Chapter 1: Prologue
The carriage rattled towards Camelot, carrying precious cargo. As it rolled down the unpaved roads, the rain whipped around it. The driver huddled in his cloak, urging the horses onwards. Then, suddenly, someone stood directly in his path. A woman, seemingly calm as the carriage careened towards her. The driver swore and forced the horses to a stop. They reared up, whinnying in panic, and throwing the driver from his seat and underneath the wheels.
As he looked one last time on the world, he thought it strange that the mysterious woman had disappeared into thin air. Then he felt a sharp pain on the back of his skull, and knew no more.
Inside the carriage, the Lady Vivian heard the driver's scream and felt the coach jolt unpleasantly. It swayed off course, making Vivian fall out of her seat. She scrambled for a grip, shaking as the it came to a thudding stop, the side splintering as it hit a tree. Her back smacked against the opposite side. She grabbed the handle of the door to steady herself and sat there for a moment, trembling. At last, she opened the door and lifted herself from the wreckage.
A few feet away, one of the horses lay dying; the other raced around, still tethered to its partner.
"Whoah, steady!" she ordered the horse.
It slowed, eyeing the lady with suspicion.
"It's alright," she whispered, reaching her hand out and calming the horse.
"That's right. Good girl," Vivian untied the horse and led it back to the path. The driver lay in the road. Or more correctly, what was left of him. Her stomach churned at the blood. She closed her eyes, turning back the horse and fighting down her desire to be sick.
Feeling sick wasn't an unusual occurance, given her current state. She ran her hand over her stomach. The child was due any day now, and she had hoped that Camelot's physician would be able to tend to its birth. He was the best in all the kingdoms, or so she'd heard. Now, it appeared she'd be giving birth with a horse for company, in the middle of nowhere.
She swung herself up onto the horse, moaning at the lack of saddle. At her bidding, the horse walked forward. The most pressing need was shelter, but out in the woods, there was little chance of finding any.
As they rode, she found herself talking the horse, "Just you and me. And since we've got God-knows-how-long with nothing to do but talk to each other, I shall have to name you..."
"How about Hope? It's a nice name, and I've been told it never fails."
"So tell me about yourself, Hope. Where'd you grow up? On a farm, I suppose. Or maybe you were a Camelot horse?"
"Perhaps your children will one day carry great leaders on them. Not like you, carrying me."
She continued her babbling, eventually giving up and lapsing into silence. Tears flowed down her face at her predicament. Not just being lost in the woods, but what would become of the child. Her prayer was that it would favor its mother's looks over its father's. Her husband, Gorlois might never know of her affair that way... But perhaps it would be the spitting image of Uther Pendragon, and then perhaps Gorlois would have her and the child executed.
She hung her head in shame and pushed Hope onward, willing them both to continue and find somewhere safe. Then, like a miracle, a warm glow appeared in the distance.
"Hope," Vivian whispered, unsure of which hope she was referring to. She kicked the horse into a mad gallop towards the light.
Horse and rider arrived at the small village. A group of men gathered near around a bonfire, oblivious to the storm in the woods beyond.
She approached the fire, sliding off her horse and moving towards the group. They appeared not to notice her until she had joined them.
"Who are you?" one of the men jumped in surprise when she tapped his arm.
"My name is Vivian... I need shelter. I can pay, I just need—" something felt odd. She placed her hand on her stomach, her eyes widening.
"Miss?" one of the men looked concerned. "Miss?"
"I'm going into labor," she gasped.
Eva was brilliant midwife. In fact, there'd been nothing she wanted to do more with her life. Only with all her skills and knowledge, it was an emotionally painful job, and not just because so few children lived past a few hours. For Eva, being a midwife was something else entirely. In a child's first breath, she saw its whole life. It was some kind of magic; an ability she'd possessed for as long as she could remember. The small town of Ealdor had no other midwife, and Eva was forced to continue the work, watching children live out lives she'd already seen. A girl proclaiming her intention to go to Camelot, only to fall and break her neck a week later; an infant boy, dead a week after his father. Eva saw it all, and she could hardly bear it.
When her friend Hunith had fallen pregnant, she had confided in Eva that the father was the banished Dragon Lord, Balinor. Eva had feared the child's birth. Her instincts told her this child would be unlike any she'd ever delivered; a child of magic.
The day Hunith went into labor was unremarkable in every way, save for the storm that set in an hour after it started. Eva fought back her worries and focused on bringing the child safely into the world. Magic and dragon lords be cursed.
"Any idea how long?" Hunith asked, fighting to keep her breathing steady through her pain.
"You still have a few hours," Eva said.
Hunith winced. "That long?"
"Yes," Eva sighed.
The door burst open and Avery stormed into the room.
"What do you think you're—?" Eva stopped when she saw the panicked, pregnant woman in his arms.
"Her name is Vivian. She's seeking shelter and she just went into labor. Would you rather I have knocked?" he added sarcastically.
Eva folded her arms, "Set her down on that cot; then get out of here!"
"Yes, ma'am," Avery desposited the woman onto the cot and hurried away.
Eva sighed, hands on her hips. It was going to be a long night.
When the children were born, it was unlike anything Eva had ever seen. Merlin and Morgana's futures were too deeply entwined to be seen separately, though their births were hours apart. When she watched Merlin's first breath, it was as much Morgana's future as his own.
But that wasn't the only strange thing. There were two different versions of their joined future. The first much clearer, and much darker. Death, betrayal, and pain lay down that path. They would become the bane of each other's existence. The second offered more hope. While their lives were still joined, it was not as enemies. They united for a common goal and became legendary. As with all things to do with her gift, Eva understood. The second future would not come to pass unless she acted upon it.
Vivian and Hunith grew quite close over the next few days, both cooing over their newborn children. Eva had forbidden anyone from entering the house while she contemplated what she needed to do.
At last, she sat them down at the table.
"What is it?" Hunith asked, rocking her son.
"I have a gift," Eva explained. "Ever since I started my work; when I see a child's first breath, I see their entire future."
"You have magic?" Vivian asked.
"Yes," Eva said. "I was born with it. And I saw your children's future."
"What did you see?" Vivian asked, apparently not bothered by Eva's gift.
Eva explained everything she could remember from both futures, citing the differences. They listened anxiously.
"What do we have to do to get this second future?" Vivian asked. Hunith seemed more uncertain, but listened all the same.
"Are you prepared to do whatever it takes?" Eva asked.
"Of course," Vivian said. "I will not see my daughter turn against her friends and family."
"Very well," Eva said slowly, "In that future, Merlin is raised by Lady Vivian and Morgana by Hunith."
The two mothers stared at her.
"I know what I ask is very hard, but I truly believe... this future would be an improvement upon the other. They hold Camelot's fate in their hands. This second destiny is a chance at getting it right. They are destinied to destroy each other, otherwise. Please consider this."
"I was always told that knowing the future was dangerous," Hunith said.
"It is," Eva agreed. "But it is my gift, and what other use is there for it, if not to save lives?"
Vivian glanced at Hunith. "I cannot begin to imagine giving up my daughter to anyone."
"I know," Eva said. "But if you make this sacrifice, many lives could be saved. Including theirs."
Vivian and Hunith exchanged long looks.
"Do you trust her?" Vivian asked Hunith.
"Yes," Hunith said.
"Would you look after Morgana as your own?"
"You need not ask," Hunith said. "And you would take care of Merlin?"
"Then it is decided. I feel as though we are meddling with destinies, but if you are right, Eva, then it will be more than worth it."
19 years later
"Are you all set, dear?" Hunith asked.
"Mother, I'm fine," Morgana promised. "Really."
"I know, but you're a girl. Out on your own..."
"I'm not on my own. I'll be with the group headed to Camelot for work at the feast. I'll be fine. It's only a mile or two on my own and it's not like I can't defend myself."
"There'll be no 'defending yourself' in Camelot. Understand? Control your magic. No sending objects flying around the room because you're angry. You can't risk any magic there, unless it is absolutely necessary. Gaius already knows about your gifts, you can trust him. Understand?"
"Of course," Morgana said. "I know these things, Mother."
Hunith sighed, hugging Morgana, "Be safe."
Hunith smiled, watching as the girl departed. She leaned against the frame of her door, dreading the coming years. Morgana would discover who she was before long. Gaius knew, of course Gaius knew. He knew everything:who Merlin was, who Uther would think he was, who Morgana was... Hunith had been in contact with him for years and Vivian trusted her judgement.
Vivian and Hunith had stayed in touch over the years, reporting whatever they could. While Hunith still felt a connection with her son, her love for Morgana couldn't have been more if she had been her own daughter.
When Vivian's letters had stopped suddenly after ten years, she'd written to Gaius. He informed her that the Lady Vivian had taken ill. They continued to write, and eventually, Gaius reported the Lady's death. Merlin had moved in to the castle, becoming the king's ward.
Gaius and Hunith stayed in touch in the coming years, and they secured a date for Morgana's departure to Camelot. A new letter was making its way to him, in Morgana's pocket.
My dear Gaius,
I turn to you, for I feel lost and alone and don't know who to trust. It is every mother's fate to think her child is special. And yet I would give my life that Morgana were not so. Ours is a small village; everyone knows the night she was born. They suspect that something was amiss. Morgana has not my looks, but Vivian's. They have no idea who she was, but it is possible that they might find out before too long. Her talents are also going to attract attention before long. If she were to remain, I fear what would become of her. She needs a hand to hold, a voice to guide. Someone that might help her find a purpose for her gifts. I beg you, if you understand a mother's love for her child, keep her safe.
I know how much pressure this puts on you, but you are free to tell her of her birth when the time is right. When that is, I cannot say. I trust that you are looking after Merlin. I've heard so much about him and hope to meet him before too many years pass.
Give Morgana my love,
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
I posted this on ffnet awhile ago and got some positive reviews there.
Beta is Kageriah (on ffnet).
No one, no matter how great, can know his or her destiny. They cannot glimpse their path in the great story that is about to unfold. Like everyone, they must live and learn.
The city teemed with people running about, doing everyday things. It was so much busier than Ealdor. It fascinated her, and she couldn't stop grinning.
Right. Find Gaius. Goodness, Morgana, get a grip.
