“Where is Merlin?”
“The tavern again?”
Gaius shrugged. “I can not claim-“
Arthur sighed “One of these days...”
“Send him to me as soon as you see him.”
“Do you know where Merlin is?”
“Gaius thinks he might be in the tavern again. I’m not so sure.” Lancelot was paying closer attention to him now, his movements controlled. “Has he met someone? A girl?”
Lancelot relaxed “It is possible.” He said “Merlin does seem a bit...unfocused.”
“This is Merlin we are talking about. He is rarely focused.”
Lancelot smiled “A bit more unfocused than usual.” He suggested and his smile was white. Arthur responded in kind. There was no girl.
Someone was trying to pull the wool over his eyes.
A plate fell from the table making a loud clang! It distracted his attacker giving him the opportunity to end the fight when all seemed lost.
Merlin whooped and Arthur itched.
Things shifted and clicked into place, and the itching stopped.
Their trust was built on lies.
Arthur was sitting on Merlin’s bed, holding his book of magic. The look of hope and dread on Merlin’s face stopped him from reaching for his sword.
“Did I do anything or was it all you?”
“Did I, Merlin?”
“Will I ever do anything worth mentioning?” Arthur asked rhetorically.
“You will usher in a new age of magic.” Merlin replied, surprising Arthur in his seriousness.
Arthur’s gaze was piercing. “Will I, now?”
Kilgarrah observed Arthur with solemn eyes.
“I told you I’d bring him to meet you properly.” Merlin said.
“Oh, Merlin” Kilgarrah said finally, not looking away from Arthur “You foolish boy” and the sadness in his voice was devastating.
He ignored him. “You are not your father, young Pendragon, nor your mother.”
“I am well aware of that, thank you.”
“Neither of them would have forgiven-“
Arthur turned around hastily but the dragon roared “Arthur!”
He stopped but did not turn around and Kilgarrah did not ask him to.
“He means well.”
“Don’t we all?”
“No, King Arthur. No.”
“Be quiet, Merlin.”
At that, something in Arthur uncurled. He sighed deeply and left, leaving Merlin and Kilgarrah alone.
“That went well.”
“What?! How can you say that? He-“
“-turned his back to me.”
“Thread carefully, young warlock. Pendragons can hold grudges like no other.”
“Arthur is a good man. He wouldn’t-“
“Uther was a good man as well. One of the reasons so many died in the purge was because no one saw it coming. We never expected it of him.”
“Don’t lose hope. Arthur was born by magic. As long as he lives, he and it are bound.”
„Arthur, are you going to...“
„I haven’t had you burn at the stake yet, have I? Not that I could, even if I tried,“ he said bitterly „you’d just magic yourself away.“
„If you sentence me to death, I’ll let myself burn.“
„...You are an idiot, Merlin.“
Arthur never had him burn.
“What can you do?” Arthur asked.
What can’t I do? Merlin didn’t say but, now that he was paying attention, Arthur heard anyway.
His hand shook around the goblet but Merlin, caught up in his joy of finally telling him about magic, didn’t notice.
Merlin’s voice was filled with wonder and after a few minutes Arthur managed to squish down his fear and listen. It was Merlin. Merlin would never...He would not-
He was Merlin.
“...and the snakes came alive, Arthur, and...”
“Merlin” He said, later, after Merlin has finished talking.
“If you had told me, I could have helped.” But you didn't tell me, so I couldn't help.
Merlin fidgeted nervously and didn’t say a word.
Merlin’s eyes flashed gold, Arthur flinched and a book flew silently to Merlin’s hands. He looked stricken. “Arthur...I would never use it against you.”
Arthur knew that. Despite all the lies, he knew that, but...
Gold and burn, blood and pain, strange men and father, deathly pale, holding him like he-
“We don’t speak of it.”
“Gaius, I need to know.”
“...They couldn’t reach Uther.”
“Who couldn’t reach him?”
“A group of magic users whose families had been slaughtered in the purge. They couldn’t reach Uther, but they could reach Arthur. They intended to use his blood to curse Uther.”
“No one knows. Buy the time they found him, he was silent and the bodies were cold.”
