February 14, 2009

Blast from the Past: The Eternal Outcast

Here's another early publication for you. The first version was actually written for an English assignment my senior year in high school.

We were asked to write the story of a literary character's life from their point-of-view after their death. I'm a huge fan of the Arthurian legends, so I chose Merlin. The essay is based off Jane Yolen's Young Merlin Trilogy and T. A. Barron's Lost Years of Merlin series plus bits of my own research. I highly recommend both series.

Like "A Day in the Mind of a Child," this essay was published in Calhoun Community College's Muse in 2000 as well as Athens State University's Gyre in 2002. Proper accreditation to the works from which it was derived has been provided with each publication.

The Eternal Outcast: A Meditation of Merlin

It has been said our sight is clearest looking back. Only in doing so have I truly understood my life. I was doomed from birth to wander the land, an eternal outcast. Even in death, I am alone, buried in a solitary oak deep within the heart of a forgotten forest.

I remember little of the early years. Yet, I can still feel the ancient, inborn pain my race is cursed to bear. I remember the flames and a great darkness that ruled my days until sight returned. It was not that vision which proceeds from the organs of our eyes, but a deeper sight which allows one to view the heart of things. And then, I remember the woman who called herself my mother fading away from a wasting disease when I was barely eleven years of age.

I began to roam after her death, drawn by some unknown force toward the land of my ancestors. Even there, I was cast out. They all knew the story of my birth, hated me for the sin of being born of a human woman. I was the forbidden child.

I left their shores to wander aimlessly through foreign lands. The doors of every village closed to me. They sensed my heritage. It was not difficult. I hardly looked like them with my thin, sharp featured face and overdeveloped shoulders. Whispers of an elven-born child circulated through the town like an ill wind. I could bear their hatred. Unlike my people’s, it was born, not of pride but of fear. Yet, childish terror pushed me, once again, into the solitude of the forest.

I remained there for I know not how many years until I was found by a hawker who had been out about his hunting rounds. His words were strange to me, and I feared him. But, despite my differences from his own family, he took me in. Only such a man could have tamed me then, after having run wild for so long. His patience and kindness calmed my terror and returned my mind.

He adopted me as a son and began to train me in his trade. In doing so, he returned my rightful name. I was then and always will be a hawk, a hobby, a Merlin, not of man’s world and yet not free of it.

I grew to love the man and his family. Never before had I felt so accepted. Even when I had lived with my mother, I felt as isolated from her as we were from the world.

Still, I was helpless to save them. I woke near midnight choking from the smoke of my dreams and ran into the cool of the night. It was then the cottage exploded into flame, I know not why. Held back by the old fear of fire, I could only watch as the flames consumed them. Tears streamed down my face as I listened to their screams echoing through the night, and yet I was still unable to move one step toward the burning home. Even those with the second sight cannot always change the future.

Once again, I was alone, walking the town roads. My rambles led me to a castle being constructed for the third time. Too late, I remembered my dreams. It was to be the stronghold of King Vortigern’s domain. I was compelled to tell what I had seen. He marveled at my revelation of hidden water lying far beneath the earth. My service was repaid with swords and the teeth of dogs driving me yet again deep into the forest.

It was there I found others, outcasts like me. Even among the outcasts I was an outcast. They feared my powers only enough to covet them. They drugged me, tortured me, anything to make me tell the future. The poor fools never knew all they need have done was ask. I could not lie to them, nor could I remain silent if asked. Something inside me would not allow such things to lie in secret.

Despite the cruelty they showed me, I still hold a debt of gratitude toward them. They cared for the boy. The fearless child I was destined to guide to greatness. We were the only ones to escape Vortigern’s massacre. He killed them all for the crime of living, simply living.

I became the child’s guardian though I barely seemed his senior. I know now I must have been centuries old, yet I still bore the appearance of a youth. I named the child Arthur and reared him as if he were my own son. He never feared my powers nor questioned them. They simply were. He alone loved me. He trusted me to the end, though he did not always heed my advice.

I began to age as I ventured away from the forest. Another century passed, and still I would not die though I wished it greatly after Arthur’s death. I took an apprentice. She was a beautiful young woman and eager to learn. I taught her all I could.

She took pity on me, a rambling old man who had lived, oh too long. She urged me to teach her one last skill. I cast the spell, knowing no human woman could do the same. In doing so, I entombed myself in the oak. I had been so blind. None can destroy an immortal child but another.

So, here I have stood for a thousand years. I am neither dead nor truly living, watching the forest catch fire.

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