Magical Origin Stories, Written by Readers
Exploring stories of untold beginnings has always appealed to me as a writer. The Merlin Saga began after I wondered about the early life of the man who became the wise and powerful old wizard we know so well from the tales of Arthurian legend. And instead of focusing solely on the mystery of the magical island’s disappearance, The Atlantis Saga begins by imagining what may have happened to trigger its creation.
With this in mind, I recently invited fans of my books to dig deep into their imaginations and write their own origin stories for any character from one of my books. The results were simply fantastic! Of course, I knew my fans were a talented bunch, but their creativity and enthusiasm for these characters and their stories was a joy to read. It is my great pleasure to share some my favorite stories with you.
Magical Origin Stories, Written by Readers
The loyal and fierce Trouble is one of the companions of Merlin who is most beloved by fans of The Merlin Saga. Alexandra L. shared this entry outlining the early life of Merlin’s feathered companion, who first appears in MERLIN: The Lost Years (Book 1 of The Merlin Saga).
As the life of Druma Wood began a semi-silent vigil for the farewell of the day, a new life was welcomed. Eywak’s trained eye watched unblinkingly as the small life made the first dent on the shell. The blue bill struggled valiantly, as if determined not to spend another anxious moment away from this splendid world. At last, the fledgling emerged from the shell, everything in perfect condition.
After naming her youngest Rywan, which in the language of wind meant ‘true spirit,’ Eywak turned to his shell and read. She shuffled her wings nervously. Along the inside of the shell were the lines of a short yet very defined life, it spoke of fierceness, and a loyalty that never faltered even in dire moments. Through time, his troublesome nature would deem him another name. The falling sun and shell spoke of all things that were yet to pass.
But for now, he was just a young hatchling catching his first sunset learning to listen to the wind. And like all young hatchlings….he was hungry.
Being the youngest of his clutch of fledglings had its advantages such as being guaranteed the warmest spot under their mother’s wing each night. It also had its disadvantages. Whenever his parents set out to bring food or scout the area, Rywan was left unprotected, and being the smallest of the trio, became the main source of entertainment. The older fledglings chased him around in their small nest and pretend he was prey. Rywan, already feisty by nature, learned to channel his warrior spirit or faced being sat on and pecked until his parents returned, which had happened one too many times.
Now, feeling quite bold at three weeks old, Rywan screeched a particularly rude phrase at the eldest fledgling that would have gotten him pecked by his mother and earned an approving chirp from his father. Shocked, the elder of the trio screeched back, and so they engaged, until Rywan charged. He jumped, flapping his wings eagerly, ready to land on the edge of the nest.
Except something curious happened.
The world suddenly became a blur of colors. He was falling! Branches swayed, trying to slow the little ones fall until….thump! A dazed fledgling, otherwise unharmed, landed on pile of vivid green leaves. Feeling even smaller than he ever had before, Rywan chirped quietly, but all that answered back was the swaying of the mighty branches around him. He continued chirping anxiously until he heard a scuttle. A pair of beady eyes surveyed the scrawny looking bird. Not enough for a meal, but a snack would do.
As the creature slinked from the foliage, Rywan’s heart fluttered. This looked like a rat that had once come near their nest. His mother constantly warned the fledglings about the dangers of rats, only to quickly reassure them that she’d keep them safe. But she was not here now. No one was here. Rywan, very much alone and helpless, froze with fear as the rodent approached.
Then, the wind blew softly through the forest floor. Rywan’s screeched with fierce determination; the spirit of the wind gave him courage. As the rat leaped, Rywan leapt higher knocking the rat with the wings he had yet to fully master. The rat, now annoyed at losing the prospect of an easy meal, attacked only to be met by Rywan’s claws. A matter of minutes seemed like an eternity to the little warrior before two familiar screeches resounded through the battlefield. In a blur, his mother finished off the enemy while his father struggled to carry his youngest back up to the safe nest.
Throughout the evening, while his mother kept chirping about his troublesome nature, Rywan felt like a seasoned warrior. Never again was he prey to his other nest mates for he had learned that size was certainly no measure for all the great things his young life could accomplish. That and he would never pass up an opportunity to challenge a rat.
