Prologue: The Powers That Be
c. 525 AD
A man chopped wood outside the low-roofed stone hut where he lived with his wife. A rough wind buffeted him, but he kept at his work. The more wood he chopped now, the warmer the hut would be during the cold winter that was sure to blow down from Scotland. The night was coming on fast, and he had a huge pile of wood that still needed to be chopped. As he worked, he kept a wary eye out. Between each blow of the axe, he raised his head and scanned the ridges of the nearby hills and the dark spaces between the trees.
There were whispers of war on the wind.
And, of course, there were the usual robbers that preyed on vulnerable folk who lived away from a village.
But the man found it safer to live away from other people.
Wait, what was that? The man stopped chopping and leaned on his axe. He fixed his gaze on the trees. Something moved among them. A man? Certainly. A robber? No. Robbers ran in packs.
He watched as the tall figure came closer. Despite the weather, he didn’t seem hurried. He wore a dark blue cloak with the hood over his head, but the man could make out the long gray beard.
“Merlin,” the man grumbled as he threw down his axe and folded his arms across his chest to await the visitor.
“Hail, Waelwulf.” Merlin raised his staff in greeting as he approached the wooden fence that surrounded the hut, the plot of grass in the front, and the vegetable garden in the back.
“Stay right there,” Waelwulf said, but Merlin had already pushed open the fence and come inside the yard. He put down his hood, revealing a head of long gray hair.
“I expected more of you, Waelwulf,” Merlin said.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Merlin sighed as if they had had this conversation before. They had. “You have been given a gift. Why don’t you use it? With Uther dead, you could be of service to the young Pendragon. I know you have seen the Sword in your visions.”
Waelwulf jabbed a finger to his chest. “These visions, this gift is a curse. This… this power you say I have has brought me nothing but heartache.”
“The powers that be are of God,” Merlin said.
“If God gave me this power then why am I being tormented by it?”
“It’s the devil that torments you.”
Waelwulf paced the yard. “And what of Morgana. Your sister. Are you going to tell me her powers are of God too?”
“All power, yes,” Merlin said. He lowered himself slowly onto a stump, stretching out his heavy, booted feet in front of him. His cloak fell away, revealing the jeweled hilt of a dagger. “Morgana has chosen a dark path. And she will be held to account. But right now, you are no better than she. For you do nothing. In the end, Darkness and Nothing are one.”
Waelwulf stared at the old man for a long time.
“So, will the young king have his Sword?” Merlin asked.
“Tonight,” Waelwulf said. “I will summon the visions again.”
“Good,” Merlin said, standing. “Farewell till morn.”
There was a rustle in the air, and it seemed to Waelwulf as though Merlin was being gathered up in his own cloak. The next moment, the old man was gone and there was only a large falcon with grey-blue wings soaring through the sky.
Waelwulf picked his axe up off the ground and turned to finish his work. But he found that all of his wood had already been chopped.
1: Sleep Disturbed
After school, Sam slipped into the empty auditorium under the pretense of using the quiet space to do her homework. The real reason why she was there was to take a nap. Over the past month and a half — ever since Ethan had vanished into thin air, her sleep in her own bed at home had been afflicted with strange dreams.
She would see herself standing in the middle of a grassy field when, suddenly, thorns and brambles would spring up out of the ground all around her. She would face off with what she had begun to call the Pale Army — a crowd of people with snow white faces, silver or white hair, and fingernails and teeth sharpened to needle points. In another dream, she was wearing a crown and riding some kind of flying beast. She would have called it a dragon, but the beast was bigger than any dragon she had ever seen. Perhaps, most disturbing of all was the dream where she would spend an eternity in an underground cave trying to wake up a woman who had been frozen into a huge slab of ice.
So the second to last row of the auditorium right underneath the balcony had become her solace. The dreams couldn’t find her there. The seats were soft and cushy. She spread her homework out on either side of her so it would look like she was working if one of the teachers walked in. Then she leaned back in the seat and went to sleep.
This was precisely what she was doing when she heard a voice whispering through her sleep.
“Wake up, wake up, wake up.” It sounded like a taunt.
