Part Twenty-One

This was a novel experienceÖ Staring through eyes that were his, and not his, Merlin blinked. He recognized his lover, though she was much larger than he recalled. It took a moment for the truth to sink in. It wasnít that she was larger, it was that in this incarnation, he was smaller. Her lithe lines still marked her as a dancer, her body more muscular but still quite feminine. They were inside a cave of sorts, though this one hewn by human hands. Its floor was paved with smooth gray stones, its walls graced by practical (if unimaginative) lamps.

"So the map was unfolded and my soul finally made the connection." His voice was a hoarse rasp, and youngÖ very, very young. "How old am I in this life?" he asked, genuinely curious.

"Who are you?" the dark-haired beauty demanded again. She took another step back, her back flattened against the outer wall of his former prison, and he saw defiance behind the fear in her eyes. In this time, his dark little rose was not subservient, heíd bet his life on it. SydneyÖ His modern mind provided a name to go with the lovely face. In this world, she was Sydney.

Her clothing was quite changed from his last recollection, and he frowned. No lady in his day would dress in such an odd fashion. Her mode of dress was a bit provocative, her dark garments so tight that they revealed more than they covered. This wouldnít do. Just how much had his control eroded over the centuries? With his spirit in limbo, had he become a mockery of himself, bumbling and lost, afraid of his own shadow? Perhaps it was so. He was never meant to be a warrior. Were he robbed of his magic, he would be weak and ineffectual, a scholar without power to back up his intellect.

He flicked his fingers toward her and a shower of stars whirled around her, attiring her in a long, rich, smooth gown that skimmed her curves. The spell calculated for a calendar he hadnít yet seen. The soft rose silk was much more tasteful than her fitted leggings and leather vest. It was altogether different and still more revealing than the fashions he recalled, but it would do. The lamplight flickered over her face and figure. Joy surged through him. He was alive again, truly alive, and whole in ways long forgotten.

"Iím still Nigel," he replied as his fingers danced on air, his magic braiding her dark tresses and weaving in a ribbon to match her dress. "Iím also Iím Merlin. Weíre the same soul, separated by a thousand turns in time. Youíre Sydney, and youíre wondering if Iím lying. Iím not. I can tell you every nuance of our moments together, includingÖ" He sighed as the memories flooded through him. "Including the times you sought out other men. It wasnít meant to be, my dear. I know that in this body, you dismiss me." He reached out to caress her face and could see the conflict in her eyes. Her Nigel apparently hadnít expressed his soulís yearnings, and she clearly mistrusted Merlinís strength. "In all the ways I have changed, through all of the centuries, our destinies remain intertwined."

He watched as she pondered the implications. "I donít believe you." Sorrow whispered through the dulcet tones of her voice. "Is he gone?"

"Iím still here, Syd. Itís true. Itís likeÖ" Nigel sought for words. NigelÖ His name was now Nigel. "Itís like I was incomplete before and now the missing piece is restored. I donít know how to explain it so youíll understand. Iím still me." He searched her eyes, saw the rise of confusion and wistful hope. Even as Nigel, he was a friend. He reached out and touched her hand. "Itís Nigel, Syd. You donít have to be afraid. If I scare you, you can still kick my ass."

That bit of trivia brought a tremulous smile to her full lips. "You donít scare me," she declared, the smile going wider. "And I wonít kick your ass unless you pull another trick with a stuffed snake."

He stepped toward her and this time she didnít flinch when he drew her into an embrace. "My lady, you are as lovely as ever, and you are stronger today than when you were Lady of the Lake. It is fitting that you bear witness when I am freed of the prison you set for me."

Go to Part Twenty Two.

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