Merlin – Prophecy: Clash of Kings

A child born of the demon must brave a fortress and a terrible future to survive. Merlin will become a healer and serve the terrible king, Vortigern, to learn the secret of his birth.

I am Hengist, King of the Suth Seaxe and, later, the first lord of the North. I have been a wanderer, and have sold my sword for coin, prostituting my honour for the few coppers to feed my brother, Horsa. We were born to be kings, but treason and murder turned us into wanderers and men without soil to call their own. All I have done is to find earth that is mine and for my sons after me.

Let my enemies blacken my name. Vortigern, High King of the Britons, invited me to come to Britain. He chose to surround himself with Friesians and Saxons because he didn’t trust his own kind. He wooed us with a promise of land and, even though I knew he lied, I have taken my payment regardless of the king’s dishonour.

I met the boy who changed my world by chance, or so it seemed at the time. My brother, Horsa, had heard of a demon seed and Vortigern wanted such a child to seal the stones of his fortress with the child’s blood. How Loki, the God of Jests, must have laughed at Vortigern’s stupidity. He was such a tall boy for his age, an apprentice herb master and as quick as any child I’ve ever seen. Horsa and his fellows had failed to feed the boy, believing him to be a demon, so he was half dead of thirst when I met him but his humour, his intelligence and his curiosity caught my attention at once. He had charm and force, and it seemed a pity to waste such a gifted child on some superstitious rite.

When Horsa broke his leg, the boy set it as neatly as I’ve ever seen bone-setting done. He was a stripling but he had the trick of command, and I knew even then that Horsa would regain full use of his leg in the future. I became honour-bound, but I had sworn allegiance to Vortigern. How could a man of honour survive such a conflict?

The Goddess came that night and Merlin’s grandmother died at Vortigern’s own hand. She was a holy priestess and I felt the air shiver when she died with the goddess’s rage beside her. I smuggled the boy away with the help of Rowena, my kinswoman, who was Vortigern’s queen, hoping that the king would forget the boy’s existence. He then executed his magicians after cutting off their balls – a fitting death for such serpents – and I thought that I would never see the boy again once I had ensured his safety.

Time is a strange and a cruel thing. I became a little mad after Horsa’s death, and I killed every Celt I could find during the Night of the Long Knives. I never expected that the Truth-teller I left alive to tell Vortigern what had happened to his allies would be treated by the same boy who had grown into a healer of great skill. I heard of his part in the crushing of that vile cur, Vortimer, who raped Rowena, scarred her loveliness and brutalised her in ways that I will not mention for shame of my sex. Merlin treated the queen’s brutal injuries and, unwillingly, served Vortigern at Dinas Emrys as the queen was dying.

Word has also come to me on the wind that he ensured that my nephews escaped to safety when their own father would have seen them dead. But Vortigern was always an unnatural father. Word comes to me still. Ambrosius and Uther, his crazed brother, want to use young Merlin as a servant – as if such a young hawk could be forced to the glove against his will.

When last I heard, Merlin had escaped from Dina Emrys after Vortigern burned to death in a fire that took place in his own hall. I’m told he has travelled to the lands of the Middle Sea in search of knowledge, but I’ll swear that young man has another ambition entirely.

I hope we don’t meet again in this life, for I would be forced to kill a young man whom I am sure is meant to change the world as we know it. Loki would be amused if I was forced to kill one of the few Britons whom I admire, but his death would be necessary. He can change the tides and save the Celts if they will only listen to him. I wonder if they will survive?