“Now, boy,” said Merlin, addressing Arthur. “You can’t get by without a decent education, you know.”

“Oh, I suppose not sir,” stammered Arthur, trying to examine the sugarbowl, which indignantly whacked at his fingers with a teaspoon. “I mean, Merlin.”

“Sugar!” Belle reprimanded the bowl, which hopped away in a huff.

“So, I am going to be your tutor,” Merlin explained, opening one of his books.

“But I’ve got to get back to the castle,” Arthur said, quickly taking another biscuit for the road and getting to his feet. “They’ll want me in the kitchens.”

“Oh, very well, then!” Merlin replied in a jovial tone. “We’ll pack and be on our way then!”

As he snatched the old carpet bag from the table, Belle turned to Arthur. “Wait, you’ll like this!”

Merlin jumped on top of the stool and waved his stick/wand. “Higgitus figgitus zumba kazing; I want your attention, everything!”

A lot of inanimate objects on the table turned as if to look at him, causing Arthur to start. Belle smiled. “Don’t worry, you get used to it.”

“We’re packing to leave,” Merlin explained to the room. “Come on, let’s go. No, no, not you,” he added to the sugarbowl, which had begun to hop towards him, “Books are always first, you know!”

One by one, all the objects in the room began to float towards the bag. As they reached it, they shrank small enough to fit inside it. “Hockety pockety wockety whack,” Merlin said.

“Oh, good heavens!” puffed Archimedes who had been sitting on some of the books and been knocked from his perch as they moved.

The sugarbowl flew up with the tea set, leaving its lid and spoon behind. When Arthur picked them up, however, the sugarbowl shot back and snatched them back with indignance before fighting its way to the front of the cue, whacking the teapot with its spoon as it did so. “Stop, stop, stop!” Merlin commanded, shaking his stick/wand at it. “See here, sugarboy, you’re getting rough! That old tea set is cracked enough!” The sugarbowl elbowed the teapot again in response.

“Ah...” Merlin had lost his place and scratched his head. “Where was I, Belle, my girl, do you remember?”

She rolled her eyes, but smiled. “Hockety pockety, Uncle Merlin.”

“Oh, yes, hockety pockety wockety whack, odds and ends and bric-a-brac...”

“Hmph!” said Archimedes, retreating into his house, but that was shrinking too and he had to fight to get free of the thing. “You bumbling blockhead!” he scolded Merlin, angrily.

“Higgitus figgitus miggitus moom, prestadatatonium!” Merlin finally finished as the last thing to be packed was the stool he was standing on and the cottage was emptied of all furnishings. “Ha-ha!” he said, triumphantly.

“What a way to pack!” exclaimed Arthur in awe.

“Yes,” Merlin agreed. “Well, now, just a moment, boy, how else would you get all this stuff into one suitcase?”

“Oh, but I think it’s wonderful!”

“Magic is wonderful,” Belle agreed.

“But don’t go getting any ideas that it’ll solve all your problems,” Merlin told Arthur, sternly. “Because it won’t.”

“But I don’t have any problems,” Arthur insisted.

They were outside the house by this stage, Archimedes too, ready to leave. “Nonsense,” snapped Merlin, “the world is full of problems!” He slammed the door, as if to make a point, on his beard. “Oh, there, you see!” he snapped, tugging himself free, only for his beard to wrap itself around his stick/wand.

“Do you need help?” Belle began but then Merlin pulled himself free, only for his beard to bush up like dandelion fluff. Belle and Arthur couldn’t help laughing. Flustered and frustrated, Merlin patted his beard down and fixed them with a stern look that silenced them.

“That’s the trouble with the world today! Everybody butting their heads against a brick wall,” Merlin muttered, striding off.

“Here he goes again,” Belle murmured, and then when Arthur looked at her, questioningly, she explained. “He’s off on another rant. Ignore him, that’s just his grumpy way. Come on.”

They followed Merlin. “All muscle and no mentality! Do you want to be all muscle and no brain?” he asked Arthur.

“I don’t have any muscle.”

“No? How do you move about, then?”

“Well, I suppose I do have a little.”

“Ha! Well, that’s enough, then!” Merlin snapped.

Belle glanced around. They were coming out of the deepest parts of the forest now. Merlin was quite literally striding along so that she and Arthur were having to jog to keep up with him. “Now, develop your brain, wisdom, knowledge, they’re the real power!” Merlin carried on. “Higher learning! That’s the thing!”

Belle followed Merlin and Arthur as they both leapt over a crevice in the land. They were outside the forest by this time, and she had a funny feeling that Merlin had no idea where they were going. Still, she knew better than to criticise him; it was best to let him realise he had made a mistake by himself.

“So, first thing tomorrow morning, we’ll start a full schedule,” Merlin decided, skiing down a slope towards the stream. Archimedes, who was perched on his hat, looked like he was surfing as they went, Belle reflected. “Eight hours a day.”

“Eight hours?” Belle repeated. “Merlin, that’s more brutal than the schedule you used to put me on when you were home schooling me!”

Merlin waved away her comment as he water skied across the stream. Belle followed him in much the same manner. She learned a lot from watching Merlin every day. “Six hours of schooling and two for study period.”

“But I won’t have the time,” Arthur said, slipping, sliding and eventually skimming like a pebble across the stream. “I have page duties.”

“Pah! Page duties. Pah!” was Merlin’s only comment.

Belle rolled her eyes and helped Arthur to his feet. “As I said, ignore him. He’ll cool off eventually.”

They climbed the slope the other side, although it was rather a dangerous climb, given the amount of loose rocks that could fall at any minute. “How do you ever expect to amount to anything without a decent education?” Merlin demanded. “Even in these backward medieval times you have got to know where you’re going! Don’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” Arthur stammered, panting as they tried to keep up.

“Yes, of course,” Merlin agreed, as they reached the top of the hill, “So you must plan for the future, boy! You’ve got to find a direction! And, er,” he looked all around the landscape and turned to Arthur. “Now, by the by, what direction is this castle of yours?”

“I think it’s North,” replied Arthur, pointing. “The other way.”

Belle clapped a hand to her forehead with a smile. “Uncle Merlin!”

Merlin muttered something under his breath and then, in an authoritive tone, he waved his stick/wand and said “Well, we’ve got to get a move on! Come on, lad, Belle, pick up the pace, pick it up, pick it up!”

The trio slid back down the hill to begin their journey again, it seemed. Belle smiled to herself. Arthur seemed keen and willing to learn, even if circumstances did prevent him from being tutored, or rather, kept Merlin from giving him the eight hour schedule he wanted to. He was like a little grasshopper, in the way he moved. Scrawny and skinny, maybe, but also playful and imaginative. In a way, he reminded her of a younger version of herself.

“Who owns this castle we’re going to, anyway?” she asked him. Merlin was striding ahead again, so she fell into step behind Arthur. He was going more at her pace.

“Sir Ector,” replied Arthur. Belle had heard of him, of course. “He looks after me.”

“You mean he adopted you?”

“Sort of.” Arthur shrugged. “I’m an orphan and he took me in.”

Belle gave his shoulder a pat. “I know the feeling. My parents died when I was about three and Merlin took me in. Did you say you were training to be a squire?”

“Yeah, to Kay, my foster brother.”

“Is he a knight?”

“Not yet, but he hopes to be someday.” Arthur grinned, dreamily. “I wish I could be a knight someday too.”

Belle smiled. “First you’d better let Merlin teach you a thing or two about knowledge and wisdom before you go knocking men off horses, Arthur.”
“Wait, you’ll like this!”
“Do you need help?”
“Higher learning! That’s the thing!”