Chapter 1: Freedom Reign
"It'll hurt more if you move."
Roderick, the current patient Nathan is working on, cringes. "How can it get worse? It feels as if a bull is constantly digging its horns in me…"
Nathan sighs through his nose and rolls his eyes. It's a fat splinter buried deep and awkwardly in his shoulder from a rough, drunken fight he'd gotten into. He'd been taken out back and slammed into one of the logs. He hadn't bothered to come to Nathan—the goddamn magical physician—until it got to the point of disgusting puss, inflammation and infection.
His fight had been three days ago.
"Well, if you had come in sooner," Nathan says, almost haughty, "it wouldn't be this painful. You idiot."
Roderick makes an indignant sound. But he doesn't make much of a comment. Because he knows Nathan is right.
"Want a paralytic?" he inquires. "It will cost an extra shilling."
"No…I shall take the pain raw," he declares. It's almost prideful until Nathan places a hand a few inches above it. A strained sound comes from the back of his throat.
"Are you sure?" Nathan half-mutters.
"Yes! Now get on with it," he snaps.
The urgency makes the dark-haired physician sigh, but regardless, he uses a paralytic. It's magical and is activated at the touch of his hand. Nathan whispers words of medicinal magic, and with a remote pull of his free hand, he pulls out the chunk of wood. Expected disaster ensues quite quickly. It's bleeding faster than the large stream to the left of the village's entrance, and Nathan has to use some more magic to levitate the rags his way. One takes the wood chunk, one cleans the blood up, and the third applies pressure to the wound.
Roderick shifts and sighs. "You used a paralytic, didn't you?"
"You may be a man of strength, but you have very little pain tolerance," he points out. "Don't worry. This is free of charge, since you initially rejected it."
Roderick rolls his eyes quite animatedly. "Yeah, yeah…" he mumbles. But he goes silent, and for the next hour Nathan is spending his time wisely by crafting the stitches necessary to keep the wound closed for proper healing.
He releases a breath of air and straightens up when he finally finishes. Roderick cringes at the soreness, but he doesn't speak up.
Nathan gets up and looks through a collection of herbs. Eventually he finds the correct ones. "You'll be staying the night tonight," he says. "Just until your fever calms down. You can leave in the morning."
He makes a disgruntled sound and lays on his side, his shirtless body tremoring with pain. "Thank you," he mutters.
"It's nothing to worry about," Nathan replies. He hands the bottle over to the weary man, placing a bucket of cold water with a fresh rag on the side. "Keep yourself cool. Refresh the rag every fifteen minutes. Drink this remedy if you feel too much pain for sleep."
"Are you going somewhere?" he inquires tiredly.
"…Yeah. I gotta get some errands done before I rest."
"It's nearly the stroke of midnight," he states. "Surely it can wait."
Nathan smiles as he pulls his ragged black coat over his unnecessarily large white tunic. "It's okay. Sefa will be back within the hour. She'll help you," he says. "Good night, Roderick."
Without any word, Nathan smiles and leaves the little doctor's cottage he's rebuilt for himself after its previous owner died of simple old age.
The night is loud. The sky is dusted with the beauty of the stars, and as he wanders further and further away from the village, it becomes streams of purple, blue and even a celestial white. But his attention is pulled away when he reaches his destination. It's in the middle of a green meadow, full of wild herbs and flowers grown naturally over the years of its existence. He's standing in the middle of it all, absorbing the night sky's moonless night. It's the things like these that he truly appreciates. There's so much light.
He blinks out of his fascination and turns around. He'd nearly forgotten that voice.
Tears well in her eyes as she rushes up to him, picking up the skirts to her dress and nearly bounding towards him with immeasurable happiness. Her arms stretch out wide and she jumps on him in a grand hug that is quickly yet somberly returned. He keeps hold for longer than he probably should have. She's a married woman, and if his feeling is correct, he feels the lucky bump of a baby growing. It makes Merlin all the more happy as he buries his face into the nape of her neck sadly, clearly crying tears of mixed emotions.
Gwen smiles and sniffs, petting the back of his head. "Shh…it's okay, Merlin…" she murmurs. "It's okay. I'm here now. It's okay…"
His fingers curl gently into her, his chest aching with relief as he hears the reassurance he's been vying to hear from her for a really long time.
He hasn't had proper contact with Gwen in eight years. Last time he saw her, she had brought Sefa. The poor girl lost her father and is, almost unsurprisingly, a criminal of Camelot. Merlin took her in simply because Gwen had asked him to. From there on out it had always been one-sided letters sent from Camelot by the Queen. She'd always update him on the latest things in the heart of the kingdom. She told him about how Gaius finally retired. She told him about the new physician, Jack. She told him about the new manservant, Gabriel, and the new maiden, Marilynn. She told him about how Lancelot lost his hand and how Gwaine had an illegitimate son. About how Percival professed his undying love to a new tavernness in town.
She told him everything she could.
Leon is married to a woman named Kathryn. They're expecting a fifth child. Eylon found a love, and her name is Elaine. They're engaged.
Gwaine and Lancelot remained noticeably open. Merlin has his suspicions.
"Such beauty that you carry," he softly comments. "They'll be wonderful children."
Gwen smiles and pulls away, placing a hand on his shoulder and another on his wet cheek. "I've yet to tell Arthur. He just thinks I'm getting a bit fat," she says. "They're awfully hefty, though…"
Merlin smiles and places a hand on her slightly swollen belly. "You carry three. That's why."
Merlin chuckles, his eyes still glassy and wet. "Yeah," he says. "You'll most certainly have your hands full."
She laughs. "Yeah. I guess so."
He keeps a cheerful smile, but it eventually fades and drops when he sighs shakily and wipes away his tears with a sleeve.
"You look so skinny. Have you been eating correctly?" She's giving him a stern look that demands the truth.
It's that look that brings out the best in Merlin. "…Not lately," he murmurs. "I—couldn't take my mind off the news. Of…you know, you being with child. Well, childs."
Gwen smiles softly. "I've missed your wry wit," she says nostalgically. "Why have you not come back? It's been some time since the magic ban has been lifted."
Merlin looks down and blinks hesitantly.
"Sorry," he murmurs. "It's just really hard to…come back. You know? Magic is still hated. I…I really do appreciate the ban lift, though. Countless people have been waiting." Countless means him in this conversation.
"It took the loss of you, though. I don't think we should be proud about that," she says, her hand brushing against his cheek again. "Will you ever come back?"
He simply places a hand over her own. "Hopefully," he says quietly. "I…I want to leave."
But the world weighed on him no matter where Merlin is. He will always be Emrys. Emrys lives for an eternity, though, and he isn't sure if he wants to come back to the same place that will bring back painful memories that will live on with Emrys for a very long time. That's what Merlin wants to say. He just can't find the will to say it.
He sighs through his nose and pulls her hand away. "I'm…"
His voice trails off as he tries to think, but his voice is permanently lost in a smile when he hears the loudest apple being munched into by the familiar jaws of Gwaine.
Gwen makes a cringing face and sighs. "I was followed," she murmurs quietly.
Merlin chuckles a little. "It's fine," he says. "They're far enough away that they can't see me. Have you got some sort of story?"
"You're a very good friend," she says, "hm…a secret friend who has just lost dear friends and family?"
"…Well you'll have to sound better than that," he says dryly. "But okay."
Gwen laughs a little and moves her hands away from him. The distance doesn't stay for very long. She pulls him in for one last hug that goes on further than necessary. "You get to Camelot this year, okay?" she whispers sadly. "I'll be damned if you don't come to see the birth of my children."
Merlin nods and pulls away. "Yeah," he says. "I'll do my best."
She smiles happily, tears streaking her cheeks. "Be good to yourself, Merlin," she says. "Eat your meals and wash yourself every once in a while, okay?"
He chuckles. "Of course," he replies, and with a simple turn of her back, Merlin takes his own silent leave in the opposite direction that made for an awkward path to getting back to this homely village.
Gwen wipes her tears and sniffs away her sadness as she rushes back towards the forest where the Knights and Arthur are lying in wait. Only Percival and Lancelot are sitting at the campfire. She smiles a bit somberly, sitting between the two and rubbing her face with shaky hands.
"That was quite a pee," Percival comments mirthfully.
"Oh, shush you," she says. "You were both watching. I could hear you all blundering about from where I was. Gwaine especially, with his loud apple."
The two Sir Knights fall into a laughter that the Queen joins lightheartedly. They're slapping knees by the time Arthur, Gwaine and Eylon return. Gabriel is lagging with Marilynn, but eventually the whole gang is there.
"Gwen," Arthur says carefully after the fits and bouts of laughter end. "Who was that?"
"A childhood friend," she replies wholeheartedly. "He…he recently lost his mother. I'm…um, sorry I didn't inform any of you. His grief is strong and I didn't want to overwhelm him."
"Oh," Arthur mutters quietly. "Our condolences."
She smiles and kisses his cheek. "Thank you," she says softly, and it makes Arthur lose some tension in his shoulders.
"How did his mother die?" Lancelot inquires. "If…if you don't mind me asking."
"She was burned," Gwen explains sadly. "Burned at the stake, becuase she had been accused of sorcery by those who are still living under Uther's rule."
Merlin doesn't actually go back to the village. He feels far too much fatigue on many different levels.
His throat is dry and his eyes are raw, and he's exhausted. The late spring night air is cool. He knows he'll suffer from a cold if he stays where he's lying down in the meadow. The stars are too fascinating to look away, and the grass feels too nice to depart. He misses Camelot dearly, but he can't feel the blaze he needs to protect it. Yes, it is there. But it's…dying.
Merlin sniffs and slowly sits up. He rubs his eyes and sighs quietly. He's sinking again. He'd probably lose a good chunk of pounds, and Sefa would be doing most of the work if this keeps up. He really does appreciate the young woman.
Especially know as she walks up to him in the dead of night, helping him up and allowing her body to be used as assistance to actually get the man to the cozy cottage.
Merlin doesn't say anything. He just flops onto his bed and sleeps with his clothing on well into the late afternoon of the next day.
Sefa's working on a badly blistered burn the blacksmith's younger son obtained on the palm of his hand when she hears the cries of a horse. It's running at full speed when it emerges from the brush of the forest. Luckily there is a man to stop it before it creates any disaster, but Sefa can see the red seeping from the chainmail of his armor before anyone else could.
He'd been injured.
"Somebody—anyone! I need help!" he calls. "I need a physician!"
People are crowding in light of seeing that the man is a Knight of Camelot, sporting dark and wavy hair with a bit of a scruffy beard. His eyes are an earthly deep brown and his skin is fair. Sefa didn't need to see anymore to recognize him, but she also didn't want to see anymore.
"Gerard," she says. "Go back home. I-I need to get Nathan. Come back later."
Gerard nods numbly and quietly retreats, but Sefa is not one to wait. She's turns tail and sprints back to the cottage. It's a fifteen minute walk from where she is on the opposite side of the village; it's also twenty if she's slow and ten if she's quick. But Nathan has to know about this. She finds him in the undergrowth searching out for some berries. He's clearly tired and still out of it, but her breathless and crazy attitude catches his attention.
"What's wrong, Sefa?" he asks quietly.
"Th-there's a Knight of Camelot—at-at the town right now," she manages to choke out. "He's injured, Nathan. He says he needs help."
Nathan stares for a few seconds, blinking and straightening his slouched back upright. He pulls a necklace made of leather and enchanted pearls, sliding it on around his neck. "Thank you Sefa," he speaks seriously. "Go get the necessary supplies and find me bring some extra hands."
"Same place as usual?" That meaning the cottage.
"No, go to the Knight in the village. Bring him there and I will take care of everyone else," he replies, and without another word, he rushes back off to the village.
He's shaking a little. He hasn't ran into them for a long time. And it's not even necessarily because he's banished from Camelot. He still is, as far as he's concerned—but that doesn't mean he can't see his friends. It's more of a matter he'd rather not touch on after everything.
They could be dead or dying, and the last he saw of them, they were shocked, scornful, and or sad.
The knight is Gwaine. He's pale and frantic and desperate. His eyes are wide, and there's blood on his gloves and sleeves. More of it is on his cloak, which is ripped in half quite sloppily. He's leaning on one of the tavernesses, but he's too out of it to care for flirting. Nathan doesn't bother to start talking. His eyes can see the story before it's even told: Bandits attacked the Pendragon party, and everyone else is likely too incapacitated to get the help needed.
Nathan declares the wound to be a shallow stab made by a weak dagger. There is only blood but he can see a slice of the blade that has chipped off.
"Lay him down," Nathan orders softly. "Keep him still. This will hurt."
The taverness, a young brunette named Nora, nods. She holds down his arms and calls over her brother, Harrison, to help hold down his legs.
Nathan quickly gets to work, pulling out Gwaine's sword. He cutes away the belt and moves the chainmail and clothing. Gwaine is weary but he's clearly too tired to bother with being suspicious. Not yet, anyways. He takes a breath and puts his hand mere centimeters away from the wound, using his paralytic spell to stow away the pain temporarily. Gwaine can clearly breathe much easier, but Nathan made it a weak anesthetic. It would not get rid of the pain removing the metal shard from the wound.
Naturally he starts to scream bloody murder when he works with magic to carefully pull it out. It hurts his ears to listen, but he continues regardless. The blood is flowing freely, but Nathan makes sure that it stays close to his body to prevent a mess. Or a panic.
It happens eventually. The shard is completely out and cast to the side for the sake of safety.
He sighs in relief and grabs Gwaine's cloak, easily ripping the fine fabric again. He uses it to stop the bleeding before he looks at the Nordic tavernness looking at him with wide, shocked eyes. "Take him to my cottage," he says. His voice is still horribly softspoken and quiet. "Keep pressure on his wound. Sefa will be waiting. Help her if you can."
She nods, and Nathan doesn't stay any longer. He's off once more, his eyes tracking the rushed horse prints. They're still quite fresh and clear, and the fact that there are broken twigs and smashed undergrowth—that has clearly been clobbered by Gwaine's horse—is there, makes for following the trail easier.
But it didn't make the sight bearable. Arthur is conscious, but he's bleeding heavily and it's seeping through the seems of his chainmail. His skin is pale and clamy, and in his arms is an unconscious Gwen. She has a cut on her arm as well as a few bruises, but other than that she's breathing and alive. Everyone else is lounging around, ready to fall unconscious from their blood loss. It's obvious that the fight had been life-draining. Nathan's eyes make careful calculations, but it wasn't too long until he came up with a plan.
There are still horses.
He can use them.
Sefa's goal was accomplished fairly quick. She got a young and kind page to help her prepare bandages and ointments. Fresh, cold water are in six diffrent buckets, all of which have two wetted rags on their side and one dry at nearby disposal for Nathan.
She's anxiously waiting outside when she sees Nora and her brother approaching as quickly as they could with that injured Knight of Camelot from before.
They hussle inside, and she quickly gets to attending and stitching him up. But it's interrupted when she hears horses approach outside.
"Please see what it is," Sefa says, but she barely gets the word out before Harrison is on his feet. He quickly reaches the doorway and opens it to see who the riders are, only to find that it's Nathan and the Knights.
"Nathan—" he starts.
"Help me get them inside," he says.
Harrison blinks in surprise at how urgent he sounds despite having such a weak voice. "They've been outside for many hours. Keep a lookout for bugs and infection. Do you know what that looks like?"
Harrison shakes his head as he takes the hefty blonde man from the saddle Nathan is riding behind.
"It'll likely be red and swollen from irritation," he states as he, too, slides off and gets to the unconscious Eylon. "Get your sister to pull out the turmeric. It's in a basket by the cauldron. Sefa will know what to do with them."
The youth merely nods as he disappears inside with King Arthur strung over his shoulders.
It takes a solid five minutes for Nathan to get all nine inside. Harrison left to tether up and give the horses rest, food and water. It'd soothe his nerves.
Nathan soon dismisses Sefa and Nora, with the excuse that he'd take care of them. The two girls did exceptionally well, and deserved rest after the gruesome three-hour burst of hard work. He could look at their faces and identify them as if they were his own children.
There is Gwen, Arthur, Percival, Eylon, Gwaine, Lancelot, the three growing unborn, Gabriel, and Marilynn. He didn't know the new servants' faces but he's gotten a physical description from Gwen. They were the equivalent to what he and Sefa were to the King and Queen, and quite frankly, he's glad to see that Arthur has chosen well.
After all, it was Nathan who sent Gabriel his way.
Nathan sighs quietly and sits backwards on the chair, resting his chin on his arms. He's still tired from oversleeping, and he feels the sluggish feeling of his crippling sadness start to take over. He can only close his eyes and doze, though. His thoughts are too occupied with themselves, and it leaves a tired pang in his heart that makes his stomach flutter and his chest ache. He can't breathe, and if he opens his bleary eyes, he can see grey shapes taking the places of colors.
He's appreciative when someone shifts and awakens.
He's suffered the least worrisome, but it's clearly causing him a lot of pain and discomfort. His disturbance is a bit louder than likely necessary, but his voice tells Nathan multitudes as a physician. He musters the necessary motivation to get up and find the pain relievers for the Knight.
Lancelot's dark eyes reach him as soon as he's mere inches away from his cot side, his eye squinting and bleary from dehydration. "Who're…you…" he slurs, finding his rough voice as he speaks.
Nathan blinks and hands the glass bottle over. "Here. Take this for your pain," he half-mutters, and when Lancelot doesn't take it immediately, he sets it next to his limp hand and nonchalantly turns away.
Lancelot's distrust is wholefully understood. Nathan isn't in a proper socializing mood just about all the time now, and he tends to come across as the villianous type because of it. He doesn't care much for it.
It's after another five minutes of awkward and tired silence that Sefa finally steps in. She has a basket of herbs and a rather sufficient supply of food. She smiles at him and sets the supplies down on the dining table.
"Hungry?" she asks.
"No," Nathan replies. He gets up from the chair he's been lounging in and looks at her.
"You'll become a skeleton again if you don't eat," she points out softly. "At least have an apple, or half a loaf of bread."
He stares at her blankly before he sighs in defeat and takes one of the fresh apples she just bought. "Thanks," he murmurs. "I'm going for a walk. Make sure our guests are comfortable when they all wake up. You know where the pain killers are."
"Yes, of course. Please be back by midnight," she says in a rather motherly way. "It's getting cold outside."
Nathan chuckles dryly and nods, waving his farewell lazily as he takes his leave of the crowded cottage.
He doesn't make way for the village, though. He takes a turn as soon as he's out of the window's view and heads for the flowery field. He's walking faster than he usually would, but he makes a dead stop when he reaches the furthest he can while also giving plenty room for a dragon to land.
Kilgarrah does it almost ungracefully when he's summoned. He's breathless and clearly hurting. Merlin's glassy eyes of sympathy fill with regret as his hands quietly rub the old dragon's jaw.
"I'm sorry for summoning you," he says quietly. "I need some advice. Some help. Just…something to help me cope as Emrys."
"Let me guess," Kilgarrah says tiredly, his eyelids dropping as he breathes a bit too deeply and leans a bit too heavily on his side and Merlin's hands. "You wish to return to Camelot."
The warlock sniffs sadly and nods, shaking hands using the Great Dragon has a stabiliser. "I'm sorry," he says again.
"There is no need…to be sorry," Kilgarrah says softly. His lips pull themselves back in a dragon-like smile. "I had hoped to see you one last time before I go."
Merlin's tears broke, but he doesn't sob. He hasn't the right yet. "Kilgarrah," he murmurs.
"Yes? What is it, young warlock?"
"How…how can I protect Arthur again? After all that's happened…how?"
Kilgarrah chuckles ghastly. "Only you would know that answer, Merlin," he points out. "It may feel like the world is falling…it may feel as if there is an everlasting darkness. These things will stay with you for as long as you live, and that will be a very long time."
Merlin sighs shakily and sniffs, falling to his knees as he felt support fail him. Kilgarrah joins quietly, resting the end of his nose gently onto Merlin's lap. "How long?"
"That is one of the few things I do not know," Kilgarrah states sorrowfully. "But…I do know this, Merlin."
"You will regret more if you remember," he says wisely. "Just know that it is sometimes much better to forget." He blinks slowly and takes a deep breath that warms Merlin's whole body. "You will never survive your long life if you do not forgive yourself. Know this well, Merlin, and take it into your soul as my legacy."
His rather violently shaking hands rub the warm scales of the legendary beast.
"Do not cry, young warlock," he says sagely. "Stay strong."
Merlin sobs and nods, his tears flowing six times faster as Kilgarrah's eyes finally close.
But he does not stop truly breathing until the dawn of the next morning when the clouds are grey and ready to drop the spontaneous snow a dragon's death always causes.
Chapter 2: At the Heart of Emrys
There is a cold silence in the air that leaves Sefa weary.
She ends up leaving the sleeping Knights and royalty behind to grab either Nora or Harrison and take her place. Harrison takes over voluntarily, having nothing to do and deciding it's time to tend back to the horses. Sefa pays him five generous shillings out of her pocket for his efforts before she goes out into the field to find Nathan.
She discovers him standing in front of a pile of rocks. They're balanced perfectly together, and scorched and burned for eternity in the largest stone is a language she cannot read. It's clear that the beautiful meadow has just become a bad memory for the man. She puts a comforting hand on his shoulder, rubbing his upper arm silently.
"How are you?" she eventually asks.
"…The Great Dragon just died," he manages, his voice wet and shaky from grief. He sobs and wipes away his everlasting tears. "I'm—I'm sorry. I put a lot of weight on you, Sefa."
"It's okay, Nathan," she murmurs. "You've done more for me than I could ever do for you."
He smiles faintly and nods, but it's sad and Sefa understands he's not up for chatting. She remains silent, but she's pleasantly surprised when she hears him speak. She's appalled by what he has to say, though.
"I'm…I-I want…" He sighs. "I…I need to go back." She frowns. "To—to Camelot, I mean."
"…Oh," she says. "Really? You think you're ready?"
"No…" he murmurs. "But it's been a long time. Gaius…Gaius isn't going to be around for much longer. And…Gwen is expecting three children."
Her eyebrows raise. "All at once?"
He chuckles. "Yes. Their hands will be full."
"Is that why you're returning?"
"…A little bit," he says somberly. "So much has changed. Everyone is expecting and married and being parents. They're dying. They're getting old." He rubs his eyes free of tears and laughs sadly. "Meanwhile, I don't look a day over twenty. Have you seen everyone at the cottage? Surely you remember how they looked back in the days. So, so long ago…I think Arthur's getting a bit grey."
Sefa smiles and nods. "Yes, of course," she murmurs. She sighs wistfully and stands in front of him, her hands on his upperarms and her eyes glued to his. "If you feel it is right, then you must go. Listen to your heart well, Merlin. You've only got love coming your way."
"It doesn't feel like it."
She nods and pulls him into a hug. "It won't," she says. "But it never will. Not at first. You must stay strong, okay?"
He puts a hand on her back and nods quietly, kissing the side of her head appreciatively. "I'll miss you," he mutters.
"As will I," she agrees. "You've been nothing but good to me. I thank you for that."
Merlin feels some of the pain dull, but it's not repelled completely by Sefa's kind words. He sighs and pulls away, moving a hand to pluck a small pouch out of the endless pouch that always hangs around his waist. "Take this," he says. "Open it, should you need my help again. I'll always be nearby."
Sefa nods and takes it quietly. She keeps her eyes down as Merlin…or, rather, Nathan saunters away back to the village.
It'd take up to four days on foot to get to the city of Camelot, and two and a half on horse.
So, naturally, Nathan spirits away a horse after he packs and says farewell to those who've known him since day one of his arrival to the little village. It's unspokenly decided that Sefa is to take over his role as the local physician. She's been around him for eight years—he's taught her nearly everything non-magical, along with some small convenient medical spells to help her if she struggles keeping purely to herbs and such.
People trust her. Nathan knows she will prosper in his absence. Even with him around, she still does considerably well. The horse is packed and he's pulling himself up on the saddle when he notices a pair of eyes on him. He turns as he sits, and he sees Lancelot standing at the doorway of the cottage with a slight pinch to his face and his single hand holding his side wound.
