Merlin and Nimue
Merlin and King Arthur.
Arthur is seated on a throne, Merlin is pacing up and down in front of him.
Arthur What ails you Merlin? You seem unwell.
Merlin My mind is disordered.
Arthur Is there any reason for it?
Merlin I have lately become oversensitive to female beauty.
Arthur That sounds a happy condition to be in.
Merlin It’s not. I’ve hit the inevitable downside. I’m seriously troubled. I feel that the settlement that has kept me happy for the past ten years has to be broken up.
Arthur What settlement?
Merlin My sexual settlement.
Arthur Are you going to leave Gwendolena?
Merlin Of course not. Why should you think such a thing?
Arthur You just spoke of breaking up.
Merlin I am going through a crisis.
Arthur What about?
Merlin I need more sexual congress. (pause) No… it’s both less and more simple than that. But that’s the root of it.
Arthur Are you going to do anything about it?
Merlin I need fresh women. I must make advances, creepy passes if necessary.
Arthur Why creepy?
Merlin Because that is how they are bound to be seen by the women when I make them. I shall be rejected, but at least I would have asserted some measure of virility.
Arthur Don’t put yourself down. There are many delightful ladies in the court that you might woo. There’s Philomela whose knight has gone mad and wandered off. Then there’s Margaret, who’s still with hers but always open to adventures.
Merlin Indeed those two are very fine ladies, round whom my thoughts and feelings used to circle like birds of prey.
Arthur Used to?
Merlin Even these I have turned against. Strange moods come over me.
I have stroked Philomena’s cheek. I was going to make advances to her, ruin our friendship. I was about to dare to offer her gold. Yet I was scared to say anything. Now the opportunity has passed
Then there was Margaret. She told me of her desire for an infidel. That I cannot tolerate.
Arthur What can’t you tolerate?
Merlin That a heathen has an advantage over me because he is a heathen. That may be primitive but it is heartfelt.
Arthur Some sort of jealousy?
Merlin I mean the idea of ignorant barbarism attracts her more than the high civilisation that I represent. (pause) Yet it is all cowardice. I am in a state of abject funk.
Arthur Then you have to strengthen yourself, show some courage.
Merlin There is courage in cowardice.
Arthur Courage in cowardice did you say?
Merlin The more I am held back by fear the more merit there is in screwing up my nerves to act, whatever the outcome.
Arthur That’s nonsense. It’s a crazy paradox. It’s all wrong. The brave man doesn’t have to screw up his nerves to act desperately.
Merlin I don’t always feel like this. What I imagine in bed at night that I want to say I do not say. But I don’t really want either of them.
Arthur So what do you want then?
Merlin That girl Sir Pellerin brought to the court. Nimue. She has the most powerful effect on me. I meet her regularly, yet last time she came to see me she brought along her paramour.
Arthur Well I wish you the best of luck, you will need it with her.
Merlin I foresee alternative outcomes, some good some bad.
Arthur Think upon the good ones.
Merlin I do. I am known to be wise, clever to the point of genius, learned and experienced. My obvious desire is flattering and might be returned.
Arthur So what are the bad outcomes you foresee?
Merlin In the first place, I am not a knight. She will never see me jousting at the tourney.
Arthur You have your own strengths. With your tongue you can fascinate.
Merlin Sometimes I feel that, but then I revert.
Arthur Revert to what?
Merlin Tedious normality. I am held back by fears. I fear coming across as an inept and clueless would be seducer, a clown who has no idea of the way of doing these things, one who can pass for a quite acceptable person only until he shows his inappropriate desire. He misunderstands. He has missed the boat. He deserves nothing.
Arthur Just follow your instinct. Are you just afraid of rejection?
Merlin I worry a bit about the pain that will bring, but I can cope with it. To be disliked or even despised are by no means the worst fates. Worse is to be accepted on intolerable terms, de-sexed, or half sexed. (Pause. He becomes more agitated. He paces up and down.) That does not express what I feel. I am worried about denying desires I have, so creating an intense unsatisfying kind of existence. I could call it dishonesty, but that does not express the truth of the principles involved. Still it gives a gloss.
Arthur I think you should try someone a bit easier.
Merlin But Nimue is so beautiful. And her voice! Just hearing her speak is enough to give me an erection!
Arthur Now you sound like a boy, a young lad.
Merlin Inside that is what I still am.
Arthur You must have had sufficiency of damsels in your young days.