Sam stirred and turned her head away from the sound, sending out a subconscious wish that her dreams would not finally find her secret sleeping place.
The taunt came again. “Wake up, wake up, wake up.”
Sam stirred again. And this time she felt warm breath on her face. She opened her eyes —
— and found herself staring into the mouth of a shark.
A scream caught in her throat as she scrambled backwards out of the seat and ran down the row behind the one where she had been sleeping. She only stopped when she realized she was leaving her backpack and all her homework behind.
She stopped and turned around, sleep finally leaving her. She realized that what she had awakened to was not a shark’s smile. It was a girl who had a shark’s smile — one that Sam suddenly found familiar. She had seen this girl with Felicia at the The Rink.
That day seemed so far away now. But Sam found herself thinking that at last something significant was happening. If she could talk to anyone about her crazy dreams, she imagined it would be Felicia.
“Did Felicia send you?” Sam asked the girl who still wore the shark grin. She had long, dark, curly hair, and eyes the size of walnuts.
“Yes. No,” the girl said. “I’m here to kill you.”
Sam thought about this. While she tried to come up with a reasonable response, she realized that Shark Face was holding two silver daggers, one in each hand.
“Well, don’t stand there,” she said. “I like a good chase before a kill.”
She laughed. Like this was funny.
Shark Face backed away into the aisle, and Sam didn’t wait for another invitation. She dashed down the row of seats and scooped up her homework which, thankfully, hadn’t become too scattered. She snatched her backpack off the floor and sprinted for the auditorium entrance.
As she banged into the heavy door with her whole body, she felt a sharp ping on her shoulder. She looked down. Her jacket sleeve was torn, but the skin beneath was unbroken. A dagger stuck quivering in the door. Sam didn’t know if Shark Face had missed or was just taunting her. And she didn’t wait to find out.
She let the auditorium door slam shut behind her and sprinted down the hall. She figured she must have been asleep for a couple of hours because all the classroom lights were turned off. She could hear chatter coming from the direction of the teacher’s lounge. But she probably wanted to avoid any teachers too.
She turned the corner heading for the main entrance of the school.
A loud bang sounded behind her, and Sam looked over her shoulder imagining Shark Face bursting out of the auditorium and overtaking her within seconds. She was so busy looking behind her that she didn’t see the water fountain up ahead. She crashed right into it. Homework went flying. Books and papers from her unzipped backpack scattered across the floor. She lost her balance and tumbled onto the tiles.
Shaken, she scrambled on her hands and knees trying to gather all of her stuff. She heard footsteps behind her, and willed herself to move faster.
Algebra assignment. Well, I could have left that.
She was reaching for her science lab manual when leather boots came into view. “Looks like you need some help.”
Not Shark Face. Sam looked up. A boy was standing there. Sixteen, maybe seventeen. He had brown skin and long black hair that hung down to his shoulders. The most striking thing about him was his eyes — pale green, glimmering like sunlight beneath Caribbean waves. He scooped the lab manual up and then grabbed Sam’s backpack from where it had slid beneath the water fountain.
“Thanks,” Sam said, getting up off the floor. She couldn’t remember seeing him around school before, so she wondered why he seemed eerily familiar.
“You think you can steal my prey?” Shark Face’s voice sounded loud and dramatic as it echoed through the empty halls. Sam and the boy turned to look as the self-proclaimed hunter rounded the corner and narrowed her eyes at them. Sam wondered if her mind was playing tricks on her or if Shark Face was really doing the slow motion stalk walk like Kate Beckinsale in an Underworld movie.
“Looks like you could use some getting away,” the boy said.
Sam nodded in agreement.
The boy ran off the way he had come. Sam followed. He led her right past the teacher’s lounge (but they didn’t seem to notice) and out of the side door the teachers used. They came out under a portico. The evening rays were sharp and bright against a clear November sky. Sam zipped up her jacket against the brisk, chilly air.
“She’s going to keep this up,” the boy said. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
Sam looked over to find the boy sitting on a polished black and chrome motorcycle. He was still holding her backpack. She started to protest, but the side door was thrust open, and Sam saw Shark Face stepping out from the glass. “Okay,” she said, her heart beating a little faster. She had never ridden on a motorcycle before.