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If You Ever Have Need

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The past few months had been relatively peaceful. At least, for anyone that wasn’t Merlin, it had been peaceful. After Morgause had enchanted a hapless guard to be the keystone for a powerful sleeping spell that effected the entire city, Merlin had been feverishly studying his magic book. He had confronted the witch in the throne room, where he, Arthur, and the guard had dragged the king for protection. Merlin had thanked the gods that Arthur was out trying to distract the knights and find a wagon so that they could carry the king to safety.

 

Dumb luck had saved them that time. The guard had leapt at the knight that had accompanied Morgause and been struck down before the witch could stop it. As he lay dying, the spell began to lift. That wouldn’t have been enough to stop her, but Morgana had come running into the room. Morgause had seemed unsurprised that she was awake. In a change of heart that had stunned Merlin, who knew how angry Morgana was with Uther, she had thrown herself in front of the king and refused to move. Faced with a sister she did not want to kill and a wakening city, Morgause as forced to retreat. 

 

That night, Merlin had gone down to the dragon. In exchange for his freedom, he had given Merlin the knowledge necessary to destroy the knights forever. Once the spell was cast, Merlin held up his end of the bargain, only for the dragon to attack the city. 

 

The destruction had been immense. Merlin had tried everything to stop the dragon, but his magic, still growing and maturing, had been no threat to the ancient magical beast. Eventually, they sought out the last of the dragonlords, who Merlin discovered was his father. When Balinor died to save his life, Merlin inherited his gift and was able to stop Kilgharrah. Unable to kill the dragon, Merlin had let him go. 

 

Blaming his lack of knowledge concerning the finer points of magic for the disaster, Merlin hadn’t stopped studying his book since. But for the rest of Camelot, things had been peaceful. 

 

Merlin blinked and discretely shook his head, trying to wake himself up. One of the worst things about being Arthur's manservant - besides dealing with the prat himself - was being forced to attend boring council meetings and pretentious banquets. Arthur always claimed that it was procedure, that Merlin was there to do his duty, but the warlock knew better. He was there because if Arthur had to suffer then so did he.

 

At least when it was a banquet, there were other servants to talk to and jobs to be done. He and Gwen were always having little conversations, joking about the nobles. Council meetings were another matter. Attendance was restricted to nobles and military commanders, plus Morgana and Gaius. They were filled with pointless arguing that never went anywhere because Uther had already made up his mind and wasn't particularly asking for advice. On occasion, things got interesting when Morgana or Arthur stood against the king. This particular meeting had been going on for hours and nothing of interest had happened. Both Arthur and Morgana had remained mostly silent as they listened to the noble's reports on the status of the kingdom. It was taking every ounce of will power Merlin had - and perhaps a bit of magic - to stay awake.

 

Across the room, Gwen, who was standing behind Morgana and looking just a bored as he was, caught Merlin's eye and offered him a small, sympathetic smile. He returned it weakly and caught himself wishing that there was some way he could use magic to disrupt the council without being caught and killed.

 

He'd stopped really listening to what was going on ages ago, but that wasn't to say that he wasn't still paying some attention. Camelot was constantly being threatened by magic. Sometimes it was actually real danger, but often it was Uther's paranoid ravings causing trouble where there hadn't been any before. Merlin needed to know if there was something that only he could take care of so that he could stop Arthur from getting himself killed. He also needed to know if the king was going on another anti-magic rampage so that he could attempt to keep his head down. Ironically, it always seemed that his magic was needed to save the day when it was most likely to get him killed.

 

The noble who'd been speaking finished and one of the knights stood to begin his report on the city. Merlin knew better than most what was going on in the lower town since he spent plenty of time down there running errands for Gaius, so he allowed his attention to wander. He thought about all of the times he'd saved Arthur and how many close calls he'd had. No wonder Gaius was always so worried about him when it came to using magic. It was a miracle he still had his head.

 

The warning bells suddenly rang out through the castle, breaking through Merlin's thoughts and causing him to start in surprise. Luckily, Arthur didn't notice. If he'd realized that Merlin had been daydreaming instead of paying attention, it would have meant a week of mucking out the stables.

 

A knight burst into the chamber.

 

"What's going on?" the king demanded.

 

The man struggled to catch his breath, gesturing wildly over his shoulder as he did. "A creature is attacking the city," he managed to pant.

 

A murmur ran through the room and Merlin was instantly on alert. This could not be good.

 

"What kind of creature is it?" Arthur demanded impatiently. Merlin could see that he was anxious to get out there and stop it.

 

"I don't know, sire," the knight gasped, still struggling for breath. "It looks almost like the dragon that attacked four months ago. But it is smaller. It has wings, two legs, and a barbed tail. I have never seen anything like it."

 

Uther turned expectantly to Gaius, the resident expert in magical creatures. "Was it breathing fire?" the physician asked after a slight pause.

 

The knight shook his head. "No. But it seems to posses some kind of poison that burns the flesh. Several of the villagers have been injured."

 

Gaius nodded slowly, his brows furrowed in thought. A cold shiver ran down Merlin's spine. He hated it when Gaius got that look on his face. It always meant trouble for him.

 

"Do you know what it is?" Uther asked gravely. He too recognized the expression on the old physicians face.

 

Gaius nodded. "If I am not mistaken, it is a wyvern, a cousin to the dragon. It's smaller and less powerful, but according to the records, it is still a formidable opponent. Few of the knights that faced it have ever returned. They used to be sighted in the forest along the mountains. It was believed that they had died out years ago when the inhabitants no longer found evidence of them."

 

"Apparently they are still very much in existence," the king growled. "How do you kill one?"

 

"I would have to consult my records."

 

The king nodded curtly. "Then go. Arthur, take the knights and try to contain this creature before it does too much damage to the city." Arthur nodded and started out of the room, Merlin trailing behind him. A single word from the king stopped them. "The boy can assist Gaius." He gestured at Merlin, who scurried over to his guardian without complaint. As much as he wanted to be out there protecting Arthur, he knew that he had to figure out how to stop the wyvern before he could help. Otherwise, he'd just get himself killed. Arthur nodded and left the room to gather the knights.

 

Merlin followed Gaius through the halls of the castle. The shouts from the villagers were just audible. Neither of them spoke a word until they were safely in the physician's chambers.

 

"Arthur and the knights aren't going to be able to stop this, are they?" Merlin asked softly.

 

Gaius looked at his young ward grimly for a moment before turning to his bookshelf and searching through the many tomes for the one he needed. "I doubt it," he admitted. "The wyvern is a creature of magic. It will not be easy to kill."

 

Nodding, Merlin moved to one of the other bookshelves. Gaius cast a discrete glance at the young man beside him. In the two years since the young warlock had arrived in Camelot, he and Arthur had forged an unlikely friendship. Neither of them would actually admit it if you asked them, but they were practically brothers. Gaius knew that Merlin was not risking his life out of sense of duty or simply because Camelot was in danger. No, he was going to go out there and use his magic, despite the potential consequences, because Arthur and his other friends were in danger. Of course, it didn't hurt that Merlin was naturally the kind of person who couldn't stand by and do nothing when people were in danger. It had nearly gotten him killed when Nimueh set the afanc on Camelot. Gaius could think of no one better to possess the kind of power that Merlin did than Merlin.

 

Just as the thought crossed Gaius' mind, the warlock in question stepped away from the bookshelf.

 

"We don't have time for this," he muttered.

 

"Merlin-" Gaius began. But before he could get any further, Merlin's eyes flashed gold.

 

"Fionnaim tú leabhar laghairt," he murmured.

 

Instantly, several books flew off the shelves, landing on the table. Gaius shot Merlin a disapproving look, despite agreeing that they didn't have time to go through the books until he'd found the right one.

 

Gaius flipped quickly through the nearest book until he found the page of wyverns. As fortune had it, he'd chosen the tome that contained the information they needed. He scanned the page, silently cursing the way old age had dimmed his eyesight. Merlin watched impatiently, bouncing up and down on his heels.

 

"It seems that killing a wyvern is relatively straight forward," Gaius said at length. "It must be pierced through the heart with a blade that is covered in it's own poison."

 

Moving before the words had completely passed the old man's lips, Merlin hurried to the door, calling over his shoulder as he did, "I'll tell Arthur!"

 

"Be careful!" Gaius shouted after him. He shook his head at the disappearing form of the boy that had become like a son to him, knowing that the warning had fallen on deaf ears, if it had reached him at all. Merlin did have a knack for getting himself into trouble, whether he was looking for it or not.

 

***

 

The wyvern whipped it's tail around, catching Arthur squarely in the chest. A grunt escaped his throat as the air was forced from his lungs and he was thrown back against a wall.

 

Containing the monster was proving to be more difficult than anyone had assumed. It was as tall as a house, quick, and brutal. They were lucky that it did not possess the intelligence or power of a real dragon. If it had, they most certainly would have been doomed.

 

Most of the knights that had set out to face it were wounded or unconscious, but as far as he could tell, none were dead. Sir Leon was doing what he could to drag them to safety while the prince distracted the creature. So far, it was not going well.

 

Seemingly satisfied that its opponent had been dealt with, the wyvern turned it's attention from Arthur to Leon, who was searching the rubble for any more injured knights. Gritting his teeth, Arthur hauled himself to his feet. His ribs protested violently and he cursed under his breath. Seizing a rock, he hurled it a the reptile, hitting it square in the head. Hissing in anger, the wyvern spun, it's wings flapping, and spat a stream of acid green venom at the prince. He threw up his arm to protect his face.

 

A body collided with his own, pushing him out of the way just in the nick of time. Arthur let out a cry of pain as the impact jolted his already injured ribs.

 

Startled, Merlin rolled off his friend and gazed at him worriedly. "Are you all right?"

 

Arthur glared at him. "What the hell are you doing out here, you idiot? You're going to get yourself killed."

 

Merlin bit back the sarcastic retort his mind immediately supplied. Now wasn't the time for their banter. "Gaius figured out how to kill it. You need to stab it in the heart with a blade covered in it's own poison."

 

"Why does it always have to be so complicated to kill these things?" Arthur groaned. "How the hell am I supposed to get some of it's venom without being killed?"

 

And he calls me an idiot, Merlin sighed. He pointed to his right, toward the place where Arthur had been standing when he'd knocked him over. The prince followed his finger and saw that there was a puddle of green goo right where his feet had been.

 

"Ah," he said. "That was easier than I thought."

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. Removing his nerckerchief, he dabbed cautiously at the venom, careful not to get any of it on his skin. Arthur held out his sword, for once realizing that this was not a task that either of them could do alone. The venom smoked as it touched the metal, turning it black. Their eyes widened as they realized that it was eating away at the metal.

 

"You're going to have one shot," Merlin said softly.

 

Arthur met his eyes. "Then I better not miss."

 

Without another word, the prince stood and charged toward the wyvern. The beast had been distracted by Leon, who was standing over Sir Percival, and did not seem to sense Arthur's approach. He was surprisingly quiet, despite the weight of his armor.

 

A faint warmth of hope blossomed in Merlin's chest. Maybe Arthur could slay the beast.

 

Then, time slowed, as it so often did for the warlock when things were about to go terribly wrong.

 

The wyvern tensed, one leathery ear flicking back ever so slightly. It spat out a stream of poison, causing Leon to jump aside. The knight landed on a loose rock and his foot slid out from under him. He fell to the ground with a crash, dazed and barely conscious. Merlin watched in horror as it lashed out with one wing, quick as lightning, and knocked Arthur off his feet once more. The sword fell from his grasp and went flying. Knowing that the already fragile blade could not withstand the force of landing on the rocks, Merlin reacted instinctively. No word was needed for his magic to reach out and catch the blackened blade. Without so much as a clear thought, he flicked his wrist and propelled the sword toward the wyvern. It moved almost too quick to see and smote the beast in the heart.

 

The wyvern let out a piteous moan, reared back on it's legs, wings stroking the air in agony. Then it fell with a thud that shook the ground beneath their feet and moved no more.

 

Slowly, Merlin lowered his hand, pulling the magic back into his body. Silence echoed over the battleground. Less than a hundred feet away, Arthur was staring at him, his face a mixture of denial, confusion, hatred, anger, and worst of all, betrayal.

 

"I can explain," Merlin said weakly.

 

For a long moment, they just stared at each other. With each passing second, Merlin grew more anxious. If only Arthur would say something! Then, Merlin would know what to say, then he would know how to fix this.

 

Arthur found his voice.

 

"What is there to explain?" he snapped. "You're a sorcerer."

 

"Actually, I'm a warlock," Merlin whispered without thinking. He’d only learned the distinction recently.

 

The prince's glared darkened further. "There's no difference."

 

Merlin didn't have the heart to argue. Instead, he simple bowed his head. "I was only trying to protect Camelot."

 

Arthur's hands balled into fists. He would not let Merlin's words phase him. As much as he wanted to believe that his manservant truly meant no harm, that he had only meant to save the city, he had been raised to believe that magic was evil. Merlin himself had confirmed that after the disastrous visit to Morgause. Even if his opinion of magic could be swayed, Arthur was the crown prince. It was his duty to uphold the law and the law said that magic was punishable by death.

 

Still, he could not bring himself to call out to the guards or to Leon. He couldn't find the strength to throw his closest friend into the dungeon for saving his life. Magic may be evil, but what Merlin had done was not. He could not let the crime go unpunished, but death just seemed like too much.

 

He made his decision.

 

"I believe that you meant Camelot no harm," Arthur announced. Merlin looked up in surprise, not quite daring to hope. "Had it been anything other than magic, I would say that you were even brave to break the law in order to save lives. But magic, of all things, cannot be tolerated in the city. You know what the penalty is."

 

He faltered slightly when he saw the blood drain from Merlin's face, leaving him paler than before. Rallying his nerve, Arthur plowed on. Who knew it could be so difficult to condemn a friend?

 

"I do not believe that you deserve death," he went on softly. "But you cannot stay here. Leave Camelot. I will tell my father that after the wyvern's attack, you felt that you needed to return to Ealdor. Given everything that has happened over the past months, that will be a believable explanation."

 

It took Merlin a moment to process what Arthur was saying. He was being banished. Ealdor was in Cenred's kingdom, not Camelot. It was better than death, but his job was to protect Arthur. That would be hard to do from so far away.

 

Knowing that it was the best he was going to get, he nodded. "I'll go. But..." he hesitated slightly. "Can you tell Gaius the truth? He'll suspect something if you don't."

 

Arthur wasn't surprised that the old physician knew about Merlin's gifts. He always had seemed to know an awful lot about the old religion.

 

"I will," he promised.

 

Merlin visibly relaxed just a little more. With another nod, he turned to go. He stopped before he even went ten paces and looked back to Arthur. "All I've ever done is try to protect people," he said. "And I always meant to tell you, someday. I'll go to Ealdor, but I will never stop keeping an eye on you." A familiar twinkle appeared in his eyes. "You have no idea how much trouble you get in and you're destined to be a great king, so someone has to help you get there. If you ever have need of me, I'm sure I'll turn up. Just do me a favor. Don't get a bootlicker for a servant?" he added, echoing his words from the night so long ago when he'd gone to the Isle of the Blest, intending never to return.

 

Baffled, Arthur could only watch as Merlin muttered under his breath. His eyes flashed gold and he was gone in a gust of wind.

 

"Sire?" Leon asked softly.

 

Arthur turned to see the knight standing not far away. He didn't know how much he'd seen, but he didn't care.

 

"Tell no one," he ordered. "He may be a sorcerer, but he saved the city. He does not deserve to die for that."

Chapter Text


Gaius is going to kill me, Merlin thought sadly. 

 

He’d magicked himself into his tiny room adjacent to Gaius’ workshop. He had half a mind to go tell the old man goodbye, but he knew that Arthur would do that for him. It would be easier for them all if he just left. He’d go to Ealdor for a time, long enough to tell his mother what had happened and to come to terms with it himself, but then he would find a way to move closer to the city to keep an eye on Arthur and devote himself to his studies. If he was going to protect Arthur from afar, then there was all the more reason for him to expand his knowledge of magic. 

 

Sighing, Merlin grabbed his pack off the ground and shoved every piece of clothing he owned inside. He retrieved his spell book from it’s hiding place and carefully laid it on top. There was no sound from the other room, so he guessed that Gaius was not there and ducked into the workshop to grab a few other books and supplies that he might need. He left the Sidhe staff for the time being. He didn’t think he would need it.

 

He slung the pack over his shoulder, taking one last look around. He’d always expected that one day he would be forced to leave Camelot for one reason or another. It was harder than he’d expected though. 

 

Footsteps sounded outside. Knowing that he would never make it out of Camelot without being seen if he went by foot, Merlin decided that he might as well use a little more magic. 

 

Lopraím le gnáthghaoth téigh in éaf dar dáta domhan go Ealdor,” he whispered. There was a flash of light and he was gone, leaving no trace that he had ever been there in the first place. 

 

***

 

The castle was quiet. With the threat gone, most of it’s inhabitants had gone to sleep.The king had accepted Arthur’s explanation of events and Leon had done nothing to contradict him. A knight had been sent to gather what venom he could find, should wyvern ever attack the city again. Now all that was left was to explain to Gaius what had really happened. That was not a conversation After was looking forward to, not after the way the old man had left the throne room. He’d clearly been suspicious of what had actually happened to his ward. 

 

In an uncharacteristic show of respect, Arthur knocked quietly on the door of the physician’s chambers. There was no answer. He knocked again and there was still no answer. Finding himself worried about the old man, he pushed open the door and walked in. 

 

Gaius was standing with his back to Arthur, in the doorway of Merlin’s room, which was clearly empty. He didn’t even hear the young man enter. 

 

“Gaius?” Arthur called softly. He didn’t even want to consider how Merlin had gotten everything out of his room in the fifteen minutes since he’d disappeared off the battlefield. 

 

The physician started and spun around. “Sire,” he said quickly. “Is everything all right? Were you injured in some way?”

 

At his words, Arthur’s side suddenly ached and he remembered being thrown against the wall. So much had been going on, that he’d completely forgotten about his own pain. 

 

“It’s nothing, just some sore ribs,” he said dismissively, anxious to get to the real point of his visit. “I came to talk to you about Merlin.”

 

Gaius’ eyes widened. “What happened to him?”

 

Arthur felt distinctly uncomfortable. “He did leave for Ealdor, but not for the reasons I gave,” he said softly. “He left because he used magic to save the city.”

 

The old man closed his eyes, as though his worst fears has been realized. “What did he do?”

 

“Then you did know?” Arthur confirmed. “I don’t care if you did,” he added quickly when Gaius did not answer immediately. “He saved my life. That’s why I let him leave. I just need to know why he would do something like that.”

 

Gaius looked up at the strangely vulnerable tone of the prince’s voice. He’d never heard Arthur sound any more confused than he did in that moment. It was clear that he had no idea how to deal with the discovery that Merlin was a sorcerer. 

 

Sighing heavily, Gaius directed the prince to a chair and sat down opposite him. When Arthur caught his gaze again, it was without any of the guards or pretenses he usually used to hide his emotional vulnerabilities. His eyes shone with confusion and pain and betrayal, but beneath all was something else, a desperation to understand. 

 

Arthur leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, looking completely wretched. “Why would Merlin even practice magic if he knew it was forbidden?” he asked miserably. “Why would he chose to be a sorcerer, in Camelot of all places?” Why wouldn’t he tell me?

 

“To explain that, I must start from the beginning,” the physician warned. “In the course of this tale, you may well learn things that you did not want to know and your beliefs will be tested. Are you sure you want that, sire?”

 

Slowly, Arthur sat up and nodded. Merlin had been his best friend. He needed to know why the first friend he had ever had had kept such a secret from him. 

 

Gaius saw the determination in the young man’s eyes. It was the same expression he got when he was about to go risk his life. He’d decided that he needed to know the answers and he wasn’t going to stop until he got them. 

 

“Very well then,” Gaius sighed. 

 

Realizing that he was in for a long story, Arthur made himself comfortable. 

 

“The first thing you must understand is that Merlin is not a sorcerer,” the old physician began. Arthur cut in at that. 

 

“That’s what Merlin said. He called himself a warlock. What’s the difference?” 

 

“A sorcerer must study the art of magic,” Gaius explained. “They must learn incantations and study for years to master the old religion. A warlock is born with the power of magic. Usually it manifests in the late childhood, before young adulthood. Most of the time their powers appear around the age of twelve or fourteen, but sometimes they do not manifest until the individual is older. Merlin is an exception to that.” The old man’s eyes grew distant, as though lost in memory. “His mother came upon him just days after he was born, levitating half of their furniture. Such power is unheard of. When he first came to Camelot and saved my life without so much as a word, I could not believe it. No sorcerer or warlock has ever been powerful enough to create magic such as Merlin does without using an incantation. His magic is elemental. It is not something he chose.”

 

Arthur frowned in confusion. “He didn’t choose this. He was born this way?”

 

“Yes. He never had a choice in the matter. For Merlin, magic is as much a part of him as breathing. I tried to get him to top, for his own protection, but he did not. He could not.”

 

“But why come to Camelot?”

 

A wry smile tugged at the old man’s lips. “Hunith seemed to think that I could protect him and keep him out of trouble. I did practice magic before the purge and she hoped that I could help him gain control while keeping him safe. Though I may have succeed in the former, Merlin seems to attract more trouble here than he ever did in Ealdor.”

 

“Then why did he stay?” Arthur asked slowly, more befuddled than ever before. “He had to know how dangerous it was. The day he came here, father was holding an execution!”

 

“He may well have gone had he not found a use for his powers.”

 

“What is that supposed to mean?”

 

Gaius sighed again. This was going to be difficult to explain. “There is an ancient prophesy that binds the two of you. Unbelievable though it may sound, Merlin is your protector.”

 

The prince’s mouth fell open in astonishment, but Gaius plowed on. 

 

“His magic kept him awake when the witch posing as Lady Helen sent the castle into an enchanted sleep. He dropped the chandelier on her. When that proved insufficient to stop her, Merlin slowed time so that he could pull you out of the way of the dagger. He used magic to force the snakes on Valiant’s shield to come alive when the could not harm you so that you would not be killed. He conjured a wind to mingle with the flames of your torch to destroy the afanc--”

 

“Then why did the poison even effect him when he drank it just a few weeks later at the feast with Bayard?” Arthur demanded. “If he is so naturally powerful, then why did he not save himself?”

 

“It does not work that way. Powerful as he is naturally, Merlin still had to learn to unlock the whole of his powers,” Gaius said impatiently. “Even if he had known a spell that could have saved him, the poison acted too fast. He wouldn’t have stood a chance.”


Gaius never thought that he would have to explain any of this to the prince. He always just assumed that one day Merlin would take care of it. Even then, these were not the kind of questions he’d thought his young charge would be forced to answer. 

 

“Although, on the other hand, Merlin may well have been able to had he known the spell,” the old man added after a moment. “He did manage to conjure that orb to guide you.”

 

Arthur nearly fell off his chair. “That was Merlin!

 

“You really do have no idea how much he has done for you, and all of it through magic,” Gaius said ruefully. 

 

As he picked himself up, Arthur considered everything that he’d heard, and they’d barely covered the first two months of Merlin’s stay in Camelot. He couldn’t help but wonder what else the manservant had done for him. Perhaps Merlin really had been his protector. 

 

“Tell me everything,” he requested quietly.

 

“Well, let’s go in order then,” Gaius sighed. His heart was warmed slightly by the fact that the prince seemed so eager to learn about Merlin. “After the chalice, the griffin attacked. Merlin enchanted Lancelot’s spear so that it could pierce the creature’s hide.” No need to mention that he also created the false papers for Lancelot’s knighthood, he added to himself. 

 

Arthur’s eyes widened in sudden understanding. “Is that why Lancelot left all of the sudden?”

 

“He heard Merlin incanting the spell. Merlin said that he felt that he had not truly slain the beast and was finished with the deceits. He left to earn his honor.”

 

“So he knows too, then?”

 

Gaius heard the bitterness in the prince’s tone and he could guess the reason why. Arthur was angry that Merlin seemed to have trusted Lancelot, but had not trusted him. Perhaps it would have been wise for Merlin to confide in the prince after all. 

 

“It was not intentional, by any means,” Gaius assured him. “Merlin had no idea that he’d been heard until they had returned to the castle.”

 

For a moment, Arthur seemed to relax. Then his eyes flashed. “When Morgana fell ill, why couldn’t Merlin do something?” he challenged. “Surely by that time he’d learned enough to save her. If he’d used his magic then my father would never have been put in danger by Edwin.”

 

“That was my doing,” Gaius admitted softly. “When the city was attacked by the afanc, Merlin used magic to heal Gwen’s father and it nearly got her killed. I forbade him from doing the same thing again. By the time I realized who Edwin was, it was too late. He knew of Merlin’s power. Had I tried to stop him, he would have revealed Merlin to your father. As it was, Edwin nearly killed me and the king before Merlin stepped in.”

 

Arthur leaned back against his chair. It seemed that Merlin really had been doing all he could from the very beginning. “What else has he done?” he whispered. He was beginning to get the feeling that he had made a terrible mistake sending away the man who had apparently been protecting him without anyone knowing.

 

“I believe that next Merlin stopped Sophia and her father from sacrificing you to the sidhe so that they could regain access to Avalon, took a sword to the dragon so that it could ben enchanted to slay the dead, conjured the windstorm to save Ealdor, sou--”

 

“Wait a moment,” Arthur interrupted, again. “Merlin called the wind in Ealdor?”

 

Gaius nodded, looking confused. He didn’t understand the significance of that event.

 

“He tried to tell me,” Arthur said weakly, understanding Gaius’ expression. “Merlin tried to tell me that he had magic. He knew he was going to have to do something. I didn’t listen. When the wind storm appeared, I suspected it was him. But when Will confessed, I believed him, even though Merlin tried to stop him from saying anything. I should have known.”

 

“Merlin may act an idiot, but most of the time it is simply so that he can use his magic to protect people,” Gaius said fondly. “Of course he is sometimes just an idiot. He often acts before he thinks, but his heart is always in the right place.”

 

A small, fond smile tugged Arthur’s lips. “He always does seem to make a fool of himself trying to help someone. I can’t believe that he did so much for Camelot in such a short time.”

 

“Some of his greatest feats have been in the past year, but it was quite amazing how far he came,” Gaius acknowledged. “I swear to you, my lord, all Merlin has ever done is try to protect you and Camelot.”

 

“I’m beginning to believe that,” the prince acknowledged. “All of this is making wonder just how many of my triumphs actually came at my hand.”

 

“Merlin may have had a hand in those feats, but you were still the one to accomplish them.”

 

Arthur scoffed. “Really? Did I actually slay the questing beast? Or the dragon? Both times, I was knocked unconscious and Merlin told me that I had. How was Sigan defeated, because that wasn’t me either. Did I even kill the troll that married my father, or did Merlin do that too?”

 

For the briefest moment, Gaius considered telling the prince that he had, in fact done all of those things, but he knew that Merlin would want Arthur to know the truth. Hiding it had only served to make things worse when the secret was revealed. 

 

“No, Arthur, you did not kill the questing beast,” he said softly. “Merlin did after you were injured. Your sword was as useless against it as it had been against the gryphon. Had he not enchanted it, he would not have stood a chance. Sigan was defeated when Merlin chanced a dangerous spell to trap his soul back into the crystal. That spell could have killed him had it not worked. As for the troll, you did indeed kill it. All Merlin did was trip it up with the carpet.”

 

Arthur mulled over the physician’s words. Merlin really had done more than he’d ever dare thought, even after he’d realized that the manservant was a sorcerer... warlock... whatever he was. If he’d done all of those things and hadn’t gotten any credit, he’d have gone crazy. It was one thing to let Sir William of Daira receive the honor of winning the tournament, but the people needed to know that their prince was willing to risk his life for them. They needed to know what he had done. How Merlin could do all of those things, risking his life in ways that Arthur could never understand, was something completely beyond him. How could the gangly, awkward, idiot manservant he’d become friends with be not only a sorcerer, but a hero?

 

“What of the dragon?” Arthur asked. He’d not missed that Gaius had left that out.

 

“I’d rather hoped that could be left alone,” the old man sighed. “For that is a complicated matter.”

 

Dread coursed through Arthur’s veins. Was he going to learn something that would truly change his opinion of Merlin? Whether he was or not, he had to know what had happened. “Tell me, Gaius.”

 

The old man nodded. “Very well. Do you remember Balinor?”

 

“How could I forget him?” Arthur grumbled. “We travelled through Cenred’s kingdom to find him only to have him die saving Merlin. What about him?”

 

There was a pregnant pause. “He was Merlin’s father.”

 

This time, Arthur really did fall off his chair. Suddenly, it all made sense, why Merlin had been so quiet on the journey, why he had been the one to get the old man to come along, why Balinor had sacrificed his life, and why Merlin had been so affected by his death. 

 

“His father?” Arthur murmured. 

 

Gaius nodded sadly. “He didn’t know until just moments before you left. I cannot imagine how hard it was to lose Balinor so soon after finding him. But in dying, the power of the last dragonlord was passed on to his son. Merlin is now the last of his kind.”

 

“So he’s a warlock and a dragonlord?” the prince choked. “Don’t tell me he’s a fairy too!”

 

“I certainly hope not,” Gaius sighed. “The power of the dragonlord is what allowed Merlin to defeat the dragon. However, he did not kill it. They are both creatures of magic, kin of a certain kind. He could not bring himself to spill anymore blood. The dragon is subject to his will.”

 

“Of course,” Arthur grumbled. “The idiot is controlling the bloodthirsty monster. How did I not guess?”

 

“The dragon’s knowledge has saved Camelot many times,” the physician pointed out. “Had it not been for him, the wraith would have killed your father, Sigan would have overthrown the entire kingdom, and you would still be in love with Lady Vivian. Merlin knew that.”

 

Arthur began pacing. After a moment, he stopped and stared at Gaius with tormented eyes. “So, he really never hurt anyone? He never used magic for evil?”

 

“The only people Merlin ever hurt were those who attacked Camelot,” Gaius said firmly. “He has never taken a life that could be spared and he would never dare to use evil magic. Sigan offered him that chance and Merlin turned him down.”

 

“All he’s ever done is protect Camelot, protect me, and I sent him away.” Arthur ran a hand through his hair. “He must hate me. Everything he’s done for me and I--”

 

“Gave him enough trust to let him live,” Gaius cut in. “Merlin knew that he was asking you to accept a lot and frankly I cannot believe that you are taking it so well.”

 

“It all makes sense,” Arthur admitted quietly, sinking back into his chair. “All the close calls, all the times I should have died or Camelot should have fallen and somehow did not. This explains how Merlin always seemed to know what was going on, why he always seemed to be in the right place. I always thought he was just in the way, but if it hadn’t been for him, I’d probably be dead. But...” he looked up and again, Gaius saw the confusion in his eyes. “If magic isn’t evil, then why did Merlin, the warlock himself, tell me that magic was evil after we met with Morgause?”

 

“Because he knew that if you killed your father you would never forgive yourself,” Gaius said. “The kingdom would have been thrown into chaos and you would not have become the king you are destined to become. Merlin could not let that happen. You cannot even begin to guess how much it pained him to tell you that magic is evil when he knows better than anyone that it is not.”

 

Arthur couldn’t take any more. His mind was spinning. He wanted so badly to believe that what Gaius said was true and that Merlin really was not evil. Everything seemed to point to that. But he could not forget that his entire life he had been taught that magic was the worst evil in the world. As much as he could not see Merlin, goofy, idiotic, disrespectful Merlin as someone as cruel and malicious as the king claimed sorcerers to be, he could not help but fear that he perhaps his friendship with Merlin was keeping him from seeing clearly. 

 

He needed to be alone, to think. 

 

“I should go,” he said, standing and moving slowly toward the door. “Thank you for telling me all of this. I...I need time to think.”

 

Gaius nodded. “Of course.”

 

“This will stay between us,” Arthur promised. “I want no harm to come to Merlin.”

 

“Thank you, sire. Merlin truly did consider you a friend. That is why he protected you, not merely out of a sense of duty.”

 

Arthur paused, his hand on the door. He couldn’t admit how much that meant to him. Nodding once to Gaius, he left the room and made his way back to his chambers. To his surprise, he found that they weren’t empty. 

 

Chapter Text

“What are you doing here?” Arthur asked in surprise.

 

Gwen blushed and leapt up from her chair beside the fire, fumbling with the hem of her sleeve as she did. She’d known something was off the moment Arthur had come back to the castle after fighting the wyvern. Normally, he seemed proud and happy after defeating whatever creature happened to be attacking Camelot that week. This time, he’d been oddly subdued, despite the fact that none of his knights had died. Aside from a few minor injuries, everyone had been all right. There had been no reason for Arthur to seem so troubled. 

 

He’d given his report in a monotone, barely displaying any emotion, besides professionalism. The king hadn’t noticed that anything was wrong, but Gwen had. It was when Arthur had mentioned Merlin’s name. There had been a flicker of pain across his face. Something had happened with Merlin and it was bothering him. 

 

In the end, she got her answer. Uther had noticed that Merlin was not present, despite his attachment to Arthur, and had barely been mentioned in the report. It was a little surprising that the king had seen that since he usually cared so little for the servants. Arthur had explained that the events of the past few months had been too hard on Merlin and that the manservant had decided to return to Ealdor. 

 

“He was not sure if he will return,” Arthur had admitted. “Merlin said something about needing to deal with some things. The times have been hard on the best of us and he is not accustomed to the kind of destruction we have seen. I gave him permission to go and told him that if ever thought to return that he would still have a position as my manservant.”

 

The words had been spoken quietly, but with an authority that could not be challenged. Uther had simply nodded and that had been that as far as he was concerned. 

 

Gwen had seen the tension in Arthur’s shoulders as he walked away. There was something he’d left out, something concerning Merlin and why he’d left. Uther would never talk to him about it. He wouldn’t even notice. As wonderful as Gaius was, she doubted that Arthur would be comfortable enough to talk to him about whatever was going, perhaps because it had everything to do with Merlin. Hopefully, he would talk to her. So she’d followed him out of the throne room and taken a short cut to his chambers, hoping to get there before he had. She had not expected him to be gone for so long. 

 

When she did not answer immediately, Arthur allowed a small smile to tug at his lips. Despite everything that had happened with Merlin, being around Guinevere was enough to help him calm down. He saw that she was obviously embarrassed. She always was when she breached protocol around him, despite that he loved it when she did. He quickly closed the distance between them and captured her hand with his. 