Nathan blinks. "You should be resting. I wouldn't recommend activity for another day," he suggests. He grimaces, though, at how soft spoken he's become over the years.
Lance smiles and nods. "Of course," he replies. "Physician's orders."
Nathan feels a shy of a smile show, but it merely twitches his mouth.
"I…I wanted to thank you," he states, "…for saving us. Those bastards got us surprisingly good."
Nathan nods back. "That they did," he agrees. "I believe your assaulters simply robbed you all. I have yet to see the shine of a coin on any of you."
Lance cringes. "It'll be a hassle…" he mutters.
"Leave the official payment up to the girl," Nathan says. "She likely won't charge you with money, though."
"How do you mean?"
"She's smarter than she looks," he points out. He smiles weakly. "Meanwhile, my payment is this horse. If you don't mind lacking an extra means of transportation."
He nods. "It's fine," he says. "That will be better than nothing." He leans on the door way and stares at the physician for a few seconds before he speaks up. "If I may…"
"Where are you going?" he inquires.
"I'm…I'm going to Camelot," Nathan says, finding very little point in lying about where he plans to go. "I have old friends there I haven't seen in a long time."
"And you're leaving now?" His skepticism is clear—and rightfully so.
"Yes," he says. "I haven't seen my friend in many years. He's old and dying. Watching half of you lose breath to the hands of death has reminded me of that."
Lancelot stares, but he eventually smiles and nods. "Safe travels, friend," he says, and with a minor wave, Nathan turns and has the horse trot into the forest. He disappears from sight quite easily, but it does not hide the fact that he's on the verge of tears.
Because, quite frankly, Kilgarrah isn't there to fill the emptiness in the sky.
The Knights of Camelot, along with their King, Queen and the two servants, are fully awake and munching on some food by late afternoon. Sefa has mindfully avoided the subject of Nathan, but she's aware get she won't be able to stay away from it for long. He's only been gone for a few hours and already she misses him.
The room feels…empty. Naturally she winces when the King speaks up and starts asking questions.
"There was a man…" he starts quietly. "He took us all here…he saved us. Tell me, where has he gone?"
"He left," she begins to explain, but the one-handed Knight, Lancelot, interrupts her.
"He said he's gone to Camelot," he states. "Said that he's going now because his friend there is…old. And dying. Seeing us in this state reminded him of that."
"Interesting. Did he say who?"
The king looks to Sefa. "Tell me more," he says. "Where are we?"
"Avonbost. We're a small village with a big tavern," she replies. "You're in Mercia as of now. We're barely a quarter a clique away from the border, though, so you needn't worry too much."
"We need to return immediately," Arthur half-mumbles. He cringes as he moves to stand, but Sefa rolls her eyes.
"Your wounds will reopen," she says. "You all need at least one more day of bedrest. So please…sit back down, sire. We mustn't have you bleeding everywhere."
Arthur gives her a strange look, but her sternness and the pain sways him to her word. But he's weary. He remembers Sefa well. Everyone else is quiet and tired as they eat, and the instant they finish, they all lay down in a comfortable position and fall back asleep. Except for Gwen, of course. She remains awake.
"You really need to rest, my lady," she advises. "You mustn't overwork yourself."
"I feel fine, Sefa," she says. Her smile is soft and full of love as she scans the younger woman. "You've grown. I'm so proud."
Sefa's cheeks flush as she smiles proudly. "Th-thank you, Your Highness," she stutters. She clears her throat awkwardly. "I-I see all is going well…with your, um…arrival."
Gwen almost looks sheepish as she chuckles and puts a hand to her stomach. "Indeed," she says. "Predicted to be three. Quite unbelievable, isn't it?"
Sefa laughs. "Truly," she says mirthfully. "But congratulations. I know you will be a great guardian of these arrivals."
Gwen smiles. It makes the corners of her eyes wrinkle gently. "Tell me. How is Nathan?" she asks. "Last I saw, he wasn't doing too well."
Sefa loses her mirth and looks down at the herbs she's been preparing. "Ah…well, he…he hasn't been doing much better," she says sadly. "He's been so sad lately. I'm honestly surprised he found the motivation to save you all. I made sure to check over all his work. He tends to forget certain things when he's like this, but it seems that he's gone as far as placing healing runes on the stitches."
Sefa smiles and nods. "Yes. I hear they're incredibly difficult to master, even for the best medical mages out there," she explains. "They're even moreso when shrunken down to a proper size on some thread. To think he could do it in such a short amount of time is amazing."
"He's a good man," she says quietly.
Sefa nods her agreement. She pauses thoughtfully for a few seconds before she grabs an apple and hands it to the Queen. "Take this for your travels," she says.
"Thank you," Gwen replies sweetly. "It's a lovely apple."
Sefa smiles again. "Yes, it's freshly picked. I bought it earlier this morning," she chimes. "Now, go lay down. You may have powerful magic healing you right now, but it doesn't give you sleep."
Gwen chuckles. "Of course. I appreciate your hospitality," she says.
"It's not a problem at all," Sefa reassures her. "Rest well, my lady."
Gwen bows a little and moves to her bed quietly. She tucks the apple into the personal satchel that she brought before she lays down and falls asleep in easy minutes.
Camelot is in view when Merlin feels the evil in the air. It's clear that, while he's been gone, Morgana's been busy.
The court is probably full of traitors. Even from where he is, a full clique away, he can taste her magic. It's still rife with anger and a craving for revenge. He's rather curious about that; magic is legal now. It's still scorned by some of the people, but it doesn't change the law. It makes Merlin sigh tiredly. It's another thing he'll need to re-add to his plate, and one more thing to add to Nathan's.
It'll be especially difficult since the enchanted necklace he wears makes him look completely different. As far as he's concerned, he has sandy blond hair and hazel eyes that go well with a fair complexion. His cheeks and jawline remain similar; they might be a bit more defined. That's how Sefa explains it. He can't see it in a mirror.
His eyes have become far too sharp for that.
Others are accustomed to his enchantment and can see through it, Sefa being a prime example—but Merlin only allows this simply because he has given them enough of his trust. He pulls at the reins and the horse turns, and in seconds, Merlin is heading back down the slope he perched himself on to gaze at the home that might become his again.
If all goes well.
The gatekeepers do what they usually do: Ask the same questions.
Nathan recites the answers. He does his best not to come across as distracted, but he genuinely can't take his eyes off on the city that has been home to him ten years prior. Nothing has really changed. Young faces he only knew as children years ago were now working parents of a new generation. He didn't see many of the older folk, but the middle-aged folk took their place. He also saw new faces. Faces he could tell were obviously part of the magical community. Faces that are part of the no-mag community. Faces that are part of the Knights, the drunks, the touring, the spies, the allies.
The royal horse is taken "anonymously" back to its proper stables, only being tethered up to a nearby post to munch on some hay whilst waiting for the stable managers.
It doesn't take long for Nathan to start shopping at the marketplace after a considerably large amount of creepy time is spent on merely observing. He does find it heartily difficult to not feel a painful twist in his chest that would induce a dry sense of tears. He focuses more on the happy side, because he's aware that he will see these faces change well more than six times before Camelot would change again. It's not necessarily bad, change is always good…but, truthfully, it's sad.
The woman at the produce stall can see his sadness.
"Are you okay?" she asks. "You don't look so well."
Nathan looks at her and smiles a bit. "I'm fine," he replies with his softened voice. "I just…lost a good friend recently. So I came here to find some dying but other good ones."
She smiles happily. "Seeing old faces is always nice," she agrees. "Here." She takes an apple from her stand and gives it to him. "Take this apple, for your friend. If they can stomach it, of course. Payment's on the house."
Nathan's smile widens as he takes it and tucks it into his bag. "Thank you so much," he says.
"It's not a problem. If there's anything else I can do, just ask."
"Very well, then. What's your name?"
"Mor…Morgan. Morgan le Fay," she stutters. "I…I am a wedded woman, you know."
Nathan chuckles. "Of course," he replies. It's not likely for love; he can see the void in her own pair of green eyes only a single woman would have. Nor can he see any visible ring. "Tell me, Morgan. Where might I find Gaius? The former court physician."
"Ah…that sweet old man…" she says ponderously. "He's in the same place as always. He's acting more as an advisor to the temporary court physician as well as King Arthur."
"Lovely," he murmurs. "Once again—thank you very much, miss. I appreciate your generosity."
"Of course. Might I see you around?"
"I'm unsure. I merely arrived to visit," he says. "But perhaps I will. Until next time."
She nods and waves her farewell as she watches Nathan leave for the castle.
But it's when he's out of sight that she closes the stall and ducks out of the way as a man, who is the original owner, takes over and starts to sell his produce for the afternoon.
As Morgan had said, Gaius is still living in the castle. He's no longer the court physician. He's too old for that—obviously. He has seen eighty-seven winters by now, which is an amazing feat in itself.
Nathan suspects magic. A lot of people do, merely in different ways of course. It's always been theorized to be connected with alchemy, but Gaius doesn't do alchemy and he knows for certain that only certain forms of alchemy can grant immortality, but even then it's a longshot because one needs rather prickish materials to accomplish the formula.
The new but so-called "temporary" physician, Jack, isn't in, but there is proof of activity. The candles are lit and everything.
Nathan looks to the stairs after he enters the room. He can hear floorboards creaking quietly under the weight of a human being, and he's fairly certain that if he goes up there, he'll find Gaius. It feels intimidating, to go. He hasn't contacted the poor old man in so long. He mostly feared being caught and branding Gaius a traitor.
And while magic, as of now, is legalized, he still is a traitor. Arthur has to excuse him and it breaks his heart to think about it. So he doesn't, and he eerily moves to the stairs. His feet make horribly loud noises as he does so—it hurts his ears, but he moves onward regardless. Because despite his lack of contact, he misses Gaius dearly.
But he feels doubt. Guinivere is wise and understanding; she knows his long-standing grief well enough to know when it's best to tell him about a death in their circle.
He's just hoping Gaius isn't one of them. Nathan finally reaches the final stair. He's careful not to make too much noise when he peaks in through one of the bigger cracks of the door. He sees nothing at first—but he can still feel a presence. So he knocks.
"…Who is it?"
It's just as he'd hoped: It truly is Gaius.
Nathan isn't quick enough as he swings open the door. Gaius takes a few alarmed steps back, his equipped weapon—most notably a broom—slams down onto his forehead. Nathan cries out in surprise, stepping back as well and holding the wound. "Ow! Gaius!"
"Who are you? What are you doing here? Have you come to kill me?" he interrogates, raising the broom as if it were a sword.
"No! No," Nathan jumps to say. "I come in peace, Gaius. It's okay." He quickly pulls the necklace off and in less than a second, he loses the sandy hair, the fair complexion, the hazel green eyes…it's all replaced by his current features. He's frazzled by travel, but his longer hair maintains it's natural wave. His beard is still there, too, and it takes Gaius a few seconds before he finally sees that it's Merlin he's looking at.
"My Lords…" he whispers. "Are…are you the page I sent for?"
Merlin blinks and feels the moment of shcok hit him. "What?"
"I'm so very sorry!" he says, setting the broom aside and grabbing Merlin's hand. He shakes it and slaps his arm apologetically. "Please, sit. Let me take care of that bruise on your forehead…"
"Gaius, no—I-I'm not a page," Merlin snaps, pulling his hand away. "Do you not remember me? It's…" He looks over his shoulder briefly. "It's Merlin."
Gaius pauses and squints at him, his frown prominent as he studies the brunet standing before him. "I'm sorry, young sir, but I don't know who this…Merlin is," he says genuinely.
"What do you mean?" he asks. "You don't know who I…" His voice briefly cuts out as he shakes his head and swallows sadly. "You don't know who Merlin is?"
Gaius stares for a little while longer before he regretfully shakes his head, but Merlin can see in his eyes that he seriously did not remember a lick of who he is.
"I…I see," he murmurs quietly. "I'm sorry. I-I really must go."
Merlin quickly turns tail and flees the room, throwing his necklace on as he runs out of the court physician's room with a flurry of confusion muddling his deprived state and a sickly pain choking his airway.
Arthur and his party leave Avonbost early in the morning after taking three days of absolute rest to recharge. They did not have money, though.
"How shall we ever repay you?" Arthur asks almost humbly. He's next to his royal horse, his hand on the maine of the beauty and another on the hilt of his sword.
Sefa smiles and beckons for him to come closer. Arthur gives her a strange look as he glances over his shoulder to his Knights. But regardless, he approaches her cautiously and slightly leans in. She leans in, too, her mouth reaching close proximity to his ear as she whispers her payment. A few suspenseful seconds pass until Arthur pulls away with quite a downcast gaze.
"That is a hefty payment," he points out quietly, blinking the glassy tears in his eyes away. "It will take time."
"Of course," she agrees. "I would use it wisely, too. It's best if these things do. The longer the planning, the better it is."
"Shall I declare it a holiday?"
Sefa's smile reaches the corners of her eyes and beyond. "It would be an honorable act," she states. "Your reign will be appreciated if you do so. I'm sure it would send out mendful messages to your friend."
Arthur's eyes light up. "You've come into contact with him?" he asks, his voice full of hope and happiness. "Is…is he alive?"
"Yes, he is," she replies. "I haven't truly seen him in a long time, but last I heard, he made his way to Camelot. I don't know when or how, or even why if I'm honest, but I'm sure this favor of mine being fulfilled will grab his attention. Even if he isn't in Camelot, news like this tend to reach the Druids quickly. He's well-connected with them, so I doubt you need to worry."
Arthur manages a smile, but it's muddled with thoughts as he nods. "Thank you, Sefa. I will take your word into deep consideration," he mindfully tells her.
Sefa allows a small courtesy herself, but she doesn't respond. Arthur looks away and climbs on his horse. With a gentle kick of his heel, the group is off and trotting in the same direction as Nathan. Mere minutes need pass before curiosity kills the group.
"What did she ask of you, sire?" Lancelot asks, smiling a little as Gwaine gives him a dirty look for beating him to the punch.
Arthur smiles and looks over his shoulder to the group of Knights. "She asked me to hold a festival," he says.
"What about?" It's Gwaine that speaks up this time, and Lance smiles at his competitive antiques.
"Magic," he replies.
Eylon feels goosebumps rise wearily. He's never felt much comfort for magic.
"More like to honor all the sorcerers who've died in the Great Purge, if I'm honest," he says. "To honor the innocent and to celebrate the ban lift."
"You'd make it into a holiday, sire?" Percival chimes.
"Is it problematic if I do?" Arthur asks. "I feel it might be a bit much. The people are still adjusting."
"I think it'd be a great idea, love," Gwen finally states. "We all miss Merlin dearly. We want him back. You heard what Sefa said; it could bring him a bit closer to Camelot."
The group goes silent.
"But…um, My Lord," Gabriel chimes.
"What is it?"
"Has he not been branded a traitor?"
"I've decided to lift his and a few others' banishment under the recommendation of Gaius," Arthur states. He sighs quietly as his hands tighten on the reins. "I don't know how to get the word out to him, though. His banishment is still a bit under the wraps. As far as most of Camelot is concerned, he either quit or disappeared to find new work. Or he died. I hear many strange rumors."
Gwen chuckles. "Some say he got turned into a frog," she says.
"Where the hell did that come from?" Arthur asks, appalled but thoroughly amused by the image of Merlin being a slimy hopper. "It sounds ridiculous."
Gwaine holds in his laughter.
"Anyways. When shall the festival happen?"
"I was thinking within the next three months," Gwen suggests. "I believe we would have plenty of time."
"I believe five will be better, simply because magic is not our fortitude, and I feel people will doubt us," Lancelot wisely says.
"The longer we wait the worse it could get," Gwaine points out.
"Why not hold it at the end of December?" Eylon chimes in. "It would be…symbolic, considering that is the end of the year. You know—end of one era, beginning of another on the first of January."
Arthur smirks and looks at him proudly. "I like your thinking," he says. "Any who disagree, say I."
Nobody speaks up.
And, for once, the silence makes Arthur happy and comfortable with his decision.
Chapter 3: Cloak § Dagger
i believe this is what you'd call a slow burn tbh
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Merlin retreats to the town square for a time being, having slipped a short cloak with a big hood on for the sake of being discreet. He's hidden himself best he could in a corner of the main royal square, one leg hanging on the ground and the other perched up on the stone sill of the palace. His head is leaning against the wall and he's dozing, but he can't really fall asleep. His thoughts are still with Gaius and how the man, while old, would forget Merlin of all people.
It truly broke his heart. He's still horribly shaken up by the completely clueless look on his face. His own name triggered the most blank expression in the history of Gaius, a man of intelligence and…some memory, and because of it, he's ready to return to Avonbost.
For a while, he's completely out of it and sleeping deeply enough to not be immediately awoken by the bustle of Camelot. But it's late in the evening when he's fully awake and listening to the clops of horse hooves on cobblestone clattering against the walls. Merlin blinks blearily and moves his head slightly enough to see what the commotion is.
The wizard quickly straightens up a little, watching their movements carefully as they got off their eight horses one by one, the servants helping the royalty and the Knights helping one another. The sight makes Merlin smile a little. Sefa has done well.
"My Lord," Leon says as he rushes up to them. "I'm glad to see you returned. I was starting to worry."
Arthur smiles and claps Leon on the shoulder merrily. "'Tis nothing to worry about now," he replies. "We were delayed by mere bandits."
"I assume you all fare well, then, yes?"
"Mere scratches, my friend. Luckily a nearby physician helped us get better," Arthur goes on. Merlin watches them move on with a slight smile on his face. "Look out for a man with blond hair and sort of green eyes. I know it's a common look, but his name is Nathan. I owe him a personal thanks…and a festival, quite frankly…"
Gwen follows them suitely with Eylon chatting with her side-by-side. Gabriel and Marilynn unsaddle the horses and pull baggage off, and some other servants take care of the rest. Percival, the kind and mindful man he is, assists the horse's caretakers while Gwaine and Lancelot part ways for the tavern.
Merlin is practically holding his breath, because The Rising Sun is in the direction he is in, and the two Knights are fast approaching. They may be distracted with their own chatter, but that doesn't mean much when they've been trained to notice certain figures of suspicion.
Naturally, he isn't totally taken aback when Lancelot sideglances him.
Merlin, at first, panics. But it's very internalized and it can't necessarily be seen. His quick-thinking produces a smile—one that is elequoent and a bit dark, if he's honest, as Lancelot passes with a stare. His eyes are blown wide when he sees his face, and in the split second that Merlin is out of sight, his eyes flash golden.
"De me vlépeis," he whispers, and as magic does, it works instantly.
He cannot be seen, even though Lancelot scrambles back and scorches the posh courtyard with panic, sadness, heartbreak, and a little bit of hope.
The Knights of the Round Table are summoned the next morning. It's a bit obvious as to what it is; the look on Arthur's face is uncanny, though, and it's that expression alone that makes everyone a bit unwary.
When Queen Guinivere sits, everyone else follows suitely. However, the guards and two servants stay on their feet.
"As most of you are aware," Arthur starts, "we are to hold a festival at the end of December in honor of the lives, both magical and non-magical as well as living and dead, that were lost, wronged or ruined in the Great Purge and beyond."
Mordred's eyes lit up in interest. "This is quite sudden, my lord," he says. "What made you think of it?"
Arthur smiles. "I didn't think of it," he replies. "We were all attacked and injured by bandits, but a physician named Nathan saved us." He gently squeezes Gwen's hand. "If it were not for him, we would all be dead. Unfortunately, we were also robbed of any currency to spend—and his assistant merely asked us to hold a festival in honor of how we've wronged sorcery."
Mordred's eyes become glassy, but he's smiling a little. "That sounds wonderful," he says.
"I'm guessing this also has to do with…with Merlin, yes?" Leon speaks up. "A call, to try and get him back."
"Yes, of course," Arthur says. "I think we have all waited ten years too long to try to make amends beyond lifting his banishment. I…well, we are all hoping for the best."
The Knights didn't need to say or do anything to understand one another's agreement.
"If I may, my lord," Jack chimes.
"Yes? What is it?"
"…Um, well…I-I don't believe we need to wait," he explains a bit nervously, his odd nerves filtering into his sentences. "I realize his state of mind and age, but Gaius made multiple claims about how he hit Merlin in the head with a broomstick."
The restlessness in the room becomes uncomfortably noisy within three seconds of the statement.
"What do you mean?" Arthur asks. He looks at the very old man. "Gaius…tell me you know what you saw."
"I do," he says, his voice tired and soft. "I thought he was an intruder…and then he took an enchanted necklace off. He said he was Merlin, but I still mistook him for a page I sent for moments prior. He ran before I could truly remember though, sire. I apologize for that."
Arthur shakes his head. "It's not your fault," he says. "In fact, this is helpful. Nathan's assistant did mention rumors of Merlin heading or being in Camelot…"
"Sire," Lancelot half-mutters.
"Have you something to say, Lancelot?"
"Me and Gwaine…well—it's just…" He takes a few seconds of pause before he continues. "While we were heading to the lower town…we…well, I saw Merlin. With my own two eyes."
Nobody realizes their own breath is being held.
"Is he still here?" Arthur asks hastily. "Do you know?"
Lancelot looks to Gwaine, who shrugs, and as a response, he shakes his head. "I'm sorry, sire. He disappeared before I could get to him," he says.
"This…this is good news. Is it not?" Eylon points out after a few uneasy moments of silence. "It means he's back."
It's late in the evening when Gwen decides her restless mind needs satisfaction. She slips on an acceptable dress and a large cloak, sneaking down the corridors until she's walking through the courtyard. But she's stopped when she tries to enter the lower town.
"Where are you going, my lady?"
She stiffens and sighs, plastering a smile as she turns around. "Gwaine!" she says chirpily. "I guess we both fancy a midnight stroll, do we not?"
He gives her a disbelieving look. "I think we both know, Guinivere, that you're not out here for a simple midnight stroll," he says.
Her smile fades, and she nods a little. "Yes…" she murmurs. "I…I want to find Merlin."
"As do I," he agrees. "But we mustn't scare him off. We've already done so twice."
"It's been a whole decade," she points out. "Everything is a little different…so, naturally, it's all going to be frightening. I just don't want him to be alone and scared. Those are the worst times."
Gwaine's eyes dart around thoughtfully for a few seconds before he slowly nods his agreement. "Yes…yes they are," he agrees softly. His smile is sad and tired, and when he looks at her with those earthly brown eyes, she can see decades of exhaustion and sadness. It's an odd sight to see in such a young soul.
"Gwaine," she says. "Are you alright?"
He blinks and nods, and it disappears quite quickly. "Yes, yes. I'm fine, Your Highness," he says briskly. "You really must get back to your chambers, though. Arthur will be worried."
"I can manage," she points out defensively.
"Of course you can," he agrees, "but you have…passengers, do you not?"
Guinivere stares, a little bit surprised but in a sort of pleasent way. "How did you know?"
Gwaine chuckles and walks up to her. "I have a son. I watched him grow from the womb," he points out. "I know a pregnant woman when I see one."
The queen smiles a bit wryly. "Of course you would," she states. "We all know you've had some daddy scares."
Gwaine smiles back, only it's cheeky, but he's still a cheery man. "Here, let's have you returned. Rest is important in these weeks," he says.
"What about Merlin?"
"I shall come to you," he says. "If my search is fruitless, then it's probably best if we wait for him to come to us. He's been hurt, after all."
Gwen slowly nods, and goes along with his guiding hand that's on the sole of her back. "That is true," she agrees softly. She sighs and subtley rubs her stomach. She turns and looks at Gwaine. "You go ahead and get an early start, okay? Don't stay out for too long."
Gwaine stares for a few seconds before he nods. "Very well. I shall see you tomorrow," he says.
"Good night, Gwaine."
"Good night, Your Highness."
And with that, Gwen walks away.
