Merlin opened his eyes but discovered that he couldn’t see anything. His head throbbed and he ached in numerous other places. He was blindfolded and bound with chains in a slumped, standing position with his arms outstretched between two poles. Some part of his brain noted that his shirt was hanging on him in shreds. Stinging cuts on his back reminded him why the shirt was in tatters. He tried to stand up, but his legs were weak. He dropped back against his bonds with a grunt and then he heard someone stand from a creaking chair to his left.
“Merlin Sinclair…” a voice said near his left ear. ”It’s about time you woke up. I’m tired of listening to you snore.”
“Who… who are you?” the wolf said through swollen lips.
“I’m your mailman.”
There was a soft chuckle and Merlin could feel the speaker’s hot breath against his ear. “I have delivered letters,” the voice explained, “but you chose to ignore them.”
“Those were your threats!” Merlin said in sudden understanding.
“Threats? No, promises!” Another chuckle. “Some are as yet unfulfilled.”
“Do I know you?” the wolf said with a swallow. “How have I wronged you?” Merlin could see a portion of the floor in front of him beneath the bottom of the blindfold. He saw a pair of booted feet move into view and then his companion spoke again from the front.
“You have caused no limit of frustration to those I’ve served,” his faceless enemy said.
“Who do you serve?”
“No, I won’t provide you with an answer, Sinclair, but you have met them. You are well known and we have followed your movements for some time.”
“Do I get to see the face of my enemy?” Merlin asked uneasily.
“Careful, Sinclair,” the voice said menacingly, “to look upon the face of the basilisk is death!”
Merlin’s mind raced. He’d been in tough predicaments before, but never one such as this. Although he didn’t have a name, he now knew his enemy from that one word. “How should I address you, if not by one of the names that immediately come to mind?”
A strong hand suddenly grabbed his throat, but only as a brief warning. The hand relaxed, but the clawed fingers lingered on his neck. Merlin swallowed hard. There was another chuckle, very low. “Yes,” his enemy said, “I will kill you, Sinclair. Of that, you can be certain. Soon, but not right away.”
The individual stepped back from him. “What about my crew?” Merlin asked in a low voice. It was difficult to talk with beaten, swollen lips. “What have you done—?”
“No more questions!” his captor snapped. “You will give only answers.” He paced around the wolf with a growl. “Now… tell me where I can find your children.”
“M-my children?” Merlin asked with a thick tongue.
“Where are they, Sinclair?” the voice hissed. “I want them!”
“I don’t understand…” the wolf said in confusion. Children? He didn’t have any…
The voice lowered to barely a whisper, the fetid breath nauseating the already-battered lupine captain. “Alexander… Cassandra… Katherine… Marcus…” a long drawn-out pause, “and Ramius. I want them all.”
“I-I don’t know what—”
A fist slammed into his stomach and all the air went out of him. Merlin coughed and tried to double over, but his arms were still bound to the poles; he could nothing more than hang against his chains. A hand grabbed the fur between his ears and pulled his head up sharply. Beneath the lower edge of his blindfold, he could see a black-furred feline chin.
“Where are your children?” the voice growled again. “Where have you hidden them?” When Merlin didn’t answer, the assailant kicked the wolf in the shin. Merlin grunted from the pain, but otherwise didn’t cry out. “You’re too stubborn,” the feline said, “but that’s your choice, Sinclair.”
The cat walked away and it was then that Merlin realized someone else was in the room. “Tell the captain what happens next.”
“No, p-please…” said a small voice.
“Tell him,” growled the captor. Merlin heard a shuffle of feet as someone was shoved over to stand in front of him. Beneath his blindfold, Merlin could make out a bare foot with gray fur.
“They…” said in a frightened voice, “They will t-torture her in front of you… It – it’s horrible! P-please… tell him what he w-wants to know…”
Merlin bit his bottom lip, a sinking feeling deep in his gut, but otherwise said nothing.
