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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2128722
Merlin worries about Pandora's disappearance
MERLIN stands in a huge field, empty except for some shrubs and blackberry bushes. He is surrounded by soldiers and onlookers. Behind them smoke still rises from the burned out keep in the middle of the fortress. CEDRICK, the huntsman stands beside Merlin. EDNA has returned with the children and is explaining what happened the night before.

EDNA: "We fled down into the bowels of the Fortress. Pandora had me scry up Millicent and her sisters. They were beset by a dragon but managed to escape. When the attack began we were in the midst of it. Enemy soldiers were operating this huge claw and opened a hole in the dungeon. But for Pandora we would have perished. Fortunately she knew her way around and we escaped down a hidden passage.
It led beneath the moat and out here. When we climbed to the top we could see the Keep burning. Pandora told us we needed to find a safe place and see what the dawn brought. She led us to a cave, when we heard the wolves.

MERLIN: Once they knew she had fled the attack was broken off. So what happened then.

EDNA: Pandora told us to hide inside she'd lead them off on a false trail. That was the last we saw of her.

CEDRICK: We followed the tracks of the wolves to the river. We found these. He shows two pink slippers, much the worse for wear. My son FERRIS, was the first to get there.... Tell Merlin what you saw.

FERRIS: At first I thought she'd jumped into the river to escape...

MERLIN: AND...?

FERRIS: Well along the bank I saw her bare foot prints, mingled with lots of large paws. Then I noticed the sign of a kerf made by a small boat that had been pushed up onto the beach. The small prints became deeper and more pronounced as she'd dug in her feet to push off the boat. He sighed in relief, at least now there was hope.

From the beach the wolves had sprinted upstream. There they came upon sandal tracks of someone sprinting towards the water. " Ahaw!" Cedrick concluded, "the owner of the boat....

"Yes, yes," I see it clearly now, he went on. "Pandora, pushed off in a boat to escape the pack which in turn gave him chase. Look here. one, two, deep footprints, and the same paws, on the bank where he leapt into the river."

"And what then? Pandora in the boat and the man swimming, where did all this lead? The thought had no longer came to mind, when a cold chill ran down his spine.

"To the falls To the falls, we must hurry to the falls!"

The falls were less than a quarter mile downstream and the Spring rains had caused the river to rise. From the bank the flow appeared placid but just around the bend it narrowed into a bolder strewn rapids where it surged, gaining speed and momentum. Anyone swept into the flow would be quickly carried down stream and to the brink of a precipitous drop. The falls plunged downward over fifty feet and anyone carried over the top would be dashed into deep waters below and likely drowned. Further complicating matters, the fell waters were beyond a boundary they were forbidden to cross.

"Some Rules are made to be broken" he told Ferris... "Work you way down around the bank. It will take you better than half a day to reach the flowage and track backward. Take your time and leave no rock unturned. The King will insist upon knowing if his daughter perished or somehow managed to survive. Take a raven to report your findings. If I know the king he'll not be satisfied until the full extent of matters are known."

"How far below the falls should I go?"

"No more than a mile, then work your way back to the spill. Search that whole area for wreckage and bodies. Be circumspect and wary... Don't get caught by some warden or roving patrol of soldiers.

"Have no fear of that, I'll show the guile of a poacher."

"When you've scoured below the deluge , send the raven with your report and get back up here."

********

Merlin reflected back on the recent walk he'd taken with Pandora down to the pond. It was his habit when teaching her a spell involving the the Dark Arts to prefaced it with the following words.

"In this spell you won't be using your powers; you'll be drawing from mine... Yours being still untapped, lying dormant and all that...." Merlin halted, at a loss for words.

"I get it Father, I know, I know, I have to walk down the isle with some fool I've yet to meet and get rice thrown in my face."

"Not exactly."

"Then what's the big deal? It's only a ceremony, some mumbo-jumbo incantations and of course the idiot twirling the incense burner."

