A Night To Remember
by Kurt Cagle
He was a dark and stormy knight, and frankly, Nimee was getting a little bit perturbed about the guy. The clanking from the badly kept armor had awoken her from her sleep in the first place, and he bellowed out obscenities at a volume designed to cause permanent ear damage, even from her vantage point just below the surface of the loch. She didn't mind humans by and large, they could be quite witty and worthy conversationalists. Ambrose was, anyway. This, most evidently, was not Ambrose, and she was beginning to understand why she had been warned about humans.
Nimee swam to the reeds that edged the loch, hoping that the low light would keep her hidden. She was curious about this strange knight, all clad in tarnished gray armor. He was not on a horse. Ambrose had told her once that all knights rode on horses, but otherwise he more or less fit the description of knight that the young bard had given her. Some knights were good knights, some knights were bad knights, and a few of the smaller ones were known as knight lights. The bard had laughed at that, but Nimee's blank stare of incomprehension had stopped it fairly fast. Still, maybe the armored man was one of those things, though she suspected that he wasn't likely a knight light.
At first she was content to just watch him, but when he pulled out his sword and started hacking at the ground, yelling invectives all the while, Nimee got just a wee bit upset. This was her loch, and she'd be damned if she let this stupid knight tear up her perfectly good ground. With a flip of her tail she surfaced about twenty feet out, far enough from the shore that the knight wouldn't be tempted to lunge at her.
"Prithee, sir knight, why dost thou carve mine ground so?"
"Huh?" the knight said, spinning around to look at the unexpected voice.
"I said, 'Prithee, sir knight, why dost thou carve mine ground so?'"
"Huh?" the knight repeated, this time, looking a little confused at he stared at the pale, blonde head in the middle of the loch.
"Why are you tearing my loch up, you idiot?!"
"Oh," the knight replied, the look on his face not clearing up all that much. "Uh, who are you?"
"I asked the question first, sir knight."
"Oh," the knight said, thinking this through. "Yeah, I guess you did."
"So?" Nimee was beginning to appreciate the occasional sighs of frustration that Ambrose emitted during their conversations.
"So, why are you digging holes in my loch, especially with something like a stupid sword?"
"This sword is not stupid!"
Nimee counted to five. She was working on counting to ten, but five was as far as Ambrose had taken her thus far. She needed every number she had to get a hold of her anger.
"Sir knight, why are you digging in the dirt with your sword?"
"I...uh, yeah, I guess that is a pretty dumb thing to do."
The dark and stormy knight picked up his sword and inspected the edge as best he could in the waning light. Grimacing (and swearing under his breath) he resheathed the sword. After a little bit he looked back at Nimee, then pulled off the encasing helmet. Nimee's eyebrows went up a little bit at how handsome the revealed face was, a rugged face framed in long black hair.
"I was angry, milady. My horse hath been stolen, with all of my possessions upon his back. About all I have with me is my sword and armor, and somewhere a thief has taken all else that I own."
Nimee said nothing, though she suspected that any knight so dumb as to let his horse be stolen deserved to have it stolen. Still, he was quite cute. Maybe that was how he managed to survive. It certainly wasn't due to his intelligence.
"Ah, milady. You are in the water. Did I surprise you in your bath?"
"No, sir knight. I live here."
"You live here? Isn't that a rather strange place to live, begging thy pardon?"
Nimee smiled faintly.
"No, sir knight, it is not," she said, silkily, then sank into the water. This could be fun, Nimee thought.
The reaction of the knight was not quite what she expected, though. He started stripping off his armor, first pulling off the bulky metal plates, then the padding underneath. Soon the knight was down to a loin cloth. It was now Nimee's turn to be confused. Reluctantly she surfaced again.
"Sir knight...what art thou doing?"
"I'm going to rescue you."
"Oh." It was Nimee's turn to be confused. "Rescue me? From what?"
"Thou art deep in the water, and it is mine oath that I should rescue any maiden who be in a dangerous situation."
"But I live here!"
"A madness has overtaken thee. None can live in a loch."