But the instant she's inside the castle, Gwaine looks up to a chamber window and stares as he pulls off his necklace to reveal the face of Merlin.
The real Gwaine just about blanches from where he's spectating, his eyes widening to large stones.
Merlin smiles a little and stuffs the necklace away, stalking off with a bit of a confident skip to his step.
Nobody hears anything involving Merlin after Gwen's run-in for a whole two months.
It's July, now. Camelot's heat waves are a bit common thanks to their location, but it doesn't mean Guinivere savours it like it's never happened before. She's more often outside tending to the little garden with the royal florists and greenery caretakers than actually being inside, taking care of official things.
Arthur decides to let it slide when it doesn't necessarily matter. He enjoys watching her from the windows and he especially doesn't mind the scentful flowers she brings back.
Their chambers are practically a whole new garden with how many flowers there are. Marilynn is given some, too, and for a few days she uses them to decorate her hair a little bit.
But it's at the beginning of August that Gwen's favorite flower blooms, and she gathers enough to make something for Arthur she knew he would appreciated.
It's a surprise at the end of the day. The room is fairly warm but it's lively with the garden flowers. Some are in water pots, others are laying out on surfaces or twisted together around the room. Arthur enters, his eyes weary from the day—but he brightens up considerably when he sees Gwen sitting where she is. Her hair is down, untouched by the serving maids' crafty hairstyles. Instead of a queen's crown decorating her forehead, it's a flower crown braided by lithe hands. He smiles and walks up to her, his hands gently straddling her hips. "Good evening, my queen," he says happily, pecking a living kiss on her lips. "I see you've been busy."
She smiles back almost giddily, her eyes twinkling with an excitement Arthur knew all too well.
"What have you got for me, love?" he asks, his curiosity peaking.
Gwen's grin becomes considerably wider as she pulls away from him. "A surprise you've been waiting for," she says. "And…hinting at…for a long time."
Arthur's face becomes creased with thought as he wonders about what her riddles mean.
"Well that's not fair," he says poutfully.
"Oh, come on…" she says almost cheekily. "What is one thing you've always wanted, but you yourself can not make without me?"
Arthur reapproaches his wife thoughtfully, his eyes squinted in deep thought. "…A happy marriage?"
She laughs and hooks her arms around his neck, lifting herself on her toes to kiss him on the lips. His hands touch on her hips again, sliding up her sides—but he stops midway when he feels a thicker stomach than he expects.
"Have you being eating more food than necessary, Gwen?" he inquires.
She flashes her teeth happily in a big grin. "Of course I have. I'm feeding an extra three people now," she points out.
Arthur pulls his face from hers and gives a curious expression. "You're what?"
The corners of her mouth stretch further—and they'd break her face if she is allowed to smile any wider. "You heard me," she says. "I'm feeding three extra people."
He pauses for a few seconds, his eyes slitted. "Guinivere—"
"Have you guessed yet?" she asks softly, putting his hand to her stomach with a wry shine.
He's still thinking, but when he feels—truly and wholheartedly feels, his eyes widen and he's breathless with shock. "You…you're pregnant," he whispers in awe.
It's in that moment that Guinivere smiles with tears in her eyes, and as she nods, nothing but jubilance fills the room as they both celebrate the coming of three children. Children of which would one day rule in their place and make for amazing kings or queens.
Merlin's feeling horrifically lonely when a dull but magical connection lights up. It's comfortably hot in his stomach, curling into his insides like soft sheets. He feels tension release itself from his shoulders as he finds the stroll by the daylit walls of Camelot a bit easier to smuggle himself by. He breathes easier, but he finds fatigue and weakness is becoming dominant moments after.
It makes Merlin sigh quietly and lean against the closest tree, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand.
He's yet to be Nathan. And Nathan is supposed to be here. He said so and everything—to Lancelot, of all people, but it is true that his purpose has been fulfilled. While Gaius has clearly been a mind of fleeting memories for a few years, he still has hope. And…Gwen, too, if he were honest.
She's happily pregnant. Four months along, and counting, and expecting to hold three new babies in five months. The thought makes Merlin smile a bit happily, but he has a bad feeling.
His bad feelings are always trustworthy. Well—it's not entirely true, but he understands them enough to know when he should and shouldn't act on them. This is a moment of such. He trusts them.
It's why he put a protective charm on the children, back in Avonbost when everyone had been recovering. It'd live with them for the upcoming months. He plans to keep it going until they're at least able to walk on their own. He isn't sure if he can keep that up for very long, but he is Emrys. He doesn't know his full magical limits just yet, and while he isn't sure if he wants to find out, he's willing to take the risk.
Of course, with this specific kind of charm comes the cost of being dependent. He's done some reading; if it's kept on for a prolonged amount of time, the caster will feel horrible effects that can last for years. It's basically addiction, only worse because it's to whatever or whoever the charm is on, and it's makes this spell the type that isn't okay to be joked around with.
It's a challenge to keep Nathan's appearance up, since the enchantment is so powerful, and he's not willing to risk his life on. Besides, Sefa loves him too much to let the oppurtunity of rejuvinating his relationship with Camelot go, and if he knows her as well as he thinks he does, she likely tipped them all off. It would explain the slight hope he saw on Lancelot's face a bit more.
Merlin stops his aimless stroll when he sees Morgan roaming along the line of the forest. She's occassionally bending over and plucking up some wildflowers, adding them to a small basket hooked around her sleeved arms.
He stares at her for a prolonged amount of time—time of which he doesn't recall, because his pristine blue eyes are stuck on her face. It's too chiselled, too fine…her jawline is too square, too, and those bright yet clouded eyes remind him of days he isn't keen on remembering.
He isn't sure if he should confront her as Nathan or Merlin—not that it'd make much difference to him. He's been spotted three and a half times already. Why not make the numbers complete and evident?
But that's selfish. He couldn't raise awareness of his presence to Morgana Pendragon of all people. It'd make things rough for Arthur.
It'd be better if he just killed her right now—ended her treachery, destroyed the great evil.
But seeing her face so untouched by frown and hate made regrets return. Of course, they'd become neutralized over time…but it doesn't change the fact that he still did such a deed. Merlin is about to cast a killing spell he's learned to make painful deaths quick, but Morgana moves her face towards his figure and jumps a little.
At first, there is fear on her face. She stops and stares at him for a few seconds, her eyes darting up and down his body before she straightens up and actually faces him with a kind smile. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you there," she says. "Do you need something?"
Merlin frowns at her. He looks at her from eye to toe, scrtunizing her. "Do you not recognize me?" he inquires.
"…No…I do not," Morgana responds carefully. "Am I supposed to?"
Merlin doesn't break his stare for a few long-standing moments. It gets to the point of where Morgana actually shifts her foot a little, preparing to turn tail and flee if the need arises. "My apologies," he eventually says with a flat, unfriendly tone. "You look uncannily similar to someone I know."
She smiles a bit nervously. "You aren't the first to say that," she murmurs.
"What's your name?" he asks.
"I-I'm…Morgan," the witch introduces. "Morgan le Fay. Who are you?"
"…Myrddin," he states shortly. "I'm Myrddin Wyltt."
"An interesting name," she comments. "Are you not from around here?"
Is he? He was born and raised in Essetir, not Camelot. He can't be sure anymore. "No," he replies. "I come from the far west."
"What brings you here?" she asks. "If you don't mind."
"Nothing grand," he replies. "I'm just travelling as of now. Albion is grand. I wish to see what is in it."
She smiles genuinely. "That sounds wonderful. How has it been so far?"
His expression is blank for a few brief seconds before he, too, manages a slight smile. "It hasn't been disappointing."
"That's good," she says, her pale and sharp cheeks reddening a little. "I must get back, now. Shall I see you again?"
"Perhaps," Merlin replies vaguely. "I'm not going anywhere for a while."
Her genuine smile returns as she gives curtesy with the skirts of her dress.
Then, without another word, she turns and strides off back to the main entrance of Camelot. Watching her walk away gives him a chill the heat of the day clashes with quite uncomfortably. He sniffs quietly, letting his thoughts wander and conspire. He just can't help but wonder why this memory epidemic is happening, and he can't decide if it's truly a curse or a blessing.
Or a trick.
de me vlepeis: you do not see me (Greek)
i totally didnt try to figure out what language was used in the show. i knew it was something weird sounding like Greek or old English and then i found out it was old English used for the spells and Greek as the dragon language and im not editing it bc i actually kinda like it. especially when dragon's come across as the og magic users.
anyways, feedback is always appreciated. i am planning on continuing this story to the end :^)
Chapter 4: Arthur
one of my favorite chapters thus far :,)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Merlin is quietly observing from a formidable distance as Leon and his wife oversee their children play in a small part of the lower town. It's where all the young usually go to play, and sometimes he would come here to make frogs appear from the more muddy crevices the area has to offer.
Kathryn is no longer pregnant; she's holding her fifth child, a son, who is gently swaddled in a comfortable blanket nobility can offer. Gwaine is with them, too, wisely taking his day off to spend time with his son. The boy is young, looking to be no older than four years old. His hair is dark, but there are strawberry blonde highlights that shine in the sunlight with hazel green eyes. His skin is fair, and while he is still rather small, Merlin can already see some strong characteristics that primarily come from Gwaine. It's not a disappointing sight.
The other four children running around look just like Leon, too, and if Merlin could see the said Knight at their ages, he's fairly certain he wouldn't be able to discriminate well.
The oldest and second youngest are the only girls—the rest are boys, and Merlin can feel the seer in him whisper that, if they are to ever bear a sixth child, a likely happenstance, it will be another son. The women of the family would be largely outnumbered. It makes him smile a little, as the thought of a family is fleeting yet warm. But he turns his head away knowing wholefully well that, if he stares for too long, he'll have a red flag pinned to his head.
"I see that you're interested in the children," a woman's voice sounds.
Merlin cringes and turns his hooded face to the origin. It's Morgana. Or—Morgan le Fay. "They look much like their parents," he points out briskly.
"They do, don't they?" she agrees. "Are you friends with them?"
"A little," he replies softly. "I haven't spoken to them in a very long time. Should the new years arrive any quicker, it'd be eleven."
"Why do you not speak to them now?" Morgana questions. "I'm sure they would be happy to see you again."
Merlin nods. "Yes, they would be. But…we've left on bad terms."
"Ah, I see," she hums thoughtfully, planting herself next to his knees on the backless bench he's made himself vertically home. "What happened?"
Morgana stares for a few flat seconds before she says, "No, seriously. What happened?"
Her eyes light up. "Ah, you're a…warlock."
"That I am. Is it problematic?"
"No. I…I have magic, too. I'm unsure how I should use it, though. I just do the smaller manipulations," she explains.
"You know…move things here, put that there, multitask…"
"The simpler things."
She smiles kindly, her shoulders losing some tension. "It's nice to know someone else has it," she nostalgically murmurs. "What about you, Myrddin? What do you use your magic for?"
"Just about everything," he replies. "Gardening, fighting, conjuring, healing. I've even used protective charms on the unborn before."
She stares in surprise. "Impressive."
"I guess it is," he replies tiredly. "But magic has always destroyed something of mine."
"Yet you still use it?"
"I have the inborn gift. I can't help it."
"As do I."
His smile twitches, but it doesn't stay. He knows that fact all too well.
"…You look sad. Are you okay?" she asks observantly.
Merlin blinks and looks at her. "Am I?"
Morgana looks at him oddly. "That question is effective, my friend. Are you?"
"A lot of times, yes. I do get sad," he murmurs. His blue eyes drift over to the pack of children again. "This is one of those moments where I just don't know what to do with myself."
Morgan stares thoughtfully at them as well. But then she perks up and taps his knee. "Do you see that child? Right over there…he's got light brown hair," she says.
Merlin blinks, his face blank and questioning.
She smiles gleefully. "Oh, come on. Use your magic," she says encouragingly. "It's not like you'll die, right? It's legal. Besides, a bit of entertainment isn't harmful. It's just fun."
Merlin stares at her for a few more seconds, and he can't help but wonder if he should. "They'd know it's me," he points out softly.
"Hm…how about I cover for you then?" she suggests. "It wouldn't ruin me completely. Just about everyone has vague knowledge that Morgan le Fay has magic."
"You…you don't need to…" he stutters, because this new Morgana is…an interesting character. "I mean, it's nothing to worry about. I'll…I'll be gone before they'll see me…"
"Very well," she says. "If you say so."
Merlin smiles and turns his back towards the children. He gets up and walks away, but not before glancing at them and casting a wordless spell that built a big fat and ugly—but entertaining—toad that leaps around and away from the children as they took humorous chase.
Even the boy with the light brown hair chases it, and Merlin is fairly certain he's the one who will catch it.
Three days after the toad happenstance, there's a restlessness in the guards. Merlin is roaming the streets right before the late hour in which only the more suspicious and sketchy people walk when he notices it. He can feel it in the air. It's strong. It's indefinitely explained when the Knights of the Round Table ride.
Merlin instantly takes off after them. But not as himself. He uses a shapeshifting spell the instant he's out of sight, and without much trouble, he prancing after their trail as a large white stag. He learned and mastered it soon after retreating purely because running had been his primal instinct—until he arrived in Avonbost, of course.
But that's a whole new story he'd rather not delve in to. He can't tell as to where they're going, but it's far away from Camelot. They kept going for many hours, the horses pushing themselves to the limit and likely even beyond. They do slow down to a reasonable trot by sunrise. It's a gray morning and Merlin feels the cold settling into his tired joints—and he doesn't find the will to actually stop until he smells the horses and the food.
He skids on his hooves to a stop, but, of course, there has to be a big fat log in front of him. Masterful as he may be of shapeshifting, he's got minimal experience with it. He almost rarely becomes a deer of all things. Having four legs and curvy bone spikes on his head makes for an interesting change—and it's one he struggles with.
So, having struggles, he does a flip off the log and lands horribly hard on his back. He makes a louder sound than he probably likes, but he deals with it and scrambles embarrassingly quick to his feet.
He stands to face the crossbow Leon sports quite well. Merlin huffs and backs away. His leg hurts. He probably sprained it—but his instinct is too primal, and it's telling him to run.
"No! No, don't kill it!" Eylon shouts.
Leon reacts quickly and flinches, half-glaring at the younger man. "Why is that, exactly?"
"You don't know what a white stag tells us?" he asks, baffled by his ignorance.
"No. Enlighten me."
"It means we must go on a quest," he says. "We are no longer hunting Julius Borden to the Tomb of Ashkanar. It's a quest."
Arthur steps up to his side and eyes the large white stag standing before him, his gaze staying on Merlin a bit too long before he looks at Leon and Eylon. "An interesting concept," he says idly. He looks over his shoulder to the rest of the Knights. "Go get ready. We're leaving again."
"We haven't been resting long," Gwaine points out.
"Nor has Borden. I'm not risking a dragon egg falling into his hands."
Merlin's ears shoot straight up, alarm filling itself to the brim.
A dragon egg…it's no wonder they left at such a dead-night time, when that's taken into consideration.
Perhaps Kilgarrah had been correct. Perhaps there truly is another dragon out there. He'd mentioned it before.
Merlin doesn't wait to follow the Knights. He knows where this tomb is—he's seen marked maps, he's heard stories. He knows where he currently is. He can get to the Tomb of Ashkanar before them and get the egg. That'd be the perfect scenario. But his leg hurts. He can't go on like this.
Merlin limps forward, passing by a majority of the group. They are all carefully watching him, and it's not until his body twists into a dark-furred wolf that they're greatly alarmed by and leaping up. He doesn't care for them, though. Instead he takes chase after the horses, biting at their ankles with strong jaws. They're all very quick to retreat. In fact, most of the horses are running away before he can get to them.
"Get it! Kill it!" Arthur shouts, and with the familiar sounds of swords unsheathing, they take chase.
The pain in Merlin's back leg is overran by instinct. He flees in the direction of the tomb at top speed, but he feels the graze of an arrow cut at his shoulder. It doesn't slow him down.
He keeps running, and he refuses to stop until he couldn't take the pain anymore.
The cold stream felt nice to his face and throat. Merlin's form is purely human as he drinks and heals up for the next few hours. He feels a bit stupid, though, for not thinking ahead. He didn't bring a crumb of food with himself.
And he's too tired to hunt.
Horribly conflicting, if he's honest.
Merlin sighs quietly and shakes his head free of water. It's not like that matters. He's survived off of nothing but water for days at a time. It's why he's so frail nowadays.
He scoots back and crosses his leg, letting the sprained one sprawl itself out.
With a breath of exhaustion, he falls soundly asleep against the tree trunk.
The Knights of the Round Table are breathless and exhausted when the Tomb of Ashkanar comes into view.
Gwaine has to take a second to sit down, and Eylon quickly joins him.
"Stand up, you two. We're wasting daylight," Arthur snaps.
"Please, Your Highness…" Eylon asks breathlessly. "May we rest? Just…just for a few minutes, sire."
The rest of the Knights look to him, and for a few moments, Arthur thinks. But he's quick to give in.
"Very well," he says. "Rejuvinate for a few minutes. I will scout."
Leon opens his mouth to protest, but the king is already making his way further down the hill. He sighs almost hopelessly.
"He'll be fine," Percival says. "We can't be long, anyways. This is too important."
Mordred is staring off into the distance, his eyes glued on the tomb ahead. "He never told us why we left in the middle of the night," he mutters, taking a swig of water before passing it on.
"Dragons are nothing to joke about," Lancelot points out. "They're powerful beasts."
"But there are no dragonlords left," Mordred points out. "There's no point in getting a dragon without a dragonlord. Besides, only dragonlords can hatch dragon eggs."
"I've heard rumors that there's a dragonlord out there," Lancelot states.
"No, he died years ago," Leon murmurs. "Right around the same time when the Great Dragon escaped Camelot."
"I've heard about that," Eylon chimes. "Gwen told me all about it."
"Yes…I remember it all too well," the captain agrees.
"I'm…I'm not talking about that dragonlord," Lancelot intervenes. "I spoke to some druids while searching for Merlin. They said they knew nothing beyond silly rumors, but they did talk about a dragon being summoned by a man days before I arrived."
"When was this?" Mordred jumps to ask.
"Hm…seven years ago, I think," he replies. "I've no luck of getting anymore information, but if this unnamed dragonlord lived long enough to survive even Uther's Great Purge…then why not survive longer?"
They go silent, but they all agree. The conversation is cut off when Arthur returns, and soon enough, they're back on their feet.
"We're to keep going," Arthur says. "I found evidence of Borden's camp. He can't be much further ahead."
"Is he on foot?"
"Yes, I saw no hoof prints. If we hurry, we can catch up to him before he gets to the tomb."
"Are we taking the dragon egg back to Camelot?" Gwaine asks rather suddenly.
Everybody doubles back on him, giving raised brows and surprised expressions. But their jaws loosen when Arthur answers.
"Yes," he says. "We are."
Merlin learns very early on that he is a day too late to catch the Knights at the Tomb of Ashkanar. It makes his teeth grind angrily. He slept for too long and made horribly careless decisions.
He makes way back to Camelot with a downcast but red-eyed expression that has him berating his own self every minute or so. But, upon re-entering as Nathan, he hears nothing.
All of the sounds waft from the posh center of Camelot. He rushes to the commotion—and sure enough, everyone is gathered around waiting for the King and Queen's appearance.
Merlin turns to a man standing next to him. "What's happening?" he asks.
The farmer looks at him strangely. "Ya 'aven't heard, boy-o?"
"No. Why? Is it bad?"
"It depends on who yer askin'," he states. "Rumor 'as it that the King took a dragon egg and keeps it in hi' castle chambers now. Mighty stupid, I tell ya. Many wan'it."
"I'd imagine so," Merlin mutters. He doesn't continue the conversation. It goes all too silent very quickly, and when he discreetly looks up underneath his scarf hood, he can see why.
Arthur and Gwen stand before the crowd, royally presentable and ready to speak.
"Thank you all for coming," Arthur says. "I've returned from a manhunt just this morning—but it appears that rumors have already spread."
"I'm here to address them, and to tell you all that, yes, a man sought and stole something from the magical vaults of Camelot," he goes on. "He succeeded, and fled for the Tomb of Ashkanar. His goal was to get the legendary dragon egg."
The murmurs get stronger.
"Hey," a female voice whispers.
Merlin moves away from it as he turns his face towards the origin. It's Morgan le Fay. "Oh. Hello," he murmurs back flatly. She smiles.
"Is it true, then, my lord? Is the dragon egg in Camelot?" a man bravely questions.
"No," Arthur replies simply. "The egg was destroyed when the man took it from its pedestal in the tomb. There is no dragon in Camelot. Not anymore. You may rest easy."
"Do you believe him?" Morgan asks.
Merlin blinks thoughtfully. "No," he says. She gives him a fairly surprised look, which is understandable, but Merlin isn't fazed. He knows a dragon when he feels it. Arthur is lying.
"In other news, I have decided to hold a festival on the thirty-first of December," Arthur continues. It silences the crowd. "It will be hosted by all of Camelot, to honor those who have been wronged by my father's hatred for magic."
The talk in the crowd is more rife with excitement now, but Merlin's eyes are wide and shocked. "That's…new," he says.
Morgan nods. "I never thought he'd have it in him," she agrees softly.
"We are to be kind to sorcerers of all but the dark arts," Arthur speaks. His voice is loud and almost godly from where Merlin is standing, but it never felt like that once. "Welcome them with open arms. We are entering a new era!"
A majority of the people start to cheer, but there are also those who are clearly displeased. Merlin knows them as people who still embellish themselves in Uther's rule even when it has been long gone. They're the kind of people who killed that which he solely holds dearest, and the reason why he's always held off on returning to Camelot.
"This is amazing, though, is it not?" Morgan points out, beaming and bouncing on the balls of her feet a little. "A festival to celebrate magic. In Camelot of all places! I've…I never imagined such acceptance. And from the King, no less."
Merlin smiles and turns to her again, nodding a bit. "Indeed," he agrees. "It's quite a change of attitude."
"That it is." She looks at him. "Will you be there?"
He pauses for a few seconds, debating, but knowing all too well just how stupid he would be to not go. "Of course," he replies. "I couldn't miss it for the world."
It's that very night that Merlin sneaks into the castle.
Well—more like…barges in, if he's honest.
He uses a self-invented invisibility spell to sneak by all the guards. It works brilliantly, and he keeps it up well into the hallways of the royal quarters. It takes almost an hour, simply because he could not mask his sounds. Not to mention the distance between the front entrance and Arthur's chambers.
But…he does make it. And he arrives with great emotion. It simply hurts, standing there. He isn't sure as to what he should expect. Or if he should expect anything at all. He removes what he can from what's stopping him—which honestly isn't easy. He isn't sure how he'll mask opening a door. Not without raising a red flag…and it'll happen if he's not careful.
So, instead of the usual, he summons up a blast of wind that swings the doors wide open. He hears Gwen's cries of surprise and the King's shouts instantly. Then he hears the sound of Arthur's sword unsheathing. But he doesn't pay attention to it. He just steps in and starts to search for the egg.
After a desperate scuttle around Arthur, he finds nothing.
It makes him shiver. His eyes wet themselves with tears of frustration—because what if that dragon egg truly was destroyed? What if Arthur wasn't lying? It hurt his head to think—but he isn't hopeless. There are still a few secure places he can think of before he'd give himself permission to lose it. Even then he wouldn't do it in Camelot.
Merlin runs out of the room, just in time for some Knights and guards to arrive with their weapons at the ready. Nobody takes the time to hear his footsteps, though, which he appreciates majorly because he isn't in the mood to deal with Camelot's army. The vaults are still rich with some artifacts. It's supremely guarded, though, which Merlin feels a bit happy about because it tells him just how serious Arthur is becoming about the entire magic fiasco. There's a whole new room and everything—and it's in that very same room he can sense the unborn dragon.
All the like, he's also kicking himself because this will take time he doesn't have to get past. Unless he uses darker magic to unlock it. He…is a sorcerer after all.