 

“I’m glad you are here,” he whispered. “It has been a hard day.”

 

Her unease melted away slightly, though her worry did not. “I guessed as much,” Gwen replied. “You seemed troubled in the throne room. What happened?”

 

Arthur wanted nothing more than to tell her and though he knew that she could be trusted, it was not his secret. It had to be Merlin’s choice to trust her, not his. Given the chance, he had no doubt that Merlin would do just that. But unless he was there to make the decision himself, Arthur was not going to make it for him. Especially considering that he hadn’t yet figured out exactly how he felt about the whole situation. 

 

With a quiet sigh, Arthur dropped his forehead against Gwen’s. “I wish I could tell you,” he murmured. “I truly do. Something happened out there that has changed everything and I don’t know what to do!”

 

“Then tell me,” Gwen pleaded. “Let me help you, Arthur.”

 

A thrill ran through him. She rarely let her guard down enough to call him by his name without him having to say something first. He gripped her hand tighter. “I can’t.”

 

Gwen blinked away the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks. Luckily, Arthur’s eyes were closed and he didn’t notice. She fought to keep her voice steady as she spoke. “If you cannot trust me, then you must trust someone. You cannot ignore whatever this is. Perhaps Gaius--”

 

“I do trust you,” Arthur interrupted, his eyes open wide and staring directly into hers. “I trust you with my life, Guinevere. What happened with the wyvern, what truly happened, is not my story to tell.”

 

“Then whose...” she trailed off. “Is that why Merlin left? Something happened that forced him to leave.”

 

Arthur nodded sadly. “He had no choice. It was the only way for him to be safe.”

 

Her heart softened. Now that Gwen could truly look into his eyes, she could see how confused and conflicted he was. It was strange to see Arthur so vulnerable, so human. 

 

“Tell me what you can and I will try to help,” she offered. 

 

He hesitate for a moment before giving in to his need to talk to someone. Gaius had helped answer his questions, but had only increased his confusion in the process. He needed to confide in someone who could help him understand and Gwen had an uncanny ability to see to the heart of things. It was one of the many things that had drawn him to her. 

 

Running a hand through his hair, Arthur stepped away from her. He could feel his body beginning to pulse with nervous energy. As calming as her presence was, he couldn’t stand there any longer. He began to pace.

 

“Merlin was my best friend,” he burst out, ending the long silence. “I never told him that, but he was the first person to ever talk to me like a person. With Morgana it was always insults, with my father it was thinly veiled condescension, and with everyone else it was respect. Merlin told me what he thought of me simply because he was that honest a person. But tonight I found out that he has been keeping a huge part of himself secret. It is not something I can ignore and I am not sure that things can ever be the same again.”

 

He paused, struggling to find words, to say what he needed to say without revealing the Merlin had magic. Knowing that he wasn’t finished, Gwen waited patiently. 

 

“I have learned so many things tonight, most of them about Merlin, and I just do not know what to think any more. Is he really the person I thought he was or did I never know him? How do I reconcile my memories of him with the person I now see him as? I just...I have no idea what to do!”

 

Gwen let out a shaky breath. “I wish that I could I give you an answer, but even if I knew exactly what had happened, I cannot tell you what to think. It must be your choice. That being said,” she went on, walking slowly towards him, “Merlin was my friend as well. Ever since he came into Camelot, he has gone out of his way to help others. Do you not remember that he challenged you before he had even been in the city for a day?”

 

He let out a quiet laugh at that. That day was something Arthur would never forget. It had been the beginning of an unusual, but strong friendship with an equally unusual young man. 

 

“It never mattered to him what was happening. If he could, Merlin helped. He has always been there for us. He has been a good friend who always did what was right. I have never seen him act otherwise, even when he was unsure of the right course of action.” Her mind drifted back to the day when he had asked if it would be right to let Uther die for the sake of the innocents of the kingdom. Whatever he had been talking about, she knew that he had done the right thing. 

 

Shaking herself from her thoughts, Gwen plowed on, hoping that she was getting through to Arthur. “Whatever you learned, I cannot believe that Merlin is anything but a good person. I have never seen anything to suggest otherwise.You may never have told Merlin that you considered a friend, but I know for a fact that he considered you one. He has often risked everything for you. I do not know the secret, but I know he would not keep it from you, from all of us, if he had not had a good reason.”

 

He certainly had good reason, Arthur thought ruefully. Merlin has been breaking the laws of Camelot just by breathing since he set foot in the city. 

Gwen took the final step toward him, resting her hands on his chest. “I am sure that whatever you learned about Merlin tonight does not change who he truly is. All it has done is show you another side of him.”

 

“Is it really that simple?” Arthur whispered. He wanted it to be. He wanted to just say that nothing had changed, that Merlin as still the idiot he’d become friends with. But he wasn’t sure that he could. 

 

She wrapped her arms around his waist in an attempt to offer him as much comfort as she could. “You can make it that simple.”

 

Returning the embrace, he pulled Gwen to the bed and sat with her on his lap. “I don’t know if I can,” he admitted. 

 

“I doubt it will be easy, but since when has that stopped you?”

 

Arthur let out a single weak laugh. That was true. He only hoped that this time, it wouldn’t stop him. 

 

Sighing softly, he let his mind drift back to all the times he and Merlin had been in danger and began trying to reconcile his memories of the events with what Gaius had told him. Gwen felt some of the tension leave Arthur’s body and realized that he was no longer feeling quite so overwhelmed. Now he was facing the challenge like a knight. She knew that he would do whatever it took to deal with everything that had happened and hopefully it would all turn out well. She just wished that she knew what had so drastically changed the relationship between the prince and his manservant. 

 

***

 

The light dissipated and Merlin felt his feet hit the ground at an angle. His ankle gave, sending him tumbling to the ground in an undignified heap. Grumbling under his breath, he quickly righted himself. 

 

He’d landed beside the river, about a mile from Ealdor, in a small copse of trees that had hidden his arrival. He didn’t even want to think about what his mother would do to him if he’d outed himself to the entire village. She’d sent him to Camelot just because Will had found out. He knew she wasn’t going to take it well when he told her what had happened with Arthur. 

 

With a sigh, he shifted the straps of his pack higher on his shoulders and began the short trek back to his village. He’d been hoping for a chance to visit his home for some time, but between his duties and the sheer number of times he’d had to step in to save Arthur’s life, there hadn’t been the time. He could never have foreseen returning under the current circumstances. 

 

It wasn’t long before he was striding into his village. The sun was just beginning to set. Merlin paused for a moment to consider just how much things had changed in the course of a single afternoon. 

 

“Merlin!”

 

He turned at the sound of his name and saw his mother hurrying toward him. Grinning broadly, he quickened his pace again, meeting her halfway. 

 

“What are you doing here?” she asked, pulling her son into her arms for a crushing hug. “Why didn’t you send word that you were coming?”

 

Merlin returned the embrace. “It was a bit of a last minute decision,” he said, attempting to keep his voice light. 

 

He obviously failed when Hunith pulled away to gaze at him carefully. “What happened?”

 

Biting his lip, he gently steered her toward their small home and closed the door behind them. His mother watched him worriedly, but didn’t press for information. She knew he would tell her as soon as he was ready. 

 

Merlin dropped his pack in the corner and stood awkwardly in front of Hunith. “Arthur knows. He saw me use magic to stop a wyvern that was attacking the city. It was the only to stop it from killing him and half of Camelot. He took it better than I thought he would,” he added, hoping that would somehow make the situation better. “Instead of killing me, he told me to leave.”

 

There was pain in his voice as he spoke. Hunith stepped closer to her son, laying a hand on his arm as he continued. 

 

“I hoped that he would understand when he found out,” Merlin admitted. “At least Arthur didn’t hate me instantly.”

 

“He could never hate you,” Hunith assured her son. “I saw the way you two interacted when he came to help Ealdor. He values you as a friend. Give him some time to come to terms with your gifts and I am sure that everything will turn out all right.”

 

Merlin smile sadly. “I know. I just wish I hadn’t had to leave. Camelot has become my home. I am going to miss my life there.”

 

“Do you plan to stay here?” his mother asked hesitantly, despite feeling sure that she already knew that answer. 

 

There was a slight pause before he answered. “I don’t think so. Arthur may have sent me from Camelot, but I still have to protect him. He can’t go a week without being attacked by something.”

 

“Then what will you do?” Once more, she knew that answer before her son gave it.

 

“I’ll go back,” Merlin shrugged. “I know that it’s dangerous, but someone has to protect Arthur from himself. I can find someplace just outside the city and keep my ear out for any danger. I’ll continue to study and do whatever I can to help people, not just Arthur.”

 

Hunith smile proudly. “You have become a great man,” she whispered. “Arthur should be proud to call you a friend. I am sure that he will be safe so long as you are looking after him.”

 

“You’d be surprised,” he chuckled. “If anyone can get himself into trouble, it’s Arthur. Anyway, I’m not leaving immediately. It’s been too long since we spent some time together. Arthur will be fine for a few days while I take a well deserved break.”

 

***

 

Merlin did not get a well deserved break. He spent a week in Ealdor, helping his mother with the chores he had done before he left. They went a lot quicker now that he had more control over his magic. There was no need to worry about flattening old man Simmons now that he knew what he was doing. With his help, the little cottage was repaired and wood was stacked for the swiftly approaching winter. He helped others in the village as well. It seemed that since he’d come charging in with the prince of Camelot to stop Kanan, the other villagers were more keen to accept him than before. 

 

He swiftly learned that though Ealdor had once been his home, it was no longer. Camelot was. He felt out of place. He missed the hustle and bustle of the busy city. He missed seeing Gwen. Her smile was always enough to brighten his day. As much as he would deny it should someone think to ask him, Merlin actually missed Arthur’s yelling, long lists of ridiculous chores, and name calling. He missed the strange smells of Gaius’ various medicines. He missed the old man’s wise counsel. He missed his old life. 

 

In the evenings, he and his mother talked of all that had happened since they’d last seen each other. Hunith told him stories of Balinor and of the day to day happenings of their neighbors while Merlin told her of his many adventures with Arthur. It was pleasant and reassuring to feel as if nothing was depending on him to be don. But by the time a week passed, he was getting restless. There were so many things he had to do if he was going to be able to protect Arthur from a distance. 

 

The grey light of early morning saw Merlin and Hunith standing beside the horse Merlin had purchased with some of his savings. Traveling by magic was great, but it took a lot of out of him and he only knew spells to take him to places he had already been. He couldn’t depend on it as a method of travel. 

 

Hunith wrapped her arms around her son. “Be careful,” she whispered. “You may no longer live under the king’s roof, but using your powers will still be dangerous. There will be those who would be more than glad to take you to him for a reward.”

 

Her words reminded Merlin of Freya. He bit back a grimace and pulled his mother tighter. 

 

“I will be,” he promised, knowing even as he spoke the words that they were empty. Try as he might, danger just seemed to find him. Pulling away, Merlin fixed a reassuring smile on his face. “I’ll write to you all the time. If you ever need anything, just let me know and I’ll be back here in a flash, literally,” he added, thinking of how he had arrived. 

 

Hunith hugged him again, then stepped back. With another smile, Merlin easily mounted the horse, something he’d had trouble with until Arthur had forced him to learn. He waved one last time, tapped the horse’s sides with his heels and galloped away. 

Chapter Text

To most of those who stepped inside the chambers of the court physician, nothing seemed to be missing. Various herbs, plants, and strange looking instruments were scattered across the crowded benches. Books littered almost every available surface and were stacked high against the wall. Shelves were filled with vials of medicines. The smells blended together to create a distinct odor that could found only in that one room. 

 

In the midst of the seeming chaos, was the old physician himself. He busily mixed potions, restocking what had been used through the course of the day, or making specific concoctions for one of his patients. He stopped what he was doing to help any who came into his chambers, regardless of whether they wanted his aid or a bit of his fatherly advice. He went about his rounds as he always did, with a smile on his face and gentle hands. No one who saw him would ever guess that anything was amiss. 

 

But when the jobs of the day were done and there was nothing left to occupy his mind, the facade slipped, revealing a man consumed with sorrow and loneliness. 

 

This was how Gwen found Gaius every morning and every evening. In Merlin’s absence, she had been unofficially assigned to help the physician with his chores. Morgana was concerned for Gaius now that Merlin was gone, so in the mornings, Gwen reported to the court physician’s chambers, got a list of the supplies Gaius needed her to collect that day only to return in the evenings to help in any way she could. She’d tidy up the room, help mix some of the simpler remedies. 

 

It was painfully obvious to her that Gaius was desperately missing Merlin. The twinkle was gone from the old man’s eyes. Gwen could see that it hurt him to witness her doing the jobs that Merlin had once taken care of. Merlin’s old room remained closed and empty. Every once in while, Gwen would catch Gaius staring at the door, almost as though he was hoping that his ward would magically return. 

 

It had been almost a month since the day she’d found Arthur in his chambers and the prince had confided to her that something had happened between him and his manservant. Gwen still had no idea what had happened. Arthur hadn’t spoken to her on the subject since, though he’d made it a habit of showing up at her house at least three times a week. Usually, they talked about the inane daily happenings of the city or simply sat in silence. She knew that he was still as conflicted as before. Something in her heart told Gwen that Arthur would never really come to terms with whatever had happened until he got a chance to actually talk to Merlin. That didn’t seem like something that would happen any time soon. 

 

Gwen wished that someone would tell her what was going on. She hated feeling useless. She’d once asked Gaius if he could tell her why Merlin had left, but he’d simply shaken his head and said that it truly was for the best that he was gone. 

 

No one else missed the gangly, clumsy young man. Some of the other servants had noticed that Merlin had left. He had a way of brightening any room he came into, but they had never been close friends with Merlin. To most the castle, nothing had changed with his departure and no one considered Gaius’ distress as being strange. Everyone knew that Merlin was the son he’d never had. 

 

She missed him as well. One goofy smile from Merlin was enough to brighten her day. He always seemed to know what to say and he always seemed to be there when anyone needed him. He’d gone out of his way on more than one occasion to help her. There was no doubt about it, Merlin had left Camelot just a little bleaker in his absence.

 

Realizing she’d reached her home, Gwen shook herself from her thoughts and let herself in. She dropped her cloak over the back of a chair before busying herself with starting a fire. 

 

There was a clatter behind her, as if someone had kicked a chair as they passed it. A hand clamped across her mouth to keep her from screaming out. 

 

“It’s me!” a familiar voice said calmly in her ear. “It’s just me.”

 

Gwen instantly relaxed and the hand fell to her shoulder, gently turning her around. A hooded figure was standing behind her. He smiled sheepishly and pushed the hood of his cloak back. 

 

“Merlin!” she whispered, throwing her arms around his neck. 

 

He eagerly returned the embrace. Gwen had always given the best, most heart warming hugs. More than once she’d turned his day around when Arthur was being more of a prat than usual or when something was going wrong. He’d missed her, just as he’d missed Arthur and Gaius. 

 

After a moment, Gwen pulled away and smacked his chest. “Where have you been? Do you have any idea what you’ve done to everyone?”

 

Merlin winced. “I didn’t have a choice.”

 

“That’s not true,” Gwen snapped. “Gaius said the same thing to me when Edwin came to Camelot. You always have a choice, even if it is the choice not to do anything.”

 

“I wish it were that simple,” he sighed. “But it’s not Gwen. Believe me, I didn’t want to leave. I just had to.”

 

“Then why did you come back?” she challenged. 

 

If possible, he looked even more sheepish than before. “I need a little help,” he admitted. 

 

Gwen was immediately concerned. “With what? Is this about why you left?”

 

“Yeah, but it’s complicated,” he said evasively. “I don’t want to get you into trouble. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t my last choice. I’d ask Gaius, but you’re closer to Arthur.”

 

“Just tell me what’s going on!” she pleaded. 

 

“I can’t,” he said miserably.

 

“I don’t care if it’s complicated,” Gwen shouted. She rarely, if ever, raised her voice and the fact that she had was a testament to how worried she’d been. “I’ve spent the past month standing by, watching Gaius and Arthur suffer because something happened that they can’t tell me about. I’ve been worried sick about you, but the only answer I ever get is that it’s not their story to tell. If you want my help with this, then I want to know what is going on!”

 

Merlin sighed. She had a point there. What he was about to ask her would put her right in the middle of what had happened between him and Arthur. If he was going to ask her that, then she had a right to know. He just hoped that she took it better than Arthur.

 

He spared a quick glance toward the window to make sure that no one was passing by. As he looked back to Gwen, who was still glaring at him, his eyes fell on the empty fireplace. 

 

“Forberne,” he said clearly. 

 

His eyes flashed golden and a fire sprang to life in the grate. Gwen let out a quiet gasp, her hands flying to her mouth. She stared at Merlin in surprise and reflexively took a step back. 

 

“Is that why you left?” she asked after a long moment of stunned silence. 

 

Merlin looked confused. That was not the question he’d expected her to ask, and he wasn’t sure that he understood what exactly she was asking.

 

“Did you leave because you found out that you have magic?” Gwen clarified. 

 

A sad smile tugged at the warlock’s lips. “Gwen, I’ve had magic since I was born. I didn’t leave because I have powers, I left because Arthur found out and ordered me to.”

 

He sank onto the chair that he’d kicked earlier, looking more weary than Gwen had ever seen him. He looked like he’d aged ten years. “I’ve been using magic to save Arthur’s royal ass since the day I met him,” Merlin admitted. “It’s apparently my destiny, but it doesn’t hurt that I consider Arthur my friend. I managed to escape attention, until the incident with the wyvern. That time, Arthur saw me. He told me that he didn’t want to execute me, but that I couldn’t stay either. So, I left.”

 

Gwen stared at him. “You’re a sorcerer.”

 

“A warlock actually,” he corrected with a hint of his old humor. “Sorcerers have to practice and study magic. I’ve always had it.”

 

She rolled her eyes a little, almost relieved to see that Merlin was still the same person she’d always known. It was hard to reconcile the idea of magic with the idea of Merlin. He seemed too innocent and carefree to carry that kind of power. Gwen’s forehead furrowed as a troubled thought crossed her mind. “Have you ever used magic to hurt people?”

 

Merlin shook his head emphatically. “I would never hurt an innocent person. I have only ever inflicted on harm on people who were going to kill me, Arthur, or the people of Camelot.” He tried not to feel hurt that she would ask that of him. Growing up under Uther’s reign didn’t exactly foster good will toward magic. 

 

Blood rushed to Gwen’s cheeks, turning them a deep shade of crimson. “Of course not. I knew that. You couldn’t hurt anyone. I should never have--”

 

“It’s all right,” Merlin interrupted softly. “I understand why you asked. I use magic when it’s forbidden and according to Uther, magic is evil, therefore I am evil. It’s not your fault.”

 

She gave him a small, thankful smile. “Well this certainly explains why Gaius seems resigned to the fact that you’re never coming back and why Arthur seems to conflicted over what happened,” she said, moving to sit in the chair beside Merlin as she did. 

 

“I never meant for Arthur to find out about me the way he did,” Merlin said miserably. “Especially not after everything that had happened with Morgause and the dragon.”

 

“There’s nothing you can do about it now,” Gwen said gently. “At least Arthur was willing to consider that you aren’t a threat simply because you have magic. He could have killed you on the spot, but instead he let you go. That has to mean something.”

 

“It does,” the warlock said quickly. “But it also makes things more complicated. Arthur is a magnet for danger, especially danger of the magical kind. I’m the only one who can protect him because I’m the only one who knows how. I can’t come back to Camelot. Not yet, anyway. Arthur isn’t ready to trust me--”

 

“How can you know that?” Gwen interrupted. “For all you know, he could be waiting for you to come back!”

 

“You know Arthur as well as I do,” Merlin said. “And you know he’s not ready. When he is, he’ll come looking for me.”

 

As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Merlin was right. Arthur wasn’t ready. He still hadn’t decided what he thought about Merlin. Until Arthur made his decision, Merlin needed to keep his distance. 

 

“Then what are you going to do? If Arthur’s in danger as often as you say, you can’t stay out of Camelot,” she said quickly. 

 

Merlin grinned. “That’s were you come in. I’ve found a house in a small village just outside the city. I’m using all the training Gaius gave me to work as a physician. As close as I am to the city, I still don’t know everything that’s going on. You’re in the castle every day and Arthur trusts you with everything. I need to tell me when something happens so that I can stop if I need to. 

 

“I’d ask Gaius to do it, but you’re closer to Arthur. You’re more likely to notice if someone is after him. He confides in you and I’m not asking you to betray his confidence, just to let me know when you notice something suspicious.”

 

Gwen fell silent, trying to process everything she’d heard. Merlin was a warlock who’d been using magic to protect Arthur. He’d gone into hiding, but was still willing to risk his life to protect the people he cared about. What’s more, he trusted her enough to ask her for help. She knew that channelling information to Merlin could be dangerous. If he was as close to the city as he’d hinted, then anyone could see her with him and word could get back to Arthur, who probably wouldn’t take the news well. She should tell Merlin just to ask Gaius for help. The old man had been helping Merlin from the beginning, but she knew that Merlin was right. She was closer to Arthur. She’d have a better chance of seeing if something was wrong. 

 

“I’ll do it,” she said after a moment. “What exactly do you need to know and how do I find you?”

 

Merlin pulled a map out of his pocket and unfolded it on the table, talking as he did. “I need to know if you see anything out of the ordinary. Whether it be visitors who seem a little strange, beasts attacking the country side, or a mysterious illness. If something happens, this is where I am.” He pointed to the village where he was staying, but before he could say anything else, Gwen spoke. 

 

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” she said in surprise that bordered on horror, “but isn’t there a magical way I can talk to you?”

 

His eyes widened. “Using magic is dangerous. I’ve almost been caught more times than I can count.”

 

“I know that,” she said impatiently. “But if I leave the city every time there is a crisis, some one will begin to get suspicious. Besides, I may not get to you fast enough or I may not be able to leave the city.”

 

Merlin knew she had a point. He still didn’t like the idea of risking her life with magic, but he’d admitted to himself before ever coming to Camelot that he might have to resort to that. Sighing, he pulled a small pouch of herbs that he had intended for Gaius out of the pack still slung over his shoulder. “Throw a small amount into the fire when you think that something is going on. I’ll get to the city as quickly as I can.” He handed her the pouch. “That’s the best I can do.”

 

“Will you get here in time?” she asked softly. 

 

“I have my ways,” Merlin said with a small hint of a smile. He reached back into his bag and pulled out a small mirror. “Give this to Gaius. He’ll know what to do. It’s a last resort if something happens. Tell him that I’m all right when you do. I’m sure he’s worried.”

 

Taking the mirror, Gwen clutched it to her chest. She was feeling beyond overwhelmed. 

 

Merlin glanced out the window. 

 

“I should go,” he murmured. “I don’t want to risk being seen. Thank you for helping me.”

 

“Of course,” she whispered. She set the mirror aside and pulled him into a hug. “You’re my friend, Merlin. I know you’re the one that saved my father from that plague last year and I am sure that you’ve done far more.”

 

“Thanks, Gwen. Look after Arthur, will you? That prat can’t stay out of trouble to save his life,” he laughed weakly. 

 

“You keep yourself safe, too,” Gwen said fiercely. “Camelot needs you as much as it needs Arthur.”

 

Merlin smiled sadly, pulling back. “I’ll try. If you have any questions about magic, you can always go to Gaius. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about all of this sooner,” he whispered. 

 

“Don’t be,” Gwen smiled. “I understand why you didn’t tell anyone and I’m glad you trusted me now. Just keep yourself safe and eventually this will all work out, I know it will.”

 

Merlin grabbed the map off the table where he’d left it and pressed it into Gwen’s hands. “Keep this in case you need to get out of the city. You can come to me. Just ask for Emrys when you get into the village. It’s what the druids call me,” he admitted with a blush. 

 

He pulled the hood of his cloak over his face. With one last goofy smile, Merlin ducked out of the house and disappeared into the darkness. 

 

Gwen collapsed onto her bed, her mind spinning. She could understand completely why Arthur was so torn up over what had happened. If she hadn’t known that he was struggling to reconcile what he knew with what he’d been taught, Gwen wouldn’t have been so easily able to accept Merlin’s magic. She supposed that it helped that she’d never been quite sure that Uther’s anti-magic laws were right. 

 

Her eyes fell on the mirror and the small pouch Merlin had given her. Sighing, she wrapped the mirror in a scrap of cloth from one of the dresses she’d made. She’d give to Gaius in the morning. The pouch had a long string attached, almost like a necklace. She slipped it over her head, so that she would always have it should something happen.

 

***

 

It took Merlin several hours to make the trek back to the small village he’d been staying in. He was too tired to use magic for the journey. 

 

The village was dangerously close to Camelot. Knights passed through Bardwell, as the village was called, on an almost daily basis. Any one of them could see him and taken word back to Arthur. That was why he had become Emrys. Merlin had known that changing his name wouldn’t be enough if someone he knew came into the village, so he’d made a potion that could alter his appearance. It was more permanent than a spell and took no effort to maintain. He took it every day when he woke up and before he went to bed. He’d allowed the effects to wear off so that he could go see Gwen. He’d taken the potion again once he was outside the city. By the time he reached the village, he had become Emrys once again. 

 

The villagers had welcomed him easily. Someone with his abilities as a physician was a rare commodity. Though he was nowhere near as good a physician as Gaius, he had still been able to help the villagers and even save a few lives. It was good work. He was happy to do it, but he still missed Camelot. 

 

Suppressing a yawn, Merlin walked into his tiny home. It was only two rooms, with a shed added on. The two rooms were separated into a patient room and a small living space for him. He’d knocked a wall down to connect the shed to the house and was using the room to store his medicinal supplies and his magic tools. He’d managed to get his hands on more magic books during the month he’d been away from Camelot. Most people had no idea what they were and were more than happy to part with them for a few coins. 

 

He stumbled toward the barrel of water in the corner and gazed at his reflection, making sure that the potion had worked and that his appearance had been altered. 

 

His eyes were the only thing that didn’t change. They stared at back him beneath a mop of thick, unruly light brown hair. His face was rounder and slightly older. There were lines around his eyes and mouth. For someone to realize who he was, Merlin would have to run into someone who knew him well and who took a really good look at him. 

 

Merlin was glad that Gwen had agreed to help him, but he wasn’t as happy that he’d ended up giving her a magical method of communication. If she got caught with those herbs by someone who knew what they were for, she would be in serious trouble. The only thing he could do was make sure that he got there in time to stop whoever was trying to destroy Camelot that day before she was caught. 

 

Sighing, he looked out the window. The sky was beginning to lighten. The village would be stirring soon. There was no time for him to sleep. He didn’t just tend to the people’s medical needs. His time as a servant in the royal household had taught Merlin many skills that he used to help the people with their daily chores. 

 

With a flash of his eyes, Merlin closed the front door to his house. He ran a hand through his hair and made his way back to the storeroom. He muttered a few words to create a ward that would alert him if anyone entered the house, then set to work. 

 

He spent the last few hours before morning flipping through one of his new spell books. With so much more time on his hands, Merlin had done quite a bit to strengthen his magic. He’d learned new spells, become better at controlling his powers with only his thoughts, and had learned much about the different branches of magic. It was exhilarating. He guessed that for him learning magic was like training was for Arthur. He felt tired and often sore from spells gone wrong at the end of the day, but it was always worth it. 

 

The sounds of the village beginning to wake drifted into the house. Knowing that he would not be alone for long, Merlin put away his spell book and began sorting through the medicines he knew that he would need for the day. A buzzing sound in his ear alerted him to the fact that someone was coming. 

 

The door banged open and a small boy ran in. Merlin smiled. 

 

“Good morning, Andrew,” he said cheerfully, managing to keep the fatigue from his voice. “How’s your mother doing?”

 

“Better,” the little boy answered. “She’s still coughing and we’re out of the medicine you gave us.”

 

Merlin plucked the vial off of his shelf and handed it to Andrew. “If she’s still coughing when this is empty, come and let me know. We might need to try something else. Tell your mother that I hope she feels better.”

 

The boy took the vial, grinning broadly. “Thank you, Master Emrys.”

 

He watched Andrew go with a smile. He still couldn’t get used to be called “master.” Everyone in the village did. They seemed to think that because he knew so much about medicine that he was an important person. 

 

During the day, Merlin kept busy. He saw to several small injuries: a woman who had cut her thumb while cooking, a young child who’d fallen and badly scraped her knee and hands, and two men who’d been carrying a log and dropped it. He went around to the elderly and checked up on them, prescribing various tonics for their aches and pains. In the afternoon, he helped the other men repair the house of an elderly couple. By the time evening came round, he could barely stand. 

 

He quickly cleaned up his materials before collapsing into bed. There was no doubt about it. As much as he’d complained about the workload and Arthur’s tendency to be a prat, Merlin really did miss working for him. As much respect as everyone gave him, they weren’t his friends. 

 

With a quiet sigh, he closed his eyes. His last thought before he fell asleep was that he hoped that one day he would be able to return to Camelot to be with his friends once more. 

Chapter Text

A twig snapped, sending the deer Arthur had been hunting off into the underbrush. The prince grit his teeth, and turned around to berate his useless manservant. Only, there was no one there. He was alone. Cursing under his breath, he stomped off after the deer. 

 

Despite the months that had passed, Arthur hadn’t been able to bring himself to get a new manservant. He should have been over the fact that Merlin was a sorcerer, or warlock, or whatever the hell he was. He should have accepted that the idiot was never coming back. But he hadn’t. Without fail, when the poor boy who was serving him came in to wake him, Arthur shot up in bed, thinking for one moment that Merlin was still there. Then the sleep would clear from his mind and he’d remember what had happened the night the wyvern attacked. 

 

He hated that he still couldn’t figure out what to do about Merlin’s secret. Every time he tried to figure it out, all he did was go around in circles. It seemed that if he was ever going to figure it out he’d have to actually talk to Merlin, but that didn’t seem like something that would happen any time soon. As much as he wanted answers, Arthur didn’t want anything to happen to Merlin and the fact that he hadn’t been caught sooner was a miracle. He wasn’t about to risk Merlin’s life for his own curiosity.

 

Arthur ducked beneath a low hanging branch. He pushed all thoughts of Merlin out of his mind and tried to focus on the forest around him. 

 

Another twig snapped. The prince froze. Once was a coincidence. A small animal could have run over something. But twice mean someone was following him. He knew that he wasn’t truly alone in the forest. Sir Leon was out there somewhere. He’d stayed behind to tether the horses and was supposed to be catching up any moment. Arthur knew that it wasn’t him. Leon knew better that to sneak up on the prince when he was hunting. Someone else was in the forest. 

 

He cursed under his breath. He’d left his sword at the castle. The heavy metal weapon restricted his movement when he was hunting. All he had was a crossbow and a dagger. What was worse, while caught up in his thoughts he’d wandered into a sort of gully. He cursed himself again. It was the perfect place for an ambush. 

 

Almost as if in answer to his thought, half a dozen sword-wielding bandits burst out of the underbrush. Arthur managed to get an arrow off, killing the nearest bandit. Backpedalling as fast as he could, he struggled to get another arrow set in the bow. They were closing in too fast. He abandoned the arrow, choosing instead to use the crossbow as a weapon. Dodging a clumsy stab, he knocked another bandit round the head, sending him to the ground, unconscious. 

 

The four remaining men pulled back warily. Arthur’s trained eyes easily saw that they were not overly skilled with a blade, but they were determined. He may have been the better fighter, but he was also unarmed and outnumbered. 

 

The crossbow was too cumbersome to use effectively against swords, so he tossed it aside. The bandits seemed to take that as a sign of weakness and rushed forward. By some miracle, Arthur managed to dodge around their blades. He grabbed the sword arm of the smallest man and twisted it behind his back, forcing him to drop the blade. Arthur dove for it. A vicious kick to the ribs sent him flying. He struggled to get his breath back and climbed to his feet. Disoriented, he barely managed to dodge another slash to his ribs. The blade grazed his side, tearing through fabric and flesh. 

 

He stumbled backward until his back hit a tree, keeping one hand pressed to his wounded side. Arthur found himself, once again, wishing that Merlin was there. He’d have done something to deal with the bandits. A branch would have fallen on their heads, they’d have impaled each other, or something equally as unlikely. But he wasn’t there and nothing like that was going to happen. 

 

Gritting his teeth, Arthur managed to pull the dagger from his belt. It wouldn’t do him much good against the bandits. He could barely stand. The wound must have been deep if he was losing blood fast enough that he was already lightheaded. Attempting to fight would be futile, but he was the crown prince of Camelot and he wasn’t about to surrender quietly. 

 

A battle cry echoed through the forest and Leon appeared. The bandits spun to face the knight, correctly assessing that he was the greater threat. Despite the severity situation, Arthur couldn’t bring himself throw his knife at one of their backs. That was too dishonorable to even consider.

 

Leon easily took care of the bandits. They didn’t have the benefit of the element of surprise and he was far more skilled with a sword than they were. Not to mention, he was fighting for his prince and his friend. In a matter of minutes, they were scattered across the clearing. The threat taken care of, Leon immediately hurried to Arthur’s side. 

 

“Good timing,” Arthur muttered. At some point during the battle, he’d slid down the tree and was sitting on the ground. 

 

Catching sight of the blood seeping through the prince’s tunic, Leon frowned. “Not good enough.”

 

Arthur waved him away and struggled to stand. “It’s not the bad.”

 

The knight started to retort -- when Arthur’s life was in danger, decorum could go to hell in his opinion -- but he was saved the trouble when Arthur’s legs buckled. Leon managed to catch his arm and lower him carefully to the ground. 

 

“Okay. Maybe it is bad,” he mumbled. 

 

Leon rolled his eyes and bent to examine Arthur’s side. The wound was long, stretching diagonally across his ribs. It was not overly deep, but it was bleeding profusely. Leon pulled the dagger from the prince’s limp hand and used it to cut a strip from the bottom of his cloak. With swift, sure  movements, he wrapped the makeshift bandage around the injury. 

 

“You’ve lost a lot of blood, sire,” he said softly. “We need to get to the horses.”

 

Arthur nodded grimly. It was taking every ounce of his concentration to stay conscious. Trying to stand up probably hadn’t been his best idea. He allowed Leon to heave him to his feet and begin the slow trek to the horses. The ground was uneven and the bracken was dense. It was the perfect place to hunt for deer, but it was proving dangerous ground to cover with an injured man. 