The following summer, Druma Wood was a place of pure poetic motion. The land swayed with illuminating shades of vivid greens and yellows, and the sky danced on blue, violet, and orange wings. On one peaceful day, the wind called to Rywan and set him on course to the silvery edge of the Druma Wood. This would be a journey far greater than any, where a destined meeting would take place, and a series of magical adventures, awaited.
You might remember Bumblewy as the desperately un-funny jester who appears in Book 2 of The Merlin Saga; Bryan B. tells a story of what may have happened before he encountered the wizard:
The streets of Caer Neithan jingled with festivities as Bumbelwy ambled along on his not-so-merry way. Sure, the Town of Bards always bustled with music and song, but today proved to be different. Today was the first day of Summer. Bards from all over came to Caer Neithan for this special occasion, multiplying the usual melodies and rhythms tenfold.
It only gave Bumbelwy a headache.
He never cared much for how shiny the bells were on his hat, or how many balls he could juggle at once. He wanted something grander than those foolish things! He wanted to captivate his audience with laughter! Keep them on the edge of their seats, waiting for the punchlines and the rhymes. And after the show, they would make their way home and remember his words, and the wisdom he’d injected into his wits.
Oh, to inspire the masses with laughter!
His fellow bards and jesters sneered at his idea. When his neighbors complained that he scared the birds away with his voice, he would only retort, “I blew them away with a magical performance!”
Nothing could stop him from attaining his goal of becoming a great bard. Nay, the greatest bard!
This goal had brought him out of hiding on the high holiday of cheer and festivities. He sought an audience.
At the town square, Bumbelwy managed to squeeze in between two jesters throwing balls to one another. Under an arch of a blur of red and blue balls, Bumbelwy crafted his stage.
He ran his fingers down his lute, plucking at the strings. Not completely in tune, but close enough for him. When he cleared his throat, he almost choked on his own saliva.
“Here ye! Here ye!” he wailed. “All be joyful and have some cheer! The jester is here!”
One person clapped. Once. Or perhaps they swatted at a fly. No matter, Bumbelwy took no notice. He lifted his lute. Dramatic pause. Then, the story began.
Oh, little flower No one has watered you for days, Your pastel pink has gone to gray. Why have they forgotten, why do you think? Could it be, in truth, that you stink?
The last note lingered, resonating under the incessant pattering of the juggler’s balls. Bumbelwy’s eyes remained shut as he basked in the overwhelming rush of emotions of his song. Such profundity! Such humor! The wave of laughter, oohs, and ahhs, was only a moment away, he was sure of it.
The onlookers shuffled their feet. One of them coughed.
Something struck Bumbelwy upside the head, and he almost lost his balance. A red juggling ball slapped the dirt near his left foot.
“Sorry, it slipped,” the juggler muttered as he retrieved his ball. He added hesitantly, “Um, I don’t think they liked that one, sir.”
Indeed, it appeared so. He only received blank stares and a rotting tomato that was fortunately horribly misaimed.
Disheartened, Bumbelwy only slumped away.
Did no one like his stories? It seemed hardly a likely possibility. Surely there was some merit deep down in his stories!
“You!” a voice cried out. Bumbelwy glanced to see a bard leaning in the doorway of the inn. He did a double take when he realized who had spoken to him.
“Taliesin?” Bumbelwy blushed. The most famous of all bards in the land. The man had so many stories, it was said that he had stolen from a witch a magical potion that gave him the ability to see into the past and future.
“Bumbelwy, don’t be disheartened by the audiences. They are always hard to please,” Taliesin told him.
“Too true, too true, too true,” Bumbelwy muttered. “Would you tell me something, Mister Bard?”
Taliesin shrugged. “I can tell you many somethings.”
“You can see the future . . . will I make a single person laugh in my life?” Taliesin simply cleared his throat and recited a mysterious verse:
I have been a sword in the grasp of a hand, I have been a friend that you’ll need, I have been a worm in a cave, And you . . . well . . .