Merlin Everyone assumes that, but it is not so. For all my learning, I am ill versed in the ways of girls. I have been taking advice from one of the ladies at court.
Arthur Which one?
Merlin From…(hesitates) Brisane.
Arthur What does she tell you?
Merlin At this stage, she counsels patience. I am following her advice. She tells me of her own intrigues. I have no advice to give her. I don’t really like hearing about them.
But back to Nimune. When I don’t see her it is out of sight out of mind. ….No that’s not right… I mean it’s bearable. Meeting her often intensifies feeling enormously.
I need to project a suitable image. I feel that even the failed, creepy pass would be a very positive move. Between man and woman there is always imbalance of power. Not to make the attempt would make me despise myself. Doing nothing would mean a level of deference that would represent an intolerable suppression of my true self however agreeable it seemed to others
What is needed is some act that overthrows the order. Within my soul it’s like a time of revolution. All is put onto flux. Disorder and tension seem eternal. It hardly appears that a new settlement can ever be reached. I can only hope that a relentless pressure may eventually produce some result. It is a mystery how I am seen.
Arthur You may have read too much into Sir Pelleas turning up that day.
Merlin How can I read her at all? Customs change from generation to generation. Is hers much more uncomplicated, less pretentious, more direct than mine was? Or yours? What should I say to her, how to put it? I don’t know what to say.
Arthur Cast your mind back to how you used to do it.
Merlin It was no better when I was younger. Then it was even worse. At least there is no longer that nervous terror. Instead I worry about what is appropriate. Young women are different from older ones. They react differently to manifestations of lust. In one respect they seem more inhibited. The codes are different. In middle age a melancholy humour enters into sex. Older women will be more lascivious in their conversation. Young ones may talk as much about it but in a different way.
Arthur You over generalise. Women are the same at all times and in all lands.
Merlin I have not made the distinction I want to make. I wouldn’t say she is inhibited nor is she exactly shy, but there is a different code to observe. It must be something to do with being closer to childhood with all the… not exactly taboos… but the whole way of experience that belongs to innocence.
(Very agitated) She is my constant preoccupation. My agony and my consolation. The sound of her voice yesterday… Her beautiful name… Where do I go from here? There as so many difficulties… thus far. I would like to make her drop into my hands like a ripe fruit. But that might not happen. So she has to be apprised of my desire. But not in such a way as to make her shy off.
Arthur You rave. Can you not apply your magic?
Merlin In this matter my magic is void. Her mind is her own. The power is all hers over me.
Arthur Aren’t there love potions? What about the one they used on Sir Tristram?
Merlin I have sworn not to employ one.
Arthur Sworn to whom?
Merlin To myself.
Arthur What is the best result you think you might achieve?
Merlin Suppose she observes my feelings and responds. She could desire me, and the desire could be stoked up though the possibility would seem miraculous.
Arthur Miracles do happen.
Merlin Do you think so?
Arthur Don’t you know that?
Merlin You are right. They do. It has been very helpful talking to you. I have clarified my thoughts. I feel better already. I look forward to the time a few months from now when she will be my mistress and I will go to see her when I feel like a fuck. Then my feelings will be different. But my present state is by no means unpleasant, by no means at all. Good day Sire, I thank you deeply.
Arthur The pleasure is mine.
Nimue and Merlin outside.
Nimue Sir Pelleas has been complaining.
Merlin. What’s the matter with him?
Nimue He says it is as if we are having an affair, meeting like this.
Merlin That is silly of him. He knows what you come for obviously?
Nimue Of course he does. It’s for him too. We both enjoy your crumbs of wisdom. You told me you were going to explain to me the Holy Grail.
Merlin What do you want to know?
Nimue What is it?
Merlin It’s the cup Lord Jesus drank from at the last supper, brought to this land by Joseph of Arimathea.
Nimue No it’s not. I mean what is it really? Why is it so important?
Merlin (hesitatingly) You want me to be explicit?
Nimue If necessary.
Merlin It symbolises (cough) the female genitals.
Nimue Oh. (embarrassed pause) In what sense?
Merlin Firstly as objects of desire and secondarily as bringer of new life.
Nimue (after a pause) Is that all?
Merlin What do you mean?
Nimue It’s not as if you can’t name these things. Why hide them in symbols?
Merlin It’s deep. There are many layers of symbolism. There is a lot more I could say, but that’s enough for now.
