“Take care, Morgana Pengragon, for the consequences of your actions will be dire should one word slip out of place,” the blind crone had warned.
“Lancelot?” Guinevere calls softly as she enters the great hall, twisting the silver bracelet he gave her absentmindedly around her wrist. What am I doing here? she wonders. I love Arthur. I’m marrying Arthur tomorrow.
But I cannot seem to pull away, she realizes as her feet keep propelling her forward, towards the black shape behind a pillar.
She sees him then. He looks… pale. And he’s been even quieter than usual today, saying nothing since the final joust.
Gwen approaches him, still pulled door some unseen force, drawn to the wrong man. “Lancelot, are u all right?” she asks, reaching her hand up to his face.
“Uh…” he antwoorden noncommittally.
His skin looks… grey, she notices, and her hand hesitates. But still she leans closer. Closer, and his arms find her narrow waist and his head tilts.
Then the smell hits her.
It smells like… meat that has been left sitting in the sun too long. Is that smell coming from him?
Lance dips his head, and something sparks in Gwen’s brain. Triggered door his odd pallor of his smell, who knows, but as he turns his face towards hers, he bares his teeth instead of delivering the kiss she had been expecting.
His grip is like iron. Panicking slightly, she pushes against him now, against his chest while he tries to…
Bite me? Is he trying to bite me? The realization hits her.
Her screams are joined door Arthur’s own screams of rage as he charges forward, startling Lance enough that he loses his grip on Guinevere, who dashes for Arthur, throwing herself at him, clinging to his vest, hiding her face in his shoulder.
“What the…?” Arthur sputters as he looks down at Gwen, his confusion growing door the minute. His left arm unconsciously comes up around her as Lance is slowly advancing on them, his gait slightly unsteady.
“Arthur, they were clearly kissing.” Agravaine states accusingly, rather lamely trying to stir the pot.
“Uncle, she was screaming,” Arthur argues back, clearly irritated.
“He was trying to bite me!” Gwen says in a terrified whisper, trembling all over. Something compels her and she pulls away from Arthur, yanking the bracelet from her wrist and throwing it to the ground.
Her mind clears as soon as the silver clinks against the stone.
Agravaine stares at the bangle as though he were worried about its well-being. His back is to Lancelot, and before Arthur and Gwen realize what is happening, Lance grabs Agravaine and bites his shoulder, tearing at the flesh with his teeth, piercing easily through his tunic.
Agravaine screams and Gwen screams and hides her face in Arthur’s chest, unable to watch.
Arthur quickly but gently turns to Gwen. “Go! Go to my chambers and lock the door,” he whispers urgently. “Do not open for anyone but me.” He draws his sword and steps toward Lancelot and Agravaine.
She flees the hall, meeting Leon just outside. Other guards are already running to the hall, drawn door the screams.
“Gwen?” he calls.
“Go help Arthur!” she yells back, pointing, still trembling. She dashes away, up the stairs.
The alarm bells are sounding as Gwen slams the door to Arthur’s chambers and slides the lock into place. She looks around, and the only word in her brain is hide.
She scurries over to his bed and sinks down on the floor behind it, on the side furthest from the doors. Then she reaches up and grabs one of the numerous pillows from the bed as a cushion against the cold stones, and, seeing one of his red capes nearby, she grabs this as well and wraps herself in it, a talisman to keep her safe.
The hall is descending into chaos. Lancelot’s movements are slow, but he is unnaturally strong. Agravaine has become forgotten on the floor, left for dead.
Arthur’s and the other knights’ heads turn at the sound of a scream. One of the guards is shrieking in pain as the still-prone Agravaine bites the guard’s Achilles tendon, and the man drops.
“Agravaine!” Arthur shouts in disbelief. He’s become like Lancelot, he realizes, also noticing that there are several guards now approaching with that slow, shambling gait and grey complexion.
How many men did Lancelot bite before he got here? he wonders.
“What devilry is this?” Leon shouts, pushing an infected guard off with his booted foot, slicing his sword through the air, slitting the man’s throat. “Sorry, Jacob,” he says, turning and running towards his king, standing back to back with Arthur.