 

It took nearly an hour to reach the path where they’d tethered the horses. Leon was all but carrying Arthur, who’d fallen into a state of semi-consciousness some time ago. Camelot was nearly three hours ride away. They would never make it in time. 

 

Then, Leon remembered the conversation he’d overheard in the tavern, just a few nights before. 

 

***

 

A pretty barmaid flashed Leon a smile and set his mug of ale on the table in front of him. He returned the gesture politely before turning to his drink. He stretched his aching legs out beneath the table. Training had been hard that day. The prince was obviously distressed by something. The knights had long since given up guessing what it was about. Only Leon knew the truth and that was only because he’d had the misfortune of being awake at the time. 

 

He still couldn’t believe that Merlin had turned out to be a sorcerer. The boy didn’t look like he had enough strength in him to fell a small sapling, let alone wield the power of magic. But he had and he’d used that forbidden power to protect Camelot. Many things had become clear to Leon that night. Suddenly all the mysterious close calls over the years had been explained. Merlin might have had magic, but he certainly wasn’t evil. Leon was almost positive that the prince knew that on some level, but that he couldn’t actually accept it. He understood that Arthur needed time to come to terms with everything. He just wished that the prince would hurry up. The other knights were suffering because of his confusion. 

 

Taking a long swig of his ale, he attempted to push the thoughts from his mind. He’d gone to the tavern to forget everything that was going on, not to dwell on it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to keep his mind from drifting back to the subject of Merlin. 

 

“...might even be better than Gaius.”

 

Leon instantly perked up. Finally, something to distract him. 

 

The man who’d spoken looked like a farmer who’d come in from one of the nearby villages for market day. He  was sitting across from a guard, just a few tables away from Leon. 

 

“No one is better than Gaius,” the guard scoffed. 

 

The farmer just shrugged. “I’m telling you, this Emrys character is an excellent physician.”

 

“Then why haven’t I heard of him?” the guard challenged. 

 

“He stays in his village,” the other man said. “Bardwell’s not too far from my farm. He came out with Alyian was sick with a fever. She’d been ill for nearly a week and he had her better in just a few days!”

 

The guard looked unconvinced, but he didn’t pursue the subject. Instead, they started talking about the harvest. Leon quickly lost interest and turned back to his ale. 

 

***

 

Bardwell was only an hour away and the road in that direction was far easier than the journey to Camelot through the forest. If this Emrys person was as skilled as the farmer had hinted, then he wouldn’t have a problem with tending to Arthur’s wound. Even if he wasn’t as skilled as the farmer had believed, surely Emrys would know enough to stop the bleeding so that they could make it to Camelot. 

 

It was Arthur’s best option. Carefully, Leon laid him against a nearby tree and untethered his horse. The well trained beast knelt on the forest floor, allowing the knight to more easily lift Arthur into the saddle. Carefully holding onto the princes waist, Leon pulled the horse back into a standing position before mounting behind Arthur. 

 

He kept one hand pressed to the still bleeding gash in Arthur’s side and held the reins in the other. Leon grabbed the reins to Arthur’s horse and tied them to his saddle. A light kick to his own steed’s ribs sent the stallion into a smooth trot. 

 

***

 

“Change the bandage every couple of hours and reapply the poultice,” Merlin instructed, gathering up his supplies as he spoke. “The rash should clear up in a few days. Just try not to scratch.”

 

The farmer gave him a pained look. He’d someone managed to find his way into a patch of poison ivy while chasing down a stray pig. Every inch of exposed skin had soon been covered in a red, itchy rash. Fidgeting slightly, the man thanked Merlin tersely and left the little cottage. The warlock bit back a chuckle. The poor man was going to be in agony for days. 

 

He was about to go to his back room to get a little magical practice in when he heard shouts from outside. Immediately, Merlin grabbed his bag and pelted out the door, ready to deal with whatever catastrophe had occurred. He stopped short, skidding to a halt like a frightened colt, when he saw the unmistakeable silhouette of the crown prince of Camelot. 

 

It took Merlin a moment to get past the shock of seeing Arthur in his little village. Once he did, he realized that the prince was unconscious and that he only thing keeping him from falling out of the saddle was Sir Leon’s arm clamped across his waist. Arthur looked pale. With a jolt, Merlin realized that his side was stained red with blood. Someone had attacked Arthur. They’d wounded him. They’d almost killed him. 

 

And Merlin hadn’t been there to stop them. 

 

He cursed his stupidity. The prat got attacked almost every time he went into the forest. Merlin had put a spell on the castle gates that would alert him when Arthur left the city. He usually followed the prince to keep him out of trouble. But that day, he’d had too much to do and had opted to let Arthur fend for himself. Apparently, that had been the wrong choice. 

 

“Where is the physician, Emrys?” Leon shouted, forcing his horse through the crowd of villagers. Several people pointed to where Merlin stood. He quickly shook off the worry and anger and guilt that threatened to overwhelm him. By the time Leon reached him, he looked every bit the confident physician he was supposed to be. The worried friend was no where in sight. 

 

“What happened?” he demanded. He moved forward to help Leon lower the unconscious prince to the ground. 

 

“Bandits,” the knight bit out. “We were hunting. The prince went ahead while I tethered the horses. He was ambushed. I barely got there in time to stop them.”

 

Merlin nodded grimly. He supported Arthur while Leon slid off his horse and tied the reins to a nearby fence. Then the knight grabbed the prince’s other arm. Merlin ducked away, hurrying into the small house to gather any supplies he might need. 

 

When he came back out, his arms were filled with bandages and bottles, Leon had already placed Arthur on the small bed in the corner. Merlin pushed the knight out of the way. He pulled the makeshift bandage from Arthur’s side. Grabbing a small knife from the table, he cut away the tunic that the prince was wearing. Leon watched in amazement as the thin, wiry man in front of him easily pulled the fabric from beneath Arthur’s body. Once everything was out of the way, Merlin examined the wound. It was clean and it was still bleeding slowly. No bone was exposed, but it was still deep. He was going to have to stitch it closed. 

 

Merlin quickly set to tending the wound. He cleaned the dried blood away and packed a linen bandage into the wound to stop the bleeding. That done, he hurried into the back room and mixed a poultice that would stave off infection. Leon hovered all the while. Now the warlock understood what it must have been like for Gaius when Arthur or Gwen was injured and Merlin was the one pacing. 

 

Gathering the bowl containing the poultice in one hand, Merlin grabbed a small box containing a needle and silk thread. He pushed past Leon and strode back to Arthur’s bedside. Moving swiftly, he removed the packing and carefully sewed the edges of the wound shut. That done, he gently rubbed the poultice over the closed wound. 

 

“I need you to hold him up so I can wrap the bandages around his waist,” Merlin said quietly. He wiped his hands on a towel. Leon slipped his arm around the prince’s shoulders and lifted him into a sitting position, careful not to pull the stitches in the process. With deft movement, Merlin wrapped a long linen bandaged around Arthur’s waist. The moment he tied off the ends, Leon laid him down again. 

 

“How long will he be unconscious?” the knight asked.

 

Merlin’s lips pressed into a thin line. “It’s hard to say,” he admitted. “With that much blood loss, it could be some time. His healthy physique will help some. I will give him something that should help with the anemia.”

 

He strode into the back room and returned a moment later with a small vial. Lifting Arthur’s head, the warlock carefully poured the tonic into his mouth. He swallowed reflexively. 

 

Leon shifted he weight anxiously. “Once he wakes, will he be able to travel?” 

 

Merlin leveled a piercing glance at the knight. “With the placement of the would, I would say not. Sharp movements would pull the stitches. He’ll be lucky if he can stand for more than five minutes. It will be at least several days before he can travel again.”

 

“Will he be safe here, then?”

 

“This is a peaceful village,” Merlin snapped. “No harm will come to him.”

 

“I did not mean to imply otherwise,” Leon apologized. “But I must leave to return to the city and tell the king of what had happened. I have the utmost faith in your skills, but the king will want to send the court physician to assess the prince’s condition.”

 

Merlin nodded, “Of course.” It’s a good thing Gais already knows about my new identity,” he added to himself. I won’t have to worry about him giving me away by accident. 

He was jolted out of his thoughts by the sight of Leon bowing to him. That hadn’t happened to him even when he’d been the prince’s manservant. With a grateful smile, the knight left. After a moment, the sound of a horse galloping away drifted through the door. 

 

***

 

The rest of the day went by quickly. Merlin did his rounds with as much speed as possible. Everyone wanted to know what had happened to the prince. He danced around the truth as much as possible, giving non answers as much as possible. Gossip spread like wildfire in Bardwell, just as it had in Ealdor and he didn’t want people to think that the situation was worse than it was. 

 

He returned to his home in the late evening. Arthur was still unconscious. Blood had soaked through the bandage, but it was mostly dried which meant that the flow was slowing. Merlin closed the door and the windows. With no one to help him, he was going to have to use magic to lift Arthur up while he was changing the bandages. He couldn’t risk anyone walking in. The ward that would alert him to visitors was still in place, so he wouldn’t have to worry about on that front. However, there was a slight possibility that Arthur could finally come to. It would be better for both of them if he didn’t, so Merlin held one hand out over the prince and murmured, “Onswebban.” 

 

Warm, golden light bathed the prince for just a moment before fading. There had been on noticeable change, but the warlock knew that nothing could wake the prince until the counter-spell had been performed. With a flick of his wrist, Merlin carefully magicked Arthur into a sitting position. He cut away the bandage, using the ruined linen to wipe away the old poultice. After checking to make sure that nothing had happened to the stitches, he reapplied the poultice and rewrapped the bandages. Arthur never even stirred. 

 

Merlin laid the prince back onto the bed and muttered the counter-spell. 

 

Once more, Arthur was surrounded by a slight glow. His brow furrowed slightly, but he didn’t wake. The blood loss and the wound were still weighing heavily on him. Merlin ran a tired hand through his hair. He was glad that he wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor. One of the other villagers had been kind enough to supply another bed for occasions just such as these. He wanted nothing more than to succumb to sleep.

 

He was stumbling across the room when a tingling sensation across his body stopped him short. He’d forgotten to take his nightly dose of potion. Seeing as Arthur was still unconscious, Merlin simply summoned the vial from the storage room. He was about to down it when the fire suddenly glowed purple. 

 

Gwen was calling him. 

 

Cursing under his breath, Merlin shoved the potion in his pocket and hurried outside, incanting spell as he did. No one would be able to enter or leave the house. 

 

He slipped through the shadows to a nearby grove of trees. Closing his eyes, he pictured Gwen’s home. With that image placed firmly in his mind, he chanted the same words he had used to travel to Ealdor. He braced himself against the wind that lifted his feet off the ground. Seconds later, the tempest died away. 

 

Merlin didn’t have a chance to get his bearings before someone threw his arms around his neck and his vision was obscured by bushy brown hair. 

 

At least I made it Gwen’s, he thought wryly. 

 

When the woman in question pulled away, Merlin saw to his horror that there were tears in her eyes. 

 

“What’s wrong?” he asked gently. 

 

“It’s Arthur!” she whispered. Her voice was thick with tears and she was clearly having trouble getting the words out. “Sir Leon rode into the city a few hours ago. I heard from Gaius that Arthur as badly hurt. This is the first chance I had to get away. I don’t know what happened, but--”

 

“He was ambushed by bandits,” Merlin interrupted quietly. Gwen stared at him. He smiled sheepishly. 

 

“Usually, I follow Arthur when he goes out,” he admitted. “You know how much trouble he gets in. But today, I couldn’t get away without arousing suspicion. I don’t know how Leon knew about me -- or Emrys, I guess -- but he brought Arthur to the village. He lost a lot of blood, but the wound was clean and I’ve already taken care of it. He’s going to need a few days to heal before he can come back to Camelot, but he’ll be just fine.”

 

Gwen let out a sigh of relief. Her shoulders slumped as the tension left her body. Seeing that she was about to collapse, Merlin wrapped an arm around her waist and led her to a chair. He knelt beside her, his hand on hers. He didn’t want to leave with her still in such a state. 

 

“I’m sorry,” she said after a long silence. “I didn’t meant to drag you out here for nothing, especially when it is so dangerous for you to be in the city.”

 

Merlin shook his head, squeezing her hand as he did. “Don’t be sorry. No on actually knows I’m a sorcerer except for Arthur so it’s not really that dangerous for me to be in the city.”

 

She shot him a clearly disbelieving look and he plowed on. “Besides, I knew when I asked you to keep an eye out that there would be false alarms. I’d rather you call me for no reason than wait until it is too late just be sure that there really is something wrong.”

 

Gwen nodded weakly, then blushed slightly. “You have no idea how much it helps to know that you’re out there watching over all of us.”

 

Feeling his own cheeks redden in response to the unfamiliar praise, Merlin just shrugged. “Camelot is my home and you, Gaius, and Arthur are my family. I would do anything to protect you.”

 

She offered him a small smile. “I know.”

 

They sat in silence for a moment before Merlin stood and pulled his hand away from Gwen’s. “Arthur could wake at any moment,” he said. “I have to go make sure that he doesn’t do anything stupid and that no one notices that I’m gone. Leon was pretty sure that the king would want Gaius to go check on Arthur and if he finds something wrong he’ll have my head.”

 

“I have no doubt,” she laughed. 

 

Merlin grinned. Feeling lighter than she had in hours, Gwen watched as he muttered under his breath and his eyes glowed with molten gold. Wind whipped around him, touching nothing but him. Next thing she knew, he was gone. Gwen smiled to herself. She’d been too worried about Arthur to notice Merlin’s arrival, but she’d definitely noticed his exit. She didn’t think that she would ever get used to it.

 

Chapter Text

Awareness came to Arthur slowly. He knew almost instantly that he wasn’t in Camelot. He didn’t recognize the feel of his own bed or the cot in Gaius’ chambers. He was absolutely exhausted and his side was throbbing. The vague memory of being attacked by bandits and carried to the horses by Sir Leon swam foggily through his mind. He pushed them away tiredly. He didn’t want to dwell on how close a call that had been. 

 

As his mind became clearer, he realized that he wasn’t alone wherever he was. A hushed conversation was taking place not far way. Arthur could just make out what was being said. 

 

“Has he woken at all?” 

 

Arthur almost opened his eyes in surprise, but he was still too tired and it was taking all of his limited concentration to stay awake. He’d recognize the voice of Gaius anywhere. But if he wasn’t in Camelot, and he was sure he wasn’t, where was he and why was the old man there as well?

 

Before the prince could even begin to unravel the mystery, another voice that he didn’t recognize answered the physician. 

 

“He woke for a moment late last night,” the stranger said. “He wasn’t coherent. I don’t think he was ever fully conscious or aware of his surroundings. He just stirred a little bit and mumbled something about bandits.”

 

“But he succumbed to sleep, not unconsciousness?” Gaius pressed. 

 

“So it seemed.”

 

The old man heaved a sigh. “In that case, there is little to worry about. You have done well. The wound shows no sign of infection, despite it’s placement and how deep it is. This sleep is simply a result of blood loss. The prince should recover nicely. Have you given him anything to help with the weakness and anemia?”

 

“I gave him a potion when he first arrived,” the stranger answered. “But I didn’t want to administer it again until he’d woken and I had a better idea of his condition. I know that those potions can be tricky.”

 

“A wise choice. It is lucky that you were so close by. By all accounts, Arthur never would have made it to Camelot without that amount of blood loss.”

 

Before Arthur could even fully realize the implications of that statement, the stranger scoffed bitterly. “I should have been there. It’s my destiny to protect him and because I was stupid enough to get caught, I can’t do that the way I’m supposed to. If I had just been by his side, none of this would have happened.”

 

“You cannot blame yourself,” Gaius said soothingly. “You have been in an impossible position since the day this destiny bother started. It is a wonder that you have been able to do as much as you have. And there is no guarantee you could have prevented Arthur from being injured even had you been by his side.”

 

The physician’s words were met with silence. Arthur was more confused than ever. The voice had sounded wrong, but based on what the stranger had said and what Gaius had said to him, he could have sworn that the other person in the room was Merlin. A strange, desperate desire to see his friend and get the answers that he so badly needed consumed Arthur. But the exhaustion was too much. He lost the battle with the darkness and fell back into unconsciousness. 

 

***

 

The court physician of Camelot stared at the man standing in front of him. Despite the spell masking his appearance, the old man could see the familiar features of his ward. They were well obscured, but clearly visible to someone who knew the boy well and who knew to look. Seeing his familiar blue eyes in the unfamiliar face was oddly comforting.

 

It bothered Gaius that Merlin was so distraught over Arthur’s injuries. The wound had not really been bad. It’s placement had been inconvenient and had led to the bleeding, and while it had needed immediate attention, no vital organs had been pierced and there had been no infection. Merlin had done an excellent job of tending to it. All had turned out well. 

 

He wished that there was something he could say to raise Merlin’s spirits, but the boy seemed determined to blame himself for the prince’s current state. 

 

Pursing his lips and sighing quietly, the physician began gathering up his supplies. It had been wonderful to see Merlin again and to see how well he was doing, despite the circumstances. He was hesitant to leave. Being around Merlin had brought a sense of normalcy that had been missing for so long. But he was needed back in Camelot. The king would want a report on Arthur’s condition and Gaius had duties to attend to back at the city. 

 

“I know you think that you have to solve everything,” Gaius said softly. “But that is impossible, even for you, Merlin. As powerful as you are, even you cannot do everything.”

 

Merlin looked up sadly. “I’m aware of that, Gaius. I really am. But I still feel as though I’ve let him down somehow.”

 

“Well, you haven’t,” the old physician said matter-of-factly. “You’ve saved his life. No one can blame you for not being able to be everywhere at once. You have responsibilities here that you must attend to. Even you cannot hold that against yourself.”

 

For a moment, it seemed that Merlin would argue. Gaius smirked when the young man thought better of it and closed his mouth. Merlin would always care deeply for those around him, especially his friends. His kind heart was the one thing that kept the power he wielded from overwhelming him. But sometimes, he needed someone to remind him that he was only human. 

 

Sighing quietly, Gaius pulled Merlin into his arms and gave him a brief, warm hug. “It was good to see you my boy. Camelot has not been the same without you.”

 

“I bet it’s a lot more boring isn’t?” Merlin teased, a true smile stretching across his face for the first time since Gaius had seen him. 

 

“You have no idea,” the old man said fondly. 

 

Regret flickered across Merlin’s eyes. “I’ll be back eventually,” he promised. “It’s destiny, after all. Camelot will never be rid of me,” he joked weakly. “Do you have the mirror, in case something happens?”

 

“Gwen gave it to me. It is hidden in my chambers and there are not many who would know it for what it is. Did you enchant it yourself?” Gaius asked curiously. 

 

Merlin nodded. “When I was traveling, I managed to get my hands on some new books. One of them was mostly about scrying and communicating across distances. That’s where I found the spell for the powder I gave Gwen.”

 

“It is impressive magic. It is amazing how far you have come. Such a scrying spell usually requires water from a sacred well.”

 

“Um, I may have transformed water from the lake of Avalon into the mirror,” Merlin admitted. 

 

The old man’s eyes rose so high in surprise that they disappeared into his hairline. He opened his mouth as though to speak several times before shaking his head and chuckling softly. “You never ceases to amaze me, Merlin,” he sighed. “I’ll tell the the king that Arthur is in good hands, but that it will be at least a week before he is fit to ride back into the city. Sir Leon will be remaining behind to keep an eyes on things, so take care of yourself, my boy and send word with Arthur when he returns.”

 

“I will,” Merlin promised. 

 

It was with a heavy heart that Gaius walked out of the little house and mounted the docile old mare that was tethered outside. He knew that Merlin had had no other choice but to leave the city and seeing him again had shown the physician just how much good the time away was doing the young warlock. He finally had the opportunity to explore his powers. Access to more incantations would help him control his abilities so that he could better protect Camelot. But none of that changed the fact that Merlin had become like a son to Gaius and that he missed having him around. 

 

***

 

The sound of something shattering, followed by several low oaths brought Arthur back to wakefulness. He was immediately aware of the painfully throbbing of the wound on his side. Grimacing, he shifted slightly in an attempt to alleviate the pressure on the injury. He succeeded only in making the pain worse. 

 

“Lie still,” a voice said reprovingly. 

 

A hand came to rest on the prince’s shoulder, holding him still with a gentle, but firm pressure. The touch was oddly comforting. Arthur forced his eyes to open and saw a man, slightly older than he was, leaning over him with a concerned expression. His first instinct was to pull away and demand to know who the man was, but a foggy memory Gaius speaking to a stranger flickered through his pain hazed mind and he realized that the man meant him no harm. 


When he saw that the prince was truly awake, the man straightened and walked away. A few minutes passed before he reappeared. He sat down on the edge of the bed and slipped an arm beneath Arthur’s shoulders, lifting him up slightly, and pressed a cup to the prince’s lips. Realizing how thirsty he was, Arthur drank deeply. The cool liquid soothed the soreness of his throat. 

 

When the cup had been drained, the man set it aside and slid his arm from beneath Arthur’s shoulders. The prince gazed at the stranger curiously, trying to remember what had happened after the bandits had attacked him. 

 

“One of your knights brought you here,” the man explained. “A good thing he did too. The wound was bleeding heavily. I tended the wound and he returned to the city to inform your father.”

 

Arthur nodded slowly. His mind had cleared slightly. Another gentle touch on his shoulder drew Arthur from this thoughts. He looked up at the stranger. 

 

“How is the pain, sire?” the man asked. 

 

“Manageable,” Arthur answered.

 

The man gave the prince a piercing gaze, as if he knew that Arthur was lying and that the pain was intense. With an almost imperceptible eye roll, he snatched a small vial off a nearby table, pulled the cork out, and handed it to Arthur. 

 

“It tastes vile,” he warned. “But it will help.”

 

Accustomed as he was to Gaius’ concoctions, Arthur downed the contents of vial without complaint. A pleasant feeing of warmth washed through his body, easing the pain that had been beating through him. Breathing a sigh of relief, he leaned back on the pillows and gazed up at the man who was still seated on the edge of the small cot. Arthur was sure that he’d never seen the man before. He looked to be about middle aged, with thin brown hair, lightly tanned skin, and pale blue eyes. But there was something familiar about him that the prince couldn’t place. 

 

“Do I know you?” he asked. 

 

The man froze for the smallest of moments, but quickly busied himself with something at a nearby table. “I doubt it, sire. I have never been to Camelot and have spent most of my life traveling.”

 

Arthur wasn’t buying that for a minute. He knew that this man was someone he’d met before. “What is your name?” he demanded. He almost winced as the words came out of his mouth and he realized how callous they sounded. 

 

“Emrys,” the man answered without looking up from whatever he was doing. 

 

The prince frowned. The name sounded familiar -- as did everything about this man, apparently. It stirred something in the back of his mind, a half forgotten dream. He should know who Emrys was but he just couldn’t remember.

 

Before he could make any progress in forcing himself to remember, the door swung open and Sir Leon walked in, relief clear on his face when he saw that Arthur was sitting up and coherent. 

 

***

 

It took all of Merlin’s concentration not to lose his grip on his magic. His powers always reacted instinctively to his emotions and he was feeling sightly panicked. Arthur had recognized him. True it hadn’t been enough to know that he was actually him, but it had been enough to make the prince suspicious. Merlin had thought that it would be bad enough just being around the prince until he was well enough to return to Camelot. He’d never even considered the fact that Arthur would be able to see him through the disguise. Things were going to get awkward. 

 

He half listened to Leon and Arthur’s conversation. Leon was explaining everything that had happened since the prince had lost consciousness. Arthur was looking pale, but better. He was leaning against the pillows, weight resting mostly on one hip to keep the pressure off his wound, paying close attention to everything Sir Leon said.

 

Merlin reached for a bundle of dried john’s wort to add to the poultice he was making. Without so much as a conscious thought, the bundle shot across the table and into his hand. He froze. But Sir Leon and Arthur kept talking as though nothing had happened. He risked a look over shoulder and saw that they were still deep in conversation and probably forgotten that he was even in the room. 

 

He let out a sigh of relief and tried to regulate his breathing. His magic was a part of him and, as a result, was highly attuned to his emotions. If he was tense, his magic was tense, and when his magic was tense it sought a way to ease the tension, usually by acting on its own. He’d gotten better at controlling his wayward powers when the source of the tension was someone else’s well-being, but when it came to his own health, his magic had a mind of its own. Apparently, it had decided that his mental well-being was at stake. 

 

Mumbling something about water and henbane, Merlin hurried out of the house and darted into the trees. As soon as he was out of sight, he unleashed the magic that had been roiling inside him. When he opened his eyes, an oak that looked to be at least a hundred years old was standing in front of him. It hadn’t been there before. 

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. It was both heartening and slightly ironic to be the only sorcerer who’s magic grew things rather than destroyed them when he just let loose. 

 

He let off a few more bursts of magic, growing some flowers and creating some dancing lights, just to be sure that he had his powers under his control, before looking for the henbane he didn’t need, but had said he was going to get. 

 

When he returned to his house, he found Sir Leon and Arthur still talking. They both glanced at him when he entered, but didn’t say anything. He quickly set to work finishing up the poultice.

 

It wasn’t long before Leon rose and left the house. He bowed his head slightly to Merlin as he left. Merlin returned the gesture. As he looked up, he could have sworn he saw a slight smile on Leon’s face, as though he knew something. But the knight ducked out the door before Merlin could be sure. 

 

Gathering up the poultice, some bandages, and a small knife, Merlin walked across the room to Arthur’s bedside. He set his armload on the bedside table and fetched a rag and a bucket of water. 

 

“I need to change the bandage,” he explained softly. “I’ll need you to sit up, sire.”

 

Arthur nodded. He tried to sit up, but grimaced when the movement pulled at his stitches. Merlin rolled his eyes. Trust the prat to do everything the hard way.

 

Suppressing the desire to make a snarky comment that would be all to Merlin-esque for the the situation, the warlock lent down and helped Arthur to sit up, shifting more of his weight onto his hip so that Merlin could more easily reach the wound. He deftly grabbed the pillows and stacked them up behind the prince so that he could lean back comfortably.

 

Once Arthur was situated, Merlin set to work, cutting away the dirtied bandages. He deftly pulled the the linen from beneath the prince and tossed them into a nearby bucket. He would burn them later. 

 

“It is said,” the prince began, abruptly breaking the silence, “that many physicians have contact with druids and sorcerers.”

 

It took all of Merlin’s self control not to freeze in a panic. “I have heard that, sire,” he said carefully. “Even druids and sorcerers need medical treatment and their knowledge of the magical properties of certain plants is important.”

 

“What do you mean?” Arthur demanded. 

 

Oh, damn it, Merlin groaned to himself. What the heck is the matter with me? Gaius had asked him that same question many times over. Neither of them had ever come up with a suitable answer. 

 

“Many plants have magical properties,” Merlin explained quickly. “If a physician is not aware of them, he could easily mix ingredients that have adverse magical effects. I know that it is not approved, sire, but without a basic knowledge of magic and magical plants, it can be easy for a physician to harm his patients.”

 

To Merlin’s surprise, Arthur nodded. “That is understandable. I take it that it is not easy to gain such knowledge?”

 

With shaking hands, Merlin dipped the rag in the water and began wiping away the old dried poultice. He kept his eyes on his work as he nodded, not trusting himself to actually say anything.

 

“What is your opinion of magic, then?” Arthur asked, almost too casually. 

 

This time, Merlin couldn’t keep himself from stiffening and looking up in surprise. Arthur was looking at him over his shoulder. “Sire?” 

 

“Look, I’m not going to arrest you for giving me your opinion when I’ve asked for it,” he said impatiently. “I’m well aware of the fact that magic is more common than my father admits. I just want some honest answers from someone.”

 

“But, why me, sire?” Merlin asked nervously. He half expected that Arthur would call him an idiot and say, “Why do you think, Merlin?”

 

That wasn’t what the prince said. He sighed and leaned his head back. “I can’t explain it, but you remind me of someone that I should have trusted, but didn’t. I want someone who isn’t obligated to tell me what I want to hear or who’s too close to everything to give me a straight answer.”

 

“And you think that I am that person?” Merlin said carefully. 

 

Arthur nodded curtly. 

 

Well that’s something, Merlin thought idly. Of all the people he could come to for help on this, he comes to me. Though I doubt he’ll see the irony when he realizes that I’m actually me.

To buy a little time and think through his answer, Merlin tossed the rag into the bucket of water and began applying to fresh poultice to the wound. 

 

“I’d have to say, sire, that based on the knowledge of magic that I have for use in my healing, that perhaps it is not as bad as people think,” Merlin finally said carefully. “I am able to make more effective medicines by utilizing the magical properties of plants. I have never performed magic myself,” he said quickly. “But I manipulated the inherent magic of certain materials.”

 

Arthur nodded slowly, his brow furrowed slightly in thought, before asking, “Have you ever seen magic then?”

 

“I haven’t.”

 

“Then where does your knowledge come from?”

 

Merlin almost groaned. There was no easy way to answer that question. This whole conversation was likely to end with him on the run again. He’d just have to do his best to answer without giving too much away. 

 

“I have offered aid to certain magic users,” Merlin sighed. “As a physician, I believe it is my duty to offer comfort to anyone who asks for it. In return, they often gift me with some small knowledge that will help me in aiding others. They have never taught me true magic, though.”

 

“Not many would risk that,” Arthur said quietly. 

 

“Perhaps, but I believe that it is what is necessary. They are people after all.”

 

Arthur nodded. “You’re right. Perhaps Camelot would be better off if more people thought as you do,” he added in an almost whisper.

 

It was a good thing that Merlin’s back was to the prince or Arthur would have seen the his magic catch the poultice that had slipped through the warlock’s nerveless fingers. Merlin hastily grabbed the bowl and set it on the table where it was safe. 

 

“Sire?” he squeaked.

 

Arthur didn’t answer. Risking a glance back, Merlin saw that he was deep in thought. Willing himself to remain calm, the young warlock picked up the linen bandages and carefully began wrapping them around the prince’s torso. Neither of them spoke. 

 

Merlin tied off the linen securely, but gently, and began quickly gathering up his supplies. He placed them back on the main table. Moving mechanically, he cleaned up. Still, Arthur didn’t speak. Still anxious and having nothing else to do, Merlin began prepping the other medicines he was beginning to run low on. 

 

It was hours before Arthur spoke again. Merlin had finally managed to calm down a bit and stop panicking. He was hard at work on a particularly difficult potion that one of the older women in the village needed for her arthritis when the sound of a pained gasp broke through his concentration. He looked up to see Arthur shifting on the bed so that he was sitting up properly. Merlin hurried over to help him.

 

“You should be careful, sire,” he admonished respectfully. “You could pull your stitches and that will only make things worse.”

 

Arthur ignored him. “How much do you know about magic?”

 

“Sire?” Merlin asked, taken aback.

 

“Just answer the question,” Arthur said impatiently. 

 

“I know the basics,” Merlin answered. 

 

There was a moment of silence, then Arthur said, “Tell me everything you know.”

Chapter Text

Previously: "Tell me everything you know."

Merlin froze. The clay jar he'd been holding slid from his fingers, hitting the floor with a crash. What had he gotten himself into?

"Sire?" he managed to gasp.

"You heard me," said Arthur impatiently. "What do you know of magic?"

Merlin stood in the middle of the room, opening and closing his mouth like an idiot, unsure of what exactly to say. When Leon had come riding into camp, Arthur before him on his horse, the last thing he'd been expecting was to have this conversation, or any conversation concerning magic.

Mentally grabbing hold of himself, Merlin took a deep breath and said calmly, "Most of my knowledge relates to the inherent magical properties of plants. I really don't know much about magic in general. If you have specific questions I could attempt to answer them," he suggested.

Arthur frowned in thought, but nodded in agreement. "Are people born with magic?"

It was a good thing that Merlin hadn't thought to pick anything else up else he would have dropped it and made a bigger mess on the floor. He sat down slowly, forcing himself to remain calm.

"I have that impression, yes," he said. "But no one has ever said anything outright."

"The people you've met, what were they like?" Arthur asked carefully.

Before Merlin could stop himself he said, "You mean did they seem evil?"

Arthur's face tightened, but he nodded.

"They seem scared," Merlin said. "Most of them are terrified that someone will hand them to your father. When they come to me, it is often because they have no other choice. More often than I'd like they come too late. I would say that many of them are frightened enough to do something desperate, but most don't agree with the radicals that are responsible for most of the attacks."

To his surprise, rather than object in anyway, Arthur simply nodded, his frown deepening. When several minutes passed and the prince hadn't spoken, Merlin cleared his throat nervously.

"Are you all right, sire?"

Letting out a sigh, Arthur leaned back. He caught Merlin's gaze, a pained look in his eyes. "No. I'm not all right. It's been coming clear to me that my father has been incredibly narrow-minded. His prejudice is forcing people to act. As you said, they're desperate. If it wasn't for a good hearted idiot warlock, I'd probably be dead."

Merlin didn't know what to say. Uncomfortable silence filled the little room. When he was unable to stand it any longer Merlin fetched a rag and began cleaning up the mess he'd made when he'd dropped the pot. The poultice was ruined, but easily replaced. It would give hims something to do over the next few days while Arthur recovered enough to travel back to Camelot.

"You can't speak of this two anyone," Arthur said suddenly, twisting in the bed to face Merlin. The movement pulled at the wound in his side, but he ignored it. Merlin immediately hurried over to push him back, but Arthur batted him away. "Do you understand me? You cannot speak of this to anyone."

Merlin glared at him. "Sire, I often am trusted with people's darkest secrets because it necessary for me to help them. To do that, they must trust me. This does not leave this room. You have my word."

Nodding once, Arthur let Merlin lean him back against the pillows. He was pale and sweat beaded his skin. Merlin fetched a vial from the store room and handed it to Arthur.

"It will help you sleep," he said quietly.

The prince downed it without complaint. He was out within minutes.

As soon as Arthur was asleep, Merlin stumbled to the back room and shut the door behind him. He muttered a quiet spell that would alert him if Arthur woke or if Leon came into the room. Dropping his head into his hand, he dropped into the chair.

When he'd left Camelot, he'd thought that Arthur would never forgive him. He hadn't had much chance to talk to Gaius, but even the old man's claims that Arthur had come to him, asking questions and that the prince had actually listened had been enough to assuage his fears. He'd thought Arthur to stubborn to change his mind, too loyal to his father to actually listen.

