The Arthurian Saga: The Saxon Shore (Bk 4)
Merlyn Britannicus and Uther Pendragon – The Silver Bear and The Red Dragon – are the leaders of the Colony, lifeblood to the community from which will come the fabled Camulod. They are the descendants of those brave Romans who forged a new way of life for the Celt and Roman peoples when the Roman legions departed Britain. They have sworn to protect the Colony’s safety and have pledged their lives to preserve the past and to fulfill a dream. But their tranquillity is in ruins, Uther lies dead following treachery… and all that is left of the dream is the babe Arthur.
Heir to the Colony of Camulod, born with Roman heritage, as well as the royal blood of the Hibernians and the Celts, Arthur is the living incarnation of the sacred dream of his ancestors: independent survival in Britain amidst the ruins of the Roman Empire. When Arthur is adopted by his cousin, Caius Merlyn Britannicus, an enormous responsibility is placed upon Merlyn’s shoulders. Now he must prepare young Arthur to unify the clans of Britain and guard the mighty sword Excalibur, crafted by his great uncle Publius Varrus. Above all, Merlyn must see that Arthur survives to achieve his ancestors’ dreams – in spite of the deadly threats rumbling from the Saxon Shore.
Prologue to “The Saxon Shore”
There is a traditional belief, seldom spoken of, but widely held, that age brings wisdom, and that wisdom, once achieved by some arcane epiphany, continues to grow inexorably with increasing age. Like most people, I accepted that throughout my life, until the day I found that I had somehow grown old enough to be considered wise by others. The discovery frightened me badly and shook my faith in most of my other beliefs.
Now that I have survived everyone I once knew, I grow more aware each day of how unwise I have been throughout my life. Unwise might even be too mild a euphemism for this folly of persistence I betray in clinging to a life of solitude and pain. The pain is unimportant and, in a total absence of sympathy, it has become a form of penance I gladly accept and endure in expiation of my sins of omission and unpreparedness. The solitude, however, grows unbearable at times and I am now accustomed to talking to myself merely to hear the sound of a human voice. Sometimes I argue with myself. Sometimes I read aloud what I have written. Sometimes I speak my unformed thoughts aloud, shaping them audibly to give myself a beacon in the darkness of my efforts to write down a clean, coherent chronicle of what once flourished proudly in this land but has now ceased to be.
I find it strange nowadays to think that I may be the only one alive in all this land who knows how to write words down, and because of that may be the only one who knows that words, unwritten, have no value. Set down in writing, words are real; legible, memorable, exact and permitting recollection, imaginings and wonder. Otherwise, sung or spoken, whispered to oneself or shouted to the winds, words are ephemeral, perishing as they are uttered. That, at least, I have learned in my extreme age, and might have taken that awareness as a sign of the beginnings of wisdom, had I been able to believe that any remain alive who might someday read my words.
And so I write my chronicle, and in the writing of it I maintain the life in my old bones, unable to consider death while yet the task remains unfinished. For I believe this story must survive. Empires have risen in this world and fallen, and history takes note of few of them. Those that survive in memories of men do so by virtue of the faults that flawed their greatness. But here in Britain, in my own lifetime, a spark ignited in the breast of one strong man and became a clean, pure flame to light the world, a beacon that might have outshone the great lighthouse of Pharos, had a sudden gust of willful wind not extinguished it prematurely. In the space of a few, bright years, something new stirred in this land; something unprecedented; something wonderful; and men, being men, perceived it with stunned awe and then, being men, destroyed it without thought, for being new and strange.
When it was over, when the light was snuffed out like a candle flame to permit darkness to descend, a young man, full of hurt and bewilderment, once asked me to explain how everything had happened. He expected me to know, for I was Merlyn, the dread Sorcerer, Fount of all Wisdom. And in my folly, feeling for the youth, I sought to tell him. But I was too young. Too young at sixty-four to know what had occurred and why it had been inevitable. That was a decade and a half ago. I doubt that I could answer that young man today, with spoken words, so little do I know even now, after years of solitary thought and questioning. I only know that, at the start of Arthur’s life, I had no thought of being who I am today, nor had I any thought of how I would presume to teach a child to be the man, the King, the potent Champion he would become. In those years, I had far too much to learn, myself, to have had time for thoughts on teaching. Yet teacher I became, eventually, unknowing, after a spell of learning in ignorance.
I know that by the rules of random chance Arthur should never have been born, but was; and then, being born, he should have died in infancy, yet lived. Feared and despised by men who had no knowledge of his nature, he should not have survived his early boyhood, yet escaped to grow. I know that, reared by men who scarcely knew the title or the meaning of kingship, he should never have emerged to be the High King he became, the culmination of a dream dreamed long before, by men long dead before his birth. I know he was my challenge and my pride, my pupil and my life’s sole, crowned success. And I know the dream he fostered and made real deserves to live forever; hence this task of mine.