Sword and the Stone Culminating Activity
Takes place between Chapters 21 and 22
Mary Kjendal Student Submission Set to appear in the April 2022 edition
The Wart sighed and leaned his forehead against the windowpane. It felt cool against his skin, so he kept it there even though it gave him goose flesh. He watched the rain as it slid shakily down the glass, and he sighed again. Kay looked up from the book he was reading and snapped at Wart, “Quit sighing like a depressed dog and do something useful for once.”
“Nurse said I had a fever and had to stay in my room.”
“Oh, go soak your head.”
Wart sighed a third time out of spite and got up. Kay resumed his reading. The Wart walked over to the wash basin and splashed water from it onto his face. He flicked water at Kay and said, “Go soak your own head.”
“It’s just an expression, you clot! You’ll wet my book! You’re as cross as two sticks today. It’s not like it’s my fault you’ve got a temperature. Clear off!”
Wart left the room grumbling and skulked about the kitchen for a while, trying to steer clear of Nurse. Of course, Nurse found him despite his efforts and marched him out of the kitchen, so he wound his way up to Merlyn’s turret room and knocked on his tutor’s door.
“It’s me, Wart. I’m bored, everyone’s mad at me, and nobody wants me. Can’t I come in?”
After a noncommittal grunt from inside the room, Wart pushed open the door. Merlyn was sitting on a three legged stool in the middle of the room with Archimedes perched on the tip of his magician’s cap. Discarded papers lay all about Merlyn and he had his quill pen stuck in his beard. He was frowning acutely.
Merlyn looked up from the blank sheet of paper that lay on his lap, and his frown deepened. “Already?” he barked. “What do you want this time?”
Wart was taken aback. “I only wanted an education, if you had a mind for it. I’ve been penned up in my room all day and wanted something to do. If I’m being a nuisance, I can just—”
Archimedes shook his wing and flew to the windowsill. “If I may, Master. You’ve not sent him on it yet, but you will.”
“Confusion take this backward life!” Merlyn shouted. “God bless my blood pressure! I’m sorry, young chap. I suppose I could manage a little magic now. I’m a bit pressured at the moment, what with a deadline over my head and not a word on my page, so try not to make it complicated. I wouldn’t suppose that you could offer any intelligible insight about the cowardliness of scutage, would you? I mean, not that I’m arguing for the system as a whole in the first place, but if you’ve got to have it, do it right! To start with—”
Archimedes coughed and politely raised a wing. “Master, the boy?”
Merlyn straightened his spectacles and squinted at Wart. “Ah, yes. The boy.” He proceeded to stare at the Wart quite intensely and Wart squirmed uncomfortably. Merlyn finally hemmed his throat and asked, “What will it be this time? A pebble? A housefly? Mold?” Merlyn chuckled to himself. “You are nuisance enough already, aren’t you. How about you be something that people deem a godsend, hm?”
Archimedes preened his feathers with his beak. “I’m a godsend,” he remarked loftily.
“And a nuisance,” Merlyn muttered. To Wart he said, “I think you could gain a little eddication from being a spider.” He paused. “They’re very beneficial and quite bonny!” he added upon seeing Wart’s expression of distaste. “What? What is the matter with a spider?” Merlyn scowled.
“They’re just…not very pretty. They’re all legs and eyes and— and hair.” Wart shuddered.
“And their webs are maddening when they’re strung across trees just at flight level.” Archimedes added peevishly.
“Fine, fine,” said Merlyn. “Only because I’m outnumbered. Then I’ll turn you into a bunny. An Angora bunny, to be exact. Wonderful fur. Beautiful faces! Only problem is, they’re domestic. That won’t do. No, that won’t do at all.”
Merlyn closed his eyes and stroked his long beard, thinking. He accidentally dislodged his quill pen, which clattered to the floor, but he was too lost in thought to notice. At last he straightened his cap and opened his eyes with a start. “That’s just the thing!” He got up and started pacing around his small room, kicking up the papers scattered on the floor.
