lone figure approached Camelot. The guards had been put on high alert and every
one of them recognized this lone figure.
After traveling for several days, Merlin had reached the outskirts of the capital where King Arthur, his ministers and advisors resided. It was also the capital of the Church.
In his bag, he carried the Grimoire book. To his surprise, when he dug it out, the soil around it was contaminated with magic. It showed how badly the nymphs and demons wanted to get out. And seeing the loathsome glares of the guards, he wondered if he had joined the right side.
And even though Merlin appeared quiet and unthreatening, underneath his clothes, he was prepared for battle. Before he left his forest, he had covered his body in runes. Originally those were meant for battle with the demons — if they ever decided to attack him — but he never thought that he would use them against humans.
Inside his pocket, he carried a second item. It was a golden key made using his magic. It was a key he had kept hidden inside his own body unit now, for it was the only key that could open the lock of the Grimoire book.
People shut their doors and windows when he walked past. Even guards did not draw their swords but held spears, hoping to keep him as far away as possible. And even though they feared him, Merlin knew that he did not stand a chance if he actually decided to enter battle. The runes on his hands and body could only buy him time. Victory was an impossible wish.
With nothing and no one blocking his way, Merlin quickly reached the castle where King Arthur resided. It felt as if the entire city had prepared for his arrival. The gates were opened and Merlin entered the court. A line of guards formed a path that lead him to the throne room where King Arthur was already waiting for him.
Merlin entered the castle and his eyes scanned everything. He memorized every turn he took so that if a miracle happened and he indeed managed to escape, he would know the way out.
“Merlin,” King Arthur spoke when he stood before the throne. “You have received my order?”
Merlin nodded wordlessly. He pulled out the Grimoire book and held it in his hands.
“I have come to deliver the Grimoire book,” Merlin stated in a stoic tone.
“You have done well,” the King praised him.
Merlin could tell that this praise was hollow. All the guards in the throne room were on high alert. The upstairs balcony was filled with crossbowmen and numerous priests marked the presence of the Church.
“Please leave the Grimoire book with the bishop,” King Arthur ordered and a guard stepped forward, ready to receive the book from Merlin. The guard’s hands were shaking with fear.
This was a crucial moment. Merlin knew that the moment he gave up the Grimoire book, he would have no bargaining chip. King Arthur could order to have him and Asha killed without consequence. Merlin was no fool. He knew that even with the Grimoire book, he wouldn’t be able to negotiate for Asha’s release. He was surrounded by guards and even a fool knew that if it came to combat, Merlin would only be able to draw blood, but had no hope of victory. He was hopelessly outnumbered. But what Merlin knew he could do was to negotiate for a small opportunity that might allow Asha to live on. Even if it was a life without him.
“I cannot give you the Grimoire book,” Merlin said. Immediately he could hear the guards tightening the grip around their weapons. He drew out the envelope and showed King Arthur Asha’s raven black hair.
“I know that you have captured my wife,” he said.
“Yes, yes. Asha...she is such a beautiful little whore,” King Arthur said without blinking.
“If you wish to have the Grimoire book, you will let me see my wife one more time,” Merlin said.
“And why should I agree to that?”
“By the time your crossbowmen fire, I will have undone the lock on the Grimoire book,” Merlin said. “If you kill me, you and every single man, woman and child in Camelot will die.”
“You MONSTER!” King Arthur bellowed and sprung up from his throne, his lips quivering with anger.
“Aye, perhaps,” Merlin said. “But there are two sides to every coin.”
Merlin held the Grimoire book to his chest. “Just let me see her once, after that, you can kill us both.”
“And why should I trust you?”
With the Grimoire book in one hand, Merlin stretched his arms. “I am nothing but a lone wolf, a lonely hermit. I cannot escape with my magic and neither is my wife’s magic powerful enough. By coming here, I am at your mercy already.”
He took a bow. “All I ask is for one favor.”
A fiery murmur spread through the throne room. The ministers, advisors and representatives of the Church were all stunned by Merlin’s words.
“Quiet!” King Arthur commanded.
He rose from his throne and stepped forward. “You have betrayed me and released a demon from the Grimoire book and now you have the impertinence to ask for one last favor before you die?”
Merlin remained silent. He knew that he still held the initiative.
King Arthur took a deep breath. His nostrils flared.
“Fine, I shall be a merciful King,” he said. “Just know that neither you nor your whore will live to see tomorrow.”
“Thank you, your majesty.”
Merlin gritted his teeth with anger. Mercy? How could he utter such words in the same breath when he declared that he and Asha would die inside his castle? After all these years of thankless service, the King acted as if he had been treating Merlin with kindness all his life.
Perhaps the act of allowing him to live was merciful in his mind, Merlin thought.
King Arthur sat back down and with a single hand motion, he summoned a group of guards to escort Merlin to the dungeons where Asha was kept.
Three guards in front and four guards behind, this formation made sure that Merlin could not escape.