So, with a deep breath, he whispers, "…Exetáste aftó to frágma me tin kardiá kai tin psychí, giatí aftó pou epidióko eínai akrivós péra."
It clicks and rolls and chimes, and the door opens.
The room is empty, and almost cramped when he steps in, but it doesn't make a difference. There's a dragon egg.
Merlin nearly goes breathless with awe and relief. He walks up to it, his outstretched hands touching it gently.
The shell is smooth and rich with ancient magic. He can feel the gentle throb of a heartbeat, and for a few seconds, he forgets about the potential danger he's in. Just feeling the heartbeat alone mended kinks in his back and made his aching chest warm and happy. He smiles, undoubtedly happy with the survival. The very last dragon is here with him. The little baby is in his hands now.
Of course, the…danger…catches up.
Merlin feels the poke of a sharp sword touch his cloaked back, pressing threateningly hard against his thin flesh.
"If you try anything, Borden, I will kill you." It's Arthur.
Merlin realizes that he literally can't escape without hurting someone and making it superabundantly clear that he's still holding a grudge. It's half true—but he's not all that angry anymore. The festival has given him some perspective.
"I highly doubt Borden's alive," Merlin says. "No one can survive that amount of rock falling on top of his skull." He smiles when he hears absolute silence. "Unless his spirit is back, which I also highly doubt, I'm most certainly not Borden."
The point of the blade falls and allows Merlin room to turn around and look at the person he's been avoiding for a very long time. Arthur's face is ashen with pure shock. He's staring quite dumbly for a few moments too long.
It honestly makes Merlin truly grin and laugh. "Your face looks so stupid," he says jokingly.
Arthur glares childishly and pouts. "It does not," he rebutes, but there are tears in his eyes he can't rid of with simple blinking. He takes in a deep, shaky breath and practically yanks the wizard into a deep, long-deserved hug.
"Heh…I-I didn't think you'd hug me," Merlin mutters.
Arthur holds him tighter and chuckles weakly. "It's been so long," he says quietly. "I didn't think you were alive until I heard druid rumors about how you were likely in Camelot…"
Merlin smiles faintly. Clever, clever Sefa. He truly doesn't deserve her. "Well…I'm here."
Arthur nods a little. "Yes…yes you are," he murmurs. "Welcome home."
fun fact: merlin taught morgana and nimue magic in return for sex and love lol. they both turned on him and used their magic for evil at some point, and one of them successfully stuffed him in a tree. lovely.
Chapter 5: Aithusa
a dark little set-up ish plotty chapter :^) enjoy
"How did you even get down here?"
"Magic locked the door."
"Magic can break magic."
He smiles a bit and gently washes a hand over the dragon egg. He can still feel that peaceful, everlasting heartbeat.
"What were you gonna do with it?" Arthur asks as he glances at his hands. "You seem to be fond of it."
"I'm…" He frowns a little. "Dragons, they're…kin. To—to me, at least…if that doesn't sound crazy…"
"It does," he states calmly. "But not with you. I honestly can't find it in myself to stop being used to getting surprised by you."
He chuckles. "If that's the case, then you should know that I'm a dragonlord," he says softly. "The very last."
Arthur blinks and stares for a few tense moments before he merely nods. "Lancelot did mention there being a man who could summon a dragon…" he points out. "I…I didn't expect it to be you, though."
"Nobody ever does," Merlin agrees. "Please don't tell anyone else. Not without asking me about it."
Arthur nods again. "Of course," he replies. "I'll keep it close to my heart."
Merlin smiles a little. "Thank you."
"Um…what shall I tell the others? About your appearance, I mean," he inquires.
"I-I don't know," Merlin murmurs. He shakes his head, unsure. "I…I'd rather not have them know at all…"
"They're heartbroken, too, Merlin. They should know," he states.
The wizard stares at the egg shell of the magical beast, his eyes watery and his throat jammed with an overwhelming feeling. "I'm sorry," he says softly. "It's…it's a bit much just coming back…" He blinks tears that fall onto the dragon egg as he sniffs. "All the people, the new and old…this upcoming festival…Gwaine's son…three new Pendragon's…"
Arthur goes quiet.
Merlin laughs a little and wipes away his tears. "It doesn't feel like I belong here anymore…"
"You're wrong, Merlin," Arthur says. He puts his hands on the sides of his friend's head, his thumbs stroking his damp, red cheeks. "You've been a missing puzzle piece for so long. I never thought I'd see you again. I know I can speak for everyone when I say that we all felt a hole form in our hearts when I…banished you."
Merlin's eyes don't stay with his for long. They quickly drop to the egg again as he frowns a little. He grabs the king's right hand with a thin, pale one. He feels the warmth of his body heat, and even though he feels horribly downcast, he manages the smallest smile ever. "At least you repealed it," he points out.
"I shouldn't have to repeal a banishment on my greatest friend," he points out. "I'm sorry I rejected you, Merlin. You protected me with your heart and soul…and I kicked you when you were down."
Merlin chuckles and nods. "You had your better moments, though," he points out softly. "And…the festival…i-it's definitely one of your better ones."
"Thanks," Arthur says.
The wizard sniffs and squares his shoulders up, moving his face away from those large, warm hands and back into the cold of the room. "You don't mind if I take this, do you?" he asks. "I do intend to hatch it."
Arthur blinks in surprise. "You do?"
He nods. "…Yeah," he says, his voice quiet and almost afraid. "I am a dragonlord, afterall."
"I-I mean…what will happen?"
Merlin chuckles. "It'll be like watching a chick hatch," he points out. "Dragons, beyond having the ability to fly and breathe fire, are rather harmless when they're young, and they're considered young for years."
"Well…as long as you know what you're doing…" he murmurs. "At least do it outside the citadel…I don't need panic."
"Thank you," Merlin says. He gently picks up the egg and looks directly at Arthur. "I'll see you later."
The King stares at him in surprise before he winces, watching as Merlin turns into nothing but thin air with the simple flash of his magical eyes.
Merlin doesn't wait.
He's in a forested area within the hour, well away from the dangers of Camelot's people. The egg is safely tucked under his arm, and for a while, he basks in nothing but the soft and alive heartbeat. It makes him calm and gives him the confidence to cry true tears…because he can't keep in the overwhelming happiness of being accepted.
It changes many things. But it doesn't change his desire to hatch the egg.
He eventually pulls himself from the trance of life the egg put on him, setting the the unborn beauty in front of his knees. He watches it carefully. Merlin eventually sighs. He couldn't think of a name for the life of himself. The weight of the world feels like it rests on his tongue. To give a dragon a name is to give a dragon a life. Names are a bit of a thing among the extinct species, as far as he can tell.
But, then again, this new one knew nothing of their own kind. It's forever the last…unless, of course, this dragon has the capability to lay an egg. That would be very far down the line, but Merlin knows he'll be there to see it.
So, with a deep breath and a deep thought, he says the name.
His eyes flash golden, and for a few seconds nothing happens. Merlin almost deflats, but he stops himself when the egg wiggles and cracks. He blinks in surprise and leans forward. The crack isn't at the top. In fact, it's on the left side. And, quite frankly, it's not a very big crack.
It grows, however, when the little babe makes a second effort. It's much stronger this time. A wing pops out, beautifully white and glorious and…new. It takes another few seconds to get its head out—but it's successful, and soon enough, Merlin is facing a bird-like lizard face.
He stares in awe. "Hello, love," he greets, his voice completely distracted. "Welcome to Albion."
Aithusa crows adorably, and works the rest of their way out of the egg. Merlin sets his hand out and allows for the newborn to land in his palm. Aithusa clumsily does so, having likely recognized it from earlier. He smiles a little, but it quickly turns sad as he strokes his fingers across tender white scales.
He can't help but wonder what Kilgarrah would do. The old winged-beast probably would've recited a poetic line from a prophecy about Aithusa's future.
He can already tell that she's a charmer, having rolled onto her back to show off her stomach. He can see her gender from the view, and it makes him cringe because he will have to teach her mannerisms. But…it's telling. Some female dragons can lay eggs. The chance is higher with them at least, but still. It's fairly rare.
Merlin shifts and sits on his backside, laying the tiny dragon on his chest to curl up and nap. He doesn't nap, though. He's just wondering how he'll take care of a white dragon in the middle of Camelot.
The morning of Aithusa's birth, Merlin heads back into town. He's got his head scarf on again, but it's a bit looser this time for the baby dragon to lounge on his shoulders. The egg shells are in his small, infinite pouch—to either sell or keep, because dragon egg shells can be sold for hundreds of thousands of shillings at a time to a mere two pence.
The market is busy. Children are prancing about, tired but happy as they play in the cool morning air of summer. Merlin can already feel the heat of the day descending on his back, though. Regardless, he buys. He gets one small fish, fresh berries, an apple and some bread. He knows a dragon's appetite vaguely—he's read up on it, of course, as well as heard stories from Kilgarrah. Dragons essentially have personal taste. Aithusa could like to eat mud for all he knows.
He slips into an alleyway and waves the fish by his jaw. She smells it and pokes her head out, briefly nibbling at it before screeching and retreating. It makes Merlin smile. "No to fish, then. What about berries? They're fresh," he says. He pulls out a blueberry and holds it up to her. She expresses a bit more interest, but she only gets a pinch in before she just stops.
He stares at her questioningly, to which she just flicks her tail with attitude and tucks herself away.
"So…no blueberries," he says.
Aithusa doesn't let him throw it out, though. She quickly snatches it from his palm and retreats back to her spot. Merlin smiles, happy with the amusing company on his shoulder. He bites into his apple and moves on, heading over to a quieter place to eat. Because he hasn't eaten since the evening Arthur had burst out of Camelot for the Tomb of Ashkanar, and that had to have been nearly a week ago. He's starving.
Merlin stops in his tracks and turns his head around to the source of the voice—which, of course, has to be Morgan le Fay of all people. He's internally grimacing, because she's still Morgana, but regardless he pulls a small smile. "Hello, Mor-Morgan," he says, nearly stuttering out Morgana.
She smiles back and tucks a loose strand of hair around her ear. "Lovely morning," she says. "I saw you shopping at the market earlier. I didn't think I'd ever catch you actually buying food."
Merlin's eyes light up a little, slight amusement filling them up. "I haven't eaten in a while," he points out almost sheepishly.
Morgan nods. "You do looks skinnier than usual today," she states. Her eyes scrutinize him for a few seconds before she shifts and smiles again. "Would you like to walk with me? I need to make some errands…and doing them alone is…well, boring."
Merlin blinks at her, his throat going a bit dry. He's slowly starting to catch on that she's taken a liking to him—and it's giving him a nervous and wary feeling.
"Um…sure. I guess," he replies. Morgan le Fay is a woman he wants to analyze. He can't tell if it's truly Morgana Pendragon, the evil of the prophecy, telling a lie and charming everyone including him, or if it's something else entirely and this woman's name is Morgan le Fay. But then there had also been the run-in with Morgan as Nathan. She looked…different. Her face hadn't been so chiselled. It'd been softer, younger. Newer.
"Where are we going?" he inquires, following her as they continue down the alleyway.
Morgan le Fay smiles. "I need to drop off some seeds the local florist has been requesting," she says. "They're called eldergleam."
"I've…never heard of it," he says. "Where does it come from?"
"Far up north," she explains. "The Norse people got their trade in. Apparently there are rare but magical plants up there people would kill for."
"And…the eldergleam? What does it do?"
"It glows," she states. "It also has resistent properties. The local florist is a former alchemist and wants to start practicing again."
Merlin hums thoughtfully. He's never really been into alchemy…but he's gone to alchemists for herbs. But he's never once heard of eldergleam. And he most certainly would've by now.
Something isn't right with it.
"Where did you get it from?"
"Someone named Rita is selling it," she says. "Why? Is something wrong?"
He shakes his head. "No…it's just that I would've heard of a glowing flower coming from the northerners by now," he points out. He looks at her, his expression blank but deeply thoughtful. "You don't mind if I leave, do you? I'd like to meet this Rita."
Morgan stops and looks at him strangely. "Oh…um, sure thing," she says. "But…Myrddin…"
"I…I should probably come with you."
He stares. "Is Rita hard to find?"
"Yes. His cabin is well hidden," she points out.
Merlin gives her a suspicious look before he sighs. "Fine. Take me to him."
"I will. Just let me get this to the florist, please. Then we'll be on our way."
Merlin is taken down a path he hasn't seen in a long time.
He feeds Aithusa another blueberry to keep her calm and hidden as he makes way through the forest. They're heading straight for the Valley.
"Morgan," he says. "How did you meet Rita?"
"He was looking for someone to merely deliver his supplies to Camelot," she replies. She looks at him with a worried frown. "Myrddin…is something wrong?"
He looks at her, carefully considering what he's to say before he responds. "It's making me nervous," he says quietly, and his break of eye contact keeps Morgan from asking anymore questions.
"We'll be there in a few more minutes," she says instead. "It's just up ahead."
Merlin doesn't say anything. His eyes merely light up and zone in on their destination. But he sees it.
Instantly, he stops walking and looks at Morgan. She isn't too far behind in stopping, either, looking at him with a slight frown again. "Myrddin?"
He glares at her. "You tricked me," he says.
"What do you mean—"
"Morgan, shut up. You know exactly what I mean."
She goes silent.
"What were you thinking?" he asks, his voice stoic but rife with looming threat. "Did you bring them here?"
"No! No, I-I just…th-they…" Morgan flinches as tears fill her eyes. "They threatened to kill the Queen and her children."
Merlin stares at her, his eyes narrowed in slits as he takes a moment to think. She is Morgana, still, regardless of name and face. He isn't sure if she's still that evil witch, though. He hasn't sensed an ounce of malice from her since he's first met her—and it's a curious notion, because the poor soul has been lost to the shallows of darkness and vengeance for many years. He knows she deserves something right, and it changed when she went too far, but seeing the purity of her emotions as she is now makes him want redemption. So he takes what he can of it.
"You're lucky I'm here," he says, ripping off the enchanted necklace from around his throat. The magic breaks but the charm is still visible, and Sefa can still recognize it. "Go to Mercia. There's a village there—peaceful little town called Avonbost. Find the physician. Her name's Sefa. If you show her this necklace, she'll know I sent you."
Morgan gives him a shocked look, unmoving and confused. "Myrddin—"
"It's only better if you do," he snaps, stuffing the necklace in her hands. "Morga—Morgan…if they know of the new Pendragon's, they know of you."
She gives him a strange look. "What do you mean?"
"You best be going," he points out. "You're not safe in Camelot."
His look cuts her off, and with resignation, she hurries off with the necklace in her hand. Merlin sighs and shakes his head a little. Her placement in Camelot is likely Arthur's doing, if his suspicions were correct. But by being in Camelot, it's giving rise to the old Morgana Pendragon.
She'll have more chance in Avonbost. A fresh start. She needs that.
Merlin's eyes refocus on the enemies ahead. They're all Saxons, crouched behind bushes and ready with a weapon unsheathed. He walks forward and tucks a blueberry into his shoulder again. It's snatched from his fingers, and Aithusa coos happily, but Merlin can't smile about it. He's solemnly focused on the trouble ahead.
He emerges into the narrow clearing. Before he can do anything, a man emerges from the brush. Merlin instantly gives him a glare, because he recognizes the man. He honestly isn't surprised. Agravaine de Bois has never really been on Merlin's good list anyways.
His dark, chocolate eyes light up upon seeing Merlin. "You've come," he says.
He looks around cautiously. "Where is the woman?"
"Gone," Merlin simply states. "What do you want?"
"You've got something beyond valuable on your shoulder," he says. "I want it."
Merlin blinks. So he had been spied on. "You must be wrong," he insists. "I don't have anything of value beyond my magic. Would you like to taste that, instead?"
"Don't lie. I watched you hatch it with my very own eyes!" he shouts. "You've got it with you!"
"Well, it doesn't matter," Merlin points out. "You weren't very smart. You've slipped up on more than you could ever believe."
"And what makes you think someone as cowardly as yourself can bring me down?" he grounds out challengingly. "It's an uncle over a traitor. You can't possibly win."
"I'd rather be seen as a villian than to let vermin like you invade Camelot," Merlin snarls angrily. He sneers. "Bring out your men, Agravaine de Bois. I will kill them."
He winces at the surprisingly honed aggression, but he does motion for them to move. Around thirty Saxon soldiers emerge from the hills above the ditch the two are facing off in, their weapons glinting in the rising sunlight. "You think you can take down this many men?" he challenges.
"No. I know so," Merlin hisses angrily. It's immediately after that that the soliders attack.
The first ten are no trouble. He makes the tree branches twist and grab them by the necks and limbs. Soon enough they're tangled rather uncomfortably in the rough bark. Merlin makes sure that it tightens with each passing second until their flesh and bones break, but he's too distracted to hear it. He's busy defending himself against the second wave. They're all dodging the branches now, and when one man gets close, his swipes his sword. Merlin doesn't dodge in time—he's cut at the collarbone, but he disarms the man easily with a technique he learned a long time ago. He takes the sword and makes a sharp turn, slashing a man down diagonally.
It takes maybe five more fatal stabs before the men start taking to crossbows. Of course, Merlin uses magic to deflect them and approach the men to kill, but there's one that comes from a spooked Agravaine. It hits him squarely between his shoulders, the pointed end digging deep into his flesh.
He's lucky enough that it doesn't hit his spinal cord. But it's still very painful, and when he's punched to the ground, the landing isn't graceful. The Saxon trying to continue beating him down doesn't succeed.
"Énkavma!" he shouts, and the soldier is set on fire. His screams are horrible, and it vaguely reminds Merlin of a day he doesn't need to revisit, but he trudges on.
Including Agravaine, there are only five enemies remaining. He's hurting and feeling the lag of blood loss impact him quickly, but he pushes on. It's horribly easy to bring down the first three soldiers. The last is a bit of a chore, but Merlin gets pasted him with a mere throat punch and stab—and then it's just Agravaine.
"You really are a monster," he says softly. "You're lucky to have been at the mercy of Arthur. If I were to rule, I would've killed you myself."
Merlin doesn't care. He just glares and throws the man against a sharp rock. His head lands loudly on the stone, and he falls. Dead. Merlin grimaces. He isn't sure how he'll tell Arthur he killed his uncle.
Or if he'll tell at all.
Arthur is in his throne room discussing endangered food routes with Leon and Gwaine when a familiar face barges in.
It's Morgan le Fay.
Arthur blinks and stares in surprise. It's a second later that he winces and looks to the guards. They're shaking their heads, clearly having unable to stop her.
"What do you want?" he asks briskly. "It must be important if you dare to interrupt the king."
She takes a deep breath, but she doesn't lose the tension in her shoulders. She still keeps the strong, deathly grip on her black dress skirts. "I-I'm sorry, milord," she stutters out. "I-it's just, I-I…your uncle. It's Lord Agravaine. He—he's—" She loses her breath.
"What's happened?" Arthur asks urgently.
"I-I saw him. With a bunch of Saxons! He—he said he'd kill the queen, if-if I didn't do as he said—"
Arthur looks to Gwaine and Leon. "Find Guinivere," he orders Leon. "Get her to safety. Gwaine, with me. Gather a search party. You—" He jams a finger at Morgan le Fey. "Take me to him. And if this is a trick, woman, know that I will take your head."
She winces a little, but nods understandingly before Arthur and Gwaine run off with her to find Agravaine. It doesn't take long, but the end result is rather…brutal. Upon initial spotting, Arthur can estimate that there's nearly twenty Saxon soldiers lying on the ground. He only has to look up a trunk to find another approximate fifteen soldiers mangled in the trees. He feels his stomach twist. It truly is an ugly sight, and he feels more than a bit green just starting at their faces.
"What the hell happened…?" he whispers.
"It's magic," Mordred says sagely. He gets off his horse and makes way under a body in a tree. "Very powerful magic."
"Do we know who could've done this?" Arthur asks.
"I can only think of one person, but…well, quite frankly, no one has seen him for a very long time," he replies. He looks to Morgan. "Other than Agravaine and the Saxons, who else was here?"
"Agravaine…Lord Agravaine made me bring a man to him," she explains. "His name is Myrddin Wyllt. He's a wizard."
Arthur sighs heavily and looks around. But he couldn't find his uncle. Or evidence of his whereabouts. "Search for Agravaine. Holler if any of you find something."
The patrol all nod and slide off their horses, fanning out and starting a local search.
Arthur looks to Morgan. "Tell me. What did this Myrddin Wyllt have that the Saxons want?"
"I don't really know," she says. "He told me to run before I could hear anything."
"What do he look like, then?"
"Long dark hair, blue eyes, pale, skinny…he's got a bit of a beard and he never changes his clothes. He always wears an oversized white tunic with brown pants and leather shoes. Have you seen him around, sire? He usually wears a headscarf. He's easy to spot in a crowd." Her eyes grow a bit distant. "And he's a bit sad, if I'm honest. Strange, too. I can't help but wonder if I know him, or perhaps even met him a long time ago."
Arthur goes solemnly quiet as he turns and looks at the carnage. If his suspicions are correct, then Merlin would've been the killer of all these men. The mere thought of it gave him a dizzy spell.
And the weight of the knowledge he has about Myrddin Wyllt makes it worse.
"Sire? Are you alright?"
Arthur doesn't look at his half-sister. "Yes, yes. I'm fine. Everything will be okay."
She just frowns at him before nodding a little. The conversation dies, but the tension it leaves behind is cut with the dagger-like shout of Gwaine.
"Sire! Come here, quick! I…I found your uncle!"
Arthur's eyes widen and he quickly rushes off into the direction of his Knight's voice. He's lightheaded with worry—but it doesn't get better when he arrives. Agravaine's temple is streaked with blood, his head having been hit. He's sprawled out at the base of a tree, limp and ashen with a color Arthur is all too familiar with.
"Is…is he dead?" the king asks quietly.
Gwaine is silent for a moment, but the urgent glare Arthur gives him forces a small nod out. "Yes…he is, sire. He…he probably died within the last thirty minutes…if I'm correct…"
Arthur feels hot tears shed, but he quickly wipes them away. "V-very well," he says unevenly. "Go ahead and, um…I-I'll have…" He stares at his uncle's lifeless body for a few seconds, sniffing and shifting sadly.
"Your Highness," Gwaine says softly.
"No—no, it's fine. I'm fine," he insists.
The knight gives him a disbelieving look, but doesn't expand on it. Instead, he merely places his hands on his shoulders. "Grieve, my friend. Don't keep it in," he advises. Arthur gives him a resigned glance, but nods regardless. "You get yourself back to Camelot, sire. I shall take care of everything else."
Arthur's stare lingers on Agravaine longer than he likely should've let happen, but regardless of how he feels, he moves a bit ungracefully back towards his horse.
Morgan le Fey looks at him when he arrives. "Is everything okay?" she asks. "Where is Lord Agravaine?"
Arthur pulls himself up on his saddle. "Agravaine's dead," he says briskly. He sniffs again and wipes away stray tears. "Come on. We're going back to Camelot."
Merlin is quietly curled into his own headscarf on his old bed in the physician's quarters when Aithusa finally, and wisely, disturbs him.
He's rather annoyed at first, but when he sees her begging face, he opens the scarf and allows her to cuddle into the comfortable material. He makes sure she has air before he puts his chin in between his knees again, staring at the grey ground with deadbeat exhausted eyes. He can feel Gwen's pain stinging his chest. It's with these feelings, placed in him thanks to the protective charm, that he knows Arthur has returned from discovering Agravaine's body. And he's grieving hard, if Merlin remembers him correctly.
His back aches. He can't breathe. There's noise—he understands that, and he knows that they're voices, but he can't find it in himself to respond properly. It scathes his skin to just think about moving. He's sad, he's lonely, and he's hungry. The weight of the world is still on him—the prophecy is still moving onward, but it's so twisted now. Perhaps destiny isn't working out after all. But by believing that, he's disgracing Kilgarrah.
He can't disgrace his friend in the sky.
It is unforgivable.
