Title: The Silent Killer
Characters/Pairings: Merlin/Arthur, Aithusa, Morgana, Freya, Kilgharrah, Gwen
Word Count: 17,392 (Total)
Warnings: Descriptions of torture (not explicit), character death (temporary)
Summary: Merlin and Arthur with Aithusa set out to foil another of Morgana’s evil plans. But their mission turns disastrous when Merlin gets captured by Morgana. A mysterious curse begins to plague Merlin. Has Morgana won this time?
Art Masterlist: here. Please leave a comment at her post to tell her how amazing her picture is. :)
~ * ~
Merlin wished that the forest didn’t look quite as eerie as it did now. He and Arthur stood behind a knotted old tree, one of the tree’s roots branching out in front of them. Aithusa was perched on Merlin’s shoulder. The little dragon fluttered his wings in anticipation. Merlin knew that Aithusa was both excited and anxious to be on a quest with his two favorite humans. This was the first time Merlin had deigned to take Aithusa along with him and Arthur, deciding that the dragon was ready to come with and aid them.
“We have her,” Arthur whispered to Merlin.
Arthur wasn’t too fond of speaking mind-to-mind unless he absolutely had to. As a consequence, Merlin had used magic to mask their voices when they spoke out loud – from a whisper to a shout. That would prevent their voices carrying towards enemy ears no matter how noisy they were. Despite Merlin’s spell, Arthur still spoke in a whisper as that was the familiar way of doing it for him.
Donned in a black hooded cloak, Morgana stood about ten feet ahead of them. That blasted sword they were after was clutched in one hand. She had conjured a big dragon shaped out of the flames, the magical creature’s magnificent wings set back against its body. The fire dragon was facing Morgana as if awaiting her orders.
“You know what we need to do,” Merlin told Arthur urgently.
They needed to steal the powerful sword from Morgana’s possession. Merlin believed the weapon to be like Excalibur. The problem was that the sword would only commit evil deeds no matter if a good or bad person wielded it. The best fate for Morgana’s dangerous sword was to destroy it with Arthur’s Excalibur. Otherwise, Morgana would use her sword to conquer Camelot.
“What can I do?” Aithusa silently asked Merlin.
In his native dragon tongue, the young white dragon could only speak mind-to-mind – regardless if others spoke to him out loud or silently. For Arthur’s sake, Merlin’s spellwork overcame the barriers of language between Aithusa and Arthur – not to mention Arthur’s lack of magic. So Arthur could converse with the white dragon easily. Merlin was cheered by Arthur possessing the ability to speak with Aithusa.
After all, the dragon had been born to give hope for the golden age Merlin and Arthur would build together.
“Stay with Arthur,” Merlin advised his dragon, speaking silently to him. “I’ll take care of Morgana.”
“But I want to help!” Aithusa protested.
Merlin sighed. He had to admit that he was too protective of Aithusa. He wasn’t quite ready to lead him directly into danger. Especially considering how dangerous and vindictive Morgana could be.
He relented, apologizing to Aithusa. “I’m taking Aithusa with me,” Merlin told Arthur.
“Good. I’ll be behind you,” Arthur said quietly to Merlin. Merlin could see in Arthur’s eyes that he was aware of Merlin’s reluctance to send Aithusa to danger even if Merlin was with the little dragon.
In a solid gesture of comfort, Arthur clapped him on the shoulder unoccupied by Aithusa.
“I have faith in you, Merlin. In you and Aithusa,” Arthur declared solemnly.
Merlin smiled gratefully at Arthur.
With Aithusa on his shoulder, Merlin could almost hear the dragon’s heart beating faster in anticipation.
After casting an invisibility enchantment upon himself and Aithusa, Merlin stepped out from behind the ancient tree.
He made it half way before Morgana’s unnerving fire dragon was able to see past Merlin’s spell. Merlin could see Morgana smiling coldly, a self-satisfied smirk gracing his face.
The dragon shaped out of flames flew with a speed that Merlin could barely comprehend. Morgana’s self-conjured dragon literally shot toward him and Aithusa as if the fiery creature was all too eager to get his fiery claws into them.
Aithusa left Merlin’s shoulder and the small dragon hovered in front of Merlin’s face, attempting to protect his Dragonlord from the fire dragon.
“Aithusa, no!” Merlin exclaimed.
But it was too late. The enemy dragon blew a fiery breath and burned Aithusa so that the little dragon was completely charred – his white scales now an ashy black color. Fortunately Aithusa was not dead as dragons were one of the tougher magical creatures.
Still, Aithusa was hurt and he fell to the ground, squeaking in consequence to the terrible pain he felt. While Merlin was still distracted by tending to a grievously wounded Aithusa, Morgana acted.
“Merlin!” Arthur cried out in warning.
Merlin looked at Arthur sharply, but he wasn’t quick enough for Morgana conjuring two golden bracelets to encircle his wrists. What was once so natural -- to access his magic as easily as breathing – was lost for now. It was like a chain had been severed and he felt the loss deeply, his body feeling strange and off-balance as a consequence. His invisibility spell collapsed, and he was visible once more.
Excalibur at the ready, Arthur rushed forward to aid Merlin and Aithusa. But Morgana was one step ahead of him and he hit an invisible wall separating him from his court sorcerer and dragon. Worriedly, Merlin watched as a determined Arthur attacked the unseen wall with Excalibur. He could somewhat see a clear ripple as the magical wall bent in answer to the force of Arthur’s sword. Merlin hoped wildly that if Arthur struck the wall hard enough, maybe it would yield to him.
She smirked at him. “Having trouble, Arthur?” Morgana asked him pleasantly.
“Shut up, Morgana,” Arthur replied tightly, wishing dearly to inflict pain on her.
Merlin leapt at Morgana, taking her by surprise, and he wrapped his hands around her pale neck, seeking to strangle her. His magic may not have been at his disposal, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t mount a physical attack.
Arthur had taught him how to defend himself in hand-to-hand combat as well as sword fighting.
Luckily, Morgana hadn’t been expecting Merlin trying to strangle her. She started choking as Merlin zealously increased the pressure of his grip around her neck.
Arthur renewed his efforts to get through the stubborn invisible wall.
But then Morgana launched a counter-attack. Merlin’s hold on her neck weakened as she worked her magic, her eyes glowing a yellow-orange.
Merlin was thrown to the ground, still behind the unyielding wall. Arthur looked frustrated at being unable to do little more than attack the wall with his sword.
“Arthur, Aithusa!” Merlin shouted to him urgently.
Morgana’s smile was wicked. “Yes, dear brother, your little pet dragon is so much more important than your pet sorcerer,” she said mockingly, her smile widening in dark pleasure.
Then before Arthur could do or say anything, Morgana grabbed Merlin’s arm in a strong vice-like grip and magically transported them away in a chaotic grey windstorm.
~ * ~
Merlin’s sword was left behind, and Arthur grimly took it.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Morgana had taken the sword Arthur and Merlin had wanted to steal from her.
The invisible wall vanished, and Arthur went to Aithusa’s side. Oddly, Morgana’s fire dragon was still there as if Morgana had forgotten to remove her dragon. Now the fake dragon stood harmlessly as if the fiery creature was idly waiting for orders that would never come.
Since Arthur knew that Excalibur could destroy anything, he swung the sword at the almost bored-looking dragon with great relish. The flames shaping Morgana’s dragon vanished. Excalibur had ended whatever spell Morgana had used to conjure the creature.
Pleased at accomplishing something positive, Arthur gingerly took Aithusa in his hands.
“Arthur, I don’t feel well…” Aithusa said to him, a plaintive note echoing in the dragon’s words.
Arthur quieted him, assuring him that he would survive this. That Aithusa was a dragon, and as such, he was a strong creature who would face death and live to tell the tale.
After removing any hard twigs and the like from the immediate area, Arthur cautiously set Aithusa down upon the soft forest floor. Aithusa murmured in discontent as the shock of the burning pain in his body settled in. Arthur sat down beside the small dragon, and he petted the creature’s head to comfort him in some small way.
“There’s a way to help you, isn’t there? Merlin told me about it some time ago just in case,” Arthur recalled, then he frowned at observing Aithusa’s broken state. Could the wounded dragon do what he needed to so he could heal? “But if you can contact Kilgharrah, then--” He suggested.
“I can do my part,” Aithusa reassured him. “And you’ll build a fire, all right?” he advised Arthur.
So Arthur collected dry twigs for the kindling. He rubbed the flint in his pack with a rock to create the initial spark that set the kindling alight. Soon the fire became a steady one – not as big as the magical fires Merlin could create, but still a good one. Then he stood back as Aithusa awakened his dragon magic.
Arthur watched as the red-gold fire changed into a blue-white icy fire if one could still call it a fire. He couldn’t help but be in awe of the transformation as he had never witnessed this particular magic spell taking shape before his eyes.
Aware of what to do, Arthur let Aithusa walk into his palm as the dragon’s wings were too injured to fly. Arthur carefully lifted the dragon up and he placed him in the centre of the icy flames.
“Thank you,” Aithusa said gratefully as he settled himself amidst the white fire of his own making.
The ice in the fire began to melt and the resulting cool water almost drowned Aithusa, but the magical water was doing its job.
Aithusa was healing – inside and out – and it only took a few minutes for his white scales to peek through the black that had covered him before.
It was ten minutes later that Aithusa appeared completely healed. The remaining water from the altered fire seeped back into the ground to become drink for the trees and flowers of the forest.
“We must get Merlin back, Arthur.” Aithusa declared anxiously.
“I know, I know,” Arthur acknowledged softly. “But I have faith in Merlin. Morgana may have prevented him from using magic, but that doesn’t make Merlin powerless. Trust me, Aithusa. Merlin will return to us…maybe a little worse for the wear, but he will come back,” Arthur firmly reassured the young dragon.
Aithusa still looked unhappy. “It’s my fault. Merlin was looking after me, and it gave the dark witch an opening to weaken him.”
Arthur shook his head. “Don’t think that, Aithusa. We may have had our share of victories, but Merlin and I have been defeated too. But whatever danger we face, we will persevere in the end. I don’t doubt that Merlin will succeed,” Arthur told him confidently. “And, remember, Merlin is now with Morgana and that means he’s close to the sword we need to destroy. Merlin will do all that’s possible to insure that sword’s destruction.”
“He’s positioned well enough…and the dark witch will think him powerless without his magic…” Aithusa said thoughtfully.
“Her overconfidence will be her downfall,” Arthur declared. “Either way, we both know Morgana has perfected the art of magical concealment. I don’t doubt she did just that on the place she has taken Merlin. Still, if Merlin won’t return in a few days, then we’ll look for him no matter the obstacles in our way,” Arthur conceded, knowing there was only so much time he could take before he acted on impulse and searched for Merlin.
Aithusa nodded in assent. “I like that plan.”
With Aithusa sometimes flying, other times resting on Arthur’s shoulder, the two of them returned to Camelot.
