“From humble beginnings, come great things.”
Before he was Merlin, he was a criminal.
Before he was a criminal, he was William Cornell.
Born into a broken home in Scotland with an abusive father and an absent mother, he ran away from home when he was 13 years old to start a life of his own. So he made a new life for himself in the dark shadows of Glasgow and that was when he first started his career in crime. Still a young naïve boy who was desperate enough to try anything to survive in the big world.
He started like how young fools like him always did in the world of the lawless; from doing petty grunt work to playing messenger. Local crime syndicates always have a use for the young and ignorant. They were expendable and easily replaceable.
As time passed, lessons were learnt the hard way and the young naïve little boy had grown to become a cold and ruthless young man. By his early twenties, William became one of the greatest hitmen in the United Kingdom. Quick with a scope and even deadlier with a knife. A trained killer was what he became and he knew it was necessary. It was necessary to survive in this world of betrayal and corruption where loyalty and faith did not exist in any form of the word. He knew that quite well. He experienced it firsthand.
Later, when bloodshed became dull for his stagnant mind, he found he had an extraordinary talent for technology and gathering intelligence. Soon in his late twenties, he was already an international criminal wanted for having highly classified information of almost every dark corner of governments around the world.
He trusted no one but himself and that was the code he lived by ever since he had shed his innocence and naivety. It had served him well throughout his life and he liked to keep it that way. So he remained independent and solitary as he ran his illegal business.
Then at one point in his bright career in blackmail and selling top secret information, he was caught.
An independent and secret intelligence agency that went by the name of Kingsman was the source of his downfall. He had gotten a bit lazy in his life as an information broker and without the constant action he always had as a hitman, he was sure that was probably why he became careless.
He was captured and sent to a high security prison cell that was buried deep beneath the ground, away from human contact and civilisation. He was locked away from the world with no hope of ever escaping and he wondered if this was all his life mounted up to. Day by day he was tortured and interrogated by British officials for information, given promises of release or threats of execution. Not a word would peep from his mouth and soon he was left alone in silence to rot.
Sometimes, he would wonder about the different choices he could have made and the different lives he could have led. Other times, he would resign himself to his fate and wondered if he could receive a quick and painless death if he asked for it.
Until one day, the silence broke and he was given a second chance.
William wondered how much time had passed as he remained lying down on his lumpy cot, staring at the bare white ceiling of his cell. Days, weeks, months or years? It was easy to lose track of time underground with nothing but stale air and rambling thoughts for company.
While reciting theoretical equations and poetry for the thousandth time to himself, his cell door opened for what felt like a very long time since the last. A loud squeak resounded through his large empty cell and he quickly sat up on his cot to prepare himself for his long awaited execution. Finally, he thought to himself. He was getting sick and tired of waiting in this godforsaken place. He could finally rest in peace.
Instead of the heavy thud of military boots, soft feminine clacks of flats echoed through his cell as an elderly woman stepped into his cell. Streaks of platinum blond framed her face among the locks of grey. Her face had a soft and gentle look that reminded William of his kind grandmother and yet she carried herself with grace and commanding respect. Her storm coloured eyes bore a glint of the sharp intelligence hidden behind her kind eyes. She wore a simple but expensive looking business suit and a pair of black framed glasses was placed delicately at the end of her nose.
His back straightened at the sight as his brows furrowed in confusion. She took the only chair in his cell, placed it at the side of his cot and sat down with a grace of a lady, looking at him with a penetrating stare that sent a wave of discomfort up his spine.
“Good afternoon, Mr Cornell.” She greeted with a surprisingly gentle voice.
He frowned and narrowed his eyes in suspicion. The British government was already tired of him and decided to leave him to rot in this underground hell. So why would they sent an agent or executive to speak with him? Do they still want information or are they doing something else? Blackmail perhaps? William scoffed at the idea and crossed his arms.