Nimue. Explain to me the Wasteland.
Merlin Some say it is about impotence. The solution is not as simple as consummation though.
Nimue What’s consummation?
Merlin Performing the sex act.
Nimue Wouldn’t that show the problem had been cured?
Merlin Impotence is a symbol.
Nimue A symbol of what?
Merlin Sometimes a whole realm is filled with disillusion and political despair. Too many projects have been frustrated and too many causes defeated. Everyone feels it. That is what the king’s impotence means. It is a problem to be resolved.
Nimue Aren’t there herbs for it?
Merlin The real subject is not impotence but power. The young man who is to redeem the realm must show the way by cutting all connection with the rotten old order. To secure renewal and redemption for the land he must cultivate the power of abstinence.
Nimue How do you mean?
Merlin Chastity is refusal.
Merlin He mustn’t touch women.
Nimue With what result?
Merlin I can only give you symbols. Sometimes the birth of a child itself means a solution has been found. This theme belongs to Easter as well as Christmastide. Nonetheless, it predates our own religion.
Nimue That’s just ridiculous. You’ve lost me.
Merlin That is as it should be.
Nimue Is there nothing but seeming? Why does everything here have to symbolise something else? Isn’t anything simply what it is?
Merlin Everything I make here is a pattern for the next two thousand years.
Nimue So everything is a symbol, you are saying?
Merlin Yes, that is what civilisation means and how it differs from barbarism. It’s why we need a royal court. Hidden within the outward form there are many deeper mysteries.
Nimue And you make the culture, you say? Was it you who devised the mysteries?
Nimue What’s the point of them? Why invent the grail for example?
Merlin You know about our love culture?
Nimue Of course. Every knight needs a damsel to love and do his deeds for.
Merlin I too am more creative when I have a lady to desire.
Merlin Alongside the love culture we are developing, there is the deeper and more immediate lyricism of things.
Nimue Lyricism? What is that?
Merlin It’s the whole purpose and meaning of life. Ecstasy, focussed delight.
Nimue Focussed on what?
Merlin There is a direct lyricism of aspects of experience that at other times have been counted obscene or comic.
Nimue Like what?
Merlin Particular parts of the body, charged with desire.
Nimue Tits and bums you mean?
(Now Merlin is embarrassed)
Merlin To put it so coarsely is to debase the magic.
Nimue So it’s all about sex?
Merlin Sex is a symbol or figure of happiness in all its variety. Our court is pioneering a new form of our religion.
Nimue What’s sex got to do with religion?
Merlin Everything. We fit it into the Christian framework of symbols and concepts. This is a deep form of lyricism too easily debased by bad poets.
Nimue The Round Table, what is that then? Does that have a sexual meaning?
Merlin There are many sources of great energy that are sexual in nature.
Not all is fit for your ears.
Nimue Not fit for my ears? I hate that! The young know more about this than you do. We are closer to the drives. We feel them more strongly. There’s lots we can learn from you but there’s a lot of silliness too. I suspect you don’t even understand girls.
Merlin Be patient. Here we are all living a heroic legend. In the stories we tell are all the archetypes of experience, including those of greatest weakness. Understanding brings mastery. There must be no substitute satisfactions. The symbolism is to strengthen us, and not meant as an alternative outlet for our energies. All symbolism has two faces. In the beginning it mobilises, but then people come to believe it encompasses all that is necessary, and turn it into stifling dogma. Instead of letting the tales strike us spontaneously as they should, we are told to accept them as a full account of the spiritual domain. And that’s wrong.
Nimue So what you are making is a pattern for the lives of men?
Merlin It’s the template for what is going to happen in this part of the world. It’s also an allegory for all that is natural. The knights do battle and die. They are men and that is what men will always need to do.
Nimue What when there are no heathen left to fight, no wicked knights or monsters to slay?
Merlin There will always be battles to fight, and monsters to slay, but they will not always be physical ones.
Nimue And us?
Merlin What do you mean?
Nimue Us women.
Merlin Women are symbols, you are a symbol.
Nimue Hm…How are we to fulfil ourselves?
Merlin All this is for you too. It’s meant for everybody.
Nimue It’s not all happy though, is it?
Merlin The love interest in a life is often unhappy.
Nimue I meant how do we fulfil ourselves?
Merlin Our bards sing of the great spiritual fertilisation brought by love. The final and ultimate sexual union with the Holy Grail, fecundates the whole land.
