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Decent Decisions

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 Chapter 1: Decent decisions are made for once

 

A storm was raging outside. The rain, unceasing in its intensity battered at the window panes. Morgana tossed in her sleep. Her eyelids flickered-a trace of gold suddenly flashed. The candle wick burst into a flickering flame. The door opened.

“I brought you some blankets, I thought you might be cold-” Gwen trailed off, realising that Morgana was asleep. Smiling gently, she placed the blankets softly at the foot of the bed. She looked up and noticed the candle. Odd, she was sure she had put it out. Perhaps Morgana had relit it? She cupped her hand around the flame and gently blew it out. She picked it up and placed it carefully in the window sill.

Lightning flashed, illuminating the room in white light, casting strange shadows. Gwen pulled the door shut behind her as she left.

Morgana’s eyes flickered. The candle relit. A sudden clap of thunder reverberated around the room, and Morgana sat bolt upright. Something was wrong. She took in the candle, dancing cheerfully by the window. She felt a sudden surge of power, and her eyes flashed gold. The flame surged upwards and caught the edge of her bed. The fire began to spread. Fear surging through her, Morgana let out a scream of terror. And the window exploded.

There were questions, so many questions. Everyone wanted to know, how had the fire started, how did the window smash, what happened, just tell us, what happened. She felt as if her head would burst.
It was magic, she knew it, she had used magic. How? It made no sense.
Confusion lead her to Gaius, but it was no good, he didn’t believe her. In desperation she turned to Merlin, but even he refused to admit it. She was alone. She sat in her room. It had had a complete clean, but she could swear the smell of smoke still lingered. She lay back onto the bed. Her eyes were open. There was a vase, filled with a small bunch of flowers that Merlin had given her, sitting on the table just in her line of sight. She knew it had been magic. She just knew. But no one would tell her, all they would do was just prescribe more potions, give her flowers, but she knew she knew, and she was still staring at the stupid vase…thunder crashed outside, jolting her out of her reverie.

And the vase exploded.

She couldn’t take it anymore. She needed Gaius.  

She burst the door open and looked around desperately. Merlin glanced up, he had been kneeling on the floor, blowing out the candles, which felt like a cruel joke. He looked startled to see her, and opened his mouth to speak, but Morgana cut him off.

“Is Gaius here?” She demanded. She needed answers, she needed them now, and Gaius would give them.

Merlin, still looking slightly unnerved by her sudden, and very dishevelled appearance, seemed to collect himself.

“Um, no, he’s not here,” he seemed to notice her dismay and hurried on, “He should be back soon though-?”

Morgana cut him off again, “I need to speak to him! Where is he?”

“He’s gone to see the king” Merlin said, looking distinctly alarmed by her expression. “What’s wrong?”

It was so tempting just to blurt it out to Merlin. So, so tempting. No, she couldn’t, she just couldn’t, he wouldn’t believe her anyway, and admitting to magic was tantamount to suicide. Merlin looked at her, his eyes becoming more serious.

“You can trust me Morgana. You know you can.”

Morgana looked at him, his expression was steady, serious. “I’m scared, Merlin” Merlin was still looking at her. She had to talk to someone. “I don’t understand anything anymore. I need to know what’s happening.”

Merlin bit his lip. He seemed just as conflicted as she was.

“Please.”

“Gaius will be back soon. He’ll help you- “

Morgana shook her head vehemently, “He won’t. I don’t want any more remedies. They won’t do any good.” She moved closer to him as she spoke, desperate for him to understand. Merlin looked as if he was having some kind of internal struggle. She couldn’t understand. “It’s magic Merlin”, she said, her voice a whisper.

“What.” The word was quiet, uncertain.

She hurried on quickly, “We’re friends, you know I wouldn’t make this up”.

“Of course,”

“Then you believe me?”

She scoured his face, he seemed so conflicted, he bit his lip again. Then he took a deep breath.

“I believe you.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: What Even Is A Secret Any More?

 

It changed everything. The world seemed to spin beneath her feet, the relief was almost overwhelming. Merlin grabbed a chair, which she took gratefully. He sat down on the bench closest to her. He looked anxious, and she thought she knew why.

“I’m still the same person, Merlin,” She blurted, “I’m not evil, even if…”

“I know not everyone with magic is evil.”

She looked up, slightly desperately.
“How?”

Merlin looked up, meeting her eyes, his expression serious.
“Because I’m not.” The words were soft.

“What.” She stared at him. Merlin, Merlin, the idea was ridiculous. It wasn’t possible.
“What are you talking about, you don’t have magic,” She stood up, angry now, “You can’t joke about that.”

He looked surprised at her reaction, then looked at her carefully. Then, as if he’d suddenly come to a decision, Merlin stood up as well.

“Look.” He closed his hand into a fist and brushed his lips against it.

“Forbearnan.” Merlin’s ridiculously blue eyes seemed to flood with molten gold, before fading, back to their usual blue. She felt the shock pulse through her.

He opened his fist. A small flame danced merrily in his palm.

She stared at it, transfixed. Merlin sighed slightly and closed his hand briefly. When he opened it again, the flame was gone.

“Magic isn’t evil.” He looked at her, clearly wanting her to understand.

She could hardly believe it. Merlin had magic. All this time.

She wasn’t alone.

And with that thought, she smiled.

Merlin relaxed, and returned the smile, even brighter.

The door opened, and Gaius walked in, breaking the moment.

He looked at the two of them with a slightly questioning frown, trademark eyebrow raised.

“Morgana? What can I do for you?”

Morgana looked at Gaius, unsure what to say. Merlin looked slightly anxious and was biting his lip. Gaius looked at Merlin, and immediately looked suspicious. Morgana had to say something.

“Well…I came down to collect a remedy, but, well, Merlin was here and…he gave me one…so…so I’m alright now, and I will just…head back now…” She trailed off. Gaius looked unconvinced. She couldn’t blame him. It sounded pathetic to her as well. Certainly not the best excuse she’d ever used.

Oh well.

“Might I ask what remedy Merlin provided?”

“Um- “

“Sleeping draft!” Merlin chipped in, quickly.

“Yes, sleeping draft, I came to get the sleeping draft, and so now, I will return to my chambers, thank you so much.”

Merlin looked as if he was anticipating something unpleasant, but he gave her a quick smile.

“Goodnight, Merlin, I’ll…see you both tomorrow, I’m sure.”

Gaius gave a nod, and Merlin grinned. She turned and walked out, letting the door swing shut behind her. Almost immediately, she heard Gaius beginning a lecture, no doubt for Merlin. She couldn’t hear exactly what was being said, but decided this was something she would rather not be a part of right now, and began to make her way to her chambers. Merlin had magic. He believed her. And with that, she smiled. Perhaps everything could be alright.

~*~

“That is a terrible idea”.

Morgana was back in Merlin and Gaius’ room. Some project Gaius was working on, which seemed to include little bottles with brightly coloured liquids was fizzing slightly on the table. Merlin had Arthur’s helmet on his lap and had been polishing it. Now however, he was looking at her completely dumbfounded.

“That really is, a Very. Bad. Idea” Merlin repeated.

“I’m not so sure, I really think that Arthur would accept it, he cares for me more then he hates magic. And besides, he helped the Druid boy, didn’t he?”

Merlin conceded that, and gave an abrupt nod.

“But,” Merlin began, “really, the less people know about your magic the better. It’s just safer.”

“I don’t want to live a lie!” Morgana glared at him.

Merlin avoided her eye. He seemed to shrink slightly.

“Of course not. Neither do I. But, it’s the only way…”

Morgana sighed, and she felt the flash of anger recede, leaving her feeling slightly drained. He was right, she shouldn’t tell Arthur. His reaction couldn’t be entirely certain. Surely, he wouldn’t turn her in? Although...no. She couldn’t bear to think it. She’d known him almost her entire life. She didn’t know if she could cope if he could no longer trust her.

“Alright,” she said biting her lip a little, “I won’t tell Arthur.”

Merlin picked up the cloth and went back to polishing the helmet. She looked at the cloth in slight puzzlement.

“Merlin,” she began hesitantly, “I have to ask, why not just use magic?”

Merlin chuckled, relaxing somewhat. “I do sometimes”.

“Well, why not always?”

“I’m not really sure. I guess…” Merlin paused, trying to think how to phrase it. “Well, Gaius doesn’t like it, really. I used to, all the time, but since I can clean without magic, I don’t usually need to risk it.” Morgana nodded. Merlin looked at her out of the corner of his eye for a second, then stood up.

“Back in one minute” He said. He grinned, and walked over to his room. A few moments later he emerged from the doorway holding a large, heavy book.

He smiled, looking slightly nervous. He placed the book down on the bench, and sat down. He bit his lip. Morgana regarded the book curiously. She reached out carefully, and opened it. It was a spell book. Eyes widening in shock, she turned the pages. A book of magic. She had never seen anything like it. She couldn’t prevent her smile as she turned the thick pages, covered in it’s intricate embellishments.

Merlin was grinning.

“How do you keep this hidden?” She said, feeling slightly impressed. Merlin chuckled.

“There’s a loose floorboard in my room.” Merlin looked as if he was going to keep talking, when suddenly they heard a voice thunder through the room.

“MERLIN”

Merlin raised his eyebrows, and rolled his eyes. He stood up and began to make his way out. “Ah, would you mind putting the book back afterwards?” Morgana gave a small half smile. Arthur’s voice echoed again.

MERLIN”

“Looks like it’s time to go” Merlin said with a laugh, and headed out.

~*~

Morgana looked out the window, at the bustling of everyday life in the courtyard. Someone knocked at her door.

“Come in!” She called. Arthur strolled in, his expression controlled as usual. There was something in his eyes, however, that looked troubled.

“Morgana,” Arthur frowned slightly, unsure quite what to say.

“You've been a bit off since the fire, is everything ok? Does Gaius need to make you a remedy for anything?” Arthur asked looking at her closely.

“No, it's ok,” she said looking down at her feet “I don't think that it is something that can be treated”

“What do you mean by that? If you are in trouble you can tell me, I’ve known you most of my life, you know that I’d never let any harm come to you.”

“I...um...it's not something that you need to be concerning yourself with”

“Morgana. Are you in trouble? What happened that night?”

Morgana worried at her lip. She could trust Arthur. Surely, she could?

“Morgana.” Arthur was looking at her, seriously. And with that her last reserves broke.

“Arthur…”

She could feel the words on the tip of her tongue. Such simple words, but they would change everything. He would never look at her the same way, she knew she could trust him, Arthur, who she’d known since she was a child. She couldn’t live her life lying to him. Damn it, she was going to tell him. He was still looking at her.

“It was me.” Her voice was quieter then she meant it to be. Arthur looked baffled.

“What was you?” He smiled slightly uncertainly, as if he thought she was joking.

She took a deep breath, “The fire.” His eyebrows knotted slightly in confusion. He really wasn’t making this easy.

“I started the fire”

Arthur blinked. “And,” he began, talking slowly, “Why, exactly...would you...do that?

“It was an accident!” Morgana said hurriedly. Arthur was still smiling uncertainty, clearly still just as baffled.

“O...Kay then?”

Morgana bit her lip again. Three words, I have magic, she could do it, it was possible.

“I... It was magic.” The last word was a whisper.

Arthur was still looking confused.

“What are you saying?”

She suppressed the urge to stamp her foot. Here she was, trying to tell Arthur her secret, and he was just completely clueless. What are you saying, what did he mean by that? She felt that she had been being pretty clear.

“I have...magic.” She’d said it. She felt a rush of relief. Arthur was looked stunned. He frowned.

“You...have...magic...?”

She nodded. He looked as if he was trying to process this.

“All this time?” His voice was surprisingly small.

“NO! No, that was the first time, but I used magic, I still don’t understand, really.”

He frowned, puzzled.

“Are you sure it was magic?”

“Arthur, trust me, you know if you use magic.”

Arthur looked at his feet, and bit his lip. It was such a childish gesture, she felt a wave of compassion rise up.

He looked up.

“Who else have you told?”

Ah. “Gaius.”

“Just Gaius?”

“And you.” It wasn’t a lie...not really. He nodded. He opened his mouth as if to say something, closed it, then opened it again.

“I wouldn’t joke about something like this, truly. It was magic, but I’ve never done anything like it before, I’ve only known for a few days.”

“Why would you tell me? Surely it would have been safer if I never knew?”

Morgana looked at him, slightly aghast.

“I... I couldn’t live like that. I trust you.”

Arthur looked up at her. He seemed to be taking this surprisingly well. He even looked a little relieved.

“I won’t tell anyone.” Arthur said, finally. Morgana felt another rush of relief, and smiled widely at him. He shook his head, a little dazedly, but smiled slightly back.

“Were you planning on telling Uthur?”

Morgana raised her eyebrows. “I don’t feel that that would go very well.” Arthur looked as if he privately agreed. Arthur glanced out the window, then jumped slightly.

“Oh damn, I’ve got a practice to go to, I’ll see you at supper.”

He quickly walked to the door, and dashed away, letting the door slam shut behind him. Morgana’s head was spinning. It was a massive weight from her shoulders. She couldn’t have lied to Arthur, and he took it pretty well everything considered. This time, she didn’t try to stop her smile.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: So Now There are Trolls

 

“Drac-aa. Dr-raca.”

Morgana gave a sigh in frustration. Merlin gave a small chuckle. Morgana joined him most evenings, to practice magic. Gaius disapproved, but had reluctantly agreed, after Merlin had argued that everyone needs practice, and really what’s the point of having magic, if you never use it? When an occasion arose where it would be necessary, there would be nothing he or Morgana would be able to do. So, they were going to practice.

They were currently working their way through the spell book. Or at least, that had been the plan. As it was he and Morgana were mostly just picking the spells they felt like as they saw them.

