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CONTENTS

Cover

About the Book

Title Page

Dedication

1. Death of a Unicorn

2. Famine in Camelot

3. Sand and Sorcery

4. The Grain Thief

5. Mercy Rewarded

6. Words Can Never Hurt You

7. Condemned

8. The Labyrinth of Gedref

9. The Riddle of the Goblets

10. Another Hunt

11. A Dream Come True

12. One Last Chance

13. Goodbye to Everything

14. An Old Enemy

15. Life and Death

16. Paying the Price

17. A Return to the Isle

18. Restoring the Balance

Also Available

Copyright

About the Book

When Arthur kills a unicorn, Merlin knows that terrible consequences lie in store for Camelot and its people.

And things are set to get worse. After a hunting trip in the forest, Arthur is fatally attacked by a savage beast. As the crowned prince lies dying, Gauis knows that dark magic is at work and Merlin is the only one who can save him – but at what cost . . .?

Bringing the magic to life with exciting graphic novel illustrations!

MERLIN

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With grateful thanks to

Johnny Capps, Julian Murphy,

Polly Buckle, Rachel Knight, Sarah Dollard,

Jamie Munro, Pindy O’Brien, Filiz Tosun,

Anna Nettle and Rebecca Morris

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CHAPTER ONE

DEATH OF A UNICORN

MERLIN CREPT THROUGH the forest, trying not to make a sound. Sunlight pierced the canopy of leaves above him, and under other circumstances he would have taken pleasure in such a peaceful woodland walk. But not today. Ahead of him were three armed knights, and they were planning a kill.

The leader of the procession was Arthur, prince of Camelot, and the man whom Merlin had to protect at all costs. Not that Arthur had any idea of this. Although Arthur and Merlin had become good friends since Merlin came to Camelot, the prince still believed that Merlin was just his manservant. Because magic was outlawed by order of King Uther, Merlin couldn’t tell Arthur that he was really a warlock, charged with protecting the prince and making sure that he would one day become king.

Merlin thought his job would be a lot easier if Arthur didn’t keep going out to look for dangerous wild beasts to confront.

The danger wasn’t his only issue with the hunt, though. He just didn’t understand it. In the little village where he’d grown up, men would go out and trap animals for food. In lean times, it was a choice between that and starvation. But the Crown Prince of Camelot sat down to a banquet every night – he had no need to hunt. This was just sport to him, the challenge of his wits against the beast’s. And the prize for the loser – because the beast was always the loser – was death. Taking the life of a feeling, thinking creature for fun? Merlin couldn’t see how it could ever be right. Yet he knew that Arthur was a good man. It was very confusing.

What made it worse was that, as Arthur’s servant, Merlin had to participate in the hunt. He didn’t carry a weapon, of course, but it was his job to disturb the hiding creatures, get them out into the open so that Arthur could take a shot with his crossbow.

And Arthur had just spotted something. ‘Merlin!’ he hissed.

Merlin came forward. He followed the prince’s gaze, and saw that there was something white moving among the trees ahead. He couldn’t tell what sort of animal it was, though.

The two other knights, Alymere and Gaheris, moved off, aiming to surround the beast. Wherever it fled, a crossbow bolt would be waiting for it. Now Merlin had to go and flush it out.

The young warlock stole through the undergrowth, unhappy with his task. He didn’t want to help Arthur kill something, and he definitely didn’t want to come face to face with a ferocious beast. There could be anything waiting for him up ahead! A boar, a wolf, a giant stag . . .

But of all the animals that passed through Merlin’s mind, he never thought of this one.

The trees suddenly gave way to a clearing, and there, in the middle of it, was the most beautiful creature Merlin had ever seen. A horse of purest white, with a single shining horn pushing through its snowy mane. A Unicorn.

It wasn’t just the Unicorn’s beauty that captivated the warlock. He sensed something in it – something he recognized. Magic. This amazing animal was his kin.

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And Arthur was going to kill it!

‘Go!’ he urged it. ‘Please – run. They’re going to kill you . . .’

A footfall from outside the clearing. Merlin looked up to see Arthur calmly and deliberately raising his crossbow.

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‘Go!’ he pleaded with the Unicorn, but it didn’t move. Arthur’s finger was on the trigger.

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‘No!’ Merlin shouted, but the prince had never taken orders from his servant before and he wasn’t about to start now.

A swish and a thud as the bolt soared through the air and hit its target. The Unicorn whinnied in distress and fell to the ground. Merlin dropped down beside it, stroking its neck, willing it to keep breathing. But beneath his hands, the animal suddenly became still.