She shook herself and started towards the palace and into the square, only to stop dead when she saw what was going on:
Above, standing on a balcony overlooking the square, stood the King. "Let this serve as a lesson to all. This man, Thomas James Collins, is adjudged guilty of conspiring to use enchantments and magic and, pursuant to the laws of Camelot, I, Uther Pendragon, have decreed that such practices are banned on penalty of death. I pride myself as a fair and just king, but for the crime of sorcery there is but one sentence I can pass."
He flicked his hand, and an ax came down. Morgana closed her eyes just in time.
"When I first came to this land, this kingdom was mired in chaos, but with the people's help magic was driven from the realm. So I declare a festival to celebrate twenty years since the Great Dragon was captured and Camelot freed from the evil of sorcery. Let the celebrations begin!"
Morgana shuddered, looking away. She snapped back to attention as a woman wailed from the crowd, forcing her way into the center of the square.
"There is only one evil in this land, and it is not magic! It is you!" she wailed. "With your hatred and your ignorance… You killed my son! But I promise you, before these celebrations are over, you will share my tears:an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a son for a son! "
"Seize her!" Uther ordered the soldiers furiously.
But it was too late, for the woman had just screamed a spell and disappeared.
Morgana fought off another shudder and pushed her way through the crowd and into the castle, only stopping to ask a guard where she could find Gaius. Then, she hurried up a flight of steps and found the sign that read "Court Physician." The door creaked open, and she poked her head in.
"Gaius?" she called.
An elderly man appeared around the corner, frowning, "What can I do for you?"
"I'm Morgana," she said.
"Oh, Hunith's girl?" a smile lit up his face.
Morgana smiled, but let it fade at the strange look he was giving her.
"Well, I'm glad to see you arrived safe and sound," Gaius said, noticing her discomfort. "But you're not supposed to be here until Wednesday."
Morgana looked at him oddly before replying, "It is Wednesday."
"Oh," he said, a bit bewildered and embarrassed.
"I have a letter," Morgana handed it to him to break the uneasy silence. "Mother sends her regards."
"Of course she does," he smiled good naturedly at her. "She already told you I knew about your... talents?"
"Yes," Morgana nodded. "I was grateful for that. I need someone to know; I think I'd go mad otherwise."
"I can't blame you," he said.
"Well, why don't you get settled in? There's a spare room back there." He pointed over his shoulder to a door.
Morgana dipped her head in thanks and followed him up.
The room was at least twice as big as her room back home (which was more of a corner of their small house than a room) and she automatically fell in love with its quant, but commodious air. She dropped her bag onto the ground and began taking things out one at a time. She smoothed out the sheets on her bed and set work making it a bit more like home, placing her things away and organizing what possessions she had. Night fell all-too-soon, and she poked her head out the window, smiling at the city.
Merlin folded his arms, strongly displeased with what had happened. He looked out of the window to the square where yet another human being had been slaughtered for possessing a talent considered to be abnormal. If only Uther knew...
Merlin turned to his guardian, "Sire?"
"What's wrong? You're supposed to be at the feast."
"Not hungry," he said grumpily.
"That's unlike you."
"Executions make me queasy," he answered truthfully.
"It was justice for he'd done," the king said.
"We're not going into this argument again."
"It was killing someone because they're different," Merlin glared. "How do you know he meant any harm? Did he kill someone? Steal something?"
"You were not around twenty years ago. You wouldn't understand."
"No, I don't understand," Merlin folded his arms. "Whatever happened then, it's the past. You can't keep punishing people for what happened then."
"I can do as I feel necessary; I'm the king. There is no room for magic in this kingdom. And you will be with me when I greet Lady Helen."
Merlin shot him a scathing look.
"I'm your guardian! Even if you show me no respect, at least respect our finest singer."
"You know you're not saving any lives by taking them from innocent people," Merlin glared, storming away from him.
Though she had relaxed into a peaceful slumber, Morgana bolted awake in the middle of the night, screaming.
Gaius burst into her room, "Morgana! Are you all right? What happened?"
"Dreams," she gasping, wiping away the tears from her face. "Always dreams. I used to wake up my mother every night with my screaming. I haven't had a nightmare that bad in ages, though."
"Perhaps it was just the shock of being in a new place," Gaius suggested.
"I hope so."
"If not, then I'll see about making you a sleeping draft, alright?"
"Breakfast," Gaius pointed to a bowl at the table when she came in the next morning.
Morgana sat down across from him and began to pick at the bowl, lacking any appetite.
"You can run a few errands for me until we find you some paid work," he said as he placed two vials on the table, "Hollyhock and Feverfew for Lady Percival, and this is for Sir Olwin. He's as blind as a weevil, so warn him not to take it all at once."
Morgana nodded, taking the vial and rushing out of the room. She delivered both potions with ease, and decided to take a stroll into the town afterward. She browsed through the market, smiling at the pretty things she'd never be able to afford, although she did buy a leather string to tie her hair with. Spotting a group of barrels clustered together in a circle, she seated herself on one and began to braid her hair back. As she did, the barrel jolted beneath her, sending her sprawling into the middle of the circle.
"What? Oh, sorry!" a boy popped out of the barrel, helping her to her feet, but staying low to the ground. "Sorry about that. Say, have you seen a prince running around on a desperate quest for vengeance?"
"Okay, good," he winked at her, sliding to the ground and leaning against the barrel.
"What are you doing?" Morgana crouched down beside him.
"Yeah. I'm Merlin, by the way," he held out his hand.
"The king's ward?" Morgana's eyes widened. She couldn't believe the luck she'd had in the first two days of her stay in Camelot – first the execution, now this.
"Yes, the king's ward," he dropped his hand, frowning. "In the history books, I sincerely hope that isn't how I'm remembered. And who, might I ask, is the fair lady who nearly sat on my head?"
Morgana smiled. "I'm Morgana and it's very nice to meet you, Sire—Merlin." She could tell by the twitching of his lips that her correction was appropriate.
"So, I'm afraid I have not had the pleasure of seeing you here before... what brings you to glorious Camelot?"
"My mother sent me to live with the court physician."
"Gaius?" Merlin grinned. "He's a good friend of mine; practically my father. I expect we'll be seeing a lot of each other, then."
"I suppose we will."
"That's good. I'll take anyone I can get who's not 'His Royal Pratness,'" Merlin rolled his eyes. "Oh, hello, Gwen!" He waved to someone past Morgana.
A dark-skinned girl slipped over the side of a barrel and dropped down beside the pair, "Hiding from Arthur again?"
"What did you do?"
"I... might've— completely on accident— covered the cloak he was going to wear for the feast in grass stains," he said, scratching his head and smiling sheepishly.
"How— never mind," Gwen shook her head. "Where is it?"
"In the barrel," he pointed.
"I'll get it washed," Gwen said, prying off the top and picking up the red cloak, "You better thank your lucky stars you're best friends with a maid."
"It does have its advantages, doesn't it?"
"Just say thanks," Gwen sighed, exasperated.
"Thank you," Merlin said, getting up from his hiding place. "Also, introductions: Morgana, this is Guinevere, but we call her Gwen. Gwen, Morgana; she's living with Gaius now."
"Oh, you're in good hands, then. Gaius might as well be a second father to me," Gwen said. "I've known him... well, since Merlin came to Camelot, ten years ago."
"That long?" Merlin blinked. "That makes me feel so old..." Suddenly, he thought of something and hopped up. "Anyways, I'd better go. Gwen, you are amazing. And Morgana, I shall see you soon."
The king's ward ran off, disappearing into the crowd.
"He doesn't seem to notice the line between commoners and royalty," Gwen observed. "It's what made us so close over the years."
"Be careful though, his blindness to that line might cost you one day... Anyways, I'd better get this washed. It was nice meeting you, Morgana."
"You as well, Gwen," Morgana smiled, re-seating herself on the barrel and finally getting her hair into the desired braid.
The next few days passed slowly. Morgana ran errands for Gaius and tried to stay out of trouble. Merlin came by a few times and visited with Gaius, although they seemed to speak primarily in code.
"The feast is this evening," Gaius announced one day.
Morgana glanced up over her porridge and said, "Really?"
"You'll be working there with me."
"Of course," Morgana sighed, bothered with the concept of celebrating the enactment of a law that would have her killed.
"In the meantime, I found another errand for you," Gaius set a basket of fruit on the table, "The king is gifting this to Lady Helen. I told the king you could deliver it. You can come back and get ready for the feast after."
Morgana took the basket and made her way to the guest chambers where Lady Helen stayed. At her knock, the enchanting singer opened the door, confused to see her.
"From the king," Morgana said, holding out the basket in explanation.
"Come in," Lady Helen turned and allowed Morgana to follow her into the room.
"So sweet," Lady Helen said, picking up an apple, "How will I ever repay him?"
"I've heard you're the kingdom's finest singer," Morgana said. "I imagine you'll have a quite a show for us. That will be thanks enough."
"Oh, it'll be a night no one will ever forget," she smiled.
Morgana fought off the chill creeping up her spine and moved about the room, straightening out what she could. She frowned at the cloth over the mirror and pulled it off, staggering backwards when she saw the reflection of Lady Helen. No, not Lady Helen: the woman from the square.
She raced toward the door in attempt to escape and warn someone – anyone - but the woman caught her hand. Morgana stifled a scream, falling to her knees, as the life seemed to drain from her.
"No!" Morgana shrieked, summoning her magic and sending the woman flying backwards into the wall.
Morgana lay on the floor for a moment, gasping and trying to regain her strength.
"You..." her eyes widened and she lifted herself from off the ground, "You have magic."
"Stay away from me," Morgana hissed.
"No, no, you could help me," she said. "I'm not going to kill one of my own. You saw what happened. My son was killed before my eyes because he used a talent he was born with. You must live in fear every day of what might become of you."
Morgana shook her head, "I'm not going to kill anyone because of what their father did."
"Uther must pay and death is far too kind a fate for him! Join me!"
Morgana finally felt her strength return. She glanced at the door and made a mad dash for it, slamming the door behind her and bolting down the corridor.
About halfway back to Gaius's chambers, she slammed into someone.
"Merlin!" Morgana gasped. "Merlin, it's Lady Helen. She tried to kill me!"
"Kill you? Why would she—?"
"She's... the woman from the square, whose son died. It was her, I swear! You have to believe me."