They lead Merlin away from the throne room and into the depths of the castle’s underground rooms. The first level of stone staircases passed by the cellar. Hundreds of barrels of the finest wine were stored here, exclusively used by the King and ministers for their nights of feasting and debauchery.
At the second level, Merlin could feel the air becoming humid. He gulped. The high humidity in the air might make his plans difficult.
It was at the fourth level where the prisoners were kept. But what most people didn’t know was that this was a special prison. Most criminals were kept in a dungeon on the outskirts of Camelot. The dungeon inside the royal castle was meant for prisoners King Arthur wanted to keep a close eye on.
Political opponents, rebellion leaders, and academics who had become too educated for their own good were all kept here. And among all these men, there was one single female.
As Merlin descended further underground. He glanced left and right.
”Good,” he thought. Even though the air was humid down here, the corridors were quite tight, making them ideal for his plans.
He still held the Grimoire book tightly to his chest, making sure that none of the guards could wrestle it away from him. But unbeknownst to the guards, his hands glowed with a faint purple light.
“Can you hear me?” Merlin spoke in his mind.
There was no response.
Merlin was trying to communicate with the nymphs Asha spoke with every night before she had decided to stay by his side.
“I am Merlin, the one who has imprisoned you in this book,” Merlin thought.
There was still no response.
“I am on my way to rescue Asha.”
Finally at the mention of Asha, he felt a stir in the Grimoire book.
“Speak,” the voice of a woman sounded in his head.
“Who are you?” Merlin asked.
“I am Fefe, the Elder Sister.”
“Time is short, I ask you to forgive my rudeness,” Merlin said. “Asha has been captured by King Arthur and is being held prisoner in his dungeon. I am on my way to rescue her.”
He heard no response from Fefe.
“However there is no way for either of us to escape this dungeon alive,” Merlin continued. “The only way for Asha to live is if she goes back into the Grimoire book.”
There was no response.
“I understand that Asha has been branded a traitor by her tribe,” Merlin said. “I ask you to pardon any crimes she has been charged with.”
There was still only silence. Merlin began to grow desperate.
“Please...treat her with mercy.”
There was a moment of silence before Fefe spoke.
“I see no reason why I should pardon a traitor.”
Merlin gritted his teeth. He knew that it would have come down to this.
“I can offer you something in return,” Merlin said.
“And what can a filthy half blood offer us nymphs?”
Merlin smiled. ‘Filthy half blood’ was the term Asha also liked to use.
“A way for you two collect the men you so desperately need.”
Fefe remained silent. Merlin knew that he had caught her attention.
“Asha told me that the nymphs are feeding on the reserves you have managed to bring with you,” Merlin continued. “Sooner or later your reserves will run out and all of you will die. If you promise to pardon Asha, I will give her a golden key. With this key, one nymph can exit the Grimoire book to collect the life force needed for the tribe.”
“Give every a nymph a key and we have an accord.”
“I’m afraid that is not possible,” Merlin said. “I am already inside the dungeon where Asha is locked away. Creating more keys right now is impossible.”
He could feel the murmurs coming from the Grimoire book. Clearly there was a lot of disagreement among the nymphs. But no matter how much opposition there was, Merlin knew that they would accept his proposal. It was either this or death.
“Fine. As the Elder Sister, I accept.”
“You have my gratitude.”
This ended the first and only conversation Merlin ever had with a demon locked inside the Grimoire book.
He followed the guards until they reached the deepest depths of the castle. The corridors were only dimly lit by the occasional torch. Merlin could smell right away that only the prisoners that King Arthur had a personally disposed were locked in here. The smell of feces and rotting corpses filled the air. The empty eyes of prisoners looked up at him as he walked by. Perhaps they wondered if a new mate had come to join them.
“She is over there,” one of the guards said and pointed at a metal cage in the corner.
Merlin had to squint his eyes to see where he was pointing at. He could see a slim figure sitting on the ground, hugging her knees.
“Asha!” he called out.
The figure stirred. She looked up and turned her head.
“Asha!” Merlin cried and rushed over to the cage. “Asha!”
“M-Merlin!” Asha’s croaked.
Merlin tried to touch her, but the space between the metal bars were too narrow for him to squeeze his arm through.
“Oh Asha! What have they done to you?”
Even in this darkness, he could see wounds on her face. Her lips were cut and there were slashes on her cheeks and forehead. Asha raised her hand to touch his face, and Merlin could see how there were deep holes on the back of her hand. Her raven black hair had been cut and it now only reached to her shoulders. Without a doubt, she had been beaten and tortured.
“I just got into a little bit of trouble,” Asha sniffed and pretended that all of this was just a minor nuisance.
“A little trouble,” Merlin said with light laugh.
“I can barely see you,” Asha said and two of her fingers came through the gap between the bars to touch Merlin’s face.
“Do not touch him!” one of the guards shouted angrily.
Merlin turned around and saw that all seven of the guards were standing closely behind him. He clenched his hand into a fist, activating one of the rune he had drawn on the palm of his hand.