“He’s not going to talk,” another voice said. Merlin tilted his head, but the voices of the mysterious captors were not familiar to him.
“I think he will. Bring her in now.”
“Yes, sir,” the other replied.
Merlin swallowed hard, his mind wrenched with the gravity of the situation. Something about all this seemed somehow familiar, but it wasn’t quite right. He felt fingers on the knot at the back of his blindfold and then a dirty white cloth was removed from his eyes. He blinked a few times and then looked around. The room took up the bulk of a hut he was in, likely the gathering place for a large crowd of people during inclement weather. He stood between two wooden supports of the room, his arms in manacles, attached to the poles with light chains. His work shirt was in tatters, with the remnants of sleeves still attached to cuffs beneath his manacles, but the rest of it barely hung upon his body. The white fur of his chest and belly was matted and dirty, and although his trousers were in better shape than his shirt, there were tears along the outer seams and both of his knees were exposed.
The floor and walls were made of wooden planks and the rafters in the ceiling were exposed. Light was provided by oil lamps attached to the building’s supports rather than by electrical means, and he could see cloth curtains blowing in the cold breeze that came in through open-air windows. Several folding chairs were scattered about the room, but there were brown stains on the floor beneath a solitary chair positioned directly in front of him; dried blood, Merlin’s brain told him numbly.
From what he could see of the room, a small folding table was near him with what appeared to be a rolled-up tool pouch. He saw crayon-drawn artwork on papers tacked up on one wall, likely from the children his captor wanted. A cat with gray fur sat dejectedly in a chair against a far wall, his leg manacled to another support post. The two of them exchanged looks and Merlin could see the terror in the cat’s eyes as he waited what was next to come.
“Yes, he knows what’s about to happen,” said a voice from behind the wolf. Merlin tried to turn his head to look at the one who had spoken, but the individual was out of his range of vision. “I would listen to him, Sinclair. You would save yourself a lot of grief if you just tell me what I want to know.” Merlin thought he should probably say something witty in return, but the knot in his stomach prevented him from giving a reply. Instead, he just looked at the floor, unable to meet the unfamiliar cat’s forlorn expression again.
The door opened and Merlin looked over to see two black-furred jaguars escort a bound Border collie into the room. He gasped and his ears flattened in disbelief. Samantha looked as beaten and battered as he was, her clothing ripped to shreds, barely covering her modesty, blood matted in her fur and her breathing coming in great rattling rasps. She was taken to the chair in front of Merlin and forced to sit down.
“No!” Merlin croaked. “Don’t do this! Please! Have mercy!”
The unseen assailant chuckled. “Mercy? Only you can grant that now.”
“Merlin, what’s going on?” the Border collie asked. The wolf swallowed deeply and tried to speak, but no words came out of his mouth. The canine looked at someone behind Merlin and swallowed. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I am Death,” said the voice. “Your death, Mrs. Sinclair.”
“I don’t understand.”
There was an evil cackle. “We are going to torture you… until your mate tells me where your children are hiding,” he said quietly. One of the jaguars that had brought her in moved to her side, brandishing a large serrated knife that glinted in the lamplights.
“Why do you want our children?” Samantha gasped as rough hands held her in her chair.
Merlin heard the lips smack in anticipation. “I am going to eat them…” the voice purred. “I am very, very hungry, and I am going to gobble them up!”
“Get away from us!” Merlin exclaimed. “You’ll never find them!” A fist slammed the back of the wolf’s head. Merlin saw stars for a moment and it took an effort to refocus his eyes.
“Torture her… slowly,” growled the remembered voice of Var Briggs, “Keep her alive for now, but cause her great pain…”
The dark jaguar gave Merlin a feral grin with bloodshot green eyes and raised his knife. “I am going to enjoy this!” said the feline. The razor-sharp blade glinted in the light as he reached for the Border collie’s throat.
Samantha’s terrified scream rang in Merlin’s ears and he jumped forward with a shriek of his own. Blankets wrapped round his bare feet tripped him up and he sprawled hard onto the floor, hitting the bed stand and causing a lamp to fall to the floor beside him with a broken crash.
