Jamie had gone to bed as soon as the others had left and Merlin had followed shortly afterwards. He was still considering the problem of the barguest as he undressed and threw his clothes in a heap on the chair.
“Not a pretty sight, Merlin! Must you look so old, dear one?” Merlin made a lunge for a dressing gown to cover his nakedness, only to find an intruder sitting on it, employing very similar tactics to Heilyn’s sheep. He retreated behind the inadequate cover provided by a small towel and swore graphically.
“Aren’t you pleased to see me, dearest?” The lithe figure reclining on the bed stretched provocatively, trapping the dressing gown ever more firmly beneath her. Long black hair billowed across the bedspread in curling tendrils and the diaphanous gown left little doubt that most men would be very pleased to see her. Merlin bowed with considerable dignity, holding tightly to his towel.
“Madam, I would be far happier to see you if you were seeing rather less of me.”
“Why do you wear that thing, Merlin?”
A ripple of laughter.
“No, the flesh. It is rather shabby looking and bits of it look as if they are too big for you. It displeases me.”
“It is comfortable and I’m used to it,” said Merlin defensively.
“Do something about it for me, dear one,” the perfect nose wrinkled in distaste. “It wobbles when you speak.” A smile of impure mischief lit the golden eyes. “Would you like me to handle it?” Merlin bit back the retort which sprang to mind and decided this was one battle he was unlikely to win. He shrugged and the air around him rippled, leaving a youthful figure in place of the elderly mage. This was the Merlin who changed the fate of Britain. Tall and lean, with shoulder length hair and rippling muscle.
“Better, Mab?” he asked in the light baritone of youth. Mab took her time inspecting the new form, her eyes lingering like a caress on his skin. Merlin blushed. All over.
“Infinitely better, dear one.” Her eyes narrowed to predatory slits and she smiled, revealing a glimpse of perfect white teeth. “Especially as you forgot the towel…” Merlin glanced down in confusion and snapped his fingers, protecting his modesty with a long white robe edged in blue. “Spoilsport!” laughed the lady.
“To what do I owe the honour of your presence, Madam?”
“So formal, Merlin. I wonder why?” The lady wriggled a little, her every move and word infused with a laughing invitation. “Heilyn gave me your message; I thought you might like to thank me personally.” The promise in the low voice would have tempted a lesser man beyond endurance. Merlin however, had centuries of practice with which to defend himself.
“I do thank you, although I don’t pretend to understand your words.” Mab abandoned her game with a sigh of regret.
“You will, or rather, she will when the time comes. You know I’m not supposed to interfere, so I can’t be any clearer without breaking the rules. I won’t do that.”
“No, just bend them a little.”
“Of course!” she laughed. “I always have.” She stood and the raven hair cascaded to her knees, a more modest covering than her gown. She was perfect, the answer to a man’s wildest fantasies. Merlyn felt desire stirring as he had not for many a year. He gave himself up to the feeling for a few moments, enjoying the remembered sensation, before resolutely quashing the thoughts rather than follow where they inevitably led. Mab tracked his emotions with a knowing smile of amusement and regret. He had never given in to her appeal, which of course made it more exciting to tease him. Merlin sighed and pulled himself together.
“You are truly magnificent, my lady.” He took her hand and carried it to his lips.
“You have always been a gentleman, Merlin. A pity. Are the two younger ones as bad?” Merlin chose to ignore the implications of that remark.
“Alec is a gentleman, yes. And Jamie is young enough to be your son.” Mab indeed looked in her mid-thirties, a rich maturity with a hint of springtime.
“You forget, Merlin. Even you are young enough for that.”
Extract from Sword of Destiny