"Okay," Merlin said. "Calm down."
"She's going to kill me," Morgana said, panic still pressing in on her.
"There you are!"
Morgana's blood ran cold as the faux Lady Helen raced down the hallway. Merlin forced Morgana behind him, taking a protective step in front of her.
"Lady Helen, how nice to see you."
"That maid attacked me."
"What reason would she have to attack a lady of nobility?"
"She's a witch!"
"Those are harsh accusations," Merlin said, voice suddenly deep and grating. "Do you have any proof?"
"I shouldn't need proof. It's my word against hers and she's just a servant!" her whine was oddly reminiscent of a child caught doing something forbidden.
"I can see that," Merlin said. "I'll deal with her."
"See to it that you do," she turned and stormed away.
Morgana sighed in relief. "Thank you."
Merlin slipped something from his pocket and held it up in the direction of the vanishing woman. He smirked.
"What is it?"
"Mirrors reveal the true nature of people with enchantments on them," he said. "And you're completely right. We have to stop her. Do you have any idea what she's planning?"
"No," Morgana shook her head. "Only that she wants Arthur dead."
"Well, in that case, I'll stay by his side. You need to sink into the shadows until I can stop her."
"Gaius wants me at the feast."
"Good, I want you there too. It'll make her nervous. And nervous people tend to be a bit careless in their hurry to not to attract attention. Just keep out of her way until I figure something out."
"Alright," Morgana started to turn away.
"And Morgana?" Merlin caught her arm, concern evident in his brilliant, blue eyes. "Be careful."
Against her better judgment, Morgana decided not to tell Gaius of her adventure. Instead, she whisked away to her room and dressed before heading to the feast with her caretaker.
The feast was spread out in the throne room. As she looked around at the men and women of the court, she finally spotted Prince Arthur. He stood with a group of his knights, a bright red cloak draped over his shoulders.
"Not too bad, hm?" Gwen asked.
Morgana jumped, "Gwen! Oh, yeah. Very nice. You did well... with the cloak."
"I've been serving in the castle my whole life. Getting stains out of the cloaks of Camelot is second nature to me. So what do you think of Arthur?"
"He's very..." Morgana frowned at the prince, who was laughing with a group of men. Merlin stood with them, his arms folded and expression unamused.
"Obnoxious, actually," Gwen smirked.
Morgana blinked. Gwen's words could've been considered treason, "Really?"
"Yeah," Gwen folded her arms, "But he's just... meant to king. And Merlin's made him a bit better. But he's still a..."
"Clot pole?" Morgana supplied the phrase often used in Ealdor.
"Whatever that is, I'm sure it fits him," Gwen agreed as she snorted.
"We have enjoyed twenty years of peace and prosperity. It has brought the kingdom and myself many pleasures, but few can compare with the honor of introducing Lady Helen of Mora."
Morgana ducked away, moving to the front of the room where Merlin sat with the other members of the royal house.
The woman smiled and began to sing. As she did, the members of the court nodded off. The music seemed to be affecting them, so Morgana clamped her hands over her ears to block the dulling tune. Merlin had done the same from his place at the table between Uther and Arthur. He made eye contact with her, then closed his eyes and let his elbows rest on the table. His chin rested in his hand and he gave the appearance of being asleep, although Morgana could see his fingers were still pressed against his ears.
Meanwhile, "Lady Helen" approached the table, drawing her knife. Morgana's eyes darted around, searching for anything that could stop the woman. Something creaked overhead and the chandelier hanging above crashed to the floor, pining the witch beneath it.
Immediately, the spell broke and the court began to stir. Uther and Arthur rose to their feet, glaring indignantly down at the defeated woman under the chandelier. But with her last bit of strength the woman threw the dagger at Arthur. Morgana didn't hesitate— she didn't have time to— and seized his arm, pulling him away and throwing all her weight backwards so the pair of them crashed onto the stone floor.
The knife buried itself in the chair and the woman collapsed, dead.
Arthur rose to his feet and helped Morgana up before staring at her, astounded, "You saved my life."
"I guess I did."
"You'll be rewarded," Uther said, gripping his son's shoulder as if to assure he was there.
"Oh, really, I just—" Morgana looked helplessly at Gwen, who gave her an encouraging smile.
"Nonsense. Name it and it's yours."
Morgana considered, then spouted out the first thing that popped into her head, "I— I— a job?"
"Uther gave you the job of what exactly?" Gaius asked her as they sat down to a dinner of feast leftovers.
"Attending to all royal visitors and doing whatever odd jobs they can find when there aren't any guests. It gives me a position in the royal house."
"Is that what you wanted?"
"I don't know," Morgana frowned. "It means seeing Gwen and Merlin more often, though."
"Morgana," Merlin appeared in the doorway. "Welcome to the order of saving Arthur's ungrateful backside. I think we should make a crest."
"You've saved Arthur's life?"
"More often than he'll ever know," Merlin reached across the table and picked up a roll from Gaius' plate. "I didn't eat at the feast," he explained.
"Busy keeping an eye on Lady Helen," Merlin took a bite out of the roll and rose from the table, "Thanks."
The boy vanished from the room.
Morgana sighed, her head drooping onto the table like a useless, dead weight, "Mother said I wasn't supposed to attract attention and I manage to become the hero of the court in the first week."
"Perhaps this is your destiny: saving Arthur alongside Merlin."
"Destiny," Morgana considered. "Not exactly what I was expecting when I came here, but I think it'll do."
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
As Morgana soon discovered, life in Camelot made little sense. Assassins seemed to drop dead for no reason, sorcerers revealed their magic in broad daylight, and some members of the court disappeared and were never heard from again. Yet no one seemed to care about- or even notice -these oddities, which seemed strange, given Uther's hatred of magic. She eventually brought it up to Gaius and Merlin, in between her errands around the castle.
"Being in Camelot makes people ridiculously incompetent," Merlin replied with a shrug when Morgana questioned him about the absuridities of Camelot. Morgana then turned to Gaius, hoping for a better answer.
"I think you're exaggerating just a bit, Morgana," Gaius said, "And what are you suggesting, anyway?"
Morgana glanced back at Merlin, hesitating before finally saying, "Magic? Perhaps someone's sneaking around, trying to help Camelot."
"Magic?" Merlin gave a nervous laugh. "No sorcerer in their right mind would try to help Camelot. We're trying to kill them. Why would they help us?"
"What other explanations do you have?" Morgana asked. "Nothing else makes sense. There has to be a sorcerer in Camelot. A good one."
"Nah, I think that it's just coincidence," said Merlin, dodging her questions almost tactlessly.
Gaius shook his head. "If there is a sorcerer, he or she is being extremely reckless and is going to get his or herself killed by being so glaringly obvious that even the servants are picking up on it."
Merlin subtly ducked his head in embarrassment, but Morgana caught onand considered the young man for a moment. He was... totally beneath suspicion, a complete and utter idiot, and the king's ward. She frowned.
Merlin shifted under her gaze, refusing to meet her eyes.
No. It was preposterous.
"Anyway," Gaius cleared his throat to break the uncomfortable silence that had settled. "Bayard will be here soon."
Morgana nodded, rising from the table and stowing the mystery in the back of her mind for now, "I've cleaned out the guest chambers. He should be comfortable."
"Uther will be expecting you two to be there to greet Lord Bayard. You should be going."
"Of course. See you tonight," Morgana hugged her guardian and followed Merlin out of the physician's chambers and up to the throne room.
The pair of them stood for a few minutes before Bayard and his procession arrived on horseback. Morgana smiled at them from her position far behind the king.
"Camelot welcomes you, Lord Bayard of Mercia," Uther greeted the Lord enthusiastically, "The treaty we sign today marks and end to war and a beginning to a new friendship between our people."
Bayard smiled, "I certainly hope so."
"I'll have a servant show you the way to your chambers," he motioned for Morgana.
"My lord," Morgana curtsied in deference. "Right this way."
Merlin picked up Morgana's feast clothes from Gwen and made his way to Gaius' chambers, stopping when he saw Morgana hunched over a piece of parchment, her quill flying across the page. He walked up to her, but she remained oblivious.
She jumped. Her hand collided with the jar of ink, splattering the dark liquid on the bodice of her pale yellow dress.
"Sorry!" Merlin grabbed the jar and set it back upright, stopping the ink from flowing all over Morgana's now-ruined parchment. He reached to wipe the ink away off her dress, but realized where it had spilled and thought better of it instead just saying, "I'm sorry."
"Excuse me," Morgana blushed and darted off to her room, the door slamming behind her.
Merlin waited for as long as he could, fiddling around with the parchment. Curiosity overwhelmed him and he cleared off as much ink as he could with magic. Most of it was still illegible, but parts of it he could read. The heading read:
After that, there were a few random words that he could make out such as servant, miss, and job. And then...
She'd mentioned him... Merlin pondered this for a moment, then shook himself and moved on. As he scanned over the rest of it, he continued to pick up random, insignificant words until he came to a phrase that made him stop dead.
Morgana? Morgana... had magic? Hope soared inside him. Someone to share with - Morgana had magic!
Or does she? A more sensible part of him asked. There could be any number of reasons she said 'my magic.' Doesn't mean she has it. Maybe it's her 'magic' way with getting stains out. Which you'd better hope she has with the way that ink stained her dress.
Merlin frowned, setting the letter down and glancing back at Morgana's door. He strode over and knocked, "Morgana?"
The door creaked open, her head poking out. He caught sight of her white skirt and realized she was only wearing her shift. He averted his eyes as a blush crept across his face.
He held up the dress as some sort of explanation, "Sorry about that. I was just trying to give you your clothes for the feast."
She pulled back the door a ways, taking the red dress from him. Then, she shuffled behind the door for a moment and handed him her stained dress, "Give it to Gwen, will you?"
"Yes, I will… and I am sorry about that."
"It's fine," Morgana said a bit too quickly, which assured Merlin that it most definitely was not fine. She made to close the door, but Merlin caught it with his hand.
"Of course," he smiled coyly, "if she can't get it out, I'll just have to sneak you one of the noblewomen's dresses to replace it, which would be a shame. You said you liked that yellow, didn't you?"
"Not in the slightest..." Morgana stopped, allowing what he said to sink in. "Wait, what?"
"Now you're listening... What color would you prefer?"