Nimue You make love sound like manure.
Merlin Love for us has all to do with action. As you said, it inspires the knight to accomplish deeds in which he is strong, independent and individual.
Nimue There has always been love.
Merlin For us it has a special part to play, it inspires all creative energy, all our art and culture. In Avalon love is far more than self-indulgence or ornamentation, it is the root of our future civilisation. It is even more serious than you can imagine. Guided by love, we can turn a fertility cult into real religion.
Nimue Religion again. Does that mean peace?
Merlin We have courts instead of freedom. The drama and fury of vengeance shall be curtailed. However, men are always in a state of combat.
Nimue Like animals?
Nimue Are men no better than dogs?
Merlin Neither singly not as armies do we fight like dogs. The knights of the Round Table stand for the battle of values. They embody more than the simple physical military virtues. They depend on other things, like magic, nobility of blood, the virtue of their weapons, their shields and their armour.
Nimue It all comes to the same in the end. If some of them win, most of them lose.
Merlin What looks from the feminine point of view like the whole end of life is only one of the possible rewards of the struggle. The aims of men are tangential to it…
Nimue Tangential, what’s that?
Merlin It a word from a secret science. I mean the real victories the hero seeks are not what woman sees as the whole end of life.
Nimue What is the difference?
Merlin The knight may have what the world calls success and yet fail in his own eyes. He may be unmanned by a woman who forces him to serve her own ends. The values of worldly success are an incidental product of the diverse struggles and aims of men.
Nimue What is important then?
Merlin All that will count is whether a man can stick to his cause.
Nimue What’s that?
Merlin What he believes in and holds most dear.
Nimue I think that’s usually just where the fickle hand of fashion happened to have settled at some key point in his own youth. I mean, take the devices they put on their crests, believe in and fight for. One year it’s a rose the next it’s a pansy, an anchor or a unicorn. I’ve seen so many old men who have fought for the same flower all their lives. A man chose some bloom that happens to be in vogue at his coming of age, then all his life he fights to defend its honour.
Merlin The particular form taken by fashion is only the garb in which the important struggles take place.
Nimue Or the songs they sing.
Merlin Same thing. Fashion may provide the form of symbolic representation.
Nimue But this is not all that we want of men. What we care about is how well they perform in the tournament, the spirit they show and the fineness of their figures.
Merlin The male does not live for the purpose of amusing the female. Always he has to make sense of the experience of his own generation. This is the how universal issues become apparent and under which he may attack them.
Nimue And what then of us?
Merlin Are you still asking about women?
Merlin Woman is man’s cause for a large part of the time. When young men are together, they talk about women.
Nimue Not always nicely, I fear.
Merlin I have learnt much from women, from the strange things that go about in their heads. I treat their words as oracles. They can be read like the flights of birds and the entrails of animals.
Nimue That is insulting.
Merlin Yes it was. I’m sorry. But when there is a current of mutual attraction, the words that issue forth from a woman’s mouth may be truly divine.
Nimue In some ways you can be very stupid for such a clever man.
Merlin How do you mean?
Nimue Should I even tell you? You are easily deceived.
Merlin We are creating the esoteric background, the living soul of our future civilisation. The court of the king is human society. The knight-errant is the need for achievement, for deeds. This need is all tied to the search for a sexual ideal. The grail symbolism is the physical aspects of sexuality. Free pure sex.
Nimue Many of your knights give way to madness and despair.
Merlin (correcting her) Our knights. They are yours as well. Despair, doubt and madness are part of all human experience. It is the same with battle and war and fighting monsters. For the large part sex has to play in life it is not presented as the whole end.
Nimue Is the whole end attainable?
Merlin The grail quest includes the whole world of ideas, those to come as well as those that have been. Ideas are archetypes, the infinite possibilities. Living for an idea instead of simply for appetite opens up worlds of delight that would otherwise be closed to you.
Nimue But you told me it’s all about sex?
Merlin That among other things.
Nimue I see.
Merlin I’m sure you don’t. Also, all we have established is very precarious. Nothing lasts. The rule is that fulfilment can only be reached with the material given by this immediate moment.
Nimue What is the sign it has been reached?
Nimue Visions of beauty?
Merlin Beauty as overcoming. Aside from visions and raptures as justification, there are the frozen tired formulae of orthodox optimism. When the pressure of this is understood as the essence of ugliness, overcoming it is to know beauty. (With emphasis) Even the beauty of a girl like you.
