R + M = Love, by Lore Lippincott

While ‘R + M = Love’ might look like a strange algebraic equation, the R is for Robin, and the M is for Merlin.  That’s Robin Hood, and Merlin the magickal magician from Arthurian legend.  These two myths met eight hundred years ago under an ash tree in jolly old England.  Across the centuries, Robin has reached the conclusion that his madcap spouse Merlin is a bit zany for Lughnasadh, and even zanier during Lughnasadh.  Every year, Robin has to hunt Merlin down to stop him from ‘undoing the world’, or at least keep him from magicking parachutes to kittens (don’t ask).  What will Merlin do this year? He’ll send his beloved on a hunt around the city, to their favourite people and places, with an ending that celebrates their love for one another, the gratefulness they have for natural surroundings, and a marvellous respect for the beauty of the sun.

The appearance of apples, muffins and wine remind us to be thankful for grand mid-season harvests.  The subtle importance of the ash tree, under which Merlin and Robin tryst, demonstrates the wisdom that knowing the self is as important as knowing your lover.

R + M = Love by Lore Lippincott

Robin considered his lack of sleep over the last sennight a non-issue.  As a sentient being in the changeable world, he knew the calendric date and what a bearing it had on his sleep patterns.  He even understood how fantastic it was that five hours of rest should be his sometime between moonrise and morning.

That isn’t to say that he’d spurned his right to have a good Sunday morning lie-in.

But that wouldn’t be possible with Marian shaking him awake at the shoulder.  At least she wasn’t throwing one of the cats on him, a handy alarm clock with very sharp claws.

He peeled open an eye, already knowing Marian’s wild red hair and dove-grey irises would be waiting for him.

And, yes, there they were in all their annoying perpetuity.  The problem with being a myth, constantly resurrected and never wholly dead, was spending eternity with other infinite legends.  The flip side of that? Getting to spend an eternity with another infinite legend.

Too much wine last night had given him those throbbing pains at his temples.  He didn’t even try to get up, or act amused when Marian smiled a little.

“Nimuë and I didn’t travel thousands of miles just to watch you nurse a katzenjammer.”

Robin snorted, a combination of phlegm and annoyance at the jab.

Marian left a sympathetic pat at his bare shoulder before fiddling with the curtains.  Behind the glass, a fine view of the city, its display of structures and a backdrop of the Bay.  “You know what day it is, don’t you, Robin? It’s Lughnasadh.”

The blunt reminder brought the palm scraping sleep from Robin’s face.  Headache be damned, he had to get out of bed—but it was so, so comfortable.  He snivelled, now upright at the waist, a bit of cotton sheet keeping him modest in front of his guest.  “What’s he gone and done now? Or do I still have time to save the world?”

“I believe there’s still time.  You know how he gets when—well, there’s no need to say.”

Marian let the possibilities stay suspended.  Memories of every Lammas from the present to the days of antiquity certainly filled the space.

Robin tried not to think about it too deeply.  If he did, prickles of fear and sweat would take him over.  “Please tell me that you or Nimuë know where he is.  And could you turn around so I can put my pants on?”

Snorting but complying, Marian looked at the view of the city, a long way from Sherwood Forest.  “Nimuë has been keeping track of him.”

“She’s better at it than I am.” Robin threw on his best hunting-for-his-spouse shirt over old jeans.  “Or maybe she still doesn’t trust him.”

Marian flipped around.  “After what happened last year, do you expect her to?”

“Well,” Robin thought back to the debacle of the previous Lughnasadh, “no one got hurt.  All the kittens we were returned to their rightful homes, with a few exceptions that we adopted.  And the VPD hardly had to do more than clean up a few blocks of firework debris.  Besides,” Robin chuckled warmly, scratching his stubbly chin, “the look on your face when you saw fifty kittens parachuting down from the heavens with their sparkly kitten wings—”

Marian hurled a pillow at his face.

“He wasn’t going to hurt the kittens.” Robin tossed the pillow back at her.  Something was missing, though—something more than Marian’s sense of humour.  She’d lost that in the fifteenth century.  “What is it? Oh don’t tell me he’s going to launch baby unicorns this year!”