Morgana pondered it for a moment, then said, "Green… and thank you."
"What? I didn't say anything," he feigned a look of innocence, then mock-bowed, "My lady."
"My lord," Morgana curtsied, a bemused expression on her face.
Merlin pivoted on the spot and practically waltzed out. Behind him, Morgana's laughter echoed off the walls.
Merlin glided down a flight of stairs, passing Bayard's chambers as he went. A female servant, one of Bayard's, judging the colors of her gown, walked towards him, seemingly preoccupied. Suddenly, she tripped on the hem of her dress, falling into him.
"Woah!" he said as he caught her, setting her back on her feet. He held her at arms distance, gauging her complexion (and her beauty) before asking, "Are you alright?"
She paled, her blue eyes wide and frightened, "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, my lord."
"No, don't be," he said, instinctively patting her arm. "It's fine."
"You won't have me executed?"
"... For tripping?" Merlin asked, confused. "Of course not. Why would you think—"
"I'm very sorry, my lord," she curtsied. "It won't happen again…" She paused, looking down, "Why are you carrying that?" she pointed to Morgana's dress.
"Friend of mine," Merlin said. "She spilled ink on her dress. I offered to take it to get it washed."
"I'll take it," she said, pulling the dress out of his hands. "It's no trouble. I was already headed that way to pick up my master's things."
"Oh... Very well," Merlin frowned. "Thank you."
She smiled and turned to leave.
"Wait," Merlin called. "What's your name?"
She stopped, turning back to him, "Cara."
"Well, I'm Merlin. If there's anything you need, don't hesitate to ask. Really, it's no trouble."
And then she was gone.
"I know she's pretty," Arthur's voice behind him made him groan. "But she's still a servant."
"I know that," Merlin snapped, whirling around to face the other, "And she'll be gone with Lord Bayard anyways. Doesn't mean I can't appreciate beauty when I see it."
"Just making sure," Arthur said. "I never can know with you."
"For the millionth time, Gwen and I are not, in any way—"
"That one I know," Arthur said. "But what about Morgana?"
"What about Morgana?" Merlin internally cursed himself for how defensive he sounded, "She's a friend."
A smirk spread across Arthur's face.
"No. I don't— Ugh! It's the Gwen thing all over again, isn't it?" Merlin groaned.
Arthur chuckled. "Merlin, I have way too much on you at this point. If I told my father half of it, you'd be locked in your chambers for the rest of your life."
"For one, the amount of time you spend with Gwen, platonic or otherwise. Your feelings for Morgana. And that's not even mentioning the number of times you've bailed out on hunting for a trip to the outlying villages. Or how much time you spend in the tavern."
Merlin strongly objected to the bit about the tavern, but it was so inconsequential compared to the other things that he didn't bother to defend himself, "How'd you know about the hunting trips?"
"You never catch anything; it's not hard to put two and two together," he shrugged. "And I followed you once."
"Don't worry. I won't tell," Arthur patted his back as he left, "You just need to know if I ever need to ask a favor of you, you should probably do it, if you value your continued freedom."
"Prat," Merlin whispered under his breath, giving out a deflated sigh.
In the midst of the castle of Camelot, the sorceress Nimueh glanced at herself in a mirror. It hadn't been to hard to find a few strands of Morgana's dark brown hair clinging to the fabric of the dress. She knotted them around the amulet she held and slipped it around her neck, watching as her features changed to match those of the serving girl's.
She picked up the ink-stained dress from the ground, "Fordwin wamm."
The dark splotches vanished and Nimueh held up the dress, smiling, "Tonight, Morgana, you shall go down in history as the serving girl who started a war."
Morgana shifted uncomfortably in the red dress Merlin had given her. "What do you think, Gwen?"
"You look fine."
"It— isn't me."
"No," Gwen shook her head. "But it's in the colors of Camelot. And as a servant in the royal household, it's traditional."
The door creaked open behind them.
"Gaius?" Morgana turned.
It wasn't Gaius. The palace guards stood in the room, along with Arthur.
"What is it?" Morgana asked, nervous at the sudden appearance.
"You're under arrest," Arthur said.
"What?" Gwen gaped, rising to her feet. "What are you talking about? Why?"
"For the attempted assassination of Lord Bayard."
"What? No!" Gwen stared at Morgana.
"I what? I— no!" Morgana jerked away from the approaching guards. "Get off me! Arthur! I saved your life!"
Arthur's expression was unreadable. "Take her away."
"She didn't try to kill Bayard!" Merlin snapped at Arthur.
"She was caught and seen by a half-dozen witness."
"So it isn't at all suspicious that she wasn't even trying to hide?"
"I don't know how she thinks," Arthur said. "For all I know, she thought she no one saw her and figured if she could act normally, no one would notice."
"Couldn't it have been an imposter?"
"Not likely," Arthur said.
"She doesn't have a motive."
"Bayard invaded Cenred's kingdom a few years back. That's where she grew up, isn't it? For all we know, someone she knew was killed in the raid."
Merlin shook his head. "Why would she save you, then?"
"To get in a position where she could kill Bayard?"
"No," Merlin shook his head. "I know her. She couldn't hurt a fly, much less murder a guest of Camelot... Plus, she probably had no idea Bayard would ever be visiting! It's not like she can see the future! You're going to kill her without even proving she's guilty! At least let me talk to her!"
Arthur frowned at him. "... Very well."
"Thank you, Arthur. I owe you one... or, you owe me one less."
Arthur rolled his eyes.
Merlin made his way down to the dungeons and explained to the guards he had permission to see her. He saw her curled up in the back of her sell, knees tucked up to her chin.
"Morgana! What happened?"
She looked up, her face lighting up with a hopeful smile. "Merlin!"
She raced across the cell to meet him. "You came! You came..."
He nodded. "What happened?"
"I don't— I didn't even know he'd been attacked!"
"There were five eye-witnesses," Merlin said. "You went in and stabbed him."
"I didn't!" Morgana shook her head. "I don't even— I was with Gwen. She'll tell you."
"I know you wouldn't," Merlin said. "But they don't. And it looks bad."
A sob rose in Morgana's throat. "They're going to have me executed, aren't they?"
"I'm not going to let them," Merlin said, his hand locking around hers through the bars, "I promise. I'll get you out, somehow."
"You can't stop it. And I am not running away."
"I mean it," Merlin said, squeezing her hand. "You're not going to die... I think I know someone who can help us."
Morgana shook her head, squeezing his hand. "Thank you for trying."
"Kilgharra!" Merlin shouted up at the dragon. "I need your help. I know Morgana didn't try to kill Bayard."
The dragon remained silent.
"Do you have any idea who did?"
"Perhaps," the dragon finally said in his coarse, aged voice.
"Look, regardless, I'm not going to let her die. So either you tell me how to prove that she's innocent, or I'll break her out of prison and send her back to Ealdor," Merlin knew she'd be furious with him for the suggestion, "And last time we talked, you said she has a destiny in Camelot. And I'm betting it'll be pretty hard to fulfill when—"
The dragon chuckled. "Calm down, young warlock. Whoever it was that attempted to kill Bayard was able to change their appearance to look like Morgana."
"So... they have magic?"
"Well that narrows it down to... just about everyone. Any idea who exactly it was?"
"It's not important. You must hurry. I sense there's much more at stake than just Morgana's life."
"That I cannot say."
"Great. Thanks," Merlin rolled his eyes. "That was completely helpful."
The feast was continued that night, despite the assassination attempt. Bayard looked worse for wear, but he forced a smile and presented Arthur and Uther with a set of goblets as a gift to show that there were no hard feelings over the actions of a single serving girl.
Cara appeared at Merlin's arm, tugging on his sleeve. "My lord, please, I must speak with you."
"Here? It's the middle of the feast, I can't just drop everything and—"
"I don't know who else to go to. Please?"
Merlin sighed, "Very well."
She led him out into the hall, her eyes darting around to make sure no one saw them.
"What is it?" Merlin asked.
"It wasn't until I saw him give the goblet to Arthur that I realized..." her voice had a panicked edge to it, approaching desperation.
"Calm down," Merlin grabbed her shoulders. "Start from the beginning."
"Two days ago, I was bringing Bayard his evening meal. We're supposed to knock. He didn't expect me to walk in. If he knows I said anything, he will kill me—"
"I won't let him," Merlin vowed, realizing the number of seemingly hopeless promises he was making recently. "You have my word. Now tell me what you saw."
"Bayard is no friend of Camelot. He craves the kingdom for himself. He believes that if he kills Arthur, Uther's spirit will be broken and Camelot will fall. I saw him put something into the goblet..."
"What was—?" Merlin began, then changed to question that would be less incriminating for her to answer, "Was it poison?"
She trembled and then nodded.
"Thank you for telling me—" he stopped, staring, "You're wearing Morgana's dress."
The girl looked down. "What? Oh... Yes, I am."
"She won't need it anymore. She tried to kill Bayard. Uther will have her executed, unless you can prove she was trying to save the kingdom by killing him."
Merlin opened his mouth to speak, but then reconsidered. "I have to stop Arthur."
"Go, then," Cara urged him. Something about her insistence and eagerness to help nagged at him, but he disregarded it and turned back to the great hall.
He raced in as they toasted, grabbing Arthur's goblet from his hand.
Everyone stopped to stare.
"Sorry, everyone. I just—completely forgot about the sacred tradition of having new goblets washed by a member of the court who's not directly related to the king..." he glanced at Arthur. "Am I right, Arthur?"
What are you doing? Arthur mouthed, expression horrified.
"Probably saving your life," Merlin whispered. "Anyways, I'll be... back."
He raced out of the room, every member of the court too stunned to stop him. He slipped into the hallway, glad that Cara had disappeared. He dumped out the contents of the cup. Living in Camelot for so many years, he'd grown accustomed to having people try to assassinate Arthur on a daily basis in every manner possible. Poison became so frequent; he now carried an all-purpose antidote with him wherever her went. He tipped the vial into the cup, whispering the spell needed to activate it, "Seópan ærest wearð feasceaft funden. Denum æfter dom. 'Dreamleas gebad he gewann langsum."
He then returned to the hall, handing the cup back to Arthur.
"Merlin, what did you—" Arthur blinked, taking the cup.
"Nothing," Merlin said. "Just... drink before I ruin everything."