Taliesin took a step forward and placed a hand on Bumbelwy’s shoulder. “You shall see.” With that, Taliesin vanished into the inn, leaving Bumbelwy without an answer.
“What does that mean?” Bumbelwy asked himself. “You shall see.” See what?
He may have left him without an answer, but what Taliesin gave him was worth more. He had left him with inspiration.
“Or . . . was that a warning?” Bumbelwy mused as he headed home.
If you’re a fan of The Merlin Saga, you’ll know Rhia is a major character who first appears in Book 1, and who continues to be a main character from Fincayra to Avalon. In her story, Hannah S. imagines the answer to a fundamental mystery: How did Rhia become separated from her family, and what first drew her to Druma Wood and her home in the great tree Arbassa?
The game had gone horribly wrong somehow! They were only playing hide and seek, though they were nearer the woods than Mother would have liked. But how was that any different than playing in a large castle where one could still easily get lost?
Little Rhiannon sat huddled behind a bush, her lip beginning to quiver as tears simultaneously welled in her eyes. It was getting dark, and she hadn’t heard or seen anyone come near her. Where was that brother of hers? Rhiannon’s thoughts then turned to her mother–oh, how she wanted her now! Immediately, the idea came to go looking for her lost family. Summoning all the courage she could muster, Rhiannon stood up and walked a few cautious steps from her hiding place. Her blue-gray eyes darted in every direction, and saw nothing but trees and darkness.
Suddenly feeling very alone, Rhiannon whimpered. Shadowy figures seemed to loom all around her, and the mysterious noises of the night now reached her ear. Uttering a small cry of fright, the child dashed away as fast as her little feet could carry her. She had no concept of where she was going, but she hoped desperately to see the end of the forest and a clearing toward home. On and on she ran, her tight curls bouncing wildly, only to finally collapse in a pile of leaves. Tears now streamed down Rhiannon’s cheeks, and if anything, her sobs drowned out any other noise she might have heard. Within minutes, she fell asleep from emotional and physical exhaustion.
It was daytime when Rhiannon awoke, though the dense trees of the Druma Wood hardly let in any sunlight. Rubbing her reddened eyes, Rhiannon once again surveyed her surroundings. It all looked exactly the same to her, with one exception. Before her stood a mighty oak tree that could have held three smaller trees in its trunk! A canopy of branches extended beyond and over the little girl, as if they were welcoming and open arms. Gaping slightly (a habit of which Mother wouldn’t approve), Rhiannon stood erect before the tree and widened her arms as well. With arms raised she studied this immense oak, and as she did, a sense of peace and safety overwhelmed her.
A soft breeze suddenly rustled the tree’s leaves, and as Rhiannon listened, she heard a sound–no a voice–within the wind. It said, “Arbaasssaaa…Arbaasssaaa…“
Rhiannon smiled. Something inside told her the tree was speaking to her, even introducing itself. She pointed to herself and responded. “Rhiannon.”
Silence. Disappointed, Rhiannon dropped her arms and hung her head; even her curls seemed to droop! But just as she was losing hope, the breeze blew again and she once more heard the voice, only this time it said, “Rhiiiaaa…Rhiiiaaa…“
Rhia laughed, the sound ringing like bells throughout the Druma Wood. She opened her arms once more and cried, “Arbassa!”