“The ones who took him were killed. With magic. We never discovered who did it. But the purge was renewed, worse than ever. The people learned not to try and harm Arthur with magic. The old woman whom you stopped from killing him was the first who tried since then.”
“He gets attacked with magic all the time!”
“Yes, but now he has you.”
Merlin huffed before turning serious “Was he hurt?”
“There was no mark on him.”
“That’s good.” Merlin said, relieved.
Gaius remained silent.
“That is good, isn’t it?”
“He had a scabbed knee when they took him and not a mark on him when Uther brought him back. It couldn’t have healed that quickly. Not on its own”
“Someone used magic to heal him?”
“No one uses magic to heal scabbed knees, Merlin.”
Later, Merlin would learn that the druids looked after him when he was a child.
“You were the one who would become Emrys.” They said. “We couldn’t let anything happen to you.”
“You and the king will make this age golden.”
“Arthur...” Merlin said, remembering the story of a little boy, stolen. ”You looked after Arthur as well.”
Stony silence was all the answer he needed.
“Merlin has magic, true, but you have your part to play as well. Your knights for example-“
“Are not all mine. Some of those closest to me, like Gwaine and Lancelot, came because of Merlin.”
“And they stayed for a king they felt they could follow.”
“...Yes, I guess you are right. That does count for something.”
Kilgarrah inclined his head “That counts for everything, king Arthur.”
“I have a question, Merlin.”
“If I did something you disagreed with, really disagreed with, what would you do?”
“I’d try to convince you not to do it.”
“And if you can’t?”
“Will you stop me?”
Merlin tensed. “You wouldn’t.”
“If I did. Or if I asked something of you...”
Merlin relaxed “You won’t.” He said, and Arthur found it impossible to fight such conviction.
In the future there will be times when the only reason Arthur did the right thing was because of Merlin’s unshakable faith that he would.
He loved Gwen. He loved her.
She thought he didn’t see the way she looked at Lancelot, and the way Lancelot looked at her. He knew that Gwen loved them both.
She loved Arthur longer but she loved Lancelot more.
“Where is Gwen?”
Merlin hesitated before he answered-
-and Arthur closed his eyes, feeling tired, so very tired.
“I’m not sure what bothers me more, the fact that my wife is with one of my most trusted knights or that you are lying to me again.”
“...I’ll come back later, okay?”
He sighed “Merlin, just go.”
“I’ll stop by later.” Merlin said as he left, closing the door behind himself.
“Of course you will.” Arthur said to the empty room.
“Oh, Arthur, he was very arrogant. Like you used to be...”
“Not that you were arrogant but...” She said hastily. “Maybe? A bit. You are better now! Really, he was awful.”
She took a deep breath and smiled sheepishly. “Yes?”
His eyes roamed her face and he took her hands in his. “I won’t stop you if you wish to leave.”
“I won’t stop him either.”
Her hands jerked in his and she tried to pull them away but he held on. Her eyes were wide.
“You have till nightfall.”
“Arthur” she said urgently “Arthur.”
“If you leave, don’t ever come back. The same goes for him. You will be left alone but my kingdom will forever be closed to you. If you stay, then end it with him, once and for all.” He released her hands.
“You have till nightfall to decide.”
The next morning, two horses were missing from the stables.
Merlin called him Your Highness and Sire and for one whole day didn’t talk back or disobey once.
If from that day on Arthur didn’t really laugh anymore, everyone pretended not to notice.
Arthur did not know that Lancelot and Guinevere went separate ways. Gwen loved her husband and Lancelot loved his King and they both wanted to spare each other from the pain of choosing and left, thinking that the other one stayed.
They did not know that the next morning, when Arthur asked about them, Merlin had to tell him they were both gone.
In a battle, he almost died. He left his right side open expecting to find Lancelot there, blocking the attack. Gwaine stepped in in the last possible moment. Arthur forgot that they were a man short, that their rhythm was disrupted.
He saw his knights gathered that night, around the fire, speaking in hushed voices. Shame welled up in him and he walked away quickly. He felt their heavy gazes on him but did not know they were laden with concern and not scorn.
