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the whirlwind
 

 

Part 6

Arthur disentangled himself from the brambles and took a few steps.

It had been a long drop but, fortunately, the bush had broken his fall. And though he seemed to have lost his lance in the—whatever had happened—he still had his sword at his side, and—he reached up and touched his head—he had his helmet and gauntlets.

The dragon had disappeared, moving northwards (judging from the position of the sun), which meant that it was heading away from Camelot, and that gave him time to regroup his men, and—

Arthur frowned.

Where are my knights? Where is...

Merlin?

No answer.

“Merlin, you useless clod, where are you?”

He heard a groan, and turned to investigate.

Bors?

The least of his knights was lying in his very own patch of bramble, open-eyed but clearly winded, and barely able to move.

Looking at him, Arthur suddenly remembered another man...

Yes, I fell towards a man on horseback!

He looked around.

The terrain seemed strangely unfamiliar—blackened trees had somehow transformed themselves into a frosty glade, with a ridge of steep hills to the North—but he could see the man, lying beside his mount.

Magnificent beast, he thought. And it looks for all the world as though it is standing guard over him.

Removing his helmet and gauntlets, Arthur approached, talking softly to the horse, which pawed the ground nervously as he came closer. “I’m not going to hurt him,” he said, gently. “I’m just going to see if I can help.”

To his surprise, the creature seemed to understand, and moved a few steps backwards.

Arthur knelt down and examined its master.

It is time to get some answers.

He was a strange-looking fellow—tall and willowy, with long, silky hair as pretty as any girl’s. Arthur pulled aside his grey-green cloak, noticing that it had been blackened in places by dragon fire, and laying his hand upon his chest, he felt for a heartbeat.

“Good,” he murmured.

Then he slid a hand under the man’s head and lifted it.

His face was disturbingly beautiful, his features perfectly even, his eyelashes long and dark against his fair skin, his—Arthur gasped—his ears were pointed!

Instantly, Arthur remembered the stories he had been told as a child—of babies stolen, of runaways returning to find that centuries had passed in a matter of months, of strong men made frail by elfshot, of lovely women turned imbecile by water elf sickness.

Whatever this thing is, he thought, dropping its head (and absently wiping his hand upon his surcoat), it reeks of sorcery. He reached for his sword—

Sire!” yelled Bors, and the terror in the man’s voice made Arthur’s heart lurch.

He turned.

A surging ball of flame, a whirlwind of fire, was rolling towards him, eating everything in its path.

 

 
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