His stale, cold cheeks are touched by warm hands he recognizes. It takes him longer than it should to name the woman in front of him. Her dark eyes are full of empathy and her gentle thumbs stroke his cheeks soothingly.
"Merlin," she whispers, a soft smile growing on her lips as she gets a slight reaction from him. All he really does is look at her and blink. "Hello. I haven't seen you in a while, Merlin."
His brow twitches. Her name is a bit more forefront, now. Only Sefa knows how to get a proper response out of him. Her experience with his darkness has always served well. But he truly can't help but wonder why she's here.
"Your friends are worried," she points out. "You haven't been a proper soul in a whole week. Do you remember why?"
Merlin stares at her for a few seconds before he blinks and opens his sore arms. The head scarf is still where it was when he sat down—but Aithusa isn't, and when he opens his fatherly dragonlord senses, he can feel her trying to fight off a large toad. Naturally, Aithusa is a small thing, having only been one week old if Sefa's claims are correct. Getting that far is a considerable feat, but to fight off something twice her size is just plain stupid.
She could die. Or get hurt, and then die. Either way, she'll likely die.
He quickly jumps up and darts out of the bedroom, zooming down the stairs. He stops dead in his tracks when he sees who is in the room. Everyone had been quite obviously waiting. And, of course, everybody means everybody. Even Jack is there, with Gaius, Percival, Gwen, Eylon, Lancelot, Gwaine, Mordred—even Leon and Arthur are there.
They're all quiet. Too quiet. But it doesn't change Merlin's pace. The toad battle keeps going, and Aithusa doesn't know how to fight beyond growling adorably.
"Merlin," Sefa starts, but he bolts and dives over the table. "Hey! Merlin!"
"I'll be right back!" he hollers, using magic to swing the door open before he reaches it. He's nearly sliding on the stone as he sprints, full speed, at the window. He realizes what's at the bottom if he jumps out—but he's got magic down quite solidly, and is well experienced with transfiguration.
He ignores the desperate scream of his name. His eyes flash an ominous golden, diving through the window. It's sickeningly tense as he soars through the air, but the hard stone he's about to land on quickly turns into a deep pool of water. The landing is wet and cold, but safe, and he's not particularly worried about the screams of shock.
"Merlin!" Arthur shouts. "You're fixing this window! Do you hear me? Piece by piece, Merlin!"
Merlin glances over his shoulder briefly as he smiles at the comically unhappy Arthur Pendragon, but he doesn't dote on it. He pulls himself out of the pool and continues to sprint towards the lower town.
The child's play courtyard is empty—but that doesn't change the scene of the green ugly toad towering over the little baby dragon. She's snarling and hissing, and the toad is actually trying to bite back. It's honestly a bit hilarious, watching a toad attempting to fight back—it's not when it's against the last dragon, though. Merlin glares at the toad, but he finds magic isn't worth it.
So, instead of his eyes flashing golden, he runs up to the slimy hopper and kicks it away. It slips on the toe of his shoe and ribbits in distraught, but it doesn't make another fight.
Aithusa tries leaping forward to end it, but Merlin catches her before she could get to the toad. "Nice try," he snaps. The little dragon whines loudly, but Merlin isn't taking any of it. He tucks her into his head scarf, wrapping it around his neck and the back of his head once more. "Get cozy, Aithusa. You'll be staying there for a while."
She makes a cross sound, but complies anyways as she curls into the nape of his neck. The warmth is satisfying to feel—the cold of the water he jumped into earlier is finally sinking into his bones.
Eventually, Arthur and Sefa catch up with him, the Knights of the Round Table having stayed behind. He smiles a bit sheepishly, but it's small and weak. "Hi," he simply says.
"What the hell were you doing?" Arthur snaps. He catches his breath and gives him a worried look. "You…you scared me. I thought you were running away."
"No…I had to get Aithusa. She ran off," he explains, his eyes devoid of contact. The look on Arthur's face broke his heart.
The king, regardless of anything, steps up to the mage and consumes him in a welcoming hug. "I don't know who that is, or what it is, but I don't care," he states. "Thank you…for, um…for coming back. It means a lot to us all."
Merlin smiles a little, and briefly returns the hug before he departs. He doesn't say anything, though.
He just follows them quietly back to the castle. Aithusa is squirming in his head scarf like normal—she's still quite obviously working around his aching neck to get comfortable. His shoulders are horrible, though, along with his injured collarbone. If it truly has been a week, then they've yet to reach care and treatment. Merlin sighs and grimaces when it makes a pain he's acutely aware of. He's ready to use magic to heal it quickly when he suddenly hears a "psst".
Merlin stops and turns his head towards the alleyway. He isn't surprised to find Morgan le Fay. The warlock casts a glance over to Sefa and Arthur before he slips into the alleyway, stepping up to the woman. She's in a long-sleeved simple but dark dress, which is adorned with a big black hood. It reminds him of days he isn't keen on remembering.
"You're still here," he comments. "I did tell you to get to Avonbost…"
"I know…I'm sorry," she says. "I just wanted to wait so that I could see you again."
He frowns at her. "Why?"
She smiles and puts a hand on his cheek. "Isn't it obvious?" she asks.
Painfully so. But to have love is to live, and Merlin isn't all for it. Not now, at least. Maybe in another life. "A little," he states. "But, milady, you should know that I…don't fancy you. Not in that way, at least."
Heartbreak floods her eyes. She pulls her hand away and looks down, stepping back and taking in the news. "…Oh," she stifles out. "Oh. Um, I'm—I'm sorry, I didn't…"
Merlin gives her a sympathetic look.
"I just assumed," she states. "I'm sorry. I'm intruding now. I shall leave, as…as requested."
Morgan le Fay lingers a bit longer than she likely had intended, but she does eventually brush by. However, Merlin grabs her wrist. She flinches and whips around, just about battle-ready. Her glare is vicious and prepared to tear him down. But he's not fazed. "Morgan," he says calmly. "I may not share your infatuation, but just know that I do owe you worlds."
Her brow furrows almost angrily. "Just leave me," she growls.
"No—Morgan, understand this," he urges. She watches him warily. "It may not seem like I do, but please. Trust me when I say you deserve my debt, my apologies, and my helping hand. Whenever you need. Okay?"
She pulls her wrist from his grip, but she takes a breath and nods. "You speak to me like I know you, Myrddin Wyllt," she points out. "Have we met?"
"I don't know," he says. "How you've decided to appear deceives me. Besides, I know I would remember a face like yours. As would others, milady. Please, be careful."
Morgan le Fay stares, but nods and slips away from the narrow space between two houses of the lower town of Camelot. Merlin doesn't make much of a move until she's completely out of sight, hidden by the muddled crowds of people. He slips out, and casually starts to stroll back towards the castle.
He remains fairly discreet in his trek back. He's not keen on being seen, and he's especially not in a bearable mood to be social. But he has to suck it up now, no matter what. He…he is back, after all. Gaius's quarters are just about devoid of people. There is only Guinivere and Lancelot. Even then, they're talking. And Merlin's silence serves him well.
"Do you think things will ever get better?" Gwen asks.
"How do you mean?"
"Well…you know…I'm…I'm having triplets, Lancelot. That's what I've been told by many, at least…" The queen sighs. "You understand, don't you? People will talk."
"I don't doubt it," Lancelot agrees. "Your miracle is something they won't understand. You mustn't let it deteriorate you."
"Of course…" Gwen nods and rubs her stomach. She frowns. "Lance."
"Is…is it possible…" Her voice trails for a second before she musters up the strength to say what she wishes. "Do you think it's possible to have two men's children at the same time?"
Lancelot blinks and stops snacking on the bowl of nuts. He looks at her, slightly taken aback by the question. "Gwen," he says carefully. "Have you…lain with another?"
She doesn't answer.
"It is possible," Merlin speaks up, which makes the two jump and turn to him. Quite frankly, he feels the same surprise at their own; his voice still doesn't have that rumbling masculine presence it once did. "It's incredibly rare, though. A woman's body tends to act like a fortress, especially when making children."
"How do you know this, exactly?" Gwen asks. "…Should I even dare know?"
He smiles a little, but he understands her fear. He knows what happened. "I've seen it happen before," he explains a bit somberly. "Only once, though. Her story…it—it did not end well."
Lancelot's eyes widen, and he jolts up to his feet. "Merlin," he says almost breathlessly. He's quick to rush up to the sorcerer, his arms wrapping around his neck.
"Ow! Ow, careful—please, careful," Merlin hitches.
Lancelot pulls away and places a gloved hand on his shoulder. "My greatest apologies, Merlin," he quickly says, but despite the rush, it's…genuine. "Are you hurt? Are you okay? What happened? Where were you?"
Merlin smiles a little. "Some scratches, that's all," he replies. He moved his head scarf to the side to reveal Aithusa. "Newborn. Be gentle, please."
His eyes widen again as he leans in a little. "Wow…" he whispers, clearly in awe at the sight of a white dragon. "What…what is that?"
Merlin leans in close to his ear, and with the simple word, "Dragon," Lancelot is just about star-struck.
"What? What is it?" Gwen asks.
"Something I'd rather not tell the world about in less than three minutes," he says. "If…if you don't mind…"
She gives him a suspicious look. "It better be safe," she says.
He chuckles a little, giving a warm smile towards Lancelot before he steps up to Gwen and plants a platonic kiss on the crown of her head. "Always is," he replies. He smiles at her. "It's good to see you again, by the way. You've most certainly grown."
She smiles back. "The midwives say I'm still going to get bigger," she says.
"You already look like you're about to pop," he points out, starting his search for gauze and ointments.
She glowers at him. "Thank you, Merlin, for that observation," she snaps.
Lancelot looks between the two. "Have you two been keeping contact?" he asks.
Gwen faces him. "Not…really," she says. "I've only visited him twice in the last few years. I'm…I'm sorry I didn't say anything."
"Don't apologize," Merlin chides. He looks at the Knight, but he feels self-revulsion to even make remote eye contact. He returns to his idle search. "I…I asked her not to say anything."
He's clearly troubled by the facts, but he doesn't speak against it. Not at first, anyways. "You chose to trust her before any other of your friends?" he asks softly. "No offense, Your Highness."
She smiles a bit wearily. "It's okay, Lance. I understand your frustration," she murmurs. She squares up her shoulders. "I shall retrieve the rest of the blundering idiots. If you will excuse me."
Lancelot dips his head a little and steps aside, allowing passage for Her Majesty as she stiffly half-waddles by. The door suffers when she exits.
"It's not her fault," Merlin repeats, his voice just barely above a murmur. "It's…mine, you know. Fear tends to get the best of everyone if done so properly."
The Knight nods slowly. "I understand," he states. "What happened was a shock to all of us. The discovery of your birthright nearly became the bane of us all."
Merlin stops what he's doing and looks at the Knight like he had just sinned. "What did you say?" he asks briskly.
"I don't understand."
"Repeat what you just said—about the bane," he snaps. Lancelot looks at him strangely. "The bane of us all, Lance. Tell me."
"The…the discovery of your birthright nearly became the bane of us," he restates. "Merlin—"
"Lancelot, tell me. What happened?"
The Knight pauses for a few seconds, obviously appalled by his sudden demeanor, but the door interrupts him. It's swung open by none other than Arthur Pendragon himself, his eyes wide and full of concern. Merlin's face goes a beet red in embarrassment, having fully understood the king's range of emotions. He did tuck away for no evident reason, after all.
So, with a small smile, he handles it with a shy happiness he's been missing out on for a very, very long time.
The time frame is small, but Merlin takes the chance to slip into his room and patch himself up.
The wounds are nasty and infected from having nothing but dirty cloth on them. He's cringing and feeling a fever backlash on him, but drinking the remedy and using a form of healing magic he is wise enough to never use on another proved to be helpful. They're nothing more than red scars moments later, still healing but multitudes better than before.
He only has to take care of the bloodstains before he can put the white shirt back on. Sefa walks in, though. She doesn't bother screaming and running or quickly turning around, as she's seen him shirtless whilst treating wounds before. She just nonchalantly looks at the wounds. "Where did you get those?" she asks.
"I don't remember," he replies. "I know I didn't do them myself. You needn't worry."
"Who'd you piss off?" Sefa cleverly questions.
He chuckles. "I think they were Saxons," he replies, but he does well to keep his voice low.
"They just so happen to be different Saxons than the ones Lord Agravaine invited, right?"
"No clue," he says, slipping the shirt on and looking at her with a monotonous expression. "How did you get here?"
"Guinivere sent a fast page."
"…Do they know?"
"They know some things, but not enough," she states. "If I'm right, I'd say that they think we're a couple."
He chuckles at that. "Funny," he says. "That reminds me. How is everyone?"
"A bit sad about you leaving without saying bye," she replies. "But everyone's managing. Mercia is getting to be a bit…restless, though."
He looks at her again, attentively listening. "How so?"
"I think you know what I mean when I say restless, Merlin," she points out. "The snow scared them."
The wizard stops what he's doing, his eyes glassy and reeling with thoughts, because he knows exactly what she means when she says that snow scares them. Dragons are fearsome creatures, and the Great Purge pushed a lot of them into the Northern Planes, specifically Caerleon and Mercia. Of course, it didn't stop Uther but it doesn't change anything. The anger of the winged beasts had been traumatizing.
"Will they march?" he asks quietly.
"I don't know, but I will update you," Sefa states. "As of now, I doubt they'll make a move—but I think we all know how fear drives a kingdom."
He nods slowly and puts his jacket and short cloak back on. "The next spring snow won't be for another few centuries. You can trust me on that."
She smiles and nods back. "Of course," she agrees. "I really must be going, now. The village can't go very long without me."
"Very well. I'll visit again as soon as I can," he says. "I've sent another friend your way. Watch out for her."
Sefa nods again, and without another word, she exits the bedroom. Merlin collects the baby dragon and sets her on his shoulder, grabbing the magic pouch and reattaching it to his belt. Aithusa nuzzles into the nape of his neck, absorbing his body warmth and making it into her own. He pulls a leftover blueberry out and gives it to her, which is taken quite thankfully and nibbled at.
The sunset, as far as he can see, is slowly lowering. Arthur suggested a feast—with a select few in attendance, of course, but Merlin is still nervous. Many things have happened, some of which has changed people for the worse. He can, while still feeling nullified and estranged in the group, see many troubles in and around everyone. It's in the throne room, as a feast would be.
The Knights of the Round Table are all there; and so is Gwen and Gaius, of course, but there is no Jack or Agravaine. Leon is sitting with Kathryn and their many children, as is Gwaine and his son. But he doesn't see the mother. Percival has his own courted woman as well. He doesn't see any signs of them being a wedded couple—but the love in their eyes tell more than enough that they likely won't be waiting for very much longer.
The woman next to Eylon is a traveller—and if he's correct, then her name is Elaine.
But his observation is cut short. The dinner is just about everything Merlin had been craving. He's practically skin and bones; it'll definitely change if he revels in food, which doesn't feel overly problematic in the current moments. Everybody is here. Everybody is happy. There are problems still—but he can't be concerned.
Leon's children have him pulling butterflies out of ears.
The oldest, a young girl of ten years with wavy golden hair pinned back, is named Faith. It's a pretty name; he can't help but feel a slight flutter in his chest as a response to the purity of the name meaning.
She enjoys his butterfly-extracting the most. The two sons of Leon are more interested in the after effects when the butterflies reach a certain height and become plooms of bright and colorful smoke. The other daughter, Annis, is entertaining herself with Gwaine's son, Aart. The sight in general is heartwarming, and for a while, Merlin forgets his immortal darkness exists.
"What other tricks can you do?" Arthur asks. "Surely you have a larger range of abilities."
Merlin chuckles. "That specific trick is mesmerizing for the young," he points out. "It always appeals to their eyes." He smiles. "But I can do more, though. Do you want to see it?"
Arthur grins. "Of course."
Merlin nods. "Give me a few seconds," he says. The king gives him a raised brow, but it becomes a look of mirth as the sorcerer ducks under the table and emerges on the other side. "It'll only work if she's awake, honestly."
"Aithusa, obviously," he says. "A little over a week old, but she's got more wit and mischief than even Gwaine."
"I detest to that!" he interjects, but he's grinning and laughing happily.
"Of course you would," Merlin agrees. He slips a blueberry onto his shoulder. It alerts the white dragon, and she moves to snatch it, but he pulls it away quickly enough for her head to pop out from underneath his scarf.
Arthur's eyes widen. "Merlin, is that—is that the dragon—"
He smiles and gently pulls her from her spot, placing her on his wrist. "Yeah. I did say I'd hatch it," he points out.
Everyone's eyes are instantly blown wide and thoroughly invested in the sight of a freshly borne winged lizard.
Aithusa crows and looks at them all, taking their faces in one-by-one. She curls her tail around his forearm a little and balances on her hindquarters. It's similar to how a rabbit would stand, only her thin wings are spread wide for balance.
"Wow…" Guinivere breathes. "She's beautiful."
"How in the names of the many deities out there do you manage to hide a dragon in your scarf?" Gwaine gapes. His appallment calls for a ring of laughter, but it's distracted and still hinting at their awe.
Merlin chuckles and grins, but it becomes especially wide when Aithusa does a little more than cough. It brings up a puff of smoke and embers—and Merlin, being a knowledgeable dragonlord, understands this as acceptance. It's a bit of an honor to be level with a dragon—even more so when they're young. It has always been tradition for a dragonlord to introduce a babe to a group of another species. Purely because dragons were believed, by the drag on lords, to be lovers of life. It hasn't always been the case, though, but perfection is never a realistic goal.
"What did she just do?" Arthur asks, weary but slightly interested.
Merlin smiles. "It means she's taken a liking to you all."
Merlin is given a whole new chambers—all for him.
"I've…I've searched for…questionable books," Arthur says. He points at the bookshelf. There are three rows, and they're thriving with books. "Full of magic and history. I've also got you a journal…for your more experimental days, or something. Use it as you wish."
Merlin smiles. "Thank you," he says. "It's brilliant."
"I also added perches, next to your bed and desk. For Aithusa," he goes on a bit awkwardly. "Um…if you need anything, you know where to find me."
Merlin nods and glances at him. "Arthur," he says.
"I do forgive you," he points out. "You mustn't act like you've done anymore wrong."
Arthur gives a disagreeing look. "No…I've betrayed you, Merlin. I don't deserve your forgiveness," he states.
Merlin looks down and back at the room, his blue eyes scanning the area as he briefly gives thought. "It probably would've been better if I just did everything subtly," he murmurs quietly. The only reason why he'd ever been discovered was because he stupidly leaped in front of Arthur and saved him from a basilisk.
Of course, they're deadly creatures—too swift and poisonous to be stopped by a mere sword. Merlin knew better. Dark magic can kill it. That's what he did. He's still the happiest man in the world, because Mordred wasn't there and would've called him a devil if he saw.
"Did you say something?" Arthur asks.
Merlin shakes his head. "No," he says as he turns to face the king. "It's nothing. But—" He interrupts the man. "Arthur. Just know that I don't completely blame you for your reaction when you leave. Time will tell its best moments if you do."
He nods and smiles a little. "Still have your wisdom, I see."
"Can't lose it when you're constantly rampaging about," Merlin points out humorously. It fades quickly, though, as he blinks away glassy eyes. "Good night."
"Good night, Merlin," Arthur says. "I shall see you in the morning."
The mage could only nod as he watches his friend take his leave for the night. The room falls sinfully silent as he's left alone, but the soft snores of his baby dragon resting on his shoulders gives him enough relief to fall asleep that night.
in other worlds, i love the next chapter. in this one, i really fucking hate it bc damn. i'm. i'm SHOOK???
Chapter 7: Shine
the story will get cut off again after this chapter, i got maybe past 8 and i dont wanna get too far ahead tbh
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Merlin is up and about an hour before the sun.
He usually wakes up early like this. It's his routine. Of course, being a physician calls for an abnormal sleeping schedule often times, but overall Merlin's just barely managed to maintain this specific instinct.
Aithusa is still snuggled up in his scarf on a pillow where his head would be close by. She, as a young dragon, has the excuse of being clingy. It's seen as problematic after the second week of being in the world.
Merlin honestly won't find himself minding it until she's too big, but there's always the off chance that she won't grow. Dragons as small as Aithusa sometimes don't grow to be much bigger than a horse.
Merlin sighs quietly and looks out the dark window, his eyes landing on an empty courtyard. There's nothing interesting to watch or observe just yet, so he trails away and finds himself browsing the books.
They're all rife with things he's yet to encounter. A lot of them have information on beasts and magical creatures, as well as stories of wizards and people in general who have encountered the respective residents of nature.
The journal is fairly thick. It's all blank sheets, but the very first says, in Arthur's handwriting, "For whatever you require of it".
The introduction makes him smile a little. Arthur likely won't move on for a little bit longer. It makes Merlin a bit sad to think that, because it's still his fault. He put Arthur in a bad position when he truly did not want to, and it ended in traumatic disasters.
He hopes his chances with healing won't worsen. He's just about done with his darkness.
He looks at his bed when he hears Aithusa shuffle.
But he only had to give her a belly rub and a blueberry to put her back to sleep.
The book exploration is cut short when the sun rises a few smidgets over the distant horizon, making it evidently breakfast time.
Merlin darts out of his room before anyone can come knocking on his door. Aithusa is still snoozing, but she's content on his shoulder under the safety of his thin head scarf.
He isn't sure where his aimless stroll will take him. He can still taste the morning air wafting through the halls. Realistically the only people out were the workers and guards.
So, naturally, he finds himself a bit taken aback by Gwaine's rather sudden appearance.
"Where do you plan on going at such an hour?" he inquires, a slight smile decorating his face.
Merlin smiles back. "I decided to go for a morning walk," he says. "What about you?"
"I've the morning off," he explains. "I was gonna spend it with Aart…but seeing as you're here…"
"Don't let me interfere with your father-son time," Merlin states. He smiles. "He is adorable, though. I can see a lot of you in him."
Gwaine chuckles. "He acts more like his mother if I'm honest," he says.
"He's got my knack for mischief but he's competent. He knows what he's doing most of the time," he explains mirthfully. "Hasn't got much muscle, though. I imagine him becoming a scholar."
"A formidable child," Merlin comments. He looks at the Knight of the Round Table levelly. "Where is his mother?"
"Ah…Vivienne," he says. A frown mars his face. "She walked out on us only a few months after Aart was born. She only stayed until he could eat solid foods."
"I'm sorry to hear," he says. "Do you know where she went?"
He shakes his head. "I went to her house. Aart was there, but she wasn't."
"I see. That's unfortunate."
"Hm, wasn't like she was the best mother anyways…"
Merlin looks at him. "Why don't you go get Aart and meet me by the gates? I'm sure he'll enjoy an adventure outside the walls."
"Maybe, he's still a bit young…" Gwaine mutters.
"Best to sate the curiosity sooner rather than later," Merlin points out.
"Besides, a morning with your father is…valuable."
Gwaine looks at him, but then he grins happily and nods. "Very well, then," he says. "It will take a bit, though. If you don't mind."
"It's fine, Aithusa needs to wake up as well," he says. "I'll see you in a bit."
And, with that, Gwaine smiles and rushes off to get Aart.
The forest edge is quiet, but it's in the calm morning sort of way. The birds are chirping and the grass is wet, but Aart is enjoying himself being able to finally play in the greenery at the young age of three and a half.
The sight makes Merlin happy.
Gwaine is an overprotective father, but he's still rather invested in the adventure.
"How are you?"
The Knight glances at Merlin. a slight smile gracing his lips. "A bit better, knowing you're back home," he says. "I've missed you, my friend."
Merlin smiles almost sheepishly. "A lot has changed," he comments.
"Indeed. But I do believe it to be for the better good," he says. "It's about time for a magical festival, too."
"Speaking of magic…" Merlin half-mumurs. He keeps his voice fairly low to keep Aart out of earshot. He looks at Gwaine. "Do you know what happened to Morgana?"
The Knight raises an eyebrow at him questioningly. "Did you bring me out here just to ask about her?" he questions.