Merlin looked hopefully at the candle sitting in front of them. They were trying a new spell, which had seemed simple enough in theory. Morgana seemed to be having trouble though. Merlin lifted his hand towards the candle.

“Draca” he said, softly. He felt the familiar rush of magic, comforting and warm. The candle smoke changed to the shape of a dragon. It hovered for an instant before them, before it faded. He smiled. Morgana sighed exasperatedly.

“How did you do that?” She shook her head exasperatedly. Merlin grinned.

“You’re not pronouncing it right” he said with a half-smile. “Try again.”

Morgana looked at the candle, as if willing it to do what she wanted. She glanced back down at the book, mouthing the words slightly as she read them, before looking up again at the candle. Her hand lifted towards it, palm down.

“Draca.” Her eyes filled with the familiar golden hue of magic, and again, the smoke changed into a dragon. It flapped its wings slowly, before it faded again. She grinned giddily and turned to Merlin excitedly. Merlin grinned back, her excitement was infectious.

The door opened, Merlin quickly shut the book, and grabbed the nearest potion to him, before realising who had walked in.

“Gaius!”

Gaius looked at them, and then noticed the spell book. He frowned slightly.

“I think, Merlin, that you have actual work to be doing right now.”

Merlin looked up cheerily. “No actually, I’ve done my chores for the moment, and Arthur is at practice and said he wouldn’t need me for this one” he said, feeling satisfied.

Gaius didn’t look placated. “Well, today is Thursday, so I’m sure you know what that means.”

Merlin held back a groan. Thursday. “Pots.” He said in a deadened voice.

“That’s right, Merlin. We have to collect pots.” Gaius looked as if he was holding back a smile at Merlin’s sigh. “Now, Merlin.”

Merlin grimaced. He turned to Morgana who looked as if she felt like laughing as well.

Merlin picked up the book. “I’ll put this away first” he said, looking apologetically at Morgana. Morgana was standing up and beginning to make her way out.

“You do that,” she said smiling a little. “Have fun collecting pots,” she called over her shoulder as she reached the door.

Merlin rolled his eyes, but Morgana had already left. He turned and made his way up to his room to hide the book.

 

~*~

 

The court had been gathered together. The lady Catrina stood in the centre of the room, facing the king. She stood tall and proud, although Merlin, standing to the side, couldn’t quite see her face.

“The enemy attacked without warning. We were outnumbered five to one”

She took a deep breath before continuing.

“My father...could not endure. I wouldn’t have survived myself if it hadn’t been for my faithful servant, Jonas.”

Merlin looked at the man, apparently-Jonas. Privately, Merlin felt that Jonas seemed oddly shifty, but he hadn’t known him for long. Who knows, he thought, maybe he’s everything she says he is. He turned his attention back to Catrina.

“We have made it so far…” and with that, as if her strength gave out, she stumbled. Immediately Morgana and Arthur stepped forward, but Uther arrive first, and supported her.

“Your sufferings are beyond imagining,” Uther said, in a voice gentler than Merlin had ever heard, “It will be an honour to help you in any way we can.”

 

~*~

 

“I’m starting to wonder, if the Lady Catrina is really, the Lady Catrina at all”.

Gaius’s words were echoing in Merlin’s head. How could he find out? He tried searching her chambers when he had to go in to clean, but he found nothing, although when Jonas turned, Merlin could have sworn he had a tail. Suddenly he knew what to do. Her room was directly underneath Arthur’s. If he could find a way to see her when she didn’t realise she was being watched...who knew what he could find out?

~*~

 

Thinking back on that decision, it hadn’t been his best. So many things could have gone wrong, so easily. But he had found out what he needed to. She was a troll. A troll. An actual, Troll. Of all the things he’d considered, that had certainly not been one of them. Now he knew, the next thing was of course, what could he do about it? He had to tell Arthur.

 

~*~

 

Merlin cursed. He couldn’t believe he’d been so stupid. First Arthur hadn’t believed him, and then he’s let himself get side-tracked by Jonas. And now he was trapped under the castle, a rockfall in front, and the stench of the troll’s room. He had to get out.

“Ic ábíetee þæt stánhol”

He felt the power rush, but it was as if it simply bounced off the walls. He wanted to kick something, but that would have been useless.

He focused harder.

“Ic ábíetee þæt stánhol!”

With one last final push, the wall exploded outwards. There was no time to celebrate, the wedding of Uther and Catrina was taking place right then and there. He ran up the flights of stairs, and then he saw a figure step out from behind a column. Merlin skidded to a stop. Jonas stepped out.

“Master Merlin, can I help you?”

Merlin wasn’t interested, he had to get to the throne room, he had to reveal Catrina before the wedding.

“Step aside Jonas”

Merlin moved forward to push past him, but Jonas held out a hand.

“The king’s wedding is by invitation only,” he said, smiling cruelly.

Merlin had had enough.

“I said,” He began to try to shove Jonas aside., “get out of my way!”

Jonas however was stronger than Merlin had anticipated and continued to block the door.

“I’m so sorry,” He began leaning in closely to Merlin’s face, “but I regret to say, you are not invited.”

With that, Jonas stood up and with an unexpected surge of strength, flung Merlin across the room.

Merlin gave his head a small shake and stood up. He immediately ran at Jonas again, who caught him easily, throwing him back to the ground. Jonas gave a cry of rage and pulled Merlin back up by his neckerchief.

“Leave my mistress alone” he yelled in fury. There was no way that was going to happen. There was no way that Merlin would let a troll take over Camelot. Before he could attempt to escape Jonas’s grip, Jonas flung him across the room again. He felt his head smack against the wall. The world spun slightly, he needed to get past Jonas, he needed to stop the wedding, he needed to reveal her as a troll.

He pulled himself to his feet once more, head still spinning, but Jonas was getting up to, Jonas was still there. Merlin couldn’t beat him in a fight, and there was no time.

Ic þe wiþdrife!”

Jonas was flung across the room. Seizing his opportunity, Merlin ran to the doors and flung them open.

“Husband and wife”

The room was filled with applauding people, Uther and Catrina in front. He was too late.  Catrina turned and saw Merlin, panting slightly. Her smile faded a little. Merlin knew suddenly, this wasn’t going to go well.

 

~*~

 

Morgana walked down the corridor, heading in the direction of her chambers. She’d been for an early morning ride, with Gwen of course, and wanted to just quickly change clothes before breakfast with Uther, Arthur and... Catrina, she supposed. She still wasn’t quite used to that. She was suddenly startled when she saw Arthur strolling along, flanked by two guards.

“Arthur, what in the world is going on?” She asked, feeling a slight flutter of fear. Was this it? Had they come for her?

Arthur looked perturbed, “We’re tracking down...Merlin.”

She stared at him. No. How had Merlin been caught?

“Why?” She said, desperate for something simple.

“He’s been accused of stealing Queen Catrina’s family seal” Arthur said. If she didn’t know Arthur, she probably wouldn’t have noticed the look of anxiety in his eyes, and she felt her heart jump a little. Nevertheless, they were still hunting him down.

She glared at him. “That’s utterly ridiculous." As if Merlin would ever steal something.

Arthur frowned at her slightly. “I suppose,” he said, raising his eyebrows, “You don’t know where he is?”

“No of course not” She snapped back, “And anyway, how exactly have you missed him? He has to work here all day, how have you managed to lose him?”

She couldn’t help but find the situation amusing, she knew that Merlin could easily have evaded them, but since they weren’t hunting him down for sorcery, she doubted that he had used magic to escape.

Arthur looked deeply uncomfortable, and gave a quick glance at the guards, indicating for them to move on with the search without them.

As the guards moved off, Arthur leaned slightly closer to Morgana.

“It’s possible,” He began talking slightly quieter then was necessary in a deserted corridor, “That he was tipped off about the search.”

Morgana tried to hide a grin.

“You idiot,” she said, fondly.

Arthur looked mildly surprised at her reaction. “Well,” he said, trying to look calm and collected, and not quite managing it, “I will...be seeing you later.”

Morgana rolled her eyes. She probably should work on how much she did that, but honestly some people (Mostly ones called Arthur) just deserved it. Even though he had his back turned. And was walking away. And couldn’t see her eye-rolling. Oh well.

She quickly managed to move her train of thought to the issue at hand.  

Did she know where Merlin was? She couldn’t imagine him going on the run. That was simply not his style. He’d go to Gaius. With that thought, she turned swiftly, and began to make her way to Merlin and Gaius’s chambers.

~*~

 

The door opened with its familiar creak. Gaius was sitting on the stool, holding a book in one hand, pouring some kind of powder into a liquid that was smoking slightly. He turned to look at her as she entered.

He smiled, “Ah, Morgana, my favourite patient.”

Morgana wasted no time, “So, where are you hiding Merlin?”

Gaius looked mildly surprised. “What makes you think I would conceal a criminal from Uther?” He inquired, managing to sound almost convincing.

Morgana looked at him, eyebrows slightly raised. She saw Gaius give a small glance toward the barrels in the corner.

Of course. The barrels were perfect for such an occasion.

“He’s in the barrel isn’t he.”

Gaius’s look of stunned surprise was all the confirmation she needed. Then she heard a familiar chuckle from one of the barrels.

“How did you know?”

It was definitely Merlin’s voice, slightly muffled through the barrel.

She couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the situation.

“So, how come you’re being hunted by the knights of Camelot?”

She heard a sigh from the barrel.

“Well, long story short, Catrina accused me of stealing her family seal, I didn’t by the way” he added hurriedly.

She nodded, then realised that he couldn’t see her.

“Of course, Merlin.”

“Thanks”

“So why would she accuse you of stealing anything?”

Another sigh from the barrel.

“That...well…alright, Catrina isn’t who you think she is”

Morgana immediately tensed. “Who is she then?"

There was a pause as if Merlin was thinking. Then,

“She’s a troll.”

Morgana blinked. A troll. Of course. Why not.

“Do you have any...proof?” Morgana tried to keep the scepticism out of her voice.

“Not...proof exactly. I saw her, and I tried to reveal her, so she sent Jonas after me, and now she’s accused me of stealing.”

Morgana turned the information around in her head. If Catrina was a troll, they needed to do something. Of course, if she wasn’t, this all could go rather badly wrong, and Merlin may simply have made a mistake. But she needed to know for sure.

“Alright,” she decided, “what are we doing about it.”

Gaius looked irritable. “We are going to be researching troll magic, in the hope of finding a solution to the mess.”

“I’ll probably be hiding in this barrel for a while, until the guards have stopped searching for me” Merlin said, sounding slightly morose.

Gaius sighed.

~*~

 

Morgana and Gaius sat at the bench, books piled around them. They were mostly reading in silence, the only sounds the turning of the pages, or occasionally Merlin chipping in from his barrel. There were still guards out searching for him, although Merlin had briefly snuck out to lay a false trail, which, when picked up, would hopefully give Merlin a brief reprieve.

Morgana turned the last page of the book. Nothing in that one. Or the one before. Or the one before that. The next one didn’t look too hopeful either. She let out a groan of frustration. How powerful were trolls? Every spell they’d seen would only work as a temporary measure, and yet she had managed to appear as Catrina for this long, it was ridiculous.

“I just don’t understand how she would do this,” She said, voicing her thoughts.

Gaius looked up kindly. “Well, trolls are notoriously greedy, she would do anything to get a hold of Camelot’s treasures-”

Morgana interrupted him, “No, that’s not what I meant. I meant, how would she sustain a spell like that for so long without being caught?”

“What if it’s not a spell?” Merlin’s voice came, echoing slightly from the barrel, he sounded excited, “What if it’s a potion?”

Gaius looked up in amazement. “Of course!”

Morgana turned to look at him. Gaius stood up and walked quickly towards a bookcase. He ran his finger over the spines, before pulling one out. It was large, with a faded blue cover. He blew on it, and a cloud of dust rose up.

“What’s going on?” Merlin piped up, clearly unable to see.

“This,” Gaius said, placing the book on the table with a heavy thud, and beginning to flick through the pages, “Could be the solution.” Morgana leaned over to try to read the book over Gaius’s shoulder. Gaius came to what was evidently the page he was searching for and made a small “Aha.”

He traced his finger across the lines, then looked up.

“Yes, yes this is it.” Gaius smiled at Morgana, “It’s a potion, which will allow the user to take another’s appearance. This must be it.”

Morgana began to speak, but was cut off by a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Gaius called.

Arthur strolled in. He raised his eyebrows in slight surprise at Morgana.

“Arthur!” She said, half in surprise, half to warn Merlin to keep quiet.

Arthur clearly decided not to ask what Morgana was doing and turned to Gaius.

“I just thought I’d inform you,” He began, formally, “We’ve picked up Merlin’s trail. It appears he’s going to Ealdor.”

Morgana pursed her lips. Arthur’s eyes looked slightly anxious. For all his jokes about how useless he found Merlin, he really didn’t want to catch him, she realised suddenly. Arthur turned and walked out, letting the door close behind him.

They waited for a moment, as they heard Arthur walking away.

Gaius turned to the barrel.

“Well, Merlin, I suppose you can come up now.”

Merlin gave a sigh of relief, as Gaius walked over, and lifted the lid of the barrel. Merlin’s head poked up above the grain, and he took a deep breath.

“Thanks” he said, grinning. He looked at the table, where the books were still stacked up.

“Don’t suppose I can see that potion?”

Gaius picked up the book, and indicated the page. Merlin leaned in and read it quickly, before standing up straight again.

“Well,” he said, with a note of finality, “I’ll go up to Catrina’s rooms, and I’ll get the potion she’s using. We could swap it for something else!”

“No” Morgana said decisively, “It’s a good plan, but what if you’re caught? I’ll go, I can talk my way out, worst comes to the worst. And besides, I'm not the one being hunted by Camelot Guards.”

