"You got that right," said Tommy. Joel nodded solemnly.
"Very well," said Merlin. He gestured dramatically and a copper bowl appeared in his hand. "I'll need to fill this with water."
"Woah! I bet you won't find that trick at a magic show!"
"Yeah Tommy, That thing didn't come out of his sleeve. Um... there's a creek right over here, Mister Merlin."
"Thank you. Now, after I fill this perhaps I can show you something that will support my claims." Merlin walked over to the stream and descended the bank. While he was busy, Joel and Tommy had time to talk privately.
"What'd you think, Joel?"
"I dunno, that bowl sorta convinced me that he's not just some crazy in weird clothes."
"What's he gonna do with a bowl of water?"
"Guess we have to wait and see, Tommy. Shhh, here he comes back."
"Well, did you decide to watch with an open mind?" asked Merlin. "Now, let us see what we can see." Merlin stood his staff upright, muttered "Stay." The staff remained standing by itself. He then held the bowl between his hands and began whispering. The copper bowl was almost a foot across and half that deep. It's surface was polished to a high gleam and the water sparkled as Merlin held it level with his waist. The boys both gasped as Merlin took his hands away and left the bowl floating in mid-air! "Look into the water," he said. Tommy could see that the water was getting cloudy. Joel thought that he saw swirling shapes begin to twirl about in the bowl.
"Hey," Joel blurted out, "It's a picture!"
"Yes," smiled Merlin. "What do you see Tommy?"
"Uh- a castle," Tommy began.
"Camelot?" asked Joel breathlessly.
"No," Merlin replied. "But it is a castle in Avalon that is near Camelot. Camelot has been sealed away since the last battle. It awaits Arthur's return. Camelot may wait forever before England needs Arthur again."
"Just like in the stories?" asked Joel.
"Yes," Merlin replied sadly. "Those days are long gone, sometimes I miss them. Then again, hot and cold running water and indoor plumbing do have their own attractions."
"Wait a minute," Tommy said suddenly. "What happened to your accent? You were talking like a storybook when you first walked up, now you sound like everyone else does nowadays!"
"Ah, well... I have had a long time to adjust to modern life," Merlin began.
"I did have to fit in somehow over the years. After all, there would be some considerable outcry if I retained my accent from the middle ages. But sometimes it comes back when I'm in a more formal mood."
"Oh, I see... I guess."
"Come on, give him a chance. What's the matter Joel, don't you see that bowl floating there? I don't see any wires, do you? This is real!"
"Come on Tommy, this is just too weird!"
"So what are you saying? We're dreaming?"
"Boys, we don't have time for this," Merlin said gravely. "I only have a limited time. I'll show you why I'm here. Look into the water again."
"What's that?" asked Tommy when he looked into the bowl.
"It looks like a war- knights in armor, riding horses," added Joel.
"This is a land called Arcadia," Merlin said. "It is near to Avalon, but separated from it by many years. The two major kingdoms of Arcadia have been tricked into a bloody conflict that threatens to destroy the entire land. Only the safe return of two members of royalty, one to each kingdom, will avert the catastrophe that looms over both kingdoms. Without those two Princes, the evil mastermind will be able to bring down both royal houses and forge a kingdom of darkness for himself to rule over."
In the waterbowl there were scenes of great battlefields, strewn with the dead and dying. Families weeping over the loss of their fathers, brothers, and sons. Women being run down by hunched, twisted things that looked only vaguely like men on horseback, captured for torture- or worse. The pictures went on and on.
A third army hid in the darkness of the forests, striking first at one kingdom and then the other. Grim, misshapen figures emerged from the forests to confuse and misdirect the loyal armies of the two kingdoms. Both thought the other was responsible for the terrible deeds.
"Let me guess," said Joel. "You want us to go there with you and play 'Prince and the Pauper'!"
"No way!" Tommy gasped. "I don't believe it."
"I'll bet we just happen to look like these two missing Princes and Merlin wants us to impersonate them long enough to stop the war," Joel continued in a rush.
"Actually you don't look anything like them," Merlin said. "But that wouldn't matter because no one has seen them since they were infants. Otherwise, I'm afraid that you're right. I would like to ask you for your help. Not to impersonate the two Princes, but to help convince their families to stop the war, join forces against the real enemy, and give me time to locate the missing heirs. It will be more of a 'Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court' than 'Prince and the Pauper' for these people need an influx of modern ideas to help combat the dark power that threatens them."
"But what about our families? We don't have time to go anywhere!"
"Yeah Merlin, how could we disappear from home and not get our folks worried sick about us?"
"No matter how much time you spend in Arcadia, you will return here to the same instant that you leave. Magic does have it's uses, you know."
"I still don't believe it," said Joel. "That's gotta violate a whole bookfull of physical laws!"
"Not really," said Merlin as he smiled. "It can be expressed in terms of traveling through Einstein- Rosen wormholes in spacetime into a parallel universe, but that would take all the romance out of the magic... Plus make me look like a physicist instead of a sorcerer. I enjoy the accomplishments of science as much as anyone alive today, but I prefer the beauty and romance of magic."
"Joel," whispered Tommy. "We always wanted to do more than just play knights-in-armor, this is our big chance!"
