At the beginning of time, when Men were born, the secret of our world was revealed to a chosen few. They were the Dragon Lords. They knew the power in the serpent. How to control it. How to call up the Light with their voices and make magic with their song. They sang our world into existence.
In time, they lost the Knowledge and became trapped in darkness. Some say it was taken from them as punishment for misusing its power.
It was the year 542 A.D., and though the world had been trapped under the Veil of Darkness for millennia, things were about to get even worse.
History would remember this time period as “The Dark Ages.” And in the land known as Cymru -- what we call Wales today -- it was a time period of unimaginable suffering.
Partly ascribed to unusually cool temperatures in the northern hemisphere of Europe, crop failure and famine were widespread, spurring constant violence and warfare in a competition for scarce resources. Weakened from cold and starvation, disease spread easily, and frequent outbreaks of the plague were commonplace, often wiping out entire villages.
If you were one of the fortunate few to be invited into a castle, where at least some basic comforts like food and shelter were more easily available, you counted your blessings and overlooked the rest. And there was a lot to overlook, for the castle was a snake-pit of scheming, power struggles and self-serving betrayal. But given the alternative lifestyle outside the castle, many felt they had little choice but to play the wicked games.
In just such a castle, situated along the rugged southern coast of Wales, a child with a special gift, and a critical destiny, was born into this very dark world…
Amber candlelight flickered from a bedside table next to a dark-haired young woman named Betrys, who clung desperately to her newborn son, Madog, while the old Druid magician famously known as Merlin held back midwives trying to take the baby from her. And cowering in a corner of the dank and dimly lit chamber in the upper ward of Caer-Melyn Castle, three-year old Gwenllian watched the struggle with wide, fearful eyes.
Gwenllian’s gaze shifted toward the door of the chamber where the heavy sound of angry footsteps could be heard echoing along the cold stone floors of the castle corridor. T he footsteps stopped suddenly just outside the door. A moment later, middle-aged King Uther flung open the chamber door, glanced briefly at his tiny daughter hiding in the corner and then strode over to Betrys, snatching Madog from her arms.
“Uther, no!” cried Betrys. “I beg of you. Allow this one to live.”
Betrys reached for her son, but Uther would not let go. “You know it cannot be,” he said. “Only the sons of the Queen may live.”
“Yet Arthur lives!”
Uther glared at Merlin with undisguised rage. “That is the wizard’s doing.”
Merlin thought about Arthur, born to a young woman named Igraine that Uther so lusted after he willingly pledged his firstborn son to Merlin in order to have one night with her. Merlin had foreseen that the union of Uther and Igraine would produce a child who could one day be a great and powerful king, as long as Merlin was by his side. So Merlin used his most potent magic to guise King Uther as Igraine’s true husband, Gorlois, tricking her into sleeping with him so that Arthur would be conceived.
When Arthur was born, Merlin claimed his prize, and was now raising the boy himself. But there is a price to pay for such magic. Merlin’s hair turned white overnight and deep crevices etched into his face, making him appear much older than his sixty-one years.
Betrys grabbed Uther’s hand, and as he looked into the sad and desperate eyes of the lovely young woman who had once stolen his heart, a moment of softness flickered across his face.
Uther reluctantly handed Madog back to her. “I grant you the night.” But his easy mood did not last, for his next words were, “Say your goodbyes, for at dawn he is put to the moat.”
Betrys emitted an anguished cry that inspired no additional sympathy from Uther. He turned abruptly and left the room, no doubt to return to his jealous and domineering queen, Onbrawst, who had recently born his first legitimate heir. Onbrawst knew of Uther’s many indiscretions, but willingly allowed such behavior provided his bastard sons never have the chance to make a claim on the throne. And in her mind, there was only one way to secure this outcome: never allow his bastard sons to live.
Merlin chased the midwives out of the room, then sat down next to Betrys and comforted her in his arms. But his fierce, determined expression told her that he was hatching a plan.
Under the cover of darkness, Merlin scurried downhill toward a dense emerald forest that almost looked like a living thing the way a heavy grayish mist, lit up by the moon and helped along by a strong wind, glided across the tops of trees as if it were searching for something hidden in the leaves. He carried a long, wooden staff wrapped in spiraling copper, with a large, clear faceted crystal set into one end. The crystal shone like a torch to help light the way ahead.
Merlin glanced back once at the castle on the hill. It was an impressive sight, even at night. An acre of wooden towers rising to the heavens, surrounded by a circular stone wall with a deep wide moat beyond an earthen bank that had been carved into the hillside to create a large, level surface on which to build the fortress. Merlin could pick out Betrys’ room where the light of her candle faintly glowed, betraying the fact that someone was still awake in the castle.
Merlin turned back around and continued on through the forest until he came to a small village where decrepit turf huts housed those not fortunate enough to be connected to the castle. Merlin sloshed through the muddy village until he came to the hut he was looking for. He clanked his copper staff on an iron pot that hung outside the sod door and called out to announce his presence to the hut’s occupant.