“You’d better speak to Nimuë,” was all Marian would say.  She glanced around at the mess of the room, and recalled the assembly of garbage, leftovers and red plastic cups that littered the rest of the condo.  “I’ll wait here, clean up a bit.  I still owe you for protecting our Solstice celebration.”

“Bah!” cried the curmudgeonly but humble Hood.  “That was nothing.  Suit yourself.  I’ll call if I find him.”

On his way out the door, he amended his own statement.  “But it’s more likely he’ll appear out of thin air—after he’s already had his amusements.  Just like last year.  And the year before that…”

It just wasn’t Lughnasadh if Merlin wasn’t doing something nutty.

For Lughnasadh, Nimuë was holed up in a park outside the city, along with a menagerie of spiritual and magical persons.  It meant a long drive for Robin in a beaten up pick-up truck he wasn’t too sure could survive the trip—or any trip, for that matter.  Once ascending into the higher elevation, Robin wondered if he shouldn’t get out and give The Old Beast a push, but it ground up on its own, spewing a smoky, stinky white trail behind it.  Nimuë could probably see him coming.

“I saw you coming,” she said as soon as he was out of the truck.

“Damn that gasket,” Robin grumbled, stepping a toe on his cigarette to make sure it was snuffed in the muddy dirt.  He tolerated Nimuë kissing each of his cheeks and taking his hands.  For a moment, she was alone.  Her disciples—Robin’s noun, not hers—had dispersed.   He could see them out in the field gathering natural objects for their all-day celebrations.  Nimuë led him to the shelter house, a breeze blowing her long brown hair against the royal blue of her Renaissance gown.

“What textile museum did you steal that frock from?” he asked, taking the offered cup of tea.  Little dainty cups with flowers on them.  It was like she knew he wasn’t already humiliated enough that day, what with his spouse running amok and all.

“The internet is a marvellous thing, Robin.  Why don’t you take a seat? You must be lightheaded after inhaling your truck’s fumes.”

She sat.  Correction: She DISPLAYED herself.  Like a quilt or a fine piece of art.  He preferred to stand.  It helped him get his tea down.  The tables in the shelter house looked exactly like he expected: partly a craft fair of wreaths and beads, and partly a picnic full of gorgeous food: grapes, bread, carrots, peaches, apples.  Against his wishes, his stomach rumbled.  He’d left home in a such a big hurry that breakfast hadn’t even skipped into his thoughts.  Merlin usually had that effect on him.  Without asking, he thieved a muffin from a basket of them and bit into it.

“Help yourself,” Nimuë said.  “There’s plenty for everyone.” Over the last eight hundred years, she was still puzzled by Merlin’s attachment to Robin Hood.  Manners not-withstanding, Robin was nice on the eyes and he did pursue justice and philanthropy according to the standards he’d devised in his first life.  Merlin was a giant goofball, anyway, and Robin was solid as a rock despite his anti-hero tendencies.  She cleared her throat, flailing a cloth napkin that he could use to demonstrate a level of civility.  It wasn’t the Middle Ages anymore.  People used dinnerware now.  “I suppose Marian spoke to you?”

Robin didn’t like this part.  “Just tell me what you know, Nim.  It’s not like we need a preamble here or anything.  We know the drill.  Lughnasadh.  Merlin.  Craziness.  It happens.  Let me find him—and we’ll all live to meet for the Equinox.  Sound fair?”

The mysterious crook in Nimuë’s smirk introduced a whole other layer to the scenario facing Robin.  In response, he scratched the top of his messy head.

“Did I miss something? I’ve been around long enough to catch the scent of conspiracy, you know, and today everything reeks of it.”

Receiving nothing but silence from a preoccupied Nimuë, Robin wondered how much luck he’d have wrangling the necessary information out of wild animals in the park.  If only he could talk to four-legged creatures the way Merlin did! What was he going to do? Merlin could be anywhere, dreaming up anything and wielding enough magic to transfer those dreams into reality.

“Well, thanks for the muffin.” He started for the truck.

“Robin.”