Apparently he'd been wrong. Never in his wildest dreams would Merlin have thought that Prince Arthur of Camelot would ask a complete stranger - as far as he believed, at least - about magic and admit that his father was wrong. It was mind boggling.

Merlin dropped his face into his hands. It seemed that almost everything he knew about Arthur had changed. He wasn't sure how to act around the prat now that he was actually starting to think for himself. He wasn't sure what he could say and what he couldn't say.

And maybe, just maybe, he'd actually be able to return to Camelot some day.

Before he could get his hopes up, Merlin stood and began remaking the poultice he'd ruined. There was nothing quite like work to keep his mind occupied. It was a good thing he had so much to do.

oOoOoOoOo

A day and a half later, Arthur was sufficiently recovered enough to ride back to Camelot, so long as they took it slowly. When Gaius had come to visit, he'd brought an old, placid nag for the prince to ride back on. Merlin couldn't say that he wasn't happy to see Arthur go. He'd been walking around on tiptoes ever since their uncomfortable conversation the first night. It was still too soon for Arthur to know who Emrys really was. Despite his change of heart regarding magic, Merlin knew that the prince would have to come to his own conclusions. Merlin couldn't press the issue. He hadn't quite trusted himself not to say or do something that was undeniably Merlin when he was around Arthur. It was going to be a relief to have the cottage to himself again.

While Arthur caught a few more minute's rest, Merlin packed a bag with the poultice and pain relieving tinctures he'd made, as well as extra bandages in case something happened on the road. Heaving the bag into his arms, he went outside where Leon was saddling the horses. The knight was adjusting the straps on his charger.

"You should be ready to go in just a few moments," Merlin said. "I just need to wrap the prince's rib so that the movement of the horse doesn't jolt his wound too much."

Leon nodded once, keeping his eyes focused on the buckle he was fiddling with. "Thank you for all you've done, Merlin."

The warlock's blood ran cold. Forcing his face into a carefully constructed expression of confusion, he turned back to Leon.

"I'm sorry? Who's Merlin?"

Leon lips quirked in a smile. "Don't play games with me. I heard you talking to Gaius."

"Oh bloody hell," Merlin muttered. "If Gaius knows that he'll kill me."

"I will admit that it was rather careless," Leon said. "But he won't it from me."

Merlin stared at the night in surprise. "He won't?"

"No, he won't. And neither will Arthur."

A gryphon could have landed in front of Merlin and started tearing up the village and he wouldn't have been able to do anything but stand there and stare at Leon. The knight seemed not to notice.

"But I'm a warlock," Merlin protested. "I used magic in front of you. You should be tying me up and hauling me in front of Uther. Why are you helping me?"

"Because I know you," Leon said. "Every time we're in trouble and something lucky happens that saves our hides you're there. I saw the way you knowingly did magic in front of Arthur and me to stop the wyvern and now you've saved Arthur's life despite being run out of your home. If that doesn't mean you're a good person, I don't know what does."

"But...magic, and Uther, if he finds out-"

"Unless the healer Emrys decides to return to Camelot and cast a spell in front of the king, I doubt he'll ever know."

Merlin ran a hand through his hair. "Arthur will one day. There's something you have to understand, I'm bound to Arthur by destiny. I have to protect him, to make sure that he become king. He's got a lot of enemies of his own, not to mention all the people who want to use him to get to Uther. The odds that I'll end up in a situation where Arthur finds out that Emrys and Merlin are the same person is very high. He may not be happy if he finds that you knew and you know he will."

"I'll take that chance," Leon said dryly. "So long as you keep watching out for him."

"That's a given."

"Then I have nothing to worry about. If Arthur's see fit to take offense at my keeping a secret to save his life, then so be it."

Merlin shook his head in amazement. "I don't know what to say, save thank you. You should probably tell Gaius. If something goes wrong, he knows how to contact me. In the event of an emergency, you're not going to want to waste time trying to explain everything. I'll deal with the eyebrow when the time comes."

Leon choked back a laugh. "I'll do that. You'd best get back in there and ready Arthur for the journey before he comes out himself."

Sure enough, when Merlin walked back into the room, Arthur was standing precariously beside the bed. He was still a bit wobbly from the blood loss and he was having trouble keeping his balance.

"What are you doing?" Merlin demanded. "If you're not careful you're going to wear yourself out and I'm going to keep you here another night! The journey is going to be difficult enough."

Arthur scowled at him, but sat down gingerly. "Father will not be happy if I do not return tonight," he growled.

"I'd rather risk the king's wrath then send a patient on a journey that he's not ready for," Merlin said firmly. "Which is why I'm going to bind your abdomen. You'll be stiff, but it's better than nothing."

Before the prince could complain, Merlin produced a roll of linen bandages and began wrapping it deftly around Arthur's ribs. As he tied off the ends, Arthur dropped a hand on his shoulder.

"Thank you for the other day," he said. "I know it must have been difficult to trust the son of the man who would do anything to destroy magic with the fact that you know of magic yourself. You gave me answers that I truly needed and you saved you save my life. I owe you for that."

"You need not thank me for doing what is right," Merlin said softly.

"I do when it could mean that you risk your own life."

As much as he would have liked to protest, Merlin knew that there was nothing he could say to sway Arthur when he thought his honor was on the line. The best he could do was accept gracefully. He slid an arm around the prince's shoulders and helped him stand. Together, the two made their way to the horses. Leon helped Merlin get Arthur into the saddle. The prince was grimacing by the time, but both Merlin and Leon carefully didn't notice.

Leon mounted his own horse. Merlin stepped back to give them room.

"Emrys," Arthur called. "Thank you."

"You already said that," Merlin said wryly. "If ever you need me, I am willing to help."

"I will keep that in mind," Arthur said.

Leon bowed his head toward Merlin, a knowing look in his eyes. He gathered up the reins of both his horse and Arthur's nag. Merlin watched them until they were out of sight.

Chapter Text

The journey to Camelot was uneventful, if painful for Arthur. He pointedly ignored the worried glances Leon sent his way every few minutes, despite the fact that the pain was almost overwhelming. But for once, the trek was uneventful. They weren’t attacked by bandits or magical creatures of anything else. Little did either prince or knight know that Merlin had cast a protective spell around them. After what had happened the last time Arthur was out in the forest, he wasn’t taking any more chances.

Their luck ran out when the reached the city. Ten guards were stationed before the gates. As the two riders approached, one of the guards turned and hurried into the city. The glimpse of the street that Arthur got was strangely deserted. At this time of day, the city was usually teeming with people going about their business so that they could be home by dinner. The city seemed strangely quiet as well, as though everyone was asleep. By the time Arthur and Leon came a halt in front of them, the king had appeared, followed closely by the guard who’d run to summon him. 

“Father, what’s going on?” Arthur demanded. 

“A plague,” the king said grimly. “It struck overnight. Half the city has been taken ill. You cannot stay here.”

“No! I have to do something. It’s my duty!”“You’re too weak. Gaius agrees. While you are still recovering from your wound, you are too susceptible to this plague to remain here. Return to Bardwell and remain with the healer, Emrys. Gaius has said that he is more than capable of tending to your wound until you are fully healed. I will send for you when it is safe.”

Arthur grit his teeth, but didn’t argue. He knew the logic of the argument. Many times he’d seen a wounded knight succumb to an illness because they were already weakened. “How bad is it?”

“There have only been a few deaths,” said Uther. “Mostly those who were already old or sick. The rest are merely very ill. It is spreading quickly. Gaius is doing all he can, but he fears it may have been magic that caused this.”

And this time, Merlin’s not here to fix it, Athur couldn’t help but think. He wondered how many times it had been Merlin who figured out what was threatening the city. 

“I will send for you when it is safe,” the king said. 

“You’ll keep me informed?” 

“Of course,” Uther assured him, before turning on his heel and storming away. 

Arthur cast one last look toward the city. He was less than happy with having to leave when Gwen and Gaius and half the knights were still there. He hated that he’d been wounded and left too weak to help his people. 

Then he remembered that he and Leon were returning to Bardwell, to the very same healer who had admitted to knowing a bit about how magic affected healing. Perhaps, there was something Arthur could do for his people after all. After all, Emrys had offered to help him.

Leon went to turn the horses, but Arthur held up his hand to stop him. 

“You there,” he said, addressing the nearest guard. “What exactly are the symptoms of this plague?”

The man looked startled by the question. “I don’t know, sire,” he stammered. “Not specifically at least, just that the victims run a very high fever.”

“Then you will find out exactly what this illness entails and send word to Bardwell as soo as you are off duty,” Arthur ordered. 

“Sire?” the man said in confusion. “What shall I tell the king?”

Arthur thought for a moment. “Should he ask, tell my father that I wish to present this illness before the healer who has cared for me. He may know something that Gaius does not. If the plague is as severe as it seems, than a second opinion would not go amiss.”

The guard nodded. Fighting the urge to grin like a madman, Leon pulled the horses around and kicked them into a smooth trot. It would be nightfall in a few hours, and he wanted to reach Bardwell before then. Behind, Arthur was lost in thought. Even if Emrys could figure out what the plague was, if it was magical, he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Neither would Gaius. That had always been Merlin’s job. 

Only Merlin isn’t here, Arthur thought tiredly. He’s gone because I was too big an idiot to realize that he’s been saving my arse since day one. Me...an idiot. Isn’t that a change of pace?

oOoOoOoOo

Unbeknownst to Arthur, at that very moment, Merlin was bent over a mirror that showed not his reflection, but Gaius’.

“A plague?” said the warlock. 

“It sprang up overnight, almost,” said Gaius. “I’ve made very little progress in determining what it causing it.”

“How many have died?”

“Perhaps ten. And they were all old or sick themselves. It’s most troubling,” Gaius admitted. “Most of the patients I have tended to seem to have fallen into a coma due to a very high fever, but they neither worsen nor improve. Approximately five more people have fallen since we first noticed.”

Merlin arched an eyebrow in surprise. “ And they’re all stuck in some sort of coma?”

“So it seems.”

“Are there no other symptoms?” Merlin asked. 

“None that I can detect. I have been administering a sorrel and honey water tincture to tend to the fever. I suppose that it could be disguising the other symptoms,” the old man said doubtfuly.

“You know that isn’t the case,” said Merlin. “Do you think it’s magic?”

“That’s the only explanation I can think of,” Gaius replied. “But I have had no luck in determining what magic could be causing this.”

“I’ll look into it,” Merlin promised. “Perhaps I can find something in my books that isn’t in yours.”

“Thank you m’boy.”

“Has Arthur arrived yet?”

Gaius shook his head. “Not that I know of. I’m sure he’ll be sent here immediately, and as he should be returning any moment, I had best go before I am caught.”

“I’ll send word as soon as I know anything.”

“Don’t you dare come running back to Camelot if it turns out that this is magical,” Gaius said firmly. “You’ll not do anyone any good if you get yourself into trouble.”

Merlin rolled his eyes, knowing that that was exactly what he would do and that the old physician couldn’t complain because he was the only one who could do anything if the source of illness was something magical. For the sake of his guardian, Merlin held up his hands in surrender. “Don’t worry. I won’t do anything stupid. Goodbye, Gaius.”

The mirror went blank, cutting off Gaius’ grumbles, before showing the young warlock his own reflection. No sooner had the image faded, when he heard a knock on his front door. Quickly stuffing the mirror under a bag of linen bandages, he straightened his tunic and hurried out of the back room, shutting the door behind him. He summoned a vial of the potion he used to disguise his appearance and gulped it down, pausing just long enough before the front door to let it work. 

He was about to open the front door when he felt a tingle at the back of his neck that signified the activation of the mirror. Merlin frowned, wondering what Gaius could possibly want so soon after ending their conversation. Another knock at the door reminded him that it would have to wait. 

Forcing himself to assume the calm persona of the healer Emrys, Merlin pulled the door open. 

And came face to face with Arthur. 

“Sire? Is something wrong? Is your side troubling you?” Merlin asked worriedly. 

Arthur waved aside his questions. “I’m as well as can be expected. However, it seems there is a plague in Camelot. My father is worried that I might catch it in my current state and has ordered me to remain here. Apparently, Gaius has great faith in your abilities.”

Well, that explains why Gaius was calling again, thought Merlin dazedly. How in Avalon am I supposed to act with Arthur here and actually conscious?

“Of course, sire,” Merlin said, standing aside so that Leon could help Arthur into the room. “I have only the one extra bed, but I can make a pallet, if you would also like to stay here, Sir Leon. Of course, you would take the other bed.”

“That won’t be necessary,” the knight said dismissively. “I’ll take the pallet. It is far better than tree roots, after all.”

Merlin was tempted to press the matter further. As a peasant, even one who was a healer, he should forfeit his bed to any person of noble blood who sought to stay in his home. He also knew that Leon wasn’t the kind of person to put someone out of their own bed for his comfort, even if he did know who Emrys really was. 

Leaving the knight to get Arthur settled, Merlin hurried into the back room to fetch bedding and to send a quick message to Gaius using the mirror, just to let the old man know that he knew exactly where Arthur was. If Merlin wasn’t mistaken, Gaius would be worried out of his mind at the prospect of the two of them being under the same roof for so long. Even if Arthur was beginning to show some acceptance toward magic, there was no guarantee that he would forgive Merlin for decieving him, especially if he found out that the warlock had done it again as Emrys. 

Sighing, Merlin re-entered the main room. Arthur was laying down. He looked pale and drawn. Falling easily into his role of physician, Merlin pursed his lips. It looked like the idiot had pretended that he wasn’t in pain and only made it worse. Leon was leaning against the wall, looking slightly worried. 

“I didn’t think it wise to camp for the night,” Leon said fretfully. “But perhaps I pushed him too far--”

“If I do not mistake my estimate of the prince, then he is not the sort of person to admit that he is in pain, even if he is losing his life’s blood from the wound,” Merlin snorted. “Even if you had suggested you stop for the knight, I somehow doubt that he would have let you.”

Leon gave Merlin a small, grateful smile and took the bundle of blankets from the warlock’s arms. 

“You can set those up anywhere you like,” Merlin said. “Just leave me some room to get round the table. How much pain are you in, sire?” he asked, turning to Arthur and giving him the look he’d learned from Gaius. The one that said “tell the truth, or I’ll dose you with the most disgusting sleeping draught I can make.” 

“Enough,” Arthur said evasively. “All right,” he relented when the glare did not. “It hurts every time I breath and throbs every time my heart beats.”

“Did you take the potions I sent with you?” Merlin asked. 

Arthur’s sheepish, though defiant, look was answer enough. Shaking his head, Merlin thrust a small vial into the prince’s hand. 

“That should help with the pain and send you to sleep. The journey one way would have been enough to tire you. As it is, you look ready to pass out at any minute. This will simply ensure a restful night’s sleep.”

“It can wait,” Arthur said in his best crown prince of Camelot voice. “I am expecting a message from Camelot at any moment.”

As if on cue, a guard from Camelot came bursting into the little house. He bowed to Arthur and said quickly, “Sire, Gaius reports that the only clear symptoms of the plague are a fever and a coma, which are quite possible related. That is all he knows.”

Arthur gave a regal nod, and dismissed the exhausted looking man before turning expectantly to Merlin, who simply looked calmly at the prince. 

“Have you ever heard of anything like this?” Arthur asked. 

Yes, but only because Gaius contacted me through a magical mirror. Since he could actually say that, Merlin just shook his head. “No, sire. I can’t say that I have. Is that the plague that is spread through Camelot.”

“Yes. My father believes that magic may be behind it,” Arthur said. “I thought, perhaps, you might be fable to find something which would tell us what this is.”

“I will, of course, look into it, but I cannot guarantee that I will find anything. Even if it is magic, there are many things that I do not know.”

“Do what you can,” Arthur said quietly. He leaned back against the pillows, his eyes falling shut almost against his will, and within seconds he was fast asleep. 

Leon caught Merlin’s eye. The warlock sighed and waved the knight into the store room. 

“Is there anything you can do?” Leon asked, as soon as they were alone. 

“I’m not sure,” Merlin admitted. “I know a lot about magic, more than Gaius does, anyway. But it’s not even close to everything. I’ve got a few books that Gaius doesn’t and he’ll tell me if he finds anything that might help. If I can’t find it in a book, I may be able to contact the druids or an old friend. But they may not know either. There is very little to go off of.”

“Can I help in any way?”

Taken aback by the offer, Merlin floundered for a moment before answering. “Keep Arthur occupied and out of this room if I’m forced to leave. I keep everything back here. I doubt he would take it well if he discovered that Emrys is indeed a sorcerer.”

“You might be surprised,” Leon said. “Arthur took your departure to heart. Even I had not realized how much it had effected him until the past few days.”

“What are you saying?” asked Merlin carefully. 

“Simply that Arthur may be more open to your true identity than you think. If I am not mistaken, he truly misses you.”

“But does he miss me, or who he thought I was?”

Leon shrugged. “We’ll never know until Arthur and Merlin stand in the same room without any subterfuge between them.”

Unsure of how to respond to what he knew was the truth, Merlin gestured weakly to the books stacked against the far wall, almost hidden behind the shelves of various bottles, pots, and herbs, he said, “I should get to work.”

Wordlessly, Leon ducked out of the room to keep an eye on Arthur, leaving Merlin to get to work. 

oOoOoOoOo

Two days later, and Merlin hadn’t found anything of use. He’d been through every book of healing magic he had, but there wasn’t one magical illness that didn’t have more symtoms than just a fever. Leon had been a godsend, keeping a steadily more restless Arthur preoccupied with rebuilding his strength after the wound.

There was nothing else for it. Merlin had tried to get in contact with the druids, but after that whole debacle with Mordred and Alvarr, they weren’t very helpful. He was going to have to talk to Kilgarrah. 

He was already mostly packed. All the remained was to figure out some kind of story to tell Arthur. 

Shouldering his pack, Merlin ducked out of the house and walked over to the small, open space that Leon and Arthur had been using for training. They were both leaning against their swords, catching their breath. Arthur had a hand to his side, which Leon was eyeing nervously. The knight was worried that Arthur was taking things too quickly out of frustration for not being able to do anything. 

Merlin cleared his throat, getting their attention. “I have to go for a few days. There are several people who can’t make it to the village that I check on every couple of weeks. I shouldn’t be gone more than two or three days, if all goes well.”

“Of course,” said Arthur, standing up straight. “We did not intend to keep you from your duties.”

“Thank you, sire,” said Merlin, giving Leon a significant look as he bowed his head respectively. Getting the message, the knight nodded once. 

Without warning, a violet tongue of flame appeared before Merlin. He paled and his eyes widened. 

“What the hell was that?” Arthur growled. 

The sound of a galloping horse cut of Merlin’s stammered explanation. The trio turned. Arthur and Leon had their swords in their hands, Merlin a spell ready on his lips. A man in Camelot livery came careening into the town. The horse headed right toward Merlin, sliding to a stop mere feet from him. The guard fell off his back. 

His tunic was torn and dirty. One edge looked singed. When Merlin touched the man, his hand came away stained red with blood. 

Arthur fell to his knees beside Merlin and bent over the guard. “What happened?” he demanded. 

“Camelot is under attack,” the man gasped. “The sick...They began dying with no warning. Gaius said their hearts gave out. A sorceress...Morguase...attacked the city. She’s almost taken the citadel. She’s more powerful than anything I’ve ever seen.”

The man let out a wracking cough before going completely limp. 

Something clicked in Merlin’s mind and he realized exactly what had been ailing the people.

“Of course!” he breathed. “She’s stealing the life force of the people who are ill. Somehow, she must have slipped the potion into the water or the food. That would explain why not everyone was affected. She would have been forced to poison only items she could get her hands on. Dumping the potion in the cistern wouldn’t have done any good. It would have been too diluted.”

“But if she was feeding off of the people, why kill them?” asked Leon. 

“She drained the rest of their energy for the attack,” Merlin explained. “The fever was just the original connect, the slight drain she needed to sustain the contact.”

“With so many under her thrall, she’ll be nearly invincible,” Arthur hissed. 

“No, she won’t. For a sorcerer to truly benefit from this kind of leeching, they have to drain another sorcerer. Morgause will simply not fade as quickly as she normally would.”

“Then we stand a chance?” Arthur demanded. 

“If you can find a sorcerer to fight her or a way to break her connection,” said Merlin. “If you can manage the latter, the magic will rebound her and should knock her out.”

Arthur’s eyes suddenly narrowed. “How do you know so much about this?”

“Because, many of the druids who come to me have been victims of this type of spell,” Merlin snapped. “They are often attacked by those who covet power so that they might stand a chance against an old enemy.”

The prince went white, understanding what had remained unsaid. The enemy was his father. The king he had so long looked up to had forced sorcerers to resort to attacking their own to gain the power they thought they needed to fight him. 

“We need to tell this to Gaius,” he said gruffly. “Can your patients wait?”

Merlin nodded grimly. “Last I heard, they were all well.”

“Good, we leave for Camelot immediately.”

oOoOoOoOo

That night, when they made camp, Merlin snuck off and summoned Kilgarrah. The dragon appeared within moments. 

“I wondered when you would summon me, young warlock,” said the ancient lizard. “The witch Morgause attacks Camelot.”

“I know,” Merlin said tiredly. “She’s somehow managed to drain half of the city of it’s life essence. I know the spell, and can guess how she cast it upon so many, but how could she possibly be gathering all of the energy.”

“With the aid of a crystal,” explained Kilgarrah. “It is the only way that she could have solidified this spell with so many victims. If you break the crystal, you will break her connection. But be warned, she will have the crystal on her person and by the nature of the spell it will be difficult to destroy.”

“Wonderful,” Merlin sighed. “Meaning there is no way Emrys the healer can just smash it with a rock.”

“Unfortunately no,” Kilgarrah chuckled. “You will have to end the spell.”

“How do I do that?” 

Kilgarrah chuckled. “Now what would you learn if I told you everything? You’ll have to discover that for yourself.”

With one last chuckle, the dragon took off, disappearing into the darkness. Merlin glared at him and muttered, “Damn, self-important dragon.”

Chapter Text

By a stroke of the kind of luck that usually avoided Merlin, Arthur was asleep when he returned to the campsite. Leon was stoking the fire while keeping a watchful eye on the prince.

"The journey must have tired him," Merlin said softly, crouching beside the knight. "We'd best let him sleep as long as possible and endure the tongue lashing he will give us in the morning."

Leon nodded solemnly. "Do you have any idea how we are going to stop this attack on the city?"

"Some," said Merlin. "My friend was not very forthcoming, but he did give me a place to begin. Apparently, Morgause is using some sort of crystal to channel the energy she's leeching from the citizens."

"How does that help us?" Leon asked, keeping his voice low so as not to wake Arthur.

"If we can break the crystal the spell should also be broken," Merlin explained. "But it isn't going to be easy. Morgause will most likely have the crystal with her, probably in some kind of necklace so that she can easily harness the power it possesses. NOt only that, but it will probably be heavily protected. Destroying it will not be easy."

Leon sighed. "Arthur will not like that."

"I don't like that," Merlin grumbled. "But it's a place to start. I hate to leave you alone with him, but I need to go back to my house and see if I can find something to help us."

The knight frowned slightly. "How long do you think it will take? Arthur is likely to become suspicious if you are gone too long."

Merlin sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I have no idea how long it will take. My library isn't nearly as extensive as Gaius'. There's no guarantee that I even possess the book we need. I'll just grab the books I think will help. If Arthur gets suspicious as to why I own magic books, I'll tell them that I am sometimes given them as payment. Most of them are rather old and well-made. They're all worth a small fortune.

"And I'll see if I can get into contact with Gaius," Merlin added thoughtfully. "He knows more about the technicalities of magic than I do. He might be able to help narrow the search a bit more since Kilgarrah was so unhelpful."

"I thought you were supposed to be some kind of magical prodigy. Shouldn't you know this?" Leon looked a bit confused. His expression almost made Merlin laugh.

"Where did you hear that?"

Leon's eyes danced. "Gaius. Arthur is not the only one who went to him after your feat with the wyvern. I also needed answers."

"Well, he's not wrong," Merlin said. "I am a magical prodigy. No other warlock has been born with magic the way I was. It usually manifests after a few years. I have a powerful natural ability when it comes to magic, but I actually know very little about the theory. I didn't even begin to learn about spells and the more complicated branches of magic until I came to Camelot. Gaius knows far more than I do."

Though Merlin didn't notice, Leon was looking at him in slight amazement. He had seen the natural power of the warlock when he'd slain the wyvern. He'd faced enough sorcerers to know that a word was usually required to perform anything but the smallest magics. What Merlin had done was not small. Yet, he said he knew so little. It was a bit astounding.

"I'll keep Arthur busy as long as you need me to," Leon promised. "You'd best go before he wakes or he'll be asking all sorts of questions."

Merlin nodded. "Thanks. I'll be back as quickly as I can."

He grabbed his bag and whispered a phrase under his breath. His eyes flashed a brilliant gold, brighter than everything Leon had ever seen. A gust of wind whirled around him and he was gone.

Leon smiled to himself. He knew that he'd made the right decision in trusting the boy, despite his powers.


"ARGH!"

Merlin grabbed his shin and hopped around on one foot cursing under his breath. His aim had been a bit off and he'd practically landed on the table.

Still cursing, he made his way to the back room, snapping his fingers as he did to light the candle he kept on the workbench. The flame flickered to life, casting reddish light through the room. With a flash of his eyes, Merlin summoned his mirror.

"Gaius!" he called, passing his hand over the mirror.

Nothing happened. The mirror didn't even ripple. Merlin cursed. He'd been afraid of that. Something must have happened to Gaius. He'd put a sensor on the mirror a few weeks after creating it so that the charm connecting the two mirrors would break if someone other than Gaius or Gwen attempted to activate it with magic. If Morgause had entered Camelot, she may have seen it and suspected what it was.

"Damn it," he sighed. "This is worse than I thought."

Merlin left the mirror propped up on the table, just in case Gaius managed to contact him. The charm was supposed to reactivate when Gaius used it again, but it hadn't actually been tested.

Time was against him, and Merlin knew it. He hurried over to the shelf at the back of the room that held the books he'd managed to collect over the months since he had left Camelot. Magic books were surprisingly common. They were all old, well-made, obviously valuable, and written in a language that few could decipher or even recognize. He often given them as payment because, as a healer, he was supposed to be a learned man who would appreciate them.

He quickly scanned the titles, most of which he'd thumbed through a bit and so had an idea of what they contained. There were a few that he hadn't looked through. He quickly pulled them off the shelf and sent them flying to the table with a distracted flick of his wrist. He perused the small library for a bit longer, selecting promising looking titles that he knew mentioned crystals or sapping another's strength.

With a dozen, large volumes chosen, Merlin sent them to the table with the others and grabbed a leather bag he kept hanging on a hook nearby. He'd enchanted it to hold large loads while remaining light. He snapped his fingers and levitated the books into the bag. It was a bit of a risk, using the bag to return to the camp, but he'd spin a story of it and the books being gifts that he usually kept hidden. Under the circumstances, it would make sense for him to use them.

Merlin slung the bag over his shoulder and hurried back into the main room, pausing only to grab the potion that helped disguise his appearance and some medical supplies that Arthur might need.

His eyes flashed and he cast a protective spell over his house. If necessary, he could send Arthur back for his own safety and the prince wouldn't be able to leave. It was a last resort.

He muttered the transportation spell under his breath and was whisked away to the little clearing the woods where they'd made camp.

Leon was still awake, despite the incredibly late hour. The knight was sitting, hunched over the fire, gazing around alertly for any sign of the enemy. When Merlin appeared before him, his hand went to his sword automatically, only to relax the moment he realized who it was.

"Did you find anything?" he asked.

"Nothing good," Merlin said grimly. "I tried to contact Gaius, but was unable. Morgause must have taken the citadel."

Leon swore. "Did you at least find a way to stop her?"

"Not yet," said Merlin, slipping the bag off his shoulder and holding it out. "I brought everything I thought might help us. We're not going to be able to let Arthur go running headlong into this."

"Especially not when he's still wounded," Leon added gravely.

"As though that would stop him," Merlin snorted. "He should be up to fighting soon, but you know as well as I that his injury isn't going to be enough to stop him. Telling him about the crystal and that destroying it is our only hope might slow him down a little. Why don't you get some sleep? I know I'm not going to be able to with so much researching to do."

"Surely I can help," Leon offered.

"I'll need you to keep Arthur occupied," said Merlin. "He'll be antsy and anxious and he'll need to get back into shape. I'm used to being up all night researching for Gaius. I can handle it, if you'll keep Arthur busy that is."

Leon chuckled. "I'm sure I can handle that, but I doubt I can sleep either. I'd much rather be of use than spend the rest of the night trying futilely to get to sleep."

Merlin nodded in understanding and dug through the bag until he found one of the few books written in the common tongue.

"You should be able to read this one," he said, handing it over to Leon. "It's actually written in English, rather than the old tongue. You're looking for anything that mentions using crystals to channel power, how to destroy them, and spells that deal with taking the strength of other. If you get through that one, I think I know a translating spell that will allow you to read the books that are in the old language."

Pulling a volume out for himself, Merlin set to work as well.


There was a twig sticking into Arthur's back. He tried to shift to the side a bit to a more comfortable position, but only succeeded in shoving the stick deeper into his back and pulling his still tender side. THe prince groaned and opened his eyes.

It was late morning, judging on the quality of light. Arthur sat up, ignoring the discomfort. He stared around wildly, only to find that nothing was wrong. Emrys and Leon were sitting by the almost dead fire, hunched over massive, ancient looking tomes, looks of deep concentration on their faces.

"What the hell are you doing?" Arthur demanded, startling them both. "Camelot is under attack, and you're sitting there reading!"

Emrys arched an eyebrow, looking unimpressed and rather like Gaius. "I was able to contact a friend within the magical community, someone I helped a while ago. He was able to tell me that Morgause would have to use a crystal to channel the energy she's sapping from the people of Camelot. I am often gifted with books as a means of payment and many of them are magical. We are hoping to find a means of destroying the crystal or ending the spell to even the field."

"If we go into Camelot alone, while Morgause' power is still augmented by the strength of our people, we won't stand a chance," Leon continued. "She'll drain more energy form the people, and more will die."

"We're incredibly outnumbered here," added Emrys. "I can barely hold a sword, and you still favor your side. There's nothing we can do right now."

"I can't sit by and do nothing while my people suffer," Arthur growled.

"We're not asking you to," Emrys said calmly. "We are simply saying that given the circumstances, you might fight with your head rather than your brawn."

Arthur's retort died on his lips. Not for the first time, he was struck with the similarity between the healer and Merlin. That was something the idiot would have said to keep him from running into something without thinking.

He took a deep breath. "You're right. We wouldn't be able to do anything by trying to get into the city right now. Breaking Morgause's spell is our best course of action and I am still a bit weak. But we are only waiting a few days. Then we must do something."

Emrys and Leon nodded. "I'll take a quick look at your side," the healer said softly. "With any luck, you should be ready to begin rebuilding your strength."

Without waiting for instruction, Arthur removed his tunic. He glanced down at the bandages. They were still pristinely white, which he knew as a good sign. Emrys dropped a bag to the ground and sat beside him. The healer pulled a small knife form his belt and cut away the linen. He carefully pulled if away from Arthur's torso, until only the small, square piece of guaze that had been placed over the poultice that covered the wound was left.

"This may hurt a bit if the poultice has dried," Emrys warned, as he always did before changing the bandage.

Arthur rolled his eyes, but said nothing. He was well accustomed to the pan that came with being injured.

The healer gently peeled the linen and the poultice free. It came away easily, revealing the almost healed cut. Emrys probed it gently with his fingers.

A startling feeling a warm spread through Arthur's body, erasing the aches that had clung to his bones after the long day riding. He glanced down in surprise only to see Emrys calmly smoothing a salve over the almost healed wound.

"I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to begin rebuilding your strength," he said softly. "You'd best go slowly, but your side is almost fully healed. There's no need to bandage it again."

Emrys handed Arthur his tunic, which the prince quickly pulled over his head.

"Stretch first, sire," the healer warned, quickly. "The muscle is still tender. If you're not careful, you'll strain yourself."

Arthur glared at Emrys. "I know how to train after an injury," he almost snapped.

"That is not what the court physician told me when he came to check on you," Emrys said, a slight grin on his face.

The prince's frown deepened, which his cheeks took on a flushed hue. "I assure you, I can take care of myself," he growled. The words had no bite though.

"Of course, sire. I never meant to imply otherwise. If that is all, I'll continue searching for a way to destroy the crystal."

Arthur nodded imperiously. He thoughts his eyes deceived him when a very familiar smirk played across Emrys' lips as he turned away, a smirk that he'd once seen everyday and missed more than he'd like to admit.

Shaking the thoughts away with a sigh, the prince climbed to his feet and grabbed his sword from where it lay, still attached to the saddle. He hadn't handled it in far too long because of his injuries. It felt good to feel the hilt in his hand once more.

Leon picked himself up and approached his liege. Arthur smirked.

"Let's get started."


The clang of metal on metal was easy to ignore and Merlin flipped quickly through the massive tome in front of him. He'd already been through three of the volumes he'd brought. All he'd managed to discover was that various healing properties of crystals and how to channel his own energy into one for future use. He'd had no success finding what he was looking for.

"Bloody dragon giving me riddles that don't help one blasted bit," he grumbled. "What can't that damned lizard speak straight for once in his life?"

Slamming the book shut, Merlin shoved it in his bag and pulled out another book. It was one of the few he hadn't had the chance to glance through. He shifted into a slightly more comfortable position on the log, he laid the book on his lap and opened to the first page.

The parchment was beautifully embossed with scrollwork of leaves around the edges. An inscription was written in the tongue of the old religion.

"Contained herein are the secrets of the High Priests of the Galdorcwide, to be passed on only to those who are worthy," Merlin read aloud in a quiet whisper. "Galdocwide... that means the magics of enchantment," he continued to himself. "Casting magic on a crystal is one of the most complicated of enchantments. This may be the book I need."

Even as he said the words, he could feel that the were right. He glanced over to where Leon and Arthur were sparring fiercely, too absorbed in what they were doing to notice him. Knowing full well how little time they had, Merlin held his hand over the book and whispered, "Galdor cristallic."

