Night Wind’s speed, they had arrived back at the hut in under an hour.
Merlin had almost expected for their home to be set on fire or perhaps to find
an army of soldiers waiting for him when they came back; but to his relief,
everything was the same as before.
Now that King Arthur knew of Asha’s existence, Merlin was sure that the king would make the next move. Although highly suspected, the King had yet to prove that there was a relationship between him and Asha. For all he knew, Merlin might know nothing about this nymph who was in the hands of the Church.
But just as Merlin thought that luck was on his side, he discovered a neatly folded letter on the floor when he opened the door. It had the King Arthur’s royal wax seal on it, proving the legitimacy of the message.
“Damn it all,” Merlin cursed under his breath. King Arthur had made his first move sooner than he had expected.
He opened the letter and it contained one simple message: deliver the Grimoire book to Camelot. Now
Along with the letter, there was a lock of black hair included in the envelope. Merlin’s heart sank. He did not need to be told that this hair belonged to Asha.
But as he felt the hair in his hands, he felt a certain sense of relief. The fact that King Arthur bothered to send him her hair meant that Asha was still alive. He wanted to use Asha as an incentive for Merlin to peacefully surrender the Grimoire book.
Although Merlin did not think for even a moment that he and Asha would walk out of Camelot alive.
Merlin closed his eyes and took a deep breath to clear his thoughts. He knew what he had to do. The course of action in his mind was clearer than ever.
“Elizabeth?” he called out.
Elizabeth was tying Night Wind to a tree outside with the pig at her foot. The pig was curiously observing who this new playmate of his might be.
Elizabeth rushed over to the hut. Normally she would take her time, but she knew that right now, the situation was urgent.
“Elizabeth...,” Merlin breathed. “I need you to take your brother and run as far as you can.”
Merlin explained to her how Asha, her mother, had been kidnapped by the King and that he wanted both him and Asha dead. Merlin told her that he needed to go to Camelot to rescue her mother and that she needed to run away with Arthur.
“But why can’t we come with you?”
Merlin smiled at her innocent, naive bravery.
“The King doesn’t know that you and your brother exist. If he finds out about you two, then he will want to kill you and your brother as well.”
It pained him as a father to watch the color drain from her face. Her eyes filled with fear and she held tightly onto Arthur who was oblivious to the crisis around him.
“B-but where will Arthur and I go?”
“Take Night Wind and ride as far as you can,” Merlin said. “Ride until you find the sea and use this gold to buy passage to the Germanic kingdoms. King Arthur won’t be able to touch you there.”
“But what about you!?”
As a reply, Merlin only smiled and patted her head. Horror filled Elizabeth as she realized that her father did not expect himself to live for much longer.
“Don’t worry, your mother will come for you when I have rescued her,” Merlin said.
“No, no!” Elizabeth cried. “You can’t die!”
“Elizabeth...I need to...,” Merlin began and felt a lump in his throat.
“No!” Elizabeth cried desperately even though she knew that it would not change anything.
“Listen to me, dearest daughter,” Merlin said. “I will not live for much longer, but you will. Hide your magic and your ears from anyone you meet. Kill anyone who finds out who you truly are. Do not trust anyone.”
“No! You will survive! Promise me that you I will see you again.”
Merlin gritted his teeth as he felt tears shooting in his eyes.
“Urgh,” he groaned and put his arms around Elizabeth. This was in fact the first time he had hugged her like this. Merlin held her close so that he could hide his tears. His heart was filled with regret. This was the first and last time he would hug his daughter.
Afterwards, Merlin rushed into the hut and threw valuable scrolls and runes into a bag along with a two week’s supply of food. He reached under the bed and took out the last stash of gold coins Asha kept. He stuffed them into the bag and handed it to Elizabeth.
“Go now,” he urged her. “There is no more time. The King already has your mother. If you do not run now, the soldiers will come.”
With a heavy bag on her back and Arthur sleeping soundly against her breast, Elizabeth sat on Night Wind.
“Go!” Merlin cried.
Holding back her tears, Elizabeth tightened her grip around the reins and Night Wind understood that he was ordered to run again.
Merlin watched as Night Wind vanished into the forest.
The pig rubbed its nose against Merlin’s leg.
“It’s just you and me now, huh.”