Nimuë’s calm voice hailed him to return.  More troubled than annoyed, Robin was still beguiled by the strangeness of the day—that he’d known it was coming but had done nothing to prevent it, since half the fun, half the allure of Lughnasadh was falling into Merlin’s scheme.  And fall Robin did—hard.  The results came upon him quicker than a summer storm over open lands, with all the impact that’d first tossed his heart to Merlin.  All he had to do was think like Merlin.  After centuries together, Robin believed he could anticipate Merlin’s movements.

Well, no.  Not always.

Hardly ever, actually.

A couple of times in the bedroom, maybe, Robin had anticipated Merlin’s manoeuvres.  But Merlin tended to be a little more insane—the only word for it—outside of four stifling walls.

Nimuë stood there staring at him, her hands occupied folding cloth napkins for the approaching feast.

“What?” he said, making a point to sound irritated by her provoking silence.

Eventually, Nimuë unhinged her tongue.  “Why don’t you stay and eat with us?” As she anticipated, Robin was suspicious.  “After your party last night, your wild man probably took off towards the hinterlands, and I very much doubt that you stayed in your flat long enough to feed yourself.  You inhaling that muffin told me so.  We’ll have more than enough food.”

“As much as I enjoy your classic fête champêtres, Nim, I should concentrate on finding Merlin.  It’s really up to me to make sure that no kittens are rocketed a mile into the atmosphere for the sake of brightening our holiday experience.”

That brought out a genuine chuckle from Nimuë.  “You loved seeing those kittens fall from the sky as much as Merlin.”

“But I liked them when they were back on the ground, and we got them back to their proper homes.  I thought he was going to keep each and every one! As it was, we wound up keeping three of them.  Thanks for the offer, but I have to bolt.  I’m taking something to nibble, by the way.”

Robin, chewing apple, winced at the movement of Nimuë’s friends among the tall grass, against a backdrop of evergreens and mountains.  He saw no flicker of a white-sandy head that indicated Merlin’s presence.  No one moved exactly like Merlin, like a glimmer of water at the bottom of a shallow pool, like a cascade of stardust brushed off the moon.

He slowed his chewing, finally able to swallow as a thought struck him with the force of mental napalm.

“You’re stalling me,” he said.  “You and Marian, running me around on a goose chase so Merlin can undo the world! You are! Admit it!”

That didn’t have anything to do with it, Nimuë thought.  But he was close.  “Don’t over-exaggerate Merlin’s abilities.  ‘Undo the world’ my foot!” She turned on her heel and left him.

Robin, figuring he was correct, shoved a muffin in his coat pocket before darting back to the cranky old machine.  His steps trickled to a halt: An anomaly was stuck to the windshield.  Upon closer inspection, Robin found it was a large frog.  Around its middle, a note had been tied.  Robin picked up the amphibious creature.  It looked him right in the eye.

“Rar-rup,” it croaked.

Squeeze me, the note read.

Hesitantly, wondering if Merlin was hidden nearby with a camcorder to have a good laugh about it later, Robin grimaced and gave the frog a little squeeze.

“Rar-rup,” it croaked again.

Eyes winched shut and turning his head away, Robin gave the frog a harder squeeze.

“RAR-RUP!”

Then there was a POP! and a puff of multi-coloured smoke: red, pink and purple; and a shower of glitter confetti—and a small scroll held together with a shiny magenta ribbon.  The frog had disappeared into the nothingness Merlin had conjured it from.  Robin, smacking glitter off his shirt and coat, bent over for the scroll at the tip of his boots.

“This is so like you, Merlin,” he grumbled, unwinding the scroll.

For a moment, it was completely blank, then with a bright shimmer of purple, like the glitter explosion all over again, Merlin’s pretty, old-fashioned handwriting appeared.

LOVE LIES IN THE TREADS OF TIME!

Robin found the riddle bothersome.  He really wasn’t in the mood to play along with Merlin’s recreational amusements.  Merlin’s games were often too esoteric and deep for his lifemate to decode.  Robin knew it was a treasure-hunt game.  Merlin loved them.  They once spent five years chasing one another around the planet, leaving notes for their next destination, finding prizes at each stop—even a few times finding one another for a fun-filled day or two.

But, as far as Merlin’s riddles went, this one was pathetically easy to unravel.

