This is my Flash Fiction Friday story for this week. The story is inspired by a photo of an old man sitting on a train.
The word count for this week is 1000, which is really a little short for the story I've written so I think it ends a bit abruptly, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.
Merlin glared along the train at the young man sitting in the corner. They were travelling incognito because of a rumour that the young man had heard a few days earlier. Merlin wasn’t good at incognito as he absolutely refused to shave or even trim his beard. It was his pride and joy; and an integral part of his identity. How could he possibly be recognised as a master wizard without a long flowing beard? Arthur was looking back up the train at Merlin with a smile. Arthur looked like he should always have a flagon of beer in his hand and be singing drunken songs, which indeed he often did. Merlin and Arthur together looked too strange and they bickered too much not to be noticed. On their own and in the right environment, such as the New York Metro, they didn’t attract quite so much attention.
‘Merlin, I have a lead on the sword. A good one this time.’ Arthur had said a few days earlier.
They had been following false rumours for years. Legend said that if only Arthur could retrieve the sword, Excalibur, he could take back what was rightfully his. Arthur was the eternal king of the Kingdom of Albion. Merlin realised that few in the modern world believed in magic swords or magical kingdoms, but he knew they were real.
‘What is the lead, Arthur?’ Merlin had asked in a voice infused with weary scepticism.
‘It’s in private hands, in New York. We’ll have to go undercover. It’s a good lead. I promise. Really!’
Arthur was excited. He liked adventure, especially when it meant going undercover. Merlin had long since grown bored with Arthur’s antics, but he had no other choice but to go along with them because they only had each other. Of course, there was always the chance that Arthur had actually stumbled across the truth. Merlin thought it unlikely, but he never quite gave up hope. Given enough time, surely they would find the sword. They had all the time in the world.
‘The collector is rich and has English ancestors. The rumour is that it’s been with his family for hundreds of years. They weren’t always well known or rich, which is why we hadn’t heard of them before. They just had the sword, hidden away. The rumour says that they know what the sword is.’
‘Purely out of interest, Arthur, where did you hear this rumour?’ asked Merlin.
‘From a man in a pub.’
Merlin shook his head at this. However, he ended up going along with Arthur, like he always did. Unfortunately, electromagnetic signals interfered with magic and this meant that spells could have even more unexpected results that in more primitive times, so Merlin didn’t even have his magic as a distraction from his eternal boredom. With the sword, they could put an end to much that Merlin found unpleasant.
‘I hope we don’t live to regret this.’ said Merlin as he always did in these circumstances. His hope had thus far always proved false.
‘It will be fine.’ said Arthur, always wrong.
Merlin’s troubles started many years ago when he had gone off with Arthur on a quest for the Holy Grail. At the time, he didn’t think it existed. After all, why would anyone still have a cup used at a party five hundred years earlier? And why should it have special powers, just because someone who some thought to be the son of God had drunk from it? Merlin had always been a sceptic, in spite of his magical powers. Much to his surprise, they found the Grail. Even more surprising, it did make anyone who drank from it immortal, although he and Arthur didn’t realise this until later. It froze them at the age they were when they drank. No one else drank from the cup and they had hidden it really well.
Arthur arranged everything. He always looked after the plans because he was the original prince charming and could get anyone to give him whatever he wanted. Merlin was a grumpy old man and could turn people against him with a glance.
‘Right Merlin, this is the plan. We fly to New York, by plane rather than magic, then we find the house where the sword is and then we take it back. Easy!’ Arthur’s enthusiasm was almost contagious.
‘Do you know the address?’ asked Merlin, knowing Arthur’s haphazard approach to details.
‘Merlin, why do you doubt me? Of course I’ve got the address and, you’ll be really impressed, I have the plans of the house and I know what room the sword is in.’
‘It’s about time.’ Merlin was genuinely impressed.
After their trouble free flight arrived in New York, Arthur presented Merlin with his outfit.
‘See, the shirt says “Navy”.’ Arthur pointed out unnecessarily. ‘I saw it and thought of the lady of the lake. Water, you know…’
Merlin took the shirt without a word. He had a bad feeling about this, but then he had a bad feeling about everything. The shirt was a little too big.
So Merlin found himself sitting on the train, glaring at Arthur, mainly out of habit. He found it best to start by assuming that Arthur had made a mistake and was going to mess up as it saved time later.
To Merlin’s surprise, the adventure continued smoothly. They reach found the house and no one was home.
‘They’re on holiday until next week.’ said the ever confident Arthur.
Merlin used some minor magic to unlock the doors and turn off the security alarm. Arthur led the way to a basement room. The two men paused in the doorway, stunned by what they saw. The room was lined with stone and was empty apart from a large block of stone sticking up from the middle of the floor. A sword hilt stood on the stone.
‘Excalibur…’ Arthur whispered before striding to the stone and pulling the sword out with ease.
Merlin was speechless. Their quest was over.