“You have much to learn, Merlin before I can teach you the meaning of true magic. All the names of plants, herbs, and the trees in the forest. Thoughts, words, they all have power. Use each one with great care…”
Merlin’s head was by now so full of the Hermit’s words, no more could enter. He fell asleep at the table, but his dream was not as the Hermit had planned. Merlin had fallen too deep and found himself in a dark place. The forest no longer a peaceful place, wild creatures howled all around him. The trees whipped him with their branches as he passed, tearing the skin from his face and arms.
Something was destroying the forest. The sun no longer shed its light there and the trees were dying. Merlin could no longer hear the birdsong and the sweet smell of the trees had gone. What could be destroying the Hermit’s peaceful home?
Deep in his dream, Merlin knew he couldn’t let this happen and could hear his own voice telling him to wake up. “There is no time to waste, wake up you fool.”
When Merlin awoke, he was alone in the cave.
“Great, just when I have something important to say, he has disappeared.”
He walked out of the cave and made his way to the lake. Everything felt the same as before. The smells and sounds, the feeling of peace, it was all still there. There was no point looking for the Hermit, he could be anywhere, or nowhere.
He was skimming stones across the surface of the lake when a hand reached out of the water and caught the stone. Merlin stood there with his mouth hanging open as he watched the most beautiful face break the surface of the water. It was the mermaid of his dreams. The lady of the lake threw the stone back to Merlin. He caught it easily with his left hand.
“Good,” she said and sank beneath the water again. Merlin ran into the water, yelling for her to wait. “Come back!” She would know where the Hermit had gone, but he wasn’t quick enough. He had to learn to stop gawping and accept the things he was seeing with a little more speed.
Merlin stayed by the lake a while longer, hoping she would come back, but as darkness fell he was forced to make his way back to the cave. There was no sign of the Hermit.
By now, Merlin was starving. So far, food had always been ready when he needed it, but the black cauldron stood empty. He sat down on his bed, rubbing the hot spot on the palm of his hand. He wondered why a stone from the cold water should leave a red mark. As he watched, it began to fade.
He waited a while longer, and while he waited, he wondered if he was brave enough to sit on what he thought was the hermits magic boulder. Did he dare to sit on it? A small voice in the back of his mind told him to get on with it.
He sat there for a long time. Nothing came to his mind but the hunger grumbling inside his body. Eventually, he went outside to look for food. He knew which berries and mushrooms he could eat. The weight of the stone in his pocket made him think of the Hermit as he made his way back to the cave.
He wondered why he was learning from dreams and not the Hermit as he said he would. He placed his meagre gatherings on the table, noticing the fire burning under the cauldron. Looking inside, someone had prepared food, yet the Hermit was still missing. As he made short work of the food, he realised the Hermit must have left word for his friends to look out for him.
Merlin put the stone on the table. It was a good flat stone, black with white veining. As he looked at it, his eyes began to water and a gentle humming sounded in his ears. Slowly, the voice of the lady of the lake could be heard. Through the water in his eyes, he could see a dark tunnel. The Hermit was sitting by the lake and the lady stood on the water, her long flowing dress floating around her. He heard her ask the Hermit a question.
“Does he remember his mother’s name, or heard the tales of his father?”
The Hermit answered her. “He knows nothing…”
The vision faded and Merlin noticed that the stone had moved from the where he had placed it, leaving a small burn mark on the table. Something made him put it on a pewter plate, then he left to search for the Hermit again.
He gave up and returned to the cave, feeling the first stirring of anger.
By day three, there was little food left and Merlin’s anger was slowly growing at being left. Should he go back to the forest to find the hermits friends and stay with them? As he fell asleep that night, he wondered if he was only dreaming or really being shown his future…
He sat astride a black horse and had passed the lake, heading deeper into the forest. He could hear the sound of horses behind him and the noise of a battle in front of him. He pulled on the reins to stop the horse, afraid of what lay ahead.
Turning the horse around, he found no one behind him. He tried to wake up, believing the Hermit messed around in his head whenever he slept and when he opened his eyes, he found the Hermit sitting on his great stone. Looking out of the cave mouth he saw that the world outside was still in darkness.
Part of this darkness entered his mind, fuelling his anger. He let it out, his voice loud, echoing along the cave walls.
He marched up to the Hermit and kicked the stone. “You have no right keeping me here! Keep out of my head!” He kicked the great stone again, watching the smile vanish from the Hermits face. A low rumbling sound began, gradually becoming louder.
Merlin reached out his hands, his lungs burning from the force of his voice.
The Hermit stepped down from the stone. “I see you have learned a few things in my absence. If you wish to go, I shall not stop you, but I think you should eat before you go.”
The smell of food cooking soon had Merlin sitting at the table. He noticed that the mark on the table had vanished. He rubbed his hand across the surface, wondering if he had dreamed that too.
The Hermit brought two pewter plates to the table and handed Merlin the stone. “You really should keep this, as you may need it later.”
Merlin put the stone in his pocket and said nothing. There was no anger left in him, no more heated words. Feeling a little sorry for himself, he asked the Hermit why he had left him alone for so long.
“That is a story for another time. There are many things I will tell you about one day should you decide to stay. I would very much like it if you did. By the way, if you are in no hurry to leave, maybe you would like to help my friends, they have a roof needs mending.”
Merlin agreed to help, so they set out with him walking behind the Hermit, watching him closely…
To be continued…