"Tommy, you're already ready to just drop everything and take off. Doesn't any of this frighten you? It does me! We could get killed somewhere and our folks would never know! Those guys are fighting with real swords, that's real blood on the ground, and those are real goblins hiding in the shadows!"
"Come on Joel, Merlin is real. He's really here!"
"That's half of what scares me, Tommy!"
"Boys, I won't lie to you. There is danger. The threats are real, the monsters are real, but the people are real too and they need your help. You two are special, the spells I cast to get here brought me to you for a reason. In all the world, you are the right people to help Arcadia in it hour of need. The only two people to give them the help that they urgently need right now. It's not a matter of killing goblins, or curing some disease, or leading a band of warriors on a quest. The magic chose you because you have the gifts that are needed. Somewhere inside yourselves lies the salvation of Arcadia and you are the only ones that can make the difference. My time grows shorter, but I do have time to offer you some sort of proof of what I say."
"How?" asked Joel.
"By letting you visit another world, letting you spend as much time there as you wish, and bringing you back to this moment in time here in your own world. Will you accept that as proof that I can do what I say?"
"Well," mused Joel. "I suppose so."
"Good," smiled Merlin. He waved his hands again and a small globe of crystal appeared. It rapidly grew larger until it was almost as tall as Merlin and rested on the ground like a giant soap-bubble. Colors swirled and danced in it's interior and the boys could hear faint music float in the air. "Here is your gateway. I will bring you back when you believe. You may also find something there that could help Arcadia, I'm not sure. When I prepared for this meeting I knew that I would have to send you to another realm before you would consent to go to Arcadia, but I cannot determine why this is the place for you to go. I only know that you have to go here first. The magic will not work in any other manner. There is something in this world that you will need before you can go to the next. Perhaps it is some magical device, then again, it may only be self-confidence."
"Did you look into our future?"
"No Tommy, I looked into Arcadia's future. That is how I know that you and Joel are the ones needed to save it. The time is now. You must either step into the sphere or turn and walk away."
"Where will we go?"
"Into wonders beyond your imaginings, Joel. Into your destiny, one of your possible destinies in any case. Choose now. To go or not to go. I cannot force you to do anything except choose." Tommy and Joel looked at one another, then back at Merlin. They looked at the copper waterbowl floating in mid-air and at Merlin's staff standing upright by itself. Taking a deep breath, without another word they both walked through the wall of the sphere as if it were simply a patch of fog. Merlin smiled grimly.
"It has begun..." he whispered.
"Welcome to Ky-eir," he said as the crowd hushed. "I am Do-em-nair, Regent for the Princess Sill- eve-kor. I perceive from your clothing that you are travelers from a far land. May I ask how you came to be here? I saw you walk through the far wall and knew that some magic was at work this night."
"Merlin sent us," said Joel.
"Ah, " replied Do-em-nair with a laugh. "The Sage never visits us often enough. Be doubly welcome then, for Merlin is revered here and his friends are always treated well. Chamberlain, set two more places at my table. Bring food and drink for our new guests."
"Thank you sir," said Tommy.
"What is this place," added Joel. "Merlin wouldn't even tell us where we were going."
"Only that you needed to come here?" asked Do-em-nair.
"Yes, how did you know?"
"This is Ky-eir, Land of the Blessed. Only those who have need of us are able to find their way here through the World-Walls. A magic older than time itself protects us from all others. Come, sit and eat your fill. Young men are always hungry. It would please us all for you to tell us of your world." Joel and Tommy looked at the heaping platters of food that had been placed on the table before them. "Thank you sir," they said in unison as they sat down. In between bites, Joel and Tommy spoke of their homelife and what little history of their world as a pair of teenager boys would find important: In other words, very little of politics and wars, but quite a lot of television, cars, airplanes, school, and (of course) girls. Do-em-nair smiled even wider as this last topic arose. He then quietly ordered the Chamberlain to water the wine being served to the two boys as they obviously were younger than he'd first assumed. Merlin would not be amused to have drunkards returned to him in place of the two fine lads he'd sent to visit Ky-eir. As the boys continued their tale far enough to speak of their encounter with Merlin and what they had been asked to do, Do-em-nair realized why the visit to Ky- eir had been necessary. These two young lads would be placing themselves in grave danger while Merlin searched the cosmos for the two missing heirs to Arcadia's kingdoms. They were raw, untutored youths who would be called upon to take risks they could never imagine. Merlin obviously wanted them taught some basic survival skills, not to mention lessons in the arts of combat. But how to teach them without frightening them into giving up their duties? The more The Regent thought upon the problem the fewer options became. Finally, only one course of action made sense. The die was cast, the decision was made. Do-em-nair knew what the Sage would wish him to do.
"Joel, Tommy..." Do-em-nair spoke with a light voice in order to hide the danger of what he was to propose. "I wish to honor this visit that you are making to our fair realm of Ky-eir. We must declare a Hunt to begin tomorrow. You will accompany myself and the Nobles of the Court as we engage in our most sacred sport. Come the dawn we will begin the hunt for the sacred beast of Ky-eir. Tomorrow we hunt the Ma-tera-kondu. Chamberlain, prepare quarters for our guests. Huntmaster, you will make ready all that they will need."
"What's a Ma-tera-con... Kondu?" asked Joel.
"A large, flightless bird," answered Do-em-nair gently. "One that is native to our world." One that has been known to catch and eat it's hunters. He thought to himself.
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