"You'll have to forgive my ward," Uther was telling Bayard. "I'll see to it that he's punished for ruining the feast. Merlin, you are excused."
Merlin winced, knowing the amount of trouble he was in. He exited to the hallway and back up the stairs to his chambers.
On average, saving Arthur's life meant getting no recognition and occasionally being accused of cowardice. There had been times where he'd gotten into trouble, but he doubted he'd been in more than he was now. He slammed the door shut and sunk into a chair, leaning back.
Treaty saved, Arthur still breathing, and Uther furious with him. Check, check, and check. Just an average day in Camelot.
"Merlin," Cara appeared, the door open behind her, though he was certain he'd locked it.
"Cara," Merlin stood. "I saved Arthur."
"Why did you not announce that it was poison? Bayard could've been stopped. You've condemned your friend to death."
"No I didn't," Merlin said. "I think we both know what happened."
"You're a sorceress. You disguised yourself as Morgana, to frame her."
"Oh. Very good," she smirked. "It's a shame. I expected you'd drink it prove Bayard's guilt and Morgana's innocence."
"Yes. In return, Morgana would've left on a fool's errand to find an antidote to save you. She'd have never returned, of course. Bayard would be executed for poisoning Arthur, his kingdom would retaliate, and chaos would befall Camelot."
"Okay, I'm impressed," Merlin allowed himself to say. "So who are you, then?"
She laughed. "Do you think it's that simple, Merlin?"
"Well, sometimes, evil sorcerers just can't wait to tell me their name and how they're going to kill the great Emrys himself. Which, really, isn't that impressive. Anyone can threaten to kill me. Actually killing me is the hard part. Only one person's done it before, and it didn't work out quite how they imagined because, as you can see, I'm alive now.
"Now, let's think about who you are for a moment. Utter hatred of Uther: really doesn't help narrow it down. Everyone hates Uther. Even I hate Uther at times. You also know who I am: a bit more helpful. You could be a druid, but most druids aren't in the assassin business. Gaius is wary of you: thatlowers the possibilities. He knows you, you know him... which means you're older than you look, if you're an old sorceress buddy of his. You use incredibly advanced magic, as evident in your impersonating of Morgana. And you have the most gorgeous blue eyes I've ever seen."
"Are you flirting with me?" she laughed incredulously.
"No. Just stating the facts. I've heard the stories... You're Nimueh, aren't you?"
"Congratulations," Nimueh's expression was unimpressed. "Now, there's a question I have been dying – or killing, depending on who you speak with -to ask: what is it you see in this life here, Merlin? You could have it all. Power, riches. All you'd have to do is kill Uther. You could even make it look like an accident if you wanted to keep your friendship with Arthur."
"Uther practically raised me," Merlin said. "And while I don't think he did the best job of it, he still took me in. Repaying him by stabbing him in the back doesn't sit well with me."
"Then stab him in the front."
Merlin narrowed his eyes. "Why do you want Uther dead?"
"Same reason we all do. Perhaps mine is a bit more personal than most. He ruined me after I gave him exactly what he wanted."
"That's not your concern, warlock. Now, I'm offering for you— because I'd be remiss if I passed up the opportunity— to join me. We could rule Camelot together. Magic could be returned to the land."
"Not interested," Merlin shook his head.
"Very well," she lifted her hand and hissed a spell. For a moment, Merlin was confused at what she'd done. And then he tried to move and realized he couldn't. A smirk spread across her face. "Oh, Merlin, you're out of your league with me."
"Let me go," Merlin growled.
"No," Nimueh's eyes flashed gold as she used another spell that made him cry out in pain. "...I expected better from you."
Merlin focused his magic and whispered a spell. A stream of fire flowed towards the witch. She dropped her guard in the effort to dodge it, and Merlin felt the spell release him. He scrambled across the room, ducking behind his desk and shouting another spell once he'd found cover. Nimueh's eyes lit up at the realization Merlin was going to put up a fight.
"Well, well. Seems you might not disappoint me after all."
The pair engaged in battle, spells flying every which way. The room was quickly being destroyed. Merlin grabbed a dagger from his desk, flinging it in Nimueh's direction. She ducked, and the dagger buried itself in the wall behind her head. Her shriek of rage shattered the windows.
"You can leave, you know," Merlin offered. "Just get out. I understand your anger at Uther. Leave and live to plot another day."
Nimueh gave no indication that she'd heard him, instead staring him down with an expression of hatred.
"As furious as I am that you tried to kill Morgana and me, I don't want to kill you," Merlin said. "The future Arthur will make has room for you. There's no need for any more bloodshed."
"I've seen Uther cause bloodshed and ruin for twenty years. I'm not going to bow out now."
"The guards are going to be here in a matter of seconds. Please, Nimueh. Just go."
Nimueh narrowed her eyes. "Do you mean it?"
"Go," Merlin barked.
She glanced behind her, hearing the guards' footsteps as they clattered noisily up. "As you wish, warlock. But you've made a mistake here. I might owe a debt to you, but that by no means makes us allies."
The guards burst in just in time to see her appear to evaporate into a mist before disappearing completely. Merlin sank to the ground, breathing as calmly as he could manage.
"What happened?" Arthur appeared over their shoulders. "Merlin?"
"I'm fine," Merlin said. "Just... attacked by sorceress."
"A what? Where is she?"
"She escaped. They saw her." Merlin said, pointing the guards.
"Find her," Arthur barked at them. He held out his hand and pulled Merlin to his feet. "What was with the goblet, really?"
Merlin explained what had happened, leaving out anything that would hint at his abilities. Arthur listened, asking questions and then finally nodding and handing Merlin the key.
"I'll give you the pleasure of releasing Morgana."
Merlin grinned. "Thanks, Arthur."
"I'll explain the situation to my father and Bayard. I'm sure they'll understand once they learn sorcery was involved."
Merlin nodded and raced down to the dungeons, unlocking Morgana's cell.
"What's going on?" she asked, getting to her feet.
"Long story... but you're free."
"Care to enlighten me how?"
"Once we get back to Gwen and Gaius," Merlin said. "I can only tell it so many times. Come on."
The pair made their way back to Gaius' chambers, where Merlin related the heavily abridged version of events once more. Gaius seemed to know what was really went on and beamed with pride.
"You saved my life," Morgana said.
"Well, consider it thanks for saving Arthur."
"I owe you."
"Everyone does on some level or another. Welcome to Camelot."
Morgana shook her head. "Thank you, Merlin."
"Told you I'd keep my promise."
Morgana soon learned that Merlin had a thing for bringing home strays. The success of these attempts varied. Sometimes they worked out all right, like when he brought her a sickly newborn kitten, which she named Lyonet. Other endeavors were less successful, such as the goose that wound up on the feasting tables of Camelot a few weeks later.
While animals were the most frequent strays, every now and then he brought home a person, like the orphaned girl he'd saved from a burning building and found a family for in Camelot (a story which soon spread across the kingdom, making Merlin even more beloved in the eyes of the people). There'd also been a teenage boy, who'd lost his mother to execution for "consorting with sorcerers." He'd nearly been executed himself, but Merlin had stepped in, managing to convince Uther to banish the boy instead.
So, in retrospect, Morgana supposed she shouldn't have been that surprised when Merlin dragged a bleeding, unconscious man into the physician's chambers.
"He saved my life," Merlin offered as an explanation.
"From?" Morgana prompted.
"He wasn't able to kill it, was he?" Gaius asked. It was one of those sentences that clearly meant more to Gaius and Merlin than it did to her. She hated their unspoken conversations, but did them the courtesy of ignoring it.
"No, but the fact that he tried to attack at all was... incredibly brave. His name's Lancelot."
After an initial examination, Gaius deemed him to be suffering from a superficial wound and estimated that he'd wake in a few hours.
"I'll stay with him," Morgana offered. "You should be getting back to the court, Merlin. Uther's called a meeting."
"He didn't say. That's why I was here in the first place; I was looking for you."
Merlin nodded. "Alright. Thank you both."
"Our pleasure," Gaius chuckled as Merlin rushed out of the room.
"Do you think he'll ever stop?" Morgana wondered aloud.
"I should hope not," Gaius said. "The day that boy stops trying to be a hero is the day Camelot falls."
Morgana nodded and settled herself into a chair beside the sleeping Lancelot.
"I have some errands to run," Gaius said. "You'll be fine?"
Gaius left Morgana to sit alone with Lancelot. She grabbed a book off the table, flipping through a few pages and trying to understand the bewildering medical jargon before finally giving up. It was shortly after that that Gwen entered.
"Afternoon, M—," Gwen greeted Morgana, stopping at the sight of Lancelot. "Another one?"
Morgana nodded. "'Lancelot.'"
"Oh... Do you need some company? I had the afternoon off and I was going to see if you wanted to go to the market with me, but I see you're a busy..."
"That'd be lovely," Morgana said.
The two settled into friendly chatter for several minutes before the man stirred, eyes fluttering open. Morgana immediately rushed to his aid.
"How are you feeling?" Morgana asked.
"Where am I?" groaned the injured hero.
"Camelot," Morgana said. "Merlin brought you here after you collapsed. Do you remember?"
He nodded after a moment. "And who are you?"
"Morgana. And this is my friend, Guinevere," she pointed out Gwen.
"My lady," he nodded to Gwen.
Gwen giggled. "I'm not a lady."
"Really? Not Lady Guinevere? And what about 'Lady Morgana'?"
"Hardly," Morgana shook her head. "I'm the personal attendant of all royals visitors to Camelot, which is just a fancy title for 'serving girl.'"
"Merlin will be back soon," Morgana said. "In the meantime, it seems Gwen and I have the afternoon off..."
Merlin returned to the physician's chambers nearly an hour later, following an exceptionally boring meeting on the evils of allowing druids to roam free in Camelot. Gwen, Morgana, and Lancelot sat in a circle, laughing as if they were old friends.
"Merlin!" Morgana turned. "Good, you're back. Lancelot has woken up!"
Merlin beamed, "Lancelot! It's good to see you up and about!"
"Thank you, Merlin," Lancelot said gratefully.
"I should be thanking you. You're the one who saved my life. Is there anything I can do?"
"Well, when you said you were Merlin, I didn't know you were the Merlin, the king's ward..."