Merlin I meant including. And I am sure you would make a wonderful oracle.
Nimue (warily) All very interesting, and I’d like to hear more, but now I must leave you.
Merlin Have I upset you?
Nimue No, but I need to meet Pelleas.
Merlin When shall we meet again?
Nimue I don’t know. I have to go and visit my father.
Merlin Are you close to your father?
Nimue We don’t get on well these days. After my mother died, he married again, and I’m not happy with his choice.
Merlin Is she a wicked stepmother?
Nimue I don’t like her at all. But his health is bad and I need to see him in case he dies. The journey is long and perilous.
Merlin I can come with you.
Nimue It is over the sea.
Merlin I can teach you as we travel.
Nimue Pelleas would not be pleased.
Merlin You need not tell him that I shall be with you.
Nimue I shall think upon it.
Merlin. I hope to see you again.
Nimue Me too. I look forward to it. But now I must go.
Merlin Goodbye Nimue.
Nimue Bye for now.
Merlin and Arthur. Merlin is calmer than he was in the first scene.
Merlin I have been introspecting.
Arthur What do you mean?
l Merlin Looking deep into myself and reflecting back over the past year.
Arthur What have you seen?
Merlin I compared what happened with what might have been. I found I did not regret failing to bed Philomela, Margaret, or one like them. I could honestly say it was better just to have fallen in love with Nimue. I have been stirred up into a productive and enjoyable emotional state.
Arthur Have you got over your anxiety?
Merlin I am still fearful that something might happen that could make the whole thing disappear.
Arthur What thing? What have you got to lose?
Merlin You may think I have got nothing but tormenting hope. But lying in bed last night, I concluded that the year has not ended badly. Even if nothing goes further, to have had these emotions stirred up like this is still a great blessing. Simply to converse with a beautiful young damsel so ardently desired is itself a piece of great good fortune.
Arthur So you are content with what you have got?
Merlin Of course not, but there will be more. If nothing else, perhaps I could make a friend of her.
Arthur What do you fear then?
Merlin What I told you I have is not so solid that words could not destroy it.
Arthur Have you changed your mind then about not caring what she thinks of you?
Merlin Did I say I didn’t care? I have never cared so much about what someone thinks of me.
Arthur Have you changed then?
Merlin I change from hour to hour. Whenever I reach a new stage, I fear nothing might come of it.
Arthur Have you no faith in yourself?
Merlin The thought has occurred to me that old men enjoy the company of young women. Perhaps that is all it is.
Arthur You are not yet an old man.
Merlin I am as old as her father.
Arthur How old is she then?
Merlin She’s twenty three. Twenty one years younger than me.
Arthur Have there been any new developments?
Merlin Yes. Brisane has told me it is time to make a move. I am going to do so, even though I foresee it will mean my own death.
Arthur What will you do, what will you say?
Merlin I can’t quite be sure. I shall probably be drunk.
Arthur So you are going to make your creepy pass?
Merlin It doesn’t have to be creepy. I shall be healthy and direct.
Arthur What do you expect her response to be?
Merlin She will refuse me, of course. But then I shall try something else.
Arthur What can you do?
Merlin I may have to teach her.
Arthur Don’t you do that already? Teach her what?
Merlin My magic.
Arthur You’re not going to do that surely?
Merlin I may have to.
Arthur How much of it?
Merlin As much of it as necessary. But it will be worth it.
Arthur (thoughtfully) I suppose you can take her on as an apprentice. One day you will have to pass on what you have learned. You could do with pupils. Perhaps it is not such a bad idea. She is a very clever girl.
Merlin It will mean my own death.
Arthur The little death.
Merlin Hopefully that too, but also the big one.
Arthur Don’t be silly.
Merlin I’m not.
Arthur You’re joking.
Merlin I was never more serious.
Arthur I can’t take this in.
Merlin I mean I am going to do this and it will mean my death. I shall not be around for much longer. I shall soon be dead.
Arthur You jest.
Merlin I have never been more serious.
Arthur If you mean what you say, you are upsetting me.
Merlin I have determined upon this course.
Arthur But you never make choices, you say.
Merlin That is true. I do what I have to do.
Arthur Why do you have to be so passive?
Merlin It is destiny.
Arthur (angry) Now I am getting angry. I know, Merlin, you sometimes talk rot, but this is the limit. Have I been trusting my fate to an abject coward?
