Today on Dear Santa!, we have Danielle Shipley. She’s been on the blog many-a-time before, and I’m a huge fan of anything of hers! She recently published her Christmas novella, An Avalon Christmas, Outlaws of Avalon Book 1.5, just this week. And, she’s graciously given us an excerpt of the book!
Merlin entered his bedchamber – at which time a warming fire bloomed in his grate – and exchanged his daytime robe for a nightgown. Then, above the crackle from the fireplace, he heard a clanking noise; a sound unmistakably like rattling metal chains. He scarcely had time to wonder what the clatter might portend when the source came on through his door – his closed door, mind – and passed into the room before his eyes. The body was tall, well-built, and fully transparent, Merlin’s gaze easily penetrating flesh and bone and armor of mail that caused all the clang and jangle.
“Arthur,” said Merlin, incredulously, for the face and form of the phantom appeared every bit that of Camelot’s lord, save for the see-through quality. “Is that supposed to be you?”
“Ask me who I was,” the specter said in a moaning version of Arthur’s voice.
“All right… Who were you, then?”
“In life, I was your king,” he moaned again. “Arthur Pendragon.”
In life? But Arthur was alive – at least, he had been the last Merlin had seen of him, over dinner. And there was no call for him to have died in the meantime, not in Avalon. What purpose, then, in feigning death? What point to this ghostly charade?
Merlin’s eyes narrowed as the pieces began to fall into place. Scarlet’s strange dress and calling him “uncle”; Gawain laboring in a dismal cubicle; now Arthur clanking around like a wraith. Yes, at last, it all came clear.
“You don’t believe in me,” Arthur observed.
“Of course I don’t,” said Merlin briskly. “I’ve obviously been dreaming since Scarlet’s entrance in a top hat, or earlier. I should have known it the moment Robin brought up the movie on television: We were all of us watching a holiday special like this, today (or maybe yesterday, by now); a film based on that novella by Dickens. You’re nothing but a product of that viewing, none of you; nothing but figments of my subconscious.”
At this, the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook his chainmail with such a dismal and appalling noise that Merlin was tempted to knock the noisemaker over the head, never mind if he did look like his king.
“For pity’s sake,” he snapped, “what are you carrying on about?”
“It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men,” the spirit howled, “and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in second life, it is condemned to a doom as good as death. It is doomed to wander within but apart from the world – oh, woe is me! – and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”
Merlin blinked at the flow of the ghost’s words. Arthur had been known for many excellent traits, not among them any especial eloquence. His was a royal heart with a common man’s tongue, and was not prone to flowery speeches. For the sake of the novelty of it, Merlin gave the romantic ravings ear.
“Oh, captive, bound, and double-ironed, not to know,” the spirit lamented, “that ages of incessant labor, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such are we! Oh, such are we! I am therefore here tonight to warn you, my old friend, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate.”
“To what supposed fate are you referring?” Merlin demanded – forgetting, in his agitation, that this was but a dream, and so this lecture was surely not to be taken as seriously as its deliverer would have liked. “You are alive and well, Arthur! – that chance and hope of second life of my procuring, it seems I am obliged to remind you!”
The ghost went on as if the wizard had never spoken. “You will be haunted by Three Spirits,” he pronounced. “Without their visits, you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls One.”
“What bell?” said Merlin, in a mood to pick at nonessentials. “We’ve never had a bell to toll the hours, here.”
But the apparition vanished before his eyes, without reply.
“Humbug,” Merlin growled, then slapped a palm to his forehead at recognition of the catchphrase.
And yet, when you’re a wizard with a legendary gift of prophecy, who can tell whether a dream may be something more?
In the tradition of Charles Dickens’ beloved holiday classic, join Camelot’s court and Sherwood’s outlaws on a spirited holiday journey through Avalon’s past, present, and future.