"Well—no. But…I…I do know a suspicious case when it comes to me," he replies slowly. He sighs stressfully, scratching sensitive skin behind his ear. "She just so happens to be one of them."
Gwaine's mouth stretches outward.
"We…uh, we tricked her," he says.
"Well—not initially, anyways."
"How do you mean?"
"Well…it was maybe four or five years ago. Gaius was and is an old man," he explains. "He said Morgana was looking for someone named Emrys, and also said that Emrys was in Camelot—and that he knew who this Emrys is. We got the word to Morgana, along with a tense…mm, small time peace talk. If you'd even call it that…"
"What then?" Merlin asks, already deeply enthralled.
"Well…Mordred said Emrys left years before," he says. "It obviously dampered the plan, but…we still went through with it. We caught and trapped her with shackles from the Great Purge. It was honestly hellish. She really was a spiteful woman."
He chuckles bitterly. "I hear that you've suffered the blunt of it."
Merlin can only nod numbly. He's still suffering from self-blame.
"Anyways…we brought her to some dungeons," Gwaine goes on. "And…we erased her memory."
His head jerks towards the soldier. "You erased a High Priestess' memory?" He highly doubts the Triple Goddess would have allowed for it.
"Yes. Mordred pulled in favors and returned with him a small army of sorcerers." His eyes go a bit distant. "It was gruesome to watch, honestly. But it worked. Morgana managed to kill a few and take Lancelot's hand, though. And a year after that, Arthur lifted the magic ban. It's…mostly how they got the sorcerers to help."
"Where's Morgana now?"
"Camelot. Arthur made sure she's to live a comfortable life in the lower town," he says. "Last I heard, she worked with Agravaine under the threat of Guinivere's assassination."
Merlin slowly nods, his eyes pulling themselves back to Aart.
"Merlin. Is something wrong?" Gwaine asks. He hand brushes his cheek. "You're horribly pale…"
The mage blinks and looks at him. He smiles a little and takes his hand with his own fingers lightly. "I'm fine," he states. "The past is the past. We're currently in the now." He brings his hand up and kisses Gwaine's knuckles lightly. "Let us enjoy it."
The peaceful morning doesn't last.
Merlin sees Taliesin before Gwaine does. It makes him stop dead in his path. Taliesin is not only a dead man, but he's a prophet heavily associated with the Crystal Cave. It's a place Merlin can't bear to return to less he truly lose his sanity.
"Merlin," Gwaine says.
He blinks and looks at him. "Hm? Oh." He pursues his lips a little. "It's fine."
Taliesin, from where Merlin can see him, shakes his head and beckons for him to come.
"I just remembered something really important," he says.
"There's an herb I wanted to find," he explains. "It's in Camelot's forests but it won't be around until this time next summer. You…you don't mind if I get it, will you?"
Gwaine scrutinizes him nervously.
Merlin smiles in reassurance and steps up to him. "I'll be fine. I should be back by supper," he says as he pats his cheek. "I'll see you then."
The Knight only smiles and nods, watching as Merlin walks off into the forest. When he's out of sight, the sorcerer changes direction slightly enough so that his trek works towards the cave.
Taliesin steps in front of him, though. "Greetings, young warlock," he says.
"Don't call me that," he mutters.
"My apologies," Taliesin quickly responds, dipping his head in respect. "I only mean well."
Merlin only stares.
"…I have come to inform you," he states, "…that the crystals have something to show you."
"They always do," Merlin points out. "Is it truly as important as you claim it to be? I don't like going there."
"It is destiny, my friend. You will find yourself there regardless of whether or not you refuse," he points out.
"Surely, by now, you would have realized how hard it is to force a whole new path."
Merlin sighs. "…Very well. I shall go," he says unevenly. "Thank you."
Taliesin smiles, and when Merlin blinks, he's gone.
Aithusa shifts in his scarf and pokes her head out, nuzzling her head against his jaw in an attempt of comfort. He brushes his finger against her lengthy neck before he turns and starts to move towards the cave once more.
When he arrives, the warm summer sun in high over his head. The green trees block out its scorch, but there is still a heavy waft of heat in the air that makes him sweat. Aithusa takes to letting herself out of his scarf completely, merely basking in the air rather than reveling in his body heat.
Merlin sighs quietly when he reaches the mouth of the cave. Already he can feel the weight of twelve different futures weight him down.
He stares into the abyss.
Aithusa crows shortly.
"Oh, hush, you winged baby," he chastises. "I don't see you prophecizing, now, do I?"
She just huffs, smoke and embers flying from her flaring nostrils.
He snorts. "Maybe in a few centuries you can become a seer like Kilgarrah," he mutters. "But maybe a bit less…mysterious, if I'm honest…"
Regardless of how he felt about Kilgarrah's prophecies, they were still incredibly useful and rather missed.
Merlin can safely say that he's a riddle master because of the magnificent beast's words.
He's about to step in—but then he hears a twig snap horribly loudly. He nearly scurries away and hides from pure survival instinct, but the lack of Aithusa's bristling tells him it's not threatening.
He turns and looks around. It takes half a scan to find the source—and it's a certain someone hiding behind the thick undergrowth.
Merlin scowls. "Come on out. I can see you."
There's a brief, unconvincing pause before Lancelot pops out from his hiding spot. His face is flustered and pinched with embarrassment, and he's hiding his stubbed hand behind his back. "I'm sorry," he says. "Gwaine said he thought something was wrong—"
Merlin's hands shoot up, interrupting the Knight quickly. "It's fine, Lance," he says. He smirks a little. "I'm mildly impressed though. It's not an everyday occurrence that someone follows me and nearly gets away with it."
Lancelot's mouth twitches into a bit of a smile. He looks at the mouth of the cave. "What is that?"
"The reason for my loss of sanity," Merlin says dryly. "It'll probably look like a treasure to you, though. It usually does."
"Oh," Lancelot says awkwardly. But Merlin can tell that his interest is piqued. "Um…do you want me to come with…?"
The dragonlord pauses and stares thoughtfully at him for a few moments before he shrugs. If he knows himself, and he knows himself well, this crystal-gazing session won't end full of sunshine and rainbows.
He smiles a little and slowly makes his way towards the cave entrance, only mere inches behind Merlin's heel as they enter.
It's very dark at first. Merlin conjures a ball of floating light in his hand that guides the duo through the winding rock. It narrows and widens repeatedly, but it's not until they get to the ending that Lancelot's awe comes forth.
The crystals are still as bright as Merlin remembers them, but he doesn't dare a glance until the ball of light is gone. He pulls Aithusa from his shoulder and holds her out to Lancelot.
"Could you please carry her for a little while?" he asks quietly. "Just…just until I'm finished."
His softspoken tone is already returning.
Lancelot looks at him with slight worry. "Of course," he replies. He pulls her gently from the palm of his hand. "If you ever need me, I'll be right beside you."
Merlin can barely nod. He can only take a shallow breath of thick air before he turns his pristine blue eyes towards the mongrels.
"I want him dead!"
"You can't kill Emrys. But! You can…incapacitate him."
"I am a creature of the Old Religion. I think we both know that they won't take one of their own children as a sacrifice."
"I am back because my sisters are dead, Merlin, and the only surviving one is destined to die within a few short months because of your love."
"Tell me a prophecy. Tell me how I die."
"You betrayed her first…and…and I can't forgive that. I'm sorry."
"You ravager! Devil! Monster! You—you vile swine! I will kill you!"
"Mordred will get to you before even I can. Ha! Oh, how I envy him…"
"Is…is he dead? Merlin—Merlin, c-can you hear me…?"
"Merlin. I love you."
"The King is dead. Long live the Queen!"
"Long live the Queen!"
"Long live the Queen!"
The last voice shatters his concentration completely. He's dizzy and almost breathless with panic, so he takes to looking into the crystals.
Morgana is holding a dark-haired man hostage in a tree.
Guinivere is under a tree, waiting for someone. A leaf falls in her hair, and the one she waits for falls over a cliff, has his feet tangled in a tree and his head smuggled in cold river water.
The light brown-haired boy is holding Percival's hand.
Excalibur is wielded by Morgana.
Merlin flinches and holds his chest as she drives the blade through a future version of himself.
The most heart-stopping one is watching Gwen sit on a single throne in front the men of Camelot. Arthur is sent away, dead and in a boat; Morgana is buried at the shores of Avalon, and Merlin himself is, once more, seeing his future self stuck deep in the hallows of a tree.
The only man left in that future is Percival.
Grief overtakes him quickly. Futures keep haunting him as he tries to catch catch breath. Morgana is queen again. Gwen dies of childbirth. Mordred takes over Camelot. Arthur takes a loved one's life. Lancelot doesn't see his thirty-third birthday. Morgana leaves a parentless child.
Too much darkness.
Merlin covers his ears and squeezes his eyes shut desperately, panting quick breaths of unadulterated panic. Seeing Arthur float away into Avalon and watching Gwen die and hearing the wails of the child Morgana might just leave behind keeps…biting him. They're horrible and leave him feeling in ruin.
He can't breathe properly. It hurts to try.
"Merlin! Merlin—can you hear me? Merlin! Merlin, listen; I'm here. I'm here. It's Lancelot. I'm here. You're okay."
Merlin quickly takes a deathly tight grip on Lancelot's arms. He's shaking violently, breathless and in tears. "They're gonna die," he cries. "The—they'll die. That—that's it, that's their end."
He feels himself get picked up quickly. He's blinded by things that are not truly in front of him, but he's still aware enough to know that Lancelot gives him to another pair of strong arms.
Merlin clutches to the closest thing he can that's not his own, sobbing strongly enough for his body to jerk. He curls into himself and the chest of the person carrying him, choking out wet tears as he loses his demeanor and the last bit of capability for being okay.
The world and the time with it blurs. He's babbling out words, mostly nonsense even to himself, and unable to catch his bearings.
It's horribly clear that he's gone into a deep shock.
He feels hands on his cheeks, and he heard a voice, a familiar one at that, but he can't process it. There are too many sounds in his head—most of which are voices from many different futures.
It's one of the last things he remembers clearly hearing before he blacks out completely.
Morgan le Fay's trek to Avonbost is slower than she thought it'd go.
Her map-reading skills aren't the best. She can read it, though. It's a rocky interpretation, but she does reach Camelot's border by the evening of her second day. The horse lays down at the first chance of rest, clearly ready to sleep after a long day of nothing but running and trotting.
Morgan isn't surprised.
She's aware of this specific horse's age. It's an old and weary one. Avonbost could be its last resting place.
Her stare lingers on the resting horse for a few moments before she looks at the necklace Myrddin had practically shoved into her hands before sending her away. She can feel magic in it; but the chain is broken, and it's at the seams of the break that the feeling is disappearing into what seems like nothing.
She still feels a sharp pain at the thought of his infatuation not responding to hers. And it hurts a little bit more, for each and every passing second she dotes on it.
Morgan lets a breath go, tucking the pearly necklace away into her chest. The fire crackles weakly, and she tosses another stick in it.
It's unnervingly quiet. The aging horse keeps shifting and looking around, its ears flickering left and right. It's making Morgan nervous.
She's hypersensitive to her surroundings, too—and in easy seconds, when she hears the smallest snap from a twig in the distance, she jumps and easily loses her bearings.
It's too quiet, now. Where there should be crickets there are wisps of air. The call of a frog in the distance is long gone. The trees don't shiver. Even the horse stands and makes distressful sounds.
Morgan shoots up and looks around. There is no sound, no other movement, no nothing. It's cold despite the fire and it hurts to breathe properly with the amount of fear gathering in her.
Something of dark magic is nearby, and it's powerful.
Morgan flinches and moves away from the source of the second twig snapping, a hand reaching for the necklace and the other for the dagger.
Leaves are crunching, and the air is slicing her ears with a hissing sound.
But it becomes horrifically clear when it's not the wind.
It's a great big snake-headed beast, quietly lurking in the shadows and slyly prowling.
Morgan sees it before it completely emerges from the darkness. The horse is long-gone, racing off with fear and half of her supplies.
The beast takes after it.
She doesn't wait. Morgan le Fay is sprinting in the opposite direction, carrying nothing but a small bag with food and water. The horrifying sounds of the horse dying echoes for many stretches—but it doesn't stop Morgan from running.
There's a sharp dip into the ground that's perfect for hiding. Although shallow and gross, what her eyes saw meant disasters.
In the recent years of her memories, she's had access to books. Magic books, all about the mongrels and the dark creatures out there. She remembers just about everything from those pages—and she knows a Questing Beast when she sees one.
It hits her all the harder when she realizes.
Avonbost is in Mercia—a northeastern kingdom.
Camelot is southeast.
And the Questing Beast went southeast.
"Oh, no…" she whispers breathlessly. She had to get back; Myrddin and the King just had hear about her run-in, no matter how crazy it might sound.
Camelot needs saving—and she's truly not willing to let her home slip from her fingers.
When Merlin wakes up, he sees Taliesin's aged face looming over him.
"You must go back," he says.
The warlock scowls tiredly.
"You did not see what you are meant to see, Emrys. You must go back."
Merlin gives a second-long blink, and the ghost of the prophet disappears. He sighs in relief and rubs his dry eyes, sitting up right and sniffing. The air is cool, and fresh, but there's a warm fire crackling next to him and a Camelot cloak draped over his body.
The voice makes him jolt and little and quickly turn around. Guinivere is sitting up from a comfortable spot undoubtedly made for her. Arthur's on the other side, and he shifts to awaken when she speaks.
He frowns at her, turning and looking around. Similar place, same time—something of which his sense is distorted but he can see that it's night time.
"Merlin? What's wrong?"
He turns and looks at her again with a deeper frown. "Am I dead?" he asks.
It's Guinivere's turn to frown. "No…" she replies slowly. "Merlin…what makes you think you're dead?"
"…I'm sorry. What do you mean?"
Merlin blinks and stares at the fire for a few seconds. He looks to her, obvious confusion clouding his face. "What's that supposed to mean?" he shoots back almost dazedly. He frowns. "How do you forget your own death? It…it was a pretty big deal…"
Arthur rouses and looks at him with a deep frown. "Merlin," he says carefully. "Guinivere isn't going to die any time soon. And she most certainly isn't dead now of all times."
Merlin blinks, his expression going blank. He stares at Arthur for a uneasily long-standing pass, and it makes for an uncomfortable environment. "…You mean she isn't dead?" he asks, clearly unable to process it properly.
"Yes, Merlin. She's alive," Arthur says shortly.
"…Oh." Merlin turns his body towards them, the cloak bundled in his lap and a frown still marring his face. "So…you didn't…"
Arthur glowers at him almost impatiently. "I didn't what?"
"You haven't, like…" He awkwardly stops his sentence and puts his fist vertically over his head, twisting his neck to mimic the motion of a hanging.
Gwen's eyes flew wide, and Arthur's face goes dangerously blank.
"Merlin!" the queen criticizes. "What in the devils are you going on about?"
He gives an innocent look. "I'm sorry," he says. "I can't remember where I am. Where is…where is London?"
Arthur frowns at him. "What do you mean? What's…London?"
Merlin pauses and thinks deeply, his eyes clouded with thought. When he returns from the misty moment, he sighs stressfully and nearly curls into himself. "Sorry," he repeats softly.
Gwen gives him a sympathetic look. "Merlin," she says softly. "Are you okay?"
He goes silent, a thick darkness settling in his chest before it disperses into oblivion with a cheesy but happy smile. "It gets better," is all he murmurs. But he isn't facing neither King nor Queen.
"I'm back," a new voice announces.
Merlin doesn't respond, he just pulls his knees to his chest and tucks his chin in.
But Gwen looks at the newcomer and smiles. "Lancelot. Welcome back," she says. "How was the patrol?"
"Uneasy," he replies honestly. "There are no troubles. I can reassure you that, Your Highnesses, but…there's something out there. Something dark. I could feel it in the air."
Merlin suddenly lets out a hysterical laugh, but it's a void—empty and cold.
Lance looks at him. "Merlin," he says. "You're awake, I see."
"He's been nothing but morbid and confusing," Arthur grumbles. "I fear he will not recover."
"Arthur…" Gwen says, her hand massaging the back of his head. "It will all be fine. Merlin will heal."
"There is only one way to better his heart, my Queen, and time is not it."
Arthur and Lancelot are quicker than lightning to unsheathe their swords and jump to the defense of the other two.
The old man dips his head. "I come in peace, milords and milady," he says respectfully. "I bring nothing but wisdom." He smiles a little. "Wisdom, and a dragon."
Everybody is frowning until Merlin pops into view, ankle-high and wide-eyed. "You have Aithusa!" he exclaims.
The aged seer smiles and kneels, pulling the tiny dragon from his sleeve and letting her bound over to the dragonlord. "I found this young one chewing at a crystal quite aggressively," he says. "Best keep an eye on her, Merlin. She is a troublemaker."
Arthur looks at the sorcerer as he scoops the white lizard up. "You know him?"
"What? Oh, yeah. Taliesin and I are friends," he explains. "He's nothing scary. He's a spirit."
"Wait—he's dead?" Gwen whispers.
Merlin merely nods and scratches Aithusa's belly with a chuckle.
"I have come to apologize," he says.
Lancelot lowers his sword. "Why? Have you done something?"
"Yes," Taliesin replies honestly. "I did not foresee something in Merlin, and it may be the ruin of him."
"I feel fine," the said sorcerer chimes.
Gwen just looks at him and shakes her head.
"You mean the cave," Arthur states ponderously.
"He does not enjoy his journeys here for the very same reason he is in this state of…dark humor," the spirit explains. "His magic allows for him to be a prophet—should it be used enough."
Merlin doesn't share the fairly alarmed glances everyone else does.
"Is that why he went into the cave?" Lancelot asks quietly.
Taliesin nods. "Yes, it is," he says. "But, I digress. He did not see what he is meant to see."
Merlin curls his fingers around Aithusa's tail. "I could tell," he mutters sadly, to which Guinivere rubs his shoulder tightly but soothingly.
"So he has to go back," Arthur mutters. He shakes his head angrily.
"He will not. I don't care who or what you are. Merlin will not go back."
The dead man nods sorrowfully. "I realize this," he states. "But I have a solution. A way to make up for my…my mistake."
"So this was your fault?" Arthur growls, raising his blade in a way that is prepped for a painful stab.
"No!" Merlin quickly shouts. The sudden strength in his voice calls for attention. "No, no…it's not his fault."
"He took you here—"
"No, I took me here," Merlin points out dryly. He sighs. "I've been careless with just about everything as of lately. Controlling what I see just so happens to be one of them."
"It is a skill that takes time to master," the other prophet points out.
"What I bring is information, King Arthur. I mean no harm."
He glares. "What do you want to tell us?"
"The Spring of Beranton doesn't just heal the body," he points out. "It also cleanses the soul and clears the mind." He smiles a little, his doomed face lifting slightly. "Take Merlin there."
a phat chaoter but its a turning point in the plot. thabks for reading :)
Chapter 8: Snake Bite
sorry for the inactivity. it's been hectic at school with ap testing starting and finals week being this week. I also stopped/delayed posting chapter 8 bc i paused progress at chapter 9 due to writer's block and i usually don't post till i am 3 chapters ahead. i am now. so yay :) enjoy
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
After Taliesin disappears, it becomes superabundantly clear that what Lancelot says is true: There is something dark out there. Merlin is all but physically corresponding with his emotions. He's silently letting Aithusa curl into and play with his hands. Lancelot's cloak is draped over his shoulders, with the very same man contently sitting next to him. Gwen is laying back down, a blanket over her stomach as she stares into the fire. Arthur is sitting on the ground right next to his wife's hand, his legs crossed and his hands folded in front of his chin thoughtfully.
"…Merlin," Arthur eventually says. "Merlin."
The sorcerer is unnervingly blank and completely unresponsive, his eyes glazed over and distant. Lancelot frowns slightly, gently putting his hand on the small of his back. "Merlin," he murmurs softly. "Merlin, can you hear us?"
He finally blinks and looks at them, his face unmoving with exhaustion as he snaps halfway out of it. "Hm," he grunts out.
"Why did you think I…I'd hang Gwen?" he asks slowly.
Merlin shifts a little and looks straight at him. "The futures I saw were not all real," he points out. "Out of the many, a bare few are true. That was false."
"Oh," he replies. "…But still yet, why would I…?"
Merlin blinks sadly, recalling that specific timeline. It simply never happened—but Lancelot didn't live past his thirty-first year, having sacrificed himself to put the Dorocha's return; so when he "came back", manipulated by a Morgana that truly did exist, Gwen initiated some adulterous actions. They were caught, of course, and Arthur's options were banishment or death.
He chose death.
"Adultery," he says.
The king gives a look of self-loathing.
Gwen reaches out to him and rubs his knee soothingly. "All is well, Arthur," she says. "No such thing happened. I'm still here, with you, happy and loyal."
He smiles faintly, only taking her hand in response. Merlin looks down to the baby dragon writhing in his palms. He can feel her tension; she can sense the darkness out there as well. It strikes unrelenting pangs of fear. His anxieties will get the best of him at this rate. The way she moves leaves him worried for her as well. Dragons are fluent in their movement. It's like watching a stream harmoniously weave with rocks. So when it's repetitive, choppy and consists of six head nuzzles to every second, his worry is justified.
"Is she okay?" the knight asks.
"We…we should get to Camelot," Merlin states quietly, his voice uneven. "It's not safe."
"What do you mean?" Arthur questions.
"It's heavy," the sorcerer says. He gives the reigning man and woman frowns. "You do not sense the darkness? I can't breathe."
Gwen blinks and sits up a little wearily. "Now that you mention it…" she murmurs. "It's there. Arthur—can you feel it?"
He pauses, but then he nods. "Very well," he concludes. He stands and smuggles the fire with dirt and water. "Gather what you can, but don't drag your feet. We are to get to Camelot before first light."
Nobody wastes time. Lancelot grabs the water, helping a frightened and half-paralyzed Merlin to his feet. Arthur puts his chainmail on properly, allowing Gwen to strap on his cauldron. They barely have enough time for the rest before an ominous hiss fills the air, scratching at their ears and sending shivers down their spines.
"Oh, no…" Merlin whispers. "Run. Go—run!"
The panic in his voice is alarming, and it snaps the other three back to reality. Guinevere picks up her skirts and bolts, closely followed by Arthur. Lancelot isn't too far away from Merlin, either, who wears the red cloak like a blanket. He tucks Aithusa into his scarf, wrapping it around her small frame as he runs. He can hear the beast prowling after them, paws slamming down hard on the leafy forest ground. The snake head is hissing veraciously, obviously having more speed than them.
Merlin sees it before it happens for the briefest of moments, but it's more than enough warning to allow him magic.
Gwen trips. It's a big trip, too, and he can see how she's sprained her ankle in the fall. But he catches her midair with a simple use of his magic. Of course, the Questing Beast knows no difference between mother-to-be or criminal. Merlin understands that all too well. This, by all means, is not the last time he'll be seeing the monster.
He sticks a careful hand in the endless pouch hooked to his belt, pulling out a sword he hasn't touched in years. It's still a shiny blade, full of magic, and poised to kill. Merlin's physical interference of the beast's path makes it skid to a near-stop, but its mouth is as wide as a snake's jaw can get and heading straight for his entire upper body. He's not overly afraid; he just fears for Aithusa. Dragons are not war-born creatures, after all.
When the moment strikes, so does Merlin. He thrusts the blade forward at an angle, squarely hitting the mongrel in its upper mouth. He feels a pain shoot back and forth between his collarbone and shoulder blade, and he's acutely aware of the burning poison coursing through his veins. But the pained, ghastly screech of death shreds his ear drums, signifying its quick but meaningful fall. Merlin makes a pained grunting sound as he pushes the magical beast down, pulling Excalibur out of its flesh. He's quick to store it, and he's gritting his teeth through the pain.
"What was that?" Lancelot asks breathlessly.
"A Questing Beast," Merlin explains quietly. "A beast of life and death. One bite can and will kill you, whether you be man, dragon or sorcerer."