“Where is Lancelot?” Arthur’s eyes dart around the room, finding no sign of him. The knights are fending off these… others fairly effectively, but there’s still no saying how many people Lancelot had gotten to before he bit Agravaine.
Guinevere had been his volgende target, Arthur realizes, and it makes his blood run cold.
Knocking at Arthur’s chamber door. “Gwen? Gwen, are u in there?”
Gwen stands. That sounds like Merlin. I’m not supposed to open the doors. But I can’t leave him out there with whatever horrors are going on. She shakily stands and walks quickly to the doors.
“Yes, Gwen, it’s me. Let me in, please!”
“You’re not going to bite me, are you?” Why am I asking? Of course he’d say no.
“What? What the hell are u talking about?”
She quickly slides the lock, opens the door just enough to allow his slender form, grabs him door the scarf, and yanks him inside. Then she slams the door and locks it again.
“What’s going on?” they both ask each other.
“I was hoping u could tell me,” Merlin says, seeing her terrified face, her tiny body wrapped in Arthur’s massive red cape.
“He’s not himself. I know that already. But what has he done? And why did u ask if I was going to bite you?”
“Because he tried to bite me!” she exclaims, sitting heavily in a chair and pulling her feet up onto the seat, hugging her knees.
“He tried to bite you?” Merlin asks, pulling up another chair beside her, trying to make sense of all of this. That wasn’t anywhere in my readings.
“Then he did bite Agravaine,” she says, hugging her knees even tighter. “It was horrible.”
“Well, Agravaine is Morgana’s spy anyway, so it’s not really as horrible as u may think,” Merlin says offhandedly.
“Never mind that now,” he waves his hand dismissively. “Did u notice anything odd about Lancelot?”
“You mean apart from the fact that he’s going around biting people?”
“He was very pale. Not pale like how u are always pale, but almost grey. And he wasn’t speaking. I asked if he was ill and all he zei was ‘Uh.’ It was like he had forgotten how, almost…”
“He smelled like rotting meat,” she remembers now, wrinkling her nose. “And Merlin… I don’t know what it was, but… I had been going there to meet him, to… I think rendezvous with him. I felt compelled, like I wanted to… kiss him. Until he started trying to bite me…”
He frowns. “Did anything else happen today? Earlier?”
“Merlin, why are u asking so many questions?”
“Just please, I’m trying to figure out what’s going on!”
“He came to my house. Gave me a gift. A bracelet, one he zei would bring me luck.”
“Are u still wearing it?” He can’t see her hands beneath the cape.
She shakes her head. “I yanked it off and threw it just before he bit Agravaine. I don’t know why…” she pauses, thinking. Blinking, trying to sort out her brain. “But I felt… better once it was off. Like a fog I didn’t even know was there had been lifted from my brain.”
“Hmm. Probably enchanted.”
“Lancelot gave me an enchanted bracelet?”
“Gwen, that wasn’t Lancelot!”
“You zei that before; what do u mean?”
“I… I think Morgana’s hand is behind all this. I need to go. I need information. I need to get something that will help Arthur,” he starts rambling, and stands.
“Merlin, u can’t go out there! Don’t u hear the screams?” Gwen stands, leaving the cape draped on the chair.
“Gwen,” Merlin steps to her and places both hand on her shoulders. “I am going to tell u three things. I don’t have time to explain, but just listen: One, Morgana has somehow brought Lancelot back from the dead, but something has gone very wrong with the spell, I think. Two, I need to go and alert Gaius so he can lock his own doors and start preparing for wounded while I go talk to someone and retrieve the only thing that will help Arthur. And three, lock this door behind me and do not leave this room.”
What only thing that will help Arthur? What is he talking about? Gwen stares, tears of worry pricking at her eyes. “But Merlin, what if u get bitten?”
Merlin hugs her tightly and heads to the door. “Okay, four things,” he sighs. “Four, I am actually a very powerful wizard, Gwen. I’ve been hiding it for years now, obviously, but now is the time for me to take action. As for any Biters out there, they won’t even be able to get within arms’ reach. I won’t allow it.” He regards her for a moment, his face meer serious than she’s ever seen it. He actually looks a little scary, but in a good way. Because he’s on our side.