"Oh, bother!" she cried, then dove into the water to surface near her rock. With a flip of her tail, she shot onto the rock, displaying her true form to the knight.
"See, sir knight...I live here."
Nimee knew looked down at her own reflection in the water. Pale blonde hair surrounded a pale face, the hair only partially hiding her otherwise bare breasts. At her hips green scales covered her skin, and her legs merged together into a curving tail that ended in a single gauzy fin.
"Ayee! Thou art a monster!"
This was getting a little irritating. She had spent all morning combing her hair out, and was in no mood to be called a monster, especially from a dumb lummox who couldn't even keep track of his damn horse.
"I most certainly am not a monster! I am a maiden of the loch!"
"Thou art half-fish!"
"And thou art half monkey -- nay, methinks the ratio is much higher."
"Why, how dare thee! I shall strike thee down!"
With that, the knight charged into the loch, his sword swinging mightily. The first five steps that he waded in looked glorious, and then he discovered the drop-off. The loch was part of a thermal vent, and the sides of the loch dropped off rapidly. The knight might have been all right, save for two minor problems. First of all, he carried a large, heavy broadsword that had no intrinsic buoyancy. Second, he couldn't swim.
Nimee dived back into the loch and headed straight for the dark and stupid knight. Underwater, his thrashing made the sword whirl in the water, and if she had any hope at all of saving him, she had to disarm him. She still wasn't quite sure why she wanted to save him, other than the fact that decaying bodies tended to attract predators (the loch went very deep) and it smelled up the place something fierce.
She tracked his swings for a few seconds, then, sensing him weaken, she swam behind him and bit his wrist. Her dentition was human enough, despite the scaly tail, but living off a diet of live fish had tended to sharpen her teeth more than a little bit. The knight released the sword, which sank to the bottom of the loch. Once that danger was past, Nimee grabbed the visibly drowning knight and pulled him back to shore. She was now muttering herself, half of her arguing that the gene pool would be better off without this particular entity, and the other feeling herself visibly excited by the knight's looks. She'd always been a sucker for a handsome face, so even as she shook her head at her own foolishness she knew the battle was lost.
He lay there on the beach, completely naked now -- the loin cloth having fallen off in his rush to rescue/destroy her -- and Nimee had to admit that what the knight may have lacked in brains he more than made up for in ...um, other areas. It took her a little bit longer to realize that those parts that she was admiring were beginning to turn blue, as were the man's lips and fingers. The water was cold, although it never really seemed to affect her much. That this mysterious, and not terribly bright, young knight was beginning to suffer the effects of hypothermia did concern her a bit.
"Bother," she said under her breath. She wished Ambrose was here; the idea of having a nude man dying at the edge of her loch and attracting all kinds of unsavory predators didn't set well with her. Humans! With more than a little reluctance Nimee crawled out of the water and gathered up what little dried wood she could find. Digging beneath the roots of a specific bush at water's edge she unearthed the bag that Ambrose had given her, a pretty blue bag marked with all kinds of druidic sigils. From the bag she pulled the small dagger that was her only piece of steel -- she was not seelie, thankfully; the strictures against iron didn't apply to her -- as well as a flint rock. Following the steps that the bard had taught her, Nimee struck flint against steel and soon had sparks flying into the kindling. Making fire was the most precious gift that Ambrose had bestowed upon her, though she found a certain perversity in the fact that she, as a water creature, was now harnessing the fire for her own use.
She soon had a small crackling fire going, one that produced more heat than light, and struggling with the heavy (and truly foul-smelling) tunic the knight had worn Nimee draped it over the man's still form as a blanket. She then dove back into the water to clean herself off.
Nimee was more than a little miffed about the whole thing. She rather liked the druid -- Ambrose could be an entertaining human, and didn't seem that taken aback by her tail, but she had to do something about these knights. They were almost to a man abysmally stupid; normally she tended just to ignore them and hope they went away whenever they came to her loch. Getting the worst of the muck and grime off her body she swam back to the edge of her loch to see how her charge was doing.