Another bedside light came on and Merlin looked up into the worried face of his mate peering at him over the edge of their mattress. “Merlin?” she asked tentatively. “What’s the matter?”
“S-Sam?” he rasped. “Are you okay? Where did he go?”
The Border collie looked around the room, seeing no one else but the two of them. A nearby clock registered the time as 02:30. Nervous, she gathered her nightgown up around her throat and searched the shadows of the bedroom.
“Yes, I’m fine,” she answered in a whisper. “Where did who go?”
“Briggs,” Merlin whispered in alarm. “He’s after our children!” He kicked the blankets from his ankles and got to his feet in a crouch, his ears back, his fangs bared and his tail swishing behind him in agitation. He reached up a hesitant hand to Samantha’s cheek and caressed it gently, suppressing a shudder. He was relieved that there were no marks upon her pretty throat, but then he clenched his fists and pushed himself up from the bed to his feet.
“Merlin,” Samantha said quietly. “Briggs is not here. He’s dead, remember?”
The gray wolf looked at her as if she were in grave error and then shook his head. “I saw him, Sam,” he croaked. “He wanted to eat our cubs!” He turned and walked quickly to the door to their room. He reached for a pair of crossed rapiers mounted to the wall and pulled one free of its clasps, holding its hilt close to his chest.
“It must have been a dream,” she reassured him. “You had another nightmare.”
Merlin looked back at her and swallowed. It had seemed so real, so lucid; he knew she must be right, but there would be no rest for him until he looked in on their young ones. He gave her a tentative nod and then opened the door. Samantha sighed and crawled out of the bed. She pulled a blanket from a nearby rocking chair and draped it around her shoulders over the light nightgown. She padded quietly out of the room, turned down the hallway, and then approached the room belonging to their beloved children.
As with all young Furs, the young cubs of Merlin and Samantha Sinclair were growing fast. At only a year in age, they were already equal in physical and mental development with a three-year old human child. They were still small enough that all five of them could sleep in the same room, but that wouldn’t last long. Plans were already in mind to split up the three males from the two female pups into separate rooms, but the Sinclair house had plenty of space when the time came.
When Samantha stepped inside the room next to theirs, she paused in the doorway and leaned lightly against the wooden frame. Merlin was on his knees on the floor beside the large bed where all five small bodies slept quietly, the sword on the carpet beside him. The gray wolf had one hand stretched out and was caressing the reddish-brown fur of little Cassandra.
When he turned to find Samantha kneeling beside him, moisture glinted in the dim nightlight from his cheek fur. He took her into a tight embrace and held her tight for a long moment. When he finally pulled away, Samantha took him by the hand and quietly led him from the room.
She didn’t take him back to their bedroom, however, but kept his hand clutched tightly in her own as she took him down the stairs at the end of the hall and out to the living room of their home. She tapped a touch lamp to its lowest setting and then settled onto one end of an oversized couch. As he had done several times before, Merlin lay down on the couch with his head in his mate’s lap. She leaned over so her nose was mere inches from his ears and she stroked his cheek fur gently.
After several long moments of stillness, Merlin wiped his eyes and then closed them with a heavy sigh. “I am so tired of the nightmares,” he told her in a quiet whisper. “They are becoming altogether too real to me.”
“Perhaps you should schedule an appointment with Dr. Siegfield,” Samantha suggested. “Shannon said he was highly recommended.”
There was a subtle shake of the wolf’s head. “No,” he said. “I’m not ready to see a shrink.”
Samantha frowned and continued petting her mate’s facial fur. “Merlin… until you talk to someone about your experiences, the pain of the memories won’t go away.” She gave a small sigh. They had held this conversation before, but it always resulted in her wolf’s stubbornness. ”Since you were tortured in the Valley of Bones, you’ve refused to talk to anyone about it.” A small tear escaped her eye and it dribbled down across her nose to drop onto Merlin’s cheek. “You made me promise never to ask you what you saw, but until you open up to someone, it will continue to eat away at you. Give Dr. Siegfield a chance.”