~ * ~
When Merlin woke up from his magically induced sleep, he was barely able to bite back a scream.
Morgana had put him face down on her hard bed. Half-naked, with his shirt and chainmail gone, Merlin was grateful that at least he still had his trousers on. He couldn’t miss that awful smell of burning flesh -- his flesh -- as he felt the searing pain as his bare back suffered a fiery onslaught.
“Hold still,” Morgana sing-songed. “I’m almost done.”
Merlin wished he could glare directly into her face, but she forced him to remain facedown, his face practically smothered into the surprisingly soft pillow.
He couldn’t even move his hands to touch his face as Morgana kept his hands by his sides and honestly, Merlin could hardly move. He knew that the bracelets were still on his wrists as he was unable to access his magic. But he only needed time to get his magic to overcome the barrier of the bracelets. And then he would get Morgana’s sword. No matter what, that sword simply had to be destroyed.
“What are you doing to me?” Merlin asked, gritting it out as the pain overwhelmed him.
“I’m branding you, of course,” Morgana said pleasantly. “What else would I be doing? I want to insure others know who you belong to.”
“What – are you going to make me follow your will? You know even with these bracelets, I’m too powerful now, and not even you can control my mind. It’s a wasted effort,” Merlin told her, his voice muffled due to the pillow in his face.
“Mhmmm,” Morgana hummed, appearing to only be half-listening to Merlin’s muffled words. “Well, there’s no need to worry about that. What I have planned for you is far more interesting.”
Then much to Merlin’s irritation, she flipped him over and the sheets below him made unpleasant, almost torturous contact with his all too fresh fire brand.
“You’ll never win. I will get that sword if it’s the last thing I do,” Merlin declared to her fiercely.
He tried his best to work through the scorching pain he felt from lying on the brand. Merlin attempted to adjust his position so that he was resting on his side, maybe, and the fiery brand wouldn’t be uncomfortably sticking to the sheets. His back was becoming too itchy and he felt like blood was pouring out of his tortured back like Morgana had whipped him instead of branded him. But then again, he had been asleep, so Morgana may just have whipped him too.
As expected, Morgana forced him to continue lying face up allowing his torture to continue.
“I’d love to see you try,” Morgana said smugly.
She really thought Merlin was defeated and at her mercy.
Merlin sighed; feeling irritable from the pulsing pain itching his back. He decided to let the threat go for now. Maybe it would be better if Morgana kept underestimating him, assuming he wouldn’t thwart her this time.
“I may regret this, but I am feeling a little hungry,” he admitted reluctantly.
Merlin could see from the window that it was dark outside, and the last he’d eaten was before he, Arthur and Aithusa had sought out Morgana. They had had an early lunch, which felt like a long time ago judging by his complaining empty stomach. “I don’t know if you plan to starve me as a part of my torture, but--”
“No, we can’t have you starve. I will give you food and drink.”
“So your ‘plan’ is more interesting than starving me?” Merlin asked, his curiosity heightened now. “I’m not sure if I want to know what it is.”
“You won’t. That’s the best part, for me at least,” Morgana said quite cheerfully.
Her cheeriness filled Merlin with dread.
She went to get him something to eat, and Merlin was frankly surprised when she didn’t just bring back stale bread and dirty water for him.
Instead, Morgana brought him a bowl of meat and vegetable soup and a piece of fresh bread as well as some decent ale.
“Come on,” Morgana urged him as she set the tray with the soup, bread, and ale on the small square table nearby. “You’re not eating this in bed. You’ll make a mess.”
Merlin’s eyes narrowed at her. “You poisoned the food and drink, right?” He asked suspiciously.
Morgana rolled her eyes. “No. But I know you won’t take my word for it. So either you starve, or you could eat the food and drink the ale I’ve so graciously provided for you. I’ll eat it all myself if you’re not quick enough.”
Merlin shook his head. “Fine. I’ll eat it.”
He couldn’t help but groan in pain as he slowly climbed out of the bed. His branded back was healing, but too gradually for his tastes. If he had access to his magic again, the healing process would be magically sped up.
While a shirt would have been nice, he couldn’t find one in the immediate area. Then Merlin figured that the shirt would only irritate his pained back even further.
So as he sat in the wooden chair, he leaned forward a bit to keep his back from touching the rough wooden chair back. That was the last thing he needed.
“Hazel, is the food and drink poisoned?” Merlin silently spoke to his magic who was in animal form.
In his mind’s eye, his magic-turned-animal was rather small now, trapped in a cage and looking quite upset at being locked up. He could hear his magic say that the food and drink were safe. Morgana had told him the truth, shockingly enough. Merlin started to tuck into his meal.
He had done that himself – transforming his magic into a more manageable entity inside his very body. He had named her Hazel. She was a mottled blue and black panther with a long tail and beautiful golden eyes.
Merlin had had no control over how his animal would look like. Regardless, he’d had no qualms with his magic transforming into a panther. Considering the enchantment’s difficulty, he had been thrilled enough to succeed at adjusting his magic in this way. Hazel was also able to jump out of his body yet Merlin still possessed the ability to use magic. A part of Hazel was always inside him, bonded to him, even if she appeared to be separated from his body sometimes.
While having Kilgharrah and Aithusa to aid him when he needed it was nice, Merlin still had to wait for them to come. He thought it’d be useful to have something that was always with him – the thing he cherished the most and couldn’t bear to live without. And that was his magic. Morgana may have prevented him accessing his magic, but his magic – Hazel – was still there and Merlin could still communicate with her.
He had told Arthur and the dragons about what he had done to his magic. Still, none of them quite understood the need for the change. The spell wasn’t a common one due to its complexity. Most magic users didn’t think the benefits were worth the effort. Fortunately, in the end, Arthur had just accepted that Merlin had ‘enhanced’ his magic to make it stronger. Arthur couldn’t be against Merlin doing something positive with his magic.
When Merlin finished eating, Morgana smiled tightly at him. “Not dead yet then?” She asked him derisively.
Merlin shot a glare at her. “Honestly, Morgana, the last thing I want to do now is talk to you.”
Morgana nodded in a condescending manner. “Yes, all right. I’ll just leave you be and you can go about upturning my home trying to find the sword. But it will be a sad, pathetic search. You’re welcome to waste your effort though,” she suggested, smiling widely. She looked amused.
Oh, Merlin knew what he was going to do. And it certainly wouldn’t be waste of effort or his time.
~ * ~
In the middle of the night, Merlin woke up and decided to put his plan into action. He wasn’t completely sure if Morgana was in this hovel of hers as it was completely dark. The quietness of the place made him believe that she wasn’t there. Either way, it didn’t matter. He was going to remove these bracelets, regain use of his magic, and leave. Yes he needed to get the sword – he didn’t want to return to Camelot empty-handed, but he just needed to be patient. Merlin had a feeling that Morgana would make a mistake. She wasn’t perfect after all.
“Hazel,” he addressed her silently. “Can you do it now?”
In his head, Merlin could see Hazel stretching her furry body as if she were preparing herself, readying to escape her cage.
“I believe so,” his magic answered him in a comfortingly confident tone.
Merlin sat at the side of the bed, his fingers grasping the edges. He took a deep breath and he exhaled. He kept a careful eye on the horrible bracelets he would love to see destroyed. Soon, they would be. Destroyed and gone for good.
He felt his magic, Hazel, growing bigger into her panther shape. She was a large cat not unlike Freya in her Bastet form but without the wings. Merlin had never seen her as small as the poor runt of a kitten litter when the bracelets were on him.
Merlin braced himself as Hazel grew, her body gained powerful muscles, and her golden eyes glittered almost menacingly out of a blue-black mottled face. She wasn’t one to be trifled with when someone got on her bad side in this form.
She easily broke the cage she was in by her sheer size and unquenchable desire to be free. It was times like these that Merlin was a bit unsettled by his magic, but he would always trust his magic no matter what. Hazel would do the right thing with Merlin to guide her.
She roared amidst the broken metal of the cage. At the same moment, Merlin saw the bracelets come off his wrists and the gold of the bracelets began to melt on the floor beneath him. Then the golden bracelets vanished.
Merlin could feel her purr inside of him, expressing her pleasure for her freedom.
Merlin had Hazel back properly.
“Morgana’s sword – can you find it?” He asked his magic, already anticipating the negative answer.
Hazel told him that unfortunately Morgana had secured the sword too well, so that Merlin was prevented from uncovering it.
“Could you come out please? See how my back is?” He asked her, standing up as he did so.
She jumped out of his body. Merlin couldn’t help but be in awe every time he saw her before him.
Her golden eyes were striking and her mottled blue-black coat reminded him of the midnight sky. She appeared regal and not a little fearsome too.
Hazel rubbed her body against his legs. “It was miserable,” she confided in him, speaking of being confined to that cage.
Merlin affectionately stroked her on the head. Acknowledging her past discontent, he said, “I felt awful too.”
She walked behind him, her long tail wrapping around his ankles in a possessive manner.
Hazel informed him that Morgana put her distinctive rowan tree sigil as a brand on his back. It looked like the brand was healing albeit slowly, and there was only a small bit of blood.
Merlin felt a comforting sweep of magic upon his back, and right after that, he felt well and truly healed. It was almost as if his back hadn’t been tortured at all.
Yet he could still feel the brand on his back. While it wasn’t a painful sensation, he didn’t like the thought of keeping that brand.
“Thank you, Hazel,” Merlin said to his magic.
Hazel returned to stand in front of him. “Yes, but we must go to the Lake of Avalon to remove that nasty brand,” she advised. “The water there is the best antidote.”
“That it is,” he agreed. “Come on then,” Merlin urged her.
Hazel changed into glowing golden particles, which Merlin likened to bright stars in the night sky. In this form of star-like particles, his magic could easily return inside him. The whole process from the change into particles and the return was so fast that Merlin could blink and miss it all.
He conjured himself a blue shirt to wear as even after a magic-aided search, his shirt and chainmail were not to be found. For a moment Merlin wondered why Morgana had hidden those two items, but he decided it wasn’t worth the time to dwell on the matter. Oddly enough, his boots were left beside the bed for which he was grateful. Merlin was quite fond of those shoes after all.
Merlin magically departed to the lake. As he did so, he felt Hazel walking about inside him, a ball of restless, alert energy.
~ * ~
Arriving at the Lake of Avalon, Merlin took off all his clothing and stepped into the lake.
The moonlight was reflected off the still waters and the place was peaceful. He swam out into deeper water, and then he floated on his back allowing Avalon’s waters to cleanse his back of the rowan tree sigil.
“I think Freya is here. Behind you,” Hazel informed him. She was licking her paws to clean them from what Merlin could see inside his head.
Still on his back, Merlin turned himself around. He could just see Freya at the opposite end of the lake. She wore a shimmering blue dress that seemed to be made of water itself.
She appeared almost sad and Merlin worried why. Then she vanished without a word, not even sparing him a hello. That was all right. It wasn’t like he had told her he was coming.
