Which Road to Camelot?

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Which Road to Camelot?

Uther was angry. Again. When he spotted me, he stomped in my direction and bellowed, “Where have you been?”

I kept walking, forcing him to match my lengthy strides. Allowing my own anger to show, I replied, “I have walked my way since the beginning of time. Sometimes I give, sometimes I take. It is mine to know which and when!”

That stopped his bellowing, at least, but he turned to pleading. “You must help me, Merlin!”

I kept walking. “Must I?”

Naturally, he decided to appeal to authority. “I am your king!”

Like I care about that! I let him have it. “So you need me again, now that my truce is wrecked. Years to build and moments to ruin, and all for lust!”

“For Igrayne! One night with her!” He shook his head, baffled at his inability to communicate what seemed to him to be self-evident. “You don't understand. You're not a man!”

I looked at him with a level of disgust I hadn’t felt since the Romans had first shown their clean-shaven faces on Britain’s shores, all those centuries before.

He was undeterred. Probably undeterrable, at this point, so consumed was he by passion. “Use the magic! Do it!” he commanded.

I looked up at the castle, seeing evidence of Uther’s futile siege. The Dukes of Cornwall had sited it beautifully, and the likelihood that the King’s forces would see the inside of Tintagel before the coming of winter seemed remote indeed. Good! I thought spitefully.

But the delphic gods whom I serve are not always creatures of logic. I do not understand their ways, but I follow where they lead me. And suddenly, the sights and sounds of battle faded as my masters stirred within me.

“Igrayne.” I must have spoken aloud, though softly. Whatever the gods demand, Igrayne is central to it.

Turning to Uther, I said, “You will swear by your true kingship to grant me what I wish. Then you shall have it.”

His face shone with barely contained anticipation and lust. “By Excalibur, I swear it!”

Good! That’s good,” I said, pleased. “Then here is what shall happen. Assemble your troops. Pack up your engines, and depart.”

“What trickery . . . .”

“Silence! The Duke shall follow, to attack your troops by night. While he is gone, I shall spirit you into Tintagel, and there you shall have your desire.”

He glared at me, looking for some sign of trickery. But his lust commanded him, and he spun ‘round to give his orders.

Many hours later, as the sun was setting, Uther and I watched from a high promontory as the Duke sallied from Tintagel with his men, intent on teaching the King a lesson that would keep him far from Cornwall ever after. Having seen to his camp’s defenses personally, Uther was unworried.

“That’s it!” I said. “Now. You must rest, while I prepare the magic.”

Uther shook his head, eager to be off. “I cannot rest, while Igrayne lies within!”

“You must,” I admonished. “I have powers to summon, and your thoughts will only interfere. Rest. Sleep!”

As I spoke, the King’s eyes grew heavy, and he lay down upon the ground, the last rays of the sun catching his armor and causing it to glow . . . .

The sun dipped below the horizon and the King lay in slumber. I felt the powers stirring, and drew them to myself with the charm of making. “Anal nathrak, uthvas bethud, do che-ol de-enve!” The ground rumbled, and I felt the steam rise. The power that I alone could summon. “Anal nathrak, uthvas bethud, do che-ol de-enve!”

The art of summoning is a hard one. Oh, hard indeed! For one such as me, long years are needed to recover from such a spell. Hours I wrestled with it, coaxing, urging, commanding . . . until at last, the moon rose high above the castle and all around was covered in a dense and deep mist.

Uther startled awake. “I dreamt of the Dragon!”

I looked down on his frightened face and replied, “I have awoken him. Can't you see, all around you, the Dragon's breath?”

Uther scrambled to his feet, looking startled, frightened, but still eager. The mist completely filled the valley between the promontory where we stood and the castle.

“Mount your horse,” I commanded, in no mood to be deferential after my hours of labor. “I will transform you, and Igrayne will think her husband has returned.”

He mounted, then looked down at me. “But the cliff, the sea?”

“Your lust will hold you up.” I told him. “You will float on the Dragon's breath!” Slapping his horses flank, I cried, “Ride! Ride!”

His horse leapt forward, down the slope and full onto the mist. Rather than sinking into it, the dragon’s mist bore horse and rider up, as I had known it would. “Ride!”