Merlin looked disgruntled, but accepted it.

~*~

 

Morgana walked confidently along the corridors, hearing the click, click, of her heels against the stone floors. The task was simple, enter Catrina’s chambers, find where he hid the potion, take the potion, and take it back to Gaius.

She came to the door, but then heard the sound of voices. She followed them and noticed a small grate in the wall of Catrina’s room. Catrina was talking to someone ( Jonas?), but her voice was very different. It was definitely Catrina, but she sounded guttural, and oddly feral.

There was a small step just below the grate, so Morgana, after a quick check that the corridor was deserted, stepped up. Catrina had truly ugly expression, and her back was hunched. Morgana had never seen her like this. Catrina was scratching at her arm.

“I can’t keep it up”

Jonas was standing by a cupboard in the corner of the room, reaching inside. He plucked out a small jar of a thick yellow substance, and turned to Catrina, horrified. Catrina continued,

“This skin, this face,” as she spoke, she began to rub at her face, “I just want to claw it off!”

Jonas leaned close to her, unbottling the small jar.

“Think of all the money, and the power” He whispered.

Catrina immediately stopped, and turned to Jonas with a nasty, eager expression. She tilted her head. Jonas continued,

“Soon, it will all be yours.”

Catrina stood up, shook her head hard, grabbed the bottle, and poured it down her throat. She ripped back her sleeve. Morgana concealed a gasp. Large black boils dominated her arm. As she watched in mute horror, they vanished. Catrina stood up straight once more, and took a deep breath. She made for the door.

Morgana quickly stepped down, careful not to make a noise, and ducked around a corner.

Catrina strolled away calmly. Morgana waited for the noise of Catrina’s footsteps to fade, which took a surprisingly long time. Her heart was racing.

Taking a deep breath, she stood straight backed, and walked confidently towards the door. It opened with a small creak. Jonas was asleep on the bed, spread-eagled and snoring.

Careful to make as little noise as possible, she moved to the cupboard. It was locked. She glanced anxiously towards Jonas. He still seemed asleep. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she reached out a hand towards the handle.

“Tospringe” She whispered. Her eyes flashed gold.

She reached for the handle, and opened the cupboard. Inside were a small stack of books, and on top, a small bottle of thick, yellow, viscous liquid. She quickly grabbed it, and shut the corridor.

“Fýrbendum fæst.”

The cupboard gave a satisfying, small, click. Morgana turned, and quickly made her way out. They had the upper hand now.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Saving Towns and Ending Marriages

 

The bottle was in the middle of the table. Merlin was eyeing it slightly suspiciously, while Morgana recounted what she had seen, with Gaius nodding every so often.

“Well, now we have this,” Gaius said, frowning slightly at the bottle, “Although I’m not sure what we are going to do with it.”

Morgana felt surprised. There was a fairly obvious solution for her.

“We could swap it with a poison?” She suggested, indicating Gaius’s row of potions.

Merlin looked slightly surprised.

“I don’t think we need do that right now, and also we’d be caught pretty quickly,” He said smiling uncertainty, as if he thought she might have been joking, “But what if,” His eyes glowed suddenly, an idea apparently occurring to him, “We swapped it with a potion that didn’t do anything, then she would keep taking it-”

“And nothing would happen, and she would be revealed” Morgana finished excitedly, looking at Merlin, who was grinning back.

Merlin spun around to look at Gaius.

“Can it be done?”

Gaius nodded.

“Yes, I believe I could.”

~*~

 

Arthur looked at Morgana, who seemed stunned.

“Uther said what?” Her voice sounded dangerous.

Arthur still felt shocked himself.

“He decided to raise the taxes.” Arthur took a deep breath, “I was told to collect them...but they couldn’t pay. So, I gave the money back.”

Morgana felt her anger surging.

“That is ridiculous! How could he?”

Arthur shrugged.

“He said he’s been considering it for some time, but...I... I just don’t...know.”

Arthur looked crushed.

Morgana was outraged. The situation was absolutely ridiculous, Uther would never have agreed to it before…

“Catrina.” The word was almost a growl.

Arthur looked at her. “I know what you’re thinking,” He said, “And honestly I think I agree. But, well, there’s not much I can do, is there?”

“What are you talking about?” Morgana said, raising an eyebrow. “Uther does value your input, give him a moment to calm down, he’s simply being unreasonable.” Understatement.

Arthur shook his head.

“Well, evidently he doesn’t value it anymore.” Morgana looked at him. She wondered if she should mention that Catrina was a troll. She couldn’t see how it would help. And if their plan worked, then she would be revealed anyway. Someone knocked on the door.

“Enter” Arthur said, dejectedly.

Gwen walked in, an expression of concern apparent. Then she noticed Morgana, and immediately blushed.

“Oh I’m...I’m, so sorry...I just…” She looked as if she was thinking fast. Morgana frowned slightly and looked between Arthur and Gwen. Arthur was looking slightly anxious as well. What was going on?

“I was just coming in to collect clothes...while Merlin’s away” Gwen said hurriedly.

Morgana nodded. She could think about this later. She had to fix this mess. Catrina would be revealed soon enough. All this would end. Things might be able to get back to normal.

“I’ll see you later” She said looking at Arthur. He nodded.

~*~

“So how are we going to swap the potions?” Merlin asked Morgana who was sitting opposite him at the table in Gaius chambers. “I mean, we can't really just walk in and swap them then walk out like nothing happened”

 “Before I would have said that I could as Uther would never believe that I was doing something wrong, but now…” She looked down at her hands, imagining what would happen if they couldn’t get rid of Catrina.

“Maybe I should swap it tonight when they are sleeping, if I’m quiet enough then she won’t wake and I should get in and out no problem. Don’t worry I’ve done it before”

“It’s a bit risky isn’t it?... But I suppose it’s the best idea we have.

 

~*~

“Do you solemnly swear to govern the people of Camelot, to uphold the laws and customs of this land?”

Geoffrey of Monmouth stood at the front of the hall, next to Catrina, who stood tall, a demure smile upon her face, as he spoke from a roll of parchment.

Catrina began to itch at her arm. Morgana grinned to herself. Merlin had been successful it seemed.

“I...do” Catrina said, her voice slightly strained.

“Will you, to your power cause law and justice in mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?”

“I will” Catrina was no longer smiling, she looked pained, she was still scratching at her sleeve.

“Will you to the utmost of your powers, maintain the laws-”

“Yes, yes”

There was an audible gasp. No one interrupted. It was unthinkable. Morgana attempted to arrange her expression to that of confused shock.

Geoffrey shook his head slightly confusedly.

“I’m sorry, you must let me finish” he said in an undertone, that was still clearly audible to the hall, “The wording must be exactly right to be binding.”

Morgana glanced around the hall. Arthur had raised his eyebrows, most of the knights were clearly trying to conceal their surprise.

“Well,” Catrina said, patronisingly, “Get on with it then.” She glanced to Uther, who was looking at her with a caring smile, “I mean really, where’d you dig up this old crone from?”

Uther looked at Geoffrey, still smiling. “She’s right, get on with it.”

The confusion was palpable.

Geoffrey inclined his head.

“Will you, to the utmost of your powers…”

“Yes, yes, yes”

Geoffrey ploughed on.

“...Maintain the laws and customs…”

“I will, I will.”

“...Of the land, and serve the people of Camelot?”

“Yes,” Suddenly her face twisted, “Just SHUT UP AND GIVE ME THE CROWN!”

There was another gasp.

Catrina gave a sort of anxious squeak and tried a demure smile.

Geoffrey held out his hands, as an attendant brought up the crown reverently. He picked it up from its cushion and made to walk to place it on Catrina’s head.

“Will you just HURRY UP!” With the last word, Catrina snatched up the crown and pulled it onto her head. Still settling it, she began to run down the aisle, out of the hall.

No one knew quite what to do.

Uther stood up and began to hurry after her.

The courtiers, began to bow awkwardly, and make their way out as well.

Morgana made eye contact with Arthur, who looked as if he was trying not to laugh.

“Don’t” She hissed. Laughing would set her off as well.

Arthur grinned and nodded in agreement and gestured towards the door. Morgana grinned in return, and they hurried after Catrina and Uther.

They followed Uther’s shouts of “Catrina! Catrina!” They could hear rapid footsteps, as Catrina ran through the corridors.

Together, Arthur and Morgana came out into a corridor, as a guard pointed down yet another, and Uther disappeared down. Morgana and Arthur exchanged another glance and followed the couple.

They came out in the throne room, and there was a clang as the doors closed. For a second, Morgana was confused, but then she realised. Merlin. Honestly.

Catrina looked panicked. She was cornered.

 

~*~

 

Morgana, Merlin and Gaius were sat around the small table in Gaius’s rooms. There was nothing to say. Gaius had led a group of knights to ask Uther whether he was aware that his wife was a troll. Uther had adamantly refused to accept it. Merlin stood up. He gave his head a small shake.

He knew what he and to do. There wasn’t really another solution he could think of. The dragon was the only one he could ask.

 

~*~

“So,” Merlin finished looking at Morgana and Gaius, who surprisingly, were still in Merlin and Gaius’s chambers, “To cure the enchantment, Uther has to cry tears of true remorse.”

Morgana looked at him, disbelieving.

“That’s simply not going to happen.”

Merlin gave a slight grin. The whole situation was so ridiculous. He couldn’t help but agree with Morgana.

“That’s not entirely true.” Merlin looked at Morgana and Gaius.

“Arthur.” He said.

Morgana looked at him a small frown on her face.

Gaius looked at them open mouthed.

“Of course.”

They turned to him.

“Uther must see his son die.”

Merlin frowned at that.

“Kill Arthur?”

“No,” Morgana seemed to have picked it up a little quicker, “We only need to make it look as if Arthur is dead.”

Merlin felt a grin spread. Of course. Then a thought occurred.

“Ok, I’ll go up, and I’ll tell him.”

Morgana rolled her eyes.

“Merlin, you are still on the run.”

“I know,” Merlin said, a little defensively, “But he won’t tell.”

Morgana shook her head. “You just want to tell him ‘I told you so’.”

Merlin gave a chuckle.

“Well, not entirely

Gaius shook his head exasperatedly.

“Alright.”

Merlin grinned and darted for the door before they could change their minds. This could be fun.

~*~

Arthur was not impressed. Merlin had shown up at the dead of night, under his bed. Supposedly, he, Morgana and Gaius had devised some incredible plan, that required him somehow.

That part, made sense at least. He was itching to do something, it had been difficult to staunch that a troll was the queen and heir to Camelot.

In his irritation, he had ordered Merlin to tidy the room. Honestly it was nice having him back, he hadn’t liked the idea that Merlin was hiding out in the forest. But Merlin didn’t need to know that.

And that was how he had ended up, dead of the night, in his room, Merlin making the bed, Gaius by his table holding a potion, Morgana in his chair, discussing a plan to end the enchantment on his father. Which included his death, Morgana had told him cheerfully, as Merlin had grinned, and Gaius had looked mildly uncomfortable.

“So, your great plan is to kill me?” That was important, it was definitely something he wanted addressed.

Merlin looked up from folding back the sheets.

“No... well, yes” He said. Reassuring.

“Not quite,” Morgana said hesitantly, “Not permanently.”

Arthur put his head in his hands.

“Not exactly,” Merlin said confidently, “You see, Gaius has made a potion that gives the appearance of death, without...the...actual dying...bit.”

Morgana gave a small sigh.

Arthur whirled to her.

“Can’t you do, I don’t know, some kind of magic stuff?”

Morgana rolled her eyes.

“No Arthur, this is honestly the only way. The enchantment’s too powerful.”

Arthur sighed. What use was magic really, if it couldn’t do this simple thing? Oh well.

Merlin, apparently finishing with the bed, began to tidy away some of the stuff on the floor.

He looked up and grinned.

“It’s fine, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Morgana grinned again.

“And Merlin should know, Gaius made him test a bit.”

Merlin ignored that.

“It’ll only bring you to the brink of death” Merin turned and began to pile things on the draws.

“Oh, only to the brink.” Arthur rolled his eyes. Very reassuring.

“We don’t have a choice,” Merlin said turning towards them again, more serious now,

Gaius held out the little vial of potion.

“We have to make your father cry.”

Morgana leaned forward, looking slightly more anxious now.

This situation was crazy.

Arthur flung his hands out, the pressure of the last few days suddenly spilling out. “He doesn’t care about me anymore!”

“Nonsense,” Gaius, ever sensible, said.

Merlin looked over at Arthur, looking surprisingly supportive as he picked up Arthur’s clothes strewn around the room, and folded them.

“That’s Catrina’s influence,” Gaius continued, “I’ve known him for many years, there’s never been anyone or anything he’s treasured more than you.” He held out the vial again. “It’s perfectly safe, a single drop of the antidote, will reverse the effects immediately.”

Arthur stopped pacing. He hadn’t really noticed when he started. Antidote. It didn’t just wear off. This was a poison. It was a deadly poison, that simply didn’t kill instantly. And that was the plan.

“Antidote, what antidote?” He demanded. Please let me be wrong. Please.

Gaius looked uncomfortable, clearly, he hadn’t meant to let that slip. That was really not what he needed right now.

Arthur turned to Merlin and Morgana. Morgana was still leaning back in his chair, while Merlin was still picking up clothes off the backs of chairs.

“You didn’t say anything about an antidote” He called, furiously.  

Morgana gave a non-committal noise, while Merlin, who now seemed to be stacking a pile of random things he’d found in the room on the shelves, turned his head slightly in Arthur’s direction.

“I didn’t think it was important,” and with that everything spilled out of his arms over the chest of draws.

Morgana closed her eyes. Arthur could have screamed. Oh, he was going to kill Merlin when this was over.

Gaius took control again.