Merlin returned to the shore of the lake, refreshed from the swim in the cool waters. He put on his trousers and boots.
“Hazel?” Merlin addressed her, knowing that she knew what he wished of her.
She was before him once again to inspect the state of his back.
“The waters of Avalon have done their task. The purity of the lake has removed the brand,” she assured him, sounding pleased.
“Thank goodness,” uttered Merlin, relieved. He put his shirt back on.
Hazel’s golden eyes pierced the darkness. “Someone’s coming,” she warned.
She returned inside Merlin before he could even think to ask her to.
That someone was Morgana. She almost glided toward him as she approached. A smug look graced her face, which surprised Merlin since he had escaped her. Shouldn’t she be furious?
But what Merlin noticed the most was that Morgana had the sword with her. So she wouldn’t dare leave it behind, he bet, believing the sword was more protected by her side.
“You must realize that I let you escape,” Morgana declared.
Merlin looked incredulously at her. “Really? What are you up to, Morgana?”
“The mystery of it is the best part. I prefer to keep it that way,” she told him, revealing nothing.
Merlin had expected her to be frustratingly cryptic like that.
“Could you at least tell me why you kept my shirt and chainmail? I don’t see the reason for you stealing them.”
“You destroyed my lovely golden bracelets. That wasn’t very fair,” Morgana pointed out, ignoring what he was saying.
“Morgana…” Merlin said, a warning underlying his words.
“So I kept a few of your things. What is the problem?” Morgana asked carelessly. “I like to have little physical reminders of the times I captured someone. Especially someone as powerful as you. But whether you’re cleverer than me, that is questionable.”
“Great. So madness really does run in the Pendragon family.”
Morgana only gave a twisted smile, one hand tracing the design on her sword’s hilt. “You should watch out for Arthur then,” she informed him.
Merlin sighed and he rubbed his brow tiredly. “I don’t have time for this.”
He held out his arm in front of him, quietly calling on Hazel to do the spell. His arm was skin, muscles and bone no longer – it was made of pure water, the water from the Lake, more importantly.
Morgana looked puzzled. She stepped back. “What – what are you doing?” She asked.
“You should know, Morgana, about how water can protect objects from dark magic as the objects will be purified in the water. Any magical properties the object contains will not matter when the water touches it--” He explained, and then he froze her.
Merlin magically stretched his transformed arm to remove Morgana’s sword from her person. He held the sword in his watery arm. The water served to protect Merlin from the evil sword’s properties that would make even a good man be compelled to commit wicked deeds at the sword’s will.
He magically sent the sword to Arthur’s chambers back in Camelot. Arthur could then destroy the weapon properly with his Excalibur.
Before Merlin returned to Camelot too, he had to finish with Morgana first.
He unfroze her and she looked very displeased.
Her eyes were black in her fury. “How dare you!” Morgana shouted at him. She looked ready to attack him. “That’s my sword!” she declared crossly.
“Well, I don’t recall seeing your name on it, My Lady,” Merlin retorted sarcastically.
Merlin readied himself to defend against Morgana’s likely magical offensive.
But then, fortunately, Morgana collapsed to the ground and water spurted out of her mouth. Like she was drowning on dry land, which was rather strange to witness.
“Merlin,” He heard Freya’s voice echo inside his head.
Then he knew. Freya was the one who had cursed Morgana with the drowning spell.
He turned around and saw Freya off in the distance, floating upon the Lake. But she didn’t come any closer, still preferring to keep her distance from him. That concerned Merlin. What was wrong?
“Good luck,” she told him sincerely.
And with that, Freya vanished yet again. The meaning behind her words was as mysterious as these last two appearances of hers.
Morgana stopped trying to cough up the water as the drowning enchantment was lifted.
Merlin left then, but not before he saw Morgana laughing with a glee that made him wonder if she was truly mad after all.
Or what if she had meant it and her unknown plan had involved Merlin escaping? Merlin couldn’t even guess what Morgana’s plan was.
He just wanted to return home.
~ * ~
“Arthur, Morgana’s sword is here,” Aithusa announced into Arthur’s mind – his voice so earnest and loud that the King was easily awoken. He landed on Arthur’s bed, beside his pillow. “Merlin’s not here, but I’m sure he’ll come, won’t he?”
Arthur yawned, rubbing his eyes to wake himself up. “Yes, Merlin will return. I should get Excalibur and destroy her sword,” he decided, yawning between words. “Though I’m not sure I should handle a sword half-asleep.”
Aithusa offered to get some cold water to splash on Arthur’s face to wake him up. Arthur declined. He didn’t want to be woken up that badly.
He climbed out of bed and walked a little bit to get his body awake. Aithusa directed him to the sword, which was on Arthur’s writing desk. Arthur made sure not to touch it, not wishing to be unwillingly placed under the sword’s evil enchantment.
Aithusa had Arthur’s Excalibur appear in Arthur’s hands. “Thank you, Aithusa,” Arthur said to the white dragon with a smile.
“You’re welcome. A light strike of your sword should be enough. Excalibur itself will do the rest of the work,” Aithusa advised.
The dragon rested on the back of the chair at the desk. He looked intent as Arthur prepared to destroy the enemy sword and end their initially ill-fated quest in victory.
Arthur struck Excalibur at the centre of Morgana’s blade. Arthur’s sword glowed as it made contact with the other sword. Only Excalibur, Arthur decided, could manage to cut a strong blade like that in half. It was certainly a sight to see.
A black smoky shapeless substance came out of the weapon, and then, due to being forced out of its steel vessel, the mystery substance faded away.
“It’s done,” Arthur declared solemnly.
Aithusa looked especially pleased.
Now if only Merlin would come back. It didn’t seem right that he had sent them the sword, but had not returned himself at the same time.
“Idiot,” Arthur thought fondly with a shake of his head.
~ * ~
The next morning, Merlin entered Arthur’s chambers where the King was eating his breakfast. Beside Arthur’s dining table, Aithusa ate meat in his nest atop a stone column.
Merlin grinned at him. Arthur stood up and strode over to Merlin. He fully embraced Merlin, clapping his back in turn, and Merlin returned the hug, happy to be home again. Arthur pulled away to allow Aithusa to greet Merlin.
Aithusa excitedly flew over to Merlin, looking grateful to have his Dragonlord return. Merlin let the little dragon land in his palm and then he petted him on the head.
Arthur said, “I’m glad you--” he stopped when Merlin paled suddenly.
Merlin felt terrible. He felt himself growing hotter, a fever on the horizon, and he had the urge to regurgitate any food plaguing his body. His hands trembled and his vision blurred as he was overwhelmed by the desire to sit down.
“I’m sorry, but I think I’m going to…” Merlin couldn’t get the rest of the words out.
Aithusa flew off Merlin’s hand as Merlin became quite unsteady on his feet.
“Did the dark witch do something to you?” Aithusa asked him from his nest.
“Merlin? Merlin, what’s wrong?” Arthur asked urgently. He grasped Merlin’s shoulder, a worried look on his face.
Merlin wished everyone would be quiet. His head was pounding, and he didn’t much care to answer the questions. He wasn’t sure himself what was wrong, but he would make a lucky wager that Morgana was behind the abrupt ailment.
Merlin put his hands on his knees. He was breathing too fast. “It’s – now I’m feeling worse,” Merlin voiced, confused and anxious.
“Are you going to throw up?” Arthur asked him quietly.
Merlin raised his hand, signalling Arthur to stand back. Merlin sat on the floor, collapsing unceremoniously to the ground. Luckily, Hazel had conjured a soft rug below him to give him a comfortable place to sit. Hazel also gave him a bucket before Merlin could get her to. His magic always seemed to be a step ahead of him in terms of what he needed – in this perplexing matter, Merlin found the knowledge reassuring.
Arthur knelt down beside him, unable to stay away. He looked concerned, wanting to help Merlin somehow. Unable to resist, he touched Merlin’s cheek, caressing it. Any other time, Merlin would have welcomed the loving touch, but right now, he just wanted to curl up in a corner and work with Hazel to find out what was going on.
And plot how to get his revenge against Morgana. She actually had meant him to escape. Because whatever her plan was, Merlin was feeling it all too keenly now. He was overcome with nausea, a pounding headache, and an inability to stand due to dizziness.
“No, please,” Merlin pleaded to him. He weakly removed Arthur’s hand from his cheek. It hurt him to push Arthur away like that, but Merlin didn’t want to accidentally throw up on him. “I really do think--” He warned.
And then the nausea became too strong. Merlin quickly grabbed the bucket to cradle it between his legs, and then threw up into it.
He threw up a second time, and then a third until he sat shaking, his brow sweating and his hands trembling. Merlin had nothing left to throw up, and he miserably felt his empty stomach complaining. He felt exhausted and sick and he just wanted to close his eyes and pretend this wasn’t happening.
Arthur fetched him a glass of water, but Merlin shook his head. “I don’t think I can hold it,” he admitted, biting his lip.
“I’ll help you,” Arthur assured him reasonably.
But Merlin’s magic took action and a golden shimmering hand appeared to relieve Arthur of the glass.
Hazel’s conjured hand put the glass to Merlin’s lips so he could easily drink it.
“Thank you, Hazel,” Merlin murmured. He couldn’t keep his eyes open as his eyelids grew heavy.
“I’m sorry, Arthur…” he whispered to him, a sad look on his face.
“No don’t say that. Morgana’s to blame, isn’t she? I’ll make sure to fix this,” Arthur said to him even though uncertainty seeped into his words.
~ * ~
Merlin succumbed to sleep before he could respond to Arthur.
Aithusa approached the sleeping Dragonlord. The white dragon seemed to be investigating what could be troubling Merlin. He landed on different points of his body, his eyes flashing golden as his dragon magic tried to pinpoint what was wrong.
“What do you think it is, Aithusa? What has Morgana done to him?” Arthur asked the dragon.
“His magic – or Hazel as Merlin calls her – is unaffected it seems. She is as strong as she normally is. We know that the dark witch cursed him, but what directly initiated Merlin’s illness is a mystery. Some event or thing caused Merlin to be sick, allowing the witch’s spell to begin affecting him. I feel like this thing should be so clear, but I can’t fathom it.” Aithusa explained, sounding frustrated.
Arthur stood up, and he rubbed his face in consternation. Aithusa was right. He was beginning to think the same thing.
He had to think – what had Merlin done right before he had become violently ill? Merlin had been in this room with him and Aithusa. Merlin had appeared all right – the bracelets were gone and he had looked happy to see Arthur and Aithusa. Merlin had greeted them both. And then… Merlin had been in this room with him and Aithusa. Merlin had appeared all right – the bracelets were gone and he had looked happy to see Arthur and Aithusa. Merlin had greeted them both.
Arthur was dismayed that he had inexplicably thought the same thing twice in a row. He tried to think harder, to get down to the bottom of the matter. But his attempts at thinking more critically of Merlin’s predicament led to the same dead end.