As he reached the midpoint, I called out, “Change! Transform! Now!” Once more, I summoned the power and unleashed it. “Anal nathrak, uthvas bethud, do che-ol de-enve!”

I looked out across the mist, and it was as if I was soaring above horse and rider, close enough to touch them. Close enough to see the transformation and discern, at the last moment, the fickle gods’ true intent. “What’s this? I didn’t expect this!”

The horse clattered up out of the mist and onto the drawbridge. Above the gate, the Duke’s men gawked. “It’s the Duchess! When did she depart?”

A captain in the Duke’s livery appeared on the walls. “What trickery is this?”

The door to the central keep opened, and a man stepped out. Golden hair, a fine beard and kind eyes. “Open for the Duchess, Brithael,” he called to the Captain.

“Aye, my lord,” the Captain of the Gate responded, and gave the command.

The gate opened, and the horse crossed into the central courtyard, stopping before the figure of the Duke.

The Duchess appeared completely lost . . . disoriented, uncertain, and deeply confused. Her Duke held out his arms, and she sank into them, frightened and unsure.

“My dear,” the Duke said. “You’ve suffered such a fright. Come. Let me see to you.” He lifted her easily in strong arms and carried her back into the keep, the edge of her gown almost kissing the ground.

My spirit vision blurred, and I returned to my high perch above the castle. Oh, I didn’t need to see the rest. The gods had shown me enough.

I knew that, on the battlefield five miles away, the body in the Duke’s armor, pierced by a dozen spears, would no longer look like the Duke. A ruse, they would say. In the castle, a strong and kind young woman, born with a face and form that drove men to madness, would now have peace and the chance to forge a better world. And a lust-maddened King would have opportunities of a different kind. The chance to learn, at last, how to love, how to give, and how to nurture.

Sometimes I give, sometimes I take.

And sometimes, I do both.

Another vision came to me, caught in a golden glow. A land at peace, the crops ripening in the sunlight . . . a man with a fair beard, resting a gentle hand on his wife’s shoulder . . . her perfect face is suffused with tenderness as she gazes upon the infant suckling at her swollen breast . . . . Maybe – just maybe – the gods got it right this time.

The end.

Author's Note: "Excalibur" is a bit of a cult classic, with cast members like Helen Mirren and Liam Neeson, who later became quite famous. But Nicole Williamson's Merlin stole every single scene he was in, an absolutely perfect portrayal of the legend. Quite a bit of the early dialogue in this story is taken straight from the movie, but . . . yeah. It kind of veers off into new territory. Maybe better territory.

For information about my other stories, please check out my author's page.

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Thanks, Dot!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Sometimes my muse goes easy on me and serves up something short and simple. :)


Be cautions when invoking the unknown

It is written that you can't always get what you want (to quote Lord Jagger)

Nicely done!

Better territory indeed.

Andrea Lena's picture

And yes; the gods did get it right!

A chance to forge a better world always starts with ourselves, aye?

Andrea M'erch Helen


To be alive is to be vulnerable. Madeleine L'Engle
Love, Andrea Lena

It does, that.

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Though, in the society in which she was born, and looking as she did, Igrayne had little power to change the world. The experience of being powerless should, one hopes, make her a far better ruler.

Thanks, Drea!


I have the film on DVD

Angharad's picture

I haven't watched it for years, must try it again sometime.


Me, too.

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I should probably watch it again. I recall there was a lot of cheesecake and some scenes that were pretty difficult— but others (mostly involving Merlin) were really, really good. And, the use of O Fortuna was inspired . . . .


As the old saying goes……

D. Eden's picture

Be careful what you wish for. Life has a way of turning around and biting you on the ass.

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

It does, that.

Emma Anne Tate's picture

But hey — Uther will probably get all the sex he might have wanted. :)

Thanks, Dallas!


I like it a (lancea) lot!

Lovely story. You write beautifully, and I love the humour that shines through your stories!
Excalibur is fabulous - easily the best of all the films based on the Arthurian legend. I'm sure I still have a VCR of it buried somewhere!


Emma Anne Tate's picture

I think I finally got rid of all my old VCR tapes. But I had one with Excalibur, once upon a time!

Thank you for the kind words, Sue. I’m so glad you like my stories!


