This one is highly likely to be chopped and changed a little, but it just depends what I do later on.
It seemed he had only been asleep a moment but when Robyn shook him awake, the dead black of night had grown lighter and it could only be a few hours before dawn. He wiped sleep from his eyes and went to the door where Mrs T and Robyn were waiting with the Envii bag slung over Mrs T’s rounded shoulder.
They hurried off into the night, too anxious of getting caught to speak. Mrs T led them along a sandy path that grew narrower and rougher the further away from the castle they went. Before long the trio found themselves struggling up a steep grassy slope, towards the dense green forest that loomed above. Robyn took the bag off of Mrs T’s shoulder to help her scramble up the hill.
They paused on the edge of the forest, catching their breath, listening to Mrs T’s wheezing. She took another small vial from the pocket of her robes and took a long swig of whatever it contained. Arthur was just about to ask what exactly it was the vial contained but received a warning glare from Robyn.
“We must journey far today,” said Mrs T, shattering the long silence. “The King will discover your absence too soon and we cannot outrun horses.”
“But please you must rest.” This was Robyn, trying to reason with a stubborn old woman who would not hear of it.
“I can rest when I’m dead,” said she, and turned into the murky forest.
Robyn and Arthur hung bag just out of earshot as Robyn explained the state of Mrs T.
“Last year she spent a full 10 weeks in bed. At the time I was working occasionally for Mrs T – making deliveries, helping her gather herbs. But as her health deteriorated I spent more and more time with her; caring as well as working. She used to be well respected: had a good head for medicine see? She was seen to by all the patricians in Camelot, including the King’s patrician as well, yet there was no improvement and nobody knew what was wrong. Her sharp mind had all but melted into a gloopy lump and she could barely string two words together that made any sense. I could only nurse her in her last few days on God’s earth.”
“What happened?” asked Arthur. They had slowed to a steady stroll, just keeping up with Mrs T’s uneven gait.
“The Abbott came up from the monastery and held a cleansing ceremony around her bed, to ward evil away from her soul on its journey to the afterlife.”
“She was dead?”
“No she was alive. They say she didn’t understand what was happening to her but I saw the subtle changes in her behaviour and was determined she hadn’t given up. They drew the curtains and left her to die. I stayed with her of course. My parents had died of gout earlier in the year so the dingy hut had become my home. She fell into a deep sleep for 3 days and I thought she had really gone until her eyes flung wide and she repeated the name of that wizard. Oh what was his name? Y’know, the one who wrote that prophecy… Marvin…. Melvin…”
“Oh yes, that was it, Merlin.”
“What a coincidence,” thought Arthur.
“Anyway, she wouldn’t stop saying his name. It was as if all the words in her vocabulary had been replaced by this name. I thought perhaps it was a distant relative or long lost lover at the time. I asked around but by then everyone had forgotten her life and those who hadn’t were simply “Sorry to hear of her misfortune” and “hoped she had a better life in death.” Her legacy and respect was in tatters, and helpless, I returned to her bedside and – “
“And wept,” said Robyn, tears pricking her deep green eyes. “I didn’t know what else to do and I know it was such a stupid thing to do now. I should never have given up.”
Arthur put his arm around her shaking shoulders and slipped the bag off onto his. They continued walking as Robyn calmed herself. Then she continued:
“I remained there for the whole night, and was woken in the morning by a clattering downstairs. I followed my ears and found an elderly man rummaging through the stuff on the shelves. He seemed so absorbed in poking his nose where it was not welcome I had to clear my throat to announce my existence.”
“I bet that gave him a fright!”
“No. In fact it was as if he was expecting it! He just expressed my apparent lateness and pushed me aside to go up to Mrs T before I could say anything.”
“How odd,” thought Arthur, marvelling at the fact that anyone could push Robyn aside and get away with it.
“He went to Mrs T and as he approached her face lit up and she was able to greet the man like an old friend. The sight of that man seemed to re-connect her brain to her body.”
“Really? Just like magic?”
“Oh sorry, I forgot,” said Arthur sheepishly.
Robyn also lowered her voice. “She still has her off days, when she seems a little ill in the head – that’s when she drinks from that bottle. It seems bottomless despite its size. Merlin left it for her. She won’t go anywhere without it. People have disowned her completely, what with her coming back from the dead, being visited by a known wizard and constantly drinking from a small bottle.”