He returned to Nimuë with the note, and an uncomfortable amount of glitter all over him.  Nimuë, elegantly laughing, tried to help clean it off with swipes of her hands.

“Merlin does love his glitter.”

“Because he knows I hate it.”

“Mmm, yes, that’s very likely.  He hasn’t kept the two of you in love for centuries because he’s contrite and considerate of your likes and dislikes.”

“Yes, our monumental incompatibility is the sole reason we’re still together.  You managed to distract him long enough for him to conjure the frog, so I have his note.” He flashed it to her, literally, since it was still sparkling.  “And I’ll be on my way.  One of these years, I’m not going to do anything for Lughnasadh, and just let him do whatever he likes.  I’m going to stay at home, sit on the sofa, watch sports, drink beer, belch merrily and scratch my balls happily.”

Nimuë said nothing, knowing Robin talked a good game but the execution of his machismo was a little underwhelming.  He preferred wine to beer, anyhow.  But there was no doubt that he could scratch his balls with a giddy enthusiasm.

Robin pecked her on the top of her hand, wishing her a joyous time with her company.

In the truck, he had to turn on the windshield wipers just to get the glitter off.  “For crying out loud,” he grumbled before shifting The Old Beast into drive.

At least he knew exactly where to go.  Like the majority of outdoor-loving people in the area, they enjoyed cycling and had a shop they frequented, where the bosses knew them by name.

“Robin,” said Felicity, one of the two owners.  She was trim, fit, and sometimes Robin thought her quite capable of kicking his ass if she ever needed to.  He and Merlin had known her five years, exactly half the time they’d lived in Vancouver.  Felicity and Ted, the other owner, were among their closest friends.  Not close enough to know their secrets, but close enough that Merlin would go to them for this fancy treasure hunt.

“I’ll assume that you were expecting me.” He held up the note.  It’d stopped sparkling, at least.  “I figured it out.”

Felicity’s deep brown eyes flashed with dull surprise.  “Not one of his more challenging specimens.”

The door’s bell tinkled, announcing a customer.  Felicity flew a hand to indicate her domain.

“Look around, Robin, see if you can find what he left for you.”

“Come on, Felicity, can’t you just tell me where it is?”

Felicity would not.  “I’m with a customer right now, sir.  If you could just wait a moment—”

Robin would have to find it on his own.  But where to start? He tried to think of what Merlin would do.  Sneaky, sneaky Merlin…  He wouldn’t hide the next clue in something.  He’d leave it in the open, due to this unshakable belief that his grumpy man was incapable of seeing anything that wasn’t right in front of him.  “Merlin, where’s that cheese I got at the store?” Robin would ask, scanning every item the refrigerator.  “Right in front of you,” Merlin would respond, and use magic to bump the cheese into Robin’s forehead.  That was Merlin’s way.

Behind the counter, on the back wall was an assembly of cards from friends, notes of appreciative patrons, photographs of customers on their racing bikes during races and after races—and one little pink piece of paper that did not fit among the masses.  Robin plucked it free.  It was folded in half, and inside was another straight-forward message.

Blow me.

“Wow, Merlin, how super classy of you,” grumbled Robin.

What was he supposed to do to it? Suppose Merlin meant Blow on me but decided to make it sound a little prurient?

Robin puckered his lips and blew.  Nothing happened but that the thin pink paper fluttered—and the words Blow me grew bolder and bigger, so that it now said BLOW ME! 

The prurient phrase had just improved its salacity.  More bothered than ever at the thought of doing to a piece of paper what he reserved for Merlin, Robin squatted behind the counter, out of sight from the rest of the store.  He decided to get it over with quickly.  With a good amount of saliva on his tongue, he licked the shimmering words and exhaled at the same time.  The paper had a flavour of peaches, leaving Robin smacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth.  Like the frog had done, the paper went POP! and transformed into another item.  Thankfully, it wasn’t a kitten with wings.

After removing the bright ribbon from the scroll, Robin had another clue to follow.  Like he’d done when leaving Nimuë, Robin kissed the top of Felicity’s hand, then went on his way.