"I prefer not to be known by my titles," Merlin said.
Lancelot nodded and continued, a bit pensively. "Ever since I was a child I've dreamed of coming here. It's my life's ambition to join the knights of Camelot. If it's not too much to ask for, I'd be honored to have the chance to become a knight."
"I'm sure you'd make a great knight," Merlin said, frowning. "But I'm afraid I can't do that."
"Well..." Merlin sighed. "The first code of Camelot."
"What's that?" Morgana asked.
"Only the son of a nobleman may become a knight. It's a traditional, completely idiotic, and there has never been an exception. I honestly don't know where we get the knights we do have with that rule in place. And if it were up to me, I'd knight you in heartbeat, Lancelot. But as it's not, there are other options open to you. Sentries, body guards, those sort of positions... but you just want to be a knight, don't you?"
"I'll see what I can do," Merlin said.
"No," Arthur said flatly.
"He saved my life. Isn't that enough to award him the position of nobility?" argued Merlin.
"You get into trouble so often half the kingdom would be knighted if that were the case."
"It's not my fault I'm not a highly-trained knight."
"Yes it is. You abysmally failed every basic training we set up for you. And that was being generous."
Merlin twitched. His failed attempts at knighthood were an area in his memory he blocked out in order to maintain some small scrap of dignity. Merlin found himself frequently belittling the knights, insisting they were over-rated ninnies who needed magical help from the likes of him on a daily basis just to keep their king alive. Gaius told him he was being a sour grape. Merlin knew he was just being honest.
"I'm sure you can find other work for him in the palace. Hire him as a personal bodyguard if you have to thank him," Arthur said. "Or a servant. Isn't that a more traditional reward for life-saving commoners? It's not like you have a manservant—"
"And I never will have one," Merlin said. "Unlike some people, I can actually get dressed on my own."
"Need I remind you of—"
"That was once, Merlin. Shut up."
"So it's a 'no' about Lancelot?" Merlin asked, attempting to break up their banter.
Arthur groaned. "Yes."
"So he can join?"
"But he's the epitome of what you look for in knights."
"So... everything you're not?"
Merlin rolled his eyes. Some days, there was just no winning with Arthur... "He's noble, brave, heroic, and he's brilliant with a sword. You should see."
"As much as I might want to knight commoners at times, I can't. Perhaps when I'm king, that'll change. Your friend will just have to wait until then."
"I'm sorry," Arthur said. "There's nothing I can do... unless he managed to procure a seal of nobility."
"Nothing," Arthur shook his head. "I was absolutely not suggesting you fake Lancelot a seal of nobility saying he's the son of someone that my father barely knows anymore such as... oh, I don't know, Richard of Lincoln?"
Merlin blinked. "I've turned you into a regular rebel, haven't I?"
"No, you haven't, because I didn't propose anything of the sort. I also wouldn't recommend that you make Lancelot an adopted son as opposed to a son by birth, in the event that the actual records of Sir Lincoln were to be discovered."
"Oh you genius," Merlin said.
"Now why would you say that, Merlin? Don't you have better things to do than complement me for fool-proof plans that I had no part in creating?"
Merlin laughed, "Thank you, Arthur."
"Don't thank me just yet. He'll have to prove himself, and don't think I'll take it easy on him. In fact, he'll have to work twice as hard as the others, because I will not allow just any riffraff into the knights without good reason."
"You're going to fake me a seal of nobility?" Lancelot asked in disbelief. Morgana felt a flash of pity for the newcomer, who hadn't yet to adjusted to how Merlin was not bound by any set of rules outside his own.
"Going to?" Merlin snorted. "Of course not. I already have it."
He handed the future knight the scroll. Lancelot stared at it, looking at Morgana for help.
"You're going to get caught," she warned Merlin.
"Your faith in me is astounding," he said dryly. "Don't you have something better to be doing?"
"Gwen's out working and there are no royal visitors, so I've got nothing better to do than watch you both get thrown in the stocks. And while Merlin could care less about the consequences, Lancelot, is knighthood really that important to you?"
Lancelot glanced at the scroll, and then nodded.
"Why?" Morgana asked. When he didn't answer, she tried to add, "Wait, you don't have to—" but he cut her off with his explanation.
"When I was a boy, my village was attacked by raiders from the northern plains," he closed his eyes, lost in the memory. "They were slaughtered where they stood. My father, my mother... Everyone. I alone escaped. I vowed that day that never again would I be helpless in the face of tyranny. I made sword-craft my life. Every waking hour since that day, I devoted myself to the art of combat, and when I was ready, I set forth for Camelot. And now, it seems, Merlin is going to make my quest successful."
Morgana's eyes watered when she learned what her new friend had been through. She quickly found an opportunity to excuse herself, "I'll get Gwen. She'll have to take your measurements to find some armor for you," Morgana said. "It should be ready by tomorrow. Maybe a day later."
"Thank you," Lancelot said.
"It's no trouble," Morgana said, rushing out of the room and down the hall.
She found Gwen in the middle of the market, busy catching up on the housework. The maid agreed quickly and by the next morning, Lancelot looked ready for knighthood.
Amidst their other duties, Gwen and Morgana managed to catch a few minutes of his training sessions. He was quick on his feet, and he and Arthur were nearly evenly matched. Arthur had a small advantage of having been "trained to kill since birth", but Lancelot held his own remarkably well.
"What do you think, Gaius?" Morgana asked as the pair of them and Gwen gathered around the table.
"I think that Lancelot will make a fine knight… so long as he doesn't get caught."
"He has Merlin and Arthur's vote of confidence, so Uther isn't suspicious. What could possibly go wrong?"
"Everything," Gaius said.
The door swung open and Merlin and Lancelot trooped inside, Lancelot looking thoroughly exhausted.
"How'd it go?" Gwen asked.
"I think Arthur was impressed."
"Right. Impressed is the word…"
"Well, he didn't kill you."
"He didn't exactly welcome me with open arms, either."
"What happened?" Gwen asked.
"Nothing big," Merlin shrugged. "Just—"
"I'm sure there's a bruise the size of a dinner plate on my shoulder."
"Oh!" Gwen winced. "Do you need Gaius to look at it?"
"Nah. It's just a bruise."
"So do you have a chance at knighthood?" Morgana asked.
"That's wonderful!" Gwen beamed.
"Well, without you and Merlin, it wouldn't have happened."
"It was nothing," Gwen blushed.
"Regardless, you all have my thanks."
"Earn your knighthood," Merlin said. "That's all the thanks we need."
Morgana bolted upright in bed. She blinked a few times, acclimating her eyes to the darkness of her room. She breathed in and out, concentrating on remembering all the details before they slipped away.
Arthur. Arthur was drowning and some woman was standing over him, smiling and watching.
It wasn't like a regular nightmare; it was clearer. A few times in Ealdor, the same thing happened. She'd envisioned events prior to their unfolding… They were minor psychic episodes. But this felt different; before she'd seen only through murky water and this was sharper than even the swords Prince Arthur and his knights fought with. It seemed to be the same sort of dream though – one that always foretold doom.
Morgana ran a hand through her hair before habitually braiding back and beginning to dress for the day. Despite the early hour, she felt too unsettled to fall back to sleep and watched the sun rise from her window before making her way out of the physician's chambers.
"We have a royal visitor," Gwen announced after greeting her at their daily rendezvous point near the well.
"Really?" Morgana glanced back at the majestic castle.
"The knights saved a girl and her father from bandits. I'm sure it's a very heroic tale that you'll hear from Merlin before long."
"Heroic on his or Arthur's part?"
"Lancelot's, actually," Gwen said.
"Well… I'd better go get the spare chambers prepared," Morgana waved to Gwen and returned the castle to greet the new arrivals.
Merlin found her mid-way to the throne room. "You'll never believe what happened—"
"You and Arthur and Lancelot rescued a girl in the woods?"
"Yeah… Did Gwen already—?"
"Oh, well, her name is Lady Sophia Tir-Mor. She and her father are both staying here."
"I'll go get the spare chambers ready, then. Merlin," she bobbed in a curtsey before sprinting off to the guest chambers.
She'd just finished making the bed when a young woman entered. Morgana's eyes widened in horror when she recognized her from her dream… This was the woman that killed Arthur.
"Are you Lady Sophia?" Morgana asked, recovering herself and masking her fear as best as she could.
"Yes. And these are my chambers?"
Morgana nodded wordlessly.
"They'll do, thank you. And you are—?"
"I'm Morgana, the personal attendant of royal visitors. For as long as you're a guest of Camelot, I'm at your disposal."
"Thank you, then. That'll be all."
Morgana curtseyed and backed out of the room. As soon as she closed the door behind her, she ran full-speed towards the physician's chambers, heart pounding in her chest.
Just as she rounded a corner, she slammed into Merlin, sending them both crashing to the floor.
"Making a habit of this, are we?" Merlin asked, pulling her to her feet after righting himself. "Morgana? What's wrong? Another vengeful witch in Camelot bent on killing Arthur?"
"Lady Sophia can't stay here," Morgana blurted.
"Why not?" Merlin narrowed his eyes.
"She just… can't."
"You can trust me, Morgana. You know that, right?"
"I need to find Gaius."
"Why are you scared of her?"
Morgana closed her eyes, "I can't explain."
"Morgana? Please, just trust me. What's going on?"
"I had a nightmare," Morgana said finally.
"Arthur drowned. There was this… this woman standing over him. And she was— She's—" Morgana broke off, not wanting to
"The woman in your dream was Lady Sophia?"
Morgana hesitated and Merlin nodded slowly.
"You don't have to be afraid to tell me this sort of thing," he said. "You can trust me."
"Please don't tell anyone. It's probably nothing. Just a nightmare."
"But you know it isn't," Merlin pressed. He gently put a hand on her shoulder and when she didn't answer, he continued, "Morgana, it's alright. I'm not going to tell anyone if you're—"
"If I'm what?"
It was Merlin's turn not to respond.
"I have to go," Morgana said. "My lord."
She dipped her head before rushing off towards the direction the call had come from.
Morgana collapsed on her bed near midnight, exhausted by Lady Sophia's many requests and errands. She pulled a thin blanket on top of her, not bothering to change into her nightgown. In a matter of minutes, she was completely asleep.