“If everyone knows he was a wizard and Mrs T had help from him, why haven’t they arrested any of them?”
“The King seems to have some pity over Mrs T and wishes to remember her for who she was. But he has been trying to catch Merlin for years. It appears he is somewhat… uncatchable. Rumour has it he lives in a deep cave full of a complex tunnel formation that no one comes out of.” She paused. “Then again, another rumour has it he lives in a hut in the sky made of dried pig bladders.”
“Charming,” muttered Arthur.
Robyn lowered her voice further. “The truth is, Mrs T’s getting on a bit and relies more and more on my help. We depend on each other. Even if she is an old kraut some of the time.”
“I may be a bit of an old kraut but my hearing is everything that it used to be, Robyn.”
Robyn flushed a little and took a sudden interest in her shoes as they caught up with Mrs T. By now, the first of the sun’s rays were licking the path ahead of them, turning it golden.
For the rest of that day, the hardly stopped on their journey and Arthur would have declared them well and truly lost if it weren’t for Mrs T’s knowing glances in one direction to the other, and confident, if crooked, strides. They entertained each other with stories, anecdotes and dreams, although Arthur found this quite hard as Robyn and Mrs T didn’t understand anything he talked about half the time. They put it down to strange traditions he had in his home village. There was seldom a lot of silence as each were keen to keep their minds off the reason they were running away, and that their future was uncertain. By dusk they found a small clearing and made camp for the night. Mrs T sat hunched over her green vial, muttering words Arthur could not even begin to understand, while he and Robyn made a fire and set out the sleeping mats.
“I swear she only does that so she doesn’t have to do any work,” muttered Arthur to Robyn.
She laughed. “She’s conducting incantations.”
“What does that mean?”
Robyn stopped trying to strike a flint and pulled a comical face deep in thought. “I haven’t the faintest idea,” she replied. “She does it whenever she feels she needs protecting from the latest bandit or disease that’s around the streets.”
The travelling group settled down to sleep after burnt mackerel that Robyn had kept in the depth of the bag and Mrs T had cremated on the fire. Mrs T took the first watch and Arthur volunteered to take the second, however when Mrs T woke him up, daylight streamed thought the low branches and Robyn was packing away the mats. Mrs T must have sitting vigil all night because Robyn hadn’t taken watch when he asked her. They stared at the seemingly awake Mrs T as she stamped out the fire embers.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “It didn’t seem logical to wake either of you two up while I remained awake as well.”
The party set off for a second day of avoiding a meeting with the King’s men, and this time they took an easterly route through a dense part of the wood where there was no conceivable path to speak of. They scrambled through the undergrowth, thorns and sharp nettles raking at their sides. They walked in single files behind Mrs T as she seemed to be able to progress despite the wildlife around her. Robyn and Arthur lagged farther behind and just as Mrs T’s behind disappeared in the leafy summer shrubbery, Robyn called after her. There was no reply.
They wandered aimlessly for a minute or two with no idea of where their guide had gone. There was a rustling behind them. Or was it over to the left? Someone was close by and the hair on the back of Arthur’s neck rose up in alarm. Lots of eyes appeared in the shadows of the trees. There was more than one person, or perhaps creature, he couldn’t decide which he would prefer it to be. Arthur glanced warily into the bushes, now having completely lost his bearings. He felt Robyn grab his hand. She glanced at him wide eyed. “It’s not Mrs T,” she whispered. “Too fast to be Mrs T. Besides, she’d have shown herself by now wouldn’t she?” Robyn’s question was met by more rustlings and the increasing fear on Arthur’s face.
They were surrounded. Whatever it was that was hunting them wanted to scare them and was not letting them get away. There was a distant call. Like a strangled goat. The rustling stopped. The creatures bounded off towards the call as it sounded a second time. This time it was identifiable as human. Not only human, but it was the pitiful wail of Mrs T.
Robyn and Arthur fled towards her as one, crashing through the undergrowth until they tumbled out onto a path and lay on their backs breathing hard. Arthur was dazzled by the midday sun until was obscured by an ugly snarling face, clad in Camelot armour. The soldier laughed evilly, revealing two rows of yellow, rotten teeth.
“Take ‘em!” he barked.