Merlin Coward? I don’t understand what you are getting at.
Arthur Don’t you have a will of your own? What has happened to you? Or were you always like this deep down? I take back what I said earlier. You are indeed a foolish old man.
Merlin Why are you so angry, Sire? You know my view of life. I have never hidden it from you.
Arthur Of course you make choices, everybody does.
Merlin I cannot change what I foresee. If I could it would not be foreknowledge.
Arthur A lot of people respect you, take you for their guide. What would they think of this?
Merlin If people fail to understand me, that is not my concern.
Arthur You don’t make any sense. First you say how happy you are, then you tell me you are gong to die.
Merlin It’s my prophetic power. I live my life much as other men do, but I can see some way into the future. There is a disjunction.
Arthur You must know how much you have meant to me. You have been my guide for the whole of my life. You are more than a father to me. How am I supposed to feel about your killing yourself?
Merlin I am the same as I ever was. And I’m not killing myself.
Arthur You have turned into the slave of a woman.
Merlin This is how I am using my freedom.
Arthur Now I feel only confusion. What is there to believe in? What is wisdom worth?
Merlin All wisdom comes from folly.
Arthur What does that mean? It’s rubbish. What will become of us with you no longer here to guide the kingdom?
Merlin. You yourself will live for a few more years. Then your enemy will slay you. After that, the kingdom will perish.
Arthur (calmer) You may as well teach her everything you know.
Merlin I may have to do so. But why do you say that?
Arthur Then she may be able to do something for us.
Merlin I cannot teach her to redraw fate.
Arthur Can you not find some clever boy to instruct? Someone with the genius and resourcefulness to save us?
Merlin What is to come is written. It is entirely clear. After your own passing, the immediate future is heathen barbarism.
Arthur Is it not to be resisted?
Merlin No more than any man can resist the changes of the seasons.
Arthur I don’t have to believe that.
Merlin No, you don’t. It is true nonetheless.
Arthur Has all this been in vain?
Merlin Whose life is not vain? Even the best one ends in death. All things must pass. The young grow old if they are lucky, and then they die.
Arthur Shall I be remembered?
Merlin Yes you shall, and so shall I. But for now, I am hoping to go on a journey with Nimue to her father’s country. Whether I shall reach it or how soon I shall return I cannot tell.
(Merlin bows and takes his leave)
Merlin is travelling with Nimue.
He has been telling of his desire.
Nimue But I am not attracted to older men.
Merlin That’s all right.
Nimue Unless they are very, very rich. Richer than you.
Merlin No matter. It’s all right. I accept it.
Nimue Maybe if you were young like me it would be different.
Merlin That’s nice to know, but it doesn’t help me much.
Nimue But you’ve got Gwendolena, and I’ve got Sir Pelleas.
Merlin I was thinking we could have an affair. That’s what people do here. It’s the custom of the court. Even the Queen does it.
Nimue And I don’t go around telling people I would like to go to bed with them.
Merlin Girls don’t need to do that.
Nimue We restrain ourselves.
Merlin I see I may have offended against some new custom.
Nimue It’s not the way to behave.
Merlin So you say. Did I surprise you?
Nimue Not really.
Merlin Times change so much it impossible to keep up. It doesn’t matter.
Nimue You must understand I see you because you have something I want.
Merlin Of course I know that. I can’t help it though.
Nimue If you carry on with this, I may have to stop seeing you.
Merlin That’s up to you. I won’t carry on. I accept what you say. I shall not mention it again.
Merlin Please don’t think I have been having crude fantasies about you. I haven’t.
Nimue I don’t care about that.
Nimue I will only lay with you if you teach me all your magic.
Merlin Do you really mean that?
Nimue That’s what I said.
Merlin So that may be what I have to do.
Nimue All of it.
Merlin As you wish.
Nimue So let’s get started now.
Merlin It’s not that simple.
Nimue Start off by teaching me a trick or two.
Merlin It doesn’t work like that. If you want to work magic, you will need a lot of background. Behind my magic lies my wisdom. I will need to explain to you about that.
Nimue I foresee some problems.
Merlin What problems?
Nimue People say you are not even a Christian really. Your father was a devil. How can there be wisdom that is not Christian?
Merlin I am Christian enough. I serve a Christian king in a Christian land.
Nimue But I hear you have not even been baptised.
