I have been writing and deleting this short story for a couple of days and I’m not going to lie, it’s getting on my nerves.
I decided to take a well known fictional character from history and plonk them into our time to see what would happen. I chose Merlin. I then brainstormed what he was doing there and what his objectives for the story would be. Once I’d decided that I wrote the story. And then I rewrote it and have been fiddling with it ever since.
Something about it still isn’t sitting right and I can’t figure out what it is so I am publishing it here and asking you to read it and tell me what’s wrong with it. There’s a list of questions at the bottom to really get your critical voice going.
Thanks in advance.
(ignore crappy title, didn’t love the story enough to come up with a better one)
The Templar Bookstore was as good a place as any to spend the next decade or two. This quiet corner of South West London had gradually been closed in by rising tower blocks but in his mind, Merlin was still trailing his hands through the tall meadow grass of of his youth.
Merlin preferred not to update the decor in the store. The dark, musty smell of old books was as comforting to him as the overworked moccasins hugging his aged feet. The brass bell above the door sounded its familiar tinkle as he pushed it open. Gwen was already in her usual position behind the shabby wooden counter reading a dog-eared copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary. She bit down on a cinnamon roll and showered both the book and counter with pastry flakes. Merlin frowned at the unmindful mess she made, he would have to clear that up before any customers arrived.
“Good morning Gwen.” Merlin said, pulling his overlong scarf from around his neck.
“Morning.” Gwen returned, blowing more crumbs across the counter. She pushed a greasy brown bag and a takeaway cup of coffee towards him without looking up.
She took a hasty sip from her paper coffee cup and sloshed the brown liquid down her cream jumper. It settled amongst the stains left by her dropped breakfast, which from what Merlin could tell had been eggs of some description. She dabbed ineffectually at the damp splodges with her greasy napkin then returned her attention to Bridget’s escapades.
He was not enamoured with this version of Guinevere, every incarnation of her over the centuries had lost a little of the medieval perfection of the original, until all that remained was this uncouth husk of the woman he had once known. At this rate, she would degenerate into an uncivilised, gurgling slob within a few more cycles and he would be in danger of losing his wager. He could not bear to think of the self-satisfied look on Destiny’s face if that happened.
He often thought back to that night, a few too many Meads had fortified his bravado and he’d taunted the Lady Destiny during one of her dark moods. She was confiding in him, telling him of visions of a future where mankind no longer believed in fate. Where destined soulmates were tempted away from each other by greed and possessions. Merlin, out of nothing more than devilment, had disagreed. He’d voiced that two destined souls would always find their way to each other, no matter what temptation lay in their path. He’d used the blissfully happy King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere as examples, surely a love such as theirs would span the ages. A few hazy hours later, the wager was sealed and Destiny waited to be proved right, no matter how long it took.
To his immense relief, this cycle was running slower than previous ones. In this loop, Arthur and his Guinevere had yet to cross paths, Destiny must feel sorry for the cruel trick she was playing on him, it was proving more and more difficult to mould Gwen into the creature that, in every version of history so far, had plunged Cupid’s arrow into Arthur’s unsuspecting heart. Centuries ago, it would happen upon first sight. These days, it took Merlin weeks or months to manipulate the pair into their first date, let alone their contented lives together. At least this one had started to wash her hair and wear deodorant now.
“Any customers today Gwen?”
“It’s only nine thirty. No-one’s up around ‘ere yet are they? It ain’t social day.”
Merlin exhaled through puffed cheeks. Arthur and Gwen’s fated first meeting had not happened whilst he battled his way through the crowded and hostile underground station this morning. He had a suspicion that Destiny was amusing herself by messing with his life too, Merlin had never overslept before in all his three thousand years.
He picked up his greasy bun bag and paper cup of coffee. He would never get used to this disposable generation, he despised drinking from these things. He went to the tiny kitchenette at the back of the shop and found his favourite china cup and plate unwashed in the sink. Gwen had again used and neglected to wash them. Merlin squirted more washing up liquid than was necessary on the crockery and turned the tap on to fill the sink. Nothing happened and he cursed under his breath. Gwen was still at the counter, picking her back teeth with her pinky fingernail so he stepped out of her eye-line, whispering an incantation. A zephyr of wind rustled through his fine white hair and the ancient plumbing clattered within the wall, but no water emerged from the tap. Magic had been so much easier when it was just man vs nature.
“There’s no water boss.” Gwen called from the shop front. “I called the plumber yesterday, he might come today if he has time.”
“He might come?” Merlin muttered. “We wouldn’t want to inconvenience him by making an actual appointment that he had to stick to would we?” He said, reluctantly sipping his coffee through the tiny hole in the plastic lid.
“Bob next door said we can use his lav if we need to.” She added, jumping off her stool and pinching her underwear from the depths of her backside before climbing back up to resettle herself. This Guinevere was going to need some serious spell weaving to bring her up to standard. So far, all his subtle attempts to mould her had been unsuccessful. Merlin blamed his failure on the interference of technology, his magic just wasn’t affecting her like it used to.