He followed three more clues, each at one of their most frequented locations around the city: a cafe, a park, and the office of Inspector Oliver Banks of the Vancouver Police.  Banks, like Robin, was annoyed, flabbergasted and curious about Merlin’s pranks.  He’d known Robin and Merlin three years, running into them when they were witnesses to a bizarre killing, and had inadvertently helped solve it.  Perhaps inadvertently.  Banks still wasn’t sure about that.  He’d gone to them a couple of times when some of the stranger cases got the better of him.  Robin had a way of looking at things that most people didn’t.  Merlin had a way of looking at things that transcended all human thought.

“I guessed he might be up to one of his games again,” Banks said to Hood, about Merlin.  He’d laughed when discovering Robin’s real name was Robert Locksley Hood.  What had his parents been thinking? “It’s that time of year, isn’t it? That celebration the two of you get yourselves involved in.  Forget what it’s called.  Loo-something.”

“Lughnasadh,” Robin replied absentmindedly.  He was already trying to unravel Merlin’s clue.  “When did he give this to you, Oliver?”

“Last night at the party,” answered Banks.  “Good bash, by the way.  Me and that curmudgeonly mister of mine enjoyed it.  Good wine.  What was that wine? That pretty lady friend of yours brought it.  Morgana, that was her name.  And I loved when Merlin was drunk enough to skip around singing ‘Lammas! Lammas! Lammas!’ Why is he so fascinated with llamas, anyway?”

Robin’s brain was far from last night’s party, except to realise that Merlin had kept filling Robin’s single glass as a means of producing light inebriation.  Under the influence, Robin was too gleeful to notice that Merlin was handing notes to all their friends, bringing them into the Lughnasadh celebration.  Sneaky, sneaky Merlin…

“I gotta go,” Robin said.  Squeezing out a bit of harmless charm, he kissed the top of Oliver’s hand.  “Thanks for helping Merlin.”

Robin found himself back in The Old Beast and returning into the provincial park.  At that point, after running around for hours upon hours, driving from one end of the city to another, from one park to another, only a few hours of sunlight remained.  Merlin preferred his Lughnasadh mayhem to take place when the sun was up.  “The sun’s a major part of it, you see,” Merlin was often reminding him.  Robin had learned a lot of the Old Ways, had acclimated to them just enough to remain curious about Merlin’s theology.

When Robin reached the park’s destination, an ash tree and a rock in the middle of a small but splendid meadow, Robin wondered if he hadn’t made a gross miscalculation.  Sure, Merlin’s last clue had been slightly less straightforward than the ones before, but Robin thought it was that boulder and that tree he’d been lured to.  He grew positive when he saw the message written into the rock.  It shone in the angled sunlight.

Use me.

Materialising next to the phrase, an ordinary pair of sunglasses.  Very likely, the sunglasses were enchanted to be as abnormal as possible.  Robin saw how right he was: the lenses made everything strange, smeary, as if smudged by the giant hands of gods.

Except one thing was crystal clear: a giant arrow.  It was as tall as a tree, hovered against nothing, its point suggesting a spot in the grass fifty paces away.  Robin marched, removing the glasses so that he didn’t hurt himself on what he felt must be the final leg of Merlin’s puzzle chase.  He put the glasses back on every few steps to be sure he was heading the right direction.  The arrow enlarged as he neared, until he was right in front of it and tried to touch it.  According to the theme of the day, the arrow went POP! But instead of turning into a pile of glitter, it turned into blue-petalled posies.  The flowers fell against a pile of cloth topped off with another scroll.

Wear me.

Robin read the note incredulously.  “What—now?”

The first words faded into a set of new ones.

  1. Now.

Hoping the smile on Merlin’s face was worth the agony he’d gone through, Robin put on the specified brown and green doublet.  It looked like an ancient artefact he would’ve worn while running around Italy in the 14th century.  It did not go so well with his 501’s, but that was probably Merlin’s plan, too.

The note was smart enough to know Robin had dressed in the doublet.  Its message changed.

Turn around.

Robin did.  In front of the tree and stone, he spotted the pale head and slight frame of his silly beloved.

Merlin hiked up an arm and shook it.  “HELLO, LOVER!” he shouted across the meadow.  He flailed his hand again, then used it to beckon Robin to him.

