“We weren’t laughing at you, honestly.”
“I’d give anything to be a knight on a white charger,” said Arthur. It was now late morning and Merlin, Belle and Arthur were strolling alongside the side of the moat that surrounded the castle. Belle had a feeling that whilst the moat didn’t look particularly deep, it probably was. Arthur had a stick in his hand and was pretending it was a sword, slicing at the long blades of grass that tickled their ankles.
Belle grinned and picked up a stick from the grass. “Oh, yes? Well, let’s see how much you know about sword fighting, Sir Arthur.” Then she and Arthur engaged in a quick stick fight which ended with her knocking the stick from Arthur’s hand. Belle laughed, tossed her stick to one side and ruffled his hair. “Better luck next time, Arthur!”
“I wish I could, though,” Arthur said. “Slaying dragons and gryphons and man-eating giants.”
Merlin chuckled. “Well, won’t you?”
“Oh, no. You see, I’m an orphan and a knight has to be of proper birth.” Arthur shrugged. “I just hope I’m worthy enough to be Kay’s squire. That’s a big job too, you know.”
“Oh, yes, I’d say almost impossible,” Merlin chuckled, before turning back to the lesson. “Now, when I said I could swim like a fish, I really meant as a fish.”
“You mean you can turn yourself into a fish?” Arthur exclaimed, crouching down by the side of the moat.
“Of course he can,” Belle smiled. “Among other things.”
“After all, my boy, I am a wizard,” Merlin agreed.
“Could you turn me into a fish?” Arthur asked, excitedly.
“Well, have you any imagination? Can you imagine yourself as a fish?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Arthur said. “I’ve done that lots of times.”
“Oh, well, then I guess my magic will do the rest.” Merlin tapped Arthur on the head with his stick/wand and then hesitated “Oh, um, Archimedes, do you remember that fish formula?”
Archimedes, who had been snoozing on Merlin’s hat, stirred. “Uh? Who?”
“You know, that Latin formula?” Merlin prompted, prodding him.
“Who? Fish? Latin?”
“The one we use to become fish, Archie,” Belle prompted.
“Aquarius, aquaticus, aqualitus,” recited Archimedes, and then he grouchily flew over to the branch of a nearby tree and settled himself down, wings folded. “And now, if you don’t mind, I say good day to the lot of you, if you please.”
“When he stays out all night, he’s always grouchy the next morning,” Merlin explained in a whisper to Arthur.
Arthur giggled. “He must stay out every night!”
The three of them laughed. “Eh?” Archimedes opened one eye. “Who? What, what?”
“Nothing, Archie,” Belle grinned. “We weren’t laughing at you, honestly.”
“Aright, boy, all set, here we go.” Merlin cleared his throat and tapped Arthur again with his stick/wand. “Aquarius, aquaticus, aqualitus, quoom, aquadigiturnioom!”
He punctuated each word with a tap to Arthur’s head, and then, in a swirl of magic and a burst of smoke, a tiny orange perch was jumping up and down on the grass.
“Merlin? Am I a fish? Am I a fish?” Arthur asked.
“Yes, yes, yes, you are a fish,” Merlin said, attempting to catch him. “But if you don’t stop that flippity flopping around and get in the water, you won’t last long.”
“Quickly, Uncle!” Belle cried, worried some bird in the sky might see Arthur wriggling on the ground and snatch him up for lunch.
Merlin finally managed to grab hold of Arthur. “Now, you wait right here in the reeds and we’ll be along in a moment,” he said, and then he dropped Arthur into the moat.
“Will he be ok?” asked Belle. “That moat seems pretty deep.”
“He’ll be fine, now, come on, Belle, you’re next.”
Belle closed her eyes, as she always did when her uncle cast a spell on her. In her lifetime, she had been turned into a rabbit, a wolf, a pig, a red kite, a peacock, a hedgehog, a mouse, a kitten and a fish, the latter more so than the rest. She was used to it, but even so, she always closed her eyes, automatic reaction, as it were. She felt herself changing and then Merlin caught her in cupped hands. “Now, keep an eye on the boy,” he instructed her and then dropped her into the moat.
