Merlin had never known his father, nor heard any of the tales about him.
The Hermit didn’t ask that question again. Merlin wanted to ask a few questions of his own, like where the clothes he was wearing came from. All the food, and how the Hermit knew he was twelve years old?
The only thing he had ever seen the Hermit doing, apart from cooking, was sitting cross-legged on a large boulder with his eyes closed and his hands on his knees. Sometimes Merlin thought the Hermit’s backside wasn’t on the boulder, that he floated about a foot above it but his long robes made it hard to be sure.
Merlin almost stood on his head trying to see, to no avail. On one of these times, the Hermit told Merlin he would end up with too much blood in his head if he kept doing that.
Merlin found the courage to ask the Hermit where they were.
“First of all, young Merlin, this place is my home. The forest protects us from unwanted eyes…”
With a little too much courage, Merlin asked, “So where does all the food come from? And my clothing? I haven’t seen you leave this cave since you brought me here…”
“I have a friend out there…” The tone of his voice told Merlin not to ask any more questions. “Tomorrow we will take a walk and maybe you will meet some of my friends…”
That evening, the Hermit sat Merlin down and asked him if he could remember why he had been in the forest without any clothes. The only thing Merlin could remember was being run out of the village, the screaming, and the banging of pots and being told never to come back.
He couldn’t remember doing anything bad, or how long he had been wandering around or where his clothes went.
“Do you remember meeting anyone in the forest?” The Hermit could see Merlin was getting tired. “You sleep now, we will talk more tomorrow.”
Sleep came fast with more dreams. Memories of cold nights in the forest and finding that someone always left food close to where he slept.
Merlin dreamed of the Hermit too, walking along the side of the lake. What looked like long blonde hair floated on the water and seemed to follow the Hermit’s footsteps. His mouth moved as though he was talking to someone. After a while, the water began to stir as if agitated by something. The hair disappeared beneath the water and ripples spread across the lake, but the Hermit kept on talking…
In the dream, Merlin could see the words coming from his mouth. Red, angry words made of fire, spilling into the lake. Whoever the Hermit had been speaking to would be sure to hear them.
The Hermit vanished and Merlin was alone in the forest. Not long after, the memory of cold nights began to haunt his dreams. In the dreams, he was welcomed by small people who led him to their home. There they fed him and told him stories. The taste of the food reminded Merlin of the food that had been left for him before when he had been alone.
Suddenly there was a loud roar and Merlin jumped from the fallen log where he had been sitting. The eldest of the clan stood at Merlin’s side. “No need to worry, it is only Trog.”
That was when Merlin could see just what had made the sound that was louder than any thunder he had ever heard. From between the trees, came a small blue dragon that promptly began to inspect Merlin, poking his long nose over Merlin’s hair and licking his face. The dragon’s breath smelled of mint.
Merlin slept the night with his new friends and awoke to the smell of cooking. He was back in the cave and the Hermit was stirring the cauldron. “Did you enjoy your visit with my friends?”
Not sure how to answer, Merlin, replied that he hadn’t taken him to meet his friends yet.
The Hermit let out a chuckle, a rare occurrence. “Take a look at your feet. They tell a different story.”
Merlin lifted one foot after the other to find them coated in mud with dried leaves stuck between his toes. The cave floor was grey stone, so where had he been?
Merlin ate slowly, trying to take it all in. How could he have been there, it had been a dream. Yet the mud on his feet told a different story. He put down the wooden spoon he had been eating with and took a deep breath. He asked who the Hermit had been speaking to as he walked by the lake.
The Hermit knew it was time for the truth and told Merlin about the Lady of the Lake. Merlin thought his head would explode but he had to know why they had been so angry.
The Hermit took his time with the answer, as it was still too soon to reveal everything. “She was angry because I will not take you back to the village.”
Merlin jumped up from the table. “But I don’t want to go back…”
“Calm down young Merlin. The Lady has given me time to teach you all you need to know.”
“Teach me what?” Merlin couldn’t wait to hear the answer.
“To become the greatest wizard the world will ever know.”
Merlin had heard the stories around the village, of magic and wizards and great standing stones. Stories of Stonehenge had stuck in Merlin’s mind the most, a place he wanted to see. Maybe the Hermit could dream him there.
The Hermit said there was no time for dreaming. Merlin no longer wondered how the Hermit always knew what he was thinking.
“Time is the enemy, Merlin. You must respect it but don’t let it slap you in the face.”