A little uncertain of what might wait him, or what he might do to Merlin when he was within reach, Robin trudged across grass and sedge.  Merlin sparkled in self-appreciation, and he couldn’t stand still, flapping his arms against his sides, shifting his feet, smiling one second and biting his bottom lip in another.  Robin was trying to bother him with that tedious, sexy walk across the meadow.  Merlin would let him be a bit grumpy.  Every Lughnasadh, Merlin tested Robin’s brain and patience—the patience more than the brain.   He didn’t need Lughnasadh to do that; it was an everyday occurrence, really.  But Robin just noticed it more around the first of August.

When Robin was close enough, Merlin grabbed him by the doublet and hitched their mouths together.  Robin’s soul warmed, from stomach to toes and right into his groin.  He’d planned to be his usual emotionally unreliable self, too.  So much for that.  Merlin hopped up, knowing Robin would catch him, and let their momentum take them to the ground.

“Hi!” Merlin cuddled next to Robin, then beamed at him again.  “Hi, hi, hi!”

Robin decided Merlin’s smile would always be worth the agony.  “Hi.”

“How goes it? Did you have fun? How are all of our friends? Nursing hangovers? I bet Oliver is.  We love him, he’s like our brother, but the man cannot handle his liquor—seriously, he can’t.  I called him eight times today to be sure he remembered to take the note to the office with him.  He actually had to call me back and let me know that you’d been in to see him.  So I know he didn’t screw anything up.  Wasn’t the frog funny? I know it wasn’t kittens or anything—you’re still afraid of furry things, aren’t you?—but a frog, now that’s falling back on some pretty hardcore fairy tale archetypes, if I do say so myself.  Oh, and don’t think this is over yet, sir, because it isn’t.  Just because we’re running out of daylight doesn’t mean that Merlin is running out of tricks.  Do I ever run out of tricks? Well, maybe someday—but not this Lughnasadh! Here, put these back on.”

Robin never got a chance to squeeze a word in.  Merlin could prattle on to infinity if he chose.  Robin shoved the ensorcelled sunglasses back on his face, with a bit of loving aid from Merlin.  Everything was smeared and strange again.

“You look really fetching in this doublet, by the way,” Merlin said, gliding fingertips between the unbuttoned zone around Robin’s collarbone.  He nibbled a bit at the hollow at the base of Robin’s throat.

“I haven’t worn a doublet since—”

“Morgana’s Samhain party last year, ha! But you’re definitely going to wear one from now on.  I mean, every once in a while.  When I ask you to.  When I’m feeling frisky.”

“Do you ever not feel frisky? And why am I wearing these sunglasses again?”

“They’re enchanted.”

“I gathered.  You look the same, though.” Robin cupped Merlin’s face, ran thumbs across the high cheekbones, then gently squeezed Merlin’s earlobes in his old sign of affection.  “You look beautiful, as always.”

Merlin pocketed the unexpected compliment.  “Look at the sun.”

“That’s kind of dangerous.”

“Hello!” Merlin smacked the back of his hand against Robin’s chest.  “I’m a wizard! They’re enchanted! Do you really think I’d do anything to harm you?”

“No, but you would do something to harm that truck of ours.  I don’t think she can handle another treasure hunt as extensive as this one.  And where is the blasted sun?”

“It’s over there.  And don’t blaspheme the sun.  It’ll know if you do.” Reluctantly, Merlin disbanded his comfortable straddle of Robin’s thighs, and helped his partner off the ground.  He pointed to the sun, and watched Robin turn his head toward it.  He swung an arm at Robin’s waist.  “My little heliotrope.  What’s it say?”

“The sun?” Robin adjusted the glasses to centre them upon the glowing white sphere.  Was there some kind of writing there, or some kind of symbol? He winced, squinted, and batted his eyelids to bring the thing into focus.  He suddenly knew what it was.

R + M = LOVE

Robin stared at it until his eyes began to water, and not from failure of the enchanted spectacles, either.  Merlin sensed his awe.

“I etched our love into the sun,” he said, trying not to sound too proud of himself.  “Remember the old tree in Nottingham? When the initials started to fade, then when the tree rotted away, I wanted to do something else for us.  So,” he flung a gesture at the orb, “I did that! For Lughnasadh.  How about that, eh, eh?” He grabbed the doublet again, kissed Robin again.  “You’re ten times sexier when you forget how to speak.”