“The potion will lower your heart rate and breathing. For all intents and purposes, you will be dead.”

Really. Really. Well this was perfect.

Merlin seemed to have given up on tidying, and shoved one of Arthur’s shirts behind the chest. Arthur had bigger issues. He would mention that later. If he survived...

“The antidote reverses the effects…?” Arthur checked.

“Yes.” Gaius said, confidently. Arthur gave a sigh of relief.

“If it’s administered in time,” Gaius continues.

WHAT. WHAT WAS THIS WORLD???

“If it isn’t?” This did not seem ‘Perfectly safe’. It was definitely not that. There were many words, Arthur could have used for this plan, not one was the word ‘Safe’.

Merlin quickly looked away and busied himself lighting a candle. Morgana had turned to watch Merlin. Gaius wouldn’t meet Arthur’s eyes.

“Well,” Gaius said, reluctantly, “You will be dead.”

Nope, this was not safe, in no world was this plan safe, this was suicide. He spun to look at Merlin.

“You just said IT WASN’T IMPORTANT!?”

Merlin looked alarmed.

“Um. Yeah. I suppose it is a bit important.”

Morgana stifled a laugh.

“Look,” She said, calmly, “I think Merlin meant, it’s not important for you to think about.”

Did he mention how he was going to kill Merlin already?

Gaius interrupted.

“Merlin will have the antidote.” Oh well, if Merlin, the ever reliable, Merlin, had the antidote, there was nothing to worry about. Arthur put his head in his hands. Morgana stood up, and put her hand on his shoulder. Gaius continued.

“Once I’ve administered the poison…” The poison. The poison. Really. “The potion,” Gaius quickly corrected himself, “He’ll have half an hour to get it to you,” He finished, indicating Merlin. Merlin, apparently considering his work done, was standing next to Gaius. Morgana looked at Arthur with a small smile.

“It’ll be alright, Arthur.”

Arthur looked at Merlin, who nodded with a small smile.

There was no choice. He had no clue if this plan would succeed. He didn’t have another. What did he have to lose?

He took a deep breath and turned to Merlin.

“Don’t be late.”

Merlin looked surprised.

“Am I ever?”

Gaius avoided Merlin’s eyes. Arthur felt his confidence in the plan ebbing. Oh well. He took the poison, sorry potion, from Gaius.

Gaius looked at him seriously.

“Are you sure you want to go through with this.” NO, NO THIS IS A TERRIBLE PLAN, NO I DO NOT WANT TO GO THROUGH WITH THIS, WHAT SANE PERSON WOULD AGREE TO THIS? He shrugged.

“It’s the only way to save Camelot.”

He uncorked the bottle, and held it up for a moment, as if attempting to make a toast. He considered making some dramatic statement, but really, nothing came to mind. He took a deep breath, and before he could convince himself not to, that this was a horrible, horrible, suicidal, plan, that they could wait, think about this, he poured the vial down his throat.

It was cold. Cold and sour. He could feel it trickle down his throat. Then, nothing. He stood for a moment, Merlin, Morgana and Gaius looking at him expectantly.  

Arthur shrugged. And then he felt himself fall. Merlin and Gaius quickly caught him, and lay him on his back, but he couldn’t feel, couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. The world was slightly darker around the edges, and his ears felt as if they were under water. The world spun, but he was lying down. The darkness began to grow, and then...he remembered nothing more.

 

~*~

Swords were clashing. Someone was yelling. It all sounded slightly distant, as if he were under water. He swallowed. The room seemed to be coming back into focus. Someone was dragging him by the arm.

Arthur glanced around frantically. The troll was in a corner, snarling. Arthur looked up to see who was dragging him by his arm. He blinked. Merlin?

“Watch out!” A shout. Morgana?

His arm was released.

Suddenly his senses seemed to jump back into focus. He sat up.

Uther was cornered, the troll advancing on him. There was no time, Arthur leaped up, pulling out a sword from its sheath. He leaped towards the troll but was hit hard by one of its clawed hands.

“Is that any way” The creature snarled, “to treat your dear old stepmother?” The troll seized him up, and Arthur found himself flung across the room. He was already dazed by the fading poison. This didn’t help.

The familiar shink of a knife being drawn.

Jonas stood above him, holding the knife. Arthur seemed to be processing this too slowly.

Jonas lunged. In pure instinct, Arthur rolled. In the corner of his vision, he saw a sword lying on the table. He grabbed it and thrust it upwards towards Jonas.

Jonas’ face twisted as he made a horrible gagging sound. Arthur pulled the sword out, and Jonas collapsed.

Arthur turned, just as he saw the troll trip on a rug, falling over onto its back. He wasted no time and plunged the sword into the troll’s chest. It made a sort of disgruntled “Ugh” sound. It began to make a sort of horrible squelching. Then, suddenly, it stopped. A smell, even more hideous than the trolls usual foul odour, began to spread around the room. Arthur gagged.

He looked around the room, taking in the devastation around him (Merlin would have fun clearing that later). A few guards were unconscious, lying on the floor. Merlin was in the corner, holding his neck scarf, clutching at his nose. Uther was sitting by the wall, staring at the dead troll as if he had never seen anything so horrific. Morgana was leaning against a wall, nose wrinkled against the smell. She was smiling a small satisfied smile, looking at the dead troll on the carpet. Arthur sighed in relief. He really had been getting fed up with having a troll for a queen. Morgana met his eye and gave him a smile. He returned it. He couldn’t wait to break the news to his knights.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Smoke Is More Trouble Than It’s Worth

 

“Merlin!”

Morgana looked at Merlin exasperatedly. Merlin looked up.

“What?” He said, slightly surprised.

They were in Merlin and Gaius’s chambers. Merlin had been reading more spells in the book. She knew this, not because she had seen him reading, or because he had told her, but because the matches were lighting themselves in mid-air, flying about lighting the candles. Arthur’s helmet floated in the air, a sponge flying around cleaning it by itself. Merlin was crouched on the floor, scrubbing.

He looked genuinely surprised.

“What is it, Morgana?”

“It’s just,” Morgana struggled to find the words for a moment, “Anyone could walk in, and then…”

“Yeah I know.” Merlin’s easy smile faded somewhat.

He stood up and glanced at the flying objects. His eyes filled with gold, and the objects lay themselves down, and grew still.

Merlin smiled at Morgana.

“It’s alright,” he gestured at the helmet lying motionless on the chair, “See, nothing to worry about” he smiled kindly at her.

Morgana felt herself relax.

Gaius suddenly opened the door with a clang. Morgana and Merlin both jumped slightly. He inclined his head towards Morgana, then turned to Merlin.
“Shouldn't you be out?”

“Out?” Merlin said, baffled.

Morgana smirked slightly at his expression. His eyes were wide in confusion.

“Yes Merlin, you agreed to go out and collect wood.”

Merlin sighed and made to walk out.

“Bye” he called cheerfully.

Morgana waved. It wasn’t exactly the correct courtly etiquette, but Merlin cared so little for it, that people generally gave up on following the proper course of action, and it generally just ended up going out the window in his presence. And it wasn’t as if she wanted to stand on ceremony. During her illegal magic sessions. It honestly just felt a bit ridiculous.

 

~*~

 

The clearing had an amazing view. In the distance, the turrets of Camelot rose up. Someone had made a fire. The smoke rose up over the trees. Merlin sat on the edge of the forest, a small clearing at the top of a hill, and watched the smoke.

It was times like this that he felt almost free. He liked Arthur, he even didn’t mind being his servant anymore, and now that he and Morgana would meet more regularly, he could use magic more freely. But only in the space of his and Gaius’s chambers. But here, alone, with the view over Camelot, he was free.

The smoke swirled gently through the air, tantalisingly. He put his hand out. “Hors, beride þá heofonum,” He whispered. The smoke curled around itself and assumed the shape of a white horse. It galloped gently on the spot, before fading away. And the smoke was just that, smoke.
He shouldn’t have done that. It was foolhardy, anyone could have seen.

Oh well.

He watched the smoke curl gently upwards.

A hand grabbed his shoulder. Merlin whipped around.

“Did you see it?” A woman was looking him, fear evident in her eyes, her hand still clutching at his shoulder, “The smoke, did you see it?”

Merlin felt a rush of panic.

“No,” He said, too quickly, “I saw nothing.”

The woman’s face twisted in fear, “Are you blind, you were right here?”

She looked at him, seriously.

“It was magic I tell you.” Merlin didn’t know what to do. He was frozen. “There’s sorcery here.” The woman glanced around her, as if someone wearing a cloak, emanating magic would leap out of trees yelling “Aha!” and turn them both into toads.

“We must tell the king!” The woman said, panic stricken, beginning to turn, to run to the king.

Merlin felt a weight drop into the pit of his stomach.

“NO, wait!” He made to follow her, to persuade her, but there was nothing to say. He watched her go, feeling his life begin to crash around him.

 

~*~

 

Morgana watched the woman. She was standing in front of Uther, in the centre of the hall.

“I saw sorcery in the woods”

The words echoed around the room.

Morgana felt a rising terror. No. No. Not that. Oh please no.

“It was sorcery you saw, you’re certain of it?” Uther inquired.

Arthur glanced toward Morgana, the unspoken question hanging there. She shook her head minutely. It wasn’t her. Arthur gave a miniscule nod, and they faced the woman again.

“Yes, Sire” The woman said, clearly anxious, but certain.

“And you swear this before your king?”

Morgana glanced towards Merlin, who stood in a corner next to Gaius, his hands carefully held behind his back. He was wearing his red shirt, jacket, although not his neck scarf.

He didn’t seem to notice her, but Gaius was also looking at him, looking quietly, coldly, furious.

No. Did he...He wouldn’t. He couldn’t

Morgana felt her fury mingling with the panic, seething inside her. Of course it was Merlin. Damn it. He’d been out there. And then the horse. It was Merlin’s style. Damn it!

“Perhaps your eyes deceived you?” Arthur interjected, “A trick of the light.” Please. Say it could have been. Please.

The woman shook her head.

“The smoke was alive, I tell you. I feared for my life.”

In the corner of her eye, she saw Merlin glance toward Gaius again, barely concealed frustration on his face.

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention.” Uther said, regally, “Your loyalty will not go unrewarded.”

“Thank you, sire.”

The woman left the room accompanied with one of the knights.

Uther continued. “It cannot continue.” His voice was quieter than normal. He glanced towards Arthur.

“I will find the person responsible” Arthur said.

“No,” Uther interrupted, “Stronger methods are called for.” Stronger. Oh please. No no no no. How could it get worse than being burned alive?

“Send for the witchfinder” Uther announced. Morgana didn’t know who that was, but it didn’t sound good. The court gasped. No no no. What if he found her? No. Please. Change your mind.

Gaius stepped forward.

“Sire, is it really necessary to resort to such measures?” This was bad.

“The witchfinder is a trusted ally, Gaius.” There was a pause. “His help will be invaluable.

Gaius inclined his head. “Of course.”

The court was dismissed. Morgana saw Gwen, and together, they made their way to Morgana’s chambers.

Morgana sat down on the bed. Gwen smiled kindly at her.

She had to see Merlin. If he had caused this...she didn’t know what she would do. She had to see him.

 

~*~

 

As Arthur left the courtroom his mind was racing. Was it Morgana? What if it was...it hadn’t hurt anyone...sure, it was magic...but a horse? ‘Feared for my life’ it was a horse. Hardly the most threatening thing. He had to talk to Morgana. Find out.

He turned his feet towards Morgana’s chambers. When he reached the door, he gave a brisk knock.

“Come in” Came Morgana’s slightly muffled voice.

He pushed the door open. Gwen was inside as well. She seemed to pick up that Arthur wanted to talk to Morgana, and left, giving Arthur a small smile as she went. Arthur gave her a small smile in return.

Not now, he mentally chided himself.

The door closed behind her. Arthur turned to Morgana. She looked mildly irritated.

“Look Arthur, I actually was going to head off now, so if you could be quick…” She raises her eyebrows expectantly.

Arthur felt slightly taken aback. He cleared his throat. He needed to know.

“Was it you.”

Morgana looked up irritably.

“What?” She said, clearly slightly distracted.

“Did you make the horse?” He explained, patiently.

Morgana nodded in understanding.

“No,” she said, slightly distractedly, beginning to move towards the door, “It wasn’t me.”

She put too much emphasis on ‘me’. Did she know who made the enchantment?

“One moment Morgana,” he asked, Morgana was by the door, “Do you know who did do it?”

She shook her head irritably, “No Arthur, I don’t know who did.”

She sounded as if she was being honest. So where was she going?

Morgana, one hand on the door handle turned to him. “I have to go out now, I’ll see you later, Arthur.”

Arthur nodded, walked over, and followed Morgana out the door.

She immediately began to walk away decisively.

Arthur deliberated for a moment, before turning and following after her. She was keeping something hidden, and he was going to find out what.

 

~*~

 

She swished her way down the corridors. Arthur strolled along, a good distance away, careful not to let his footsteps make much noise.

Eventually, she turned and began to make her way upstairs. Gaius’s chambers. Was this really where she was going? As Arthur came closer, he could hear the sound of Gaius yelling. That was unusual. Morgana seemed undeterred, and made her way up, and quickly rapped on the door, opened it and entered quickly.

This was pointless. Arthur turned and began to make his way downstairs.

“Was it you? Tell me honestly, was it you?”

Arthur stopped, and glanced back. Morgana hadn’t closed the door entirely. He could hear her, she sounded furious.

He backed up, listening hard. It wasn’t his usual style, but he needed to know the truth.

“I... I’m sorry Morgana.”  Merlin’s voice.

“So, it was you?”

This can't be what it sounds like. 

“I really didn’t think anyone would see- “

“Of course, you were only in full view of absolutely anyone, why would anyone see?”