Merlin had been in this room with him and Aithusa. Merlin had appeared all right – the bracelets were gone and he had looked happy to see Arthur and Aithusa. Merlin had greeted them both.
“Morgana must have done a spell to prevent us from figuring out the cause,” Arthur concluded in annoyance. “I keep thinking the same thing and when I try to dig deeper--”
“It is like an unyielding wall preventing you from doing so,” Aithusa finished, understanding Arthur’s dilemma because the dragon was confronted with a similar problem. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Merlin has the same problem with discovering the cause. We need to do what we can for Merlin to get him better. If this persists, he may die.”
“Even with Merlin’s magic being healthy?” Arthur asked. He hoped that Hazel being strong would help to combat Merlin’s physical illness.
“Hazel will do what she can, but if Merlin continues to physically weaken, then eventually, his magic won’t be enough. No matter how magically powerful Merlin is, we need an antidote to properly lift Morgana’s curse.” Aithusa told him, sounding unhappy at revealing the grim news.
Hazel appeared then, jumping out of Merlin’s body, and still startling Arthur a little as she always did. She was a rather big and powerful cat, like a panther, so Arthur didn’t feel quite as embarrassed for being afraid – well, slightly afraid he amended to himself as he was not without courage. His fear was justified. Big cats that looked like Hazel were dangerous and were liable to attack humans.
“I put Merlin to sleep. I’ll be taking him to his chambers. Hopefully with enough rest, he should be better. You were unsuccessful in finding the cause, right, Aithusa?” she asked him.
“Yes, but maybe you’ll find something,” Aithusa suggested.
“I shall try, but if a dragon can’t uncover the truth, then I worry I can do little more,” said Hazel doubtfully.
“Wait, Hazel. I thought you could only come out at Merlin’s beckoning?” Arthur wondered.
“Merlin’s losing his grip on me, I think, due to this illness Morgana put on him. It’s left me with more control. I’ll do my best, Arthur, to insure his health. And you should know that Morgana let Merlin escape. She wanted him to return to Camelot. So—sorry, I forgot what I was going to say. Nevermind. I must get Merlin to bed,” Hazel declared, and then she turned into golden particles and returned inside Merlin again.
Thanks to Hazel, Merlin magically disappeared in a display of swirling gold and blue.
~ * ~
Arthur suggested a thought that he hated to even think about, but they had little else to go on regarding Merlin’s situation. He asked the white dragon, “Aithusa – I’d hate to believe this, but – what if Hazel and not Morgana cursed Merlin? You heard what she said, same as I did. By gaining more control, she’s benefiting from Merlin’s suffering.”
“The connection between a sorcerer and his magic doesn’t work like that. If Merlin dies from his ailment, then Hazel will die too. It’s only lucky that she has been spared and is able to help Merlin fight the curse. You see, magic born inside a living body -- like Hazel being with Merlin since his birth – needs that body to continue living. Otherwise, the magic can’t survive and will die the moment the sorcerer passes away. So Hazel could never be the one who causes such harm to Merlin.” Aithusa confidently shot down Arthur’s admittedly weak deduction.
“Right. Sorry. It was wrong of me to think that. I just need to find out how to fix this… knowing Morgana cursed him isn’t enough. We don’t know the name of the curse or how to cure it… Morgana has prevented us from finding out. She’s probably hoping that will lead to Merlin dying before we can thwart her,” Arthur concluded darkly.
“The only solution is to confront the witch, and force her to reveal information about what she did,” Aithusa decided what Arthur had been thinking.
That, or just killing Morgana and hoping that would cure Merlin.
“What do you think about what Hazel said? That Morgana wanted Merlin to escape and return to Camelot? That must be a clue,” Arthur pointed out.
Aithusa was about to give his answer when Arthur abruptly clutched his head, feeling like his head was exploding. It was the worst headache he had ever suffered, he was certain of that. The dragon quickly advised him to think about something else other than the problem with Merlin. Arthur must have been on the way to discerning that clue and Morgana’s spell was preventing him from unravelling the mystery.
So Arthur recalled his first proper meeting with Kilgharrah – how admittedly fearful he had been, but with Merlin by his side, he’d managed to overcome his feelings of ill ease.
Fortunately, that was enough to make his terrible headache subside. He silently cursed Morgana.
“It seems this curse isn’t leaving anyone unscathed. We need to see Morgana, and soon. Merlin’s life is at stake. I need to do something,” Arthur declared fiercely.
~ * ~
Arthur had matters of state to attend to after breakfast, so he couldn’t visit Merlin as he had wanted to. Aithusa though went to see how Merlin was doing and if Hazel needed his assistance.
When Arthur visited Merlin’s chambers, he saw Merlin was in bed. He was giggling to himself like he was delirious with fever. His flushed reddening face was a sign of that.
Hazel was in her usual big cat form and she was worriedly pacing the area in front of the bed. Nearby, a bath was being magically filled with water.
“I’m making Merlin an ice bath. He has a high fever now, and I’m not sure what else to do. I can’t seem to magically heal him. The fever just returns with a vengeance,” Hazel explained in frustration.
The curse Morgana had put on him appeared to show little sign of giving Merlin any rest. Only a few hours later and he was contending with a raging fever.
“Is there anything I can do?” Arthur asked.
“You can carry him to the bath if you’d like,” Hazel said.
Merlin’s too bright eyes squinted up at Arthur. He stopped giggling when he realised Arthur was in the room.
Merlin smiled at him. “Arthur,” Merlin uttered, sounding pleased to see him.
Arthur smiled in return. He touched Merlin’s brow, and found that Hazel hadn’t been wrong. Merlin was burning up.
“I’ve had better days,” Merlin attempted to joke. He smiled weakly, and then he began coughing.
“Morgana will pay for this,” Arthur vowed. He grasped his hand, squeezing it to express to Merlin that he was here for him. And the two of them would defeat this, no matter how hard it might be. Morgana would get what she deserved.
Merlin opened his mouth to say something, but then he clutched his chest. “My heart…” he whispered.
Then he fell back on the bed. Alarmed, Arthur checked Merlin’s pulse and felt it slowing too quickly to be considered normal. When he soon had trouble catching any rhythm from Merlin’s pulse, Arthur fought not to panic. He put his ear to Merlin’s chest, and his fear was confirmed: Merlin’s heart had stopped.
“Hazel!” Arthur exclaimed.
Hazel had felt the change deeply, and she immediately returned inside Merlin to fix the situation.
Arthur stepped away as a golden glow enveloped Merlin. A few harrowing moments later, Merlin gasped for breath, recovering to Arthur’s relief. His eyes were golden as Hazel worked her magic to heal him. His near death encounter fortuitously caused his fever to subside for the moment at least.
She put Merlin to sleep to allow him to better heal from the physical stress on his body. Then Merlin’s magic leapt out of his body.
“What happened? Why did his heart stop?” Arthur wondered out loud.
Before he could muse on that further, Arthur was overcome with a silence inside his mind. It was like he was locked in a small dark room and he couldn’t even hear the sound of his own breathing. Arthur thought he would scream right there if he hadn’t remembered that Morgana’s curse was preventing him from getting the truth. And apparently there were different ways she was preventing others from uncovering that piece of information that would lead to Merlin’s cure. Now this room of silence was the latest way for his half-sister to thwart him and Merlin.
“I wish I knew,” said Hazel, sounding hopeless. “Morgana’s curse isn’t one that can be found in a magic book,” she indicated to Arthur unhappily. “She crafted it herself. But if I can learn what has triggered the start of the curse, then I can remove that threat to keep it from worsening Merlin’s condition. Maybe that’ll lead to Merlin’s recovery…or at least grant him enough time to lift the spell completely,” Hazel hoped.
“Unfortunately, Morgana is stopping us from finding that out,” Arthur said with a sigh.
Hazel turned her golden-eyed gaze upon him. “Yes, unfortunately,” she agreed quietly.
Arthur was becoming uneasy by the unblinking, watchful eyes of Merlin’s magic all on him. Why was she now looking at Arthur as if he were the enemy? Or the prey to be hunted?
Unsure what he should do, he decided to make a move to get Merlin into the bath. But Arthur just barely placed one hand on Merlin before Hazel jumped Arthur. He fell hard on the floor as Hazel trapped him with her powerful body pinning him to the floor.
“I know now. It’s you,” Hazel determined confidently. “The curse couldn’t affect me for long. Morgana has forgotten the power of magic especially in this form Merlin enchanted me into. I can’t be thwarted by a petty curse.”
“What do you mean? How is it me?” Arthur asked in honest puzzlement.
Morgana’s spell was still working on him and he still, annoyingly, couldn’t get any probing details such as what had initiated Merlin’s illness.
Hazel looked irritated, but thankfully, she climbed off Arthur so he could breathe properly again. “It’s your touch, and maybe just your presence near him too,” she explained to him tiredly. “One touch from you – when you hugged him before – was enough to set the curse in motion. It appears that Merlin’s illness continued to worsen despite you being away from him these last few hours. So not touching him may not be enough…maybe if you leave Camelot entirely. The best solution would be to gain the antidote, but more research needs to be done.”
Arthur was furious to learn that Morgana’s curse resulted in his touch being the cause of Merlin’s misery. If Arthur had continued contact with Merlin, and he had died as a consequence… Arthur wouldn’t have been able to live with himself for not doing all he could to end this wretched curse. Knowing that he himself was the direct cause of Merlin’s deathly illness would have tortured him for the rest of his life. It didn’t matter if he had only been an innocent pawn in Morgana’s vindictive plotting. The guilt would’ve still been there.
“Aithusa and I will confront Morgana,” Arthur informed her, a steely determined tone in his voice. “I promise you, I will fix this. Merlin will be well again.”
~ * ~
“How is Merlin’s apprentice doing?” Arthur asked Gwen at dinner.
“Oh, William is managing in taking over the Court Physician duties. I’ve been keeping a good eye on him, don’t worry,” Gwen assured him. “How is Merlin doing? Is there any way to help him against Morgana’s curse?”
“Hazel is looking after Merlin. He’s feeling a little better now,” Arthur confided in her.
He didn’t want to tell Gwen that he himself – however unintentionally -- triggered Merlin’s ailment. It hurt too much to think about it, much less to speak about it. No, it was better that Arthur just leave Camelot and seek out Morgana. The more distance between him and Merlin, the better for Merlin, Arthur earnestly hoped.
“Aithusa and I are going tomorrow to see Morgana. We’ll make sure she’ll tell us what we need to know. Merlin won’t die if it’s the last thing I do,” Arthur declared fiercely, his blue eyes glittering with intent.
Gwen gave him a small, reassuring smile. She kissed him on the cheek. “I wish you and Aithusa the best of luck. But please be careful,” she advised him.
“I’ll try my best,” Arthur said.
Gwen didn’t look reassured. She knew how tense things would become when Arthur confronted Morgana – especially now when Merlin’s life was at stake. “I’ll hold you to that then,” she told him with a nod.