Merlin That’s an unimportant detail. You need to learn and understand how wisdom comes. First, I must teach you the basis of that. The beginnings of my wisdom have little to do with our religion. It was formed out of all the hints I picked up from wise men and from reading. There are fragments from many faiths. I have also had visions.
Nimue True visions?
Merlin That is not the point. Visions don’t have to come from what it true or even good. My wisdom is something I create.
Nimue I have been speaking with some of the local hermits. They have visions.
Nimue They tell me only theirs are the true visions.
Nimue Isn’t the true the good?
Merlin What is truth, what is good?
Nimue Good is God.
Merlin My wisdom doesn’t come from God, it doesn’t start from God.
Nimue Then it must be from the Devil.
Merlin That’s not how I would put it. It starts off as power. That is the wisdom I give to the kingdom. The truth is what I make of it, what I devise. I don’t know about God.
Nimue But if it doesn’t come from God, how can it be true?
Merlin That is for later. I prove it when challenged.
Nimue How much of what you devise is just you?
Merlin All this is from me, the round table, Arthur, the code, the whole court.
Nimue. But if all this is not from God, how can we believe it, why should we trust it?
Merlin Why should you need to think it comes from God?
Nimue Where does it come from then?
Merlin It’s not top down, it’s bottom up. As I told you, it comes from me.
Nimue So, can you teach me so it can come from me?
Merlin That will take time.
Nimue How long do you need?
Merlin For you to know as much as I do would take twenty years.
Nimue Twenty years!
Merlin But I can teach you a method so you learn on your own.
Nimue How long would that take?
Merlin Maybe a year or two if we just meet like this.
Nimue That is still a long time.
Merlin No more than few weeks if I accompany you on your journey to your father.
Nimue But if you come with me, you must swear you will use no violence upon me.
Merlin I am very offended you should think I might. I feel hurt you should see me like that.
Nimue But you have made clear what you want.
Merlin I will not take it by force.
Nimue Will you swear to that?
Merlin I swear I’ll use no violence if that makes it better for you.
Nimue Nor use magic to take my maidenhead.
Merlin How can any man take a maidenhead except by magic? Nevertheless, I swear that too.
Nimue By what do you swear? How can I trust you?
Merlin I am a man of honour. Do you want me to swear like a hermit?
Nimue Do they swear? I’ve never heard them. What have you got against them?
Merlin I’m not against them. They have a wisdom of their own.
Nimue Is yours anything like theirs?
Merlin They will fit my wisdom into their own Christian beliefs. I accept those beliefs of theirs. I do not deny them.
Nimue How do you connect with them?
Merlin There is mysticism and there is magic. They are mystics, I am a magician. They contemplate, I act. We need not clash. Theirs is the pathway to God and they tell us what God is. Mine is the province of magic, an art and a power.
Nimue You may travel with me. I want you to teach me.
Merlin I will do so. So long as you swear that if I do you will let me take you to bed.
Nimue That I swear.
Merlin By Almighty God?
Merlin Say it.
Nimue By Almighty God.
Nimue I swear by Almighty God that if you teach me all your magic, I will allow you to fuck me.
Merlin That’s my girl. Now we can get going. Now we may proceed with the first lesson…
Nimue and Arthur.
Arthur Welcome back Nimue. I am very glad to see you. But do you know what has happened to Merlin? Did he return with you?
Nimue Merlin has gone.
Nimue Away forever.
Arthur I am deeply sorry to hear that. How did it happen?
Nimue I have enthralled him.
Arthur I know you have. He couldn’t stop talking about you. He was completely besotted.
Nimue You misunderstand me. I mean literally. I have got rid of him. He is dead, or as good as.
Arthur Why did you do that?
Nimue I was tired of his importunities.
Arthur How did you do it?
Nimue I put him in a mist in a charmed wood. No one can see or hear him. Mayhap he will live forever like that. Perchance he is already dead.
Arthur Surely he can use his magic to escape?
Nimue It’s what he taught me. I used his most powerful spell. Obviously he’s not all wise. He doesn’t know everything.
Arthur He loves you.
Nimue Is that what you call it? He doted on me. I didn’t trust him anymore.
Arthur Why not?
Nimue I used to see him as a friend. I suspected his wicked desires, but I didn’t think he would dare to confess them. Then he tried it on.
Arthur It’s only natural surely?
Nimue It’s happened before. It seems to be the way with my teachers.