In Tree Girl, young Rowanna lives in a cottage by the seaside but longs to see the great forest, and especially the mysterious High Willow tree, which sits on a faraway hill. In her story, Charlotte M. writes from the perspective of one of Rowanna’s animal friends, just before their first encounter:
The softness of mother’s feathers is all around me, warm and dry and safe high up in the big tree by the sea. I push my head through mother’s down to peer over the edge of the nest at all that happens below. Someday I will spread my wings and fly like the gulls. I will fight great battles and conquer monster fish. A branch comes to tickle my scrawny breast feathers, as if the tree could hear my thoughts. He is always teasing, this tree. I snap my beak at him, furious that he should be mocking me, the fiercest of warrior birds. The breeze that rustles his needles sounds like laughter. I squawk at him, struggling to hop out of the nest and show him what I’m made of. Mother gently tucks me back into the fold of her wing, trying to soothe my righteous rage. I calm, but this is one fight that I’ll come back to. No one mocks me and gets away with it, not bird, not sea, and certainly not tree. Mother settles over me as the great big orange sun dips into the waves. Her feathers ripple like the sea as the wind picks up. I’m not afraid, but I know she is. I can feel her heart beating faster. There’s something wrong with the air. The usual tang of salt and fish is stronger, mixed with—with a smell I haven’t smelled before. When I ask mother, she doesn’t answer, fluffing up against the gusts. I tuck my head under my own wing, trying to go to sleep. In the morning all will be well. She will bring me a delicious breakfast of mashed worm, and the sun will shine again. I have not been on this earth long, and already I know the dawn brings with it a new warmth, inside and out.
A fierce cold burst of wind wakes me in the darkness. I lift my head, calling for mother, but she does not come. The gusts are brutal now, shaking the whole tree, sending his needles flying. Again I cheeyup in panic, crying for her. I dig my sharp claws deep into the thatch and seaweed nest, hanging on for dear life. A terrible blast dislodges the nest beneath me, sending me spinning through the air. If I could fly away, I might be able to find shelter, but my wings are too small, too fragile. I squeeze my eyes shut, trembling, helpless. Pain rips through me, bending one of my wings in half as the wind slams me hard against the stone wall of the humans’ nest. Darkness covers my mind like a cloud over the sun. Every tiny bone in me hurts. Sleep is such a relief. Mother—I manage to call one last time, where are you? I think I see the spirit of the tree—an old man with a beard—detach from the trunk to cup me in his rough bark hands, to lift me up and place me somewhere safe.
Yellow sunlight burns my eyes as I crack them open. I can barely lift my head to peer out at the world. Mother has not come back. Still I call for her, loud as I can, which isn’t much. Cheeyup. A new sound reaches me. A voice like a bird’s, but not. Cheeyup. A singing voice. Cheeyup. The steady patter of footsteps drawing closer. A shadow blocks the sun, a friendly freckled girl face peering over the edge of the nest at me. Frightened, I nip at her fingers as she reaches for me. Soft hands enclose me, slipping me into a warm place. I can feel her strong heart beating, soothing. My fear fades. The girl smells of sea and fish and tree. She smells of life. I am Eagle, fierce warrior. Someday I will fly. Until then, I will protect new mother with all my strength.
The background of the bumbling, plaintive jester who appears in MERLIN: The Seven Songs was a popular subject for fans. In his story, Dan T. imagines how the fellow ironically known as “Bumblewy the Mirthful” may have got his start:
A Child’s Choice
” . . . But what about magic, and dreams? Or even just not having to struggle for food?”
“You’re a real jester, Alfred,” Mrs. Bumblewy replied. “I swear, you’re destined to make people laugh. Every day it’s a new story. A different life, hope. Your father certainly never planted those ideas in your head. I wonder where you got them from.”
Alfred paused before answering, bobbing his bucket-shaped head in a curious fashion. “Books, I suppose.” His shoulders sagged beneath a short tunic. The tattered breeches he wore were his only additional clothes.
“Books are lies, and you’re an idiot,” Mrs. Bumblewy declared. “We’ve got a sick cow, dry dirt for a garden. Your father’s . . . don’t get me started on your father . . . and you’re talking about magic. Peddle your tales to Esma. Maybe then she’ll produce some milk.”
Mrs. Bumblewy stormed past the small bookshelf and out of the one room shack, shaking her head in a swift, jerking motion that caused her bun to unravel slightly. They did not even have a door anymore. One of the hinges broke last year, and instead of trying to mend it, Mrs. Bumblewy had ripped the other hinge off in a fit of rage and then flung the door onto the woodpile outside, where it still lay. Alfred would have fixed it, he was rather good with his hands, but he liked the unimpeded sound and smell of the rain. That is, when the rain came, which was not very often this summer.