As though caught in a wind, the pages of the book lifted and turned themselves, before coming to rest on a page near the middle of the text. Merlin read over it eagerly, his heart beating in anticipation. Blindly, he flipped through the pages, working completely by instinct. His magic was thrumming. He couldn't explain it, but he knew that he was close. He knew that he was on the right track.

Merlin felt his magic thrum even more strongly and his hand fell limply over the page. He looked down to see that his fingers were pointing to exactly the spell they needed.

"I found it!" he shouted.

Leon, hearing Merlin's shout, paused and was whacked in the side of the head with the flat of Arthur's blade. He staggered dazedly while Merlin winced. It was a good thing that the knight had been wearing his helmet.

"What the hell are you doing?" Arthur demanded, glaring at Leon and almost succeeding in hiding the concern from his gaze.

"I found it," Merlin repeated sheepishly.

Arthur swiveled around. "What?"

"Ic abaedan úre aweosung ond benote eafoo," he read, purposefully stumbling over the words so that he would not seem too well versed in the words of magic. "If I'm translating this correctly, it means 'I take your essence and consume your strength.' According to the text, this spell requires a crystal from a cave deep in the forest of Balor. The crystal connects with and channels the very souls of it's victims. This can only be performed by the most powerful of sorcerers and it can only be broken by equally an equally powerful being destroying the enchantment upon the crystal itself."

Merlin looked up from the book. Leon and Arthur were staring at him, looking decided forlorn.

"Then we cannot do this ourselves," Arthur murmured. "If magic is the only way to break the spell, there is nothing we can do."

The warlock fidgeted slightly, catching the knight's gaze. There was a questioning look in Leon's eyes, as though he was asking whether Merlin could perform the spell that would break the enchantment. Merlin nodded slowly. He could do it, but only if he could get close enough to Morgause and there was no way he'd be able to break the enchantment without revealing who he was.

What's more, the spell required set up. He'd never be able to accomplish that without arousing suspicion.

But Arthur has shown an amazing amount of open-mindedness, he thought slowly. Maybe, there was a way to get the spell done without revealing his true identity until the last possible moment.

"Sire," he said hesitantly. "Though I have never practiced magic myself, some of the druids I have tended have attempted to teach me the basics of healing magic so that I might help others better. I always drew the line at actually performing the spells myself, but I do know the theory a bit. I should be able to attempt this spell."

Arthur looked at him doubtfully. "I thought you said that a powerful sorcerer was required to cast the spell."

"I did," Merlin acknowledged. "But unless you know one, I may be our only chance."

"What about your friend, the one you told you about the crystal?"

The warlock resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Kilgarrah is a wealth of knowledge, but no spell caster," he said dryly. "And anyone else who might be willing to aid us is too far away to contact."

The prince paced up and down the little campsite for a moment, obviously reluctant to allow the healer who apparently had no magical experience to cast the spell that would save Camelot, if they could cast it correctly. Leon and Merlin exchanged a look of amusement.

"All right," Arthur said tersely, finally standing still. "If you think you can cast it, then make your preparations and we'll return to the city. We'll have one chance at this. I doubt we'll make it out again if we fail."

Arthur drooped slightly and sat down beside the warlock. He dropped his head into his hands and whispered, "This is the kind of situation where Merlin would do something idiotic and make me think that I'd saved the city, when it was actually...him..."

Without warning, the prince leapt up. "That's it!" he cried. "I know who can help us! But we'd have to find him and even then, he might not be willing to help us, not after what happened last time."

Merlin was almost afraid to ask, but he had to. "Who, sire?"

"The person who taught me that magic isn't something to fear," he said grimly. "The man I should have trusted, but didn't. Merlin."


Chapter Text

If the situation hadn’t been so serious, the horrified look on Merlin’s face would have been downright comical. Leon felt a mad desire to laugh when he saw it, but he controlled himself and embarked on some quick thinking. 

 

They obviously couldn’t waste time looking for Merlin seeing as he was sitting three feet away, even if Arthur didn’t know that. The prince’s sudden moment of inspiration certainly put Merlin, or Emrys rather, between the hammer and the anvil. 

 

Leon had long believed that Arthur regretted his actions the night of the wyvern attack, but couldn’t admit that to himself or figure out how to make up for them. The prince had reacted instinctively, on ideals that had been drilled into him since birth. Leon had been rather surprised when Arthur had given Merlin the chance to walk away, but also very grateful. He’d been as taken aback as the prince to discover that Merlin had magic. The unassuming, goofy manservant didn’t seem the type to have magic. If he’d revealed himself any other way than saving the entire city, Leon would probably have turned Merlin in himself. Instead, it had been clear that all Merlin was trying to do was save the city and everyone in it. Leon had quickly come to the conclusion that, sorcerer or not, Merlin was not a threat to Camelot. 

 

He had gone to Gaius as soon as possible for answers, just as Arthur had. His suspicions concerning the many lucky breaks he and the other knights had had when fighting with Arthur had been growing since the wyvern attack and were confirmed by Gaius. Now that he knew what Merlin had been up to, it was almost painfully obvious that Merlin had saved their lives more times than they could ever repay. It was so clear that there had always been something different about Merlin they must all have been somehow willfully denying the signs of the truth. How else could they not have been suspicious when a manservant walked away unscathed from a dragon attack?

 

Since then, Leon had done what he could to silently support Arthur, who was clearly suffering from what had happened. Everyone could see that he was actually missing his servant, though he would never admit it for propriety’s sake. Being the only one, besides Gaius and Merlin, to know what had happened, Leon had done what he could. It had pained him to see his prince so conflicted. 

 

The months had gone by quickly and little had changed. Arthur was still conflicted, Merlin was still gone, and the other knights were still in the dark. The king had remained oblivious to his son’s distress. Morgana was another story. She’d quickly realized that Arthur’s distress was linked to Merlin’s absence and had begun badgering him about it. When Arthur had finally snapped at her, Leon had decided to ignore propriety and had pulled Morgana aside to tell her that she really did need to leave the subject alone. His breach of knightly conduct had been enough to convince Morgana to leave Arthur alone, though she had grown even more concerned. 

 

Leon had been considering looking for Merlin himself, dragging the warlock back, and finding some way to force him and Arthur to talk when the prince had been injured so badly by the bandits. His resolve had only increased after the attacks. He’d never been so relieved as when he’d overheard Gaius talking to the healer and calling him Merlin. Suddenly, the stunned and oddly concerned look that had crossed the healer’s face when he’d first come running to answer Leon’s call had made sense. 

 

The knight never could have predicted how complicated things would become after that, but he was glad that he at least knew who Emrys really was. 

 

Of course, that wasn’t going to make the next few minutes pass any more easily. 

 

Arthur was pacing the small campsite, his brow furrowed in thought, clearly trying to figure out how he was going to find Merlin and convince the warlock to help them. The warlock himself was doing some quick thinking of his own, trying to figure out how to keep Arthur from doing just that. 

 

Leon cleared his throat. 

 

“Sire,” he said hesitantly, causing Arthur to stop short in his pacing and look up. “I am not so sure that it is wise to search for Merlin.”

 

The prince’s frown deepened. “Why not? He’s our best chance.”

 

“We have no idea where he is. He could be anywhere, sire, and Camelot does not have time for us to search for him.”

 

“Would you rather trust the people’s well-being to Emrys’ as yet untested, and perhaps nonexistent, magical powers?” the prince hissed. “He might not even be able to perform the spell. Merlin is a confirmed sorcerer and I happen to know that he had defeated other powerful sorcerers before. Is it not wiser to spend a day searching for someone we know can help us than waste our only chance to enter the city while putting all of our faith in someone whose power is untested.”

 

“That is true, sire, but as I said before, Merlin could be anywhere. We might search for him for weeks and never come close to finding him.”

 

“I doubt he went far,” Arthur scoffed. “Everything that idiot did was to protect Camelot. He wouldn’t leave it unprotected, even if he had been banished. It can’t be that difficult to find him.”

 

Leon bit back a sigh. The prince was proving to be more difficult to persuade than he’d anticipated. “That may be, sire, and I do agree with your reasoning. Merlin is the more reliable choice and he may well be close to the city, but that is still an immense amount of ground to cover. We have no knowledge of where to begin and the people are growing weaker with ever passing moment.”

 

“I know that! What other choice do we have? I cannot just trust that Emrys will develop amazing magical powers in time to save Camelot and--” Arthur stopped short. A strangely sad and vulnerable look crossed his face. 

 

“And what, sire?” Leon pressed. 

 

The prince drew in a shaky breath. Leon half expected the wall to close behind Arthur’s eyes, as it usually did when anyone -- other than Merlin, really -- dared to ask something even vaguely personal. But it didn’t. 

 

“It may be my one chance to apologize to Merlin,” he admitted. 

 

The warlock, who’d remained still and silent during Leon’s conversation with Arthur, looked up in surprise, unabashed disbelief obvious on his face. Arthur didn’t notice. 

 

“Sire, I am sure he would listen to you, no matter what the circumstance,” said Leon gently. He didn’t need to look at Merlin to know that he was having to work not to nod vigorously. Emrys the healer wasn’t supposed to know what Merlin the idiot manservant and warlock would do, even if they were the same person. 

 

“I never listened to him, Leon. Every time Merlin tried to warn me that the city was in danger or that I was about to fight something I couldn’t possibly understand, I ignored him and did it anyway.” Arthur paused and ran a hand through his hair, eyes alight with self-reproach, before continuing more quietly than before. “I never trusted him enough and that’s why I sent him away. Because I didn’t trust him.”

 

Arthur trailed off and thread his fingers through his hair again. 

 

“You think that going to Merlin with a problem and trusting him to fix it will prove that you  truly are sorry, don’t you?” asked Merlin quietly. 

 

Arthur nodded. “I think I always did trust him, to an extent at least. I always wanted him around when I had to do something dangerous to protect Camelot. But Merlin was the last person I’d turn to for advice, the last person I’d send to do something important. I couldn’t admit that...that we were friends. If I am ever going to convince Merlin that I am sorry and that I trust him, it’s going to take more than smacking him upside the head, calling him an idiot, and dragging him off to help me save Camelot. I’ve got to give him a reason to believe me.”

 

Silence rang out over the campsite. Leon and Merlin were both completely taken aback by Arthur’s unprecedented honesty. They had both suspected -- well, more hoped, in Merlin’s case -- that the prince had considered him a friend. Arthur had changed so much since Merlin showed up, and definitely for the better. But they couldn’t believe that he’d admitted it, especially in the presence of someone who was supposed to be a stranger. Arthur actually looked slightly relieved to have said all of that out loud, though his eyes were still dark and troubled.

 

Leon glanced at Merlin. 

 

Well, isn’t that bloody brilliant? Merlin moaned. 

 

The knight almost started at the sound of the warlock’s thoughts inside his head. How did you do that?

 

Sorry, Merlin thought guiltily. It’s something I picked up from the Druids. 

 

You just startled me. Considering the circumstances, it is good that we have a way to speak without Arthur knowing. What are you going to do?

 

I have no idea. He seems determined and given the reasons concerning Camelot and, apparently, me I’m not sure that there is anything we can do to convince him not to go looking for me. Still, I’m not looking forward to the argument that is inevitably going to take place once I tell him.

 

This time, Leon couldn’t suppress his physical response and winced visibly. No, that will not be a pretty sight. Do you think you could wait until I can come up with a good reason to leave the camp?

 

If I’m enduring this, so are you, Merlin thought dryly. I’ll need the moral support.

 

Their conversation took place in the space of a mere moment, but Arthur noticed the loaded look that passed between them. His eyes narrowed. Leon quickly began speaking. 

 

“Are you sure about this, sire?” he asked. “Merlin would not appreciate it if you risked Camelot, even if it is to repair your friendship.”

 

As much I don’t appreciate you putting words like that in my mouth, you’re right, Merlin sighed. Leon almost laughed. It was such a Merlin thing to say. 

 

“I know,” said Arthur grimly. “After everything he’s done to protect the city, I think he’d curse me somehow if I condemned Camelot by my actions. That’s not the only reason I want to do this. Merlin is truly our best chance.”

 

Merlin brushed against Leon’s mind again. There’s nothing else for it, is there?

I really don’t think so.

Wish me luck, because I really do think I’m going to need it, warlock or not.

 

oOoOoOoOo

 

Leon said nothing, but Merlin could feel the sympathy and support radiating off of him. He’d spent quite a bit of time with a small group of Druids who didn’t hate him for helping Arthur after leaving Ealdor and had picked up a few things from them, including the ability to reach out with his mind to communicate with others and sense their presence around him. Learning that skill had also honed his ability to sense magic in his surroundings. It was a very useful skill to have. 

 

But that wasn’t important. He quickly cut of his rambling thoughts and focused once more on the matter at hand. Arthur was watching him and Leon expectantly, waiting for one of them to say something.

 

He decided to throw caution to the winds. It was probably better than tap dancing around the subject anyway. 

 

Letting out a strangled cry of frustration, Merlin dropped his head into his hands.

 

“You bloody prat,” he said in exasperation. “Of all the times to grow a brain and decide to actually think before you act, you just had to choose now. Do you have any idea how complicated you just made things?”

 

Merlin glanced up to see his reaction. Several emotions flickered across Arthur’s face in quick succession. First, indignation at being addressed in such an informal and insulting manner, then realization as he recognized the exact phrasing of the insult and what it implied.

 

Eyes narrowing, he closed the space between him and Merlin. Kneeling down so that he was eye level with Merlin, stared at the man he thought was a healer. 

 

“Merlin?”

 

“Who else?” asked Merlin weakly. 

 

Arthur’s face went almost slack. He sat back on the ground with a soft thump. 

 

“Were you ever planning on telling me?”

 

“To be fair, I wasn’t exactly prepared for Leon to come charging into the village with you -- badly injured, I might add -- on the horse in front of him,” said Merlin. 

 

“It’s been weeks since that happened. Why didn’t you say something?”

 

Merlin snorted. “I’m flattered that you think I’d take advantage of your grievous injury, dependence on my care, and inability to leave to bring up something like my real identity and my powers,” he said dryly. He didn’t once look up from his study of the ground in front of him. 

 

Arthur nearly winced at Merlin’s tone. “No, I really didn’t think you would and I’m rather glad you didn’t. It’s just...surprising to find out that all this time, you’ve been right there, and I didn’t even notice.”

 

Self-reproach colored the prince’s tone and Merlin realized that Arthur was annoyed at himself for once more missing the obvious where he was concerned. 

 

“Well, you weren’t exactly looking for me,” Merlin pointed out. “And I was trying not to act like myself.”

 

“You weren’t succeeding,” said Leon with a chuckle. 

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “You only say that because you overheard Gaius use my name.”

 

“Perhaps, but I was already suspicious.”

 

“Wait a minute,” Arthur said, cutting off Merlin’s retort. He pointed to Leon. “You and Gaius both knew?”

 

Leon looked a bit sheepish. “I only found out when Gaius came at the king’s behest to examine you. I had no idea when I brought you to Emrys for treatment that Emrys was Merlin.”

 

“And I told Gaius so that someone could keep me informed about Camelot,” added Merlin. “I had to have to some source of information or I wouldn’t have been able to protect the city.”

 

Arthur nodded slightly in understanding. 

 

“Does anyone else know?”

 

“I told Gwen.”

 

“You what?”

 

Merlin could have kicked himself for letting that slip. He hastened to explain. “Well, she’s my friend. Considering my secret was out and given all the crazy things that tend to happen at Camelot, I thought I owed her the truth. I was worried about what might happen since I wasn’t around to keep an eye on things. I wanted her to know that I was still around if she needed help.”

 

“How long has she known?” Arthur asked calmly. 

 

“I told her about a month after I left. I snuck into the city to check on things and stopped by to let her know I was all right. She wouldn’t let me leave until I gave her an answer.”

 

Merlin watched Arthur carefully, waiting for the prince to say something. He didn’t think it would go over well that he had willingly trusted Gwen with his secret. 

 

To his surprise, Arthur let out a short laugh. 

 

“That does sound like Gwen,” he said. “I suppose she and Gaius have been keeping you up to date on what is happening in Camelot?”

 

Merlin nodded. 

 

“Couldn’t you have used magic?”

 

“Well, sort of, but not really,” stammered Merlin. He hadn’t been expecting that question to come so casually. “There is a way to watch people from afar, but it requires constant concentration. I’d have to seclude myself in a cave somewhere and never come out. This way, I can actually have a life. I can continue to learn and explore my powers. To be honest, Gwen and Gaius keep an eye out is more reliable than the magic. It’s a very narrow method of observing.”

 

Arthur frowned slightly. “Isn’t that dangerous for them?”

 

“A little, but there was no way I can stop Gaius from helping me, and Gwen was pretty much the same way when I spoke to her. I didn’t want her to get involved as much as she did, but she insisted.”

 

“I doubt you could have stopped Gwen,” Arthur said dryly. “Would you stop being so tense? I’m not going to lop your head off, you know. I thought it made it clear that I could care less that you’re a sorcerer or a warlock or whatever the hell you are.”

 

“That was before you realized that I was me,” Merlin pointed out.

 

“I’ll admit that was a bit of unexpected development, but I understand the reasons. I was just a bit surprised.”

 

“So you really don’t care?”

 

Arthur fixed him with an annoyed glare. “Did you miss the bit where I was going to go looking for you for help saving my blasted kingdom? Do you really think I would do that if I didn’t trust you?”

 

“Like I said, that was before you found out that I was, once again, hiding something,” Merlin pointed out. 

 

“How thick is your skull?” Arthur demanded. “I said I understand. I don’t care, Merlin. And...I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have leapt to conclusions. You’ve never done anything but prove your loyalty to me and Camelot. You’ve faced things with me that no manservant would normally face, and you’ve saved my life countless times and I knew that before I knew exactly how often you’d saved me with your powers. I should have listened before telling you to leave. I truly am sorry.”

 

Mouth hanging open, Merlin gaped at Arthur. “Do you mean that?”

 

“I wouldn’t have said if I didn’t,” Arthur snapped, looking distinctly uncomfortable. “You...I should have admitted this sooner, but I didn’t want to acknowledge what it meant for both of us. You’ve been more than just a manservant for a long time. You...you’ve been my friend, I just wouldn’t see it.”

 

A goofy smile spread across Merlin’s face. “If it makes you feel any better, you’re my friend, too, Arthur. I don’t blame you for anything. I’m just grateful you’ve not turned into your father.”

 

“Father,” Arthur frowned. “Since you left, I’ve become aware of just how wrong he is. I should thank you for that.”

 

“All I could do was show you the truth. You had to chose to accept it.”

 

“Very wise. When did that happen?”

 

“I’ll have you know that I am supposed to be the wisest and most powerful warlock ever born.”

 

Arthur snorted. “According to who?”

 

“The druids, the dragons, and apparently several very powerful and very well known prophecies,” said Merlin dryly. 

 

“Dragons?” Arthur repeated. 

 

Merlin waved him off. “A story for another time. Don’t we have a city to save?”

 

“Can you get rid of the disguise? It’s strange talking to you when you don’t look like yourself. Where did you get the idea for this appearance any...way...”

 

Merlin concentrated silently on a spell that would force the effects of the potion to wear off. At the sight of Merlin’s eyes flashing with molten gold and his features melting into the familiar countenance that Arthur knew, he trailed off. “All right, I have to admit, that was rather impressive.”

 

“Thanks,” Merlin laughed. “As for where I got the idea, I...I modeled my appearance off my father.”

 

Arthur’s eyes widened, but he wisely said nothing. 

 

“What about your name?” asked Leon. “It is rather unusual.”

 

“It’s what the Druids call me in their prophecies.”

 

“You mean the ones that say you’re the most powerful warlock born?”

 

“Mm-hmm. The same prophecies that say that I am destined to help a certain prat bring Camelot into a new age of light and peace.”

 

It was Arthur’s turn to stare at Merlin with his mouth hanging open. “I’m supposed to what?”

 

“You heard me. You should have heard Kilgharrah go on about the two of us being two sides of the same coin and how we’re destined to bring magic back to Camelot and unite the land of Albion. It actually gets rather annoying.”

 

“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned Kilgharrah,” said Leon. “Who is he?”

 

Merlin grimaced. “Well, I suppose I might as well get it all out there. Kilgharrah is the Great Dragon.”

 

“The dragon the Gaius told me I didn’t actually slay?” asked Arthur shrewdly. 

 

“Yeah, that one.”

 

Leon stared at them. “The dragon’s alive?”

 

“I couldn’t kill him,” Merlin admitted. “I wanted to. That’s why I rode out with you. But, something stopped me. I can’t explain it. I ordered him not to attack the city again. Since I’m a dragonlord now, Kilgharrah has to listen. I think he’s actually a bit sorry for the attack.”

 

“You will never cease to surprise me, Merlin,” Arthur said tiredly. “Now, how do we save Camelot.”

Chapter Text

Smirking in self-satisfaction, Morgause swept through the halls of Camelot. It had been too easy. Her curse had worked its way through Camelot in secret, sapping the entire city of it’s strength. Of course, not everyone was effected, but most were stricken. By the time the signs were noticeable, it was too late to stop her. She had trapped the life force of most of the city with a crystal that she wore about her neck. The power that thrummed through her veins was intoxicating. The few guards that had escaped her curse had fallen before her without so much as the slightest struggle. 

 

By some stroke of fate, Uther had remained unaffected by the curse. He had been forced to watch his beloved city fall to magic. 

 

Morgause had been displeased to find that Arthur was absent from Camelot. She had been so looking forward to killing the brat before his father. Perhaps then Uther would have some concept of what he had inflicted upon those with magic. And if he didn’t, then at least some justice had been done. 

 

There had been some benefit to Arthur’s absence, however. It was only a matter of time before word reached him that Camelot had fallen. Being the noble prince that he was, Arthur would without doubt attempt to take back the city. It would be amusing to watch him fail, almost as amusing as taunting Uther about his son’s inevitable downfall. 

 

At the moment, however, these things were far from Morgause’s mind. She had other matters to see to. Though she had been in Camelot for almost a week, she had seen little of Morgana and she was anxious to sway her sister to her cause. Morgana’s magic was growing swiftly and she was in desperate need of someone to guide her. Who better than the sister who could show her the true nature of magic?

 

Morgause waved aside the guards that stood outside Morgana’s chambers and strode into the room without knocking. 

 

There was a startled gasp and Morgana’s maid dropped the blankets she had been carrying to the bed. Mumbling apologies, she quickly gathered them up into a neat pile under Morgause’s baleful stare. 

 

“Leave us,” she ordered once the serving girl had stood, her head bowed demurely. 

 

Morgana emerged from behind the changing screen, already prepared for bed. “Gwen stays,” she said firmly. “She is my friend and confidant. There is nothing you can say to me that I would not tell her.”

 

It was only natural that Morgana be unsettled during this time, Morgause knew that. If she wished to keep her “friend” close, then she would not argue for the moment. She needed Morgana to be happy if she was to convince her to join with the cause and to fight for magic. Morgause inclined her head slightly in acknowledgement of Morgana’s... request. 

 

“Very well, if that is what you wish.”

 

“It is,” Morgana confirmed. “What is it that you want from me?”

 

“How are your dreams?”

 

Morgana’s eyes narrowed slightly, obviously remembering the first time she had met Morgause and the other woman’s interest even then in her dreams. “The same.”

 

“Then you have not dreamt anything of interest?” Morgause inquired. 

 

“What could possible be interesting about my nightmares?”

 

“They are not dreams. They are visions.”

 

Morgana’s slivery laugh echoed across the chamber. “I am no seer, whatever you might say. They are dreams and nothing more.”

 

“Then nothing you have dreamt has ever come to pass?”

 

“Of course not,” Morgana denied blithely. 

 

That irritated Morgause. It was plain to see that Morgana was lying, but only because Morgause herself was a masterful liar. 

 

“Come now, sister. There is no need to lie to me,” she wheedled in the voice that never failed to win her what she sought. “We are kin, both in magic and in blood, for your mother was my mother as well. You have no need to hide yourself from me.”

 

Morgana’s face hardened. “While that may be true, you are not my sister, not when you have attacked my home, bewitched my friends, and lay a trap for Arthur, whom I consider to be my brother, even as we speak. Shared blood or not, I want nothing from you and I have nothing to confide in you.”

 

Drawing herself up, Morgause hissed, “You may deny our kinship, but you cannot deny you magic. Word has reached me of your short stay amongst a clan of druids. Do not attempt to lie to me!”

 

“I was confused. Nothing more. I am no sorceress.”

 

This was going nowhere and Morgause knew it. Though it frustrated her to no end, she could see that the years spent living under Uther’s tyranny had driven Morgana to denial so deep that she could not see the truth before her. She knew that pressing this matter would only drive Morgana away. 

 

“Very well, sister--”

 

“I am not your sister,” snarled Morgana. 

 

Morgause continued on as if she had not spoken. “Deny your blood if you wish. Deny your magic if you wish. The day will come when you are no longer able to renounce yourself and keep your secrets. On that day, I will be waiting to instruct you in the ways of magic.”

 

“That day will not come!”

 

“We shall see,” Morgause said with a slight smile before she swept from the room. 

 

***

 

The moment the door closed, Morgana deflated. Her shoulders slumped and her face crumpled. She seemed to fold into herself. Gwen immediately dropped the blankets she was still holding onto the bed and hurried to her. She wrapped an arm around Morgana’s shoulders. 

 

“It’s all right,” she murmured soothingly. “Morgause was just trying to scare you.”

 

Morgana was silent for a long moment. “She’s right, Gwen. I have magic,” she whispered, shuddering slightly. “That’s why Merlin helped me find the druids. They didn’t kidnap me. I went to them for help. I thought I was going mad. Things were being set on fire, the things in my dreams kept coming true. I don’t want to be like her, Gwen.”

 

She didn’t need to explain who her was. It appeared that the possibility of a familial connection with Morgause had upset Morgana quite a bit. 

 

Gwen hugged her more tightly. Since finding out about Merlin’s powers and realizing that having magic hadn’t changed him one bit, she had wondered if there was more to Morgana’s dreams than anyone was admitting. 

 

“Having magic doesn’t mean that you’ll become Morgause,” Gwen told her in a soft, but firm voice, “nor does being her sister, if that’s even true. Blood doesn’t mean anything. Look at Arthur. He’s a far kinder man than his father ever could b--” She stopped short, mentally berating herself for saying such things about the king. Morgana wouldn’t care. She often said far worse things to the king’s face, but it was still improper.

 

“But the magic, Gwen,” whispered Morgana. “What about the magic?”

 

Gwen stroked her mistress’s hair in an attempt to soothe her. “Not everyone who has magic is evil. You spent time with the druids. They are some of the most peaceful people in the world, according to Gaius, and they have magic.”

 

“They didn’t use magic that could even begin to compare to the things that Morgause has done. How do we know that it’s not a different kind of magic? I may have no choice in becoming just like that witch!”

 

“You can’t believe that--” Gwen began, only to be cut short when Morgana leapt to her feet and began pacing. 

 

“Perhaps I do! We know nothing of magic, save what we have seen and it has always been used in an attempt to destroy! I want to believe that this power will not change me, but I fear it will because I have no proof that it won’t!”

 

“It won’t unless you allow it to!”

 

“How can you be so sure, Gwen?”

 

“Because I know someone who has magic since they day they were born, far longer than you, and they are one of the kindest souls in this world!” she blurted out.

 

Morgana’s eyes widened. “You do? Who is it? Could they help me? Could they stop Morgause?”

 

Nervously, Gwen twisted the hem of her sleeve between her fingers. It was not her place to give away Merlin’s secret, but under the circumstances, with Morgana about to have a nervous breakdown and with Morgause plotting to kill Arthur, she may not have a choice. Morgana certainly wouldn’t leave things well enough alone until she had an answer. 

 

“I’m sure he would be glad to help you, but I’m not sure that he can at the moment. He’s in a bit of a difficult position, but he’s probably already on his way here with some absurd plan to save Camelot,” she said carefully. “I sent a signal when Morgause first arrived. I’m not sure--”

 

“I respect your loyalty to your friend, but magic or no, he is going to need help to get into the city. And what do you mean you sent him a signal? You don’t have magic as well, do you?”

 

Gwen shook her head. “Oh, no!” She pulled out the pouch of herbs that Merlin had given her. “I throw a pinch of this in the fire and somehow it lets him know that we are in trouble.”

 

“Well, who is it Gwen?” Morgana asked impatiently. “We’ve got to help him.”

 

Gwen had a sudden idea that might just get her out of hot water. She hurried to the trunk that held Morgana’s underthings and pulled out a small mirror. 

 

“He made this for Gaius, so that they could speak to one another if something happened. I smuggled it out of Gaius’ chambers after Morgause had them searched.” She frowned slightly. “Gaius says that if they did not take it, then the enchantment must have been designed to break in the presence of unfamiliar magic. Let me try to get it working so that we can talk to my friend. Then he can chose if he wants to tell you who he is. If I can’t get it working, then I’ll tell you.”

 

Morgana nodded her assent and ushered Gwen into the side chamber so that she could have some privacy when first contacting her friend. She understood how important it was for those with magic to remain hidden and she admired Gwen for going so far to protect her friend. 

 

Once she was alone, Gwen stared at the mirror in her hands. It was a bit of a long shot, but she had to try. 

 

“Merlin,” she called softly. “Merlin!”

 

For a moment nothing happened. Gwen shifted her weight nervously. The surface of the mirror rippled and glowed with the faintest golden light, then a familiar face appeared. Relief filled Merlin’s eyes when he saw her.

 

“Gwen! You’re all right! How did you get the mirror to work? Gaius was supposed to be the only one the get the enchant to function again after someone else tried to use it.”

 

“I don’t know. I just tried it. I thought the spell might still work for me since I was one of the people who had used it before.”

 

Merlin frowned slightly in thought. “That might be why. Well, at least it worked. Are you truly all right? What about Gaius, Morgana, and the king?”

 

“We’re fine. None of us were affected. Morgana has been staying in her chambers and I with her. Morgause is forcing Gaius to look after the ill. Not that he wouldn’t have already been doing it, but she’s seems particularly interested in their well being.”

 

“And the king?”

 

“In the dungeon,” she said grimly. 

 

A very familiar voice cursed from somewhere behind Merlin. 

 

“Is that--

 

“Yes and it’s a long story that can be told later. Is there anything we can do for you from here, Gwen?”

 

She faltered. Telling Arthur had never been her plan. 

 

“Well, it’s Morgana,” she said, choosing her words with care. “Morgause has shown particular interest in her and it’s frightening her.”

 

Arthur appeared over Merlin’s shoulder. “Is this because Morgana as magic as well?” he asked. Gwen and Merlin just looked at him in surprise. He rolled his eyes. “After I found about this idiot, I started paying attention. Morgana has visions of the future. I should have realized that when she tried to warn me about Sophia. Her magic has just started manifesting, but she doesn’t have much control, if the number of times she’s lit her curtains on fire is anything to go by.”

 

Merlin gaped, but Gwen took it all in stride -- she was beginning to believe nothing could surprise her anymore. 

 

“Morgause knows as well and she claims they’re sisters--”

 

“They are,” cut in Merlin. “That’s why Morgause is so interested in her.”

 

“Morgana is terrified that her magic will turn her into Morgause,” Gwen said tearfully. “She doesn’t want to believe it, but she says she’s only ever seen the druids use magic for good and that she thinks they use a different kind of magic.”

 

Merlin ran a hand through his hair. “She’s more or less right there. It’s all the same magic, just a different branch of it. The druids tend only to use the simpler magics. It’s a bit difficult to explain.”

 

“Can you try to tell her?” asked Gwen. “Morgana needs to know that she isn’t going to lose herself.”

 

“Of course. I suppose we should do it now. Morgause isn’t going to stop trying to get Morgana to join her. If she thinks that’s her only option...” he let the thought trail off. “You two might even be able to help us get into the city.”

 

Arthur scowled. “Absolutely not. We’re not going to put them in any more danger.”

 

“They can tell us things that we don’t know,” protested Merlin, “and there are only three of us. We can use all the help we can get.”

 

“He’s right, sire,” said Sir Leon, entering the conversation, and Gwen’s sight, for the first time. “We need help. Gwen and Morgana can tell us what Morgause is planning, what state the city is, and anything else that might help us.”

 

Arthur crumpled under the logic and Merlin grinned triumphantly. 

 

“Why don’t you take the mirror to Morgana?” he suggested. “Wipe it first, and tell her to call for Emrys.”

 

“I thought it only responded to your name?” 

 

“That is my name. My druidic name, anyway.”

 

She nodded and touched the top right corner of the mirror. It went blank. 

 

Morgana hurried to her side the moment she entered the main chamber. “Did it work?”

 

“Yes,” Gwen nodded. She handed the mirror to Morgana. “Call for Emrys and he’ll help you.”

 

“Emrys?” she repeated in surprise. “I heard that name when I was among the druids. He’s supposed to be the most powerful sorcerer ever born. He’s prophesied to be the one who will bring magic back to Albion.”

 

Somehow, that didn’t surprise Gwen. 

 

Morgana held the mirror almost reverently and whispered, “Emrys.”

 

This time, the reaction was much more immediate. The surface rippled and shone and Merlin’s sheepishly grinning face appeared. Morgana nearly dropped the mirror.

 

“Merlin? You’re Emrys?”

 

He became, if anything, more sheepish. “I guess you heard about me when you were with the Druids?”

 

“How could you not tell me?” she demanded. “I felt like I was losing my mind, like I was going to be condemned to death at any moment. You’ve had magic for years. You could have helped me!”

 

“I know,” he said sadly. “I really do and I so sorry that I didn’t say something. I’ve been keeping this secret all of my life, Morgana. Only a handful of people know. Everyone was cautioning me to keep my secret and even though I wanted to tell you, I was afraid. It’s difficult to break a life long habit. That’s why I took you to the druids. I thought they could help. I didn’t realize that Uther would send soldiers after you.”

 

The anger faded from Morgana’s eyes as she considered what it must have been like for him. She found that she could understand perfectly why he hadn’t said anything to her. 

 

“I understand, Merlin. Is this why you left? Did someone find out?”

 

If Merlin had looked sheepish before, it was nothing compared to the expression on Arthur’s face when he and Leon appeared in the mirror. This time, Morgana really did drop the mirror. 

 

“I knew that spell to prevent shattering would come in handy,” muttered Merlin. 