~ * ~
Merlin shivered as he climbed out of the bath. His presently mild fever hadn’t gone, even after almost half an hour immersed in cold water. He clumsily got dressed into his nightclothes. Apprehensively, he touched his brow and felt it was growing hotter. The fever was becoming more intense again. Nausea nearly overwhelmed him as he fought to walk to his bed.
He had learned the truth behind the curse from Hazel. Considering how awful he continued to feel without Arthur even touching him, then Merlin doubted that Arthur leaving Camelot would allow his illness to ease.
Morgana’s curse appeared to be powerful enough to prevent others from discovering the trigger. Merlin was horrified to realize that if Hazel hadn’t uncovered that vital piece of information, then Arthur would have led Merlin to his death. Merlin’s magic had her limits, and there were only so many times Hazel could restart his heart to bring him back to life.
“Hazel…” Merlin spoke silently to her as she was back inside him once again.
He felt like he was going to throw up again. Understanding, his magic placed the bucket in his hands and Merlin collapsed to the floor beside the bed. He didn’t have the energy to get into bed.
He threw up into the bucket, feeling so miserable that his eyes welled up with tears and silently streaked down his face. After he weakly threw up again, Merlin set the bucket aside and stared despondently at the opposite wall.
Hazel jumped out of him – now the size of an ordinary barn cat. She sat in his lap and attempted to comfort him, rubbing herself against him and licking his hand.
“It will all work out. Don’t worry,” Hazel reassured him.
Merlin wiped at his wet face. “I wish I could believe that,” he admitted grimly. But he pet her all the same, the warmth and reassurance from his beloved magic cheering him if only for a little while.
Hazel helped him to climb into bed. She gave him a glass of water and then a tonic that would calm his stomach and hopefully stop him from throwing up again. Cooling charms were placed on him with Hazel hoping they would now succeed in reducing his fever.
His misery still upon him, Merlin felt like it was a long time before he fell asleep.
~ * ~
The next morning, Arthur along with Aithusa went to see Merlin before they departed. Hazel met them at the door and she apologized that Merlin couldn't see them. He'd had a bad night's sleep due to his worsening illness, and he was in a bit of a sour mood. Either way, it was best that Arthur keep away from him due to the danger he posed to Merlin.
While Arthur had been disappointed to not be able to see Merlin, he was also even more determined to free Merlin of this curse.
As they made their way to Morgana’s, Arthur reminded Aithusa of what he had told him the previous evening after dinner with Gwen. Especially the part about not betraying that they knew the trigger. Morgana wouldn’t be expecting that they would know.
She wasn’t aware of Hazel and how her curse wasn’t able to trick Merlin’s magic for long. It was best to pretend that they didn’t know. Arthur knew that Merlin didn’t want Morgana to know about Hazel. No doubt she would use that information against Merlin in some manner.
It was just before midday that he and Aithusa arrived at Morgana’s hovel. She didn’t answer the door, but Arthur saw that the door was left ajar.
He invited himself in with Aithusa perched on his shoulder. The place was dark, cloaked in shadow as only a few candles lit the inside.
Morgana was seated at a square table. She smiled at Arthur all too pleasantly. “I expect you’re quite intent on detaching my head from my neck with that special sword of yours,” Morgana guessed as if she was only discussing the weather.
“I want the cure to the spell you put on Merlin,” Arthur told her coldly, one hand clutching his sword hilt, waiting to use the blade. “And you will tell me.”
Morgana only looked amused. “And what if I don’t tell you? You’ll kill me, right?” She assumed, still smiling that self-satisfied smile. “That won’t solve anything if you must know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Would you at least sit down? You seem tense, Arthur. Sitting down could help you,” Morgana suggested.
Arthur grit his teeth. “Just answer the question, Morgana. What is the cure?” He demanded.
Morgana’s gaze shifted to Aithusa. “Do you feel brave, dear brother, bringing the little dragon with you? Everyone has their Achilles’ heel. Luckily, I know yours, and you played right into my game by touching Merlin. Can you imagine what would have happened if you had been physically intimate with him? How embarrassing that would be to have Merlin die amidst such an act. An act of love turns into an act of death. It makes for a lovely poem, don’t you think?”
Arthur hardly paid attention to Morgana’s smug speech as he came to a realization. “So killing you – the spell’s original caster – won’t cure Merlin. Is that it?”
“Has all this time with Merlin made you smarter? I’m impressed, Arthur. Very impressed.”
“Are you planning to tell me the cure or to grace me with your irritatingly smug smile all day?” Arthur asked her, glaring at his half-sister.
“If you must be terribly impatient, then here you are: no cure exists for the spell afflicting Merlin. I made the curse without any antidote or cure to lift it. I frankly thought it unnecessary,” Morgana told him dismissively, waving her hand. “The only cure, the only reprieve your precious Merlin has is to die for good. There it is. Your cure. And neither touching him for the rest of your life nor keeping your distance will make Merlin’s condition any better. That first touch that triggered the curse was enough to keep Merlin miserably ill for the rest of his pathetic existence. Until his body can’t take it anymore and he dies. Of course, your continued touch would have sped up your poor Merlin’s journey to the grave. The best thing you could do for him, Arthur, is to let him die and end his suffering. You’ve grown wiser, so I do hope you take my words to heart,” she said all too sweetly. She smirked at him.
“You’re lying. I know you are,” Arthur argued, refusing to believe that there was absolutely no cure to save Merlin’s life.
Morgana twisted her lips. “You can torture me as many times as you like, Arthur, but I will tell you the same thing. I fashioned this curse – I’m quite proud of the achievement – without a cure. There is no cure. None at all.”
Then Aithusa spoke to him mind-to-mind. “I’m afraid the dark witch is speaking the truth. I see it in her eyes. She’s not lying. I’m sorry, Arthur, but she is right. This spell is of her own making and it would be just like her to insure there was no way to cure Merlin. I wish this weren’t true, but you know that my dragon magic can tell whether or not someone is speaking lies or truths.”
Arthur’s jaw clenched tightly, and his hands gripped the table. It couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t be. He couldn’t, wouldn’t lose Merlin. Not like this. Not when his touch had initiated Morgana’s terrible curse.
No. Aithusa was wrong. Morgana had to be lying. There was always a solution. There had to be a cure. He wouldn’t accept anything less. This was Merlin’s life at risk and Arthur wouldn’t give up on him.
His mind was overwhelmed with thoughts of how to save Merlin, to get Morgana to speak the truth because she was lying. She was a liar. There was a way to cure Merlin that didn’t involve his death.
“Please,” he silently prayed to anyone who would listen, “give me a sign. Tell me there is a way.”
However hidden the cure was, Arthur would search high and low for it. He just needed to know that a cure existed.
Arthur sat down opposite her with a heavy sigh. “Fine. I believe you. I don’t like it, but I believe you. Did you give a name to this curse? Or did you just name it, ‘Morgana’s Curse’?”
Morgana rolled her eyes. “I’d never name it something so dull. I call it the ‘The Silent Killer’ curse since no one is able to deduce what could be causing the curse. The mind’s silence will prove the victim’s downfall. Merlin would’ve died and you wouldn’t have known the special part you played in his untimely death. It’s truly a beautiful curse, I have to say,” she declared, sounding especially pleased with herself.
“Then why are you telling me all this about the touch?” Arthur wanted to know. “If you hadn’t, I would have continued touching him and Merlin would’ve died sooner.”
Morgana shrugged. “I admit I have my weaknesses too. I couldn’t resist boasting. It is somewhat lonely living here and I always do appreciate company. And actually, I do prefer Merlin suffering longer than dying quickly by your continued touch. Dying isn’t enough pain for Merlin, oh no. His suffering during his sickness is so much more rewarding for me. Now that’s proper torture. Death would mean a sweet, peaceful blessing to him. I’d rather prolong his torture as long as I can. That’s why I told you the details. Either way, dear brother, good luck finding a non-existent cure,” she wished him sardonically, smiling widely, still amused at Arthur’s misery upon learning of the lack of a cure.
Arthur gave her a vicious glare that would have killed her right then and there if he had magic powering his glare.
“Go to hell,” he shot back at Morgana as he stood up.
He silently told Aithusa what to do.
With a relish, Aithusa breathed fire. The stream of fire was thoughtfully directed to burn a hole through Morgana’s right hand and even into the table her hand had been resting on.
Her eyes widened and she bit back a yell of pain at the unexpected attack.
“Next time, it’ll be much worse than just your hand,” Arthur vowed to her, his blue eyes glowing in anger.
Then Arthur and Aithusa left Morgana’s hovel, not waiting for Morgana to have the last word. She was probably too occupied with her burned hand anyway.
Unfortunately, Arthur didn’t feel satisfied enough at Morgana’s injury. He had learned nothing of use, nothing that could help Merlin.
What was he supposed to do now?
~ * ~
Merlin looked intently upon the painting of him on the far wall facing his bed. The painting had been done soon after he had been given the position of Court Sorcerer and Physician. Gaius had died only weeks into Arthur’s reign, and Merlin had taken on the Court Physician role because he hadn’t trusted anyone else to do it. But he had found himself overwhelmed with his two positions that at Arthur’s urging, Merlin relented and hired an apprentice, William, to help him in treating patients.
The arrangement worked out nicely for Merlin, he had to admit. Especially now when he felt so miserable that he was half-tempted to down poison to end his life, but Merlin couldn’t bear to do that to Arthur. To give up on himself when Arthur was doing what he could to save him was the worst thing he could do. And that would mean Morgana would have won too. Merlin couldn’t die with that knowledge.
At least Merlin felt reassured that his apprentice William could handle taking over for him while he was too ill to do so.
Fortunately now, he recalled a spell he had glanced over some time ago. He hadn’t taken much interest in it at the time because it had seemed ridiculous and a bit fanciful. But now, it just may be what could save him.
He slowly made his way to the portrait, for hidden behind it was a magical entrance to his private chambers where he kept his prized books and conducted magic experiments.
“I know what spell you’re considering,” Hazel indicated to him silently from inside of Merlin.
“It’s the best, maybe the only cure we have. Remember it said that doing this spell would defeat the most powerful of curses?”
“But it has to be followed exactly, and there are some things that don’t fit,” Hazel reminded him.
“I know. But with dragon magic, I think we can make this succeed. I can’t just sit here feeling terrible anyway. I want to feel useful, Hazel.”
“A visit to Kilgharrah is in order then,” Hazel concluded, unwilling to protest with Merlin when she could feel how desperate he was to take action.
“Yes, after I retrieve the book the spell’s in.”
Merlin magically made the painting turn over to the side and he spoke the spell to conjure the door.
Opening the door, he was unpleasantly reminded of the stairs heading down into the darkness. He felt himself on the verge of throwing up again as he imagined managing his way down those stairs.
Merlin didn’t have to ask Hazel before she magically transported him into the chambers. The place was magically illuminated with floating flames of light. Then in less than a second, she found him the book, setting it on his reading table, and flipped to the desired page. Merlin smiled as he read the spell.
