in the game of seduction. She had the face and body of a beautiful young maiden, and yet the words she spoke did not match her appearance. Sometimes he wished that Asha would act more like the innocent maiden she pretended to be in front of other men, but he knew that part of the reason why he enjoyed her company so much was because of her mouth knew no shame and filter.
When Merlin stopped laughing, his face grew serious again.
“Asha...why did you go out of your way to help me?”
“Why not?” Asha raised an eyebrow.
“I owe you nothing,” Merlin said. “I am the one who has made you and your sisters a prisoner of the Grimoire book. I don’t understand why you would want to help me find out about my mother.”
“Hmm...,” Asha murmured and she stared at the ceiling of the room. “I just...feel like it.”
“You feel like it?”
“Yes, I feel like it.”
Merlin couldn’t help but feel that Asha was trying to skirt around the question.
“What do you mean by that?”
Asha sighed, turned sideways and faced Merlin. Her silky black hair fell over her shoulders and covered part of her face. Her eyes glowed faintly with the magic that ran through her veins, yet none of it was directed at Merlin.
“It means I helped you because I care about you,” she said.
For a moment, Merlin stopped breathing. No normal human maiden would have been able to confess her feelings so openly and without any hesitation. Asha spoke these words as if she was talking about the weather.
“Oh...uhm...,” Merlin mouthed and he felt himself blush.
“What a…foolish man you are,” Asha snickered and poked his chest. “You are so easily affected by the sweet words of a maiden.”
The way her voice lingered on the word ‘foolish’ gave Merlin the impression that she did not mean to call him foolish. Instead she used that word to conceal a part of her feelings.
“Thank you,” Merlin said. “Thank you for helping me.”
Asha remained silent, expecting him to continue.
“Without you, I probably wouldn’t have been able to find out so much about my mother,” he said. “Honestly, I thought that you were nothing but trouble, but thank you for helping me.”
Asha pushed him down on the bed and rolled on top of him, pressing her body against his. Merlin drew a sharp breath as he felt the warmth and softness of her breasts.
“You thought I was nothing but trouble?” she growled.
“You were nothing but trouble,” Merlin confirmed. “You caused me more trouble than I have ever had in my life.”
He stroked Asha’s hair and smiled. “But it was good trouble.”
“You are not so foolish after all,” Asha giggled and rested her head on his chest.
“My whole life I felt lonely. The closest person I had to calling a friend was King Arthur, but I only received letters from him every couple of years,” Merlin said. “So finding out more about where I came from is truly precious to me.”
“But you are not alone anymore,” Asha raised her head slightly. “I’m here.”
Merlin felt his heart leap to his throat. He felt his human blood boil and push against his demonic blood. Asha’s face was mere inches away from his. Her sweet scent made him want to wrap his arms around her waist and rip her clothes off. Her raven black hair fell seductively around her face, blocking his view of the room, forming a curtain that sealed him into his own little world.
His every breath was filled with Asha nymph scent. All his eyes could see was her face. Her eyes gazed at him lovingly, the faint purple glow adding to her allure. Her lips were slightly parted, inviting him to kiss her.
“Asha...,” he breathed. He felt as if his heart was about to burst.
“The Grimoire book is in our hut deep inside the forest,” Asha whispered. “Whatever I say here...my sisters can’t hear.”
“What a stubborn girl,” Merlin thought. She simply couldn’t openly say that whatever she said now was the truth. Instead, she chose to say it in the most roundabout way.
And yet, Merlin could understand the subtle meaning in her words. Right now, inside this room, they could pretend that Asha did not come out of the Grimoire book and that Merlin wasn’t her enemy. In this room, only the two of them existed, sealed away from the prying eyes and ears of the outside world.
“Do you remember how I said that all nymphs were also women?” Asha said.
“And have you ever wondered why we nymphs only drink the life force of the men we seduce?”
Merlin stayed still.
“We can only replenish our magic if we drink it,” Asha said. She raised herself, grabbed Merlin’s hand and placed it between her legs. “But if a man goes in here, we will become pregnant...just like any other human woman.”
Asha grabbed his other hand and placed it on her chest. “Just for tonight...I am Asha Swanwick.”
The moment she said those words, Merlin knew that he had lost the fight against his human blood. The wonderful sensation of Asha’s full breasts in the palm of his hands made his entire body quiver as he fought against his primitive urges.
“I am your wife just for tonight,” Asha whispered in his ear.
Before Merlin could reply, she planted a light kiss on his lips. “Merlin...do you know what a husband does with his newlywed wife?”
“Yes,” Merlin nodded.
“Fulfill your duty as a husband and impregnate me.”
Merlin and Asha made love many times that night. When dawn broke, they were both soaked in sweat and lay next to each other, sound asleep.
Feeling a little cold in her sleep, Asha snuggled up to Merlin to share his warmth.
By the time they woke up, it was already midday. Asha remembered that her silk dress had been torn apart by Merlin, and she ordered him to retrieve the dress the tailor should have completed by today.
Unsure of how to act around her now that they had acknowledged each other as lovers, Merlin gladly went out of the inn to think about how he should talk to Asha now. She potentially carried his child now. Should he talk to her as he did before, or did all men treat their wives differently after they had married? But Asha was a nymph, so would he die once she gave birth to a daughter?
All of these thoughts ran wild in his mind until he reached the tailor. Once there, the tailor handed him a beautiful white dress and a simpler green dress. He then received a fur coat so fine that it looked like it belonged on the shoulders of a King.
With a these three items, Merlin returned to the inn. Wrapped in the bed sheets, Asha was impatiently waiting for him.
“What took you so long!” she scowled.
Merlin had expected for her to act sweet and loving, but evidently this was not the case.
“It was difficult to walk with all of these,” he said.
He was about to put them down on the bed when Asha yelled.
“W-what,” Merlin stuttered, his heart jumping.
“Don’t put it on the bed, you will make the dress dirty,” she said and blushed slightly. “The bed is a bit wet...from our love making last night.”
“I’ll put it on the chair over there,” Merlin averted his eyes and turned away from Asha.
He unloaded the clothes and kept his back to turned to Asha. Upon seeing her, his heart beat like mad. He felt nothing but joy when he saw her wrapped up in the bedsheets, but at the same time, he found it difficult to face her. After all, this was the first time had allowed for another person to enter his life like that. He frankly did not know how to regard Asha anymore.
“Merlin,” Asha said and he felt her tugging on his sleeve.
With a sharp breath he turned around and saw her standing behind him, her curvaceous body filling his sight.
She held a hand to her stomach and smiled.