"Tiger! Talbot!"
The sekunde Arthur stepped into the castle, two large Great Danes flung themselves at him, barking madly. They both knocked Arthur off his feet, much to Belle’s alarm, and then, to her relief, began to lick his face, playfully. Merlin smiled.

“Tiger, Talbot!” snapped a large beefy man with red hair and moustache, seizing their collars and snatching them away. Arthur giggled and then looked up at the man, his smile quickly fading. “Now, look here, Wart!” demanded the man. “What’s the big idea of gallivanting off into the woods and worrying the living daylights out of everyone?!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Arthur began.

Sir? Then this man was Sir Ector, and, Belle observed that the boy behind him must be Kay, his son, and the one that Arthur was in training to be squire to.

“Well, sorry’s not enough!” snapped Ector. “That’s four demerits, four hours extra jikoni duty! Now, ripoti to the Cook!”

“But., sir, I’d like wewe to meet-” began Arthur.

“Come on, boy, hop it, hop to it!” snapped Sir Ector, clapping his hands. Arthur retreated at once into the kitchens. Belle and Merlin glanced at one another. Poor Arthur; no welcoming, worried hug for him after being out so long, just shouting and extra chores. “Yes, you’ve got to keep a tight schedule to run a place like this. Need strict rules, especially for small boys,” Ector said, satisfied.

“And I most certainly agree!” Archimedes piped up.

“Who are you?” snapped Ector, noticing them for the first time. “Oh, I mean, you?” he added to Merlin and Belle.

“My name is Merlin,” alisema Merlin, drawing himself up to his full height. “This is my niece and apprentice, Belle.”

“Hello,” Belle said, polity.

“And this is Archimedes, the highly educated owl.”

Archimedes cleared his throat, regally. “Educated owl?” spluttered Ector. Archimedes flew off, in indignation. “Say, that’s a good one! Say, I know, you’ve got him under a spell, Marvin. You’re a magician, what?”

“The name is Merlin,” Merlin corrected him, “and I happen to be the world’s most powerful wizard!”

“Ooh-hoo!” laughed Ector. “Come off it, man!”

“It’s true,” replied Belle, stoutly. Kay seemed to notice her for the first time, and now he got to his feet, straightened his tunic and strutted up to her.

“Gadzooks!” spluttered Ector, holding his sides.

“Alright,” alisema Merlin, in no way put out kwa Ector’s laughter. “Higitus, figitus, migitus moe, wind and snow, swirl and blow!”

At once, a great gust of snow began to fall on Ector, who grabbed his arms and began to shiver, automatically, as it piled onto him like, well, Belle had to stifle a giggle, like sugar being piled on juu of a certain wizard’s teacup!

“What the devil are wewe up to?” asked Ector, shivering.

Merlin chuckled and smoothed his beard. “Now, that is what I call a wizard blizzard!”

Ector half-laughed. “Hey, Kay, would wewe look at this? An indoor blizzard, and in the middle of July!”

“So what?” grunted Kay, and Belle felt his eyes still on her. She pointedly turned her back on him.

“Alright, Marvin, turn her off,” alisema Ector, “I’m convinced!”

“Alakazam!” commanded Merlin and the snow stopped at once.

“I, er, I hope wewe don’t go in for any of that black magic stuff,” alisema Ector, brushing snow from his clothing.

“We never touch the stuff,” Belle replied.

“My magic is used mainly for educational purposes,” Merlin explained. “In fact, that’s why we are here. We’ve come to educate the Wart.”

Ector was brushing snow from his shoulders when he heard this. “Oh, no, wewe don't!” he snapped, stepping up to Merlin. “I'm running this place, and if wewe think you're going to fiddle with my schedule, then you've better pack up your bag of tricks and be gone!”

In a puff of smoke, Merlin caused himself and Belle to vanish.

“What?” exclaimed Ector. “Well, kwa Jove! Kay, he's gone!”

“Good riddance,” grunted Kay, going back to his dinner.

“We’re gone,” came the disembodied voice of Merlin, “but then, we’re not gone. So if we do leave, wewe can never be sure that we are gone, can you?”

Ector chuckled in embarrassment. “Well, uh... he-he. I must say, you've got me there, Marvin. wewe win. You're welcome to stay if wewe like.”

Merlin caused himself and Belle to reappear. “Thank you,” he said. “You're very kind. Very generous, I must say. Isn’t he, Belle?”

“Very,” replied Belle, as Archimedes reappeared to land on her shoulder.

“Hmph!” he muttered in her ear.

“Don’t be such a grouch, Archie,” she muttered back.

“Well, all we can offer is nyumbani and board,” alisema Ector, leading them from the room. “Hard times wewe know, Marvin.”

Belle followed, glancing around the room once zaidi as they left. Kay grinned at her. “I’ll see wewe later, my lady.”

“I’m sure wewe might,” she replied, stiffly, opening her book and following.

“We’ll put wewe up in the North West Tower,” Ector said, inaonyesha them a rickety, creaky looking old tower. “That’s the guest room. It’s a bit draughty in the winter but in this blazing hot weather, it’s the best room in the house.”

It might have been blazing hot weather today, thought Belle, but this was England, after all, not some tropical pwani where it was always sunny. England, in fact the whole of Britain, was always best known for one thing – rain. If this place was draughty in the winter, would it leak when it rained? She only hoped that they wouldn’t find out during their brief stay there.

“Oh, yes, very nice indeed,” Merlin said. “This way, Belle, keep up.”

“Coming, Uncle Merlin,” she replied, glancing at Sir Ector. “Thank wewe for letting us stay.”

“Just make yourself at home, Marvin,” alisema Ector, turning to leave.

“Marvin?” muttered Merlin as they made their way into the tower. “Marvin, Marvin?”

“He does onyesha signs of ignorance, Uncle,” agreed Belle. “You saw the way he was with Arthur.”

Merlin nodded. “Well, we shall just have to make the best of things.”

“I have a horrible feeling this tower’s not going to be as cosy as our old cottage,” Belle said, ducking as a buibui swung from a web towards her. She didn’t mind spiders, but she didn’t particularly want them in her hair.

“As I said, we shall make the best of things,” Merlin replied, opening the door to a crowded little room, sparsely furnished with several holes in the roof.

Belle nodded. “Even so, it won’t be the same as home, will it?”

That night, it rained, but if Arthur had looked out of the jikoni window then, he would have seen several umbrellas popping through the holes in the roof.

"Oh, no, wewe don't!"
“Hard times wewe know, Marvin.”
“It won’t be the same as home, will it?”