Alfred’s freakishly bushy eyebrows frowned, an expression that did not quite reach his lips. His chin was shaped like an old sagging apple and there was something abnormally fleshy about his neck. He absently fingered the small knife in his boot, thinking that maybe he could find some would to carve at the hemlock grove. He was capable of sculpting nearly anything, and in striking detail. His mother did not know it, but beneath the leaf and grass pallet he slept on in the corner of the shack, there was a collection of miniature animal figurines: squirrels, wolves, ducks, and other creatures, even a mermaid. He often fantasized that they would someday come to life and frolic with him in a pastoral paradise, somewhere far south, where he had heard the land was emerald green and fruit trees grew heavy all year round. But his mother was right. He was an idiot. Perhaps he was destined to be a foolish jester. Abruptly, his eyes brightened. At least jesters could still read books.
As he stepped out of the shack and into the hot reddish light, a bead of sweat slipped down his back. In all of his twelve years, he had never experienced such stifling heat, especially just after sunrise. Perhaps it was some sort of weather cycle he had heard that seed-selling otter talking about. Or maybe there was an evil force about that was compromising the land. Some of his books spoke of such things.
The dry plains to the south were a sickly orange color, dust rising through the red rays of the relentless sun. Esma, the emaciated cow, sniffed hopelessly at the ground. Mrs. Bumblewy was beating at the dead garden soil with a hoe, as though ferocity would force something to grow.
He rounded the shack to be out of his mother’s eyesight and sat down beside a frail oak tree whose leaves were drooping and browned. One grey sparrow sat in the branches, its ordinarily swift movements now lethargic as it turned its head dismally from side to side in a half-hearted search for a worm.
Everything appeared hopeless. Perhaps that was simply the way of things. The thought was strangely comforting and Alfred was inspired to begin singing. His monotonous, cracking voice sounded something like two stones rubbing.
“The sun is hot, and the ground is dry I wish I knew how not to cry”
The sparrow turned its head slowly toward the hideous noise, blinked its eyes once, and took off into the red sky. Watching it soar, Alfred attempted to smile but his lips trembled and ultimately settled into a frown.
“A Jester,” he muttered, bobbing his head. “Too true, too true.”
Merlin’s very first companion — Trouble — is one of the most beloved by readers of The Merlin Saga. Perhaps it’s because what the young bird lacked in size, he made up for with his deep loyalty to his wizard friend. In her story, set before the events of MERLIN: The Lost Years, Nicole B. imagines how the little bird had big things in his heart right from the beginning:
Trouble from the Start
Ever since the young merlin first poked his head through his shell, he was trouble. Loud and ever-demanding of his parents’ attention, much to his siblings’ annoyance, he more than once almost caused one of them to fall from the nest. Despite all this, his parents were quite proud of his brazen nature. His mother in particular knew that he was destined for great things, though she knew not just how great those things would be.
The troublesome bird was the first to attempt flight, as well as the first to succeed fully. And oh how he loved to fly. Even at that young age, he had a sense of adventure. Every time he took off from the nest, he felt something in his breast that seemed to call to him, telling him to fly far, far away to…somewhere. Some place where fate awaited him. His mother had to keep a close eye on him, otherwise he would have tried to fly halfway across Fincayra and no one would have known the better.
He was more than eager to leave the nest so when the time finally came, he needed no encouragement from his parents. He left just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. Soaring high in the sky, here at last the merlin truly felt free to follow that tugging in his heart. Swift as the wind, he flew farther than he had flown before. The lands that passed beneath him piqued his curiosity but the tugging sensation was incessant, thus he did not stop nor did he slow down. For some reason he felt that he would be seeing these lands again before too long, and he would not be alone. The idea of this comforted him yet excited him more than ever, and so on he flew, towards his destiny.
Thank you to every single one of my fans who took the time to explore their imaginations and write the untold history of one of my characters. It is one of my greatest joys as a writer to be able to share the journeys of these characters with my readers, and it is deeply touching to me to see just how fully these origin stories have come alive for you all. I look forward to the next opportunity to read your amazing creative works!
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