“The guards are rather annoying, shall we get rid of them?” Merlin asked.
Asha smiled and nodded.
“And let me make some light too,” he added.
Merlin let out a deep breath. He knew what he did next would cause for King Arthur and history to label him as an inhuman monster.
Merlin frowned at that thought. It was just too ironic, as he could see what the King did to his prisoners.
Merlin stood up and opened his hand, showing the guards that one of the runes on his hand was glowing.
“Hey!” the guard yelled but before he could turn and run, Merlin unleashed a stream of flames from his hand. The fire struck the seven guards and began to eat away on their bodies like a parasite.
“I had no idea that you knew such spells,” Asha opened her eyes wide.
“I kept them a secret,” Merlin said. “I prepared them in case of a demon attack, but I never thought that I would use them on humans”
Behind him, the guards screamed in agony as they were eaten alive by the flames.
Asha’s eyes wandered to the lock that kept her inside the iron cage.
“Quick, open it so that we can escape this dungeon,” she said.
Merlin shook his head. “We cannot escape.”
“Why?” Asha asked, bewildered by Merlin’s answer.
“I could easily free you, but we would never make it out of Camelot,” Merlin said and pointed at the ceiling. “Above us are hundreds of guards, we would never make it past the cellar.”
Merlin closed his eyes and listened to the distant sounds of hurrying footsteps.
“It seems that they have heard the cries of the guards I killed,” he said. “More guards are coming down now.”
“Fool!” Asha cried and hit the iron bars with her tiny fist. “Fool! You mad fool!”
Merlin stuck a finger through the cage so that he could feel her hand. Even though she was beaten so badly, he could still feel the warmth of her body.
“If you can’t rescue me, then why did you come!” Asha cried. “Now we will both die!”
Merlin held the Grimoire book to his chest.
“You are wrong. I have come to rescue you.”
Asha’s eyes opened wide when she saw the familiar hardcover. Immediately she understood what Merlin’s plan was.
“But what about you?” she asked, her voice quivering.
Merlin closed his eyes, smiled and shook his head.
“N-no!” Asha said and her voice broke. Tears flowed down her bloody cheeks and dropped to the ground.
“Why...why did you come if you knew that you were going to die?” Asha said in between her sobs.
“Because I love you.”
Those simple words were the only answer Merlin gave. And in all truth, it was the only answer he could think of.
“You fool,” Asha muttered. “If I do not die here, then I will be killed by my sisters inside the book.”
She bit her bloodied lip and eyed Merlin. “And what about Elizabeth and Arthur? How will they survive when I am locked inside the book and you are dead?”
Merlin felt slightly disappointed that Asha did not return his grand confession, but decided not to voice disappointment. He didn’t want to invoke any negative feelings in their last moments together.
“On my way down, I have talked to the Elder Sister, Fefe,” Merlin said. “I have managed to arrange for your betrayal to be pardoned.”
Asha was about to open her mouth, but Merlin silenced her by raising his hand. He rummaged in his pocket and took out the golden key he had crafted.
“This key will allow for one nymph to exit the Grimoire book to collect the men your tribe needs to survive,” he said. “Use this key to escape the Grimoire book and find Elizabeth and Arthur.”
He slipped the key through the iron bars.
He could already hear a wave of guards running down the stairs.
“Does Fefe know of this key?” Asha asked.
Merlin nodded. “It was the only way to arrange your pardon.”
Without exchanging words, both of them knew that this was a major compromise. It was unlikely that Fefe would allow Asha to come out to find her children. But there was always a chance that this could happen since Elizabeth was a nymph. Perhaps Fefe’s heart would soften if Asha explained her case.
The distant sounds of the approaching guards was becoming ever louder. They both knew that their time was short.
“You really are a selfish fool, you know that?” Asha said with a sad smile.
“Oh, how so?”
“You men always want to be heroes in front of your women...even if it means for you to die,” Asha said and poked Merlin’s cheek through the cage. Her face was illuminated by the flames that slowly ate away at the guards who were no longer moving or screaming.
“Aye, I am nothing but a man,” Merlin said. “But I wanted to do something good with me life, even if that is the last thing I will ever do.”
“History will not remember you as a hero.”
“I just need you to remember me as a hero.”
Behind them, Merlin could hear a large number of guards entering the dungeon. They had mere moments left.
“Here, quick!” he urged Asha and pressed the Grimoire book against the cage.
Asha touched the leather cover of the book and voluntarily allowed herself to be sucked back into its pages. Her body began to glow with a golden light and became transparent.
“Merlin, I love you,” she smiled, appearing like a Goddess.
The Grimoire book sucked her in and the nymph inside the cage vanished.
“Asha...,” Merlin murmured and stroked the cover of the book.
The wave of guards was only a few steps away from.
“There he is!” one man shouted.
“He has killed our brothers!”
Merlin stood up and faced the oncoming guards. They all held swords and crossbows.
He stretched out his arms and closed his eyes.
He prayed for God to forgive his selfishness.