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A delighted laugh intruded on Merlin’s grief. Arthur was overjoyed at the fine prize he had taken. ‘Ha! A Unicorn!’ he cried happily.

Alymere and Gaheris were coming up behind the prince – and as Merlin turned, he saw a third figure too. Another man. But this was no knight. It was an old man with a staff in his hand, and hair and robes as white as the Unicorn now lying at Merlin’s feet. Even from a distance, Merlin could see the sorrow in his eyes, a reflection of the warlock’s own anguish. But who was he? Where had he come from?

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Arthur spun round to see what Merlin was staring at . . .

But there was nothing there.

Perhaps the Unicorn wasn’t the only magical being in the forest.

‘A Unicorn’s horn to grace the walls of Camelot!’

King Uther looked up as his son entered the council chambers, and a rare smile split his face. ‘Magnificent!’ he cried, plucking the horn from the velvet cushion on which it lay. Courtiers crowded round, eager to catch a glimpse. But Merlin noticed that one of Uther’s companions did not seem so thrilled by the sight. Gaius, court physician and Merlin’s mentor, looked worried and unhappy.

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The king also spotted Gaius’ expression. ‘What is it, Gaius?’ he asked.

‘Unicorns are rare and mystical creatures,’ the physician began carefully – it was risky to speak of magic in front of Uther, who despised it in any form. ‘There is a legend that says bad fortune will come to anyone who slays one.’

‘Nonsense!’ The king laughed dismissively. ‘We will be the envy of every kingdom!’ He clapped a hand on Arthur’s shoulder as his son joined in the laughter.

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Merlin saw how proud Arthur was to have pleased his father. The prince was more used to receiving harsh words and criticisms from the king. He just hoped that this pride wouldn’t come before a fall, because if the legend were true, Arthur might not be laughing for much longer.

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CHAPTER TWO

FAMINE IN CAMELOT

ARTHUR WOKE UP the next morning feeling thoroughly content. He still glowed with the memory of his successful hunt and the praise from his father the day before. Now a delicious smell creeping under the door suggested he had a hearty breakfast to look forward to. It was going to be a good day.

It turned out to be one of the worst days of his life.

Things began to go wrong when Merlin, instead of busying himself with his chores like a good servant should, got all het up again about Arthur killing the Unicorn. That was the trouble with having village boys as servants – they didn’t understand hunting. He’d probably wanted Arthur to bring home the Unicorn as a pet!

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Then he’d discovered there was a rat in his chambers. If Merlin had been doing his job properly, looking after Arthur’s rooms instead of worrying about Unicorns . . .

His disagreement with Merlin paled into insignificance, though, beside what happened later in the day. Following a summons from Uther, Arthur found himself standing next to the king in a cornfield. It was a while before he could make sense of what he was seeing. He’d ridden through this valley the day before on his way to the forest, and the fields had been bright gold and green. Now they were brown and grey.

The king held up an ear of wheat, which crumbled in his hand. There was not a healthy stalk to be seen for miles. All the crops were dead. ‘It happened overnight,’ Uther told his son. ‘We have received reports that it is the same throughout the entire kingdom.’

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‘Is it a disease of some kind?’ Arthur asked.

‘Perhaps,’ Uther said. ‘I have asked the court physician to conduct some tests.’ His face was grim, and no wonder.

As Crown Prince, Arthur had been made to learn all about how the kingdom operated, and he had discovered just how much was required to feed all Camelot’s subjects. He also knew that a constant supply of food was needed – there was rarely enough to allow it to be stored in any great quantities, unless a harvest had been exceptionally generous. And of course a bad harvest could mean the difference between life and death for a village. But this wasn’t just a bad harvest – this was total destruction. If it really was the same everywhere, then Camelot would starve.

This dreadful thought crossed Arthur’s mind as he listened to his father discussing the rationing of what little food they had left. Surely, though, it wouldn’t come to that. Gaius, the court physician, was conducting tests. When he found out what had caused this problem, they would solve it.

Unfortunately, after several hours of experiments, Gaius still had no idea what had made the crops die. What made it worse was that he really wasn’t sure what he was looking for. There were no signs of disease – and anyway, as he explained to the watching Merlin, he’d never heard of a disease that could spread through an entire kingdom in a single night.

‘What could kill plants like this other than a disease?’ Merlin asked.

‘It’s not killing all the plants,’ Gaius told him, tipping the contents of a test tube into a beaker containing a sample of soil. ‘The trees and hedges around the crop fields are unharmed. Unfortunately you can’t eat trees and hedges.’