"For now lets leave it at marriage. I have no wish to burden your tender mind with all the sordid details."

She stamped her foot in frustration "....All the sordid details my petotti.... I know what you're referring to. You're referring to sex. Until I have sex with my husband my powers remain unactivted... That's it isn't it?"

"Closer, but still a bit wide of the mark. I had no idea you were so wise in the ways of love. What do you know of sex?"

"Plenty!" she answered defiantly... " Everything there is to know."

"... And the source of this vast storehouse of Knowledge?" Merlin paused.

"You think I haven't seen the stallions mount the mares in the stables, the hounds atop a bitch in heat... what do you think I am stupid?"

"Only ignorant of a little known but significant fact. There's an added layer of complexity, you probably aren't aware of."

"Forgive, me father, but I don't see it as all that complicated."

"Hmmm. Is this the extent of your vast understanding?"

"...No, there's plenty more.... To start with, I stumbled a while back on Marcie. She's a kitchen maid, doing it with her boyfriend Jordan. They were making hay in the stable. "

"Go on."

"Jordan had his man thing poked inside her you know what. He was hunching up and down and she was moaning and groaning." Pandora made some "Ohhh Ahhh" sounds. "What to know more?"

"That's enough for now." Merlin was a bit taken back by the antics. "Knowing is one thing, understanding the joy of intimacy is another... It was never meant to be a spectator sport."

"Hey, I just happened around the corner and there it was.... him on top and her underneath."

He raised his hand for her to stop, but she kept it up.

"They were having a good ole time" She gyrated her hips.

She embarrassed him."Have you have a male interest?"

"Naw, nothing like that. It's Girl talk, Dad, girl talk... you know what that is?"

He sighed, at the fleeting passage of her innocence. "What you understand is the first of it, not the last.... the short of it and not the long."

"I understand what an erection is....What else am I missing?"

" Something every Dark Witch needs to have explained by her mother...." Something told the king that he'd was getting into an area where he'd be wise to shut up...

"And what might that be?"

It was that all knowing tone of voice that exasperated Merlin. That adolescent certainty of knowing everything about anything. He blurted it out. "Only this, the man who deflowers you won't be bragging about his conquest." As soon as the wizard said it he wished he hadn't.

Her eyes looked confused and had a quizzical look..."What are you saying...?"

Knowing that half a truth was truth of the worst sort, the King continued.

"I'm saying that when your curtain is rent, a swirl of light and darkness will rush in and awaken your supernatural powers.

"I don't understand. What kind of Metaphor does "Curtain Rending" imply?" Speak plain, Father."

There was no turning back. The king drew a deep breath. "That erection, you spoke of, the one that first rends your hymen membrane will become a grounding rod for ancient and powerful forces. Like lightning and thunder there will come a rush of power into your soul that will activate your reservoirs of magic."

Pandora stammered, "Are you saying the first man who does me is going to die?"

Her ability to get to the heart of a matter was inherited from her mother. It was instantaneous and telepathic.

No hiding it now.Merlin smacked a fist into his palm. "WHAMO!"

Sweet Aura of the Gods! "I'm going to kill my first lover? Are you sure about this?"

Are you sure...? How could he have the slightest doubt?

"I know a thing or two about Dark Witches, I married one. What I'm telling you is a simple fact of life, like the sunrise and sunset, like the moon and the tides, like the cycle of your menses, so is it with a Dark Witch and the unfortunate, who introduces her to the physicality of love. BANG, ZAP, a bit of twitching and shaking and then DEAD! end of story."

"How do I live with this?"

"Not my problem."

"Am I doomed to die an old maid?"

"I suppose every Dark Witch approaches this milestone in her own way....

"What's that supposed to mean?

"I've spoken too much already."

"Come on Dad, please, Don't stop now?"

"I'll only add this, since the temptations of the flesh are already swirl about you. Dark Ladies have a calling that each must answer in her own way," the wizard answered evasively.