Hope blossomed within him.
~ * ~
“Have you heard of this spell, Kilgharrah?” Merlin asked the Great Dragon in the forest outside Camelot.
Kilgharrah peered at the page of the floating book before him. “The ‘true love conquers all’ enchantment. I am aware of it. So this is your way to defeat Morgana’s curse. Aithusa told me about your illness. How are you feeling, young warlock?”
Merlin gave the dragon a look. “Miserable,” he confided in him before he fell to his knees in a coughing fit. He tried to overcome it, taking deep breaths, and willing himself to stop coughing. Hazel gave him a glass of water to soothe his dry throat. He decided to sit down. Merlin continued on, determined to see this through. “If this spell can remove the curse, then I’d be grateful for your help.”
“Of course I would help you,” Kilgharrah assured him. “There is no question of that. But the journey to the Castle of the Faeries will be dangerous. Do you believe, Merlin, that the love you and Arthur share for one another will be powerful enough to make this spell work?”
Merlin nodded. “I haven’t believed in anything more strongly than my love for Arthur. That part of the spell will not be a problem. Yet there are some details that may prove troublesome.”
“Ah yes,” the dragon acknowledged, looking over the parts that didn’t fit. “The requirement of a prince is purely symbolic. Even though Arthur hasn’t been a prince for months now, a King should still work for the spell. And with my dragon magic, we can resolve the maiden issue. Remember this, Merlin, if you put enough powerful magic behind a spell, then it can be twisted to work for you. You are powerful enough to make this spell effective despite the transformation.”
“Good. That’s what I was hoping,” Merlin said, and he took the magic book back from the dragon. “What did you mean about the journey to the castle being dangerous? I’ll do this regardless. Nothing will deter me. But I want to know what to expect.”
“I will tell you, but I think you’d like to undergo the change now.”
“Why is that?” Merlin wondered.
Kilgharrah smiled. “The witch’s curse was made on an assumption that Arthur would touch you while you’re a man. But if you turn into a woman, then the curse will no longer affect you as long as you remain a woman. This is a temporary reprieve, of course, since you will return to your original state after Arthur does his part.”
“So I won’t feel ill anymore during the change?” Merlin asked hopefully.
“That’s right,” the dragon acknowledged. “You will be free from the curse for a time.”
“Then do it please. I can’t refuse a chance to feel well again. And the sooner I change, the better it’ll be growing accustomed to the differences.”
The Great Dragon directed him to stand up, and Merlin did his best to, though he was feeling rather dizzy. He didn’t trust himself to stay standing for long. Inside him, Hazel applied magic to aid in keeping his balance and preventing him from falling. The assistance from his magic helped Merlin a little.
Kilgharrah spoke a string of words in the dragon tongue. Merlin felt a great swirl of magic wrap around him to the point that he thought he was being spun around.
Fortunately the feeling lasted only a few minutes and once the magical transformation was complete, Merlin felt smaller. He found himself wearing a white ball gown with long sleeves – puffed from the shoulders down to his elbows. The material of the dress looked as glistening and iridescent as ice. Small amber stones were embroidered on the bodice of the dress, dotting the front to add a bit of colour to the costume.
At the top, the bodice formed a soft curve revealing a little of his cleavage. His shoulders were bare as the puffed sleeves refused to stay on them. The bodice fit his newly altered chest area well and made him notice the changes in his new form more clearly. Merlin felt a necklace of quartz and amber at his neck and on his ears, he wore dangling silver earrings.
He saw that his hair – still the same dark colour thank goodness – was wavy and styled down – reaching as far as his shoulders. Touching the top of his head, Merlin felt an undeniable volume at the top, his hair being puffed up a bit. On both sides of his head, there were delicate silver hair ornaments clasped to his hair.
Feeling boots on his feet instead of heels, Merlin was grateful that Kilgharrah had been considerate enough to give him comfortable shoes to wear. The somewhat gaudy ball gown was another story. At least it was a simple color even though he would stand out in the gown no matter where he went.
Most importantly, Merlin felt completely healthy again. He felt like he could run a great distance. He had almost forgotten how it was not to be sick. Despite not dealing with the cursed illness for long, it had taken an unpleasant toll on Merlin. He was overwhelmed with relief at this temporary freedom he had been granted.
“Is there a reason for all of this?” Merlin asked the dragon, waving at his fancy gown and all the jewelry. His voice had been changed too – sounding higher, and more melodic. It reminded him of Freya.
“You need to play the part properly, young warlock – or should it be sorceress now?” Merlin gave Kilgharrah a sharp look at the amused tone of the dragon’s voice.
“So it’s not just about turning into a woman,” Merlin concluded.
“Yes. And all the better if you feel strange in your new form…since as they say, the goal will be more rewarding when it’s not an easy endeavor to accomplish it.”
Merlin sighed, idly pressing down the smooth material of his gown. He would just do his best to deal with the change. Anything to permanently remove the curse from him when he returned to being a man.
Then Hazel jumped out of him. She – or no—Merlin was startled to hear Hazel speak and discovered that his magic had undergone a change. Hazel’s voice had deepened. She sounded masculine.
“Oh, I almost forgot about your enchantment on your magic,” Kilgharrah noted. “Since you are now a female, Hazel has changed as well. Into a male panther. I believe the spell you used to alter the form of your magic requires a balance.”
Merlin nodded. “Like having both sides of a coin. Each side needs to be the opposite to maintain the balance. Yes, I know. I had almost forgotten about you being affected, Hazel. How do you feel?”
Hazel looked to be coping with the change well enough. “I’m feeling all right. What matters most is ending Morgana’s curse, so don’t worry about me. I just want to make sure you’re well again.”
Merlin smiled at Hazel and he affectionately stroked her – or was it ‘him’ now? – behind the ears. Then he turned his attention to the Great Dragon.
“Now, what about the dangerous journey to the Castle of the Faeries?” Merlin asked the dragon.
“You will be thwarted by the Silent Phantoms.”
Merlin looked at Kilgharrah in disbelief. “I thought the Silent Phantoms were a myth.”
“Unfortunately for you, they are not myths. The Silent Phantoms do exist, and due to your transformation, these invisible and, as the name suggests, silent creatures will attempt to stop you from succeeding. The Phantoms will see you as ‘wrong’ due to your transformation and will seek to return you to your original form before you can achieve your goal. The good thing is that they will ask for your permission to be a man again. But of course, you don’t want that before the ‘true love conquers all’ enchantment takes its course. If you defy them for too long, then the Silent Phantoms will aim to kill you,” the dragon warned him.
“I have the feeling they’ll do things that’ll leave me pleading with them to change me back?” Merlin deduced, recalling tales of the viciousness of these magical entities.
Kilgharrah nodded. “To that end, your magic may not be able to perform at her best since the Phantoms will do what they can to stop you. To make you so frustrated on your journey, that you give in and allow them to turn you back. So you must be wary and go as quickly as you can. Once you are inside the Castle of the Faeries, then you will have won.”
“Thank you, Kilgharrah. I’ll be on my way now.”
“Very well. Good luck.” The dragon wished him before he flew off.
Only moments later, Merlin felt a sudden cold seize him and he shivered. Why had it grown colder? He soon received his answer when he looked up at the sky. Snow was coming down. How could it snow in the middle of spring? Could it be the Silent Phantoms? Merlin dreaded to find out what would happen when the snow began to overwhelm him and discourage him from his task.
Meanwhile, Hazel looked pleased to see the snow, the white dots of snow covering his magic’s dark mottled coat. Hazel put out her – as she was only a male temporarily, and Merlin still thought of her as female – tongue to catch snowflakes upon it.
He shook his head at his magic’s enthusiasm. “Come on. Keep an eye out,” Merlin advised Hazel.
His magic walked alongside him. Soon – far too soon for Merlin’s liking -- the snow blanketed the forest around them. Hazel’s big paw prints were quickly lost as new snow came to cover any imperfections. The snow ended up reaching Merlin’s ankles.
And then the blizzard came.
~ * ~
“Arthur!” Gwen called to him as she rushed down the castle stairs.
She held a letter in her hands.
With a curious Aithusa on his shoulder, Arthur went to meet her. “What is it, Guinevere?” He asked urgently.
“Merlin has gone, Arthur.”
“What do you mean, ‘gone’?” Arthur wondered in dismay.
Gwen shook her head, smiling a little. “I think -- well, I hope it’s a good thing. According to the letter – here,” she gave him the letter.
Arthur perused the letter. If the letter was true, then Merlin had succeeded on finding the cure and had left Camelot to travel to the place where the enchantment needed to be done. Yet the letter was vague regarding the details of the cure. Merlin did indicate that he would visit Kilgharrah first. But what did Merlin have to do exactly to cure himself?
And how could Merlin possibly go on a journey in his weakened state? Unless, hopefully, Hazel would be able to magically transport him directly to the destination. Still, Arthur didn’t know if this cure allowed for magical travel as magic spells could be irritating that way. Arthur dreaded to think how Merlin was managing if he had to walk a long distance.
“I’m sure Merlin found a way, with Hazel’s help, to survive traveling despite his ailment,” Aithusa assured Arthur.
Arthur handed the letter back to Gwen. “Thank you for notifying me. You are aware that the letter wasn’t written by Merlin? The penmanship is too perfect for a human hand, and there is a slight golden glow to the letters. I expect Hazel wrote the letter for him.”
Gwen nodded. “Yes, that’s what William thought too. He was the one who discovered the letter in Merlin’s chambers. He told me about it right away. Maybe Merlin wanted to give you the appearance that he had everything under control by a neatly composed letter?”
“I’m going to give him a good talking to once he comes back. Leaving without telling me about it in advance,” Arthur said in mild frustration. “What I don’t understand is that this shouldn’t be possible – Merlin finding a cure. Morgana told me that she had devised her curse without a cure. Aithusa confirmed that she was telling the truth. So how could Merlin find a cure to end Morgana’s spell?”
Gwen bit her lip, looking as puzzled as Arthur. “Maybe,” she suggested, “Merlin knew of a spell – most likely a powerful one – to counteract Morgana’s curse. Even if Morgana hadn’t made a specific cure for the curse that surely doesn’t mean there isn’t any hope of a cure.”
“You have a good point,” Arthur conceded. “I’m glad that Merlin was able to thwart Morgana. It’s how it should be after all,” he declared with a pleased smile.
He then requested of Aithusa if the dragon could contact Kilgharrah. Maybe the Great Dragon had some information about what Merlin was doing for this mysterious cure.
Luckily Aithusa didn’t have to leave to speak with the other dragon. He was able to mentally communicate with Kilgharrah across any distance.
After a few minutes, Aithusa confided in Arthur that Kilgharrah didn’t tell him a lot. That the only thing Arthur should know is that ‘magic would guide his way, and he would be with Merlin again at the end of his journey. And that Arthur’s quest should be completed on his own.’ Arthur relayed to Gwen what Aithusa had told him.
“That seems very like Kilgharrah to be mysterious,” Gwen noted.