“Arthur?” Belle called as she sank and then righted herself. “Where are you?” Then she saw him half submerged in mud. “Arthur, what are you doing in there?”
With a plop, Merlin, as a trout, landed beside her. “So,” he chuckled to Arthur, pulling him free of the sand, with his mouth, since fins were useless in place of hands. “So, you thought you could just take off like a shot, did you?”
“Well, I am a fish, aren’t I?” Arthur asked, shaking the mud off himself.
“You merely look like a fish,” Merlin corrected him. “That doesn’t mean that you are a fish. You don’t have the instinct. Now, watch closely, boy. Every flick of a fin creates movement. So, first we’ll start with a caudal fin.”
Arthur tried flapping one fin but all he did was a half cartwheel in the water. “No, that’s your tail,” Belle told him, and then Arthur tried his tail and shot forwards, almost colliding with Merlin.
“That gives you the forwards thrust,” Merlin explained. “Now, let’s get a rhythm going; right, left, right, left, one, two...Left and right,” he sang as they swam, “like day and night, that’s what makes the world go round.”
“In and out,” Belle joined in. “Thin and stout, that’s what makes the world go round.”
“For every up, there is a down. For every square...”
“There is a round?” Arthur put in.
“For every high...”
“There is a low?”
“Uh-huh. And for every to...
“There is a...?”
“Yes, fro. To and fro, stop and go, that’s what makes the world go round, in and out, thin and stout...”
“Merlin! Belle!” Arthur exclaimed, suddenly. “I swallowed a bug!”
“What’s wrong with that?” asked Merlin. “After all, my boy, you are a fish. Instinct, you know.”
“But you said I had no instinct,” Arthur pointed out.
“Oh. Oh, I did, didn’t I?” Merlin took up the song again. “You must set your sights upon the heights, don’t be a mediocrity...”
“That’s right. Don’t just wait and trust to fate and say that’s how it’s meant to be. It’s up to you how far you go, if you don’t try, you’ll never know, and so, my boy, as I’ve explained, nothing ventured, nothing gained...”
The trio swam twice through some long tickling grass, giggling as they did so. “Oh, I beg your pardon,” said Merlin as they almost collided with a catfish.
“Me too,” smiled Belle.
“Me too,” said Arthur. “For every to there is a fro, for every stop there is a go, and that’s what makes the world go round. Oh, let go, let go, let go!”
Belle turned her head in time to see a playful bullfrog pulling his tail. “Hey!” she cried.
The frog released Arthur, who crashed into a broken tankard at the bottom of the moat. “Oh, you big bug-eyed bully, you!”
“Who, me?” asked Merlin, and then looked over his shoulder and realised. “Oh, here, here, here, Wart, there’s no sense going round insulting bullfrogs.”
Arthur blew a stream of indignant bubbles at the frog. Belle smiled. “Come on, Arthur. He’ll get bored of following us eventually.”
“You see, the water world has its forests and jungles too,” Merlin explained, “so it has its wolves and tigers. That’s what makes the world go round. You see, my boy, it’s nature’s way, upon the weak, the strong ones pray. The human life it's also true, the strong will try to conquer you, and that is what you must expect, unless you use your intellect. Brains and brawn, weak and strong, that's what makes the world go round...”
Suddenly, Arthur darted past them both with a cry of “Help! Merlin! Belle! Help!”
“Jehoshaphat!” exclaimed Merlin as an enormous pike streamed past them, on Arthur’s tail.
“Uncle!” cried Belle, and Merlin bit the pike on the tail, its jaws narrowly missing Arthur as it was brought up short. “Oh!” exclaimed Arthur, swimming as fast as he could. The pike shook its tail, violently, and Merlin flew off and landed, tapped, in the helmet of an old suit of armour at the bottom of the moat.
“Quick, Merlin, the magic!” begged Arthur.
“No, no, you’re on your own, lad! Now’s your chance to prove my point!”
“He’s the brawn and you’re the brains! Now, don’t panic! Outsmart the big brute!”
Belle ducked as the pike came towards them, but for some reason, it had its eyes on Arthur alone. Arthur quickly darted through one of the links in the chain of the drawbridge and the pike got its snout caught in it. “Uncle Merlin, we can’t just sit here!” she cried as Arthur swam off.
“That’s using the old intellect!” Merlin crowed.
The pike quickly freed itself just as Arthur ducked behind a wooden post. Belle spotted some broken arrows there, and Arthur quickly grabbed on in his mouth as the pike came towards him. “Uncle Merlin, do something!” she cried, trying to remember what the counter spell was for changing back into human form.
“Argh!” exclaimed Arthur as the pike came for him, jaws open, but he rammed the broken arrow into its mouth.
“Bravo, boy, great strategy!” Merlin praised.
“Is the lesson about over?” Arthur cried.
“Did you get the point?”
“Yes, yes, brains over brawn!”
“Alright, then, lad,” cried Merlin as the pike discarded the arrow by biting it into splinters. “Leave it to me! I’ll fix the big brute! Higgldy-piggldy! No! Hocus-pocus! Now, what was it?”
“Merlin!” shouted Arthur as he and the pike leapt out of the water.
“Alakazam, Uncle Merlin!” Belle screamed.
“Right, of course! Alakazam!”
Belle felt herself changing and then seconds later she splashed onto the bank. She looked around. Where was Arthur? More to the point, where was the pike?
“What in blazes-?” spluttered Merlin, emerging from the moat wearing the helmet he had been trapped in. He threw it to the ground and snatched up his hat and stick/wand. “What in blazes is a monster like that doing in the moat! By, George, I’ll turn him into a minnow!”
“Merlin!” exclaimed Arthur, flopping about on the grass.
“Oh, there you are!” Merlin quickly waved his stick/wand. “Snick, snack, snorum!” he commanded and Arthur turned back into himself.
“Arthur, are you alright?” Belle cried, rushing up to him, and then, before she could stop herself, she hugged him. Arthur was surprised but in no way displeased.
“How in the world did you ever get out of that mess?” exclaimed Merlin.
“That big fish almost swallowed me!” cried Arthur. “And Archimedes...he saved me!”
“Oh?” Chuckling, Merlin picked up a very wet Archimedes from the floor by his foot and placed him in the branch of a tree. “How about that, eh?”
Archimedes coughed up some water. “I did nothing of the sort!” he insisted, indignantly. “I intended to eat him! Young perch is my favourite dish! You know that!”
“Oh, Archie!” Belle smiled, shaking her head.
“Do you believe that, Wart?” asked Merlin, nudging him.
“Wart!” That was Sir Ector, shouting from the castle “Wart!”
“Oh, I’ve got to go.” Arthur turned back to them. “Thank you, Merlin, it was so much fun. See you, Belle. And, Archimedes, I-”
“Pinfeathers, boy!” retorted Archimedes, trying to dry himself off.
“Wart! Where are you, Wart?” shouted Ector.
“Coming!” Arthur called back, running towards the castle, “I’m coming!”
“Now, Archimedes,” said Merlin, wringing water from his beard. Belle did the same with her hair. “Why would you half drown yourself for a titbit of fish? Especially after such a big breakfast too?”
Archimedes tried twisting himself around to wring the water out of his feathers. Unfortunately, this cause him to fluff up like a dandelion. Belle giggled as she produced a towel. “Admit it, Archie, you did it because you care.”
“Pinfeathers and gullyfluff!” snapped Archimedes.
"That's what makes the world go round!"
"I'll turn him into a minnow!"
“Pinfeathers and gullyfluff!”