Pandora, didn't seem to be listening."Who would have ever imagined this...?"

"The fewer the better my dear, the fewer the better. See if you can't keep this holiest of secrets, to yourself."

Pandora tripped on a tree root and almost fell on her face.

"Get hold of yourself, we didn't come down to the pond today to discuss sex. I should have left it to your mother, not that she's ever around when I need her.

They were walking down the hill towards the lily pond. An entourage of men at arms and nobles followed a discrete distance behind. "Are you ready for today's lesson?"

"Yes of course Father."

Upon reaching the pond the King motioned and two soldiers brought a man forward. His eyes were filled with dread and he slumped such that the guards had to hold him upright.

"This man is Thetus... a once loved and trusted member of the court.. He is accused of conspiring with a entity who will go unnamed, of espionage and has been brought here on charges of Treason."

"How do you plead Thetus?"

The prisoner slumped even further and began pleading, "Have mercy on me sire, "

"The plea Thetus. the plea!"

The accused fell to his knees groveling for mercy. "I'm sorry sire, if you could find it in your heart to forgive me I'd never do it again..."

Forgive you? THE PLEA THETAS!

"G-Guilty sire."

"What a sorry excuse for a human being you are.... If you don't stop sniveling, I'll let Milicent adjudicate the matter. "

Thetis wailed in hysteria, urinating in his pants, "no sire, Not that, anything but that, I submit to your judgement. I'll tell you anything but please, I beseech thee, kind Lord, deliver me not onto the queen."

It was the first time Pandora witnessed the full extent of the terror her mother struck in the hearts of their subjects. Sure, Mom could be intimidating, but this was rediculous.

"Then stand on your feet and receive your judgement."

With a sheer exercise of will Thetus stood his wobbly knees shaking.

"I sentence you to Frog Servitude, and three months in the pond!"

Thetis sighed in relief, this was more lienency than he expected, even though most didn't make it that far... you know, with the carp, muskies, and pike to contend with.

Merlin placed his hand around his daughter's shoulder... "Now Pandora, at this time I'll impart to you the incantation. When you have it clearly in mind, repeat it back enunciating each word exactly as I spake."

"Yes, Father"

"The first I want you to practice is changing someone into a frog like human. This enchantment is used for minor offenses, and to get a recalcitrant's attention. Incline your ear." He whispered, "Uba amagorlich statumobotus. Cover your mouth now and in a low tone, Repeat it back."

She took a deep breath and covering her mouth uttered, "Uba amagorlich statumobotus."

"Good! He addressed the soldiers "Now if you stalwart guardians of the realm will step back a few paces, we'll get on with administering the punishment."

The men at arms beat a hasty retreat.

"Now Pandora, say the words."

In a tone barely audible, she cast the spell. "Uba amagorlich statumobotus:"

Thetis grabbed his throat and fell to his knees, his body contorted and began turning a sick green hue. His eyes bulged, his shirt ripped, his stomach swelled, lopping over his belt. His shoes went flying revealing two webbed feet.

"Well done My Dear, well done.... as I said the first part is used to remediate bad behavior before it festers and grows worse. Now the more egregious manifestation of the spell is for criminals convicted of treason."

He gave Thetus a push.... "Hop to it now," the king gestured towards the water's edge.

Thetis flopped along as commanded, unused to his lower appendages. Splish Splash, splish splash, splish splash.

"With the power vested in me as King, I hereby administer the sentence."

He shielded his hand from the side of his mouth and whispered the incantation intended for Pandora's ears alone. "Say it and motion thusly." He gestured to demonstrate.

Pandora, head held dramatically, shielded her mouth and in low tone made the pronouncement. "Uba Amagorlich." With that she extended her arm at Thetus and flicked her fingers.

In a puff of smoke, the frog man vanished. There followed a plop into the water below. Something froggy started swimming and dove beneath a lily pad. Baleful eyes peered up from underneath. The onlookers gasped.