“I said I was sorry, Morgana.”

“Uther’s called for the Witchfinder. What if he catches us?”

Us.

“I didn’t know that Uther would call for a witchfinder, how could I?”

“Honestly, Merlin, I can’t believe this.”

“I am sorry. I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known…”

“Known what? That magic is illegal? You knew that as you magicked up a HORSE!”

There was a silence.

“What are we going to do?” Merlin asked, sounding crushed.

Another pause. Arthur had heard enough. He was seething. Merlin had made the horse. Merlin had magic. He had lied. How could he? How could Merlin be magic? Was there anyone left without magic? At this rate he wouldn’t be surprised if Gwen announced that she was a sorceress, or Uther. Maybe he would be more surprised if it was Uther. This was ridiculous. Utterly, utterly ridiculous.

Arthur had always been raised to believe that magic was evil. After he had found out about Morgana, he’d had to re-evaluate that, and besides, the idea of Merlin, being evil was…preposterous.

He went back to his room. He had to think. How was this possible? How? He’d trusted Merlin, he was the annoying little brother he never thought he wanted. He’d trusted him.

Morgana, she hadn’t known. She hadn’t lied to him. She told him when she realised. How long had Merlin known? The whole time? Had everything been a lie?

Magic was evil, it corrupted people. That was a fact, something that he had always known. Except...apparently no one had told Merlin that. He didn’t seem to have been corrupted by it.

Merlin had saved his life not long after they had met. Surely, surely Merlin wasn’t evil? Merlin, who cried over unicorns, who feared wilderin. That wasn’t something someone evil, corrupted by magic would do. Merlin had risked his life for Arthur. Why? And besides, Morgana wasn’t evil.

But if magic wasn’t evil, was his father wrong? How could he be wrong? But Morgana was proof that at least some magic was good. Nothing made sense.

He shook his head, trying to get his thoughts straight. What was he going to do? If he went public now, with the witchfinder coming, Merlin would be burned. Arthur shuddered at the thought. No, he couldn’t do that. He could order Merlin to leave, to go back to Ealdor. But no, if he did that, it would look suspicious, and people would go after him, the result would be the same. There was nothing to be done. Not yet.

He had to at least tell Merlin that he knew. He had to.

He stood, and made his way out of his chambers, the door shutting with a note of finality.

 

~*~

 

“HOW MANY TIMES MERLIN MUST I TELL YOU YOUR MAGIC IS A SECRET TO BE GUARDED WITH YOUR LIFE?”

Merlin tried to stay calm. Gaius was furious. He let Gaius rage at him for a while, but just as Gaius was calming down, someone rapped smartly against the door.

Morgana entered, without waiting for an answer, her expression furious.

“Was it you?” She demanded, staring daggers at Merlin, “Tell me honestly, was it you?”

Merlin felt his stomach drop.

“I... I’m sorry, Morgana.” There was nothing he could say. This wasn’t something easy to fix.

Her face twisted slightly, a mixture of fear and anger.

“So, it was you?” She sank onto a stool and put her head in her hands. Her hands were shaking slightly.

Merlin bit his lip. This wasn’t meant to happen.

“I…” There was nothing he could really say. “I said I was sorry, Morgana.”

She raised her head and looked at him.

“Uther’s called for the witchfinder. What if he catches us?”

Merlin looked at her, at a loss for what to say.

“I didn’t know that Uther would call for a witchfinder, how could I?”

Morgana shook her head. “Honestly, Merlin, I can’t believe this.”

“I am sorry. I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known…”

“Known what? That magic is illegal? You knew that as you magicked up a HORSE!”

Morgana shook her head helplessly.

“What are we going to do?” Merlin asked, feeling useless and helpless.

“I don’t know.”

Gaius looked at them both.

“Well first off,” He said, decisively, “You must hide the book, really, anything that could connect you to sorcery, in any way.”

Morgana nodded.

“Yes, of course Gaius” she said, looking slightly more in control.

This was a good plan. Merlin nodded. Then he realised they were both looking at him.

“What, now?” He said, slightly surprised.

Morgana looked at the ceiling in exasperation. Gaius looked at him with his ‘don’t test me’ expression.

“Yes, now, Merlin” He said, his voice dangerous, “The man that Uther has sent for, I know him.”

Not wanting to get yelled at anymore, Merlin kept his head down, hoping that Morgana would ask questions, as he hid the book.

“You knew the witchfinder?” She said. Thank you, Merlin cried silently. Everyone seemed terrified by this Witchfinder, but he had never heard of him. Maybe it was something known only to Camelot? Gaius continued.

“Some know him by that name,” Merlin went up the stairs slowly, trying to catch every word, “I knew him as Aredian.”

Morgana’s eyes widened.

“He is a force to be reckoned with,” Gaius looked as if he would continue, but was interrupted.

The door opened explosively.

Everyone turned, to see Arthur in the doorway, looking thunderous.

How much had he heard?

Merlin felt uncomfortably aware of his heart, beating much too fast.

Arthur’s attention seemed directed at Merlin. He seemed furious, and…disappointed?

“Merlin,” He growled, “Is there something you might wish to mention?”

What had he done?

“Not…really…Sire,” He added quickly. Now didn’t seem a moment to be flippant. Not with Arthur looking at him like that.

Arthur looked at him, coldly furious.

“I heard.”

The words echoed dully in Merlin’s head. He couldn’t confess, not until he knew the extent that Arthur knew. But if Arthur knew everything…best stay quiet for now.

Morgana looked at Merlin and seemed to know that Merlin was trapped.

“Arthur…” She said hesitantly, “What did you hear?”

Thank you thank you thank you.

“What did I hear?” Arthur’s voice was dangerous. “I heard Merlin, Merlin confess to creating the horse in the smoke. With magic.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: Merlin’s Secret isn’t so Secret

 

“I heard.”

The words echoed dully in Merlin’s head. He couldn’t confess, not until he knew the extent that Arthur knew. But if Arthur knew everything…best stay quiet for now.

Morgana looked at Merlin, and seemed to know that Merlin was trapped.

“Arthur…” She said hesitantly, “What did you hear?”

“What did I hear?” Arthur’s voice was dangerous. “I heard Merlin, Merlin confess to creating the horse in the smoke. With magic.”

~*~

There was a silence. A deep silence, filled with anger, betrayal, shock, a whirlwind of emotions filling the room.

No one knew quite what to do.

Merlin was still perched on the stairs. His world was crashing, burning around him.

“What…” Merlin’s voice was much quieter, hoarser than he meant it to be. He swallowed hard. “What are you going to do?” His voice was still quieter than he would have liked.

Arthur’s anger seemed to leave him a little.

“The Witchfinder is coming.” Merlin’s breathing stopped. No. “So, if I turn you in…I can’t do that.” Merlin couldn’t speak. “I don’t think there is anything I can do. Not right now.”

Merlin looked at Arthur, the man he’d come to respect, to like even. Who was taking this better than he had realistically ever expected.

Arthur held his hand up, clearly not in the mood to be interrupted.

“That doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven you, for lying to me,” He warned.

Merlin nodded jerkily. He felt numb.

Arthur looked away from Merlin, as if he couldn’t bear to look into his eyes. He glanced at Morgana, and Gaius, he seemed so unsure what to do.

Then, he turned, opened the door, and left. The door swung shut. The silence was deafening. Merlin suddenly noticed his hands shaking. His legs felt like they wouldn’t be able to support him. He sat down, hard on the stairs. He put his head in his hands. He felt completely, utterly numb.

He hadn’t expected this. Not now. Sure, there had been times that he’d wondered about telling Arthur the truth, most times, when he’d played out the scenario, this had ended in either banishment or being put to death horribly, or even caged like the dragon. He was allowed to stay, because Arthur didn’t want him dead. That was... reassuring? It should be the bare minimum. He felt a hand on his shoulder. He lifted his head. Morgana. She smiled at him reassuringly.

“It’s alright, Merlin.”

No. No it wasn't. The world had crashed and burned. But then again, maybe there was hope. But it wasn’t alright.

Morgana put her arm around his shoulders, and Merlin felt himself sink into it. He swallowed hard.

Gaius came over and looked at Merlin.

“Merlin.” He said gently, “I think that was the best reaction you could have had.”

Merlin nodded.

“We’ll deal with more as it comes.”

Merlin nodded again.

“Now,” Gaius said, smiling dryly, “Go hide that book.”

“Ok.”

Merlin stood up, and so did Morgana. Merlin disappeared off to his room, to collect his book.

 

~*~

 

Arthur had the job of greeting the Witchfinder with his father. He was still seething with anger, but he had to control it. He understood, of course he could understand why Merlin had lied, but why, why would he turn to magic? Just because he understood why Merlin would keep his-would keep It a secret, he couldn’t help but feel the slight sting of betrayal. He would be having a long talk, that was for sure.

Uther marched ahead of him, as Arthur strolled along.

“So,” Arthur said, breaking the uncomfortable silence, “Where’s he been all this time?”

“Foreign lands, wherever the pursuit of sorcery takes him.” He sounded almost impressed. Arthur frowned.

“He does this all in your name” Arthur said, pointedly. He was really not in the mood for this.

“The Witchfinder serves no one.” Uther said, yes, he was definitely impressed, “He is a law unto himself.

“Do you smell it?” Arthur whipped around. Uther turned as well. A man, slightly balding, a thin face, dressed in a large black robe, emerged from behind a pillar.

“Do you smell it Uther?” The man repeated. This must be the witchfinder.

“Aredian.” Uther sounded slightly surprised.

“It’s all around us. The foul stench of sorcery.” This was getting ridiculous. You can't smell magic. Could he? Actually, if anyone could, it would be Aredian. There was something about him. Arthur felt a sudden worry surge for Morgana and Merlin. The idea of this man catching them, was...he couldn’t think of a word for it. He couldn’t let that happen.

Aredian continued with his tangent.

“It’s infected your great city like a contagion.” Yeah, no kidding. One’s the king’s ward, one’s my servant for goodness sake.

“I welcome you to Camelot, Aredian” Uther said, gripping Aredian’s hand in greeting, “Thank you, for making such haste to be here.”

Aredian seemed unimpressed.

“Let’s hope I am not too late, hmm?” He had a nasty smile, a knowing smile, that seemed to suggest that he knew your secrets, and he couldn’t wait to reveal them. “For every hour counts in the war against sorcery.” He managed to say ‘sorcery’ the same way his father did, as if it were a dirty word, almost spitting it.

“Unchecked, it spreads like a disease.” Arthur couldn’t help wondering if this whole tangent had been scripted. Had he planned this as he travelled down? Or was he just making it up on the spot? Either way, Aredian had missed his calling as a speech writer. “It seeks out the young, and the old,” Uther nodded in agreement, “The weak and the able, the fair and the foul of heart alike.”

This man was ridiculous. If magic had sought out the ‘fair of heart’, then what was the issue? His speech seemed to directly be against everything he stood for. If both good people and bad people alike are using magic, was this really an issue that warranted their deaths?

“You’ve grown lazy, Uther.” Ok, surely, he had gone too far now. “You’ve grown idle, your once noble Camelot is rotten to the core.” But Uther was looking at Aredian, clearly in agreement of everything.

“You stand on the brink of dark oblivion.”

Uther was speechless. This man was insane. Arthur cut in, before Aredian could begin another tirade.

“I am at your disposal, Aredian.” Aredian looked at him as if he’d forgotten Arthur was in the room. “The knights will aid you in any way they can.”

“You must be Arthur,” Aredian said, looking unimpressed.

Arthur inclined his head. He really didn’t like this man.

“I must be.”

“You’re a great warrior. The finest this kingdom has ever known.” Was he trying to flatter him?

“Thank you…” Arthur said, uncertainly. Aredian continued as if he hadn’t spoken.

“So, you won’t be offended when I say that I shall have no need of you, or your knights.”

Arthur raised his eyebrows. I won’t?

Aredian turned back to Uther and began another tirade against magic. Arthur found himself tuning out.

“We are grateful for your help.” Uther said, sincerely, “We will pay your price, whatever it may be.”

What?

“I will bid you goodnight,” Aredian said, beginning to walk off. Arthur stepped forward.

“Aredian,” He called, “When do you begin?”

Without turning around, Aredian answered.

“I have already begun.” And with that, Aredian left the room.

Aredian would not get to Morgana. He would not get to Merlin. Arthur would not let him. How dare this man walk in like this. Filled with confidence, arrogance - no. No, Aredian could not be allowed to come near to Morgana or Merlin. Having made up his mind, Arthur left the room as well.

~*~

 

Merlin hadn’t come in that morning. Arthur stalked through the corridors, unable to believe it. Was Merlin too afraid to come near him? That didn’t seem like him, but then…

Gwen turned a corner. He felt his anger and irritation begin to ebb away as he saw her. He smiled. She didn’t. She came hurrying up to him.

“Arthur,” She said, breathing deeply, “I am so sorry, I couldn’t find you.”

Arthur smiled uncertainly. What was going on?

“What is it Gwen?”

“It’s Merlin.”

Arthur’s smile fell immediately. Had he been caught? No, not Merlin. No.

“He’s alright” Gwen added hurriedly, “I was meant to tell you, I just couldn’t find you.”

“Tell me what?”

“He’s being questioned by Aredian.”

“Why?” Arthur felt anxious. Merlin had lied to him, he had betrayed their sort-of-friendship, but he was Merlin. He had drunk poison to protect Arthur, he was loyal almost to a fault, and despite all that had happened, he didn’t want Merlin caught.

“Don’t worry, Arthur,” Gwen said with a small smile. It might have been reassuring, except that Arthur could see the worry behind Gwen’s eyes. Arthur ran his hand over his hair, trying to think, to calm down.

“Thank you, Gwen.”

She inclined her head. It was proper, it was what she was expected to do, but it felt like a stab.