“Nice to finally know what time of the day it is, ma’am. I’ve been losing track of time here, as you may know.” He replied while keeping his face guarded till he finds out the reason for her visit.
The corners of her mouth lifted at the response and she crossed her legs. “Please, call me Merlin.” She said.
He lifted an eyebrow at that. Merlin? The wizard of Arthurian legends? Odd name for an odd woman. “Well, I insist you call me William then. Not as fancy as yours but it’s all I have.” He responded.
An amused smile graced her features. “But then again, William, you have something more than that don’t you?”
His brows furrowed at the implication and kept his face emotionless. “I don’t know why you’re here, Madam Merlin but I am sorry to inform you that I have nothing of value to you or to anyone else for that matter. I’m sure the higher ups in the government have no use of me now that I am no longer a threat.” He answered with clipped tones while trying to avoid her piercing gaze.
Merlin smiled a knowing smile and crossed her fingers on her lap. “I don’t work for the government, William. I'm here on official Kingsman business. ” She interjected.
His eyes snapped up at that and he could not help the look of surprise on his face. He had not heard of that name for a very long time. The unknown organisation that was responsible for his capture and the agency that gave him up to the custody of the British government. Even at the peak of his career he had never heard of this agency. They were not connected to the government, he was sure of that but to be able to cover their tracks so well is a feat worth praising, even if they were responsible for the end of his somewhat bright future and metaphorically, his life.
His eyes narrowed again and this time, his gut told him to be very cautious around this woman. For Kingsman to suddenly involve him in their affairs after such a long time is suspicious so he played along. “And what does the Kingsman want with me? Haven’t I suffered for my 'sins' long enough already?” He asked exasperatingly.
The woman kept her knowing smile as she leaned forward towards him. “We would like to offer you freedom and a position in our organisation in exchange for your loyalty and skills, my dear.” She answered him.
Both of his brows shot up and then he snorted at the offer. “That’s just exchanging a small cage for a bigger and nicer cage. All in all, still a cage.” He scoffed.
Her smile disappeared at that and firmly said, “You have been here for many years, Mr Cornell. Left to rot in this cell till the day you die. As you remain here with your talents going to waste, many other innocent lives around the world are lost.” She leaned back in her chair and squared her shoulders.
“So you can wait here to die alone or you can go out there and do something for the greater good. Besides, what else do you have to lose? You are a man with no other choice other than an empty death, William.” She spoke softly but clearly enough for him to hear.
William looked away from her sharp stare and frowned in contemplation. After spending god knows how long in this cell, what else was there to do but hope for a faster end? Sure he would not have total freedom but he could finally see the outside world again and breathe fresh air. He could do something with his talents whether it was to save others or not. He could do something other than lying around waiting to die. He knew he was desperate and he knew that she knew he was desperate.
Because after all this time alone in a silent prison cell, deep down he still had a burning desire to live.
“What do you want me to do?” He asked quietly, looking back at her sharp and motherly gaze.
She smiled again at him but this time it was a pleased smile. “You will be apprenticing under me. I will teach you everything there is to know about Kingsman and how to become the handler of the Knights of the Round Table.” She pushed her glasses up as she stood up and started walking towards the door.
“You will be picked up by an agent tomorrow morning so I suggest you prepare yourself accordingly. All arrangements have already been made for you so don’t worry about that.” Her flats clacked softly across the concrete floor. She stopped for a moment and looked at him over her shoulder.
“Expect a thorough education in the art of spying, William. You still have a lot to learn. After all…” She said and smirked at him. “If you couldn’t even notice my handiwork then how can I expect you to become the next Merlin?” She smiled and continued her way out of his cell. She shut the door with the lock clicking back into place and her steps echoed through the hall outside till it disappeared.
William blinked at her abrupt departure and the sudden revelation. He then covered his face with both his hands. “What the bloody hell did I just agree to?” He let out a long-suffering sigh but looked up with a bit more hope.
Well, at least he got his second chance at life.
Who knows, maybe he’ll get it right this time.