The door inched open and a frail, old woman greeted him with a toothless scowl. Angry words passed between them until Merlin dug in his pocket and pulled out a gold coin. The woman snatched the coin and went back inside the hut, returning a few moments later with a small bundle wrapped tightly in dirty linens. Merlin examined the bundle with concern. He glanced at the sky and saw that dawn was rising in the distance.
Merlin hurried back through the forest with the bundle gripped to his chest. A powerful enchanting melody sang through the trees as the spirit of the forest came alive with excitement, and though Merlin could not hear the song as well as some of the creatures that lived in the forest, those magical creatures that exist on the edge of reality where dimensions intersect, he could intuit that there was a special magic brewing in the air.
Merlin swept past an ancient oak, where an enormous black raven lifted from its perch on an upper branch and dove down toward a clearing. Merlin watched as the raven, accompanied now by the song, passed by two white colts galloping through a shallow stream. Though the early morning sky was still dark, the colts cast a lantern-like glow from their snowy white coats that seemed to come from within.
The colts stampeded and reared as they sensed the precarious future of the boy they were connected to. If he failed to survive, so too would they, for he was the reason they had been sent into the world from the mystical realm they normally occupied, where the song was ever present. The forest itself shared in their distress as a wicked wind whipped leaves around, storm clouds gathered overhead and thunder rumbled through the trees.
The raven signaled to the colts with a squawk, then soared out of the forest, leaving the colts behind. The raven rose into the hills and zeroed in on a flickering light emanating from a high window of the castle. It flew up to the window and perched on the soot covered sill that overlooked the room where Betrys sat, anxiously waiting while cradling her newborn son.
Gwenllian was at her mother’s side, one chubby hand gripping Betrys’ skirt, her other hand gently stroking Madog’s cheek when Merlin arrived back at the castle.
Merlin retrieved the small bundle he had hidden under his cloak. Without saying a word, Betrys took Madog into an adjacent room and returned to Merlin alone.
With trembling fingers, she took the bundle from Merlin and carefully unwrapped the linens from it, revealing a stillborn baby. Panic crossed her face .
“This will never work!” she cried.
“No boys died tonight, my lady,” Merlin said, “that I could find. But Fate provided a tiny girl to save your son’s life.”
Betrys looked again at the lifeless child in her arms, and a tear fell from her eye. “So small and frail. Not made for the rigors of this life.”
“She took one glimpse onto this side of the veil,” said Merlin, “and decided she was not yet ready to face it.”
Betrys jumped at the sound of footsteps outside her room.
Merlin quickly took the baby from her, and re-wrapped her in clean linens. “They will put her to the moat still wrapped in rags. Who would think to check her sex?”
“Hurry!” Betrys said.
Just then, two castle guards exploded into the room.
The younger of the guards announced, “We have come for the child.”
“Poor boy,” Merlin said, as he handed him the stillborn girl. “Never survived his only night.”
The young guard callously took the baby in one hand, and her outer wrap fell off.
Betrys gasped, then realizing her mistake, she quickly covered her mouth with her hand. B ut she had roused the guard’s suspicion.
He retrieved the wrap from the floor and rolled it through his hands, then carefully studied the child in his arms.
Merlin spoke quickly, “Can you not see how you disturb this poor mother, who has just now lost her newborn son?”
Unmoved, the young guard began to remove the child’s other linens. But the older guard, his patience expired, grabbed the baby from the young guard, heartlessly slung her under his arm and left the room.
The young guard had a moment of pause, then he dropped the outer wraps back onto the floor and followed after the other guard.
After they had gone, Betrys walked into the adjoining room, and returned a moment later holding Madog.
“A good thing he never cried,” Merlin said.
“If Uther discovers us, we are doomed.”
“No one will know your son yet lives,” Merlin promised her. “I will raise him on the island, with his half-brother, Arthur.”
“Is my Madog to play a role in the prophecies too?”
Merlin passed his hand over the flickering candle on the bedside table and gazed into the flame like he was gazing at a crystal ball.
Merlin knew how to use light as a conduit to tune in to the energies on realms where knowledge of past, present and future existed simultaneously, free of the illusion of time, and could be read like a blueprint of one’s life. Of course, the blueprint and the reality could differ vastly depending on the choices one made in life.
What Merlin found dancing in the flame was not in fact a vision, but a barely audible melody of such extraordinary beauty that he felt hypnotized by it. It was similar to what he had heard in the forest, and Merlin knew it must somehow be connected to the boy.
Then Merlin heard Madog cooing softly like a baby bird and turned to see that he was also absorbed in the flame of the candle. But the child was too far from it for a baby’s eyes to see. Could it have been the song that had drawn him to it? And what if Madog could hear the melody clearly, not just the hushed and muffled sounds, entrancing as they were, that Merlin heard? How remarkable, he thought, if this child should be The One.
“I think your son may have an important role to play,” Merlin told her.
Betrys laid her hand on Madog’s head. Her expression was the anguish of a mother about to lose her child forever. “Will I ever see my son again?”
“I promise, my dear, to one day bring him to you.”
Betrys thanked him with a smile, and then bent over and kissed Gwenllian, who was hugging her skirts. “We will see him again, my darling,” Betrys told her.
Betrys couldn’t stop the tear that fell from her eye, and Gwenllian wiped it away with gentle little fingers.