The following day passed quickly. Lady Sophia explained that she and Arthur were leaving for the afternoon, which made Morgana instantly suspicious.
"Are you sure you don't want me to accompany you?" Morgana asked.
"No, I'll be quite alright."
Morgana nodded politely. "Where are you going?"
"Down by the river, I hope."
Arthur... drowning. A chill ran up Morgana's spine. "Are you sure you want to go down that way? The river's high this time of the year. Someone could fall in."
"I don't need your advice," Sophia snapped. "You're excused, Morgana."
Morgana offered her the formality of a curtsey, internally making plans to track down Merlin immediately. At this time of the day, he'd likely be in the main town. She raced off in the general direction, formulating how exactly she was going to explain to Merlin what was going on and why Sophia frightened her.
At last, she arrived in the center of town, and began asking around until someone pointed her in the right direction. He sat on top of a barrel, surrounding by a small group of children. As Morgana approached, she could hear him retelling an epic story of Arthur and the knights while his listeners were utterly enraptured.
Morgana waited, nearly as drawn in by Merlin's tale as the children. As Merlin finished up his story, the group dispersed, smiling up at Morgana.
"You need to stop," Morgana teased lightly.
"Everyone loves you. The people… They think better of you than of Arthur."
"That's a bit of an exaggeration. They love Arthur. He's their future king. I'm just 'the king's ward' until otherwise noted. Still, when you have almost unlimited free time and you're forbidden from being a knight…" he shrugged. "I'm not Arthur. I'll never be king or have a title. But, I think the people should know that being a member of the court doesn't make me any different from them. I'm still human."
Morgana couldn't take her eyes off Merlin, amazed. This boy had been raised to believe he was better than everyone else or had some divine privilege. Yet somehow he managed to lower himself and get on the same level as his people. He didn't think less of them, he really truly cared. It was remarkable…
Merlin shifted uncomfortably, "So you didn't come all this way to complement me, I presume?"
Morgana lowered her gaze. "No. I didn't. I— Sophia wants to take Arthur down to the river when they go outside today and I haven't the faintest idea of what I should do. If she kills Arthur, and I could've stopped it, I'll never forgive myself."
"You can't do anything by yourself."
"I have to try."
"By yourself," Merlin repeated. "We'll both follow Arthur today."
"Morgana!" Gwen's voice carried over the square as the maid bounded over. "Sir Aulfric is looking for you."
Morgana looked to Merlin for help.
"I'll watch them," Merlin assured her. "Don't worry."
"Thank you," Morgana said, turning and heading back up the castle.
Sir Aulfric ordered her to do menial tasks that even Arthur didn't have his servants do for him. Regardless, Morgana preformed them all flawlessly and without complaint, though her mind was on Arthur and Merlin all the while.
Merlin found himself incapable of watching Arthur and Sophia. Uther was busy chewing him out for simply socializing with the peasants and ignoring his duties as host to Lady Sophia while Arthur was out working with his men.
"Sorry, what?" Merlin stared at Uther. "Arthur's with Lady Sophia."
"His servant told me otherwise."
"Arthur can scare his servants to tell you whatever he wants them to," Merlin said. "They're lying."
"Are you certain?"
"Yes," Merlin said insistently. "I was going to get him when you ordered me here."
"I apologize, Merlin. But still, you are ignore your duties."
"Which are what, exactly?" Merlin asked. "You've never been very specific…"
Merlin grinned and rushed out of the throne room, calling over his shoulder. "I'll get Arthur!"
He skidded around a corner and stopped at the sight of Lady Sophia.
"What are you doing here?" Merlin asked. "Where's Arthur?"
"I'm a guest of the king."
"You're lying," Merlin said.
"If you harm Arthur in any way, I will kill you."
"You can't threaten me."
"I'm not threatening you, I'm informing."
Sophia's eyes widened, not in fear but in surprise. "You know, many people think you're innocent. You're love by your people. But look at you, threatening a girl."
Merlin glared. Sophia turned to go, only for Merlin to catch her by the arm, tone darkening, "I've warned you. Anything that happens after this is your own fault."
"We shall see," she jerked out of his grip, storming away from him.
"Merlin! There you are," Arthur clapped him on the shoulder jovially. "How are you?"
"Been better, why? How are you?"
"Phenomenal," Arthur said. "Sophia is… amazing. Merlin, I can't even begin to describe her to you..."
"So,would you say it was love at first sight then? Or more of a slowly forming attachment?" Merlin was already calculating how difficult it would be to break a spell on a charmed object versus a full-blown enchantment.
"I don't know," Arthur shrugged. "But I've been thinking… You should really find yourself someone."
"The royal ladies of Camelot see me all as their annoying younger brother," Merlin dodged Arthur's attempt at matchmaking— internally shuddering while remembering Arthur's past endeavors in that area— and persisted in the subject of Sophia. "So why do you like her so much?"
"She's beautiful," Arthur said.
"Besides that. Even you're not that shallow." Enchanted or otherwise, he added mentally.
"I don't know, Merlin. Why do you spend so much time with Morgana?"
"No, we're not doing this again," Merlin shook his head exasperatedly and turned away, deciding to do a little investigating on his own.
Mid-way to the guest rooms, he found Lancelot.
"Can I borrow you for a moment?" Merlin asked.
"Of course," he fell into step beside Merlin. "What is it?"
"Something's wrong with Arthur. I need you to play lookout for me."
"What- Merlin, please tell me what you're doing won't get us into trouble."
"Well, it depends on what Uther thinks of his ward going through his guests' personal belongings..."
"I need your help, Lancelot."
Lancelot sighed. "Alright."
The pair of them arrived at the guest chambers. Lancelot stood outside the door as Merlin snuck into the room.
"You're going to get caught," Lancelot warned.
"You sound just like Morgana," Merlin muttered, turning about the room slowly, scanning the general area for anything suspicious. Nothing stuck out, and he moved further into the room, opening up a cupboard and methodically going through the contents.
"Merlin, this is a bad idea."
"I know it is. If you see anyone, stall them as long as you can..." Merlin tilted his head at something poking out from underneath the bed. He dropped down onto his stomach, pulling out the object. To any other person, it would've been simply a walking stick, albeit a very fancy one. However, any well-versed magician such as Merlin would know better. The staff was an item of magic, that much was certain.
The symbols at the top left Merlin confused. He couldn't recall seeing them before, but he imagined Gaius had a book somewhere that would explain them. Merlin slipped a piece of paper from his pocket, casting a furtive glance in Lancelot's direction before magically copying them. He compared the copied symbols to the original, pleased that they were the same. He tucked the paper back into his pocket, turning to replace the staff underneath the bed.
"Sir Aulfric," Lancelot's voice carried into the room. "Could you spare a moment of your time?"
"What do you need?" Aulfric asked impatiently.
Merlin slid the staff under the bed, then got to his feet, whirling around in search of a place to hide. Lancelot was hastily making up a story outside, but Merlin could tell from Aulfric's tone that he had seconds to hide... Not that it mattered, seeing as there didn't seem to be any place to hide anyway. In desperation, he rushed to the window, throwing it open and looking down. It was at least a fifty foot drop, but if he was careful, he could use magic to help him scale down the wall.
"What on earth are you doing in here?"
So much for that idea...
Merlin turned around. "I was just... opening the window. Letting some fresh air in."
Aulfric glared down at him. "Why was your friend stalling outside?"
"Don't play games with me, boy."
Merlin narrowed his eyes. "Who's playing?"
He backed out of the room carefully, keeping his eyes on Aulfric until he reached the corridor, at which point he bolted down the hallway.
Merlin slowed, turning back to Lancelot. "Yes?"
"What did you find?"
"Nothing," Merlin lied.
Lancelot stared at him in disbelief. "Really?"
"Yeah. There's nothing suspicious about them."
"But you were so sure."
"Well, turns out I am wrong from time to time... Listen, I really need to speak with Gaius. Thank you for your help, though."
Lancelot shook his head. "You're welcome, Merlin."
Merlin nodded and raced down to the physician's chambers, digging through Gaius' books in search of matching symbols. He flipped through pages upon pages of different books, frowning at similar symbols. Several hours later, he finally found an exact match. The language was Ogham, generally used by Sidhe. Merlin had never encountered one before, but he knew enough to know that Sidhe generally didn't wander around Cameot. Usually, they were confined to Avalon.
He opened another book, flipping to a chapter on Sidhe and scanning the page for what he needed. Banishment rituals... Banishment pardons...
Of course. To be pardoned, they required the heart of a prince. Arthur.
Merlin cursed under his breath.
"Not good, I take it?" Gwen called into the room, a basket of herbs in her arms.
Merlin glanced up at her. "Not really."
"Anything I can help with?"
"Is that all you're going to say?"
Gwen set the basket down beside Merlin's books and settled into the seat across from him. "You do this all the time, you know. You shut us out. Lancelot was just telling me how you asked for his help, then left him in the dark the moment you found what you were looking for. You need to stop locking us out, Merlin. We're not idiots, we can handle the truth sometimes."
"No. If you knew what was happening, it'd only put you in danger. Gwen, you- You're my best friend. If anything happened to you because of me, I couldn't live with myself."
"Merlin, I've known you for a long time. By now I know you have your secrets and that's fine. I respect you, I'm not going to pry. But if there's ever anything I can do to help, you have to let me. No matter what. You don't need to protect me. Just tell me what's going on and let me. Promise me that."
"I can't," Merlin snatched up his books. "I won't."
Gwen stared at him, angry tears forming in her eyes.
"What were you here for in the first place?" Merlin asked.
"Dropping off Gaius' herbs," Gwen said coldly.
"I'll tell him you were here," Merlin gestured toward the door.
"My lord," Gwen bobbing in a forced curtsy.
Morgana finished her duties late into the night again. She made her way back to her room, stopping only to ask one of the maids if she'd seen Arthur since this afternoon (she had; he was fine).
At last, she made it to her room and flopped onto her bed, again falling asleep immediately.
Nightmares plagued her into the early morning hours. Finally, she got up, unable to sleep any longer and made her way through the castle. She wasn't aware of where she was going until she was knocking on Merlin's door.
He opened the door, blinking the sleep out of his eyes, "Morgana?"
"It happened again."
Merlin glanced around in the corridor before opening his door wider. "Come on in."