 

Morgana quickly picked up the mirror. “Arthur! You knew! You sent him away didn’t you? Are you really that big of an idiot? I suppose that’s why you were moping around, because you found out he had magic. How thick can you be? Anyone can see that--”

 

“Yes, Morgana, thank you,” Arthur interrupted irritably. “I know I was an idiot and, for your information, I regretted sending Merlin away almost the moment I did it. I was ‘moping around’ as you put it because I missed my friend and because I knew that I had made a rather enormous mistake. Merlin and I have discussed matters and we’ve worked everything out, so will you please, drop it? We have more important things to deal with at the moment, such as saving Camelot.”

 

“Did you just call Merlin your friend?” asked Morgana, a smile beginning to form. She half expected Arthur to deny it, but he just glared back at her stubbornly. 

 

“Yes I did.”

 

“It’s about time you admitted it. Do you have any idea how Morgause managed to incapacitate the entire city?” she asked briskly. 

 

Merlin seemed to be expecting this abrupt change of subject. “It’s a spell that allows you to sap the life force from someone and use it as her own. Because it’s focused on average people, Morgause’s magic isn’t any stronger. It’s her physical energy that’s been increased. She doesn’t tire as quickly as she normally would.”

 

“How do we break this spell?” inquired Gwen. She and Morgana sat side by side on the edge of the bed so that they could both easily see into the mirror.

 

“I have to break the enchantment Morgause placed on the crystal that she is using to channel all the energy she’s collecting,” said Merlin grimly. 

 

Gwen looked horrified. “You mean that pendant she’s wearing? You would have to be in her presence to do that. How are you planning to get close enough without being caught?”

 

“We haven’t figured that out yet,” admitted Merlin. 

 

Arthur nodded tiredly. “We’d only just sat down to discuss it when you called. Do you have any idea what Morgause is planning?”

 

“She’s waiting for you.”

 

Arthur looked up sharply. “What?”

 

“Morgause knows that it’s only a matter of time before you try to save Camelot. She’s got sorcerers scouring the area around the city and waiting at every gate and most of the secret passages, just so that they can capture you,” said Morgana grimly. “She wants to capture you and... and kill you in front of Uther.”

 

“Oh, that’s just bloody brilliant,” Arthur grumbled. “Now what do we do?”

 

Merlin looked thoughtful. “Actually, that might be helpful to us. Do you know if she’s sent word to the magical community at large that she is looking for Arthur?”

 

“I don’t know for sure, but I would think so.”

 

“Then that’s our way in.”

 

“What do you mean?” asked Arthur warily. 

 

Comprehension flickered across Leon’s face. “Of course. If someone was powerful and as important to those with magic as Emrys were to bring the prince to Camelot as a hostage, Morgause would want to speak to him immediately. You would be taken straight to her.”

 

“Exactly,” said Merlin. “If I know Morgause, she’s interpreted that “bring magic back to Albion” bit of the prophecy as meaning that I’ll help her usurp Uther. She’ll play right into our hands.”

 

“What about all the other sorcerers?” asked Gwen. “Even if you managed to break Morgause’s spell, you would have to fight them.”

 

Morgana shook her head. “You underestimate just how much those with magic revere Emrys. The druids spoke his name with such reverence you would think he was some kind of god. His power is legendary. I doubt any of Morgause’s followers would remain to fight Merlin once he has made his stance clear.”

 

The warlock in question had turned red at the praise. “Not to mention, I can call Kilgharrah to frighten them off if I need to,” he mumbled. 

 

“Don’t ask,” Arthur said quickly, before Morgana could speak.

 

“I suppose that’s the plan then,” said Leon. “Merlin, or Emrys rather, will come to Camelot having captured myself and Arthur and will seek an audience with Morgause.”

 

It was a good plan, Morgana had to admit. She would just have to ensure that Uther was not there. Morgause would want him to see his son’s capture, but Morgana wasn’t about to let him find out about Merlin. “How soon will you come?”

 

“I need to find the spell that will allow me to break the enchantment on the crystal,” said Merlin. “So at least tomorrow, perhaps the next day. We’ll let you know. Gwen, can you get to my old room without being seen?”

 

“Yes, they mostly leave Gaius alone.”

 

“There’s a staff hidden under the floor boards beneath the bed. I just need you to get it out so I can summon it. I put a spell on the compartment so that no one could magic anything out of it.”

 

“Of course. I’ll do it as soon as possible.”

 

“Make sure you aren’t seen it with,” he warned. “It’s a sidhe staff. If Morgause or any of the other sorcerers see it they will know it and they’ll think that you’re working with someone very powerful.”

 

“I am,” she pointed out with a slight smile.

 

He rolled his eyes. “I know that. I just don’t want them to try to find out who. Just stuff it under the mattress and throw some of those herbs in the fire to let me know you’ve done it. And be careful, both of you. Don’t let your routine change in the slightest.”

 

“We will be,” Morgana assured him. 

 

Arthur snorted. “Of course you will.”

 

“We’d best go,” Merlin said quickly, before an argument could break out. “I don’t want to risk anyone discovering you using that mirror. Keep it close, but hidden and we’ll speak to you soon.”

 

“Good luck,” Gwen whispered. 

 

Merlin smiled and the mirror shimmered. Gwen and Morgana found themselves looking at their own reflections. Morgana carefully placed the mirror back into her trunk. For the first time in days, she had hope. 

 

***

 

“I should start looking for that spell,” Merlin said quietly. “We’re running out of time. If Morgause is as anxious to find you as I think she is, she won’t wait much longer before she starts torturing people to draw you out.”

 

Arthur grimaced. “You’re right.”

 

“You both realize there is a flaw in this plan of ours, don’t you?” asked Leon. 

 

“If you’re referring to the likelihood that Morgause will have Uther in the room when I bring my ‘captive’ to her, then yes, I realize that.”

 

“It won’t matter. You’ll be disguised,” said Arthur dismissively. 

 

“Not for long,” Merlin said grimly. “Morgause will recognize that my appearance is masked. I can give an explanation for that. I can tell her that I did not want to be recognized, that I didn’t want my true identity to be discovered, but no matter what I say, she’ll want to see who I really am before we do anything. I’ll have to show her, and your father, who I really am.”

 

Arthur’s eyes widened. “You can’t do that!”

 

“I must.”

 

“But...you can’t. He’ll kill you.”

 

“He’ll try.”

 

“My father is well prepared to imprison and kill anyone with magic. He has manacles that block magic. The cells are warded against sorcery!”

 

Merlin chuckled humorlessly. “When the druids say I’m the most powerful warlock ever born, they aren’t exaggerating, Arthur. I can do things that no one else can. I mastered the power of life and death while my powers were still almost completely untrained. Any other sorcerer would need years, decades even to accomplish that. I don’t simply have magic, I am magic. Nothing your father does to me can stop me. I broke out of the cells when you sent me down there during Sigan’s attack. If he orders my death, I’ll leave. I will disappear and protect you from the shadows just as I did when you sent me away.”

 

“Will you ever come back?” Arthur asked quietly. He hated to admit how afraid he was of losing his friend again. 

 

“Of course,” said Merlin. “I will be there whenever you have need of me. And when you become king, I will return to Camelot, if you’ll still have me.”

 

“If you don’t, I’ll come find you and drag you back by your ear.”

 

Merlin grinned. “Of course, sire. In the mean time, I have a spell to find. You should get some sleep. You’re going to need your strength.”

 

“Can’t you just you magic to heal me?” the prince very nearly whined. 

 

“I’m really not very good at it and you’re almost completely well.”

 

“You just enjoy having the upper hand while I’m weakened,” Arthur grumbled.

 

Merlin laughed, a full happy laugh that echoed off the trees. “Arthur, I’ve always had the upper hand.”

Chapter Text

Everyone in the castle, save for the guards on duty, were asleep. Morgana slipped through the shadows to the stables. The note Morgause had sent was clutched in her hand. Excitement thrummed through her at the prospect of finally doing something about Uther’s tyranny. She would no longer have to live in fear that her fledgling magic would be discovered. 

 

Moving with silence born of long practice, she lifted the latch to the stables and opened the door just enough to step inside. Turning, she carefully closed the door behind her. 

 

“Morgana?”

 

Gasping in surprise, she spun around at the sound of her name. Merlin was standing in a stall beside Arthur’s horse. The dim light from the moon outside barely illuminated the stall enough for her to make him out, but somehow, she could. He was holding a brush in his hand and looked exhausted, as well as curious. 

 

“I thought you’d left,” Morgana stammered. She’d returned to her chambers after hearing that Arthur would ride out to investigate the farmer’s claim. She hadn’t seen him leave, but he never delayed when his people could be in danger. 

 

He shrugged. “We were supposed to, but Arthur and the king got into an argument over which knights should ride out and by the time they settled everything, it was too late to set out.”

 

“What are you doing out here in the middle of the night?”

 

“I could ask you the same thing,” he said pointedly. “But you asked first. I’m out here because Arthur is worried and won’t admit it, so instead of doing something to work of his nerves, he decided that I needed to take care of a foot long list of chores, the last of which being to see to his horse.”

 

She smiled weakly. “That does sound like Arthur.”

 

Setting the brush down and giving Arthur’s horse one last pat on the neck, Merlin ducked beneath the beam that served to keep the horse in the stall. He walked over to Morgana, a concerned look on his face. 

 

“What has you out here at this hour, my lady?”

 

Her lips quirk at the display of subservience, something that was so at odds with the outspoken young man who’d wormed his way into all their hearts. Well, every heart except Uther’s but she wasn’t entirely sure he still had one. 

 

“I couldn’t sleep,” she said truthfully. “I thought to take a walk rather than spend the tossing and turning.”

 

Merlin grimaced in sympathy. “Those nights are horrible and you have more than your fair share.” He paused and bit his lip a bit nervously. “My mum...she used to make me talk about whatever was bothering me. It was sometimes a bit easier to sleep after that. If you wanted...I’m pretty good at listening.”

 

As close as they’d come at odd moments over the years, Morgana had never really be friends with Merlin. It was something she regretted, especially after he did so much to help her when he first discovered her magic. Finding the druids just so that she could get answers had been dangerous. If there had been a way, she felt that she and Merlin could have been good friends, but propriety made it impossible. No matter how many lines she crossed, there were some she couldn’t. 

 

“Morgana?” he asked gently, when she remained lost in her thoughts. 

 

“Is it wrong to wish that Uther wasn’t king?” she asked. 

 

Merlin looked taken aback. His mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. Morgana felt her cheeks burn. “I’m sorry. I should be asking you something like that.”

 

“It’s all right,” Merlin assured her. “Maybe we should talk about this someplace we’re a little less likely to be overheard, that’s all. I’d rather not be strung up for speaking treason.” He smiled weakly. 

 

Relief flooded her. She hadn’t realized until just then how desperate she was to talk to someone. Despite the strange sense of familiarity she felt from Morgause, the other woman was still almost a complete stranger. Merlin wasn’t. He was a friend who had been there for her before. 

 

She made her decision. Morgause could wait.

 

“Follow me,” she said softly. She spun on her heel without waiting for him to answer. She knew he would follow. 

 

They didn’t go far, just to an old secret passage that Morgana often used to sneak from the castle. It led to an alcove not far from her chambers. The few feet that separated the entrance of the passage and the discreet secondary door to her bedroom was completely obscured by shadow and the guards posted down the hallway didn’t have a very good vantage point. Once they were safe inside her quarters, Morgana removed her cloak and draped it over the back of a chair. She sank tiredly onto the edge of the bed. After a moment, Merlin sat beside her. 

 

“Is it wrong to wish that the king was dead?” she asked, repeating her earlier question. She didn’t even notice the slight change in her wording.

 

A stunned look crossed Merlin’s face. “What’s going on Morgana? I know you’ve disagreed before, but this...” he trailed off. 

 

“Is it wrong to wish that the king was dead?” she asked for the third time. 

 

He frowned in confusion. “I would say that it depends on your reasons for wishing that.”

 

Morgana took a deep breath and shifted a bit closer to him, turning so that she was looking him directly in the eye. “Merlin, you know I have magic, don’t pretend that you don’t. You have no idea what it is like to live in a kingdom where you can be killed for something you can’t chose. So tell me, is it wrong to wish that Uther was gone so I no longer have to fear for my life every moment we are both here?”

 

She didn’t even realize she was trembling until Merlin hesitantly laid a hand over hers, just to let her know that he was there.

 

“No,” he said softly, “I don’t think it’s wrong to want to live in peace.”

 

“Uther has killed so many.”

 

“What are you suggesting, Morgana?”

 

“That the kingdom would be better off without him.”

 

“That might be true, but surely you aren’t suggesting what I think you are.”

 

“I don’t know!” she cried. “I just-- I don’t want to be afraid anymore. If that means--”

 

Merlin gripped her hand more tightly. “That won’t solve anything! It just becomes a vicious cycle! Uther started this out of vengeance and vengeance won’t end it.”

 

“Do you know something about what started the Purge?” Morgana demanded. 

 

He winced. “Yes, but Gaius wasn’t supposed to tell me.”

 

“Tell me what you can?”

 

For a long moment he was silent and when he spoke, it was with the air of one choosing his words very carefully. “What Gaius told me, it made me realize that, in the king’s mind, he’s perfectly justified. I’ll not say that he’s right, but something happened, Morgana, something we can’t even fathom and it almost completely broke him. Magic had a hand in that and so he latched onto it as the cause.”

 

Morgana’s eyes narrowed shrewdly. “Igraine?”

 

There had always been rumors that it had been something to do with the queen’s death that had driven Uther to his slaughter, but no one had known that truth. 

 

“Yes, but that’s all I can tell you.”

 

“I know that his loss was great, Merlin, but that doesn’t justify what Uther has done.”

 

“Gaius has implied that there was a need for some sort of action against the way magic was being used at the time,” said Merlin. “With the death of the queen, it all came to a head in the form of the Purge.”

 

“Are you actually suggesting that Uther is right? That he’s justified?” Morgana hissed. 

 

Merlin’s eyes flashed with annoyance. “No, I’m not. I happen to agree that the kingdom would be far better of if he wasn’t king. Maybe then Arthur wouldn’t be attacked for the sake of revenge against his father every other week. I’m saying that he believes he is justified and you know what terrible lengths he would go to for this kingdom.”

 

“All the more reason for him to no longer be king.”

 

“What about Arthur?”

 

Morgana looked at Merlin in confusion. “We’re not discussing Arthur.”

 

“But we are. Can you imagine what his reaction might be if he were to lose his father to magic?”

 

Any retort she might have had died on her lips. “He’d be devastated. It would be like Uther losing Igraine all over again.”

 

“Exactly,” said Merlin. “Arthur has the potential to be so much better than Uther. I’ve seen him give magic a chance when Uther never would have considered it. He still believes as his father does, but that’s only because he doesn’t know better. If people would stop attacking Camelot left and right, then he’d see that magic isn’t evil far sooner.”

 

“You can’t be sure that Arthur will be any better than Uther,” Morgana whispered, hating herself for  saying it, for thinking so badly of the man she called her brother in all but blood.

 

That’s not true and you know it,” Merlin chuckled. “Arthur has already shown far more compassion that his father ever could. He saved the druid boy, risked everything for me when I was poisoned, went after Gwen when she was captured in your stead, and a hundred other things. Even if he never accepts magic, he will never be the tyrant Uther is, so long as those with magic do not give him a reason to be.”

 

“I don’t know if I can wait that long,” she admitted. “I barely have control. It’s only a matter of time.”

 

Merlin seemed to think for a minute. “Gaius still has some of his books from before the Purge. I don’t think he could bear to get rid of them. I think I can bring them to you. Maybe that will help you find some control.”

 

“Do you really think that might help?” she asked, just barely daring to hope.

 

“It might. And, well, I know a bit about magic. Gaius has been teaching me some of the theory so that there’s still someone who knows what’s going on when the city is attacked after he’s...retired. It’s not much, or anything, but it might help you understand.”

 

Before she could think about what she was doing, Morgana flung her arms around Merlin’s neck. She was shaking again, but not with fear. For the first time since she’d started setting her room ablaze while she was asleep, since her visions had become so vivid, she didn’t feel alone. 

 

“Thank you,” she whispered. 

 

“You’re welcome,” he murmured, slowly returning the embrace. 

 

After a moment, Morgana drew back, wiping the tears of relief from her cheeks. 

 

“What about all the others? Uther will still kill anyone he suspects of sorcery.”

 

Merlin’s eyes darkened with pain and a boiling anger that Morgana hadn’t even thought he was capable of. “There isn’t much we can do. We just...we try to help those that we can. You challenge the king and sometimes, that makes him hesitate. Maybe we can try to save some of them. I’m not really sure.”

 

“I’m not sure that I can keep doing nothing,” she admitted.

 

“We’re not really doing nothing,” Merlin pointed out. He sounded tired. “There’s something to be said for keeping ourselves alive, especially if it means we can help Arthur see the light. I don’t mean to suggest that some lives are worth more than others, but if--” he stopped abruptly. “Gods, that sounds horrible.”

 

“It does. But, you’re right,” said Morgana dryly. “I hate to admit it, but you’re right.”

 

“Just think of how many lives we can save if we show Arthur what magic is really capable of.”

 

“I suppose that will have to do for now.”

 

They lapsed into silence. Morgana was surprised by how comforting Merlin’s presence was.

 

“I should go,” Merlin said at last. “Arthur wants to set out before dawn and Gaius is probably waiting to give me a lecture on keeping myself out of trouble.”

 

He stood and started toward the door, still speaking. “I’ll bring you the books when we get back.”

 

“Thank you, Merlin.”

 

“You don’t need to thank me.”

 

“Yes, I do. What you’re doing, it’s treason. You could be killed and you’re risking that for my sake.”

 

He smiled at her. “That’s what friends are for.”

 

An answering smile spread across Morgana’s face. Bowing his head slightly, Merlin left the room. She remained there on the edge of the bed for several long moments before slowly opening her hand and looking down at the paper she’d been clutching through their entire conversation. Morgause had nearly destroyed everything the last time she was in Camelot. Until just a few moments ago, Morgana would have been willing to risk that just for the chance to be free. Now, she knew better. Now, she knew that there was hope. 

 

She swiftly crossed the room and threw the note in the fire. 

 

***

 

“You would destroy the entire city?” Merlin demanded. His voice was muffled through the door, but Morgana could still hear him clearly. 

She’d been hiding in her rooms, terrified when everyone started collapsing until she felt her magic tingle. Arthur and Merlin were back and they were in danger. Without bothering to think about it, Morgana had fled her rooms, allowing her magic to guide her to the throne room, where Merlin was apparently trapped inside with Morgause. 

Morguase laughed once mockingly. “What reason have these people given me to spare them? They are complicit in Uther’s murder and are as guilty as he is. If they die, it matters not to me.”

“You would slaughter innocent people, and become no better than Uther, just for revenge?”

Silence, then, “Kill him.”

Morgana fumbled with the heavy door, desperate to get inside. Maybe she could talk some sense into Morgause, she wasn’t sure, but she had to try. Her hand slid off the handle when a pained cry sounded from inside. She felt her magic flare and the door swung open. 

Relief flooded her when she saw that Merlin was unharmed. A guard, a man she barely knew was lying on the floor in front of one of the knights of Medhir. He was dead. Where he lay near the throne, Uther began to stir. 

“It seems my spell is breaking,” Morguase sneered. “But no matter.” She jerked her head at the knight. Raising his sword, the undead warrior stalked toward the king. Merlin started forward, but Morgause raised a hand and he was held back by an invisible force. Realizing that no one had seen her, Morgana ran across the room and threw herself in front of Uther. 

“No,” she said clearly. “This isn’t the way.”

“What are you doing?” Morgause and Merlin hissed simultaneously. 

She took a deep breath and the calm mask she’d perfected over the years of playing the perfect lady slid over her face, despite her racing heart.“Killing Uther won’t solve anything, I realize that now. This isn’t the way. It will just beget more violence.”

“This man has killed hundred of us. How can you defend him?” demanded Morgause. 

“I don’t defend him,” Morgana snapped. “I defend this kingdom. I won’t let you destroy Camelot.”

The king stirred again. Someone hammered at the door, which had swung shut and sealed behind Morgana. With a flick of her wrist, Moraguse sent Merlin flying across the room and then she was gone, taking the knights with her.

That night, when everything had calmed down a bit, Morgana had slipped into Merlin’s room. She found him sitting on the bed, his head bowed. She sat down beside him. 

 

“Morgause sent me a note the night we met in the stable,” she admitted softly after a moment of silence. “If I’d gone, she would have used me for that spell, wouldn’t she?”

 

Merlin just nodded. 

 

“The only way to save Camelot would have been for me to die.”

 

He nodded again. 

 

“Could you have done it?”

 

Merlin became impossibly tense. Slowly, he met Morgana’s gaze. “I don’t know. I was going to kill the guard, but I don’t know if I could have killed you. Oh, gods. I was going to kill him.”

 

“Would you have regretted it?”  They both knew she wasn’t just asking about the guard. 

 

“Every day for the rest of my life.”

 

***

 

Sighing, Morgana shook herself from her thoughts. Since finding out that Merlin was not only a sorcerer but the Emrys she’d heard so much about, that conversation and the events that had followed had taken on a whole new meaning. It must have killed him to say some of those things and if anyone could understand what it felt like to live in Uther’s kingdom with magic, it was Merlin. She was slightly in awe of the wisdom he must possess to have been able to come to the conclusion that he would have to suffer Uther for the sake of peace in the future. Morgana didn’t think she could have made that decision. 

 

The door opened and Gwen hurried in, looking a bit breathless and red in the face. 

 

“Did you do it?” Morgana asked immediately. 

 

Gwen nodded. “I hid the staff under Merlin’s mattress. All I need to do now is throw some of the herbs into the fire and he’ll know.”

 

“And the potion?”

 

With a flourish, Gwen produced a vial of Gaius’ best sleeping potion. “I know you said you just wanted to get some sleep before Arthur, Merlin, and Sir Leon charged in to save the day, but what do you really want it for?”

 

Sometimes Morgana thought that Gwen knew her too well. “I’m going to slip it to Uther before they come. I know it’s dangerous,” she continued quickly, before Gwen could admonish her. “I’m not about to let Uther find out that Merlin has magic, not if I can stop it. He’s helped me so much, I have to help him in return.”

 

“How will you get into the cell?”

 

“I am still his ward and I have no doubt that Morgause will think that seeing Uther in such conditions will convince me of how unworthy he is to be king. It should be simple.”

 

Gwen smiled and handed Morgana the vial. “Merlin is lucky to have you as a friend.”

 

“He’s lucky to have both of us,” Morgana said briskly. “Now do whatever it is you need to do to let Merlin know he can summon his staff. The sooner we can get rid of this witch, the better I say. I’m becoming terribly bored with spending all of my time in my rooms.”

 

***

 

“Have you found anything yet?”

 

That was the tenth time Arthur had asked that in less than five minutes. Merlin fought the urge to magic him into silence and replied in a monotone, “Not yet, Arthur.”

 

“What is taking so long? I thought you were supposed to be some sort of prophesied magical wonder capable of doing anything. Shouldn’t you be good at this?”

 

Merlin closed the book he’d been searching through and looked up at Arthur tiredly. “I am, Arthur, but at the moment, I’m not quite there yet. It was a bit difficult to learn magic in Camelot what with my duties and with it being an offense punishable by death. My instinctual magic is immensely powerful, but I don’t know many spells. I’m pretty sure this is going to take a spell.”

 

The prince looked suitably abashed. “Sorry,” he muttered, nearly stopping Merlin’s heart with surprise. “I’m just worried about Camelot.”

 

“That makes three of us,” said Merlin, glancing over at Sir Leon. 

 

“Is there anything I can do?” Arthur asked. 

 

“I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” Merlin admitted. “So unless you have some miraculous insight, probably not.”

 

Leon sat up. “Perhaps you’re focus is too narrow. You’re looking for a spell that is specifically the counter to whatever Morgause cast, correct?” he asked when all he got was puzzled looks. 

 

Merlin nodded. 

 

“And even if you found it, isn’t Morgause likely to be prepared for that?”

 

Merlin nodded again. 

 

“Then maybe, you need something simpler.” 

 

“Of course!” Merlin groaned, clapping a hand to his forehead. “The simplest answer is often the best. I don’t need a spell that is specifically meant for Morgause’s enchantment. I just need one that is meant to cancel out other magics.”

 

Arthur looked skeptical. “Will that be powerful enough to overcome Morgause?” 

 

“Just because a spell is simple in its casting doesn’t mean that it isn’t powerful,” said Merlin. “It’s all about how much strength the individual is able to channel into a spell. I suppose it’s like fighting someone who uses a lot of flourishes and fancy moves. A simple, well-placed blow is likely to do the job better than anything else. Morgause won’t be expecting someone to come at her with something this simp--Here!”

 

He had been flipping through his magic book as he spoke, eyes scanning the pages quickly, but stopped abruptly, having apparently found the spell they needed. “This will do,” he muttered before mouthing the words to the spell to learn them. 

 

“Then we’re ready?” asked Arthur softly. 

 

Merlin looked up. The prince looked anxious. This wasn’t going to be easy for him. It was in his blood to be the one leading the charge. Being the decoy went completely against the grain. 

 

“As soon as Gwen gets my staff,” said Merlin. 

 

“Why do you need that?” Leon asked curiously. 

 

“Two reasons, sidhe magic is powerful and compliments my own and the crystal will help focus and strengthen my spell.”

 

Arthur crouched down beside Merlin and looked him in the eye. “You do realize that even if we save Camelot, you’ll likely have to flee again.” His words were strained. Apparently he wasn’t as worried about not being in the thick of the fight as Merlin had thought. 

 

He reached forward to grip his friend’s forearm. “If it means saving Camelot and all of my friends, then I’ll do whatever it takes, Arthur, even if it means leaving the city for a few years. I’ll never be far away and you’ll always have a way to summon me.”

 

“Just promise me that you will get out of there the moment you can if my father--”

 

“Don’t worry, I have no intention of becoming personally acquainted with the executioner.” Merlin’s lips quirked up into a teasing smile. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were worried about me.”

 

Arthur scoffed. “Don’t be such a girl, Merlin. I’m merely concerned for Camelot.”

 

“Of course you are. You just don’t want to admit that you actually like me.”

 

“I thought we already established that I have liked you for some time,” Arthur said quietly. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have spent the pest six months feeling guilty.”

 

Merlin beamed. “Now who’s the girl?” He immediately regretted saying that when Arthur colored in embarrassment. He’d been trying to lighten the mood after the prince’s uncharacteristic display of emotion, not make him feel uncomfortable. “Either way,” he said quickly, “it’s good to know I’m not the only one who considers us friends.”

 

Rather than actually respond, Arthur just clipped him round the head. 

 

“Is the fire supposed to be doing that?” Leon asked suddenly, effectively breaking up the moment of camaraderie. 

 

Warlock and prince turned to see that the fire had turned a deep purple color. Merlin smiled and stretched his hand out, whispering a word that neither Arthur or Leon quite caught. His eyes flashed gold and an intricately carved staff with a jewel set at the top appeared in his hand. 

 

“We’re two hours from Camelot if we travel quickly,” said Arthur. “We can get there by nightfall. I don’t want to wait any longer.”

 

Leon nodded. “If Merlin would be willing, we could get there sooner with magic.”

 

“I haven’t really done that with anyone other my self, especially over any distance, and I have the feeling that I’m going to need every ounce of my magic to stop Morgause,” Merlin said. “We’d be better off walking.”

 

Arthur immediately went into action, pacing back and forth. “Right, then. Leon, call the girls with the mirror and tell them when we’ll be there. Merlin, can you send as much of the supplies back to your village as possible? We have to look like you came across us while we were camped. We should probably only take the one horse.”

 

“No horses would be better,” said Merlin. “We should ride as close as we can to Camelot, and then I’ll use magic to get us to the gate. Much more impressive and Emrys-like. Plus I don’t have to worry about sending everything back to the village.”

 

Leon, who had already managed to get hold of Morgana with the mirror, quickly relayed that. Morgana said something curtly in reply and then vanished from the mirror, leaving Leon with an apprehensive look on his face. “I think she’s up to something.”

 

“It’s Morgana and Camelot is in danger,” Arthur shrugged. “Of course she’s up to something. 

 

Chapter Text

Merlin was feeling distinctly nervous. He, Arthur, and Leon had ridden to the outskirts of the forest and were preparing to walk into Camelot. In just a few minutes they would put their plan in action. While he was confident in his ability to defeat Morgause, Merlin couldn't help but worry that something would go wrong. He had already cast a spell on himself to mask his appearance, rather than use the potion which would be more difficult to dismiss when Morgause demanded to see his true countenance, leaving him with nothing to do but wait until Arthur and Leon were ready.

While he was fretting, the two knights were artfully dirtying their clothes so that they looked as though they had spent several nights camped out in the forest before being captured.

"Shouldn't we look as though we were in a fight?" asked Sir Leon. "Surely we would have sustained some injury at our capture."

Merlin shook his head. "I'm Emrys. Morgause and her followers know that I am more than capable of defeating you without a struggle. In fact, they'll be expecting it as a display of my prowess. This charade will be far more convincing if you are unscathed."

"Could you really capture us that easily?" Arthur asked curiously.

In answer, Merlin's eyes flashed and Arthur found himself completely frozen in place, unable to move so much as his pinky finger. "You wouldn't even know that I was there until it was too late."

Leon frowned. "I don't understand. If sorcerers can attack us from a distance, then why don't they?"

"It's complicated," Merlin said, releasing Arthur from the spell. "For one, that particular spell is less effective on large groups. Attacking from the shadows, picking people off one at a time would really only work for a short time before someone became aware of what was happening, but it would still be effective."

"I would think more sorcerers would use either tactic," said Arthur. "Why don't they?"

Merlin shrugged. "I'm not entirely sure, but I think part of it is that they're almost always trying to make some kind of statement to you or the king. That and they never really take me into account. Anyone with magic has a certain advantage over those without, especially when they haven't been effectively trained against magic."

Bristling with indignation, Arthur demanded, "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Have you ever actually trained with a sorcerer?"

"Of course not. Father would never allow that."

"Exactly my point. Half of the things your father believes about magic are barely founded in truth. You have no idea how to deal with a sorcerer. The only reason you're still breathing is because I've been around to keep your royal arse safe. Fighting another knight is completely different from fighting a sorcerer."

The knights both grimaced, remembering the many close calls they'd had over the years. They were beginning to understand how lucky they were that Merlin had always been there.

Satisfied that Merlin wasn't impugning his honor as a knight, Arthur nodded. "We'll just have to change that."

Merlin wasn't sure he wanted to know what that meant. He quickly changed the subject.

"Are you ready?" he asked, shifting his grip on his staff.

Arthur nodded once. Raising his hand, Merlin intoned, "Weorp untoworpenlic." Instantly, shimmering silver chains wrapped around Arthur's and Leon's wrists. The links were slim and light. He could barely feel their weight. The chains glowed slightly with the magic that had conjured them. Arthur tested their strength and found that there was absolutely no give in them. A painful tingle ran up his arms at the struggle.

"You might not want to do that," Merlin warned. "I have to make this look real if we're going to convince Morgause. She would know if I was cutting corners."

"Of course," Arthur muttered. "Did you have to use a spell that causes pain?"

Merlin winced a bit. "Sorry, but I think it will appeal to Morgause if she thinks I'm as vindictive toward the house of Pendragon as she is. At least at first."

"What if this goes badly?" asked Leon.

"I can banish the chains without even a word," Merlin assured him. He held out his hand and the ends of the chains flew into his palm. "This will a bit disorienting and I won't be able to stop to give you a chance to get your bearings when we arrive outside Camelot. It would look suspicious," he warned.

Arthur squared his shoulders. "Let's just do this."

A cold mask slid across Merlin's face. It made Arthur shudder to see his friend, even unrecognizably disguised as he was, so emotionless. Intangible but undeniable power radiated off the warlock as he assumed the guise that he usually denied. It was first time that Arthur began to see just how powerful Merlin was.

His eyes flashed a brilliant gold, but he spoke no word. Wind whipped around them, reminding Arthur of the stories he had heard about the witch Mary Collins. He felt himself being lifted into the air and then thrown forward with unimaginable speed. His stomach churned. Arthur fought not to be sick, but it was a close thing.

Without warning, his feet his solid grown. He felt his knees buckle. Disoriented as he was, he was too slow to catch himself and fell face first on the ground.

"Get up," Merlin said gruffly.

Arthur had to remind himself that the warlock was playing a roll to keep himself from saying something stupid. He took a deep breath and attempted to stand. His head spun. He stumbled to the side, running into Leon and sending them both tumbling to the ground.

Merlin jerked their chains, sending ripples of pain down their arms. "I said get up!"

Leaning against each other, they managed to stand upright. The world mostly stayed still. They were only about two hundred yards from the gates of Camelot. Two sorcerers were standing to either side of the gate. They were staring at Merlin. His eyes were glowing a smoldering gold and the air around him crackled with raw Power. Even from that distance, Arthur could see the incredulous fear on their faces.

"My name is Emrys," said Merlin loudly. "I bring a gift for the sorceress Morgause as a sign of my good intention." He jerked Arthur and Leon forward so that they were in clear view. The guards' eyes widened. One of them spun on his heal and tore off toward the castle.

A grim smile played across Merlin's lips. He risked a glance at Arthur. It was time.


Still fuming over her sister's refusal to join her, Morgause lounged across the throne. Everything else was coming along nicely. The city had fallen under her control easily. The knights were imprisoned with their king. The peasants were too frightened to rebel. Yes, it was all going smoothly.

There was one other thing that niggled at the back of her mind, besides Morgana's defiance. Several rumors had reached her, speaking of Emrys, the foretold savior of magic. It had recently been suggested that he was living as a healer in a nearby village. That rumor had first surfaced months ago. Morgause had paid it no heed then. Stories of Emrys had circulated as long as she could remember and they were never true. Now, she wasn't so sure.

Morgause was well aware the legend spoke of the once and future king who was destined to unite Albion, not the once and future queen. It had been many years since she associated with the Druids, but one of the sorcerers serving under her had only recently left them and he had told her that they all spoke of Emrys as if he had indeed finally appeared. Added to the other evidence she'd uncovered - the number of plots against Camelot formulated by powerful sorcerers that had been thwarted was proof enough - it seemed that he really was out there somewhere. And if Emrys was finally walking the earth, then she would have to convince him that she was the rightful ruler of Camelot. The thought that he might support the Pendragon legacy was too distasteful even to consider.