"But Arthur survived."
The warlock smiles humorlessly. "Nimue died in his place," he points out. His voice is suddenly dry, and he feels warm blood start to seep from the bite. He carefully presses a hand to his chest—and he gets a dripping wet hand print of blood.
"Merlin," Lancelot says carefully. "Are you okay?"
He didn't have to look very far to find the wound, and by then, Merlin is unconscious on his feet and falling.
The sky is just barely gray when the group finally reaches Camelot. Lancelot is assisting Gwen, and in very little hurry, while Arthur is hauling Merlin on his back to the palace. He's still knocked out cold, his face an ashen pale white. His breath is quick and shallow in Arthur's ear, and despite the efforts to stop the bleeding, it all feels almost fruitless. Regardless, the king has his faith in Jack and Gaius to do what they can. It's how he'll need to lift the curse of the Questing Beast that greatly troubles him.
Leon and Percival are the first to spill out.
"Sire—what's happened?" Leon asks quickly.
"He's been bitten by the Questing Beast," Arthur explains breathlessly. "Help me get him to his quarters, Percival. Leon, get the physicians."
The captain nods dutifully, rushing off to find Jack and Gaius. Percival takes a lot off of his king's shoulders, quite literally, as he takes Merlin bridal-style into the castle. He's alarmingly limp and pale, and there's a red stain on his chalky white skin. Gwaine, Mordred, Kay and Eylon are not too far behind, having returned from the lower town together.
Arthur opens the door for Percival, beckoning for the knights to come quickly. They don't hesitate. "Keep the bleeding to a minimal," he orders the man of strength. "And be mindful of Aithusa. She is still with him."
Percival meagerly nods, practically jogging past servants and nobles of Camelot.
"My liege, what has happened?" Mordred quickly asks, speaking for a shocked Gwaine.
"Merlin's been bitten," he explains. "By the Questing Beast, no less…"
Gwaine flinches. "He's going to die," he says, ghastly and shaken.
Arthur gives him a resolute eye. "No, he won't. Not here, not now," he states. "Kay, take care of Gwaine. Eylon, your sister is at the front gate. Help Lance get her here, she sprained her ankle. Mordred—with me, we must help."
He doesn't wait. He's already on his toes, dashing off after Percival's trail as the other knights take care with fulfilling his orders. Merlin is placed on his bed, the pressure still being applied to his wounds as they wait for Jack and Gaius. Their arrival doesn't take very long. Jack is winded but supplied, while Gaius is wheezing and obviously needing to sit down. Jack doesn't let it hinder any progress; he just sets the supplies down in front of Gaius, having knowing full-well that he knew the tinctures and remedies needed to pull through the bite of a Questing Beast.
"Hands off," Jack barks. "I need room to work."
Percival quickly moves away, and Arthur takes steps back. The acting physician pulls any extra layering off. A short dagger cuts into the shirt and makes it better to work with; he can see the damage and he knows.
"I can't do much here," he says. "It's unbelievably deep."
Regardless of his assessments, Jack cleans what he can up. It's a very tedious process—docile and hyper-focused. Throughout the hour it takes, Arthur's anxiety doesn't settle. He tries a short walk down the corridor—but he's yanked right back. He tries to sit, to read, to talk, but none of it works.
But then he tries starting a fire. It does help, but he's still glancing over at Gaius and Jack, who were both working hard in silence. In the end, Merlin isn't as in much danger as he once had been. It didn't mean he will be getting any better.
While Jack and Gaius are cleaning up and monitoring, the Knights of the Round Table gather around the fireplace.
"The Questing Beast is becoming troublesome," Leon mumbles.
"Merlin killed it," Arthur points out.
"But another one will be back," Mordred points out. "The Old Religion always makes it so that one Questing Beast exists at a time all the time."
The group somewhat deflats.
"What are we to do about this?" Gwaine asks softly. "Such a bite is fatal."
"He saved me from the bite," Arthur states. "He said that Nimue took my place."
"What does that even mean?" Gwaine grumbles.
Mordred blinks in slight surprise though. "Merlin killed Nimue," he says. Everyone looks at him. "It's true. The Old Religion demands a life to be taken when the Questing Beast bites someone," he explains. "It doesn't matter who, really. As long as they're sacrificed, Merlin would be saved."
"That's morbid," Eylon mutters almost distrustfully.
"So we have to condemn a life to death," Lancelot summarizes.
Mordred nods. "I…I know there is a way. But I just don't know what it is exactly," he says.
"We're wasting time," Arthur mutters. "We should be searching."
"A way, obv—" The king cuts himself off, quickly turning around and looking up at the pale, bandaged sorcerer. "Merlin!"
The other many residents of the room jump a little in surprise at his fairly sudden appearance. Merlin is essentially immune to it, only shifting with the baby dragon in his hands. "I'm still alive," he says. "I've got time."
"It's kind of running out," Mordred mutters pessimistically. Leon gives him a critical glare and Gwaine punches his arm. "Ow."
"True," Merlin agrees. He frowns and rubs his bare upper arm tenderly. "It hurts."
"Then you should be resting," Jack intervenes. "In fact, how did you even get out of bed? I gave you numbing remedies."
"It helps," Merlin points out. "I'll lay down in a few quick minutes."
Jack squints at him, but otherwise leaves him.
"How did you do it?" Mordred asks. "How did you save Arthur's life last time?"
"Mm. That way is just about as close to a lost cause as it can get without being one," he points out almost apathetically, but everyone else is looking fairly panicked at that. "There are no acting High Priestesses to get the sufficient sacrifice and ritual from here to the Triple Goddess. They're either dead or incapacitated."
Arthur looks a little grim.
"What now?" Gwaine murmurs. "I think it's pretty clear that we won't let you die."
Merlin's lips twitch a little, but he doesn't smile. He's clearly too tired for that. "The alternative is performing the ritual yourselves," he points out, his voice cracking with exhaustion and pain. There many other ways, too, but they are all very dark and putrid with evil. "Mordred can do it."
Everybody looks to the youngest knight, who instantly loses the calm he's barely kept until now. "My—my magic isn't possibly that strong," he stutters out.
Merlin knew so, so much better. "I wasn't speaking in permission or command," he points out. "It was more suggestion than anything. I have faith in your capabilities."
Mordred goes silent, obviously thinking on it with a slightly troubled frown.
"Jack," Arthur speaks up.
"How…how long does Merlin have?"
Jack nearly sighs, opening his mouth to say something before Gaius speaks up.
"The deeper the wound, the quicker the death," the old man says. "He should be dead by now, but he's not, and it's purely because his magic is holding it off. I estimate no more than two days if it's to continue."
Merlin looks down and away from the Knights. He's got less time than that, as a matter of fact. Yes, what Gaius says is true—but the protective charm always takes a trickle of his magic at a constant rate. Sleeping and generally resting has always given magic users their energy back, and while it does the same for Merlin, it's held back.
"Merlin," Mordred says. "Please…tell me. How can I save you?"
"Of course, but only on the condition that you let me choose the sacrifice," he replies, which gives him rigorous nods and responses. He nearly chuckles. "Take the Cup of Life to the Isle of the Blessed. Fill it with water. From the sky is always the most effective. Use Aurelius Ambrosius. Have him drink it."
Leon gives him an alarmed look, but the name otherwise doesn't trigger a reaction. Merlin's appreciation for that goes unnoticed.
"Who is that?" Arthur questions.
"An alchemist," he replies. "Not a very clean one, though. He's got bad dirt."
"This isn't an act of revenge, is it?" the king asks, his eyes narrow and staring straight at the sorcerer.
"…No. It's nothing personal," he lies easily. "Aurelius isn't…honorable. He's got reputation."
"So…he deserves it?" Gwaine asks. Lancelot gives a look of worry, obviously unsure of the judgement passed. Merlin only nods.
"Very well," Arthur says almost concedingly. "I shall have you stay with Merlin, Lancelot. Eylon and Leon shall stay and keep Camelot stable. Mordred, Gwaine, we are to travel to the Isle."
Merlin suddenly holds out an ornament cup next to the king's face, the silver and gold blazing in the fire light. Arthur leans away a little and gives it a strange look.
"You have the Cup," Mordred says, a little bit flabbergasted and a little bit exasperated.
"It's nothing to worry about," Merlin states as Arthur takes the Cup of Life. "It's been entrusted to me."
He raises an eyebrow almost doubtfully. "You?"
"Better with someone deep in hiding and unknown to most of the world," he points out, his face pinched in a grimace.
Jack takes the moment to overrun the conversation and prevent it from continuing. "Let Merlin rest," he says. "As should you all, if only a little."
Only Leon stays behind. He feigns leaving, though, and when Jack and Gaius are out of earshot, he gives Merlin a dire expression.
The sorcerer looks at him. "Yes?" he asks, his voice soft and his attention understandably undivided.
"Aurelius Ambrosius," he murmurs. "You…you are aware of who he truly is, are you not?"
Merlin gives him a white-lipped expression, but he nods. "His lineage doesn't matter to me," he points out. "I know what I'm doing, Leon."
The captain stares suspiciously. "I respect you, my friend. But I fear that it will not stay if you truly decide to through with this," he states.
Merlin looks down at Aithusa, his eyebrows knitting into the fifth frown of the hour. "I'm sorry," is all he decides to say. But he isn't backing down like Leon had likely hoped. He truly doesn't plan to, either. Aurelius Ambrosius' death is something many have long since anticipated, and Merlin is high on that list.
Leon doesn't say anything to that. He just turns and leaves, closing the clunky wooden door behind his heels.
"Merlin," Jack says after a few seconds. "Please, rest. I can not stress it enough."
The sorcerer just nods stiffly, and sorely crawls into his bed. He hears the physician speaking to Lancelot—but he doesn't process his words, and with Aithusa curled into his unharmed shoulder, he falls fast asleep.
The rest is short-lived. Aithusa is breathing deeply. The sky is gray. There are no crackles coming from the hearth. Lancelot is snoozing on the side of Merlin's bed. He mindfully sets Aithusa to the side, careful not to disturb the two as he slides out of bed. His head is woozy from the loss of blood and his shoulder is throbbing red hot. His cheeks are doing no better, and if he listens closely, he can hear the inner beats of his heart. There are soft ringing sounds in his ears, too, and his feet are swole with his incoming death.
He looks outside. The courtyard isn't full of life just yet, though there are sporadic happenstances of people making treks to and fro. Merlin is too out of it to recognize their faces. His line of sight is dark at the edges and unable to focus properly. The heat his body is producing causes him some confusion, as it naturally would, and he doesn't remember enough. But he does recall turning to the drawer of his gifted desk and pulling out something he hasn't lain eyes on in years.
It's a rose. It's only a stem and bud—but it's been like that for nearly twenty years. Originally it was going to be a vine of strawberries. But Merlin, having been a fair novice in magic back then, accidentally made it a rose. Of course, the gift was accepted regardless.
He can still feel Freya and her love for him if he pays attention.
"Merlin," Lancelot says. "What are you doing up? You will worsen."
The sorcerer would've laughed if the situation couldn't be more truer. Merlin is dying, and he will be dead by noon. He doesn't doubt Arthur's journey, but he does feel grim at the amount of time it takes to get to the Isle of the Blessed. Especially when Gaius' prediction is incorrect.
Lancelot puts a bare and gentle hand on his back, careful not to touch the wound. "Merlin," he says almost desperately. "Please, lay down. Rest."
He blinks sluggishly. His eyes roll around, trying to function in the mud of death. He turns his flushed face towards the Knight. His breathing is a bit too loud for his comfort, and he knows that he will fail if he moves.
"What's this?" he asks softly, obviously referring to the unborn rose in Merlin's hand.
"They were supposed to be strawberries," he explains vaguely, his voice cracking with the daft reminder of Freya's death. "She gave it back to me before she became the Lady of the Lake."
Lancelot frowns. "Who are you talking about?"
"She's dead," he points out weakly. "It's been a long time. I'd rather not…"
Lance nods in understanding, hooking Merlin's arms over his neck. He guides the dying warlock back to his bed again, gently tucking him in and keeping his hand in Merlin's as he starts to get weaker and weaker.
They stay that way well into Jack's morning checkup. Merlin is sleeping again, but he's got a deep frown and his chest is moving quicker and shorter. It's not as bad as when the Questing Beast initially bit him the night before, but it's getting close.
"I'm afraid he has less time than any of us predicted," Jack says quietly. He clears his throat at the Knight's wide-eyed glance, and continues to explain. "It…it seems that he has cast a charm on something that takes up a very small amount of his magic everyday."
"What do you mean?" Lancelot asks quickly.
"It means his magic is in constant use," the man restates. "The basic essentials for a man to live is a good way to keep it from eating away at his magic completely…"
"I'm sorry, Sir Knight, but what do you mean?"
"When will he die?" It hurt his chest physically to ask, but—in all his experience—it's better to know sooner rather than later.
"I'd say…if he's lucky, he will live to see sunset," Jack says. "If he isn't…no further than early noon."
The Knight goes breathless, tears pricking at his eyes as the realization of Merlin's impending doom slams him down. It doesn't make anything easier.
Jack puts a strong hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Sir Knight," he says again, only he's far more sympathetic than before. "We must keep our faith in King Arthur, though. And Merlin. He's strong."
Lancelot almost doesn't respond. He can barely nod—but he squeezes a wheezing response out, and Jack sees it fit to dismiss himself. The knight sniffs and brings Merlin's ghastly pale hand to his mouth. He kisses it, his eyes watering and spilling tears of grief.
"Merlin…please, get rid of that spell…" Lancelot whispers. He just got Merlin back. He can't bare to lose him again. Not so soon after his official return. The silence is heavy. Lancelot can't ever recall a time when it's been lighter.
Merlin does wake up again, though. He's so far gone in death, though, that he just barely opens his eyes to see the world around him. His free hand slowly moves and reaches for something, and Lance feels his heart shatter at the broken movements. Aithusa cuddles into his hand, softly cooing worried noises at him and harmlessly nibbling at his skin.
It makes the dragonlord smile a little, though it looks more like his lips had twitched. "Frontíste ton Lancelot," he mutters to her. Her small face becomes horribly distressed at that, her insistent crowing grating in her throat as Merlin's thumb weakly strokes her leathery skin.
"Merlin," Lancelot whispers, gently squeezing his hand. "Merlin…how—how are you feeling…?"
The sorcerer moves his head and looks at him, blinking slowly and carefully. All the same, his every movement is full of exhaustion. "…Fine…" he responds.
Lancelot gives him a near-disappointed frown. "No, you're not fine," he says.
Merlin manages a bigger smile this time, his red cheeks raising and making his eyes wrinkle. Despite his condition, he's happy enough. "True," he agrees. "But you are here, Lance. Thank you."
"I won't be the last face you see. Arthur will be successful," he says vigilantly.
Merlin hums in agreement, sighing and leaning into the bed. He's staring at the world in front of him, with Aithusa cuddling his palm and Lancelot squeezing his hand gently. It's when the silence becomes…too silent that Lancelot looks at Merlin.
His eyes widen when he quickly comes to a realization that the sorcerer's chest isn't…
It isn't moving.
Merlin is deathly pale and entirely unmoving.
Lancelot loses his breath. "Merlin," he says softly, reaching out and shaking his clamy arm. "Merlin…Merlin, wake up."
He doesn't get a response.
"M-Merlin?" Lancelot stutters out. He stands and puts a hand on his cheek, the other arm feeling for a physical sign of life. "Merlin—Merlin, Merlin—"
He finds nothing.
"Merlin," he desperately says, nearly shouting, before he starts shaking and processing what's just happened.
Frontíste ton Lancelot: "protect Lancelot"
a grim ending, i know. but the legend is grim, too, and this is me just twisting it and making it fit a vision of my bbc merlin.
if you comment, i'd like feedback on the death scene. they're my ultimate emotional target so i wanna know if it's effective. thanks :)
Chapter 9: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
oof, long wait much? a lil bit but i've enjoyed writing this story on and off.
anyways this first short story arc is p much a character base that i felt needed to be covered for merlin bc this story itself has a fat base in terms of the plot. enjoy!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The dream is rife with grief and ornamented with self-blame. The sadness and intensity makes Morgan le Fay sob in her sleep. Her own crying actually wakes her up and interrupts the magical dream.
The sky is gray. There are very little clouds and even lesser activity. The sun has yet to rise, and the night is fairly cold, but Morgan le Fay is all but worrying about the cold.
The dream had showed her Myrddin being bitten by the Questing Beast and killed by its poison hours later. It's a heartbreaking sight, and it keeps her awake through the small hours of the morning.
Even if she hadn't woken up any earlier, she would've been jerked awake by the clobbering sound of hooves slamming on the forest floor. She's quick to hook her only satchel of supplies around her shoulder and scurry off behind a tree, but she's louder than she expects.
The horses, however, don't stop. They keep going. Morgan need only lean to her right a little to watch as King Arthur and two of his knights sprint past her ghost camp. They're clearly in a dire rush.
She isn't against stopping them; though she does feel a bit sick with anxiety.
Because the court physicians, three Knights of the Round Table and the Queen herself were all mourning over Myrddin's dead body in her vision.
The sun is at a rising angle of the morning when the three journeying men take a moment to rest. Arthur is pacing nervously, Mordred is fiddling with his sword, and Gwaine is dreadfully still and quiet where he would be cheerful and alive.
His gloved hands are folded in front of his mouth, his glassy eyes staring off into the distance with thoughts that accommodate with the other two. Mordred keeps staring at the Cup of Life hooked on his king's belt, and Arthur looks like he is to die of stress on the spot.
"We must go," he says. "We're wasting time."
Gwaine almost doesn't move, and Mordred looks up at him almost sagely. "Your Highness—"
"Those were orders. Do you intend to disobey?" he snaps.
"No…no! Of course not. It's just that the horses need a few minutes more of rest," Mordred points out. "They are our fastest means of getting there. We mustn't break them with exhaustion."
Arthur goes silent, but he does nod and continues to pace anxiously again.
Gwaine looks almost angry, his frown becoming strong in his eyebrows like dirt on a white shirt.
"Mordred," Arthur speaks up.
"How strong is your belief in Merlin's supposedly vast knowledge of magic?" he asks.
The druid blinks, a little surprised by the sudden question. "I'm…I'm not entirely sure," he says. "It's his question to answer, but if I were to estimate it, I would say he knows more than he lets on."
"How much more?"
"I haven't a clue," he murmurs. "But he is very powerful. More so than he likely claims to be."
Arthur's lips tighten as his jaw tenses up, his frown becoming more creased as he continues to think.
"Is something wrong?" the young knight asks.
"He's hiding something," the king mutters, his fingers touching on his chin. "It's something incredibly important. I could just see it in his eyes."
Gwaine moves and pulls his gloves off, balling his sweaty hands nervously. "We've barely his trust back," he points out quietly. "Nearly eleven years of absolutely no contact and loneliness does have its costs. I honestly don't expect him to start talking. Even now of all times."
Arthur gives him a hard stare. "What do you mean?"
"He never told us anything," Gwaine points out. "I truly don't mean it in malice, but he kept more than one secret from us. That includes magic, of course, but he spoke white lies. Or he simply never mentions it."
Arthur doesn't speak against it, and neither does Mordred. In fact, the two glance at each other like they agree.
"Gwaine, do you know something we don't?" Arthur questions.
The knight blinks slowly and debates on it, but he eventually sighs as the greens of the forest rustle with a gentle summer breeze. He does. He knows more than he probably should. "No," he says. "But…it always feels that way with him, doesn't it?"
Neither of them disagree.
"We must get going," Arthur says once more. "We waste too much valuable time on idles. The Isle is still a few hours away."
The two knights don't hesitate in gathering themselves. They all mount their horses as quickly as they can, Arthur casting a simple side glance over his shoulder to the old sleeping man known as Aurelius Ambrosius strapped to the saddle.
The lake is gloomy and dusted with fog despite the bright, cheery weather. The lake's gray waters stay eerily opaque despite the light. The Isle of the Blessed gives off more devilish vibes heavily in spite of its name.
Just off the shore, there is an incredibly thin dock, with a boat and an old man waiting right by it.
Gwaine and Arthur pull Aurelius Ambrosius off the behind of the horse, placing him on Mordred's back. The sleeping draught is strong—but Jack made it so that he is to wake up when it is too late.
They silently walk up to the old man, who merely dips and steps aside.
Mordred nearly blanches. "You're not charging us?" he asks.
The old man does not speak. But the representatives of Camelot aren't complaining. They step onto the boat, and are navigated through the murky waters with Aurelius Ambrosius and the Cup of Life.
The center of the dark lake is a crumbled fortress, violated by winds and waves but still existing. Mordred is shivering under the pressure of the Old Religion's presence. It's ancient and powerful, and the closer he gets to the crumbled fortress, the closer he feels to the very being of magic.
They're all eerily silent when the boat softly jerks to a stop. Mordred trades the old man for the Cup of Life, and as a group, they make way.
The mist is thick enough to cover their pathway to the center. Arthur is barely picking up his feet as he drags Aurelius Ambrosius onward, and Gwaine has already tripped or caught his foot on something three times over. Mordred is no different.
He does stop, deathly still, when he sees a woman at the far end. Her figure is distorted by the gray atmosphere—but Mordred is distrustful of it.
"Who is that?" Arthur asks quietly.
"I don't know," Mordred replies. "Best not to trust it, Your Highness. The Isle is rich with deceptive magic."
Arthur only nods, but he's clearly as worried as Mordred.
Gwaine unsheathes his sword when the woman approaches, but Mordred recognizes the shadow of her red dress enough to be suspicious.
"King Arthur," she says, her voice echoing and reaching further than usual in spite of the mist. "I see you come…bearing gifts."
He squints at her as she finally emerges. The woman wears a plain but vibrant red dress, with dark brown hair and pale skin. Her eyes are big, round blue orbs and her lips pop out like white against black. Her beauty is undeniable, but he can't trust her. "Who are you?" he asks.
"I'm a High Priestess," she states. "And you walk on my territory. I should be asking you the questions, sire."
Mordred almost gives her a dirty look, putting the cup in view. "You mustn't mock a king," he says, his voice low and ready. "We can try you with treason."
She gives him a scrutinizing stare back. "Someone has been bitten by the Questing Beast," she says. Her expression becomes bitter. "I can feel it. Merlin is dying."
Arthur goes thin-lipped.
"Such a man doesn't deserve life," she grounds out. "He deserves nothing."
Mordred's stare hardens as he unsheathes his sword. "And who are you to dictate that?" he snaps, his shoulders squaring up.
She narrows her eyes. "He has not told you much, has he?" She sneers a little. "He may come across as a hurting guppy, but you mustn't believe his ugly façade. He's a killer. That man," she gestures to Aurelius, "killed something precious of his after he condemned your father to death, King Arthur."
The blond glares. "Shut your mouth," he says, his voice powerful and angry. He puts Aurelius Ambrosius to the side and unsheathes his sword as well. "Mordred, handle the ritual. Gwaine, with me."
The youngest of the group gives Arthur a hesitant look before complying and backing away. Gwaine silently joins his king's side, his eyes watchful and calculative like a hawk.
"You intend to fight a High Priestess of the Triple Goddess?" she says, her voice swimming in arrogance and dark mirth. "It's your death wish, Your Highness. Yours too, peasant." She spits the last word at Gwaine like venom, and it calls for a rage from Arthur.
The fight commences, but Mordred ignores it. His only focus has to be the ritual; he owes Merlin just about everything, and he refuses to fail him.
Lancelot has immense difficulty keeping Aithusa calm.
Guinivere takes him up on his offer to swipe the day free of his duties and care for her. He has to take her somewhere private, with which he can only think of the King's chambers.
He's sitting on one of the chairs, staring at the golden hearth with a somber expression. His ankle is tucked under his thigh, and Aithusa is softly wailing into his unarmored sleeve. Her cries make Merlin's death so much more unbearable; he can feel her hurt on top of all his own.