All Gwen can do is gasp as he sweeps from the room, closing the door behind him. She steps quickly up to lock the door, but as her hand reaches out for it, the lock slides firmly into place on its own, and she jumps.
“Merlin…” she whispers, staring at the lock.
“Why are u laughing?” Merlin demands as the Great Dragon chuckles down at him, “This isn’t funny!”
“Young warlock, the witch’s powers are not developed enough to have been able to successfully wield this magic,” Kilgarrah says, explaining his amusement. “It was doomed from its inception.” He grows serious now. “It is a pity, indeed, that Camelot is being made to pay the price for her ineptitude.”
“Yes, well, I need to stop it.”
“What is it? What has Lancelot become?”
The dragon sighs, sitting back on his massive haunches. “Morgana has unwittingly called up magic from another ancient religion. A religion from another land. She has created a beast that does not belong here, not in Camelot, not on this earth.”
“What is it?”
“It is called the Zombi, a beast of the ancient Vodun religion, practiced far, far to the south, in another land.”
“So, Morgana intended to bring back Lancelot as a shade in her thrall, but instead resurrected him as this… zombie thing…”
“That is correct. The witch was warned. Her own arrogance was her downfall.”
“I know what I need to help Arthur. u know where I put it?”
“I do,” Kilgarrah nods.
“Take me there.”
The dragon sighs again, lowering his head.
“Yes, yes, I know, you’re not a horse. But u know I have no choice.”
“I know,” he answers, “and neither do I, as u well know.” He waits for Merlin to settle behind his ears and then pushes up from the ground, soaring through the night air.
The dragon touches down and Merlin climbs hurriedly off, clutching the item in his hands, the thing he vowed to put far away, away from the hands of any man.
“Merlin,” Kilgarrah stops him before he can run back to Camelot.
“Arthur will have to run the false Lancelot through with Excalibur. Only then will this curse be lifted.”
“Arthur has to do it?” Merlin asks, figuring he would just wield the sword as he did before, unbeknownst to the king.
“This magic was meant to hurt Arthur, to strike at the very hart-, hart of him. Therefore it is he that must break the spell.”
“I see,” Merlin answers, and suddenly Gwen’s confession about her urge to kiss Lancelot and the gifted bracelet all make sense. Morgana was trying to destroy Arthur through Gwen. Strike at the very hart-, hart of him, indeed.
“The zombies are slow, but unnaturally strong. And one bite will turn u into one of them,” Kilgarrah warns.
“What will happen to all of… them… once Lancelot is destroyed?”
“Those with only minor injuries will return to themselves, and their injuries will heal in due course. The ones that have been too gravely injured, well…”
“Okay,” Merlin says, his face tense.
“Go, young warlock, and take care.”
Merlin runs for the castle, blasting anyone bearing the telltale zombie characteristics that come near him.
Don’t kill them. Just knock them out. They may recover, he reminds himself, careful not to put too much force behind his blows.
He finds Arthur just outside the great hall, his eyes searching. “Lancelot! toon yourself!” he yells.
“Arthur!” Merlin calls, running towards the king.
“Merlin, what the hell are u doing? Get out of here before u are bitten!” Arthur turns on his servant, irritated.
“Here,” Merlin thrusts Excalibur into Arthur’s hands, taking his sword from him. Arthur is so shocked that the exchange is made easily.
“Just use this sword, Arthur. u have to find Lancelot and run him through with it to lift this curse,” Merlin instructs.
“No time,” Merlin urges. “Come on, I’ll help u find him.”
Then, much to Arthur’s surprise, Merlin tosses his sword aside.
“Don’t u want to hang on to that?”
“Don’t need it. Come on,” he urges, stretching his senses out, searching for the bron of the magic. Lancelot.
“Merlin, are u drunk? What on earth—”
“Look out!” Merlin shoves Arthur out of the path of an approaching zombie. Arthur turns just in time to see Merlin blast the creature, one of the servants this time, against a far uithangbord where it hits and slumps to the floor.