Gwen moved off, to go about her chores no doubt. Arthur almost forced himself to walk the other way. He had a practice to go to. Hitting something would do him good.  

~*~

Despite his hopes, hitting things did not help as much as he wanted. He had obliterated two mannequins and sparred with several knights, but he just could not get his mind from his idiot manservant. His idiot, magic having, manservant. Who had lied. Who had reason to lie. Who had betrayed his trust. Who had reasons to betray his trust.

But magic...it just was bad. Morgana didn’t use it, he was confident in that, she had told him that she had been learning control, so she was alright, she wasn’t going to be corrupted. The idea of Morgana being evil...was laughable. But equally laughable was an evil Merlin. And he definitely did use magic. That was why they were in this predicament. He had used magic to create a horse in smoke.

The thing was, it didn’t sound bad. Surely if Merlin had been using magic as easily as that suggested, he should have turned long ago, but the idea of an evil Merlin, plotting against Arthur made no sense. He couldn’t imagine it.

He needed to talk to him.

As soon as he had the opportunity, he made his excuses, and left to find him.

It didn’t take long. Merlin was in Arthur’s chambers, hurriedly cleaning the room, looking more harried than usual. He jumped when the door opened, and spun around to face Arthur, and gave a quick bow. It was what a servant should do, it was quietly subservient, humble, and everything that Merlin was not. On Merlin, it was wrong.

“We need to talk.”

Merlin gulped and gave a quick nod.

“Alright.” His voice was steady. “Sire,” He added quickly.

“Sit down.”

Merlin looked at him hesitantly, before pulling out a chair and sitting. Arthur did the same.

“Why did you make the horse?”

Merlin’s facade as a good servant fell immediately, replaced by surprise.

“I don’t know. I just saw the smoke, and... it’s not like I can use magic regularly in Camelot, so I just did it. I wish I hadn’t now, obviously, but at the time…”

“Why did you turn to magic in the first place?”

Merlin’s eyebrows raised, seeming to have completely not anticipated the line of questioning Arthur was taking.

“I... didn’t? I was born with magic-”

“What? That’s impossible.” Arthur had never heard of such a thing.

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Yes, it is possible, people who are born with magic are called Warlocks, or Witches, depending on gender.” He sounded more like himself, somehow more relaxed with this conversation then when it was completely focused on him. “It usually manifests in childhood, although in some cases it’s later.”

This was not the conversation he was meant to be having. But...it raised questions. And surely Merlin would have no cause to lie anymore? Not about this?

“So, these people...have no choice?” That couldn’t be possible. Surely.

“Yes, if you are born that way, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Can’t you just...not use magic?”

Merlin considered Arthur. It was slightly unnerving, Merlin somehow didn’t look anything like the bumbling servant he was used to, in his place was a warlock. Who knew information Arthur did not. Information on magic. It wasn’t that he wasn’t still a servant, still Merlin, it was that he was somehow...more.

“That’s not really an option.”

“Why not?”

“Because magic, when you are born with it, needs to be used. I actually tried for a while when I was younger, just not using it. Terrified my mother when I started levitating things in my sleep.” He grinned impishly at the memory, before the smile faded. “I found out afterwards that it’s common. If you don’t voluntarily use magic during the day, then you start doing it as you sleep. I don’t know why, but it means that people born with it, have to use magic.”

“But, Morgana was born with magic.” He had said it without thinking, before suddenly realising what he’d said. He’d just betrayed Morgana. He’d told her secret. He felt horror, shame-

“Yeah, she’s a witch technically.”

Arthur started. “You knew?” Merlin’s expression was answer enough. Arthur shook his head. That was something to discuss later, “Ok, but she doesn’t use magic.”

Merlin frowned. “Yeah she does? You have to, so we both practice magic.”

Arthur felt as if his mind was imploding.

“But...magic corrupts,” He said, feeling lost.

Merlin stared at him. “Sorry?”

“Magic. It’s like a disease,” He knew this, it was just a fact of life, “And it just corrupts your soul, that’s why magic users are evil, they get corrupted by it, and that’s why the law exists.”

Merlin looked more incredulous with every word.

“A disease? That’s really what you think?” Merlin stared at Arthur, as if hoping Arthur would just laugh and tell Merlin that noo, of course not, he was joking. Something in Arthur’s expression seemed to convince Merlin that Arthur was serious. He sat back in his chair, still staring at Arthur.

“Ok. Ok, no, that’s not how magic works. Absolutely not. I don’t actually know the reason for the ban, but if that’s the reason, then...well, the fact is that that is just not how magic works.”

He looked as if he was struggling slightly and bit his lip. Then he sat up straighter.

“Ok, so, magic is a tool, like any other, it’s just that it has a potential to be a very powerful tool, and power can corrupt, I’m sure you’re aware of that, which is why you can get rulers who are tyrants or whatever, power earned by magic is the same. But not all people with power are corrupt, and neither are all magic-users.”

This couldn’t be right. But it made sense. Arthur stood up, and Merlin quickly followed suit, pushing the chair back under the table.

Someone knocked at the door, before Arthur could think up a response.

“Come in!”

A serving girl opened the door, wide eyed. She took a deep breath, and spoke exceptionally quickly, babbling slightly. “The king has called a meeting, for everyone to attend, starting now, the King has called for everyone.”

“What’s this about?”

The girl looked startled at the question. “It’s about The Witchfinder’s search.”

Arthur nodded, and dismissed the girl, and then Merlin, who hurried from the room, looking paler than usual.

He would think about this afterwards.

 

~*~

“The facts point to one person, and one person alone.” There was a great gasp in the court.

Arthur struggled to keep his face expressionless, to keep facing the front. In the corner of his eye he could see Morgana taking deep breaths, trying to calm down. Merlin standing by the side, looking carefully expressionless.

“THE BOY, MERLIN!” Aredian pointed at Merlin dramatically. The atmosphere changed slightly. Gwen gave a confused smile and glanced at Merlin. Everyone looked slightly disbelieving. Merlin was clearly anxious, breathing deeply, although he was not looking as scared as Arthur would have expected him to.

“This is outrageous, you have no evidence!” Gaius said, managing to sound offended.

“The tools of magic cannot be hidden from me. I am certain a search of the boy’s chamber will deliver us all we need.”

Oh, please don’t let Merlin be stupid enough to keep blatantly magical objects.

Uther looked at Merlin, slightly suspiciously.

“Merlin?” He was asking permission to search.

Merlin swallowed slightly.

“I have nothing to hide from him.” Now Arthur knew when Merlin was lying, he couldn’t believe how well Merlin managed it.

“Very well. Guards restrain him. Let the search begin,” Uther decreed.

Two guards stepped forward, put their hands on Merlin’s skinny shoulders, and marched him away.

Arthur glanced at Morgana. She was looking terrified. Arthur didn’t have time. He walked with the guards to Merlin’s chambers.

A guard had already started, and the other’s joined him, Aredian stood in the centre of the mess, shouting, “Under that table, in the chair legs, Behind the bookshelves, sorcerers are master’s of concealment, comb every inch.”

Gaius was clearly angry as papers and manuscripts rained around them, pots smashed, the floor covered in broken glass.

“Careful!” He ordered, “That’s my life's work!”

It made no difference.

Arthur looked at the devastation.

“There’s nothing here Aredian”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” Aredian said, confidently.

“Upend that stool! Check for hollow legs.” A guard grabbed the offending stool and proceeded to tear its legs off, searching for whatever it was that Aredian was hoping to find.

 “Those powder jars!” Another guard roughly grabbed at the jars, and one fell off the shelf, shattering across the floor. Powder spilled everywhere. And on top, a bracelet. It was quite obviously magic. Arthur stared at it. Maybe no one would notice?

“Here!” A guard picked it up. Aredian seized it eagerly.

“An amulet of enchantment.” The room was suddenly silent.

“Were you aware, physician, that your assistant kept instruments of sorcery?” Aredian didn’t look at Gaius, instead turning to Arthur, showing him the amulet. Arthur may not have known Merlin as well as he thought he did, but one thing he was certain of, it was that Merlin, who didn’t mind sleeping on a floor, who made do with what he had, who was content to eat a rat stew, Merlin wouldn’t keep something as ornate as this. Unless he really didn’t know Merlin as well as he had thought.

Gaius was looking at the amulet with an unreadable expression.

“No.” He answered quietly.

“Well, I would say that our work is done.” Aredian announced casually, “I must inform the king.” With that, Aredian turned, and he and the guards began to troop out. Arthur gave one last look at the devastation that had once been Gaius’s chambers, Gaius standing frozen in the centre of the room.

“Aredian,” Gaius called.

Aredian turned.

“I know for certain that that amulet does not belong to Merlin.” He spoke clearly, enunciating each word.

“Oh?” Aredian questioned, raising an eyebrow, “Who does it belong to, then?”

Gaius stood a little straighter. Arthur frowned. Where was Gaius going with this?

“It belongs to me.” Oh. That’s where he was going. It made no sense. Aredian however, smiled in a satisfied way.

 

~*~

 

It was his fault. Merlin stood in the doorway to his chambers. All Gaius’s complicated little instruments were lying, broken on the floor. The tapestry had been torn down. Brightly coloured powder spilled over everything, coating the piles of torn manuscripts. And it was all his fault.

He sat on the floor and began to scoop up some of the glass.

Someone rapped quickly on the door, and before Merlin could reply, or even look up, the door popped open. Morgana looked at him.

“Merlin,” She said gently.

“It’s my fault.” Merlin said, numbly.

Morgana leant towards him, her dark hair falling forwards as she did, and pulled him into a hug.

“We’ll fix this.” She said, quiet, reassuring, but determined.

She released him. Merlin looked around the devastation.

“How can we fix this.” He said, helplessly.

Morgana looked at him, determination flashing in her green eyes.

“I don’t know yet,” She said, still confident, “But we will find a way.”

There was a more hesitant knock.

“You can come in!” Morgana called.

Arthur opened the door. He took in the scene.

Merlin didn’t want to deal with this. He knew that Arthur didn’t trust him anymore. He knew that all this was his fault. He had to fix it.  

He stood up.

What are you doing?” Morgana demanded, also standing.

“I have to tell them.”

“Tell who what?” Morgana asked, dangerously, eyes flashing.

“I’m going to Uther, Aredian, I don’t care, I can’t let Gaius suffer for my mistake.”

Morgana grabbed a book that was on the table, and quicker than Merlin could have anticipated, she hit him with it.

“Ow, what was that-”

“Merlin! You won’t do any good to anyone, turning yourself in. What do you think you will achieve?”

“I don’t know,” Merlin said, wincing slightly (The book was heavy) but still determined, “But I have to do something, and this is my fault.

“Merlin,” Arthur said, his voice calmer than Merlin had expected, “You won’t help anyone by turning yourself in.”

Merlin began to argue, but Arthur held his hand up.

“Listen. If you turn yourself in, Aredian will be able to say that Gaius was harbouring a sorcerer anyway. Then you’ll both be in trouble. We’ll find a way...somehow.”

Morgana looked gratefully at Arthur.

“Exactly,” She said, triumphantly.

Merlin looked at them both. He bit his lip. He couldn’t find a suitable argument for that. Defeatedly, he sank back into his chair.

“Ok. Does anyone have a plan?”

“Not yet,” Morgana admitted, “But we can figure something out.”

Arthur sat down on one of the few intact stools in the room.

“I think we have to wait for a while. Aredian wants Gaius to confess, and since he didn’t do the magic, he’s only accused of keeping the bracelet, he’s not going to confess anything. With luck, he should be released soon.”

Merlin nodded. He looked at the mess.

“This is going to take hours to clean.”

Arthur grinned.

“Well, don’t ask me.”

Merlin felt a small spark of rebellion. He glanced at Morgana.

“Unless…” He said, with a small smirk.

She looked at him disbelieving.

“Merlin are you being serious?”

“What?” Arthur cut in.

Merlin grinned and stood up.

He surveyed the mess for a moment, and then he held out a hand. Aredian was not going to control him. He could not prevent magic.

Áswæpe He whispered. His eyes flared gold, Arthur gave a small gasp. The powder flew into the air hovering slightly. Merlin lifted his other hand.

“Ic i áfæstneHe murmured. The pots began to fix themselves in mid-air, as the powder flew into the correct pots. They settled on the shelves. Merlin focused a little harder, and the stool began to fix itself, and the glass instruments pieced themselves back together.

Merlin smiled, a little proudly at the now tidy room.

Arthur had his eyebrows raised, eyes wide.

Morgana just sighed. Merlin grinned.   

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Merlin’s bad side, Featuring Toads.

 

Gaius looked broken. His white hair resembled straw, his wrinkles seemed more pronounced than usual, his eyes desperate.

Arthur looked at him, feeling slightly sick. What had Aredian done? Arthur had known Gaius all his life, how could his father have let this happened?

“CONFESS,” Aredian ordered, throwing Gaius to the floor. Gaius knelt there, looking up at Uther.

“I am a sorcerer, Sire,” Gaius said, his voice sounded broken, desperate.

“I am responsible for conjuring the smoke, I’m guilty of practicing magic in Camelot,”

Arthur glanced at Merlin. He was looking horrified, wide eyed. Gaius continued in his slightly rasping, desperate voice.

“The goblin, the faces in the well,” In the corner of his eye, he could see Morgana, mouth open, looking so desperate to help Gaius. No one in the room was smiling, as they normally did when a sorcerer would confess to their crimes, everyone knew Gaius, and most had been healed by him at some point or other. Aredian however, didn’t seem to notice the atmosphere. Gaius took a long rasping breath, before continuing.

“I am the sorcerer who conjured the toad from his mouth.”

Uther stood up.