He was thawing out, as she hoped he would. She could see the tunic rising and falling slowly, so he was in fact even breathing. So much the better. He was an attractive man, in a human sort of way ... his face was strong, almost Roman looking, his hair had that dark cast which the Romans had brought with them, though there was enough Celt in him to temper the cruelty that seemed a hallmark of the Roman peoples. She remembered when the Romans had come her, seventy years ago. Proud, cruel, arrogant, they had little truck with the Celts, or with Courts of Seelie and Wild. She spent a lot of time submerged.
The jingle of bells caught her ears, a characteristic jangling that belonged to only one horse she could think of. And where that horse was, so would be...
"Ambrose!" she cried out as his head topped the ridge surrounding her loch. It was perhaps a little unseemly, what with the covenants of her people, but she was genuinely fond of the druid.
"Nimee!" Ambrose replied in response. "Well met. Have you perchance seen a young knight around here? The idiot forgot to tether his horse, and it ran off."
"Oh, he told me it had been stolen," she replied. "He's over there."
Ambrose rode over to the sleeping knight, nude save for the tunic draped over him.
"You didn't ..."
"Seduce him? Goddess, no. He's handsome enough, I'll admit, but my heart belongs to another," Nimee said, rising out of the water enough for her breasts to float enticingly on the surface. If Ambrose got the hint he didn't show it.
"Then what happened?"
"He stripped to rescue me, then jumped in the loch."
"Rescue you? From what?" Ambrose sat down, pulling out a long pipe and a satchel of tabac. It was a filthy habit, Nimee thought, but as he normally told tales while smoking she didn't mind too much.
The unexpected snort of laughter sent Ambrose into a paroxysm of coughing. When he finally stopped, tears streaked his face, and he was hard put to keep a straight face after that.
"That sounds just like him."
"He's not very bright," Nimee said solemnly, and hard pressed as he was Ambrose lost it again. By the time he recovered his composure he was grinning from ear to ear.
"No, he's not terribly bright, but he has a good heart."
Nimee looked dubious at that, but whatever she was planning to say was interrupted by the knight's stirring.
"Well, lad, "Ambrose chuckled, "up with you...you have no more time for trysts with the guardian of the loch."
"Huh?" the knight started to stand up, then realized that he was completely nude, and being watched by both the bard and an incredibly beautiful maiden sitting in the loch. While trying to keep his mid-section covered, he scrambled to get into his tunic and mail.
"Merlin, she's a mermaid! A monster!"
"I most certainly am not a monster," Nimee snapped indignantly.
"Artos, that's quite enough. As the good lady says, she is hardly a monster."
"Merlin?" Nimee said, confused. She looked hard at the druid. "I thought your name was Ambrose."
"But it is , fair lady," her bearded friend replied, sweeping off his hat. "Ambrosius Merlinus Taliesin, at your service. Ambrosius is just a shade too Roman for many of the old guard, so I tend to use Merlin when I want to seem more Celtic."
"Oh, that makes sense," Nimee replied, but she noticed the young knight seemed a little confused.
"So your name isn't Merlin?" he said after a few moments.
"My name is Merlin; it is a good name, and as much as I am fond of both Ambrose and the young lady's attentions..."
Nimee blushed, which was a good trick for a pale skinned mermaid.
"Merlin I shall remain."
"Merlin, she stole my sword! I don't see it anywhere here."
This was getting just a little tiring.
"Oh bother! Sir knight, I did not steal your sword. I made you let it go, since it was dragging you under."
"But I need the sword! How can I be a king if I don't have a sword!"
Nimee shot a glance toward Ambrose, who mouthed the words "long story".
"I want my sword!" the knight cried, throwing a temper tantrum," Merlin, make her give me my sword, or I'm going in after it myself."
"Oh, bother!" Nimee swore, then stared at the knight. "Don't you dare. I'm not rescuing you a second time...give me a little time to find it, and I'll recover your precious sword for you!"
The knight stood on the loch bank, huffily crossing his arms. Ambrose only shook his head in embarrassment, then nodded to Nimee.