'there you shall have your desire'

Dee Sylvan's picture

Another classic upgrade by Miss Emma Anne! Although not a big fan of the whole King Arthur legend, google filled me in on the backgrounds of the characters and in the end Uther got what he desired (deserved?) "Be careful what you wish for!" From the Matrix to Shakespeare to Camelot, your muse has seemingly boundless energy sis! :DD


Hmmmmm . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Could I combine the Matrix, Shakespeare and Arthurian legend in one story?

Or would that be like the bassomatic?

Thanks, Dee — Love ya!



D. Eden's picture

But what part would Dan Akroyd play?

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

Yes, the Bassomatic

Did it have a Cami-o in a cooking scene of one of your previous tales?

An Open Tale with no Solid Answers

BarbieLee's picture

Much rides with the reader of this hidden story in a story. Was the Duke in the armor killed upon battle or was it a decoy? We must move to a question that wasn't answered. Did the Duchess vanish or was she the one in the Duke's armor and was assassinated? "What a tangled web we weave when at first we try and deceive." Was it all planned for the amusement of the gods? Merlin seems to be great at summoning magic he has no control over. Can't wait until he unleashes Death and Pestilence on the world in his oblivious attempts at understanding what he's doing. Maybe his clueless apprentices could be called in to try and add some sort of control over this insanity Merlin is spreading?
Never watched the Soaps on TV as they never had an ending and embraced pain, sadness, and conflict on all, not necessarily only the actors and actresses.
Hugs Emma,
"As the World Turns" or something like that.

Oklahoma born and raised cowgirl

That's what I get . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

. . . for getting all poetical and painterly!

Nope, the Duke was in his armor when it was pierced by a dozen spears. But, once the spell was cast, his body "would no longer look like the Duke." The Duchess did not die; she was the "strong and kind young woman, born with a face and form that drove men to madness, who would now have peace" (I can see where that word my have led you astray . . . "rest in peace" and all that!) -- but also "the chance to forge a better world." This she can do, since she now bears the likeness of her (late) husband. She is the one who greets Uther when he arrives at the Castle in her former likeness.

Merlin is a figure of power, in my story, in the movie and in legend -- but in the end, he is a conduit for outside forces, not the force himself. Here, the gods decided to do things a bit differently. Which is always their perorgative.

Yeah, it wasn't what Merlin expected. He'd expected the gods would do what they did in the movie -- Uther would, for one night, be changed into the likeness of the Duke, which would allow him to essentially rape Igrayne and get her pregnant with Arthur, pretty much at the same moment as her husband was getting killed in battle. Some ten months later, Merlin would re-appear and claim the child, whereupon Uther would get himself killed in a stupid ambush. And what happened to Igrayne then? The movie doesn't even say.

So, yeah. The Dark Ages seriously sucked, especially for women. I thought it a nice twist on the tale, to transform the oversexed Uther into the image of the person he could only see as an object of his own lust -- and have him learn from the experience. And for Igrayne to have the opportunity to be a powerful figure in her world, maybe setting it on a better and more peaceful course. Allowing Arthur, just maybe, to grow up to be something better, something nobler, than just another neobarb warlord.


Above My IQ

BarbieLee's picture

Ah me beautiful Lady, you write tales of treasure for the intellect. I a poor peasant, am useful for mucking out the stables and milking the cows. Thy tales of challenges of power and wealth among the noble are shared among the same caste who take pleasure in such. My only contact to such aristocrats is when they sojourn to frolic in the hay with their 'love interest' of the moment. Alas, the same hay I so laboriously piled to feed the animals I am born to tend. And..., which after said nobles finish their tyrst must again be arraigned so as not scattered and lost.
May I be so bold as to say, Hugs My Lady
Your poor ignorant servant, Barb

Oklahoma born and raised cowgirl

There are places . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

. . . where you really don’t want hay, you know? I’ve always felt the same way about the beach scene in From Here to Eternity. Yeah . . . nothing like a little sand grit in . . . well. You get the (motion) picture.


Women in the mediaeval period

Angharad's picture

were just baby machines with one or two exceptions. If Uther didn't get Igraine (always want to call her migraine) pregnant there wouldn't be an Arthur for Merlin to abduct or for Round Table and the story cycle (not bicycle) to occur. The period of famine and pestilence was caused by a huge volcanic eruption which lasted as a nuclear winter for several years and was noted in Chinese manuscripts.