“You’ve betrayed me, Gaius.” He looked deeply disappointed, “Betrayed your friends, but above all, you have betrayed yourself.” Uther looked at Gaius’s broken form for a moment.

“By the laws of Camelot, I must sentence you,” He paused, as if unwilling to continue. “To death” he finished quickly. He turned his back, as if unable to look at Gaius anymore.

Aredian didn’t seem put off by the lack of enthusiasm. He pushed Gaius hard on the back, knocking him back down.

“The sorcerer will be purged of his magic by means of fire!” He announced, “He shall be burned at the stake tomorrow at dawn!”

Morgana put her hands to her mouth. Arthur glanced back towards Merlin. His expression had changed. His eyes were filled with a fury Arthur had never seen before. This was bad.

“Bear witness, and heed his lesson,” called Aredian, as the knights picked up Gaius under the arms, and began to drag him out the hall. Gwen looked as if she was about to cry. Merlin was beside her, and he was watching Gaius dragged helplessly out the room. He looked towards Aredian, and he seemed to be almost shaking with rage.

Oh, this was bad.

Merlin stepped forward in the middle of the room, and, still glaring at Aredian, opened his mouth.

“You’re a liar,” He said, walking determinedly towards Aredian. He looked as if he was going to punch him. Arthur quickly leaped up, shoved past Aredian, grabbed Merlin, and proceeded to drag him, fighting against him uselessly, out the hall, Merlin still yelling at Aredian that he was a liar. Don’t use magic, don’t use magic, Arthur pleaded silently.

“I’ll deal with this,” Arthur said quickly. If Merlin attacked the witchfinder...well, it wouldn’t end well.

When they were a far enough away from the great hall, Arthur stopped dragging Merlin, although he kept a firm grip on his shoulder. If Merlin used magic...best not think about that. Although one of the candle sticks on the wall was shaking. Hopefully it just did that normally. Hopefully.

The second Arthur released Merlin, Merlin swung around, throwing a wild swing at him. Arthur grabbed his arm and pulled it roughly behind Merlin’s back.

“I know you’re upset and angry,” you should be, “It’s alright, I’m not throwing you in jail.”

Merlin looked at him, eyes still filled with anger, “Then what are you doing?”

Arthur let Merlin go. Merlin watched him, cautiously, rubbing his arm.

“I’m breaking the law.” Merlin looked slightly impressed, and not at all concerned.

Some things never change.

Arthur began to walk off, and Merlin followed him. Thankfully it seemed he was curious enough not to want to return to punch Aredian in the face. Or maybe he’d seen the issues with that plan.

Arthur led him to Gaius’s cell and opened the door.

“I can only give you a few minutes.”

He backed away, acting as lookout.

He could hear Merlin and Gaius talking together, although he couldn’t make out the words. He wasn’t trying particularly.

A few minutes went by. Arthur wanted to give Merlin as much time as he could. Then Merlin came out. Rather than looking more at peace, or something similar, he looked determined. He didn’t speak at all on the way back. Then they reached the stairs leading to Merlin’s chambers.

“Go on,” Arthur said. He didn’t like seeing Merlin like this.

Merlin turned to him.

“Thank you. For everything.” He said, sincerely. Arthur gave him a small smile and bid him goodnight.

 

~*~

 

Gwen quickly scaled the little staircase and burst through the ancient wooden door.

“Merlin!”

He spun around from where he was looking out the window.

“Gwen?”

“-He won’t let go, he won’t stop-”

Merlin held up his hands as if in surrender. “Hold on Gwen, what’s happened?” He looked slightly desperate, although he was clearly trying to conceal it.

“The witchfinder is questioning Morgana again.” His eyes widened, “I’m worried, I think she’s close to breaking point.”

When they had come for Morgana, she hadn’t known what to do. Gaius wasn't guilty for what he was accused of, she knew that, and yet he had confessed. She could hardly bear to think of something similar happening to Morgana. Merlin was the only person she could trust with this, she knew he sometimes dealt with things on his own, or made things get dealt with, she remembered when Valiant had come, and he had done something about it, she was sure, although she had never known exactly what.

As if the words had activated something, Merlin was already moving, “That’s just what he does, and then you confess, whether you’re guilty or not.”

Gwen looked at him. He was moving purposefully towards the door.

She was not going to be just left behind.

“What do you mean?”

Merlin whirled around, “Gaius was set up, Aredian planted the amulet.”

It made sense. Except, “Why would he do such a thing?”

Merlin was pacing. “He’d paid to catch sorcerers, honestly does no one else see the flaws in that system? He doesn’t care who’s guilty, he just wants to be paid, so he plants evidence, forces people to confess, and sure enough, he gets his money.”

“Right.” It did make sense. Nothing Gaius had confessed to had seemed plausible. “We need proof.”

“Then let’s get some.”

Together, they tore out of the room.

 

~*~

 

Arthur looked out the window. He couldn’t sleep. They were building the pyre in the courtyard.

Arthur never felt truly helpless. There was always something to be done, but this was different. He couldn’t see any solution. Suddenly he noticed two figures. One in a faded purple dress, and one with a red neck scarf, and a blue shirt, clearly visible in the moonlight. Arthur frowned. What were Gwen and Merlin up to?

They hurried together, past the pyre, and into the town, before the darkness swallowed them.

It had to be something to do with Gaius. Arthur watched from his window for a while. Eventually, Gwen and Merlin reappeared. They were running back into Camelot, before darting into the servant’s door, back into the castle.

Arthur pulled his jacket on. He had to know what was happening. He strode towards his door, flung it open, and hurried down the stairs.

 

The door to Gaius and Merlin’s chambers opened with a creak. Inside, Gwen sat looking at a heavy book, one of Gaius’s. She looked up, eyes widening.

“Arthur,” She breathed

Arthur looked at her, slightly confused.

“Gwen,” He said, frowning slightly, “What are you doing here?”

Gwen bit her lip.

“I... I…” She swallowed, seeming to try to think, “Morgana was taken for questioning by Aredian again-”

“What?”  Arthur demanded, feeling a small explosion of worry burst inside him.

“Yes, so I went to see Merlin, and he said that Gaius had told him the amulet was planted-”

“It was?”

“-So, we went to Aredian’s chambers-”

“You did what?”

“-And Merlin found that Aredian had loads of Belladonna plants-,”

“Belladonna?”

“-And they cause hallucinations, which had to be what those witnesses were seeing-”

“O... kay?”

“-So, we went to a man in town who swore that Aredian had forced him to sell the Belladonna as eye drops.”

 Arthur stared at her, in slight disbelief.

“Are you sure?”

Gwen nodded.

“Positive. He told us.”

“So, where’s Merlin now?”

Gwen hesitated. She took a deep breath.

“He said he knew where to go to get more evidence, then we were going to present it, and Gaius will be released.”

Arthur looked at her blankly. What was Merlin doing?

“Do you know where he is?”

“No.”

Arthur took a deep breath, trying to decide what to do. Who knew what Merlin was doing?

Arthur sat down heavily on a stool and rubbed his forehead. He disliked waiting with a passion. Gwen smiled reassuringly at him. He kept thinking about what Merlin might be doing.

They waited in silence. When the light of dawn began to flood the room, Arthur stood up.

“I have to go.” He would be missed. What was Merlin up to? Whatever it was, he was too late. There was nothing more that could be done.

Gwen looked at Arthur anxiously, and he felt his resolve fail. He glanced at the door. Come on Merlin, come on.

The door sprung open, and Merlin stood in the doorframe, looking exhausted but exhilarated.

“Got it!” He grinned. He noticed Arthur and gave a double take.

“We have no time to lose,” Arthur leaped up, as Gwen hopped off her chair.

Together they raced through the corridors, out into the courtyard.

“Wait here,” Arthur ordered. Gwen gave an abrupt nod. Merlin looked unconvinced but waited. Arthur strode towards his father, making his way through the crowd. He would stop this.  

~*~

 

Merlin stood alone in the centre of the room before Uther, as he explained about the belladonna in the eye drops.

Somehow it seemed he had managed to convince the man selling them to stand as a witness. Arthur couldn’t help but feel slightly impressed. Aredian however, seemed unconcerned by the accusation.

“This is absurd, the boy has clearly concocted these lies in an attempt to save his master.”

Merlin didn’t budge.

“Then you won’t mind if we search your chambers?” He asked raising his eyebrows in a challenge.

“Silence,” Uther ordered, “You have no authority here.” Merlin didn’t seem bothered by being rebuked by the king. This wasn’t going well.

“Father,” Arthur interceded, “We can settle this once and for all. If what Merlin says is wrong, he must bear the consequences,” I hope you know what you’re doing, “But if there’s some truth in what he’s saying…” Arthur let his voice trail off.

“I have nothing to hide.” Arthur felt like leaping into the air but restrained himself.

The search in Aredian’s room was much calmer than the search in Merlin’s. Arthur pointed towards the over-large cupboard in the corner.  

“Check over there,” He instructed. A knight walked over and pulled at the handle.

Amulets poured out, littering the floor. On a lower shelf were dozens of small bottles, exact replicas of the little bottle of belladonna eye drops.

Aredian stepped forwards, looking stunned.

“These things don’t belong to me!” he protested. In the corner of his vision, he could see Merlin carefully restraining a grin.

“This is a trick!” Aredian announced, floundering slightly. He gave a great hacking cough.

Arthur drew his sword. Aredian pointed dramatically at Merlin.

“That boy plots against me!” He announced. Quite probably Arthur thought, grimly satisfied. Aredian seemed to be slightly ill, he was clutching a chair for support, and coughing.

He doubled over, giving great hacking coughs. Merlin was staring at him, fascinated. Uther looked unsure what to believe. Everyone was staring at Aredian.

He looked as if he was going to be sick. He doubled over, with a great cough.

A toad slipped out of his mouth and flopped onto the floor. It gave a small, satisfied croak. Aredian made an odd sputtering noise.

“Sorcerer!” Uther said, in a state of shock, pulling out his sword. Aredian took one look at him, and lunged towards Morgana, grabbing hold of her.

“Aredian, think carefully about what you are doing.” Arthur said, trying to stay calm.

Uther advanced on him.

“You will never escape from Camelot alive.”

“I will,” Aredian stated, holding his own sword against Morgana’s neck, “If you value the life of your ward, hmm?”

He began to back away.

He heard Merlin mumble something, Arthur quickly shot a glance at him, just in time to see the gold flair up in his eyes.

Aredian screamed. Arthur whipped back around. The sword looked red hot, Aredian immediately released Morgana, who raced over to where they were standing. Aredian stumbled in pain, backing away, as Uther advanced on him. His foot caught on a small box by the window and fell backwards. Towards the window, which smashed on impact, and Aredian fell backwards. He landed with a sickening thud.

Arthur winced slightly. They were at the top of the tower, there was no way Aredian had survived that. To his own surprise, he found he didn’t really mind. Aredian had been perfectly prepared to burn Gaius, Morgana, and Merlin, and who knew how many innocents he had killed.

 

~*~

 

Morgana rapped at Gaius and Merlin’s door, and pushed it open as usual. Merlin was sitting at the table, helping Gaius reposition some of his bottles. When he saw Morgana, he grinned widely. Morgana smiled in return, tucking her hair behind her ear.

“Merlin,” She grinned, “That toad…”

Merlin grinned unrepentantly.

Gaius leaned around and raised his eyebrows, although he was clearly fighting a smile.

“That was too far, really.”

Morgana laughed.

She glanced down at her feet for a moment.

“Thanks.”

There was a slightly confused silence.

“What for?” Merlin asked, sounding baffled. Morgana looked up.

“For the thing with the sword...when Aredian grabbed me.”

“Oh!” Merlin looked surprised, “No problem! It was fine.” He smiled.

Morgana grinned at him.

Merlin frowned slightly.

“Wait, how did you know the toad thing was me?” He asked.

Morgana raised her eyebrow.

“Who else?”

Merlin shrugged and gave a wide grin.

“It really was a step too far,” Gaius said, trying not to laugh.

Merlin made his expression more serious.

“Alright,” He smirked, “I promise to never try to save your life again.”

Gaius looked at Merlin and shook his head exasperatedly. Merlin grinned widely and began to laugh a little. Gaius started to chuckle, and Morgana couldn’t help joining in.

It was such a ridiculous solution. But it had worked. Gaius was back. Nothing could stop them. Arthur knew about his magic. Arthur had helped him anyway.

Maybe this could work.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: The Past of a Pendragon

 

“Rise and shine!”

Light streamed into the room. Arthur groaned. He gave a small roll, and managed to fall out of bed, but onto his feet. The room spun slightly. He blinked a couple times.

Merlin stood by the curtains, grinning.

Since Arthur had discovered Merlin’s magic, not much had really changed. Merlin didn’t like using his magic much, in case he was caught, although sometimes he would catch Merlin lighting the fires magically, or once, he’d come out to see the bed making itself.

Merlin seemed more cheerful, now that he was a little less restrained, and he would occasionally walk in to see Merlin and Morgana discussing spells or potions in Gaius’s rooms.

Arthur wasn’t sure how he felt about it. It was always a slight shock to see the little flare of gold in their eyes, but at the same time, it didn’t hurt anyone. He couldn’t quite bring himself to think that his father was quite so hideously wrong, but at the same time...

“So, what’s today,” Arthur groaned, hazily, banishing the thoughts.

Merlin rolled his eyes.

“Not much, a knighting in the evening for, umm…”

“Vidor and Caridoc” Arthur corrected, “That’s today?”

“Well, this evening, but yeah.”

“Alright then.”

“But for now…” Merlin said, grinning exuberantly, “Training!”

Arthur groaned and flopped back on the bed.  

 

~*~

“Arise Sir Vidor, Knight of Camelot.”

Uther held out the sword, tapping it gently on the shoulders of the young knight who knelt before him.

“Arise Sir Caridoc, Knight of Camelot.”