Nimee dove into the water, her tail doing a small flip to show Ambrose how exasperated she was. The knight was like a spoiled child, she thought, swimming deeper into the water. It wasn't even an especially good sword to begin with, not like her Roman sword. That one had belonged to her mother, found within a wrecked Roman trireme about three years before. Her mother had insisted that it was one of the swords that Caesar himself had owned, lost when much of the Roman invasion fleet sunk in heavy seas, though Nimee figured it may have been owned by any of several dozen men. Spoils of the sea were like that.
"Where was that stupid knight's sword?" she thought as she searched the bottom of her loch. The loch was deep, in some places close to a mile or more, with shifting caverns that channeled water directly from the ocean. If the sword had been caught in one of those channels, it was lost forever...she wasn't about to negotiate the swift moving waters at the loch's bottom, not with the risk of impaling herself on this idiot's broad sword.
All right...she needed to make a decision. She'd as soon drown the knight as not, but Ambrose had apparently claimed the boy as his, and as much as Nimee hated to admit it she was desperately in love with the druid. For Ambrose, then.
Nimee swam to the cave where she kept her belongings, a cave awash in gems and gold and pearls. There, wrapped in a cloth of samite, she kept Caesar's sword. This was to be a gift to Ambrose, and for it to be a gift the giver should look appropriate. Nimee wrapped herself up in pearls and gold, putting a tiara upon her brow and a necklace of Celtic fire around her throat. Then she pinched her cheeks to bring a flush to them, surveyed herself critically in the ancient mirror that was part of her treasures, and, grabbing Caesar's sword, dove back into the water.
She'd been in her cave longer than she'd thought. The first rays of morning were just coming over the Welsh hills when she surfaced, to see Ambrose still puffing at his pipe and the knight sitting next to him, fast asleep, wearing his full armor with the exception of his helm. When Ambrose saw her head break the still waters of the lake he shook the other man awake.
Nimee floated closer to the edge, and rose up so that she was completely visible to the waist. The look on the druid's face was gratifying; she had started to worry that he didn't like how she looked, but the openly admiring expression on his face proved otherwise. The knight's expression was a combination of sleep-grogginess, avarice at the jewels she wore, and maybe a hint of lust, though it was hard to tell. This one would have trouble in his love-life, she presciently thought to herself. She addressed Ambrose, speaking in the formal tongue he had taught her.
"Ambrosius Merlinus Taliesin, thy knight's sword is lost, perhaps irrevocably."
The knight looked glum at that, but Ambrose's eyes shone brightly, as if he were seeing something holy. It scared her a little, since he was looking straight at her.
"For thee, Ambrosius Merlinus," she said, stressing the word thee," I give up a sword of far greater value, the sword that was wielded by the hands of the Caesar himself. Into thy hands I place it, to do as thou wilt, for the peace of the realm and all within it."
That sounded good, she thought. It had a proper ring to it, and it might keep the idiot knight from using it to dig trenches with it. The knight was beginning to look a little awed as he realized exactly what it was she did hold in her hand. Nimee started to hand it to Ambrose but he declined, indicating that the knight should hold it instead. She didn't exactly like it, but it was the knight who needed the sword she supposed.
"This sword is mine, and when it is no longer needed, it should be returned to me."
Nimee said this to the knight while she pounded the water behind her with her tail. Sometimes being a "monster" could be used to good effect. The knight seemed suitably impressed, even awed, and he bent down upon one knee to take the sword from her. He looked at it carefully, letting the dawn light catch the intricate patterns and letters upon its hilt, then he raised it up high and swung it around, giving a whoop of pure joy as he ran over the hill and from there to lands beyond.
"I think I'm going to get a headache," Nimee said as she watched him disappear, waving the sword like it was a children's toy.
"You did good, love," Ambrose said, tamping out his tabac. "More than you know."
"Oh, bother," Nimee replied, slipping into the water. She did have a smile on her face, however.
And thus was it that Arthur, King of the Britons, did come to the land known as Avalon with Merlin, the Magician, and receive from the hands of Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, the holy sword Excalibur.
Copyright by Kurt Cagle. All Rights Reserved. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask the author for permission first. Thank you.
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