"Well there you have it," said Merlin brushing off his hands, "The things I do for the Realm."

*****

the King was beside himself, distraught beyond anything words could measure. When Cedric came back he didn't know wether to be happy or not... He feared for the worst.... That the prophecy had come true, that his oldest daughter would one day be taken by the agents of Evil.

Breathlessly Cedric rushed into the great hall where Merlin awaited. He took a knee breathless. He'd been thinking about what he would say but his tidings and seeing the King, seated upon the throne and drumming his fingers... filed his heart with trepidation.

"Well?"

He took a deep breath, "I've some good news and some bad Sire, which do you want first?"

Melin steeled himself.

"The worst of it man, the worst."

"We tracked the Princess all night sire, with torches mind you, such was our despertion that we refused to wait until morning... Pandora must have seen a unicorn and her foal because we found sign in the pasture and the hole where the Princess went through the hedgerow."

"I know that part, get on with it."

"We entered the forest and found a trail we believed she might have taken. On hands and knees for the better part of the night, dark it was, with only the flicker of torches to guide us we followed....until..."

"Until what?"

Wolves my Lord, the Princess was chased by wolves! So fast did she run that she lost her slippers.

Woe is me... would that she'd had wings... go on."

"We followed the trail to a glade and then onto the river."

"Did she make it to the waters?"

It appears that she did, Sire. There was fresh evidence that a skiff was there, pulled up on the shore...

A most unlikely act of providence... A bit of good fortune amid a host of dire circumstances... A skiff, with a pack of wolves at her heels. So what of the bad news?"

"If she pushed out... as it appears that she did, the swift current would have swept her boat over Great Falls."

"Drat, just when I was getting my hopes up..."

"There's more."

"More..?

"It appears that the owner of the boat was there about... and the wolves chased him into the river as well. He too must have been swept into the current. Both it appears were swept over the falls."

"Bad news indeed.... Did you attempt to go below the falls and look for bodies?"

"We're forbidden my liege..., you know the treaty and all that?"

"The treaty be damned!"

"I knew you'd say that so I took the liberty of sending my son across the forbidden boundary to see what he might discover. He has a raven and can report what he finds."

"Good thinking Cedric..."

At that instant there came a blaring of horns from high atop the battlements. "The Queen's coach approaches in the distance!"

"OMG," sighed the King.... "This'll be no joyous reunion."

******

From afar the black coach was seen but as a speck with a trailing cloud of dust. As it came closer it grew larger so did the swirl of of darkness that trailed behind. It could be seen from the battlements that that it was being driven in great haste, even faster than it usual if that's deemed possible. It turned off the post road and onto the treelined boulevard and sped through the hedge row. From there the road widened to a straight avenue, lined with cedars, across the drawbridge and into the fortress. The clatter on the cobblestones reverberated inside the enclosed walls as it circled the turn around and finally came to a sudden screeching slide in front of the main entrance. "Wood" cried out the driver pulling tight on the reins, as the coachman applied the brakes. The footmen raced forward to lower the steps and even before it was fully stopped the door flew open and the Queen leapt to the ground.

How the Queen knew her daughter had gone missing might have caused some to wonder. After all the King learned of it just the day prior and Millicent far off. But know it she did and Merlin braced for the onslaught.

"Where is Pandora?" She inquired, her face contorted in a storm of emotions. Her lip was quivering and she stood defiantly with hands on hips.

"She ran off," Merlin replied, holding Pandora's slippers.

"Ran Off?"

"Perhaps lured off is a better term. There were two unicorns."

The queen's hand went to her mouth. "OMG, the Prophesy."

"The tracks led to the Hedgerow and from there into the forest.

"You did say "Unicorns."

"Yes my dear, should I say it again?"

"You know what that means don't you?"

Merlin rolled his eyes, "Magic?"

"Strong Magic... Portentous harbingers."

