BOOK III - The Wolf



When Merlin arrives in Vortigern's court six days later, he realizes that Vortigern has changed, has diminished, because he clearly is a man on the run, a cornered wolf who, being cornered, is even more dangerous, nonetheless. If he ever gets his fortress built, even Ambrosius will be hard-pressed to dig him out. His mother has come along with him on the trip to Dinas Brenin in an enclosed litter, so they have no chance to talk before they arrive there. Once he sees her, he Notes that she, too, has changed. She is pale and quiet and has put on bodily weight as well as a heaviness of spirit. He also realizes that she has lost the power of the Sight. Behind Vortigern's chair sits a group of priests and holy men.

When questioned, Niniane handles herself well, never revealing what she might know of Merlin's true reason for leaving or returning to Maridunum. But she tells the truth about never revealing the name of his father to Merlin. Merlin sees the fear in her eyes for him. Vortigern insists she tell the name for her son's sake. She finally agrees to tell if the king will empty the room. He agrees, but refuses to allow the priests and the magicians to leave. Merlin has never felt so helpless, because he sees death in these men's eyes and he feels stripped of God.


Once again the title of this section of the novel is reinforced with images of Vortigern as a cornered wolf. This chapter also finds Merlin between the proverbial rock and a hard place, because if Niniane reveals his father's name, it will save him from the prophecy of Vortigern's men of magic, but it will also make him either a hostage or cost him his life once Vortigern knows his father is Ambrosius.



Niniane at first seems to have no care for revealing the name Vortigern seeks and, in fact, indicates Merlin, too, should have no care since he is a priest in Cornwall. Merlin knows from her smile that she will not betray him and that she believes what she says will avert danger from him. Niniane goes on to tell the king that she never saw Merlin's father and that he was a young man who came to her in the night who disappeared when she stole out to look at him after he slept in her bed. She holds her cross as if asking for forgiveness for her lies, but Merlin thinks she should be more fearful of lying about things of power than to her Christian god. She says she named him Merlin, because, on the day he was born, a falcon flew in through the window and perched above her bed and looked at her with his father's eyes.

After her story, Vortigern consults with Maugan, the bearded high priest in whose eyes Merlin sees death. The priest responds that her story is very possible because he has heard stories about such demon creatures mating with mortal women and he has also heard the stories about Merlin's strange ways. At this, all the people around Merlin seem to move from him as if in fear, but Merlin cannot yet see how her story could in any way be harmful to him. In fact, he believes that they may want his mother to confirm that he is, indeed, a demon's son, and want him to advise them in some way about how to make the walls of the fortress stand. He remembers how his god had brought him the dream about the mine shaft under the hill, which would require him to come up with an engineer's answer, not a magician's prophecy.

Vortigern dismisses his mother to her quarters, saying that he has need of Merlin's powers and wishes to talk with him alone. Merlin bids his mother goodbye by telling her that there was nothing she had said that he did not already know. She totally understands the double meaning of his words and realizes he knows about Ambrosius. She leaves with more color on her face and a slight smile on her lips, because Merlin has made her aware that he holds nothing against her.


Merlin says he sees death in the eyes of the priests and the magicians which is yet another bit of foreshadowing of the real reason why Vortigern needs him. The fact that Merlin has yet no clue of Vortigern's desire for his blood to firm up the foundations of the stronghold is another irony to the story: in spite of his Sight, Merlin doesn't see or know everything that might help him or protect him.

New names in this chapter: Maugan, Vortigern's magician



Vortigern reveals to Merlin that he had him brought to him because of his birth and that is how he will serve him. He goes on to tell him that his priests and magicians have explained that the foundation walls must be built on blood - literally on the blood of a man who never had a father. So, since Merlin's father, according to Niniane, was a demon, he could never have had a father. Vortigern justifies it as not a human sacrifice, because Merlin's father was a demon. Merlin realizes that he must fight them with his human wits, not his power which he has yet to learn how to control. He learns from them first that they indeed were responsible for Galapas' death who they thought was a spy and he tells them to take him up to the crag where he has magic which will outwit the fools who could not tell the king how to strengthen his foundation until the walls had fallen four times. One of the older warriors convinces Vortigern to let Merlin try even though the magicians want him killed right away. Merlin finishes by saying that he will not only explain why the walls have fallen, but will also explain how to make them stand. At the end of his words, the downpour outside stops as suddenly as spigot having been turned off.


It is ironic that Niniane's attempt to protect Merlin by lying about who his father really is, because they don't want Merlin to have a father as fulfillment of their prophecy. It is also interesting that Vortigern fears the priests just enough to justify his intent to kill Merlin by saying it's not human sacrifice since Merlin was a demon's son. In this way, he can claim he was following the will of God as well as the magicians. The final irony of this chapter concerns the sudden stop of the rain just as Merlin finishes speaking. We cannot know if this were just blind luck, or really Merlin's god, but it puts even more fear in the priests, the magicians, and Vortigern as well.

Cite this page:

Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Long Way Gone".