Merlin stared off across the room, seeing nothing but that fateful day on Fyn during their final confrontation with the Basilisk. The horrors of his nightmares were as real to him as the events of that experience, and although they were only twisted creations of his memory, the psychological effects were just as painful. He knew Samantha was right. If he could not speak of the memories and get them out into the open, bottling them up inside would do more damage and cause a greater emotional state over time.
The gray wolf trusted his mate implicitly, but he had sworn to protect her from harm, real or imagined; he never wanted her to know the horrors he witnessed, but perhaps it was time to share those memories. He’d long heard that simply talking to someone about terrible events could help to lessen their emotional impact, but he was afraid to relive the pain and terror.
Merlin Sinclair swallowed deeply and closed his eyes. No, he would not talk to a stranger about his experiences, no matter how well recommended. There was only one person within all of existence he could share this with.
Samantha took her mate’s silence as a resurgence of his stubbornness, and she let out a long, low sigh of frustration. There seemed to be nothing she could do but comfort him after the frequent nightmares, a duty she would continue to perform for him as long as necessary.
Merlin turned over on the couch so that he curled up facing the back cushions, his nose on her lap resting gently against her stomach. She stroked the soft fur behind the wolf’s triangular ears, but then hesitated when he began talking.
For the first time since the incident, Merlin allowed himself to relive the experience to someone else in succinct words, describing to Samantha what happened with such vivid detail that had been permanently etched into his memory. He left nothing out, from what he saw to what he felt. She cried with him at the horrors he witnessed and comforted him through the terror of it all, and by the end of his narration, both of them were shaking and shaken, emotionally spent and exhausted.
When sunlight through the east window blinds fell upon Merlin’s face, he awoke slowly and found himself still on the couch. They were spooned together, one of his arms gently around Samantha’s middle and his nose up against one of her floppy ears. Her tail was draped over across his bent legs, but when he tried to move his feet, there was an unexpected weight.
He raised his head above Samantha’s shoulder to look at the opposite end of the couch and then a smile spread across his face. There were cubs curled up with one another around the feet and legs of their parents. There were occasions when one or more of the youngsters would slip into Merlin and Samantha’s bed during the night, and it appeared that some of them had found the master bedroom empty.
Merlin counted noses and knew that the entire family had somehow managed to snuggle up together on the large couch. Without disturbing either his mate or his children, the wolf laid his head back and closed his eyes, although he didn’t go back to sleep.
He hadn’t enjoyed reliving the horrors and lingering fears left over from his experience in the Valley of Bones, but sharing it with Samantha had loosened the bonds over his heart. She had taken it with more strength than he had thought she had within her, but she had always been of strong character. She cried when appropriate, and she was strong for him when it was needed, but there was something deep inside that told him that he would probably be okay because of her.
Samantha’s ear flicked rapidly with his breath and then she opened her eyes. She yawned widely and then smiled contentedly upon feeling his arm around her. He slightly shifted his other arm trapped beneath them and she knew he was awake.
“Good morning, my Love,” she whispered. “How are you?”
“Freer than I have felt in a long while,” he whispered back. “I think I may be okay now. Thank you.”
“That’s what I am here for, always and forever.”
“Forever and always,” Merlin intoned back, snuggling up closer to his mate. “The devil is dead, and our children are alive… at our feet.”
Samantha chuckled and then she felt the small bodies across her ankles. “So they are,” she said with amusement, lifting her head up enough to see a small black tail with a white tip wagging gently against her toes. She relaxed back into the comforting arms of her mate with a smile on her face. It had been difficult hearing what Merlin had gone through, but it was something she needed to hear, for her sake as well as his. Together now, perhaps the nightmares and lingering fears had been banished forever.
— NEXT EPISODE —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.