BOOM!

The great doors at the end of the hall swung open forcefully, bouncing off the stone. Morgause looked up sharply. A young, mildly talented sorcerer that she knew she'd placed at the front gates appeared in the doorway. He hurtled across the room and skidded to a halt before the throne. Bowing clumsily, he gasped, "My lady! A man has arrived at the gates, claiming to be Emrys."

Morgause leapt to her feet. "What proof has he of this claim?"

"None, my lady. Save for his own word and the gift he brings."

"Gift?"

"He has captured Arthur Pendragon."

The witch's eyes widened slightly. "Why did you not say so before?" she hissed. "Bring him here at once! Send the guards in when you leave."

Bowing awkwardly once more, the sorcerer scurried out of the throne room. Morgause sank back slowly, deep in thought. The guards walked in and silently awaited instruction.

"Summon the Lady Morgana and bring me Uther. I wish them to witness this."

The guards bowed in respect before leaving to carry out their duties, leaving Moraguse alone once more in the throne room. She smirked to herself. Whoever this Emrys was, whether he was the real Emrys or an impostor, he would be a valuable ally. It would be easy to convince everyone that he was Emrys even if it wasn't true. Morgana would have no choice but to side with Morgause and Uther would have to accept that magic would rule his precious kingdom for the rest of time.

Oh, yes. Things were coming along quite nicely.


The sound of a mail-covered fist pounding against the door broke the tense silence in Morgana's chambers. The lady and her maid both looked toward the source of the noise.

"The Lady Morgause requests your presence in the throne room immediately, as a matter of urgency!"

Gwen and Morgana exchanged anxious looks. "Do you think Merlin, Arthur, and Leon are already here?" whispered Gwen.

"They must be," said Morgana. "I can think of nothing else. I only hope that the sleeping draught I slipped to Uther has had time to take effect."

The knight pounded on the door again. "My lady, your presence is required at once!"

Taking a deep breath, Morgana rose, assuming the calm, emotionless mantle of a lady of the court. Only Gwen, who knew her old friend well, could tell that she was almost vibrating with nervousness. The lady swept gracefully out of the room, giving a half smile to the knight, who had his hand raised to pound on the door, as she passed him. Gwen trailed after her.

When they reached the throne room, they found Morgause reclining on the throne, looking very much like a cat, ready to spring. She rose when they entered the room.

"Sister, welcome," she greeted. When Morgana remained stonily silent, the witch continued. "We have a visitor that I wish you to meet so that you might see the wisdom of joining me."

"I will never," Morgana spat.

Morgause smirked. "We shall see."

The doors swung open and two guards appeared, dragging Uther between them. He looked nothing like the king he was. His hair was disheveled and dirty as were his clothes which were cheaply made and threadbare. He was still conscious, but his gaze was unfocused. The potion was working, but not quickly enough. The guards threw him roughly to the floor. He lay there for a few minutes before groaning and slowly pushing himself to his hands and knees. Morgana forced herself not to look away from the humiliating display.

"Ah, Uther, how kind of you to join us," Morguase said with a triumphant sneer. "I hope you are enjoying your accommodations."

Uther remained silent. Morgana hoped it was because the potion was taking effect. She knew that the potion she'd used to spike the king's water made those who took it disoriented before bringing sleep, having taken it herself, but she also knew Uther and his silence could be nothing more than defiance.

Looking positively gleeful, Morguase nodded to the guards. They grabbed the king by his arms and dragged him to his feet. He sagged between them, unable to support his own weight. Unceremoniously, the guards hauled him toward the throne. They dumped him on the floor at the foot of the dais.

No sooner had they done so when the doors swung open once again, this time slowly and gracefully. A tall man strode calmly into the throne room. He was dressed simply in black breeches, black boots, and a black tunic. A midnight blue cloak was clasped about his shoulders. A barely visible pattern of Old Religion symbols was embroidered across the fabric. He clutched a glowing staff in his hand. The air around him crackled with magic. Morgana didn't recognize him, but she knew it was Merlin. She could feel the familiar tingle of his power, something she'd never before been able to identify.

Of course, the strange warlock's identity was made pretty obvious by the fact that he was clutching glowing silver chains that were wrapped around Arthur and Leon.

He made his way across the room. The tap of his staff against the stone was the only sound in the entire hall. All eyes followed him. Uther looked absolutely crushed and Morgana knew that he'd lost his last hope that Camelot might be saved.

Emrys came to a halt before the throne. For a moment, he just stood there, staring at Morgause. Then, he inclined his head ever so slightly. "My lady. I have come here to witness the glory of your accomplishment in bringing magic back to this city. I am Emrys, and I bring you an offering as a display of my intentions toward you."

He jerked on the chains. They glowed slightly and the two knights were forced forward, stumbling over their feet.

"Arthur," the king whispered.

Father and son gazed at each other. "I'm sorry, father," Arthur said quietly. The king slumped forward, crumpling to the floor, unconscious, the strain too much for him to continue fighting the sleeping draught. Morgana and Gwen let out inaudible sighs of relief. Morgause allowed herself to smirk. "Pathetic," she spat at the once great man before turning back to Emrys.

"A truly marvelous gift indeed," she said coolly. She rose from the throne and swept forward to gaze carefully at Arthur. He stared back at her defiantly. "How is it you managed this when none could before you? There were whispers that the prince was protected by one of our own."

Emrys chuckled humorlessly. "Do not blame the incompetence of others on a nonexistent rogue. There was no protection on the prince. It was child's play to capture him. My powers were wasted on this venture."

"Many great sorcerers have failed to take this city and its prince," Morgause hissed. "Sigan, who had conquered death fell and only magic could have facilitated that."

"Perhaps this mystery savior wished only to protect his home. By all accounts Sigan was cruel to any he ruled."

"Any rule that is not Uther's would be preferable to this tyranny."

"In your mind," Emrys shrugged. "I, for one, would not wish to trade one dictator for another."

"If you think that, then why have you come here?"

"I wish to help," he replied. "It is my destiny to bring magic back to Albion and to see that the once and future king sits upon the throne. I have a vested interest in the wellbeing of this kingdom and it's people."

Morgause looked livid. "I am the Queen," she hissed furiously. "There will be no king."

"It is fate, even the dragons agreed."

"The dragons are gone and so are their prophecies."

"Just because a seer dies does not mean that their visions hold any less meaning. Magic will only truly return to Camelot and Albion when the once and future king holds the throne, no matter what you may wish."

"Would you prefer Uther to rule?"

Emrys shrugged. "The once and future king is not yet ready to take the throne. Until then, I would bide my time."

"You claim to be Emrys, and yet you say you would allow Uther to continue to rule. You have all but admitted that it was you who stood against the others who would end his tyranny. Who are you truly? For you cannot be Emrys."

"Because I wish not to bring further war and misfortune to my people?" Emrys asked. "No one desires more than I that magic return to this land, to this kingdom, but at what cost? If those such as you would wait as I do, fewer would die and the hatred of magic would dwindle."

"The freedom of our people can have no cost too high!"

"Many would disagree."

Rising to her feet, her eyes flashing golden, Morgause glared at Emrys with a thunderous expression.

"Who are you? I will not ask again and you'd best have a satisfactory answer."

Face impassive, Emrys tossed the chains in his hand to the ground. The enchanted steel immediately became one with the stone. Arthur tugged at it futilely, but the chains glowed and he fell to his knees with a gasp of pain. Even though she knew it was all an act, Gwen pressed a hand to her mouth, stifling a small sob.

"I am the one the Druids call Emrys," the sorcerer stated simply.

She scoffed. "Capturing a knight, even one as skilled as Arthur, with magic, proves nothing. You speak against our ideals, you would even support Uther and you mask your appearance. Oh yes," she said gleefully, "I know you have a glamor masking your countenance. What do you fear so much?"

"Camelot is my home," Emrys replied. "I left so that I might focus on the gift I have had since birth, but I knew that one day I would wish to return. So yes, I hid my appearance."

"You have nothing left to fear," Morgause stated, pride in her voice and in her stature. She gestured grandly to the king. "Camelot has fallen to magic. Uther can do nothing to you and nor will I. Prove to me that you are Emrys."

Emrys' eyes began glow with a low smoldering gold. The air around him became liquid, rippling with raw magic. "Need you any more proof?"

"A flashy display of power means nothing. Akwele!"

Fire gathered at her finger tips and flew toward Emrys. Looking almost bored, he stood firm. Morgana felt fear run through her. She felt her own power bubble beneath her skin and forced it back before she could ruin everything. Still, Emrys did not move. Without so much as a word or a flick of his wrist or a change in the glow of his eyes, the flames disappeared into nothing a foot and a half away from him.

"Impressive," Morgause admitted reluctantly. "To be able to vanish the flames without an incantation, it is impressive."

"Are you convinced?"

"Not quite. Show yourself to me," Morgause demanded. "No man who hides behind a glamor could possibly be the real Emrys, no matter how great your power."

He gazed at her piercingly.

"Very well," he said after a long moment of silence.

The Magic pouring off of him did not falter for even an instant as his features ran and changed, becoming younger and far more familiar. The look of horror on Arthur's face was matched only by the surprise, which was quickly fading to mingled anger and understanding, that was painted across Morgause's face.

"You? The servant boy?"

Merlin grinned cheekily. "The last person you expected, aren't I?"

"How can you possibly be Emrys?"

"I have no idea, to be honest," he shrugged. "I didn't even know until Mordred showed up and started calling me Emrys. But since then, I've gotten all the proof I need."

"Merlin?" Arthur whispered, absolutely stricken. Morgana almost raised an eyebrow, but carefully maintained the distraught expression on her own face. It seemed Arthur was a far better actor than she'd ever given him credit for.

"That is my name," Merlin said coolly. "You do seem to forget it often enough."

"I thought you were my friend. I trusted you! How could you do this? You know what magic is!"

"And what is it?" Merlin demanded, the air around him rippling more powerfully than before. "Is it evil? Is it a choice? It most certainly isn't the latter. I was born this way, your highness." He spat the honorific sarcastically. "I've always had magic, and you would kill me for it. You have killed hundreds of innocents in the name of your father's hate. How could you possibly think I was your friend?"

The heartbroken expression on Arthur's face was so real and so painfully hurt that Morgana had a niggling feeling that some of Merlin's words had hit home, even if he hadn't meant them.

"Traitor!" Morgause shrieked. "It was you who stopped my plans, I know it!"

"Of course it was," Merlin scoffed derisively. "Your brilliant scheme would have accomplished nothing and I did have a part to maintain. How would it look if the princes' friend allowed him to kill his father?"

"You allay yourself against your people," she hissed.

"Our people have been idiots," he said bluntly. "They have furthered Uther's hate and it has cost us many lives. What is to be gained by revenge? Alone, we can do little. I stood against them in an attempt to save their lives and the lives of other innocents. By working as I did, I stood a chance of convincing others that magic is not evil."

Her eyes narrowed, and the red-gold became more prominent. "No one is innocent in this! They are all complacent in Uther's murder!"

"Your hatred had blinded you, just as it has blinded Uther. The people of this kingdom risk their own deaths if they are even thought to be associated with magic." Merlin's voice was low, but every word rang throughout the room. "They are afraid, and because of that fear, they cannot act. We of all people should understand that."

"Uther's hate has infected them. They cannot be allowed to further taint the world with their ignorance!"

Merlin shook his head. "Your blindness in this matter is exactly why you cannot bring magic back to this kingdom."

"We shall see," she hissed. "Brýtende stan!"

A rumble shook the entire hall. Morgana gasped at the wave of magic flowing out from Morgause. Merlin shifted his weight so that he was on the balls of his feet. Morgana had never seen him look so fierce.

Great cracks appeared in the stone ceiling. Small chucks of masonry plummeted toward the ground. Morgana just managed to pull Gwen out of the way of a large piece of broken stone. Morgause seemed not to notice or care that she was putting her sister in danger as she raised her hands above her head head and shouted, "Brýtende stan!" once more.

The fissures in the ceiling deepened. With one final, ominous rumble, the roof caved in and massive stones plummeted toward the ground.

Chapter Text

Crashing filled the hall. The ground shook and trembled. It bucked beneath their feet like a living being. Gwen nearly lost her footing. Morgana screamed and threw herself backward against the wall, dragging Gwen with her. She felt her magic burst out of her. A word appeared in her mind, whispered in Merlin's voice.

"Gescildan!" she cried and a glimmering shield appeared around them. She stared up at it in surprise. She'd never intentionally done magic before.

For what seemed like an eternity, the rubble rained down from the ceiling. Morgana's arms, which she'd thrown up instinctively when she cast the spell, began to tremble under the strain of maintaining the shield under the onslaught of rock.

Why hasn't Merlin done something? she wondered desperately, risking a glance at the pile of rubble that covered the ground where Merlin, Arthur, and Leon had been standing. There was no sign of them.

Morgana fought to reassure herself. They're all right. Merlin has survived far worse. He can protect himself and Arthur and Leon. They will all be fine. They have to be.

Another stone struck the shield. The tremors that rippled through her magic at the impact nearly sent Morgana to her knees. She knew in her heart that her untrained magic wouldn't last much longer and when it failed, she and Gwen would have no protection.

Morgause's voice rose piercingly above the cacophony. "Áblinnaþ!" she commanded.

The hall rumbled one last time before stilling completely. Slowly, the dust cleared, dissipating in the echoing silence. Sunlight streamed through the gaping hole in the roof. Morguase stood unmoving before the throne, Uther laying at her feet, both of them completely unharmed. She was gazing at the pile of debris filling the middle of the room with manic triumph glinting in her red gold eyes.

"And so the mighty Emrys has fallen," she sneered. "It seems the legend was greater than the man. Such is the way of things. Pity. He had so much potential."

Morgana staggered forward to the edge of the rubble, trying to ignore Gwen's quiet sobs. "No," she whispered. "Merlin...Arthur...no, it can't be!"

"Now you see the futility of resisting me, sister," Morgause said coldly. "All those who stand against me, against magic, even the great Emrys himself, will fall before me, no matter their power. I will not be deterred. Join with me before it is too late. This is your last chance, sister."

Tears streaming down her face, Morgana glared at the witch. "Nothing you say and nothing you do will ever convince me to join with your cruelty," she spat, her voice trembling slightly with the weight of her tears. "Merlin was right. You and all those like you have done nothing but bring suffering to our people. I will never aid you in that!"

Morgause's face hardened. Her eyes became stormy and red gold bled into her irises. "So be it. You have left me no other course of action. I wish that it did not have to be this way. We are kin, bound by blood after all. Good bye, sister."

The witch raised her hand almost lazily. There was nothing Morgana could do. She had spent all her strength and even if she hadn't, she did not possess the knowledge necessary to thwart Morgause. Morgana saw the witch's lips move, but did not hear the spell she uttered. The sound of Gwen's horrified cries filled her mind, drowning out all else. Refusing to show any fear, Morgana stared calmly at the woman before her and waited for death to whisk her into darkness.

It never did.

Before she could complete her deadly casting, something happened that drove all thoughts of killing Morgana from Mogause's mind entirely. The debris from the ceiling began to glow. Bluish white light raced along the edges of the fallen stone. Every nook and cranny was slowly being illuminated.

Something touched Morgana's mind and a familiar voice whispered, Stand back.

Even years of practice couldn't keep the startled expression or the slowly growing smile that followed it off her face. Her heart was leaping for joy in her chest. Merlin was alive and if the magic before her was any indication, he was perfectly fine. Which meant that Arthur and Leon had to be as well. Merlin would never let harm come to them if he could help it. Everything was going to be all right.

Morgana slowly rose to her feet and stepped backward until she was once more level with Gwen. She wrapped an arm around her friend's shaking shoulders and smiled reassuringly. The click that came as everything fell into place for Gwen was nearly audible. Her eyes widened and she looked to the glowing rubble, hardly daring to hope, hardly daring to even breathe.

So intent was Morgause on the now brightly glowing stones before her, that she noticed none of this.

A fine, dim glow spread across almost everything in the room, including the three women and Uther, as even the dust began to glow with the same blue white light. Morgause stepped back in barely concealed panic.

"Ic biddee þisne bealucræft áligean!" she incanted wildly. Her eyes gleamed and magic rippled out of her in a great, consuming wave. It did nothing. The glow that surrounded the stones only brightened marginally, as if it had absorbed her energy.

"What is this magic?" she whispered.

As though in answer, the rubble shifted ever so slightly before lifting gracefully into the air. The stones soared upward, twisting and spinning delicately, never once colliding, to fit themselves back into the ceiling. The great cracks that had extended down the walls like veins knit themselves back together, disappearing as though they'd never been there in the first place. Within seconds, every tine piece of stone, even the dust, had returned to its original place in the masonry, leaving three men standing in the center of the room as though nothing had happened to them. Arthur and Leon were still bound in chains - Still hiding their true intentions, realized Morgana - and Merlin's eyes were blazing so brightly it almost hurt to look at him. Anger rolled off him in great bursts. Even though that fury wasn't directed at her, Morgana shivered and gripped Gwen more tightly.

"That was not very kind," Merlin said softly. The gold in his eyes dimmed and faded as he leveled an icy glare at Morgause. "Though I am curious as to why you thought that could kill me when Nimueh couldn't manage that feat with a fireball straight to my chest."

Morgause and Arthur both blanched, one in mild all-consuming terror at just what that revelation implied about Merlin's power as a warlock, and the other in growing horror at what that revelation implied about what Merlin had endured in the past. If the situation hadn't been so dire, Morgana might have laughed at the when-this-is-over-I-am-locking-you-in-the-dungeons-until-you-tell-me-everything glare that Arthur was leveling at Merlin's back. She'd have to ensure she didn't miss that. Not only did she want answers, but getting them would be quite a show.

Unaware of the reactions he was garnering - or just blatantly ignoring them - Merlin rambled on. "Of course that might have had something to do with the fact that we were in the middle of the Isle of the Blest and that minutes later I harnessed the Power of Life and Death to kill her in exchange for Gaius. I'm not entirely sure. What do you think?

Morgause gaped ungracefully at him before forcing a semi-confident smirk across her face that served only to make her look sick.

"You are more powerful that I guessed. Perhaps you are worthy of your legend after all. I admit that I may have been hasty in my judgement. You do not speak as one who is meant to usher in an age of magic. Prove me wholly wrong. Kill the Pendragon scion so that your destiny may be once step closer and so that Uther's tyranny might not spread."

A beat passed while the two mages regarded one another. Then Merlin snapped his fingers. The chains fell away from Arthur's and Leon's wrists and swords appeared at their sides. They drew them instantly.

"What are you doing?" Morgause demanded.

"Allowing my destiny one step closer," he replied.

The witch's jaw dropped. She snorted derisively. "You can't possible think that Uther's spawn is the once and future king! That's ridiculous. It's impossible!"

Merlin laughed hollowly. "You know, that was almost exactly my reaction when the Great Dragon first told me of my destiny. I thought Kilgarrah was mad. Mind you after twenty years of being locked in a cave with nothing but himself for company he might be, but he was right in this and in time I came to see that. Arthur's a prat, don't get me wrong, but he's a kind, noble, and courageous prat who has the best interests of his people at hea-"

"You are deluding yourself," she snapped. "He has killed dozens for possessing magic."

"He had no one here to teach him otherwise! From the day he was born, Uther taught him the evils of magic and the only magic he ever saw was that of some desperate individual who tried to kill him or his father or completely destroy Camelot. Even I wouldn't have a very favorable view of those with magic after that."

"It is no excuse!"

"Is it not? Then what of his loyalty to his king, if not his father? Even as the crown prince, Arthur is first and foremost a knight. He is bound to obey the king. Disobeying blatantly only gets him into trouble and makes it more difficult to help others. It's not as though Arthur's personally ended the life of every sorcerer you would blame him for. Many of those whose blood you wish see on his hands tried to kill him! Only once did he go after innocent Druids and that was when he thought they had captured Morgana. And he had saved innocents before, such as the Druid boy, Mordered.

"He's not perfect, I don't pretend to say that. I don't pretend to say that he has always accepted magic, but he does now. Now he can do something. Now we can fulfill our destiny! Already he had done what no noble should do by befriending and willingly sacrificing his life for a serva-"

"That does not mean he accepts magic," Morgause shrieked hysterically. "Or that he ever will. Saving one boy in a moment of weakness proves nothing. He is no different than his father. You'll see. When this is over and his precious kingdom is safe, he will turn on you. He will use you and then he will throw you aside like a piece of garbage."

Arthur couldn't contain himself any longer. "I will not! I've known about his magic for months and I don't care!"

"Impossible. I know that he has been gone for-" she stopped abruptly. A malicious smirk blossomed into being on her face. "He sent you away. Rather than admit to himself and to Uther that a sorcerer had been so close to him for so long, he sent you away! What say you to that display of acceptance?"

"I'll admit that I was angry, but it was because Merlin had been lying to me." Arthur looked to Merlin as he spoke, not to Morgause. He seemed almost to be begging Merlin to understand. "It hurt knowing that you didn't trust me and, even if I didn't trust you the way I should have, you knew more of me than anyone else. I hated that it wasn't the same for you. The magic was just an excuse. It didn't even hit me until you left if the bloody whirlwind that your secret had been magic. I didn't know what I was supposed to do after that. I hid behind my father's teachings. I told myself that was why I sent you away, but I never once considered telling father. I wouldn't do that."

Merlin smiled slightly, a look of understanding on his face, as though he knew that that had been weighing Arthur down for months and that only the danger threatening Camelot has prevented him from saying so sooner.

"If you believe that you are a fool," Morgause hissed, breaking the moment. The tension in the hall skyrocketed once more.

"If you do not, then you are an even greater one," sighed Merlin. "I tell you that he is the once and future king. The only way magic will return to Camelot as you wish it to is if you allow destiny to take it's place. Arthur will bring peace back to Camelot. It will flourish under his reign. There will be no injustice that he can prevent. Magic will work alongside those without. You cannot stop this, Morgause."

She smirked. "We'll see about that."

The doors to the hall flew open and two dozen sorcerer's poured in. The circled the room, surrounded Merlin, Arthur, and Leon. Merlin gazed at them dispassionately.

"So this is what it comes to?" he asked. "Magic against magic. It doesn't have to be this way, Morgause. I wish you could see that."

"This is the only way," she said. Without warning, she darted forward and seized Uther from where he lay at the foot of the throne. She heaved him into her arms, producing a dagger from nowhere.

"It ends here! We shall fear no more. Magic shall retu-"

She never finished. With a minute twitch of his fingers, Merlin sent the dagger flying from her hand and blasted her across the room. She hit one of the columns that supported the roof and slumped to the ground, unconscious. With another twitch of his fingers, Merlin slowed the king's fall and lowered him gently onto the ground. The other sorcerer's stared at him in horror.

Merlin gazed at them. "I'm giving you one chance to do the wise thing and walk away. This is not the way to gain peace. You are doing nothing but harming your cause. Do not listen to the poison Morgause has been feeding you. Walk away. Bide your time. One day soon, when destiny is ready, magic will return."

"We have waited too long," snarled one. His answer seemed to embolden the others. They began jeering and yelling. Bolts of magic sped across the room. Merlin deflected them easily, absorbing them into his own magic. Eventually the sorcerers noticed that their spells were have no effect. They gathered together and chanted together. A sphere of roiling black energy materialized over their joined hands. It hovered there for a moment before speeding toward Merlin.

He did not speak a word. A massive golden dragon burst into life out of nowhere and swallowed the dark energy. It soared out the window and high into the sky where it imploded in on itself. A hollow BOOM echoed through the air.

"Onswebban."

At that single word, all of the sorcerers keeled over and fell to the ground. Morgause struggled to her feet.

"You killed your own kin," she whispered icily.

"They're only asleep."

"You have proven yourself to be our enemy. I will not forget this, Merlin Emrys. You will pay for this treachery. I swear it on my magic!"

And then she was gone. Whisked away by the same spell she had used when her last attempt to take Camelot had failed. Merlin sighed and his shoulders fell, leaving him looking far more like Merlin than he had since he'd walked into the throne room dragging Arthur and Leon behind him.

"Well, that went better than I hoped."

Arthur raised an eyebrow. "That was good?"

"She didn't fight back," said Merlin. "At least not much. I expected much more of a fight."

"So did I," admitted Leon. "Why do you think she didn't?"

"Who knows. It may be that she recognized how strong I am, or maybe she does know what destiny is and is simply refusing to admit it. Whatever the reason, I'm glad she gave us no more trouble than she did."

"If you call having massive amounts of stone fall on your head no trouble, then it was wonderful," Arthur grumbled.

Letting out a strangled sob, Gwen suddenly pelted across the room and threw her arms around Arthur's neck. He wrapped her in a strong embrace even as she sobbed onto his shoulder. After everything that had happened the past few days, Arthur found he really couldn't care less that she was just a servant and that others might not approve of their feelings for one another. Merlin was just a servant and he was the most powerful warlock ever born. What did it matter what station they were?

"I thought you were dead," she gasped.

Arthur held her tighter. "It's all right. See? I'm right here. I'm perfectly all right."

"The ceiling fell on you! It should have crushed you!" cried Gwen a bit hysterically.

"How did you survive that?" asked Morgana, who'd walked over to them a bit more sedately, if only because she didn't think her knees would support her if she tried to run as Gwen had.

As one, Leon and Arthur pointed to Merlin, who blushed slightly. "I'm not entirely sure what I did," he admitted. "I meant to just move us somewhere else. Maintaining a shield for that long under that sort of weight would have been difficult and it would have encouraged Morgause to start throwing curses at us. Anyway, I think I ended up turning us into spirits or something. We just sort of ended up floating until she stopped the debris and...well, you saw the rest."

"That's amazing," Gwen whispered. "I had no idea you were so powerful."

Merlin smiled wryly. "Even I don't know how powerful I am, Gwen. It seems that my power grows every day. I'm constantly surprising myself."

"It's still amazing," said Morgana.

"It most certainly is," Leon agreed.

Arthur rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes. Merlin is a wonderful warlock. I think we all get the point. What are we going to do about this lot?" He gestured to the men sleeping peacefully on the floor. "We can't just leave them here and we can't let them go."

"We can't imprison them either," said Merlin. He got no further before Arthur puffed up indignantly.

"What do you mean? They attacked Camelot! They were working for Morgause!"

"She gave them hope, Arthur. If I was as desperate as they are, I might listen to her. I'm sure some of them are genuine threats, but some of them probably have families they just want to keep safe. You know how manipulative Morgause is. I wouldn't be surprised if she's completely messed with their heads!"

Morgana's eyes widened. "Can you use magic for that?"

"I'm not sure. I suppose it's possible, but you would have to be very skilled. The mind is a delicate thing." He rubbed his temples tiredly. "I'll ask Gaius. Knowing Morgause, I wouldn't be surprised if she was doing something like that to convince people to listen to her."

"As enlightening as this all is, this doesn't tell me what to do with them," Arthur sighed, trying not to show how much the idea that some of those lying before him might not wish him ill after all gave him hope for his kingdom.

They all turned to Merlin. He glared good-naturedly. "Right, of course. Now that I'm the might warlock, you actually listen to me. Thanks ever so."

"Just answer the question, Merlin. I'm sure that sleeping draught Morgana slipped father won't last much longer."

"How did you know about that?" Morgana demanded, looking put out that her plan had been discovered.

Arthur shrugged. "What else were you going to do to make sure father didn't find out about Merlin? You can pout later. What are we going to do, Merlin?"

He rubbed his temples again and answered slowly. "Get Uther out of here. If he wakes up, stall him. I'm going to see if I can find any evidence of spell work on them. But I think that's probably unlikely. Once I'm sure, I'll remove any memory they have of Morgause and send them to a nearby village. It's the best I can do."

"You're just going to let them go?" asked Leon.

"Do you have a better answer? Some of them could be innocent in all of this, just caught up by Morgause's fanaticism. She does craft a convincing picture of peace and magic, doesn't she? Even though she'd be a crueler queen than Uther ever was."

"I don't like it," said Arthur, "but you're right. We can't condemn them to death because of her and if they stay here that is exactly what father will do when he wakes."

"Hopefully they'll remember this the next time they want to attack Camelot," said Leon grimly.

Arthur nodded. Then he sighed and started toward the king. "Help me get father up to his room and then you and Gwen can go free the others from the dungeons while Morgana and I keep father in bed," he said to Leon.

The two knights gently hoisted the king into their arms and carried him out of the hall. Gwen and Morgana followed after them, but Morgana paused in the doorway to look back at Merlin. He was already bent over one of the sorcerers, his eyes closed in concentration. Something stirred in her chest at the sight of him. A blush rose to her cheeks and she hurried after the others.


After what seemed like hours, but was in reality only a few minutes, Merlin had finished. He'd found no magic on the sorcerers beyond what they themselves had cast, so Morgause wasn't controlling them, at least, not by magic. He was sure her sweet words of revenge had poisoned them.

Reluctantly, he whispered the spell that would wipe all memory of her from their minds. He worried that they would forget something important that was only marginally connected with Morgause. The book that he'd found this spell in had warned that it was not a subtle spell. But it was the only plan he had.

Once he was done, he summoned the last of this strength and sent them away to a town four days ride from Camelot where he knew they would found and tended to.

Merlin checked the room for any other signs of magic. On second thought, he added a few scorch marks. It would have to look authentic if Arthur was going to convince his father that they'd managed to defeat Morgause. That done, he slipped through the castle to the king's chambers and knocked on the door.

"Enter," called Arthur.

"I'd best not. Can you spare a moment?"

The door opened almost immediately and both Arthur and Morgana slipped out.

"What is it?" Arthur asked worriedly.

"Nothing," Merlin rushed to assure him. "I just need to leave."

Morgana looked taken aback. "Why?"

"Because we've no way to explain why I'm suddenly back."

"That's easy. You tired of Ealdor and confronted your issues with the dragon's attack and decided to come back."

"Won't it look suspicious that I returned right after you managed to defeat Morgause after being dragged into a room, bound by a sorcerer? The last thing I need is Uther suspicious of me."

Arthur did not seem happy, but he couldn't deny Merlin's logic either. "I suppose you're right. How long would be gone?"

"A few weeks. I need to arrange things at Bardwell for my departure and give all of this time to blow over. But I will be back. You can't keep me away now." He grinned broadly. "This is my home."

"Good," said Arthur, clapping a hand on Merlin's shoulder. "I expect to see you back here by the end of the month, with an excellent excuse for why you were gone so long. I'm sure you've had plenty of practice coming up with stories like that."

"Use the mirror if anything happens before I return. I won't hesitate."

"I will," Arthur promised, which surprised Merlin, who'd expected the prince to insist that he could handle everything on his own. He smiled quickly.

"Don't do anything stupid," he warned playfully. "I'm not here to protect you."

"I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself," Arthur huffed, but his eyes were twinkling.

Morgana watched the entire exchange in amusement. It was hard to believe, sometimes, just how close Arthur and Merlin had become. They had broken every taboo between them. Arthur was a prince and Merlin was a servant, yet they were friends of the closest kind. Merlin insulted and talked back to Arthur, who actually listened to him. Arthur was a soldier and Merlin was decidedly not, yet they were both fiercely protective of those they cared about and fought side by side. Arthur was the son of Uther and Merlin was a warlock, yet that seemed to have brought them even closer together. It was truly remarkable.

She drew herself out of her thoughts to see Merlin rummaging in a bag he'd produced from somewhere. After a moment, he produced an old, leather bound book which he handed to Morgana.

"This is the magic book Gaius gave me," he said. "It's pretty simple, but if you work through it, the spells will help you learn to control your magic. Just use the first few pages. I'll help you after that, if you want me to."

Clutching the book to her chest with one hand, Morgana impulsively leaned forward to kiss Merlin's cheek. "I would most certainly like that. Thank you."

He blushed crimson and babbled incoherently. Arthur looked between them, a speculating expression on his face. A bellow sounded from in the king's chambers. Arthur sighed.

"Father's awake. We'd best go to him and you'd best get out of here."

Merlin nodded. "I'll see you soon," he promised. He inclined his head to them both in a sign of respect he rarely gave without sarcasm and which meant all the more when he was sincere, before turning down the corridor and striding out of sight.

Arthur gazed after him. "I never believed in all of that destiny stuff," he said quietly. "I'd heard it all of my life. It was my destiny to be king, to succeed my father, to be a great ruler, to carry on his legacy. They always said that my path was all laid out, but I always thought it was my hard work that would make me all of those things. After listening to Merlin talk to Morgause, I think I might believe in destiny after all."

"I think it's a bit of both," said Morgana. "The path may lie before you, but you have to chose to take it and you have to work for every step. Once you get to the end, destiny is all the sweeter because you earned it."

For a moment, they stood in silence, contemplating destiny and what it meant for them. Another shout from the king drew them from their thoughts. Arthur sighed and opened the door for Morgana. She paused in the threshold to smile at him and they both knew in that instant that the destiny Merlin spoke of would be every bit as glorious as he said.

Chapter Text

Merlin had almost reached Gaius' quarters when he remembered. Cursing under his breath, he spun on his heel and bolted into the nearest empty room.

"I knew it was too easy!" he growled. "How could I forget about the blasted crystal? She didn't leave. She's regrouping. Damnit! I am such an idiot! What the hell is the matter with me?"

He upended his bag over the bed, spilling its contents over the mattress. He cursed himself again for carrying so much stuff with him to what he knew would be a fight. He'd reflexively shrunk it and stuck it into his pocket when they'd set out. It was a habit he'd adopted during his months more or less on the run. He kept his things with him at all times. It had only been shortly before Arthur and Leon had arrived on his doorstep that he'd started relaxing that. The whole situation with Camelot had put him on edge again.

Eventually, he found what he was looking for: a large sack of amber pendants, each engraved with the symbol of the Old Religion and a thin leather tome that was easy to find amongst the much larger books that took up most of the space on the bed. He flipped through it to a page that he had marked.

"I really hope this works," he muttered. He was exhausted. The amount of magic he'd expended earlier while fighting Morgause was already taking its toll on him. He held his hand out over the pendants and began to chant.

"Malscrung forescieldnesse ic áswenge onuppan þás sine. Foresíehest hléo fram yfelweorc. Malscrung forescieldnesse ic áswenge onuppan þás sine. Foresíehest hléo fram yfelweorc. Malscrung forescieldnesse ic áswenge onuppan þás sine. Foresíehest hléo fram yfelweorc."