“That happens a lot around you.  How long is that going to be up there?”

“Forever.  Isn’t that obvious? I didn’t make that obvious, did I? I mean, I know my enchantments come and go, but—”

Robin sucked away the words, their mouths together.  He removed the sunglasses to get a good look at his spouse, with his lightly wrinkled eyes that crinkled up when he smiled, his flyaway coarse white and blond hairs that broke from the ribbon at the back of his neck, the small scar that paled as the decades went by, the loose earlobes that Robin pinched again.  “It’s a wonderful gift, Merlin.”

“Yeah,” Merlin sighed, “and I’m not sure I can outdo myself next year.”

“You’ll think of something.”

“I probably will.”

“Why do you go crazy at Lughnasadh, anyway?” Robin put on his poker face, leaning into the tree trunk.  He’d noticed that Merlin was also in Renaissance attire, and it wasn’t exactly the kind of stuff they had hanging in the wardrobe at home.  “What is it about this time of year?”

Merlin crossed his arms and lifted his chin.  “Well, it’s—it’s a time to praise the sun, remember that summer isn’t forever, that winter’s coming.  And I hate winter.”

“We live in Vancouver,” Robin reminded him steadily.  “It’s hardly Uppsala.”

“Very funny.  And promise me we never, ever have to live in Sweden again.  It was fun for a while and all, but—I hate winter.”

Robin held their bodies close together, Merlin between his legs, Merlin leaning into him.  “I promise you that we will never, ever have to live in Sweden again.  I like it here.  There’s always something to do.  We have friends.  Non-magical friends, too.”

“Oh! Oh! Speaking of! Great donkey balls, I almost forgot! What time is it?” He took out his mobile to check the time.  “Crap, that late already! Yeah, next year, if I do this next year, I’m definitely making your treasure hunt a bit shorter.”

“Me and The Old Beast thank you.  Are we late for something?”

“Oh no! Absolutely not! We’re exactly where we need to be!” He felt Robin’s hands tighten at his hips, deadening every last atom of space between them.  Something about kissing Robin under a tree—it was like the thirteenth century all over again.

A distant noise made them turn their heads.  Out of a line of parked cars poured a mass of people—their friends, including Morgana, Marian and Nimuë—and Nimuë’s disciples.

“Here’s everyone! Good!” Merlin smiled at the entourage.

Their friends retrieved goods, food and blankets, from the vehicles and made their way to the tree.  Chatter erupted that calmed and soothed Merlin.  He’d pulled it off.  He’d really, really pulled it off! He was a bit irked by Robin’s lacking memory, though.  Being with a guy for eight hundred years, you’d think he’d remember how important Lughnasadh was to them.  It didn’t matter.  Merlin grabbed Robin’s hand.

“Come on, let’s meet our Sherwood Forest posse.”

Robin understood that the Lughnasadh participants had come dressed as their dearly departed friends.  Big and burly Oliver Banks would no doubt be Little John.  And their bicycling friends would be Much, Will Scarlet, Alan—and everyone else from the ancient days that Robin had lost.  And Merlin would have his friends, like Arthur and Guinevere, and even a brooding and grim Mordred with Nimuë and Morgana.  For a few hours that evening, it would be like olden days.

Robin held Merlin back.  He smiled gently at the marvel in front of him.

Merlin squeezed the hand in his.  “What, Robin? Spit it out.  Yes, Marian and Nimuë did a grand job at delaying you and lying to you.  No need to gush about them or compliment them.  Or me.  This is pretty old hat to me by now.” He was curled into Robin’s arms and blatantly ogled in an adoring manner that made his knees wobble.  “What?”

“I know it’s been eight hundred years, but it feels like yesterday I met you under that tree.  Happy anniversary.”

Merlin’s cheeks turned pink.  “Yeah, see, I knew you didn’t forget.  Sneaky, sneaky Robin…”

Lore Lippincott

is the author of several short stories and a two novellas, The Information Man and The Carols of Holly House.   Please visit her website, Breezy Day Stories, for more details.

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