Merlin’s thoughts were interrupted by the bell above the door tinkling and then clattering noisily to the flagstoned floor of the shop. Both he and Gwen turned to see a wide-eyed man, weighed down by an oversized tool box, falling through the door and landing in a twisted heap. Before they could react, he jumped up, smiling sheepishly.
“Er, sorry ’bout that. Did someone call a plumber?”
Merlin looked out the window to the haphazardly parked and rust peppered van in the street outside the bookstore. The once white van was emblazoned with the words ‘Wagon & Horses – Plumbing and Heating Engineers’
“Strange name for a plumbing company.” Merlin said, indicating the van outside as the plumber handed him the unseated bell.
“You’ll remember it though won’t ya, because you think it’s a boozer and it ain’t. It’s me and me partner innit? I’m Wagon and he’s ‘Orses.”
Gwen giggled from behind the counter and Merlin caught the flash of interest pass over Wagon’s face as he strode over to her and offered his hand.
“You can call me Wag.”
“Gwen.” She said, shaking his offered hand.
“And I’m Merlin.” Interjected the wizard.
“Alright Bruv, nice to meet you.” Wag said, slapping Merlin on the back and picking up his toolbox. “Where’s this plumbing emergency then?”
Gwen jumped down from her stool faster than Merlin had ever seen her move. “This way.” She sang as she almost skipped to the tiny kitchenette.
Merlin sighed. Because he was not about to lose his ridiculous wager against Destiny, he had created what he thought was a clever loophole. Helping Arthur and Guinevere come together was never explicitly forbidden. To his reasoning, this also allowed him to repel other suitors, which almost totally neutered any chance Destiny had of winning their bet. He assumed she was still irritated about this as Lancelot had a habit of showing up at the most inappropriate times.
Merlin squeezed into the tiny back room where Gwen was sat on the counter chatting enthusiastically to Wagon’s boxer-brief covered backside. His belted jeans were inexplicably anchored below his buttocks, apparently on purpose. Merlin much preferred the elegance and romance of the Regency period. At least everyone knew how to dress themselves properly then. Wagon crawled backwards from under the sink, opened his toolbox and extracted a travel mug. He hopped his cotton clad buttocks onto the work surface beside Gwen and taking a glug of his drink, spilled most of the mouthful down his t-shirt. He too had had eggs for breakfast, and possibly not today judging by the state of his t-shirt.
“Well?” Asked Merlin. “What’s the problem?”
“Oh, yer water tap was turned off.”
“Turned off? Who could have turned the water tap off? He asked, looking at Gwen, the only other person employed at the shop.
“Beats me.” She shrugged.
“So, Gwen.” Wagon said. “My mate Horse is in a band. They’re playing at the Bricklayers Arms tonight. Fancy going? It’ll be a right laugh.”
Merlin stiffened, “Why do they call him Horse?” He asked before Gwen could answer.
“Cos he looks like an ‘Orse of course. Weird long face and huge nostrils. Been called that since we were kids.” He laughed at some unshared memory.
Gwen was hanging on his every word. Merlin turned to leave the room , preparing to incant a repulsion spell.
“I’d love to go, I love a good dance.” Said Gwen.
“Well, in that case my fair maiden, you shall dance.”
Merlin stopped in his tracks and turned to the scruffy plumber who had jumped from the counter and was in the middle of an overly dramatic bow.
“What did you say?”
“I said that if this lovely maiden wants to dance, then she should.”
“Quite.” Merlin agreed, realisation creeping over him. “Tell me Wagon, you don’t look like a horse drawn cart, is that your surname?”
“Nah, me name is Pendragon. Arthur Pendragon. It’s a bit poncy though innit so me mates have always called me Wagon, cos it rhymes. Suits me better, don’t ya think?”
Merlin allowed his magic to recede. “Oh, I don’t know. I think I prefer Arthur. Don’t you agree Guinevere?”
Here’s a list of questions:
- Did you understand what the wager between Merlin and Destiny was or do I need more backstory in there?
- One of my issues is that I tried not to do too much ‘telling’, but it’s hard with backstory without having a flashback moment. How would you have handled this?
- Was there too much telling all together?
- Would the story have been better told from Merlin in the first person so that I could get away with the telling of the backstory?
- I’ve taken out a lot of wordiness but some of the sentences still feel a bit lengthy to me, what do you think?
- One of the points I was going to make (but deleted) was that Merlin’s magic didn’t work to change Gwen because this version of her was destined to be with a very similar version of Arthur. I left it out because I thought I’d have to go into all sorts of moralistic explanations about not changing yourself to suit someone else, and then have to explain that Arthur is from a very different, male dominated time where this is acceptable and I honesty thought it would overtake what is, in essence, a rather more simplistic tale. Do you think there should have been a more prominent moral to the story? I’m not sure if this is what is actually bothering me most about the story!
If you can ignore the morally wrong attitude that Merlin is trying to change Gwen to suit Arthur, I’d appreciate some feedback on the other points that I’m having a mini battle with!
I appreciate your wisdom!