Teach Me – The Story of Merlin and Nimue
In the forest there stood a glade, in the glade there stood a man. A very old man was he, although his middle-aged appearance belied that fact. His years had been careful spent – in fact ancient would be too short a word to describe him.
Every day he came to this glade, for its existence troubled him. He knew the forest, every path, every track, every tree and every thicket. He loved this forest, what was left of it; for he had spent many years within it, sometimes lost, sometimes there by choice. But always away from the noise, the pollution and the demands that life made on him. Even so, this glade was wrong: All around the trees were evenly spaced and by that spacing the glade spoke of the absence of a tree. Now, the old man reasoned, if a tree had stood there and had been chopped down then a stump would remain. But there was none. If a tree had stood there, and had fallen, then sign of it’s falling would have left some mark upon the surrounding trees. But there was none. Faced with the facts, the old man concluded that he must have stood there once, whilst the trees grew up around him. Although he had no memory of that distant time. And so everyday the old man came to the glade and played his flute, finding peace in solitude…
One day, when his tune was ended, a female voice spoke out, from the darkness of the trees. “That was beautiful. Play me another. It would please me if you did.”
The old man peered into the darkness, straining to see who had spoken. After a moment she appeared, taking a step from behind the nearest tree. As she moved into the glade the sun ignited her hair and the old man’s breath caught.
Oh! And so are you, he thought. Beautiful and young, with your long red hair and mischievous green eyes. The forest is no place for one such as you – the forest is a place for madmen. But his old man’s thoughts were betrayed by his younger man’s body.
“You must know a lot of tunes,” said the girl, “being so old!”
Ah! Youth! Laughed the old man to himself.
“I might know more tunes than you might imagine.” He slyly replied.
“Teach me.” Pleaded the girl. “It would please me if you did.” And her eyes twinkled and invitation that he found impossible to resist.
For a pause he considered before giving his reply, eager to please the girl.
“Very well. One tune only. There would be no harm in that. The least of my tunes.”
Delightedly the girl skipped to him, to stand with her back to him, his arms encircling her, to hold the flute and guide her fingers. So he began to teach…
Standing so close he was aware of her body’s warmth and a scent that came from her hair. The scent of apple blossom, that stirred a distant memory as much as it stirred his body. But the moment was too brief, for the girl proved a fast learner. To soon she moved away from him, turned to fix him with her dazzling emerald gaze.
“The least of your tunes you say? Play me something to impress me. It would please me if you did.”
And eager to please her, eager to show her what he could do, the old man began to play…
As he played the young girl heard the call of the cuckoo in his tune and when he finished she clapped happily, watching the cuckoos of the forest circling overhead.
“I knew you could do more.” She teased. “How did you do that? You can speak the language of the birds? Teach me.” She smiled, melting his heart. “It would please me if you did.”
“I can’t teach you that.” He said, feeling suddenly wary. “But I can tell you this: All things – birds, animals, even people – have their own tune. If you can learn the tune then you can influence the thing.” He knew he was telling her more than he should, but her interest in him was touching. And he wanted to impress her, to please her.
The young girl looked around the small glade and sighed.
“I love the forest in the spring – but I wish it were summer.” She faced him again, gave another long glance “Make it summer for me. It would please me if you did.”
And eagerly, throwing caution to the wind, he began to play…
As his tune carried around the glade the blossom of the trees reached full bloom, fruit and nuts hung from the heavy branches, flowers opened and the brightened sun made the young girl seem even more radiant. She danced a jig around the old man, filling him with joy at seeing her made happy.
“I knew you could do more.” She laughed “How did you do that? You can charm the course of the Sun? Teach me.” She breathed into his ear. “It would please me if you did.”
“I won’t teach you that.” He told her, suddenly cautious. “But I can tell you this: All of nature has it’s own song. If you can learn the song for one season then you can change the song for another.”
The old man stopped himself, before saying any more. But the young girl surprised him. She stepped close and standing on her tiptoes, reached up to kiss him once.
“Thank you.” She said, a strange smile on her lips. “You’ve given me a powerful gift.”
“I’ve given you nothing.” Declared the old man angrily.
“Have you not?” She taunted, as she snatched the flute from his hand.
And she began to play the song of the forest. Every tree had it’s stave, every bird had it’s trill. But in the middle of the tune there was a pause…a silence…an empty space.
The old man marveled at her skill, but an uneasiness was growing within him.
The girl began the tune a second time around but now a discord crept in, a wild capering that slipped between the bars, as a madman might slip between the trees. It started quietly, in the distance, growing louder as she reached the middle of the tune.
She knows me! Thought the old man, suddenly afraid. And I know her!
He would have fled, like he once had; he should have fled, like he once did, but her music held him rooted. The song of binding was irresistible, even for him.
The young girl ended the tune, half way through. She laughed at his obvious panic, saw the realization dawning in his eyes, that she had tricked him.
“Nimue” He breathed.
“Lover.” She sighed. “Stay with me. It would please me if you did.”
And she played a final tune – His tune. The song was full of madness and grief, with brief refrains of peace. But as she played she smoothed the jarring discords, calmed the wildness, made him still. She changed the tune and his heart turned cold, his ancient years passed by and his skin grew wrinkled. The old man cried in his anguish and sap ran from his eyes.
She finished the tune, lowered the flute and looked with satisfaction at the Oak tree that filled the glade.
“Welcome home Merlin.” She said, as she tenderly kissed the bark, where his lips used to be.