Bryan Thomas Schmidt
The beast came from sea, near the northern edge of the kingdom, and took the villages by surprise. The reports of devastation shocked Camelot, and Arthur hurriedly dispatched Merlin and Lancelot to address the situation, leading half the army.
“Do what you must” was all the King instructed. Arthur was as much at a loss as everyone else.
Uthor’s sudden death had left Merlin’s old friend stunned. His father was such a powerful figured in the young King’s life, and, although they hadn’t always seen eye to eye, Merlin knew Arthur’s loss was overwhelming. Merlin could only imagine how challenging it would be to both grieve such a loss and take over as liege of a kingdom. Arthur did his duty well, showing amazing strength, yet
Merlin did everything possible to ease his friend’s burden.
Their bodies felt him before their eyes saw him—a day before, in fact. The monstrous creature’s every step shook the ground like an earthquake. He looked like a giant, mutant dragon–with rough, bumpy charcoal-gray scales, a long powerful tail, and jagged, bone-colored dorsal fins and as the beast turned and they finally laid eyes upon his arcing green-scaled back and dagger-like teeth, it left them all speechless, their jaws dropping to their laps. He and Lancelot had ridden together on the three day journey to coast, discussing strategy and comparing ideas. Neither felt confident that they had a workable plan, but once they’d seen the actual beast, Merlin’s mind felt like a castle surrounded by fog—everything hazy, no clarity. He could make no decisions; take no action.
“My God!” Lancelot wheezed beside him. They watched the beast pick up a barn, screaming animals still inside, and pop it into his mouth like a slice of bread. His jaws crunched up and down, smashing the barn like a straw, stone, and wood cake with red fleshy filling.
“What in hell’s army is that?” Sir Gawain said from behind them.
“That, Sir Gawain, may be the end of us all,” Merlin replied as all three kept their eyes focused on the monster.
“You two have a plan then?” Gawain asked, without his usual bravado.
“If it gets too close, run,” Lancelot said, eyes unmoved from the monster.
Merlin chanted a quick spell for the horses, who had begun whinnying nervously and looked ready to bolt. They’d been shifting their weight from foot to foot, ever since they’d first felt the tremors, and the sight of the monster looked to be pushing them over the edge from nervous to outright fear.
As their horses calmed, the men remained on edge. The monster, meanwhile, took no notice of them, continuing to stomp around the village, crushing everything in its path.
“You must have a spell or something.” Lancelot looked at Merlin with hopeful eyes.
“It’s like fighting a dragon, isn’t it? You’ve done that.” Gawain nodded with encouragement to Merlin, who fought to restrain the laugh he felt rising in his throat.
Merlin knew they were right. Magic alone held the answers for this beast. A full on assault would only make him angry and result in the sacrifice of Arthur’s army. With enemies huddling on their borders eager to test the mettle of the newly crowned King, the army’s strength was vital. Arthur had only sent them along as a psychological measure—to reassure the masses. Like everyone else, Arthur was counting on Merlin to save the day.
He flipped through spells in his mind, closing his eyes as he did. He’d long ago memorized them, still, the book itself rode securely in the worn leather saddlebag which banged against his left life with every bump in the trail as he rode. His mind flooded with memories—fighting trolls and demons, plagues and a famine. Many of those enemies had been formidable, intimidating. All had caused him to doubt his abilities; to question how and if he would ever manage to find a solution.
The wind swelled and the smell of smoke and burning wood struck his nose. Mixed in with it was a fishy smell he suspected came from the monster itself. As the monster turned and came between the sun and Merlin’s party, their day turned black as night, all light overwhelmed by the shadow of the beast.
A thought came to Merlin: “What are you afraid of?”
“Him!” Gawain answered before Merlin even realized he’d spoken it out loud.
Merlin shook his head. “No the beast. If we knew his fears, we could use it against him.”
“Something that big must not fear anything,” Lancelot replied.
Merlin began chanting the words to a spell. The sky lit up as the clouds turned to flames of fire all around them. The beast reacted to the flames with a raging roar loud enough to rattle their ears and cause the horses to whinny with fright.
“Perhaps if you’d lit the monster instead of the clouds…”
Merlin brushed off Gawain with a wave and continued the spell. Flames swirled overhead then converged together surrounding the beast. The beast roared again, swinging its tail in a wide arc as fire poured from its open mouth.
“I was hoping to drive him away from the village and back to sea.” He’d once fought a dragon with fire balls. It didn’t have any long term effect but made the dragon change position. His mind raced for another tactic. “I need to be closer for this to work.”
“Closer? Are you mad?” Gawain looked to Merlin as if he might flee any moment.
Merlin ignored Gawain and looked at Lancelot. The knight nodded, showing no fear. “We’ll ride around to the north and draw his attention.”
Merlin smiled. “Thank you, Lancelot.”
“This had better work,” Gawain scolded as Lancelot gave the orders behind him and the knights rode off together.
Merlin steered his horse straight up the hill toward the village. The main road led to the sea from where they’d stopped, so he knew it would lead him to his foe.
As he rode, he continued chanting. The spell was complicated, with many sections. He’d only used it twice before, and it might be their only hope. In theory, the spell could shrink things. He’d only used it on objects before, and Gaius had implied it wasn’t meant for use on living beings. But given their desperation and the lack of options, he had to try.
The heat of the burning village increased with the smell of the beast as he drew nearer. Sweat dripped from his brow. He’d never been religious but felt inspired to offer a brief prayer, for the safety of his companions at the very least.
His horse stopped like it had struck a brick wall, almost throwing Merlin to the ground. Merlin looked around. Could it be another earthquake? Then he realized the horse was trembling with fear. He cast another spell to calm her, but the mare wouldn’t go on, so he dismounted, caressed her neck and went on alone.
As he strode through the outlying buildings, all he heard was the roar and the raging flames as the ground shook. Then he entered the village square and the beast was before him. He saw Lancelot and the knights squared off with it at the north end of the square. They were shuffling around like pieces on a chess board, weaving in and out of the buildings and brush. Their horses had apparently been abandoned also as none were in sight.
With the beast distracted by his companions, Merlin felt the energy rise in his eyes and saw flickers of the familiar glow they took on when he cast a spell. As he finished encanting the last section, he looked straight at the beast, which roared again, shooting fire at Lancelot, who barely dodged in time. Then the beast stopped, the fire ceasing as a strange look came into its eyes. It stumbled back a few steps on its giant legs, then began to shrink. The knights reacted with surprise as their once formidable foe reduced little by little to the size of a small ground squirrel.
The beast looked around it, as if deciding what to do. A small burst of fire left its mouth.
Gawain laughed. “He’ll make the King a fine pet now, won’t he?”
“He’s far too dangerous for that,” Merlin warned. Rushing forward, he scooped him up into a small box and whisked him away before the knights could even react.
“What will you do with him?” Lancelot called after him.
“Send him back to sea.” And that’s what Merlin did, setting the beast in a small row boat and sending it out on the waves, leaving it to its fate.
“What if the spell wears off?” Gawain read Merlin’s mind.
“It will eventually but by then let’s hope he’s far from here.”
Lancelot laughed and slapped Merlin on the back in congratulations. Then they turned and went off together to retrieve their horses.