Arthur’s jaw drops. Shock. Disbelief. Surely this is a nightmare.
“This way,” Merlin grabs Arthur door the shoulder and physically hauls him down the corridor, clearing a path for them as they go, not caring who sees him.
Gwen peeks out the window, wrapped in Arthur’s cape again, and looks out over the courtyard at the chaos below.
Heloise, no, please, not her… James… is that… no, not Sir Bors. She sadly identifies people that have turned into whatever it is that Lancelot now is. Not Lancelot, she reminds herself.
The clang of swords reaches her ears along with the screams and the blood-chilling otherworldly moans coming from the Biters’ mouths. She closes the window again, locking it, locking it again, and then huddles on Arthur’s bed.
The chamber door rattles, and she looks up. “Arthur? Merlin?” she whispers, hopefully. Then she hears scratching. Moaning.
She is about to drop back down to the floor and shove herself under his bed but a brilliant green flash draws her eyes back to the door. The Biters push and pound at the door, but with each blow the green flash lights up around it, starting from the lock and extending outward like a bubble.
He’s enchanted the doors to protect me, she realizes, eyes wide and suddenly pricking with tears, sentimental tears brought forth door her best friend’s love for her.
They pound; the door holds. Guinevere pulls the curtains surrounding Arthur’s bed and lies down, curled in a tight ball, facing away from the doors, still wrapped in his cape. She closes her eyes, shutting out the world.
“Merlin…” Arthur attempts to talk to his servant (wizard?) as he follows him through the darkened hallways. “Merlin!” he finally yells.
“What?” Merlin yells back. “Don’t tell me you’re going to waste time yelling at me now, Arthur. Yes, I’m a wizard. Yes, I always have been. Yes, I’ve been hiding it all these years. And yes, I have been using my magic to do little other than protect your ungrateful ezel since the dag I set foot in Camelot, knowing I could be killed for doing so!”
“Duck!” Arthur yells now, pushing Merlin’s head down to slash at a zombie.
“Don’t mortally wound them, Arthur,” Merlin says, standing. “Once we get rid of Lancelot, they’ll return to themselves. If they’re wounded too badly, there is no hope for them.”
“How do u know all this?” Arthur asks, following Merlin as he jogs down the corridors again.
“The dragon told me. Now shut up, I need to concentrate.”
Merlin doesn’t answer, just waves his hand, shushing him. Arthur shoves another zombie that has gotten too close.
“This way,” Merlin pulls him to the left and up the stairs. Lancelot’s heading for Arthur’s chambers. Gwen.
Merlin decides to start putting zombies to sleep instead of knocking them unconscious, extending a hand and hissing swefn at them as he passes. Arthur watches, dumbstruck, confused, overwhelmed, as their familiar yet grey faces slump and their red eyes close as they slide to the floor.
“That’s very kind of you, actually,” Arthur says. “When will they wake?”
“Probably morning. I’m not entirely sure,” he says, reaching the corridor where the royal chambers can be found.
“Probably? You’re not a very good wizard, are you?” Arthur eyes him skeptically.
Merlin glances back at him. “You have no idea at all how good I am, Arthur,” he antwoorden cryptically. “There. Lancelot is just over there.”
“Okay,” he says, then pauses. “So why do I have to do this? Can’t u just blast him?”
“Arthur, Morgana conjured this magic to hurt you. You are its target. She resurrected Lancelot, albeit somewhat unsuccessfully, and she gave him that bracelet to give to Gwen. Her aim was to get Gwen to betray u with Lancelot, to destroy u emotionally, strike at the place where your hart-, hart lies.”
“With Guinevere,” he says quietly.
“Yes. So that is why u must be the one to undo what she has done. Now go. He’s at the doors to your chambers now, but I assure you, Gwen is quite safe.”
“What did u do, enchant the doors?” Arthur strides away, calling over his shoulder.
“Yes,” Merlin calls back. “They can only be opened door u of me.”
“Right.” Arthur closes in on Lancelot, stealthy now, until he is close enough to strike.