Arthur sighed, rubbing the back of his head. “Unfortunately. All right. I guess I’ll go find Merlin then. Aithusa, I want you to maintain communication with Kilgharrah, make sure Merlin is okay on his journey. Better yet, could you contact Merlin?”
Aithusa shook his head. “It’s much easier to communicate with Kilgharrah. It’s difficult to speak to Merlin now. I’m not sure why. It might have to do with the secrecy of the cure. But Kilgharrah assured me that he was keeping an eye on Merlin.”
“As long as Merlin isn’t completely on his own,” Arthur conceded. “And there’s Hazel, of course. I should prepare for my journey,” he decided, ready to look for Merlin and hopefully find him cured.
“You just returned from Morgana’s, Arthur,” Gwen admonished him. “You should rest a little. At least eat something. Merlin wouldn’t want you falling asleep on him when you find him.”
“You’re right. I can’t deny I’m impatient to seek out Merlin, but I could do with some rest and a good meal,” Arthur agreed.
At first light the next day, Arthur departed to find Merlin. He felt the pull of magic to direct him into the right path.
But as he progressed on his travels, Arthur was perplexed to see the weather worsening. Why was snow falling when it was the middle of spring?
And then the blizzard came.
Arthur’s horse was so unsettled by the sudden, inexplicable storm that the poor creature refused to listen to Arthur’s commands. With a heavy heart, Arthur had to leave the horse behind, and he took his pack with him. Once Arthur had climbed off his steed, he was startled to see the horse magically disappear. He hoped the horse had been returned to the stables at the castle, safe from this blizzard. But as the howling winds whipped at him, Arthur could spare little thought for his magically vanishing horse when he had to deal with a raging snowstorm.
Fortunately he had packed his heavy winter cloak – Gwen had forced him to take it despite it being spring with a reminder that you never knew with magic, so best be prepared for any occasion. Arthur gratefully put it on along with his warm gloves.
He trudged through the snow, determined to find Merlin, and intent on that pull of magic to guide his way.
~ * ~
Merlin was able to magically conjure a blue winter cloak with a hood. It was lined with white fur. The cloak protected him from the cold, but it wasn’t good enough to withstand it for long periods of time. Any warming charms he attempted to do, through Hazel who was back inside him, faded away shortly after he put them on. The Silent Phantoms appeared to be thwarting his effort at keeping himself warm.
He couldn’t conjure gloves for his hands either, and he told Hazel to keep reinforcing the warming charm particularly for his bare hands and for his feet. The moisture from the snow was too easily seeping into his boots, and though he wore stockings, they wouldn’t last long against this freezing cold. His hands and feet were the most vulnerable parts of his body and he especially needed to keep his feet warmed or else he’d be unable to walk.
Merlin wouldn’t let those bloody Phantoms win. He moved his cloak closer about his body, and stuck his hands inside his cloak to keep them away from the blistering cold.
Reaching the Lake of Avalon, Freya’s lake, and Merlin was unsurprised to see the whole lake frozen over.
“I have to walk across it. There’s no other way to the Castle,” Merlin said grimly.
He was uncertain about managing this what with the harsh winds always ready to blow him off his feet. And what if the ice would turn out to be thin and he’d fall into freezing water? That’s what the Silent Phantoms would hope for, he had little doubt.
“In your lighter form as a woman, maybe you’d have a better chance…” Hazel silently suggested to him from inside Merlin’s body.
Merlin bit his lip. “Hopefully. But this is the perfect opportunity for the Phantoms to stop me,” he said knowingly, frustrated at the thought.
But he didn’t have much of a choice, so he cautiously put one foot onto the ice. Feeling the ice’s thickness, his confidence grew, but then he couldn’t help remind himself that the Phantoms would trick him. This could be a ploy to give him a false sense of security only for disaster to happen.
He put his other foot on the ice and then he steadily made his way across the great frozen lake. The lake seemed bigger, wider, to him now maybe due to the danger he was putting himself in.
Hazel used magic to allow Merlin to keep better balance as the whistling wind threatened to topple him.
Relief swept through him as he neared the shore on the opposite side of the shore. Then his luck ran out as the ice cracked beneath him. He fell into the freezing cold water. Merlin tried to keep his head above water, but he felt something invisible – the Phantoms? – pushing his head down into the water so that he would drown. Fortunately Hazel immediately gave him gills, to help him breathe under the water. But Merlin feared how long he could retain the gills with the Phantoms likely to remove the spell. The warming charm was still faltering, and Hazel was growing weary of reinforcing it yet she still persisted. She was as determined as Merlin to beat the Silent Phantoms.
After what felt like forever, but was actually only half an hour, Hazel told him that she believed Freya was nearby. Merlin was grateful to hear the news. The magical gills were losing their effectiveness as the Phantoms tried to remove that spell.
He reached out a hand above the water while Hazel forced the Phantoms away with magic.
Merlin felt a hand grasp his and then he was pulled out of the water and placed on dry land. Hazel lifted the gills spell once he was lying on the shore.
He coughed up any water that had found its way into his lungs.
“Hello, Merlin,” Freya greeted him quietly. “You look nice.”
Merlin sat up, and he moved to stand, but Freya urged him to remain sitting. He should rest for a little bit.
“When I last saw you, you looked sad, and then you wished me good luck. Did you know about Morgana’s curse?” Merlin asked her.
Freya was apologetic. “Yes and no. I knew that she had placed a powerful curse on you, but I wasn’t aware of the details. I couldn’t warn you the last time you visited the Lake. I had to let things come to pass, to allow Arthur to touch you to initiate the curse. Sometimes magic can do such wonderful things, but other times, the rules can prove frustrating. I am sorry.”
“I understand how complicated magic can be. No need to apologize. I’m grateful for your help now. I think I would have drowned if you hadn’t come. I’m half-doubtful I’ll make it to the Castle before the Silent Phantoms get a hold of me,” Merlin said despondently.
Freya kneeled down beside him, squeezing his shoulder to reassure him. “You will reach the Castle of the Faeries. You’re you after all. You’re Merlin. You can do this,” she intimated to him in a fervent tone. “And I believe Arthur is on his way.”
Merlin smiled. “Thank you, Freya. Hopefully Arthur won’t be too angry with me for not explaining the details of this cure in the letter. I guess I wanted to surprise him a bit,” he mused.
Freya shook her head, somewhat amused. “I do have to say that you look quite pretty as a woman,” she complimented him. “I like the gown.”
“Thanks,” Merlin said, and then he stood up, preparing to leave. “Well I should go. My magic can’t keep the Phantoms away forever unfortunately,” he noted sadly.
Freya wished him well and he left the Lake of Avalon. A snow-covered plain that appeared to stretch on forever met Merlin. The undisturbed blanket of snow was a beautiful sight to behold, but he felt nearly overwhelmed with crossing this expanse of land.
But he knew he was approaching the Castle of the Faeries. Only a few miles left to go. He was grateful that he didn’t have to hike any mountains at least. As he began to trek along the flat landscape, Merlin felt the very uncomfortable pressure of the Silent Phantoms trying to grab him and attempting to rip his cloak off his body.
There was nothing else for it. He had to run. The speed would hopefully make it harder for the Phantoms to get a hold of him.
Hazel jumped out of his body in her usual panther form, apparently wanting to stretch her legs. She ran beside him, though sometimes she lagged behind, flashing her golden eyes at the invisible Phantoms. Hazel kept them at bay as best as she could.
After the danger had passed, Merlin would imagine that certainly this would have been a sight to see – a woman in a white gown covered by a heavy cloak running with a big mottled cat racing alongside her across a pristine white landscape. A landscape that made Hazel certainly stand out with her blue and black fur.
~ * ~
Arthur reached the shore of the Lake of Avalon. He saw that the lake was frozen, understandable due to the inexplicable snowstorm and cold weather.
Freya appeared in front of him. “Hello, Arthur Pendragon,” she greeted him with a smile.
“Freya,” he acknowledged her with a nod. “Did Merlin pass through here?”
“Yes, he did,” she confirmed for him. “Your path will cross with his soon.”
“Thank you. Is this odd snowstorm in the midst of spring a part of Merlin’s cure? I understand if you don’t know. It’s just Merlin didn’t give much explanation in his letter…” Arthur told her.
Freya looked at him kindly. She shook her head. “Oh no. This snow is due to the Silent Phantoms – invisible and silent magical creatures who seek to thwart Merlin freeing himself from the witch’s curse. And since you hope to help him, the Phantoms are forcing you to deal with this snowstorm as well. Merlin’s journey is more harrowing than yours as the Phantoms’ energies are more focused upon him. I hope that sets you a little at ease.”
“For myself, yes, but not for Merlin’s sake. Is he all right?” Arthur inquired earnestly, hoping for good news. “He’s been very ill due to the curse. I don’t see how long he can survive in this cold winter weather.”
“Don’t worry. Merlin’s magic is looking after him as she always does,” she assured him, her voice soothing to Arthur’s ears and her words helped to calm his concern over Merlin. “Just concentrate on finding him, Arthur. That’s my advice to you.”
Arthur thanked her, telling her that he’d follow her advice. Then he steadily crossed the frozen lake. Fortunately the ice held true and didn’t break.
~ * ~
Merlin began to feel the ground shake, and he tried in vain to remain standing but it was useless.
Something was coming out of the snow. That something was a rocky structure that was soon blanketed by the white snow falling down upon him and Hazel.
As the rock structure grew taller, Hazel retreated back inside Merlin. Unpleasantly, he soon enough found himself clinging to the edge of a cliff. The cliff was too high up to fall from, and Merlin didn’t dare try in case the Phantoms sabotaged his attempt by granting him a nasty landing.
If he could just get back on to the rocky surface so he wasn’t dangling precariously at the edge. Only his desperate grip on a piece of jutting rock saved him from falling. The snow was making it harder to maintain his hold on the rock much to his dismay.
“I can’t do this much longer,” Merlin indicated to his magic inside his mind.
Hazel assured him that she had an idea, but that she needed a bit of time to make it work. His magic gave him a burst of magical energy to renew his strength in maintaining a grip on the edge.
Just as he felt his fingers slipping from the edge, a black male Pegasus – that is, a winged horse, appeared below him. Merlin let go of the cliff and landed on the back of the Pegasus. No wonder it had taken Hazel some time to conjure a winged horse – they were almost as extraordinary a magical creature as dragons. It certainly took a lot of magical power to conjure such a grand creature. His gown was altered to more appropriate riding attire – shirt, jacket and fitted trousers.
Merlin hadn’t ridden a winged steed before, but he had flown on Kilgharrah. That should help, right?
The sleek dark wings of the Pegasus beat powerfully on either side of him, and Hazel directed him to steer the creature back on to the ground. To give the winged horse a good run so he would gain momentum as he took to the skies.
Merlin landed the Pegasus upon the snowy ground and encouraged his steed into a gallop. He went faster and faster on the horse, succeeding in thwarting the Phantoms for a little while.