Archimedes looked at Merlyn unconcernedly. “He’s got some idea for his paper, that’s all. Give him a minute and he’ll snap out of it.”
It was more than a minute later, however, when Merlyn calmed down enough to start searching for his wand to perform the spell. “I’ll turn you into a wild rabbit,” he announced once he had found the wand wedged up the chimney flue.
Merlyn told the Wart to spin around three times, then laughed at him and called him a great sport. He proceeded with the spell.
After the third line or so, Wart began to feel like he was being tugged in a million different directions at once. “I don’t like this at all!” he thought to himself.
By the time Merlyn was reciting the last line, Wart heard his voice as from the wrong end of a megaphone. When he heard, faintly, the last syllable of the spell, his world went brown, and he could smell soil, dried grass, decaying material, and other underground smells. He opened his eyes, which he never remembered closing, and saw another pair of eyes inches away from his own, staring at him. He thumped his back leg, startled, because he sensed a hostility in her eyes. He opened his mouth to speak to her, but he found his words changed as they came out of his mouth. He wanted to tell the rabbit, “Good afternoon! I’m not sure where I am, but it is very nice and comfortable. I don’t know who you are, either, but I would like to know, because you’re such a beautiful rabbit.”
What came out, translated from a series of squeaks and purrs, was this: “Opening. Stranger. Grass. You. Nest.” Wart was taken aback, for, no matter how he tried, his human words would not translate into rabbit language. He had a very limited vocabulary to convey his thoughts. This knowledge immediately made him wary, because it reminded him of his visit to the ants. He took a step backward from the rabbit that was watching him.
The rabbit hissed at Wart and stomped her foot loudly, sending a sort of signal to the other rabbits. Soon 10 more rabbits were crowded into the nest. They prodded Wart to his feet and shoved him in front of them, out of the nest. They emerged into a tunnel that had many nests branching off of it that were similar, if not identical, to the one they had just been in. Wart was ushered along this tunnel for quite some time, and he began to grasp the enormity of the warren he was in. Finally, after two left turns and a right turn, the party halted at the entrance to a large chamber, which, Wart thought, was similar to a throne room.
Wart sat heavily on his bottom, his forelegs outstretched, ears up, nose sniffing.
A rabbit next to him nudged him from behind and whispered, “Hop, skip, and a jump. It’ll rain cats and dogs if you don’t. Respect.”
Wart scratched his ear, confused. He supposed that rabbits either spoke in idiots or single word “sentences”. He understood a part of the rabbit’s message, or at least he hoped he did, so he started to hop forward. He loved the rhythm of hopping and the feeling of rocking back and forth. With each hop he took, a tremor ran up his leg. He concentrated on the ground in front of him, memorizing the terrain in the split second before he hopped forward onto it. He stopped in front of a grand dais.
Upon the dais, a large buck, clearly the ruler of the warren, lolled on his back with his eyes closed. Behind him, a row of slightly smaller bucks looked on, clearly disgusted, but in no position to do anything about it. Wart was afraid of this row of bucks.
Wart was nudged again by the same rabbit, who had followed behind Wart as he made his way across the great room. Wart laid his head on the ground in submission. The chief rabbit scratched his ears and grunted, heaving himself to his feet. He came up to Wart, shoving his huge, great self into Wart’s face and sniffing him. At last, having finished with this acknowledgement of Wart’s presence, he lay back on the dais.
Wart turned to the rabbit beside him and asked him what his name was.
“My name is Vermilion. That’s Azure,” he said, pointing to the doe that had first confronted Wart. “The chief buck is Carmine. The blue bloods behind ‘im are the ones that have really got the long arm of the law, though. Hot potato, really. Silence.”
The bucks on the dais were conferring amongst themselves and soon reached some conclusion. They stomped their feet a series of times, and Vermilion recoiled.
“Serve time, thats what they’re after. Wrong place at the wrong time. Me best, chap!” Vermilion nodded sadly at Wart and hopped off.
Wart wasn’t sure what was happening. Azure hopped up beside him, teary-eyed but defiant. “Don’t try and whitewash this. Blame. Inequitable.” She turned her head so Wart couldn’t see the tears slide down her whiskers.
The pieces fit together when two large bucks came up to them and roughly shoved them forward, leading them down tunnels that became increasingly dank and grotty.
“Prison,” Wart whispered. From one offshoot Wart heard a scream that sounded like a terrified child. He whipped his head around, terrified himself, but the guards just prodded him forwards again.
Azure winced and choked, “Wisteria!”
Wart whispered to Azure, “That fat buck is the hand behind all this—?
“You’re barking up the wrong tree. Carmine’s just a small cog in a large wheel. The ones behind him want to cut him down to size, but have to handle him with kid gloves, because he’s a large buck with a forceful bite. He just throws his weight around, though. In reality, the tail is wagging the dog. I’m just calling a spade a spade, but I don’t think the time’s ripe for it. If we’re not separated when we come to a fork in the road, it can wait.”
Wart hopped along beside her, thoroughly befuddled. “All these idioms,” he thought to himself, “will be the death of me.” He sighed. “Doesn’t it make the other rabbits’ blood boil, to see this happen?” he asked Azure.
“Yes.We’re like cats on a hot tin roof. Soon.”
When the guards had pushed them into a nest and barred the entrance, Wart looked around at his surroundings and was repulsed. Azure turned around twice and settled down to sleep. Wart stared unhappily through the bars that imminently impeded any escape.
“God save me,” he grumbled to himself. “If I spend my life languishing in this hovel, there’ll be the devil to pay.” A little louder, he said, “Merlyn, save me!”
In an instant he was bucketing into nothingness, then all of a sudden he was kneeling in front of Merlyn, out of breath. He stood up and brushed himself off.
“Merlyn! That was horrible! Do they end up escaping? Azure—”
“Boy,” Merlyn interrupted, “hush up about it for a moment. No need to get all het up about it. What’s all the fuss? It was just a visit, wasn’t it?”
“Merlyn, can’t you see, it’s not right! It’s not right at all! Azure didn’t do anything wrong!” Wart was shouting now, and he was on the verge of crying. “They’re all stupid, the whole lot of them! It’s not fair! It’s not fair! Couldn’t you do something, Merlyn? You’re a magician after all. Please! Magic Azure somewhere else! And poor Vermillion. I’ll bet he’s next!” The Wart sat down, making no effort to stem the tears that were now pouring from his eyes.
Merlyn smiled down at Wart and patted his shoulder. “I suppose you learned something then?”
“Learned something!” Wart screamed. He regretted shouting when he heard Nurse’s footfalls on the staircase. Nurse gave him and Merlyn both a good talking to, for “hettin’ the boy’s temperature for no reason” and sent Wart back to bed, keeping a firm hand on his shoulder until he was safely in his room.
Kay was still lying in bed, reading, when Wart was deposited back in their room.
“Where were you at all this time?” he asked Wart peevishly. “And why’ve you been crying? What a baby,” he scorned.
Wart rubbed his red eyes angrily and went over to the wash basin to splash the cool water on his face. The water dripped down his sleeves and on the front of his shirt, but he didn’t care.
“Mind you don’t splash on me like last time,” Kay whinged reflexively.
Wart flicked a drop of water towards Kay and jumped out of the way of a fist aimed at him and scurried over to the window seat. The rain had almost ceased, but it was still lightly drizzling. The sky was moonstone blue, and the rain still dripping from it came down more and more sporadically. The sun began to move out from behind a bank of clouds, and it illuminated the raindrops, making the world glisten like a coffer full of diamonds. A rabbit’s nose twitched from a hole in the nearby hillside, smelling for danger. Wart sighed.
Kay got up in a huff. “Really, Wart. Such a nuisance.” And he left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Wart gazed out the window again, searching for the rabbit, but it was gone from sight. The Wart sighed and leaned his forehead against the windowpane.