Next time they fought someone, his right side was covered. Afterwards, they did not shoot him meaningful gazes, they did not speak of it and they pretended as if nothing was different.
He had never felt more grateful for his knights.
Guinevere’s throne had been removed. Arthur didn’t order it. It came as a surprise, and the wrongness hit him, when he entered the throne room. His walk stuttered but did not break. He sat at his throne and didn’t say a word about it. He thought he heard the entire castle breath a sigh of relief.
It became as if Camelot never had a queen.
“Your queen will fall. I dreamt it.”
“Fall? From where?”
“From the throne.” Morgana said when they were children, before Gorlois died. Before they knew her dreams were more.
“I don’t have a queen.” Arthur said, they laughed and continued playing.
“Arthur, come here.”
“Father.” He greeted respectfully, stepping closer to Uther.
“Morgana’s father has passed away. She will be coming to live here, as my ward.”
“I understand, father.”
“She is family and will be treated as such.”
“That is all. You may go.”
Morgana was quiet, at first.
It didn’t last.
“What do you want, Morgana. I’m practicing.”
“I can see that.” She said, looking at the small practice sword in his hand. “I bet I can beat you.”
“What?! You are a girl!”
She raised an eyebrow “Scared?”
Morgana was in a good mood that day. Until...
“...woods today.” She gripped his hand, her nails leaving marks on his skin.
“Don’t.” She said and her voice shook. “Don’t go to the woods.”
He tried to pry her fingers away “Morgana...”
She released him and ran away.
He went to the woods and didn’t come back. The knights he went with were found dead.
Arthur was gone for three nights and three days. Uther went grey and Morgana dreamt of sigils drawn into flesh.
Time passed but still, sometimes he would wake terrified.
“Morgana?” He called, his voice breaking, evidence to the passage of time. Gaius said that it would stop soon and he will sound like a man.
A hand slipped into his. He sighed, relieved. She was there. She always was, somehow, as if she’d known he’d wake afraid.
She squeezed his hand “They won’t burn you again, Arthur. I won’t let them.”
He believed her.
Morgana was waiting for him when he returned from the raid. He saw that she was conflicted. She wanted to be angry for what he did, for all the druids he slaughtered.
She took his hand and with shaking fingers drew a sigil into his palm and he shuddered in remembrance.
She exhaled and her countenance turned vicious. It quieted the screams in his ears even though his arms still felt heavy with guilt and regret-
he felt like he would never be able to lift his sword again
-there was no condemnation in her eyes.
They did not speak of it. It will be years before she brought it up for the first-
He heard soft cries. He recognized them as Morgana’s. He didn’t know how he could hear them. Their rooms weren’t close but she sounded as if she was standing right next to him.
It didn’t matter, he had decided a long time ago. She preferred to do things herself and rarely called him, but when she did, he always answered.
“Morgana?” He asked, opening the door to her room.
She was sitting on her bed and looking at him as if he could solve all of her problems. He resolved then that he would. Always.
He failed, in the end.
He came closer and suddenly, she burst into tears. He stood next to her bed, unsure what to do. Here she was-
his cousin, his mind said and sister, his heart cried
-in pain, and he felt helpless. “Morgana, what is wrong?” He asked as he sat next to her.
“Her eyes blazed and she sent him, and he stabbed you. Not even Emrys could save you.” She said in a rush, looking at him with big, watery eyes.
“You bled,” She continued “and Albion bled out with you.”
“So much hate in her, so much anger...It hollowed her out.” She took a deep breath, composing herself. “Don’t worry, Arthur.”
“I won’t let her harm us.”
They will be on the opposite sides-
he will not know it at the time
-and her viciousness will be turned on him, for a change. She will rage about the injustice done to magic users. About the horrors Uther brought. About-
“Have you forgotten the druids, Arthur?”
And he will freeze, like he did then when his-
-men disobeyed and by doing so brought the beginning of an end of an era.
At the look on his face, she will not stop and will not take the words back.
In Morgana’s eyes, Arthur will not find his sister.
Years later, across the battlefield, Morgana’s eyes blazed gold, Mordred started towards him and Arthur’s heart shattered.