Arthur There’s something about you, obviously.
Nimue It’s the face God gave me. I can’t help being beautiful.
Arthur I knew you were vain. There is also much cruelty in you. You look so sweet, but I have heard much talk of how you like to control men. You tease Sir Pelleas till you drive him mad with jealousy, and you were enjoying poor Merlin’s torment.
Nimue You could be right about that. It’s because I’m an only child. I learned how to get my way with my father.
Arthur Do you control him, too?
Nimue Not now, that has been part of the trouble. He has got away from my influence. After my mother died a few months ago, he married again, sorely against my wishes. Now he is far away, over the sea. It is a long journey. I don’t know if I shall make it again.
Arthur Is it your place to tell your father what to do?
Nimue I don’t care what my place is supposed to be. But now I will be able to put it right.
Arthur What do you mean?
Nimue Now I am powerful in magic. I can kill her.
Arthur Your stepmother? Murder is a frightful sin.
Nimue I used to be afraid of sin. Now I am coming to think of guilt as a very interesting condition.
Arthur That’s what they call pregnancy.
Nimue Yes, it’s very like that.
Arthur You could be damned to Hell.
Nimue I used to fear Hell. I thought nothing could be worse than to know myself to be a murderess. When I was a little girl, I promised to myself that was one temptation I must never give in to, whatever else I did in my life.
Arthur And have you?
Nimue It looks like it. What do you think? What have I done to Merlin?
Arthur You know more about it than I do. Do you feel guilty about it?
Nimue Now I am become a grown woman, I can put away childish fears. I don’t use the word ‘wicked’ anymore. Yes, I feel some guilt, but as I told you, guilt is interesting. Forgiveness is possible. I might be forgiven one day. I see it as a puzzle to be solved. My curiosity has been pricked. It’s a challenge.
Arthur You must restore him to life.
Nimue I wouldn’t even if I could.
Arthur But you spoke of forgiveness?
Nimue I shall try for forgiveness when I’m sure he is dead.
Arthur Do you feel that he wronged you?
Nimue He would have done if he got half a chance.
Arthur And can you forgive him?
Nimue It is too early. I was tired of him.
Arthur Was he groping you?
Nimue He didn’t dare to touch me, much as he would have liked to. Sometimes I would let my hair brush lightly against his hand, as if by accident.
Arthur And did he react?
Nimue I was conscious of his excitement. Silly old fool.
Arthur But what hope is there for us now? Who can advise us? Where is there to be found such learning?
Nimue You need fear nothing. He has taught me all his lore. You must employ me.
Arthur He used to talk to me about his love for you. Brisane was his real confidante.
Nimue No, she wasn’t. He misled you about that.
Arthur How do you mean?
Nimue He didn’t want to tell you that his confidante was your own queen, well-practised in unconventional affairs of the heart.
Arthur My queen fell in love with the greatest hero among my knights. I can readily forgive him as I forgive her. Her feeling is understandable. I am only the king.
Nimue Is it not passing brave to be a king?
Arthur Men think it is the best thing in the world. What more might a man want? I have what anyone might desire. I have my court, my power, nor do I lack sons and daughters. My society is organised around me. What could any man want more than that? But you are a woman.
Nimue You are you and I am I.
Arthur When I was a boy and did not know who my father was, I once heard a drunken prophecy- or was it only a desire?- that I should go right to the top. For a man to go right to the top, what is that? It means to be a king, to have a court, able to defy anyone who would set himself above him.
Nimue And you did get there.
Arthur Did I? I’m not sure if I have reached the highest peak.
Nimue Was Merlin above you?
Arthur I thought he was. But then you came along.
Nimue How much did you owe to him?
Arthur It was Merlin who aided my father in his lust for my mother. To him I owe my existence. (Silence)
And now you have silenced the greatest mind in the realm. For all I know, maybe the greatest in the world. We shall never see his like again. You may have his magic, but we shall desperately miss his wisdom.
Nimue I have my own. Girl wisdom. Now you can have that.
Arthur All respect to you but…
Nimue Now I have learned the secret that wisdom is nothing but power.
Arthur Merlin told me everything shall collapse in a few years.
Nimue He was lying. Everything is possible. Long may the might of Avalon endure.
Arthur I wish I could say amen to that.
Nimue You may.
Arthur Would I could share your faith. But for now we’ll just have to go with your girl power, for good or ill.