"No doubt."

"I want to know everything!"

"There isn't much to tell...." and Merlin went on to explain everything he knew.

They were standing in the courtyard and as he spoke a crowd began pushing closer to hear every word.

Calliope, Arabella, Elsinore and Agatha, dismounted the coach and gathered in a cluster behind their parents. They whispered back and forth in low tones.

When Merlin finished the report, Millicent said, "Dark tidings but not without hope..." She exhaled in exhasperation. "I thought you were supposed to be watching her."

"She's seldom out of sight or mind for that matter, but I'm not her jailer....I can caution her, teach her and try and keep an eye on her but short of chaining her to the dungeon wall I did everything a reasonable man could do."

"I'm sorry my dearest, I'm not implying you slacked off.... It's my nerves. I'm worried to death... You don't think she was kidnapped then?"

"There was no sign of foul play... for that matter finding a boat was an act of good fortune that cannot be attributed to coincidence."

"We should certainly be grateful to the man it belonged to."

"Praise is a bit premature. What happened after they went over the falls is anyone's guess..."

"It's written she'd be taken in her eighteenth year to become the Devil's own bride."

"Well it isn't the Devil I fear, but a fifty foot drop into waters below."

"Yes my dear, of course..." In times of crisis Millicent showed deference to her husband. "You said Lieneaus has gone beyond the border in search of more answers..."

"I did indeed..." In the distance a raven could be seen flying towards the fortress.... "and fancy you should mention it." The bird settled into the Aviary.

"Inside my dear, we're drawing a crowd. Bring the message to my chamber... Oh! and a map too."

Millicent turned to her four daughters, "Get a bite and refresh yourselves. We'll be leaving within the hour.

The king and Queen ascended the staircase to their private quarters.... In short order a map was brought in and rolled out onto a large sewing table. On the heels came the Bird Man with the message. The King tore it open and read.

Reached falls, boat survived, Two sets of sandals. They spent night, made fire, left down river this morning. Found skirt and blouse. Returning.

"Skirt and Blouse? Wonder what that means, surely she isn't naked."

"I doubt she would have cast it aside without a suitable replacement... perhaps the man had a spare set. She got the sandals from somewhere."

Merlin walked over to the Map. He studied it a moment and pointed. Here my Dear are the falls. Beyond those the country is very desolate. They won't see any signs of civilization until they get to the Roman bridge shown here. It is two to three days down stream. I suspect they will put ashore there and take the road either East or West. If they go East it will take them to Devil's keep. If they go West they should find their way back into the Free Territories where we have some influence. Our best course would be to go to Phillips Freehold and pick up the road there. That should put us about a week from the bridge.

What's this "Us," supposed to imply?"

"You don't expect me to stay here when my daughter is in mortal danger?"

"Merlin, you're needed more here. If things go badly you'll be needing to train come dragons... Better get started on that right away. The older children will accompany me to Phillips Freehold and we'll have to decide what to do from there. We'll take some birds and keep you posted."

"Are you sure? "

"See if you can't keep the younger children from wandering off." She was letting him off easy but not entirely.

"I could be of help you know?"

"You can be of more help here.... Oh, and summon the "Wise Guys."

"Yes my dear.

With that she walked over and kissed him... It grew into a long embrace. "I wish we had more time my love, she said."

He stirred. Of course my dear, he replied with a note of disappointment.

They descended into the great room and proceeded out the door into the court yard. A fresh team had just been exchanged. Calliope was waiting with her Mother's bag packed. Her sisters were looking out the windows. "I have the Ravens stowed." She tossed the bag up to the coachman, turned and climbed up inside."

Millicent lovingly addressed her husband, "We'll get through this just as we have everything else. You are my anchor and the love of my life." With that she mounted the carriage and stepped inside. The driver cracked his whip and the coach rumbled across the cobblestones, through the wall and over the drawbridge. To those watching it receded rapidly into the distance.




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