This is a work of fiction and is not to be sold in any way shape or form. It is simply for my amusement and the challenge of writing these characters in a strange and dangerous world. All the characters are owned by Disney and I do not claim ownership of any of them. Please let me know what you think in the comments below! Without further ado, welcome to The Kingdom.)
The trees of the forest shifted their branches in the cool breeze that blew through them. Crows cawed as they flew through a low hanging mist. Squirrels scampered across the moss-eaten ground, but only for a moment or two, so as not to be caught unawares. Merlin listened intently to the forest around him, but the two sounds that met his ears the loudest were the clopping of his horse’s feet and the rhythmic flapping of his pet owl, Archimedes’, wings.
“I say,” said Archimedes, who was usually the first to saying something. “We ought to be there by now. Are you sure this is the way?” It was an unfortunate accident that Merlin had found himself the one owl who managed to speak.
Merlin sighed. “Archimedes, I see all. The days and nights of yesterday and tomorrow. All the paths of the universe and where they lead. Do you really think I don’t know how to get to the Kingdom?”
“You have trouble finding your pipe, let alone a whole Kingdom,” scoffed the owl. He was brown and a bit ragged with feathers puffing out here and there. He was the bird equivalent of one who has just awoken after a night of dancing and drinking.
Merlin himself had passed the stage of his long life where he could be considered ‘old’ and was now verging on ‘ancient.’ He had pale skin, which had wrinkled considerably over the years. His long blue robes still shimmered but not as they once did when he had been the mentor of the great King Arthur. Even his tall pointed blue hat was starting to slump over to the side, wearing for all the years of standing straight up. He had a grey mustache and a long white beard which hung so low that he often found the thing to be a nuisance, and would often times even trip over it.
“What makes you think the Queen even wants to see us?” asked Archimedes, refusing to allow any sort of silence to settle.
“I’m quite sure she won’t want to see us,” said Merlin. “But it usually is that the precise thing we don’t want is the thing which we need the most.”
“You bumbling old fool,” snapped Archimedes. “You’re going to get us beheaded.”
They rounded an old tree as the path began to open up and light spilled through the branches where before there had been none. Within the hour, they came to an opening that looked out over the ridge. Merlin stopped at the edge and looked over to see a wide valley bordered by the coast line of the ocean. There, snuggled up next to the coast, was a grand city with sparkled and shone in the light of the beating sun above. It was set onto a hill so that different rows of buildings overlooked those below them and at the highest point, in the center of the city was an enormous white castle with grand arches and high towers which made the rest of the city look small and meek. Small flags waved at the top of the towers and glints of gold shimmered off the window panes.
“My my,” cooed Archimedes, landing on the rear of the horse and taking in the view. “It really is something.”
“Yes it is,” replied Merlin, but he gave a sly smile. “But much like the dragons of old, something beautiful can also be quite deadly.” He pulled on the reigns of the horse, turning it back to the path as they headed down the cliffside by way of a winding trail carved into its face. “There are rules one must follow in the Kingdom if one plans to stay alive. You must never look a person in the eye. Do not speak of magic or spells or witchcraft. They don’t like that. Trust No one, especially those who ask trust of you.”
“Didn’t this used to be called the Magic Kingdom?” asked Archimedes. “It sounds quite un-magical.”
It was true. Once upon a time, the Magic Kingdom had been the center of hope and prosperity across all the land. It was a place of happiness. Yet in the outer realms, darkness had been aloud to fester and chaos threatened to take over. It was because of this that the many Kingdoms of the world united under one banner, which was governed over by the royalty of one Kingdom, The Kingdom. While not all the cities saw eye to eye, they knew it was better to fight together than to die alone.
The cities had united to fend off an attack from the outside world, but that attack never came. Years and years passed. The Kingdom continued to rule, but to what end? Unrest was starting to permeate the city streets and their citizens. Hushed whispers filled taverns late into the night of the King. Some doubted he even still lived. It had been near a decade since his last appearance. But Merlin knew the truth. He had seen it. The darkness was coming.
“Yes,'” replied Merlin, “It used to be called many things.” Merlin looked to the owl with a weary eye. “Whatever you do, don’t mention the King. It’s a sore subject with the peasants and royalty alike.”
Archimedes arched his feathery brow. “What exactly will we be discussing with the Queen then?”
Merlin grinned. “We’ll look her right in the eye, ask her to trust us, and then speak to her about magic and what it has to do with the King.”
“We won’t be beheaded after all,” sighed Archimedes. “We’ll be fed to the lions instead.”
They worked their way down the slope and then headed towards the city gates where they were greeted by heavily armored guards. The guards were not men but tall dogs which stood on their hind legs. Because of this, their shimmering armor covered their long snouts, but made it possible to still see their snarling teeth. Furry tails of different shapes and sizes protruded out the back sides of their metal plated abdomens. They wore long sharp swords on their backs, and some held tall shields with the crest of the ruling family emblazoned upon them. Three black circles, one at the center, with two touching to create the appearance of round ears. In a better time, this would have made Merlin grin.
“State your business in the Kingdom,” snarled one of them, drool dripping from his slouching jowls. He held a long parchment and took notes with a fathered quill as they spoke.
“I’m here to sell my owl,” said Merlin, slyly.
“What, what?” snapped Archimedes. “Sell me?”
“He’s been quite bothersome,” said Merlin. “Though I think the right owner could make a fine pet out of him. Or perhaps they could stuff him. He’d make a fine decoration for a den or dining room.”
“How DARE you!” Yelled Archimedes. “You told me we were here to see the Queen.”
The men stiffened at this. “T-The Queen?”
Merlin sighed. “Yes, we are here to see the Queen. I have business with her. I’ve had a vision and she’ll want to hear the contents of it.”
The guard became upset, baring his teeth in offense. “The Queen does not meet with old beggars!”
“She does when their name is Merlin,” Merlin replied calmly. The dogs pulled back, clearly in awe. “Perhaps you’ve heard of me? Wizard supreme. Mugwump extraordinaire. Council to the high seat of Arthur, may the stars rest his soul. And quite a chef in the kitchen if I do say so myself.”
“M-Merlin?” The guard quickly looked this way and that, as if to make sure a trick was not being played on him. “Sir, I-I am so sorry.” He turned to the gate and shouted up to another dog who was overseeing the gears on the upper level. “Open the gate!”
“You see Archimedes?” quipped Merlin. “Nothing to worry about.”
“I’ll say,” said Archimedes sarcastically.
With a heavy groan, the wooden gate began to pull open, revealing the city beyond. People and animals alike walked along the main street, chatting or haggling with shop owners. Children scampered along behind their mothers. Smoke billowed from the chimneys above and beyond all of it, the castle stood like a titan, looming over her captives, allowing them the freedom to buy bread, but not to leave with it.
“Welcome to the Kingdom,” said Merlin. The wizard, atop his horse, accompanied by his talking owl, entered the city.