Morgana followed Merlin into his chambers, wringing her hands and shifting from foot to foot. Merlin gestured for her to sit in the rocking chair while he perched at the foot of his bed.
"So what happened?"
"The same as before," Morgana said. "I was dreaming. Arthur was drowning and that awful woman was standing over him, just watching. How can I keep doing this?"
"So you think premonitions?"
"I didn't say that," Morgana said quickly.
"It's alright. You're my friend. I don't care if you're a seer. Heck, I wouldn't care if you're a magician."
"I just…" Merlin paused for a moment, seeming to choose his words carefully. "I don't agree with Uther's decisions on magic. I don't think magic is something you choose."
Morgana's eyes widened. What was he saying? Merlin. Magic. Merlin didn't care about magic. He might even keep her secret…
"But anyways… If your visions are right — and yes, they are visions — then we need to look after Arthur. I'll stay with him as much as I can, and you can stick to Lady Sophia. The fact that you're waiting on her comes in handy. Just make sure that one of us is with Sophia and Arthur at all times."
Morgana nodded solemnly.
"But if we're really going to make this a habit, we need a crest. I mean seriously, we're going to look ridiculous, running about, saving Arthur's life with no official symbol or motto or something."
Morgana cleared her throat to bring back his attention, "Merlin?"
"Right…" Merlin blushed a little and steered himself back on topic. "Anyway, I'll keep to Arthur as much as I can. I won't let Lady Sophia do anything to him."
"It's our duty to protect the future king, is it not? I hold on to the hope that Arthur will be a better king than his father."
"You've always surprised me with how vocal you are against Uther."
"It's only around you, Gaius, and Gwen. I'd never dream of talking like this in front of Arthur."
"Why me? You've known Gwen and Gaius for years, I'm just—"
"Just what?" Merlin rose to his feet, looking down at her with an amused expression. "You're my friend. And as far as 'just' goes. You're also a seer; I've always had my suspicions that there was more to you. And now this confirms it. Is there anything else I should I know about you?"
His tone was light, but Morgana could see the invitation. Tell him. Tell him! A small part of her said; the part that was sick and tired of hiding. A more sensible part told her that this was a trick; that Merlin was the king's ward, and if she told him, she'd be burnt at the stake by the 'morrow.
"Morgana, do you have magic?" Merlin asked.
Morgana looked up at him, considering for a very long moment how she wanted to answer. Yes. No. I can't tell you
She opened her mouth, ready to speak, finally coming up with an answer—
Merlin swayed from where he stood, staggering backwards and grabbing one of the bedposts for support.
"Merlin?" Morgana was on her feet in a matter of seconds, hand resting on his shoulder tentatively. "Merlin, what's wrong?"
"Dunno," Merlin gasped, grabbing at his head with one hand, still clutching at the post with the other, "Gaius… Get Gai—"
His grip on the post slipped and he collapsed forward into Morgana's arms.
"Merlin!" Morgana shook him. "Merlin!"
His eyes were closed; he could've been sleeping. Morgana reached up to his neck, feeling for a pulse. There – it was faint, but his heart was still beating.
She carefully sat Merlin down on the floor, staggering to her feet and rushing back towards the physician's chambers.
"Gaius!" she shouted, shaking the old man awake.
"Morgana, what's wrong?" Gaius slowly got his feet, blinking at her in confusion. "What on earth are you doing up at this hour? Where were you?"
"Gaius, it's Merlin," Morgana said, voice shaking. "He just… He collapsed."
"What were you doing with Merlin in the middle of the night?"
"I had a nightmare, I didn't know who else to turn to. I'm sorry, but you have to help him."
"Of course I will. Come with me, I'll need your help."
Morgana followed him back to Merlin's chambers standing behind as close as she could and watching Gaius work methodically.
"Is he going to be alright?"
"I don't know…" Gaius shook his head. "I can't say what it is just yet… He just collapsed, you said?"
"Yeah," Morgana breathed, trying not cry.
"Don't tell anyone you two were in here alone. We'll tell them we found him this way in the morning, understood?"
Morgana nodded. "I understand."
"Alright," Gaius nodded. "Go back to sleep; I'll stay with him until morning. You still have Lady Sophia to attend to."
Morgana turned, realizing that any attempt she made to stop Lady Sophia from killing Arthur would be alone. She was the soleperson who could stop it.
The entire city went into frenzy when they heard Merlin was on his deathbed in his chambers. Morgana tensed every time she heard everyone mention the possibility Merlin would die.
Uther himself refused to leave his ward's side until Gaius insisted otherwise.
Then, when Arthur requested Uther's presence in the throne room, Morgana felt uneasy for some reason as she followed behind him.
"Arthur," Uther snapped as soon as he entered the throne room. "I assume you have a good reason for not visiting Merlin yet?"
"I request this audience, Father, to discuss a matter of great importance," Arthur said, ignoring Uther's outburst completely. "It cannot have excepted your attention that I and Lady Sophia Tir-Mor have grown very close."
"Arthur, I don't care," Uther snarled.
"We're in love. Which is why I come before you today to ask your permission to marry."
Uther laughed weakly. "This is some attempt at a joke, Arthur. I understand we all need it now, but really, go visit your foster brother."
"No… I'm going to marry her."
"But you only met two days ago," Uther continued to laugh weakly. Morgana felt a brief flash of pity for the man, who was coming so close to losing someone who might as well be his son.
"We're in love."
"Arthur, Merlin is ill. Now is not the time to discuss this."
"Why should Merlin's illness prevent me from being with my true love?"
"True love?" Uther stared at Arthur. "I had no idea that you were such a romantic."
"I'm going to marry her. I don't care what you think."
"I thought you'd come to ask my permission."
"Out of courtesy, nothing more," Arthur said.
He seized Sophia's hand and turned to leave.
"You're forgetting who I am," Uther snapped, raising his hand. "Guards, arrest Sophia and Aulfric Tir-Mor."
"What are you doing?" Arthur cried. "You can't do this!"
"Yes I can," Uther glared down at him. "And unless you show me some respect, I will."
Arthur took a step back, dipping his head.
"Very well. Release them, they're to be gone from Camelot by this time tomorrow."
Morgana followed Arthur back to his chambers, sticking to the shadows and watching him distantly. At last, she stopped outside his door, watching him rush about the room.
"What are you doing?" Morgana asked when she realized he was packing.
"I must be with Sophia."
"You're mad," Morgana said coldly. "Completely mad. Or enchanted. Whatever it is, this isn't going to end well."
Arthur shook his head. "Sophia and I…"
"Arthur, she's going to kill you," Morgana grabbed his arm and spun him around to face her. "Please don't do this."
"Why would she? We're in love."
"I don't know, but you have to trust me. Arthur, please. I've known you for months now; you've known her for a few days."
"Merlin is ill," Morgana hissed. "Merlin is sick and dying. At least wait until he either gets better or…"
"Yes you can," Morgana shouted. "Arthur, I know you. You can't do this. I'm not going to stand by and watch you die!"
"Is this how you let your servants talk to you?" Sophia's voice carried across the room.
"No," Morgana glared at her. "What did you do to Merlin?"
"I didn't," she said.
"Whatever the case, Arthur," she turned back to the prince. "You can't listen to her. She's controlling you, this isn't you. You'd care that Merlin was hurt, I know you."
"We can elope together. Get away from this place, these people," Sophia smiled, taking Arthur's other arm.
"No. I won't let you," Morgana snapped. "Arthur, if you go with her, you will die. Don't you see? I wouldn't make this up!"
"I see everything," Arthur turned to her, his eyes glowing red.
"They have enchanted you," Morgana stared at him. "Oh, Arthur, I'm so sorry."
Morgana backed away from Arthur and Sophia, turning to the exit, only to run into Aulfric, holding his staff in front of him.
Morgana turned back to Arthur, "Arthur, please."
Aulfric lifted his staff, pointing it at Morgana and sending her flying into the wall. The back of her head smacked against the stone wall and she fell unconscious.
She woke, disoriented.
"Gaius," Morgana sat up, head aching.
"Morgana, I expected that Merlin would—" Gaius stopped. "Never mind, but you're needed. You have to stop them from killing Arthur. Go after Aulfric and Sophia; stop them at whatever cost."
Morgana nodded, getting to her feet. "Where are they?"
"The lake, just outside of Camelot. You've been there, I'm sure. It's beautiful, the Lake of Avalon?"
Morgana frowned. "I'll try to find it."
Gaius shook his head. "Go."
Morgana got to her feet and ran out of the palace shakily.
She ran into the forest, spotting the lake in the distance. Aulfric was chanting words and Arthur was sinking into the lake at the hand of Lady Sophia.
Morgana shot forward, racing towards them, hand outstretched, summoning every bit of magic she had in her. The staff flew out of Aulfric's hand and into Morgana's. It felt strange in her hands, but she pointed it at Aulfric and sent a beam of whatever magic the staff possessed at him. He exploded in a shower of sparks when the beam it him.
Sophia whirled around, screaming for her father, but she was unable to defend herself; the magic hit her and she suffered the same fate as her father.
Morgana dropped the staff and rushed out into the water, swimming out to find Arthur. She struggled as she got into deeper water, looking around in desperation. At last, she spotted a faint gleam of armor, and dove down. Don't be dead. Don't be dead, you stupid prat of prince. You can't have died on me. Morgana seized his arm and dragged him upwards.
She hit the surface gasping for air, struggling under Arthur's size and weight for a moment before she began to swim back to shore.
He was fine; he was alive.
"So… as I understand it, you saved my life."
Morgana shrugged, "It was nothing, sire. I was only doing my duty."
"I don't believe that. You went to great lengths to save me. Thank you."
Morgana dipped her head. "My lord."
"Oh, and Morgana?"
"Yes, my lord?"
"Don't make a habit of this 'saving my life' stuff. Being saved by a girl once is awkward. Twice is humiliating. A third time, and I—"
"So… How bad is Merlin?" Arthur asked after a moment.
"Gaius doesn't know," Morgana said. "He just won't wake, no matter what he tries."
"Prince Arthur," a mousy-looking page scurried over to them. "The king requests your presence at once. There's someone here who says he can cure Merlin."
"Who is he?"
"I'm not sure, my lord. I believe he said his name was Edwin Muirden."