“Lancelot,” he calls, his voice low and level. Lancelot turns. He looks worse. Bits of flesh are starting to peel off. Chunks of hair are falling out. He is missing at least one tooth. An eye is threatening to fall from its socket. The smell has gotten worse.
“Ugh,” Arthur cannot help but recoil at the site of one of his former knights, so noble and brave, a man who sacrificed all he had for Camelot, reduced to this. A homp, stoere binken of rotting meat. It saddens him, angers him that his sister would be so cruel, so low.
“Have peace, my friend,” Arthur says sadly, thrusting Excalibur forward, straight into Lancelot’s heart. He falls like the puppet that he is, tumbling woodenly to the ground.
Merlin runs vooruit, voorwaarts now, noticing that all the other zombies in the distance have similarly toppled, now all sleeping like the ones he had enchanted. The clanging of swords, the shouts, the screams have all stopped.
Arthur and Merlin kneel over Lancelot’s body, no longer grey and decomposing but simply deathly white.
“Thank you,” Lancelot whispers, his eyes fluttering. He closes his eyes, and as the other two men watch, the knight’s body disappears into a puff of smoke.
Arthur stands. “That was… different,” he declares, scratching his head. He looks at the sword. “Can I keep this?”
“Yes, Arthur. This sword is meant to be wielded door u and none other. It was forged in a dragon’s breath and is nigh undefeatable. It is called Excalibur and it is yours alone.”
He regards Merlin suspiciously for a moment. “Excellent,” he says finally, giving it a couple experimental swishes before sheathing it at his side. “This topic of wizardry and dragons is one that will be discussed, Merlin,” he warns, “but later. Right now I have meer important matters to attend.”
Arthur reaches for the door to his chambers and pushes. Locked. “I thought u zei I could open it.”
“Wait for it,” Merlin says.
Arthur is still holding the handle. He feels a slight vibration and then hears the click as the lock slides free.
He gives Merlin a sideways look and pushes the door open. “Guinevere?” he calls softly, looking around.
Arthur’s eyes fall on his bed with the curtains drawn tight around. He walks quietly over and peeks between the curtains.
He pulls them aside, smiling as he sees her curled on his bed, wrapped in his cape. She looks so small, so innocent.
“Is she all right?” Merlin asks.
“Shh. She’s sleeping. Fetch me a blanket,” Arthur says quietly, reaching down to remove her shoes so that she can be meer comfortable.
Gwen stirs when her seconde shoe is removed, scrunching tighter, then stretching. “Arthur?” she asks sleepily, blinking her eyes open.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” he says, sitting down on the bed now, pulling her into his arms, wrapping her in his embrace. He lifts her chin to place a kiss on her lips, warm and soft still from slumber. She sinks against him, heaving a relieved sigh. Merlin comes over with the now-useless blanket, and, seeing that Gwen is awake, tosses it on the romp, kofferbak at the foot of Arthur’s bed.
“What happened? Is it over?” she asks, gently pulling out of Arthur’s arms. Merlin’s face appears and he waves.
“Yep. All taken care of,” Arthur says casually, lifting her hand to his lips, as if they were discussing preparations for a feast of some other mundane task.
“You locked me in here, Merlin,” she says, glaring up at him now.
“Had to keep u veilig of this one would have had my head,” Merlin answers, nodding at Arthur. “I know you, Gwen. At some point u would have decided to venture out to try and help.”
“Would not,” she argues.
“Would so,” both men answer. Gwen scowls.
“You can assist Gaius with the wounded,” Merlin offers.
“Tomorrow,” Arthur amends. “It’s very late.”
“We’re going to have to postpone the wedding, Arthur,” Gwen says softly, stroking his cheek. “There’s too much chaos now. Too many injured people.”
“And the hall is a mess. Those zombies wrecked the decorations,” Merlin adds.
“I,” Arthur declares, standing, “am postponing nothing. Merlin, go wake Geoffrey.”
“What?” Merlin and Gwen both say.
“We are getting married tonight. We’ll have a big fancy public ceremony, oh, volgende week. But I am making Guinevere my wife tonight,” Arthur clarifies, then looks down at Guinevere, her lovely face staring up at him. “That is, if it’s all right with you, my love.”