Migraine’s Bi-cycle

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I don’t know, Ang. That sounds kind of irresistible as a story title. :)


I've loved the Arthurian legends since I was a child

and Merlin most of all. I'm still hoping for Arthur to return in "England's greatest hour of need".

Merlin was right in this story as well, as he usually is.

At least I understand the background of this story better than Much Ado :)


England’s Greatest Hour of Need

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Almost seems like it’s about now, doesn’t it? Though, I’m not entirely sure what a warlord would do for Britain today. You might be looking for a slightly different skill set!

Thanks, Alison — glad you enjoyed it!


A wonderful tale

Sunflowerchan's picture

Each time you post, I get out a piece of paper and a pen and I take notes, because you are a writer of the highest order. You captured the scene wonderfully, it was short, but everything felt so real, so flushed out. It was also 'Bite Size' and I found myself going back and rereading it over and over again so I could just get a feel of the words and sense your magic in each and every one. I think now I will take down my copy of 'Tales from King Arthur' and spend the rest of my day off rereading them. Something I have not done since my school days! Thank you for rewaking this in me and thank you for all you do, all you share. You are one of the treasures of this site. A shining star for us travelers to look upon and plot our own course with.


Robertlouis's picture

John Boorman’s 1981 imagining of the Arthurian legend is still the best by far, and Nicol Williamson is the finest Merlin of them all. Plus I’ve been in love with Cherie Lunghi who played Guinevere, from that day to this. I probably watch the DVD at least annually too.

You really capture the astonishing atmosphere of that opening scene, Emma, but what a brilliant turnaround. Serves the old letch right too.

I’ve visited Tintagel once or twice and several other would be Camelot sites such as Dumbarton rock on the Clyde estuary, near where I grew up, and various places in the West Country. The historical consensus is that his origins lie in various Romano-British chieftains who resisted the Saxon invasions in the fifth or sixth centuries. Camelot is a much later embellishment.

Pity that Carl Orff was such a dick though.


It’s a far better outcome for Uther

Emma Anne Tate's picture

For all that he got what he wanted in the movie, it ultimately hurt him. I can recite this almost-final exchange with Merlin from memory: “You betrayed the Duke. You stole his wife. You took his castle. Now no-one trusts you. You’re not the one, Uther.” “What then? To kill, and be king? Is that all?” “Perhaps not even that.” I gave him a full life and a chance to learn love.

Guinevere— oh, yeah! Damn, she was gorgeous. Far more so, IMO, than Igrayne — or Helen Mirren’s Morgan Le Faye.

Myth versus reality. Nothing very realistic in the movie, with its High Middle Ages armor and fortifications. Same’s true of most of the books, even including Mary Stewart’s magnificent effort, which at least placed him in the correct era. Bernie Cornwell’s trilogy probably comes closest to being realistic, especially — as any reader of Cornwell’s might expect— when it comes to the battle scenes.

Carl Orff. I don’t really know anything about him, which is probably for the best. But when you consider that the other composer whose work was featured in the movie was Wagner . . . .

Thanks for the meaty comment, Robert! I’m glad to run across a fellow fan of that movie, and delighted that you enjoyed my twist on it.


Not seen that movie!

But an early acquaintance with them, from first-school and onwards (including Mallory and T H White and later more academic essays) has given me a feeling (at variance from my otherwise science-oriented later trainings) for Arthurian tales.
OK, this is pre-Arthur, and may be regarded as extending the franchise, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Thanks again Emma.

Thanks, Dave.

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I'm glad you made time, in the midst of all of your science education, for a bit of legend! Arthur's origin story is always essential part of the legend, and while Excalibur had a particularly graphic version, it hewed pretty close to most versions I've read. Mine, on the other hand . . . .

Not so much.

So glad you enjoyed the tale, Dave!


Good film

Alice-s's picture

Behold the sword of power. Excalibur. Forged when the world was young and bird and beast and flower were one and death was but a dream.

Thanks, Alice!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I can’t even read those words without hearing his voice, his unique intonation. . . . Marvelous!