He repeated the words over and over again until he felt his magic rise within him. The moment it left him, Merlin swayed where he stood, feeling dizzy. He took deep breaths until the world stopped spinning.

"Damn it," he whispered. This was very, very bad.

There was nothing he could do at the moment, though. There was no time. Rather than expend what was left of his power, he stuffed everything back into his bag by hand, except for the pendants he'd just enchanted.

Merlin pelted through the castle. Several people looked at him as he passed, surprised to see him in such a state after being gone for so long, but he paid them no mind. He sped through the castle, panic thrumming through his veins. Without even bothering to think of the consequences, he forced the door to Uther's chambers open with magic and skidded inside.

The king was sitting up in bed, looking groggy and confused. Arthur was standing beside him, trying to convince him that Emrys had actually saved them, then left without explaining why. Uther didn't look like he was buying it. Morgana stood on the other side of the bed, interjecting details whenever Arthur paused to take a breath. They all looked to the door when Merlin burst in.

"What are you doing?" Arthur hissed, looking livid.

Merlin ducked his head and whispered the same spell that he'd used on the sorcerers. Almost instantly, Uther's eyes drifted shut and he fell asleep.

If possible, the prince looked even more angry than before. "Merlin, what is going on?"

"This isn't over," he gasped. "The crystal, we forgot about the crystal."

Arthur paled. "Damn it. She didn't leave, did she?"

"I doubt it. All she's doing is regaining her strength. Here," he pulled one of the pendants out of the bunch and pushed it at Arthur. "Put this on."

"Why?"

"Morgause knows how powerful I am. She's going to be desperate to ensure that she can defeat me. She'll increase the power of the spell. She'll draw more energy from the people of Camelot. If I understand her as well as I think I do, she'll cast it again to catch us in her net seeing as we shouldn't have been effected since we weren't in the city when she originally cast the spell. She may have already. This won't end the spell on us, but it will prevent her from taking any more energy from us."

Eyes widening, Arthur took the pendant and pulled the leather chord over her head. Merlin handed one to Morgana, then moved past them to slip one over the king's head.

"We haven't much time," he said quickly. "Take these and given them to everyone you meet. One of us needs to go down to the dungeons to catch Leon and Gwen. And someone needs to see to those who are already unconscious in Gaius' chambers. They'll be the first to fail if Morgause tries to sap more energy from the people."

"How much energy will she take?" asked Morgana.

"If she's desperate, I think Morgause will try to draw as much energy as she can, enough to kill us all and herself in the process. Even with the crystal, channeling that much energy into herself will be deadly, but it will destroy us all. These pendants should prevent that from happening to us, but everyone else is vulnerable." He broke off and ran a hand through his hair, looking thoroughly furious with himself. "I can't believe I lost sight of what we were here to do. I got caught up in trying to convince her that she was wrong."

"It's not your fault, Merlin," said Arthur. "I forgot too and I had far less to do in there."

"She'll destroy the bloody kingdom, Arthur! I'm exhausted. The magic I was using is elemental. It takes more energy than actual spells because it's less controlled. For all my natural ability, I'm not experienced. I can't fight her again and win, especially with this spell."

"Don't talk like that," Morgana hissed. "You can't give up. If you do, then we have no hope."

Merlin sighed. "I'm sorry. I know. I'm not giving up and I won't stop fighting. Come on, we need to get these handed out to everyone. Did you two feel that?"

"If you mean that strange tingling feeling, then yes," said Arthur. "What was it?"

"Morgause is trying to draw our energy. My spell must be stopping it. At least that much is working."

Arthur's eyes widened. "Gwen," he whispered.

Before Merlin or Morgana could say anything, he turned on his heel and ran from the room. They exchanged a look. Understanding passed between them. Cursing in unison, they ran after Arthur.

"Get back here, you prat!" Merlin shouted. "It's a trap!"

"She knows you'll go after Gwen!" yelled Morgana.

He didn't listen. Merlin swore again. He stumbled over his own feet. Morgana grabbed his arm and hoisted him upright with surprising strength and they continued to run after Arthur.

Merlin was gasping for breath when they finally caught him. They were a floor above the dungeons. He and Morgana had rounded the corner and nearly tripped over Arthur, who was lying on the floor, cradling Gwen in his arms. She was unconscious. Leon was sprawled on the ground nearby.

"Quick," said Merlin. "Get a pendant around their necks. It won't wake them. But it will stop her from killing them."

Arthur hurried to do so, fumbling slightly with the chord in his haste, while Morgana did the same for Leon, giving Merlin a chance to lean against the wall and catch his breath. She glanced at him worriedly. He was pale and sweating slightly. The amount of magic Merlin had used was enormous, but she couldn't quite believe just how much of a toll it was taking on him. It frightened her.

Completely oblivious to the state of his friend, Arthur gently brushed Gwen's hair out of her face. He pulled his cloak off his shoulders and folded it beneath her head. Gazing down at her, he stood slowly.

"Let's finish this," he growled.

Merlin tried to grab his arm to stop him, but Arthur shook him off.

"Just stop and think for a minute," said Morgana, stepping in front of Arthur. "Morgause will be expecting you to do this. She'll be waiting for this and she'll be more powerful than before. We can't go charging in there."

"I'm not going to let her get away with this," Arthur snarled.

"You don't have a choice."

They whipped around. Arthur drew his sword and leveled it before him. Standing at the end of the hallway was Morgause. A crystal hung on a chain around her neck. It was gleaming with an unnatural red light. She was smirking broadly. She waved her hand lazily and Arthur's sword flew from his hand.

"You fools. Did you really think I'd fun so easily? I do not give up. I will never cease to fight until magic returns to this land under my rule. It is only a matter of time until your people succumb to my spell and once that has happened, not even those pretty baubles will save you. However, if you surrender now, I will kill you quickly."

Morgana watched in amazement as the fatigue melted away from Merlin's countenance and the implacable, unbelievably powerful warlock returned. He stood tall and straight, glaring at Morgause.

"We will never surrender to you."

Morgause's smirk widened. "I was so hoping you would say that. Ærdéaþ gegræppest híe!"

"Gescildan!" Merlin and Morgana cried in unison as a bolt of roiling red light soared toward them. They staggered back when it struck the shield they'd conjured. Morgana nearly lost her footing completely, but somehow Merlin remained standing tall.

"You will not be able to maintain that long," Morgause taunted. "You are weak and I possess limitless power. Just give up while you can. Do not suffer the indignity of defeat."

"I would rather die than know I was too cowardly to face you," Arthur snarled.

"Likewise," spat Merlin.

"I'd be happy to oblige," Morgause sneered icily. "You cannot maintain that shield for long. Akwele!"

A ball of fire struck the shield in the exact same spot as the previous spell.

"Does that seem familiar Merlin? I will do to you what Nimueh could not! Akwele!"

Merlin grit his teeth and braced himself as did Morgana, leaving Arthur to look on helplessly, unable to help at all.

"Destroy the crystal!" the prince hissed desperately.

"I can't!" Merlin grit out. "It would take my full strength. I'd have to stop casting the shield."

"Then do it," whispered Morgana. "I'll maintain the shield."

"You're not strong enough!"

"It's our only chance!"

"I can't risk-"

"Just do it, Merlin."

Another fireball smote the shield. "Now, Merlin!" Morgana snapped.

Seeing no other alternative, Merlin with drew his magic back into himself. The shield weakened considerably the moment he did. Desperate, he began to chant.

"Ábréoðan awyrgdan cristallan úpcyme sylfum drýlcg-ah!"

A fireball made it through the shield. Merlin broke off in pain. He fell to his knees, clutching his burned shoulder. Morgause laughed hysterically. "I will kill you yet, Emrys. Just watch!"

"Keep going, Merlin," Morgana whispered, desperately trying to maintain the shield. "I can do this. Just stop her."

Still hissing in pain, Merlin clambered slowly to his feet. His magic was thrumming through him more powerfully than before. He could feel it blazing in his veins. The fatigue he'd been merely hiding seemed to truly melt away. He began the spell again.

"Ábréoðan awyrgdan cristallan úpcyme sylfum drýlcgan eafoð efthwierfran stulor ae. Ende þisne hagorúne. Ábréoðan drýlcgan cristallan!"

The ball of fire that had been soaring through the air dissipated in a gust of smoke. Morgause stared at it in horror. The crystal about her neck began to glow more brightly.

Merlin stalked forward. "Ábréoðan awyrgdan cristallan úpcyme sylfum drýlcgan eafoð efthwierfran stulor ae. Ende þisne hagorúne. Ábréoðan drýlcgan cristallan!"

Crying out in pain, Morgause fell to her knees. The crystal shattered in her hand. Red smoke rose up above her. It streamed out of her eyes, gathering into a great cloud above her head. It spread throughout the hall. Some of it flowed into Gwen and Leon. They stirred and groaned. Some of the smoke even slid into Merlin, Morgana, and Arthur. It was enough to give Merlin the strength to finish the spell.

"Ábréoðan awyrgdan cristallan úpcyme sylfum drýlcgan eafoð efthwierfran stulor ae. Ende þisne hagorúne. Ábréoðan drýlcgan cristallan!"

Morgause screeched again, and the red smoke billowed out of her more strongly than ever before. With a sound like an explosion, it spread out across the entire city. Morgause collapsed in a heap. Completely drained, Merlin nearly did the same, but strong arms caught him. Arthur draped Merlin's arm over his shoulders and wrapped his arm around his friend's waist, mindful of Merlin's burnt shoulder.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Just tired," Merlin whispered.

Morgana stepped forward cautiously. "Is it over?"

"It is never over," Morgause rasped. She staggered to her feet. "And now you are too weak to stop me. Akwele!"

Nothing happened.

Her eyes widened. "No, it's impossible. Akwele!"

Still nothing. She tried again and again, but the spell would not be cast. She sank to the ground, trembling with exhaustion. "What have you done to me?" she shrieked.

"You tied your magic to the crystal," Merlin whispered, but his voice carried through the hall. "You imbued it with yourself. When I destroyed it, your magic was destroyed as well. I suspected that might happen. You poured too much of yourself into that spell."

Morgause looked like she'd been hit over the head with a shield. "That's impossible. You can't take someone's magic."

"Maybe you can't, but I find that the laws of magic do not apply to me. I'm all right, Arthur. Just get her down to the dungeons."

Arthur didn't look happy with the idea of leaving Merlin when he could barely stand, or leaving Gwen and Leon still unconscious on the floor. Merlin, guessing the prince's thoughts with ease, rolled his eyes.

"Maybe some of the others will be conscious. They can help us get Gwen and Leon to the infirmary. And we can't just leave her here. She's still quite dangerous."

"Do not patronize me," she snarled.

"Wouldn't dream of it," said Merlin. "Really, Arthur, I'll be fine for five minutes."

Still looking reluctantly, Arthur gently lowered Merlin onto the floor. "Keep an eye on him," he instructed Morgana.

"I will," she promised, eyeing Merlin worriedly. His naturally pale skin was almost transparent and his breathing was a bit shallow. She noticed that he'd clenched his hands in an attempt so hide the way they were shaking. He looked like he was sick.

Satisfied, Arthur marched over to Morgause, grabbed her roughly by the arm, and dragged her away. They could hear her screeching indignantly as he led her to the dungeons.

Eventually the screams faded. Morgana sat next to Merlin and laid a hand on his arm.

"Are you sure you're all right?"

He smiled weakly. "I've never used that much magic before. It's odd. I can still feel it in me as strongly as ever, but my body is what has become too weak to channel it."

"Perhaps you should take Arthur's lessons more seriously," she suggested, grinning slightly. "You might not have this problem if you had a bit more muscle on you."

"I'll have you know that I am much stronger than I look. Being a servant will do that to you. But you're probably right. I do need to work on it. I've spent so long holding back for my own safety, that I may have put us all in danger."

"You can't blame yourself for that though. There was little else you could do."

"I know," Merlin assured her. "It's just...something to think about. Maybe I don't protect everyone as much as I think."

"If it hadn't been for you, I would have become just like her," Morgana whispered. "I'd have let her use me and it would have turned me into someone bitter, heartless,and cruel. I would have lost everything."

"You can't know that."

"Yes, I can. I saw it in a dream not long ago. I didn't understand it until you told me I was a witch, but I was seeing what might have been. You saved me then, Merlin, and you saved us all now. For all your power you are only a man. You cannot do everything."

"Destiny seems to think I should."

"Destiny is not all that defines you. It says only that you are to do great things. It's everyone else who has decided that you're supposed to be some sort of god. Don't listen to them."

"It's hard sometimes," Merlin admitted. "I know that I am meant to protect Camelot and I do know that I cannot do everything, but I cannot help but feel guilty when I am not fast enough, or strong enough, or knowledgable enough to prevent something like this."

Morgana rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Merlin, I see the future and I don't know enough to prevent everything. How can you be expected to do that? Are you always this pessimistic after defeating the evil witch?"

He laughed out loud at that. "Not usually. I'm just tired and...it gets to me sometimes. Don't worry, once I get some sleep I'll realize what a victory this was and I'll stop brooding."

"You'd better. And I hope that you will talk to me if you ever feel this way," she added tentatively. "I would think that we are friends and..." she trailed off, actually at a loss for words. Merlin smiled and laid his hand on hers. Tentatively, he leaned in to kiss her on the cheek just as she had done to him such a short time ago. They both blushed.

"I will be sure to do just that," he promised. "It would be nice to have someone to confide in other than Gaius. I don't think he understands me sometimes."

The sound of stomping feet ended their little moment and Arthur came into the hall, followed by half a dozen knights. Two grabbed Leon without a word, while Arthur bent down to lift Gwen into his arms.

"One of you help Merlin," he ordered. "The rest, search the castle for everyone. See that the unconscious are taken to Gaius and the conscious help in the search. Move on to the city when you are done. Be quick about it. There may be people in need of medical attention."

Morgana waved off the knight that moved to help Merlin. "I can manage this. Go with the others."

The knight glanced at Arthur, who nodded curtly. He knew all too well how stubborn Morgana was when she used that tone.


By some miracle, Gaius had remained unaffected. Upon seeing Merlin and seeing how pale the warlock was, he ushered his ward into his room and force fed him a sleeping draught then tended to his shoulder. Morgana had hovered over him anxiously, leaving Arthur standing in the middle of the room, torn between his friend and the woman he loved.

"They will both be fine," Gaius said once they had explained what the spell Morgause used was supposed to do. "They are all exhausted. They should be up and about in no time."

No time turned out to be an hour for most of the victims of Morgause's curse, except those that had fallen at the beginning. Arthur had enveloped Gwen in a fierce embrace the moment she woke and kissed her in full view of every patient in the infirmary. She'd blushed crimson, but smiled happily and leaned against him.

Merlin, on the other hand, slept for two days straight. Everyone was sitting in the main room of Gaius' chambers, discussing how best to explain things to Uther, who was also still asleep thanks to Merlin's spell, when the warlock in question stumbled out of his room, looking incredibly groggy.

"Wha' hap'ned?" he muttered.

"You just slept for two days, that's what happened," Arthur grumbled, despite being quite relieved to see Merlin up and about. "Did you intend to put father to sleep until the new year?"

Merlin looked confused. "What? Oh, no. I just wasn't paying much attention seeing as Morgause was going to attack any moment." He paused and his eyes flashed gold for the briefest moment. "There. He should wake up in soon."

"Good, but what exactly do you plan to tell the king?" Gaius asked. "It is rather suspicious that you would chose now to return. He will suspect you."

"I'm still too asleep for this," Merlin groaned, plopping down next to Morgana. "I guess, I'll tell him the truth, more or less. I heard about the curse and came to help. This is my home, after all."

"And if he doesn't believe you?" asked Arthur quietly. "Father will be looking for someone to blame. He'll claim that you are in league with Morgause, quite possibly with Emrys as well. He was not pleased when I told him that Emrys was actually helping us. You know how father is when it comes to magic."

"That I do. But what choice do I have? At least a dozen people have seen me, if not more. I can't exactly disappear only to return in two weeks. If the king insists on blaming me... then I suppose I'll have to run again."

"Oh, but you can't!" cried Gwen. "Camelot needs you!"

"Camelot needs me with my head still attached to my shoulders," said Merlin dryly. "It's not an ideal situation, but I can continue as I did before. Of course, I'll have to leave Bardwell and fashion a new identity, but it's better than being dead."

Arthur scowled. "I don't like it."

"Do you have a better idea?"

"No, but I still don't like this plan."

"It's the only one we've got."

"I know that!"

"Then stop complaining!"

Gaius slammed a book on the table. "Stop it the both of you. Merlin is right, that's the only plan we've got. I suggest we leave it at that. Arguing will get us nowhere. Now let me get a look at that shoulder, Merlin."

Reluctantly, Merlin pulled his shirt off, wincing when he had to raise his arm. Gaius quickly began tending to the burn, which already looked quite a lot better."

While the physician worked, Morgana leaned toward Merlin. "If you leave, will you still be able to help me?"

He nodded emphatically before she even finished her question. "Of course! We can use the mirror and I can probably magic myself into the castle, or we can meet in the forest, maybe even in Kilgharrah's cave. However we have to do it, we will do it. The way your magic is growing, it'll be difficult for you to control, and I won't leave you in danger like that."

Morgana smiled widely, her entire being lighting up. She probably would have hugged him if Gaius hadn't been wrapped fresh bandages around Merlin's shoulder. "Thank you, Merlin. Thank you."

He shrugged. "I wish someone had been there for me and I should have done this for you months ago. There's no need to thank me."

"I'm still grateful," she said dismissively. "No matter what happens, you will be risking a lot to teach me. I don't take that lightly. It means everything to me."

Merlin blushed slightly, seeming to catch the underlying message in her words, but was saved answering when Gaius declared that he was done and Gwen asked him a question about his magic.

They amused themselves with idle chatter as they waited for the inevitable summons from the king, which they knew would come soon. Probably the moment he woke. They were all nervous. Arthur and Gwen had their hands clasped under the table, Merlin was drumming his fingers against the wood, and Morgana was sitting with her back impossibly straight.

Finally, after nearly two hours, a page came to the door, announcing that the king was awake and wished to see Arthur, Morgana, and Merlin immediately. They all four rose, Gwen refused to be left behind, and walked side by side through the castle to Uther's quarters.

Chapter Text

Merlin and Gwen stood outside the king's chambers, waiting for something to happen. They'd been stopped at the door when they arrived with Arthur and Morgana as the king, apparently wished to speak to Arthur first and Morgana simply wouldn't take no for an answer. That had been nearly twenty minutes ago. Both Merlin and Gwen were becoming more anxious.

"I'm sure it will be fine," said Gwen, as much to reassure herself as to reassure Merlin. "You've done nothing wrong."

Merlin glanced toward the guards before answering in a low, barely audible voice, "Since when has Uther actually needed proof to condemn someone, Gwen? And I did go running into his chambers and send him to sleep. Someone less paranoid than the king could find a way to blame me for all of this."

She didn't have an answer to that. It was all too true. With nothing else to do, Gwen slid her hand into Merlin's. He took it with a grateful smile.

The time ticked by slowly. The two friends stood side by said, saying nothing. Both tried not to think about what might happen to Merlin. They both knew that he could escape, that he could protect himself, but neither of them wanted it to come to that. The past few months had been difficult enough. If Merlin had to flee, it might well be years before he could return.


Arthur and Morgana stood on either side of the king's bed. Morgana was playing the concerned ward perfectly. She was fussing over Uther, smoothing his blankets and rearranging his pillows. Arthur stood rigidly near the foot of the bed. His face was carefully blank, but Morgana knew that he was as worried as she was.

"Are you all right, father?" he asked.

"I believe so," said Uther coldly. "What happened?"

Arthur quickly launched into the tale he, Merlin, Morgana, and Gwen had agreed on. He was careful not to make it sound rehearsed. Morgana jumped in, giving details he "missed" and correcting him. They made it sound as though Merlin had heard about the attack from some men and women who had managed to escape when he was returning to the city. Concerned for Gaius, he'd hurried onward. Upon his arrival, word had reached him that something was happening in the throne room. He'd snuck in during the fight between Morgause and Emrys. He'd pulled Morgana and Gwen out of the way of falling debris (Morgana went on about that in great detail) and kept them out of the way while Emrys ended the fight. The sorcerer himself disappeared moments after Morgause did, taking the other sorcerers with him.

"That does not explain why that boy came bursting into my personal chambers mere moment before I succumbed to a sleep that lasted for two days," the king growled.

"When Gaius fully described the effects of the illness that was affecting the city Merlin remembered an old story," Arthur hurried to explain, "about a witch who used a crystal to drain the life of a nearby village. He remembered that Morgause had a crystal."

"How convenient," Uther muttered.

"We're lucky Merlin put it together," said Morgana. "He warned us just in time. Morgause began draining the people for enough strength to raze the kingdom. You were one of the first to succumb."

"There was a disturbance downstairs," interjected Arthur. "We all went running and we found Morgause on the floor above the cells. We took her by surprise, but she very nearly killed us then and there. It's only luck that she wasn't paying any attention to Merlin. He managed to get close enough to grab the pendant from her neck and smash it on the ground."

"It nearly killed him," added Morgana, looking absolutely distraught. "He was thrown across the hall. Morgause shrieked and then she collapsed."

"She doesn't have power anymore. Gaius thinks she bound herself too closely to the crystal or something like that," said Arthur. "We have her down in the dungeons. There were some casualties. Many of those who were older or very young were greatly affected by her spell. Some of them didn't survive."

"And the boy?"

Arthur and Morgana exchanged the briefest look. "He was badly injured when he was throne across the hall," Arthur explained carefully. "Gaius saw to him. He was unconscious for two days."

"He is not imprisoned?" the king snarled.

Arthur made a show of looking confused. "Why would he be?"

"Are you really this naïve? He returned to the city at the same that a mysterious sorcerer, your so-called Emrys, drags you into the throne room. He was conveniently the only one who recognized this crystal. He came out as the hero in this, and that doesn't strike as the least bit suspicious?" He was nearly shouting by the time he finished.

"Uther, you know the boy," said Morgana. "He's harmless. You yourself appointed him to the household because he saved Arthur's life. Merlin drank poison for Arthur. He's been by Arthur's side through thick and thin. You can't possibly believe he'd be involved in this! Half the city is talking about what he did to stop Morgause."

"Much can happen in the course of five months," Uther snarled. He pushed himself up on his pillows. Morgana immediately fluttered around him again. "This Emrys may have approached him."

Arthur glared at his father. "That's absurd, father. Merlin wouldn't do anything to hurt Camelot. He's got too many friends here. He considers it his home. What's more, Merlin has been there alongside me against magic more times than I can count. I know that he would not aid a sorcerer."

"You cannot say that for sure," said Uther dismissively. "How well can you possibly know a servant?"

"Well enough," growled Arthur. "I've spent nearly every day with him for two years. Merlin is loyal. Insanely so. I will not have him punished for selflessly risking his life for this kingdom!"

"I will not have this kingdom fall to magic!"

"Magic has nothing to do with this!" cried Morgana. "If you punish Merlin for selflessly sacrificing himself to save everyone in this city, you will lose the faith of the people. How can they trust you if you punish someone who did not but save the kingdom?"

"That is enough," Uther snapped. "I'll hear no more of this."

Arthur stepped forward, slipping unconsciously into the warrior-prince who gave orders on the battlefield. "Neither will I. Merlin is my friend, servant or no, and he ran headfirst into danger for this kingdom. That is not an act that is punishable under the law."

The king eyed his son dispassionately. Arthur stared back. He knew how it looked for Merlin. He also knew that his father was jumping to conclusions because of his own insane prejudice and refusing to even consider any other possibilities. Whether Merlin had magic or not, he was not a villain. Arthur would not let anything happen to his friend.

"Call him in."

The tension, already almost palpable, rose. Morgana went rigid. Her hands gripped the front of her dress convulsively and Arthur thought he saw the barest hint of gold in her eyes. Arthur nodded once to his father and went to the door.

Gwen and Merlin were standing against the wall not far down the hall. They both looked pale and they jumped slightly when the door creaked. Arthur wished that he could say something reassuring, but not with his father listening. Merlin paled further, but he straightened his shoulders and followed Arthur back into the king's chambers.

He stopped just behind Arthur, keeping his head bowed respectfully, playing the perfects servant that he very much wasn't.

"Step forward," the king ordered.

Merlin did, making sure to keep his head down.

"Look at me, boy."

Reluctantly, he did. For a long moment, no one said anything. Merlin fidgeted slightly, but kept the king's gaze. Morgana glanced between them anxiously.

"My son seems to think that you are a hero," said Uther abruptly, after such a long period of silence that Merlin startled at the sound of his voice. Even Arthur and Morgana started. "He seems to think that you could never be tempted to betray this kingdom. What have you to say for yourself?"

"Nothing, sire," said Merlin quietly. "I consider this my home as much as Ealdor. Gwen is a friend, I respect Lady Morgana, and my loyalty is to Arthur. I would never let them come to harm. "

"What is your view on magic?"

Arthur drew in a sharp breath. He could only hope that Merlin could be convincing. If he didn't manage to pull this off, the king would have him killed.

"I believe that it's illegal," said Merlin carefully. "It's done a lot of harm to Camelot. I would never help a sorcerer."

Uther's scowl deepened. "A carefully worded answer. Exactly what I would expect of a traitor."

Merlin was practically vibrating with fear. He was impossibly tense. Every line of his body radiated fear. He looked like he wanted nothing more than to bolt or fall through the floor and given his propensity for magic, the latter might very well happen. Making sure that the king couldn't see him, Arthur grabbed the back of Merlin's shirt to make sure that he didn't do something stupid. He knew that, no matter how panicked he was, Merlin wouldn't do anything to put him in danger. Arthur glanced over Merlin's shoulder at Morgana. She looked as though she was about to jump forward and place herself between Uther and Merlin. Arthur caught her eye and shook his head. The last thing Merlin needed was for the king to think that there was an inappropriate relationship between Merlin and Morgana.

Uther noticed none of this.

"Both the Lady Morgana and Prince Arthur have spoken on your behalf," he said. "For that reason, and that reason alone am I allowing you to walk free. Mark me, boy. I will be watching you. If you give me even the smallest reason to suspect that you are fraternizing with sorcerers, if you even neglect your duties, I will have your head before the sun sets. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sire. Thank you, sire. I'll not disappoint you," Merlin managed to stammer out, bowing awkwardly with gratitude.

"Get him out of my sight," the king snarled.

Merlin bowed again and very nearly sprinted out of the room.

"Thank you, father," Arthur said quietly. "You won't regret this."

Uther glowered. "I already do. His actions are on your head. As future king, you'll have to deal with the consequences. Leave me."

Morgana fussed a few moments longer, but Uther's patience was clearly at its end. He waved her away irritably, scowling all the while. Arthur inclined is head to his father before moving to the door to hold it open for Morgana. She swept out, every inch the lady she was. She was walking almost as quickly as Merlin had. Arthur followed her without looking back.

Merlin was sitting on the floor opposite the door. His head was in his hands and he was shaking slightly. Gwen and Morgana knelt to either side of him. Gwen had an arm around his shoulders and was looking intently at Morgana, who was muttering fiercely under her breath. Arthur guessed that Merlin had come out and muttered something to the effect of "The king's not going to kill me" before sinking onto the floor, leaving Gwen very confused and probably very worried.

Crossing the hall in two strides, Arthur gently grasped Morgana's upper arm and pulled her to her feet. "We should be elsewhere. Gwen, can you help Merlin or should I?"

"I can walk," Merlin muttered.

"Without tripping over your feet?"

"I don't manage that on a regular day, as you are usually fond of reminding me."

"Then I doubt you'll mange it now."

"I'll be fine," grumbled Merlin. He rose slowly to his feet and smirked triumphantly at Arthur when his knees held.

The prince rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes. Quite an accomplishment. Come on. Let's get back to Gaius' chambers. I'm sure he wants to know that you kept your head and I rather think we have things to discuss."

The four friends trooped slowly back to Gaius' quarters. Despite his claims otherwise, Merlin was a bit unsteady on his feet. Arthur bit back the sarcastic teasing for once. It was just as likely that the battle with Morgause was still taking a toll on him. Merlin had only woken a few hours before and even he was a bit shaken after confronting his father.

Gaius was up and across the room the moment they entered his chambers. "What happened?" he demanded.

"Father let him off," said Arthur. "But not lightly."

The physician looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"

"Uther is suspicious, as he always is, and looking for someone to blame," Morgana explained, her voice dripping with frustration. "He wants nothing more than to blame Merlin, but Arthur and I were convinced otherwise and word's already gotten out that he almost single-handedly saved the kingdom, as I told Uther. He may be a paranoid fool, but this kingdom means too much to him. Even he could see the folly in crucifying a hero."

Merlin flushed brilliantly red with embarrassment. "I'm not a hero."

"Oh tosh," she said, steering him deftly toward the low cot Gaius kept in the main chamber for patients. "You've saved Camelot more times than Arthur has, and without the ego. I'd say that makes you a hero."

"Oi!"

Morgana tossed him an angelic smile. "It's true. Don't deny it. How do you feel, Merlin?"

"All right, I suppose," he shrugged. "A bit light headed, if I'm honest. My magic feels all strange, too. Sort of like it's trying to settle. I feel like I'm going to accidentally make half the room float."

"That's a natural reaction when one has used as much magic as you did," said Gaius. "It may be a few days before you feel settled. You'd best be careful until it had or you will end up using your magic without even realizing."

"That would be very bad," Arthur said darkly. "Father will be looking for any sign of magic, real or imagined. Merlin can't afford to do anything suspicious."

"But it's always been that way for Merlin, hasn't it?" asked Gwen.

"Not like this. Father will be keeping a particular eye on him now. He's trying to convince himself that Merlin had something to do with Emrys."

"I did," Merlin pointed out.

Arthur rolled his eyes. "Yes, but father has no way to actually know that."

"Uther doesn't need proof," scoffed Morgana. "Paranoia is all it takes."

"I'm aware of that, thank you very much. We'll all have to tread carefully until father lets this go.'

Morgana rolled her eyes disdainfully. "He'll never let it go. He never lets anything go when magic is involved, or when he imagines it is. Merlin won't be safe until Uther is dead and you know it."

"Don't talk like that," Arthur said tiredly. "He is still my father and the king."

Gauis winced apologetically. "She does have a point. Merlin is too close to you, sire. The king will be looking for a way to condemn him simply to get Merlin away from you. It's a miracle that you managed to convince him not to. He rarely listens where magic is involved."

"I don't suppose you had something to do with that, Merlin," joked Arthur weakly.

Merlin's lips twitched. "That's magic beyond my reach. I've not yet learned how to do that. I'm lucky I can mange to speak with my thoughts the way the druids do. I suppose it might be an effect of Morgause' spell and mine."

"The king is not as young as he once was," Gaius said. "The enchantment used by that witch may have had a lasting effect on his health, but I doubt it had any effect on his mind."

"Perhaps he is showing mercy," suggested Gwen.

Arthur shook his head. "He's teaching me a lesson. He's convinced that Merlin is the enemy and he wants me to learn it in the worst possible way, when that betrayal is impossible to ignore. He wants it to happen so that he can rub it in my face as proof that servants don't make worthy friends for kings. He wants me to learn not to trust anyone," he said bitterly.

Gwen hurried over to Arthur and slid her arms around his waist. He immediately returned the embrace, pulling her closer.

"I'll prove to him that he's wrong," he whispered.

"We all will," said Morgana.

"If he finds out that you knew about my magic, the king may see that as the grossest betrayal and he may be ruthless for it, even to his son and ward," said Merlin, looking between Morgana and Arthur. "If he's keeping such a close eye on me, he might discover your magic as well, Morgana. Especially if I'm teaching you."

She looked up at him sharply. "Are you saying you won't?"

"That's not what I meant," he said quickly. "If you still want me to, I will, but it'll be even more dangerous now that Uther's actively looking for a reason to burn me at the stake."

Morgana shifted closer to him on the little cot, cocking her hips so that her knees were pointed toward his, nearly brushing against him. She took his hands in hers and looked almost pleadingly into his eyes. "Merlin, I can't keep living like this. I can't keep having these dreams. I can't continue to fear myself. I don't have magic the way you do. I don't have any instinctive control over it. I have no idea what I'm doing and I need help. But I can't ask you to put your life at risk. It has to be your choice."

Merlin seemed genuinely taken aback by the uncharacteristic vulnerability Morgana was displaying. Unconsciously, he twisted his hands in hers to twine their fingers together. "I chose my own safety over yours once and I saw what it did to you. The Great Dragon has warned me of you, but I refuse to believe he's right and I will do everything I can to prove him wrong. We'll start as soon as you're ready."

"You mean as soon as you're ready, Merlin," interjected Gaius. "Your magic needs time to settle."

The warlock rolled his eyes. "Of course, Gaius. That's what I meant."

Gripping his hands more tightly in hers, Morgana beamed up at Merlin. "Thank you," she whispered.

Merlin blushed. "It's the least I can do. I get the feeling that it's my responsibility to help those with magic. Kilgharrah's been annoyingly tight lipped about my side of this whole destiny thing."

"Responsibility or no, I'm grateful. You'll never know how much."

His blush deepened.

Arthur and Gwen exchanged a knowing glance. It was odd to see Morgana so obviously head over heals for someone. Usually, she rejected anyone who showed her even the slightest bit of interest so thoroughly that they ran off in tears. As for Merlin, he seemed to be almost completely oblivious, or at the very least, deliberately so. This was going to be quite amusing to watch, so long as they didn't get caught.

Gently detaching herself from Arthur's side, Gwen walked over to Merlin and gave him a fierce hug. "You don't have to be alone anymore," she whispered. "We'll help you, no matter what it is."

"No more saving Camelot on your own," said Arthur. "I want some of the glory as well, seeing as it is my kingdom."

Merlin rolled his eyes. "It's not your kingdom yet."

"It will be, won't it?"

"Isn't that a bit treasonous?"

"Of course not. I've been officially appointed crown prince."

"Crown prat is more like."

"You know, he does have a point, Arthur."

"Oi! I'll not have you two ganging up on me."

"Well, those of with magic do have to stick together."

"At least Gwen's on my side. Right?"

"I am Morgana's maid."

"This is unbelievable."

The four friends shared a look and burst out laughing.