Below is the first chapter of my novel, The 13 Treasures of Britain. It’s the first draft, meaning it has not been revised. I am currently undecided about whether I like the dialogue opening or not. My biggest worry is that it’s confusing (since there are no “saids”), but I kinda like the suspense of not knowing exactly who is talking at first. It makes the Merlin bolted upright in his sleeping bower a little bit more dramatic and hopefully surprising. However, the dialogue opening doesn’t give the reader any sense of the setting, and I know that can be annoying. I’m still not sure whether to keep this opening or revise it.
“How long have I been asleep?”
“About 150 years.”
“Yes. It’s the 21st century.”
Merlin bolted upright in his sleeping bower. “The 21st century? Are you sure?” He was frantic. He threw off the silk blanket and jumped to his feet. “I have to go.” He rubbed his chin and noticed it was smooth. No beard? he thought. That’s interesting.
“That’s not happening, dear,” said Nimue, the beautiful nymph who had kept Merlin captive since the 5th century. “I won’t permit it.” She reached out a willowy white hand and stroked the small of his naked back.
“As if you have a choice,” Merlin said, who had already left her bedside and began searching the underwater lair for his legendary oaken staff. There was junk everywhere — magic fabrics, orbs and pendants, wooden chests, feathered hats, piles of tribal masks, cloaks, brass pots, a black cauldron or two, stone tablets, books, scrolls, parchments, maps, a red unicycle — but the staff was nowhere to be found. “How can a man find anything with all your useless junk lying around!” he grumbled.
“It’s your junk, actually,” Nimue replied. The dark-haired sorceress sat down on a stool near the fire pit and pouted. Her green eyes were practically electric when she was mad and the firelight only made them hotter. Merlin couldn’t help but notice. Somehow, being angry made the nymph even more attractive. “If you recall,” she continued, trying to ignore his glance, “you threw a tantrum when I first captured you, claiming you couldn’t stay imprisoned with me for eternity unless you had all your stuff too. So if it’s anyone’s fault for the ‘useless junk,’ I suggest you take a look in the mirror.”
“I’ll be looking in the mirror in a minute, my love,” said Merlin as he struggled to make his way through a sea of scrolls.
“I won’t let you leave,” Nimue said. “You are my prisoner for the rest of time.”
Merlin stopped his trudge through the junk and turned to face her. “Don’t you realize, Nimue, that your imprisonment of me was only possible because I allowed it? Do you really think your powers could have kept me against my will for so long? I am Merlin, the ancient one, the greatest of enchanters, the supreme wizard. I hardly think a simple wood nymph like yourself would have the magics necessary to keep me prisoner. I wanted to be kept by you so I allowed you to keep me. That’s the long and the short of it. I could’ve left at any time; I just didn’t choose to until now.”
“You lie!” Nimue raged. “You were always a blowhard, but now you expect me to believe that you — the Great Merlin — wanted to be imprisoned for sixteen hundred years? No contact with the outside world, no chance to affect the lives of your precious humans, no great journeys or quests or whatever it is you were always doing back in Arthur’s day? You can pretend it was your choice to stay, but I know the truth. You are my prisoner, and I will not give you up!”
“What can I say? You’re gorgeous. What man wouldn’t want to spend eternity in your bed?”
A clay pot went whizzing past Merlin’s head. He ducked just in time, and it shattered against the earthen wall. Merlin sighed. It was no use trying to convince her. He went back to diving through the scrolls, still desperately searching for his magic staff. At last, he emerged with the wizened wood in his hand.
“Hello, old friend,” he said to the oaken staff. Then he turned to Nimue. “Now where is your mirror?”
The nymph wouldn’t answer.
“Fine. If you want to be bitter about the whole thing,” Merlin said, “I’ll oblige.” He gripped his staff and pounded it three times on the floor. Nimue’s lair began to rattle, as if a minor earthquake were rolling through. The piles of pots and books and parchments began to shake as well, lifting off the floor, until a small round mirror flew out from beneath an iron cauldron. While holding all of his possessions in frozen suspension, Merlin used his magic to draw the mirror closer. Glass, of course, is the material used to travel between the worlds.
His second sight saw it before his waking eyes did. Nimue’s enchanted breath snaked from her lips and began to swirl around him. It was a binding spell, the same she had used to capture him in the legendary time of Arthur’s first reign.
“I told you, Nimue,” he said. “It’s no use.” Merlin used his staff to disperse the binding spell, and the enchanted breath floated into nothingness. Nimue shrieked, and in her rage, unsheathed a bone-hilted knife that had been left near their sleeping bower. She lunged at the wizard, but again he waved his staff and the knife turned into a spoon.
“Aargh!” she cried. “I refuse to believe it! You cannot leave!”
“I’ll send for my things later,” Merlin said calmly. “Take good care of it all.”
“I plan to burn every last trinket once you’re gone.”
“You can try.” Then Merlin turned to the small, round mirror with a frame made of black pearl. “I’ve gotten young,” he said, noticing in his reflection a young man he did not recognize. His jaw was smooth, not a hair in sight, while his skin, his eyes, and his complexion were all that of a man in the prime of life. Gone were the white beard and the weary eyes. “No wonder you wanted to keep me around for so long,” he said to Nimue, who ignored him. “I’m gorgeous.”
He spoke the words of travel. The mirror expanded to the size of Merlin himself — and without even a glance back at the companion with whom he had spent more than a millennium — the wizard stepped through the glass and disappeared. The mirror disappeared as well, leaving a small, crisp note in its place. The note floated down onto the ground of Nimue’s lair and the nymph reached to pick it up. The words were seared into the paper as if they had been branded there with a flame.
She read it: Please forward any of my mail to the Glass Palace. Love, Merlin XOXOXO. A cry of rage accompanied the tearing of the note; Nimue slumped to the ground with the littered pieces of the paper scattered around her.
She exhaled. “What’s so important about the 21st century anyway?”