All Lancelot can do, really, is stay close to her and stroke her back and stomach in gentle comfort and reassurance. He isn't sure what else to do. Quite frankly, his own pain is still too…strong. It's like a pool of tar is clogging his bodily functions, and he can't think straight for what feels like many, many days.
But it's only been six hours.
"Lancelot," Guinivere says quietly. When he doesn't immediately respond, she puts a hand on his shoulder. "Lancelot…"
He breaks from his angst and glances up at her. He shifts almost awkwardly and clears his throat. "Yes, Your Highness?" he murmurs, his voice soft and weak.
She smiles sympathetically, her eyes raw from crying earlier. "Do you need anything?" she asks. "Water…food…blanket…?"
He shakes his head. "It's alright," he murmurs. "I'm fine. You rest. Your ankle needs healing."
She squeezes his shoulder, but gives an understanding look. "Of course," she replies. "I'll be in the other room. If you need me, you know where to look."
He can only nod and look down at Aithusa. Her face is tucked between his arm and side, and her body is shaking with what is likely grief and sobs. Her wings are tightly tucked in, and her lengthy tail is curled into an unnerving spiral. His free hand rubs her breakable side soothingly, but her only response is a slight lean into the touch.
He stares down at her for a while, losing himself in the shine of her leathery skin—and it's not until he hears a rather loud mutter push itself out of Gwen's mouth that he pulls his gaze away.
Lancelot looks at her. "What is it?" he asks.
She sighs and edges away from the window, brushing the skirts of her dress free of any signs of sitting. "Arthur is back," she says almost hysterically. "Please…be ready."
He can only nod, but he's not certain she sees it because she's nearly running out of the chambers despite her ankle.
Lancelot almost follows—but he ends up staying where he is, because he feels too sick with sadness and the evening glow of the sun just reminds him of the dark day Merlin died.
The witch disappears the instant Mordred uses a spell to make it rain. The cup easily fills up, and with cold fingers, he slips the enchanted holy water into the vial.
"Where did she go?" Gwaine calls.
Mordred stands and turns to them. "It doesn't matter," he states. "I've the remedy for Merlin. We need to leave right now!"
The two other soldiers look around cautiously as they back away, and when they're in close proximity of one another, they all bolt as quickly as they can down the narrow pathway. The fog is curling around their ankles as they run, but it doesn't dissipate. In fact, it crowds the Isle and makes it difficult to see.
But Mordred remembers the way well enough to return to the old man and his boat. Arthur and Gwaine don't take any second of energy granted.
The old man moves with lighthearted amusement depsite the situation as they quickly board the boat, and within a minute, they're a safe enough distance away from the crumbled fortress.
"Who the hell was that?" Gwaine breathlessly asks.
Arthur sighs and leans back. "She looks familiar," he mutters. "I've…I've seen her before. But it's been well over twenty years. She's supposed to be dead."
Mordred looks at him. "Who do you think it is?"
"Nimue," he says, and in the second he speaks her name, Mordred's heart skips a beat.
"Nimue? Who's that?" Gwaine asks.
"She's a sorceress. The one Merlin said he killed," Mordred explains. "She used to be the court sorceress for Camelot…until…well, you know what happened."
Arthur nods somberly.
"Some people say she was killed by Emrys twenty years ago," he goes on. "Apparently, he was trying to use the same ritual as us to save someone. Nimue was taken at random, but a lot of the druid clans thought it to be selective elimination by the Old Religion."
"What do you mean?" Arthur asks, his eyebrow pinched in worry.
Mordred frowns with him. "It's just…that the Old Religion favors her creatures over a High Priestess of the Triple Goddess," he says. "And a High Priestess over a normal sorcerer. Emrys was there, and he's supposedly a normal sorcerer. He would've been chosen rather than Nimue. It was either luck, or Emrys is actually a creature of the Old Religion. That makes him more dangerous than accommodating in my book."
Arthur frowns. "Who is Emrys?" he asks.
"A very powerful sorcerer," he replies. "He's prophesied over so many different cultures. Just about everyone has been anticipating his birth…"
"What is he to do?" Gwaine asks. "Surely it must be important if so many people have been making prophecies about him."
Mordred nods. "The overall prophecy says he is to guide the Once and Future King," he explains. "This specific king is supposed to create a whole new world for people with and without magic."
"Do we know who it is?" Gwaine asks.
Mordred stares for a few seconds, but he shakes his head. It's entirely true when he says he doesn't know—they are mere names and faces to those who are non-prophets, but he has his suspicions. They leave the rest of the trip silent. The horses are pushed as far as possible in order to get back to Camelot.
Only when they find themselves at the gate of the city, right before the sun decides to complete the trip to the horizon, do they let the beasts rest. Even then, they're running. The guards don't question their king and the two knights, but everyone is at least a little curious as to what the rush is.
Guinivere is waiting at the base of the stairs when they arrive. The golden glow of the sunset shows her exhaustion; but, despite that, her small smile shows a degree of welcoming.
"Where is Merlin?" Arthur asks, putting his hands on her shoulders with wide eyes.
"Go to our chambers," she says, her smile dropping faster than a rock in water. "Everybody is waiting."
"Why?" he questions. "What's happened?"
"…You'll see, love," she replies. "Hurry."
Arthur kisses her forehead and rushes off up the stairs. Mordred isn't too far behind, but Gwaine lingers.
"Is Merlin okay?" he asks.
Gwen stares at him blankly before she faces him as a queen rather than a friend. "Go with Arthur," she says.
He gives her a nervous look. "Yes, milady," he responds dutifully, and he chases after her.
Grief falls on her features the instant they're out of sight. She sighs tiredly and sniffs, wiping away forming tears as she looks at the gate guards. "No one is to enter the castle," she orders. "Only servants and knights are to move as they please."
Both the guards nod. "Yes, Your Highness."
And, with that, she limps back into the castle. The big doors don't show mercy on her ears, though, after they close behind her heels.
"My lady," Marilynn says. "Please, let me
Gwen can only smile and nod—but even then her movements are numb, and if she lets her imagination run rampant, she could see nothing but darkness come forth from this event.
Lancelot moves as quickly as a devil when the chamber doors are swung open. The grieving baby dragon flinches and makes a horrible wailing sound, but allowing her to curl back into his tunic gives rest to her.
Arthur looks at him, breathless and frantic with wide eyes. "Where is Merlin?"
Lancelot's flinch is too strong to go unnoticed.
"Lancelot," the king says carefully. "Where is Merlin?"
"He, uh…" He clears his throat and straightens his back, but he's tired and finding it immensely difficult to keep his posture. "He…he didn't—"
"He…he what?" Arthur's blue eyes become glassy, and his voice creaks with worry. "He what?"
"Merlin didn't…live to see high noon," he says, pain bloating in his chest and making it immensely difficult to breathe. Aithusa crows and shivers with sadness. "He…died of his wounds nearly seven hours ago. I'm sorry."
Instantly, the mood drops further. The world seems gray, and in the moments between his reveal of the happenstance and the trio hearing about it, everything plummets.
Gwaine is turning himself away, but one can tell that he's crying going by the gentle shake of his shoulders. Arthur has just about lost it. Everything that is on his desk is shattered against the wall or on the floor, and Mordred is sitting down on a chair with his head hanging and his thumbs fiddling with a vial.
Leon, Eylon and Percival are deathly quiet, but Percival gives a hug to Gwaine and Eylon stands next to Mordred. When Gwen enters, she gives Arthur a hug.
And nobody lets go of one another.
The vial is sitting quietly on Arthur's emptied desk. It stays there for an uncomfortably long time. Lancelot has all but openly grieved like everyone else at this point. He doesn't eat and any beverage offer is rejected. Sleep feels like a lingering beast, ready to bite when he's too dazed to care.
Aithusa has yet to emerge from her spot. He's tried rousing her out with scratches and stomach rubs, but she's unmoving and still horribly sad.
Gwen barely manages to get Arthur to sleep. She herself is just barely able to stay still, even though she looks deadbeat exhausted.
Lancelot sighs softly through his nose, pushing himself out of the chair. His handless arm is across his torso, and Aithusa is tucked halfway in. Her warmth is comforting at the very least.
Gwen looks at him. "Are you retiring for the night?" she asks somberly.
"I am," he replies. "It's been a long day, Your Highness. You should sleep and rest."
She nods. "As should you, Lance," she agrees. Her eyes drift over to the vial Mordred left behind. "What are we to do now…? We were so unbelievably close to having Merlin back…and he's gone."
Lancelot doesn't say anything to that, because it's painfully true. "…You've still got happiness coming your way," he points out. "We all do. The arrival of your children is not too far away."
Gwen's hand brushes against her round stomach, her smile returning a little at the reminder of what's to come. "That is true," she agrees. Her eyes drift over to Aithusa. "I assume you will be taking care of her from now on."
Lancelot nods stiffly. "I don't know much about dragons, unfortunately, but I'll try my best," he says.
"Arthur managed to find a book on dragons a few days ago," she informs. "I don't know how reliable it'll be, but it's better than nothing."
"Thank you," he says, and with a respectful dip, he saunters off to his chambers for the night.
thanks for reading!! feedback is always appreciated. also, thank you for the support of this story :) your guys' words have kept my muse for fmo gassed
Chapter 10: The Cairn
damn this story has been out for over a year. it's so slow lmao
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The day after Merlin's death doesn't get simple. But then again, the day after any death is never simple. Especially when the deadman had just came back.
Arthur is still exhausted and grieving. He barely slept the night before, and he knows full well that if he takes a day off, everything will stack up to the point of where he is sure he will die. It honestly feels like the weight of the world rests on his shoulders. Of course, the load is lightened by Gwen's presence—and he isn't sure who did it, but the councilors and nobles made a short-term deal to majorly help their king out.
He has more time to himself than usual. He appreciates it.
Arthur also gives enough leisure for the Knights of the Round Table. He allows the day off and places the other knights to work instead; of course, Leon still arrives fully dressed. His age-old presence is greatly appreciated.
His meals aren't completely consumed. Gwen is not much different.
Arthur is deaf to the world; he doesn't make small talk because of it. Of course, he has discussions with Leon and Percival concerning new recruits, training session tactics and squads. But there isn't much beyond that.
The day is tipped off around two hours before dinner, though. Leon's men, who were guarding the castle date, told him that there is a woman—possibly a witch—requesting an audience from either the King, the Queen, or any available Knight of the Round Table. Arthur completely brushes it off and moves on.
It's only about half an hour later that Lancelot knocks on his chamber doors.
"Yes?" he calls. "Who is it?"
"It's Lancelot, Your Highness," he says. "May I enter?"
The dark-haired knight enters. He's wearing a white tunic with a brown vest, boots and pants of the same color matching his outfit blandly. His belt holds his sword, but he's otherwise as normal as any other civilian would look. "I'm sorry to interrupt," he says. "It's just that Aithusa ran off. I…I saw her go in this direction."
Arthur stands up. "That's not good," he says, his voice full of alert. "I haven't seen her. Is there anywhere she would go?"
"Well…I…I already checked Merlin's chambers," he says, his voice masking a crack. "The next stop is where his body is, but…I don't think she knows where he's at."
Arthur sighs and looks down at his desk. It's been cleaned and resorted by Gabriel earlier this morning; his inkwell is replaced, and his parchments returned to their formal spots. There's a feather pen, a book, and an old letter from a noble.
He knows that Mordred put the vial of healing water on his desk—and Gabriel knew not to move it.
Yet, he can't find it. It's not under the desk, in the drawers, on the bookshelves—it's missing.
"Lancelot," he says slowly. "The vial of healing water is missing."
His eyes widen and his face goes pale with nervousness. "Oh, no…"
Aithusa is smart enough to understand things on a non-instinctual level. While only mere weeks old, she is still learning—but she can discriminate.
She can see that everyone is suffering. But she doesn't understand why. It's been distressing, and she hates it. It makes her shiver almost constantly. It didn't help that Merlin isn't anywhere nearby, and that she can't get to him very easily. It's scary down where he is.
But she quickly braves up, and slips out of Lancelot's chambers. The thing she needs is in a whole other room. She can't remember the way for the life of her friends, but the king's scent is strong in the air. Aithusa can follow it.
The sun is spilling into the room when she manages to scuttle under the door. It had been a challenge, but she's still small and flexible enough to fit herself underneath. The king is speaking to his manservant when she enters, and his wife is nowhere to be seen, but the vial of the healing water is still on his desk. She knows she can get it if she plays her cards carefully.
Her stark blue eyes watch for a few short minutes, and in the quick moment when everybody's back is turned, she races out across the room. She ducks herself under the desk, crowing moodily when the bottom of the desk scrapes against the bulk of her wings and spine.
Nobody leaves the room for a while. Aithusa is getting considerably impatient, and right when she's about to pounce on the vial of magical water, the king and queen finally take their leave with Marilynn and Gabriel. The room's noise dies down. The only sound is the movement outside, in the hallway where the guards and servants are always shuffling about.
Aithusa takes the chance. She leaps onto his chair, nearly sliding off. Her claws dig into the handmade softness for leverage. In easy bounds, she's on the desk—and the vial is in her possession.
Her blood goes cold with fear when the door opens.
The instant his dark eyes land on her visible body, he jumps back. "What are you doing!" he shouts, but Aithusa scrambles away at full speed.
Gabriel takes chase and grabs after her, but it proves to be fruitless as she darts out of the open door and down the hallway in the very same direction of the catacombs.
"Gabriel! Where the hell are you going?"
"I'll be right back!"
It's where Merlin's body is being prepared for respects and a funeral.
One that isn't going to happen. Aithusa can see and understand more in the humans than they do themselves. It's best if this immortal friend of theirs returns sooner rather than later.
The little dragon keeps running, but she feels exhaustion creep into her feet and lungs quickly.
Aithusa's legs nearly lose proper gripping as she makes a fairly sudden sharp turn, ducking into a deep corner and hiding well enough for Gabriel to lose track of her. After the manservant is out of the general circle of his senses, Aithusa makes another break for it.
Only this time, she's more sneaky, and considerably slower than before.
As well as lost, of course, and it's an intimidating notion. It feels like the weight of the world is on her back, and even in the early hours of the morning when very few have awoken, she can still smell the tang of sadness stain the air.
It's not long after Arthur is alerted that he finds Gabriel, red-faced and a little winded, roaming the hallways of the castle.
"What are you doing?" he asks. "Haven't you got chores?"
Gabriel stiffens and turns to look at his king, a grim expression pinching his face. "I…uh, I was…rat hunting."
"You were looking for Aithusa, weren't you?"
He gets sheepish, but he nods. His smile twitches at his lips as Arthur rolls his eyes.
"What did she do?" he asks.
"Took the vial and scurried off like a kit in trouble," he replies. "I…I lost her a little while ago."
Arthur sighs stressfully, rubbing his face tiredly.
"It's okay, sire! I-I'm still doing my very best to search—"
"I know, I know. So am I," he says, putting a hand up to silence Gabriel. "And so is Lancelot. We're doing a brief search of the castle. Where did you see her last?"
"She went down the hallway leading to Gaius and Jack's chambers, but I think she ducked into a corner," he says. "She likely went the other way after I got out of her sight."
Arthur nearly chuckles. "You were conned by a baby," he says, mildly wry.
Gabriel merely smiles, but it doesn't reach his eyes. He can sense Arthur's dark and gloomy mood.
"Lancelot has theorized that Aithusa is trying to get to the catacombs," the king goes on. "And that she likely has no idea where she is going."
"Wh—" But at the look settling on Arthur's face, he goes quiet. "I see. Shall we check?"
"We need to regroup wirh Lancelot first," he points out. "He knows better than most of us as to how we should go about dealing with a grieving baby dragon."
"Of course, sire."
Arthur doesn't respond. He just turns away, and within a short distance, Gabriel follows.
Lancelot is just outside Arthur's chambers. His expression is questioning under all the worry and exhaustion when the two approach, but he doesn't verbalize it. "I've found nothing," he says almost sadly. "No one's seen a thing."
"Neither have we," Arthur murmurs, folding his arms under his breast. He sighs. "To the catacombs we go, I guess." He looks to Gabriel. "Stay behind. See if she returns. If she does, don't scare her away. And if you happen to get your hands on her, be gentle. She's…still a baby."
Gabriel nods dutifully. "Of course, sire," he says, and watches Lancelot and Arthur off.
He sighs when they're out of earshot, turning away and clenching his fists nervously. "Let's hope this works…" he whispers to himself, his earthly eyes becoming sharp as he starts to keep an eye out for the dragon.
The catacombs, as Arthur always remembers, is a place of death.
The ancient smell does not disappoint.
One of the caretakers can see the slightest and most grim lines on their faces.
Harold, the young son who has recently taken over, slightly smiles his greeting. He dips a respective bow to each of them. "Your Highness," he says. "Sir Lancelot. How may I be of assistance?"
"Have you seen an oversized white rat?" Arthur inquires. "It's…vital. I need to…well, we need to find it."
Harold blinks thoughtfully, but his shoulders shrug slightly. "We don't have rats down here," he points out. "You never see them. And I have yet to see one. Let alone a single large white rat."
"What about…scratching? Or hearing a rodent's run?" Lancelot questions.
He still looks contemplative and thoughtful before he lights up with a memory. "Ah, yes. I heard scuttling just a few minutes ago, right before you entered, milords," he says. "Right…right over by your dear friend. I checked. I didn't see anything."
"Thank you, Harold," Arthur says. "You may return to your usual routine."
The man smiles again and dips his head, moving out of their way to allow passage. They don't hesitate to take it.
The hallways are fairly twisted. There are many turns that lead into other rooms where three more turns would be, and a lot of them are full of dead bodies.
Arthur knows where Merlin is, though. He had made sure that he would get a treatment of nobility and, he daresay, royalty just under the bar of a king and queen.
The room is a bit more spacious than the rest, but Arthur can't find the will to enter. He can see Merlin's body, laying there like a saint. It makes him wanna cry; and he's very certain that neither Lancelot or Aithusa are doing any better.
"Your Highness," Lancelot says carefully. "Are you ready?"
"I…I think…I think I just need a moment," Arthur says breathlessly.
Lancelot doesn't let his presence steal it. He wearily edges into the room, feeling the air choke him as he looks around for Aithusa. He makes sure not to disturb anything best he can, using the torch to illuminate the darker corners of the room with a lack of easy breathing.
"Can you find her?" Arthur manages to inquire.
Lancelot sighs and shakes his head. "No, sire. I'm sorry," he replies. "I shall stay in here. You best search the halls. She could be lost out there."
He nods back and stiffly walks away, but the sound of glass shattering brings him back to the room. Lancelot and Arthur's eyes land on the farthest corner of the room, where Aithusa is half-out of a slit in the wall holding embalming tools, cloth, towels and unused candles. She looks caught red-handed, which is what has just happened, and guilty.
"You broke it," Arthur says, quietly and in slight denial. Hard work and a man's life is gone because of the water they needed, and it results in Merlin dying hours before that and a broken vile of the holy water.
Aithusa squeaks guiltily, and something in Arthur breaks. He feels a fiery hot rage boil in him, and he bares his teeth a little. He raises his fist and braces to leap forward, but someone shouting quickly interrupts him.
He freezes, quiet and shocked by the sound of the voice. It sounds exactly like Merlin, but he knows it isn't. It's Lancelot shouting, he learns, and he flinches.
"I-I'm sorry," he says. He breathes in quickly, turning and running away. "Handle it!"
Then, he leaves Lancelot without another word. He simply can't let himself get entrapped by that coldening corpse.
It hurts a bit more, though, because later that night is Merlin's funeral.
There are only a select few in attendance—namely only those who knew of his return. It's held in the forest outside of Camelot, secretly, in the area near where Gwen's favorite flower field has always been.
Arthur, naturally, is in attendance, and feeling ultimate disappointment in Lancelot for not showing up with Aithusa. It's the least he could be doing right now and he's not doing it.
"He will show," Gwen says softly as she rubs his shoulder. "Let us get on with it, okay? We mustn't delay this much more."
Arthur just nods.
Merlin's body is wrapped in a white sheet, sitting atop wood that has gaps in it to let the ashes fall onto the sheet underneath it. They all agreed on cremation.
Percival and Gwaine are the ones to light it all up, one coming from the left and the other coming from the right. They each touch their torches on the wood, and back away when the red and yellow flames lick at the dark sky.
"Let him rest well in peace," Arthur says solemnly. But he also says it with genuine hope. "He's served our best with his best, and has never failed us."
Everyone bows their heads.
"We failed him, though," he continues. "And he deserves a well-endowed heaven for it."
His speech stops there. It feels abrupt, and almost improvised, but the King of Camelot just watches it all burn to the blackened, charcoal ashes that he wants to bury before the spring dusk hits the horizon.
Once more, time passes. It's only been a week, though it feels as if it's been far longer because of the grievances owed to Merlin's death.
Aithusa is lost to the great maze of Camelot, having gotten away from the suffocating innards of the stone castle. The Knights of the Round Table were scrambling, searching for her again, but Lancelot leaves Camelot and retreats into the forest's edge where there's a fair ridge of grass and brown leftovers of autumn.
The beginnings of a Druid's sacred tomb starts with colorful flags and bells that chime with the wind, along with freshly replanted flowers. Merlin's grave itself is marked by an artistic cairn, rocks sandwiching rags of the sacred Druid tradition.
Lancelot looks around the small cairn, and he finds Aithusa there.
She's grown surprisingly. She's comparable to a puppy now, only able to pass as an oversized rat. Lancelot doesn't doubt the chances of her growing to be the size of a wilderrat anytime soon, if her rate of growth stays consistent.
"Aithusa," he says softly, crouching next to her and brushing his hand along her spine. "It's good to see that you're okay, sweetheart. You've been worrying everyone again."
She moves away and huffs as if she were a moody teenager. Lancelot faintly smiles in amusement.
"I understand that you miss him. I…do, too. We all do," he tells her. "Running away is understandable. I honestly expect it from you…but don't do it forever, okay?"
For a few more moments, she gives him the cold shoulder. It stays cold up until the moment Lancelot moves to turn away in order for her to gain some alone time. She jumps out of her position and pounces onto him, burying herself into his chest as she shivers with sadness. Lancelot simply shares her sorrow, and provides comfort in the face of Merlin's cairn.
By the time the sun begins to dip, Lancelot starts his trek back to Camelot. Aithusa trots next to him, keeping close and smelling what nature has to offer. The peace stops when a familiar face steps in Lancelot's way.
It's Morgan le Fay.
She's rattled and clearly grief-stricken. Behind her is Sefa.
Aithusa stays on the defense, but the way Lancelot just stands doesn't leave her questioning whether or not they're a threat. "Is Avonbost not a good enough home?" he inquires, attempting to break a silence he feels and starts to hate.
Morgan simply shakes her head. "No, no…I came seeking council with…with him and I saw his grave. I saw the Druid's markings, too…"
Sefa, oddly enough, isn't much fazed by the news but she isn't making it obvious. She looks away every time Morgan tries to look at her.
"He…he is dead," Lancelot says a bit sadly. "He died of the Questing Beast's bite nothing short of a week ago."
Sefa's eyes widen. "The grave is untouched?"
Lancelot frowns at her. "Yes, why do you ask?"
"Um…those bitten by the Questing Beast have residue poison in their blood…" she mumbles. "People try to extract it…sometimes…"
"His body has been burned," the knight simply states. "There's no blood to extract."
Sefa merely nods, slow and understanding. "I…I must go and pay respects," she says a bit softly. "You guys go on ahead, please. I'll be taking my time."
Morgan le Fay smiles and watches Sefa go. Lancelot starts walking away with the woman, but Aithusa lingers. She crones after Sefa, obviously craving to chase after her, but Lancelot's call drags her back to reality.
She just chases after him with a slit of hope in her chest.
The hope stays in the air with Sefa, and Merlin's ashen mind, the basics constructed by nothing but magic, wakes up to that fluttery feeling setting the midnight stillness that floats on the dirt a few inches—or perhaps feet—above his body.
comment ur thoughts :)