As he commanded the Pegasus to move upward and travel by air, Merlin felt the unwanted attentions of the Silent Phantoms. His winged horse was growing colder and began to transform into an ice statue of a Pegasus.
“The Castle is in the sky. This is the only way to get there. I need to take over,” Hazel told him.
Merlin knew what that meant. He urged Hazel to be careful, that this was a big risk to take. But his magic went forward regardless and left Merlin to go into the magical creature. The Pegasus adopted a strong golden glow across his whole body. The ice transformation was reversed, and Hazel told Merlin that she would pilot the winged horse. Merlin only needed to hold on tight.
Flying in the air, Hazel was going so fast to outrun the dreaded Phantoms that Merlin had trouble catching his breath. He had never gone this quickly either on an average horse or on Kilgharrah.
The winter wind attacked him with its coldness and he did his best to grip his magic-powered steed as Hazel made quick turns and went up and down and around when clouds were in the path.
Though the ride across the skies was thrilling, it was also slightly terrifying. Yet Merlin didn’t doubt that Hazel would insure his safety if he had lost hold. Fortunately he had succeeded in surviving the unforgettable flight without need for rescue. And Hazel’s impressive speed had done its job. The Phantoms hadn’t been able to keep up with them.
Merlin had arrived. The Castle of the Faeries was in front of them. A floating mystical castle high up in the sky. The castle structure boasted more towers and turrets than Camelot and what looked like stone painted with varying shades of purple from the palest to deepest purple. It was akin to a castle one would possibly imagine in a dream. To look upon it in front of you was to believe that such a castle was unreal. How could such a place exist?
Maybe that was why the Castle of the Faeries was located in the sky – to keep that sense of mystery about the place. And also, since the Castle floated, one couldn’t be guaranteed they’d find the castle in the same location as they’d discovered it previously.
The spell book had said that only those seeking aid from the Castle would be able to uncover the mystical place. As this was his first time here, Merlin was not without a little trepidation.
He landed his Pegasus in the gleaming white courtyard. Upon climbing off the winged horse, his riding outfit switched back to the puffed white ball gown complete with jewelry. Deed accomplished, Hazel returned inside of him.
The courtyard was empty, which should have set Merlin ill at ease; but luckily the atmosphere gave the opposite vibe. He truly felt as if he had been invited to come here.
A willowy looking woman in a purple and silver dress and with a jeweled crown upon her head approached him.
“I’ve come here to undergo the--”
She held up her hand. “Yes. I know why you are here. There is no need for an explanation,” she assured him. “I am the Queen of this Castle.”
“Hello. I’m Merlin,” he acknowledged her with a nod.
“We know you as Emrys,” she told him, her high voice echoing across the courtyard. “The greatest sorcerer of them all.”
“Yes. I go by that name too,” Merlin conceded.
She smiled softly at him. Waving her hand, the Queen beckoned him, “Come. We shall begin.”
And so Merlin went.
~ * ~
Upward. That’s where the magic was pulling him toward. But Arthur peered up into the sky, obscured by falling snow, and he was at a loss as to how to reach his destination if it was in the sky.
As if to grant his wish, a winged horse as white as the falling snow appeared before him. The horse’s eyes were a smoky white colour, which made Arthur wonder if the creature was blind.
Warily, he approached the creature and he stroked the winged horse’s white mane. “Aren’t you a beauty?” said Arthur out loud with an appreciative smile.
The magical horse’s eyes looked at him almost as if considering the King. Arthur was reassured that this winged steed was not blind at all.
“Can I?” He asked. A solid piece of pale wood appeared in front of him to act as a stepping block.
The creature stamped its front hoofs as if to say yes. The horse looked ready to go. Arthur climbed his way up on the winged steed. He hoped he would be able to manage riding a winged horse for the first time. To fly through the skies was too enticing a prospect to refuse. Either way, he needed to get to Merlin. There was nothing for it but trusting in his instinct.
The winged snow-white horse took flight after a brief galloping run. The same pull of magic guiding Arthur was upon the magical creature as well. Arthur only had to keep his grip on his winged steed as its wings beat up and down, needing little direction from Arthur regarding where to go.
Before long, Arthur set his eyes on a magnificent castle of luminous shades of purple. The magic’s pull tugged at him, informing him that he had arrived.
Merlin was in the castle.
~ * ~
Arthur had learned from the Queen that Merlin had undergone a transformation, but that he was still Merlin at heart.
A room in the castle had been made out to look like an enchanted forest. Arthur felt the magic surround him. That magic was a rather friendly feather-light touch upon him. He saw the pulsing golden glow of magic too – it encompassed the entire mystical forest. As far as Merlin’s location, he found him as a woman lying in an open glass coffin.
As he stared at Merlin – who, according to the Queen, was lying in a death-like sleep -- Arthur was lost about what to do. He hadn’t asked the Queen what exactly he should do to wake Merlin up. The Queen hadn’t told him either.
Arthur knew what he’d like to do, but after his touch being dangerous to Merlin, he wasn’t eager to kiss him – or her as it was for the moment.
He could assume that this Castle of the Faeries would protect Merlin from any bad effects Arthur’s touch could have on him. But Arthur wasn’t willing to take that risk. He had hated seeing Merlin being ill. Then to discover it was his fault – unintentional or not -- for simply touching Merlin – that hurt.
How could he even think to touch him again? What if this was all a trick and the Queen had meant for Arthur to come here and turn Merlin’s death-like sleep into true death?
Yet Arthur wanted Merlin back so badly. If he had made it this far -- and if Merlin’s letter and Freya’s words were to be believed --, then this was a part of his cure. He had to have faith that now he could save Merlin.
Maybe the cure was meant to turn his cursed touch into one of healing?
Arthur took a deep breath, and he decided that despite the risk, he would go through with it. This was the cure for Merlin, and if anything, Arthur simply had to have faith in Merlin’s plan. He loved Merlin and he couldn’t possibly let him down now. He couldn’t allow Morgana to win.
He leaned over Merlin and kissed him on the lips.
A moment later, but what felt like forever to Arthur, Merlin woke up, his blue eyes alight in pleasure as he looked upon Arthur. Merlin smiled in unabashed gratefulness and cheer.
Merlin sat up in the coffin. “Arthur, I’m so glad you came,” he told him.
“I will always find you. No matter if you barely leave me any hint as to what I’m supposed to do,” Arthur admonished him gently.
Merlin blushed, having the grace to look chagrined. “I didn’t have much time to leave a detailed letter…” he defended feebly.
Arthur nodded, not believing a word of it. “Right, Merlin,” he said wryly. “When will you return to your normal form? Your dress is a bit ridiculous.”
Merlin shrugged. “I’ve grown fond of this gown actually.”
Arthur raised his brow at him.
Merlin grinned at him cheekily. “I expect by the time I return to Camelot, I’ll be a man again. But I think I look all right as a woman, don’t you think so? Freya thought I looked pretty.”
“Then I trust Freya’s judgment,” Arthur answered smoothly. Merlin shot him a look at his non-answer. “We should make our way home. You’re cured, right? You’ll be fine now?”
“If Morgana doesn’t curse me again, then yes,” Merlin said, cautiously optimistic. “The cure was the “true love conquers all” enchantment. I needed to follow it as closely as I could. I had faith that our love for each other would allow the cure to save me.”
“True love…” Arthur mused thoughtfully. “So this proves that our shared love has the strength to defeat any curse?”
Merlin smiled softly. “Yes it does. It’s a pleasant side effect of the enchantment.”
“I like those hidden surprises magic offers,” Arthur declared. Then he lifted Merlin up into his arms, Merlin wrapping his arms around Arthur’s neck in turn. Arthur kissed him deeply on the lips. Merlin returned the kiss enthusiastically.
On their return home, they flew side by side on their respective winged horses – Merlin on his midnight steed and Arthur on his snow-white horse.
~ * ~
The next evening, Merlin – who was once again a man – returned late after a trip to see Morgana.
Arthur found Merlin sitting before the fire with Hazel in her panther form beside him. Aithusa was sleeping in the middle of Hazel’s long tail that was presently curled into a circle.
“How was it? Seeing Morgana?” Arthur asked Merlin in a mild trepidation.
Merlin turned away from the fire which he had been pensively staring at. He shrugged. “There’s not much to say. She wasn’t there. Her hovel had been burned down, possibly her own handiwork. But there was a message,” he declared quietly.
Arthur’s eyes narrowed. “What was this message?”
Merlin bit his lip. “Considering this is Morgana, it’s not too surprising. The message was written out in fire upon the ground. It said, ‘Beware the darkest night for that will be the eve of your end.’ I’m not sure if she expected only me to come by and see that message. Maybe it was meant for both of us. I don’t know about you, but I hope we don’t see her again for a long while. Though not knowing where she is now doesn’t fill me with ease,” he admitted unhappily.
“We beat her for now. That’s what matters,” Arthur sought to reassure him.
Merlin gave him a half-smile. He stroked Hazel idly behind the ears. “Ever since I altered my magic and made Hazel, I’ve felt more confident in my magical abilities. She’s a blessing to me just like you. Barring your unfortunate behavior on occasion,” he quipped, teasing him with a small smile.
Arthur sat down on Merlin’s other side. He lightly punched him on the shoulder. “You’re speaking to the King, Merlin. Choose your words carefully.”
Merlin shook his head, used to Arthur’s idle threats that meant little most of the time.
“I love you,” Merlin told him in a heartfelt tone.
And Arthur took that as a sign to kiss Merlin again, relishing in touching him without Merlin suffering for it.
As the fire in the hearth crackled steadily on, Arthur cupped his hand behind Merlin’s head and kissed him along his neck.
“I hope you’ll never be cursed like that again,” Arthur fiercely hoped.
“I won’t. I promise. It was an awful curse, and I’m just grateful I didn’t have to live with it for long. Thanks to you,” Merlin told him with a smile.
“And you too,” Arthur had to put in, smiling back at him.
In honour of their good fortune, Merlin conjured honeyed mead for the two of them to drink.
“To beating Morgana yet again,” Merlin declared.
As Arthur’s cup clinked with Merlin’s, their fingers touched and they felt a pleasant something sweep through them.
It was their love for one another.
~ * ~
This is my reasoning for choosing the name Hazel for Merlin's magic (+ some odd facts that I thought were interesting):
The hazel tree is associated with healing, wisdom, and inspiration. People can make wishes on hazelnuts. Also, hazelnuts were thrown into the fire to divine the future of a romantic relationship. (Based on “The Dark Is Rising” book series…information from here: http://www.rhymer.org.uk/dark/darkguide.html under “Trees and flowers”)
For those familiar with the “His Dark Materials” book series, I did intentionally base Hazel (aka Merlin’s magic) off the idea of daemons with the big difference being that Hazel is a manifestation of his magic, not his soul. Because of the daemon idea, that’s why Hazel is the opposite gender to Merlin.
Picture of Merlin in his enchanted form: