Title: Just Her Luck
Fandom: Merlin BBC TV
Rating: G, 1,958 words
Warnings: An original female character but one I hope you will enjoy!
Summary: A young woman troubled with bad luck travels to Camelot looking for work and a new start in life. She ends up becoming part of the legend. The myth was never like this.
The Sorcerer’s Tower
Elaine had tried to sneak out of the castle early the next morning but hadn’t gotten very far. She’d stepped on the hem of her skirt, rolled one of the wheels of the little pull-cart over her foot, and knocked into a decorative suit of armor. The resulting crash had woken everyone up, including a sleepy King Arthur who complimented her on a feat of clumsiness he’d not seen for many years. It was not the best start to the day.
They fed her and let her wash up with a bowl of warm water. Merlin had a servant come by and pick up her dirty clothing to be washed. Elaine only had two sets of clothes and she sadly watched the dirty pair disappear around the corner with the servant. From the look on the servant’s face, Elaine would be lucky if she hid the blouse and skirt in a cupboard nearby. Elaine might have a chance of finding them again. The young woman knew that if they were actually washed that they’d come back to her with holes and tears and she didn’t have the materials to repair them. No matter how carefully or gently the clothing may have been cleaned, they would come back damaged. They always did.
Then Merlin had taken her up to the tower. Everybody knew about the Great Sorcerer’s tower. (Elaine discovered that the Great Sorcerer hated being called the Great Sorcerer and “please just call me Merlin.”) People said the king had gifted the tower to Merlin when his magical experiments proved to be too dangerous to house in the castle proper. Some people muttered that the sorcerer brought back the dead and had a collection of men’s souls in small jars in the tower. Elaine did not think that was true but kept a wary lookout for anything that could have been a collection of souls among the clutter.
There was a bit of an argument with the doorway into the tower. The door didn’t seem to want to let Elaine in and Merlin had to give the wood a smart talking to before Elaine was able to enter without it trying to shut in her face. “Everybody, this is Elaine. She’s going to be helping us from now on,” Merlin said to the general air. Elaine wondered who he was talking to when what she thought was a carving of an owl, so still it sat, turn its head around on its neck and blinked huge yellow eyes at her. The young woman had a suspicion that the two chairs by the fireplace were watching her. Then a cup and a pitcher hopped across the table toward her and Elaine had a three second freak out in her head before carefully sitting on a stool before she fainted or something equally embarrassing.
“This is not a good idea,” muttered Elaine. A book flipped itself open on the table in front of her. “Do things usually move around by themselves like this?”
“I suppose so,” said Merlin with a shrug. “I’m used to it by now.” Of course he was. Elaine gripped the stool she was sitting on and hoped it didn’t have a mind of its own like everything else in the tower seemed to. The little cup and pitcher stopped in front of Elaine and the pitcher poured some water out into the cup. “Have a drink,” Merlin said distractedly, riffling through a cabinet.
Elaine blinked down at the cup. “Thank you,” she said to it politely and reached for it. The second the tips of her fingers touched the cup though, it seemed to shiver and then scrambled back away from her. Water splashed across the tabletop as the cup franticly hopped away from her and Elaine snatched up some books and papers before they could be ruined. They burned her palms and Elaine hissed in pain but refused to drop them.
The owl let out a hissing sound and flew off up some stairs. “Archimedes!” yelped Merlin in disapproval. He waved a hand at the table and the puddle of water lifted up and flew out of the window. Elaine quickly put the books and papers she’d rescued back on the table and curled her stinging hands into her skirt to hide them. “What happened?”
Elaine glimpsed the cup and pitcher cowering behind a stack of books. “It was my fault,” she said quickly, a left over habit from childhood. In an effort to get the village children to like her, Elaine had always taken the blame for any wrong doing. More often than not, it had been the fault of her and her bad luck when things broke or got lost. Sometimes, it had just been children being mean and horrid. “My bad luck. I spilt the water,” Elaine insisted. She felt bad for the little cup. It had tried, at least.
“Well, no harm done,” Merlin said with a smile. “Here, let me explain what your duties are going to be.”
Elaine’s duties seemed to be basic record keeping and light cleaning around the tower. Apparently, the castle staff was wary about coming up to the tower, so the task fell to Elaine. She learned where books and scrolls were kept on different subjects. Books on charms went on the shelf to the right of the fireplace and books on potions went to the shelf on the left. The many little jars and bottles containing herbs, and stones, and other bits for spell craft went into the three large cabinets along the wall with the stairs heading up. Labels should be facing outward; if there were labels that is. Elaine tried to sweep the floor but the broom took exception to her doing that and the young woman eventually gave up on preforming that task herself. Elaine dusted with a rag and tidied the room. Then she copied Merlin’s scribbled, messy notes into some sort of order in a blank book.
The tower did not seem to like Elaine very much. It often took her several minutes to get the door to open for her and when it did she had to rush through or else the door would catch her heels. Drawers and cabinet doors often opened as she was passing by, bruising her hips and thumping against her shoulders. Elaine had to fight the cabinet doors when she put things away, pressing back against the door with her side as she placed the wiggling armful of containers on the shelves. She’d already lost count of how many she’d dropped but, thankfully, the jars fixed themselves the moment they broke apart on the floor. The young woman copied Merlin’s chaotic notes into a book the sorcerer had given her, trying to be as neat as possible. The stool she’d sat on, the same one she’d sat on that first day, bucked and tossed her off on her third day before bouncing away from her. Elaine had taken to standing at the table while she copied, shifting her weight between one foot and the other. Thankfully, the table had yet to show signs of life or an aversion to Elaine and stayed put.
It took a week before Merlin noticed that she had been wearing the same clothing the whole time, although Elaine had washed them twice and repaired the same tear in the blouse three times. She’d never seen the clothing that had been taken by the servant that first day again, although she had looked for them. Stony silence had met her enquiries to the castle staff. It was Queen Guinevere that had led a mortified Elaine through the city and purchased her practical new skirts and blouses. There were even some new shoes and an apron for Elaine to wear when copying things for Merlin. There was a black ink stain slowly spreading down the right side of Elaine’s current skirt no matter how careful she was with the quill. It didn’t help that after a few days in the tower the quills started to grow a life of their own and shook in Elaine’s hand, trying to escape. The young woman had to find a new quill in other parts of the castle as each one she had been using began to fight her. Elaine thanked Guinevere profusely, feeling both very grateful and shamed.
The books in the tower still burned Elaine’s hands when she touched them. She learned to ignore it. It barely hurt anyway. Her grandmother had had a book of recipes and little notes that had burned Elaine’s hands too back in the village. It was wrapped in a heavy cloth in the little pull-cart in the room where she was staying. Elaine was sure that the room was really noble quarters but nobody ever told her to move out, although none of the servants went into the room to clean either. Elaine saw to the sweeping and cleaning of her living space herself. She didn’t dare sleep in the bed and still slept on the rug in front of the cold fireplace, although she had eventually taken the blanket off the bed when she could no longer stand the chill of the stone floor at night.
Elaine kept to herself. She rose early in the morning to fetch water from the well and to get some food from the kitchen before any of the other servants were even awake. She avoided the other servants and castle residents. They were just as happy to avoid Elaine in return. Breakfast was often day old bread, some dried meat or other dried staples from the storage pantries. If she was quick, most mornings she could get a bowl of the pottage that was always bubbling over the cooking fire but only if she could get there before the head cook woke. Then Elaine went up to the tower to see to her duties the rest of the morning. The young woman often spent those hours alone, since Merlin was busy with kingdom affairs. When the dark haired sorcerer was in the tower, Elaine grew more comfortable around him. Merlin was sweet and enjoyed telling funny stories about King Arthur, then a prince, and his old mentor, Gaius. He had once been the castle physician but had since died of old age. There was always a sad tinge to Merlin’s voice when he spoke of Gaius and Elaine knew that the sorcerer missed the man very much.
The whole court gathered for lunch and dinner and Elaine could get lost in the chaos that was meal time. She sat at the very end of the long table during meals and served her own food from the platters. The servants and castle staff stopped glaring at her and mostly just ignored her. Elaine knew that some of them thought her to be Merlin’s apprentice. Others thought she was just the poor creature kind Lord Merlin had taken pity on. The second one was probably closer to the truth. Elaine didn’t like going into town, too many people, and dreaded being asked to run an errand on Merlin’s behalf. She spent her days either in the tower or in her room. She made herself scarce when King Arthur came up to the tower to speak with Merlin, often just after lunch, and spent a great deal of time alone. Elaine had a routine, even if most of it was spent trying to avoid the tower’s attacks. It was okay. It could have been worse.
Notes: A short chapter this week, a little under 2,000 words. Sorry about no post last Sunday. The power went out in my apartment and then spent the evening sitting in the dark. Fun.