The knights stood up, facing Uther, who launched into his usual speech.

“You have been accorded a great honour. With that honour comes great responsibility. From this day forth, you are sworn to live by the knight’s code. You, who pledge to conduct yourselves with nobility, honour and respect.”

Arthur couldn’t help his attention drifting away. He believed in the knight’s code utterly, but honestly, he had heard this speech so often, he could recite it word for word in his sleep.

“Your word is your sacred bond. You will find no on who better embodies these values, then my son, Arthur.” He indicated towards him. Well, that was a new part to the speech.

“Follow his example, and you will prove yourselves worthy of your title.” No pressure then.

The sound of swords clashing.

Someone was attacking Camelot. As one, the knights drew their swords, Arthur with them, as a figure marched inside, in full armour.

Arthur stepped forward, so that he was in front of his men.

How had they even reached the Great Hall?

The figure advanced towards him, sword drawn.

In a smooth motion, they pulled off their gauntlet, and tossed it to the ground in front of Arthur. Arthur looked at it for a brief moment. You know what, sure.

He picked it up.

“I accept your challenge. If I am to face you in combat, do me the courtesy of revealing your identity.”

The person reached up to their helmet and began to lift it up.

They leant forward, pulling off the helmet, and stood up flipping their hair behind her. It was a woman. Arthur felt stunned. He couldn’t remember ever hearing about a female knight. The members of the court gasped. She had long blonde hair, and large brown eyes, which were narrowed slightly.

“My name is Morgause,” She stated, calmly.

 

~*~

 

Morgana watched from the stands. Morgause was much better with a sword then she had anticipated, but Arthur was certainly putting her through her paces. Swords were swinging, faster than she had seen before in a duel. She couldn’t help the feeling that she knew Morgause somewhere. She couldn’t explain it, but something about her seemed so familiar...

The swords clashed, and slipped off each other, Morgause and Arthur stepped back, circling one another.

Morgause launched into a new attack, which Arthur deflected.

Now Arthur was on the offensive, he lunged for an attack. The crowd gasped. There was a nick in Morgause’s sleeve.

Arthur swung his sword in a circle, before lowering it in a defensive position. The crowd cheered and clapped.

Morgause lunged for an attack, which Arthur blocked. Morgause swung again, and again, Arthur was backing away slightly now, still blocking the attacks. He gave a swing towards Morgause, which she dodged, lunging back at him.

Morgana covered her mouth. Arthur was the one being put through his paces now.

Morgause was unrelenting, swing, after swing. Arthur had been backed into the wall, she swung downwards. Arthur ducked, and her sword hit the fencing, causing some of the wood to break a little. She aimed a kick at the bottom of his legs.

Arthur fell to the ground, his helmet flying off his head. He looked slightly dazed, and before he could stand, Morgause had her sword at his chest.

She pulled her helmet off impatiently, and gave her head a small shake, sword pointing at Arthur.

She leaned in close, but Morgana could still hear her words.

“Make me a promise and I will spare your life.”

“What is it you ask?” Arthur panted.

“Come to me three days hence and accept the challenge I set to you.”

“And the nature of this challenge…?”

“That is for me to decide. Do I have your word you will accept, no matter what?”

There was a tangible pause.

“You have my word.”

 

~*~

Merlin walked along the corridor, carrying a large basket of clothes. It had been a long day. Arthur was still complaining that he had lost. He only had minimal injuries, thankfully, but she had really done a number on his pride.

Morgana turned into the corridor.

Merlin smiled a little, and she smiled slightly distractedly back.

“Hey, Merlin.”

“Hey.”

Merlin went to continue walking, but Morgana stopped him.

“I just wanted to ask you something.”

Merlin looked at her curiously. Her green eyes were slightly narrowed, she seemed a little distracted.

She held out her hand. An ornate bracelet was adorning it. One Merlin hadn’t noticed before. He raised his eyebrows.

“What’s this?” He said, giving an uncertain smile.

“Morgause gave it to me.” Oh. Ohh.

He looked back at the bracelet. He touched it gently. There was power emanating from it. It felt warm, kind, and very strong.

“You should probably go to Gaius,” Merlin said, no longer in a joking mood. Whatever it was, it didn’t seem dangerous, but if Morgause had given it…

“It’s to stop my nightmares.”

“Does it work?” Merlin asked, curiously.

Morgana smiled.

“Yes. For the first time in so long, I didn’t have any nightmares.”

Merlin looked at her, feeling concerned. He hadn’t realised just how much they were troubling Morgana. He turned his attention back to the bracelet.

“Well, it’s definitely magic. You really should go to Gaius, just to check though.” He smiled at her. She nodded, and set off, seeming lighter then she had done before. Merlin watched her go for a moment, before setting off again.

 

~*~

Arthur lead Hengroen out of the main citadel. He was going for a ride. He needed to clear his head, and escape from his father’s disappointment, the curious, slightly smirking looks from the servants and knights-no. He wasn’t going to think about it. Someone else had apparently had the same idea, and Arthur glanced over to them. He tried to repress a groan.

Morgause. She was brushing a beautiful white mare, soothing it gently. Well this was as good a time as any to talk.

“Congratulations on your victory.”

Morgause turned to face him.

“You’re a skilful swordsman-woman. Swords-swordswoman.” Damn it.

She walked up to him, no, up to his horse apparently, and stroked it’s nose gently. Hengroen nickered.

“You have a beautiful horse.”

Arthur sucked his lips in for a moment. That wasn’t the usual response, and he wasn’t sure what to say. Her eyes, still fixed on the horse, glowed golden. In the past, Arthur might have dismissed this as a trick of the light, but now he thought he recognised it. It was the hue of magic.

“I shall expect to see you three days hence.”

Morgause looked behind her, as another figure came cantering up to them, on a black horse. She had long dark brown hair, tied back in a tight plait. Morgause gave her a nod in recognition, before turning back to Arthur. Arthur frowned looking at the new woman. She was sitting on the horse, seeming to be waiting for...something. He turned back to Morgause.

“How will I find you?”

“When the time comes, you will know your way.”

Arthur glanced at the woman on the black horse again. Morgause followed his confused look.

“That is Caelia. We travel together,” She said, answering Arthur’s unspoken question. Arthur gave a nod of understanding, as Morgause turned, making her way back to her own horse.

“If I don’t show up,” Arthur called, “It might be because I don’t know where I’m going.”

Morgause gave him a knowing look.

“The path you must follow will become clear to you.”

“Ok…”

Morgause leaped onto her horse and settled herself in the saddle.

“You showed yourself to be a man of honour. You inherited that trait from your mother.”

Arthur whipped around to look at her.

“You knew my mother?” Arthur asked, his voice softer.

“I knew her very well.” And with that, without explaining further, without so much as a backwards glance, she rode off towards the woman, apparently-Caelia, on the black horse, who was waiting for her.

“WAIT!” Arthur called after her. Morgause launched into a gallop, Caelia turned the horse, and they rode away together, leaving Arthur with a thousand unanswerable questions.

~*~

 

“She had a sword to my chest, I had no choice.”

The sun was pouring in the room, it was morning. Uther had called Arthur in to talk to him, something Arthur had been dreading since he’s lost the fight. Uther was carefully not meeting Arthur’s eyes; his disappointment was tangible. He busied himself with his quill and papers, as if to avoid looking at Arthur, to be reminded of his failure to beat Morgause.

“Morgause said that she knew my mother.”

Uther’s head snapped up to face Arthur. His expression was filled with mistrust. He frowned.

“She told you this?”

Arthur gave a nod.

Uther stood up, his expression furious. Then it changed, as if he was suddenly in control again.

“Obviously, she’s lying.”

His tone was casual, uninterested.

“She’s playing on your affections for your mother, to lure you into a trap.” What?

“That makes no sense,” Arthur interrupted, “She spared my life.”

“It confirms my suspicions,” Uther turned to face Arthur again, “I believe Morgause is an enchantress.” Ok, seriously, what? “How else could she have beaten you?”

Thanks? That sounds almost like a complement, as if he couldn’t be beaten unless the other person cheated, but at the same time, this was pretty random.

“I don’t believe she was using magic,” Arthur began, calmly.

“And you would know for certain if she were?”

Arthur opened his mouth to speak, but Uther interrupted again.

“Under no circumstances will you go to meet her or accept this challenge.” Uther sat back down again, as if he thought the conversation would be over.

Arthur was trying to remain calm.

“I gave her my word!” Arthur exclaimed.

Maybe he wasn’t doing so well at that.

“I don’t care what was said to her,” Uther said, forcefully, “You will remain in Camelot.”

“I want to hear what she knows about my mother!” Arthur responded, equally forcefully.

“She knows nothing, she’s lying” HOW DO YOU KNOW????

“You will not go to her, I forbid it.” As if the matter was settled, Uther brought out his quill again.

“So, I am to break my word-”

“Escort my son to his chambers.”

Arthur stared at him, fury in his eyes. This wasn’t happening. Surely his father wasn’t this blind?

“Under no circumstances will he be allowed to leave.”

“You’re confining me to my chambers?!”

“I’m protecting you from your own foolishness!”

The guards came and took hold of Arthur’s arms. He shook them off.

“I can walk.” He snapped. If he was to go, he was going to keep that one last piece of dignity.

 

~*~

 

Merlin was walking to Arthur’s chambers, carrying a large basket for clothes. Two guards were flanking the doors. Giving them a brief curious glance, Merlin decided to pretend they weren’t around, they weren’t stopping him entering, whatever was happening they were nothing to do with him. He pushed the door open. Arthur shot him a dark look. He was sitting on the window sill, spinning his dagger against the wall.

“Why are there guards outside the door?” Merlin demanded.

Arthur raised his eyebrows, looking incredibly bored, still spinning the point of the dagger. That was going to be a pain to re-sharpen…

“My father has confined me to my chambers,” Arthur said conversationally, as Merlin placed the basket on the table, “And, has forbidden me from accepting Morgause’s challenge.”

Merlin shrugged.

“Oh, well, maybe he’s got a point,” Arthur looked up at him, eyebrows rising higher, “You don’t know what she might have asked you to do.”

“I gave her my word.”

Oh of course. Merlin sighed, defeatedly.

“So, I take it we’re going anyway.”

“You’re smarter than you look!” Arthur grinned, “Get some supplies, we leave tonight.”

Merlin raised his eyes to the ceiling. Gaius was going to be so annoyed.

“Oh, and Merlin,” Arthur said, as if the thought had just occurred, “Find a way to get me out of here.”

“How am I meant to do that?” Merlin demanded.

Arthur shrugged.

“Isn’t there some,” He glanced at the doors, reminding Merlin about the guards standing sentinel, “You know…Magic?” The last word was mouthed.

Merlin looked at him and shook his head in disbelief.

“Arthur! I’m sorry, I don’t think I can do that, and honestly I’m not risking my neck trying when there are alternatives.”

Arthur raised his eyebrows disbelievingly.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously! I’m not doing that.”

“Well, find some way, I don’t particularly care how.”

 

~*~

 

Well they were out of Camelot at least. Arthur wasn’t sure he’d ever fully forgive Merlin for forgetting to check the length of the rope, but, they were out. Merlin had at least remembered to collect the horses, and some supplies.

They were riding out, where, Arthur didn’t have a clue, but there was no way he was admitting that to Merlin. Except...there was a cross road. This may be difficult to bluff. Damn it.

“So,” Merlin began, irritatingly calm, “Which way?”

Arthur looked down the first path, then down the other. When the time comes, you will know your way. Lots of help that was, the time had come, and Arthur most certainly did not know the way. Great. As if he was following Arthur’s thoughts, Merlin chipped in.

“Do you actually know where we’re going?”

Arthur pointed down the left track, “It’s this way,” He said, confidently.

He directed his horse. Hengroen refused. He gave a snort, as if in protest.

“Come on,” Arthur said, coaching.

Hengroen whinnied rebelliously. This was...new. He tried to direct him again, but yet again he refused. Merlin looked as if he was barely containing his mirth.

“What is wrong with this horse?” Arthur demanded, “It’s dumber than you, Merlin.” Merlin may be some sorcerer or whatever, but Arthur felt he was justified insulting him. Merlin may show occasional good ideas, or give decent advice, and then there were the ‘There is no more rope’...incidents.

The horse, as if it had decided long ago, as if he was directed by some invisible rider, began to walk off down the path to the right.

“Where are you going?” Merlin called, “I thought you said it was left?”

 “Damn it Merlin,” Arthur called back, “Are you doing this?”

“No, I’m not I swear!” Merlin called, sounding surprised.

“Well it’s not me, I think it’s this horse!”

Merlin had begun to follow behind him. The pieces suddenly clicked.

“Morgause told me,” Arthur called over his shoulder, “When the time comes, you’ll know your way.”

“So, the horse knows where we’re going. Great.” Merlin muttered, not quite out of earshot.

“I heard that!”

 

~*~

 

Morgana was laughing. Really, she hadn’t expected anything less of Arthur, and Merlin of course. But really, sneaking out the window with a pile of rope, too short rope as well, well, that was hilarious.

“Oh shh,” Gwen said, looking slightly scandalised, but also as if she was trying to hide a laugh, “Uther’s sent a search party, they’ll be found soon enough.”

Morgana shook her head, “Oh I doubt that, if they don’t want to be found, they are not going to be found.”

Gwen looked mildly surprised. Morgana continued.

“And I don’t think she means him any harm, she gave me this bracelet,” Morgana lifted the bracelet to show Gwen, “Which stops my nightmares. Why would she do that if she was evil?”

Gwen shrugged.

“I really don’t know.”

“I wish I was going too,” Morgana said slightly wistfully, “It’ll be so dull.”

Gwen smiled. Morgana grinned again.

“They better tell us every detail when they’re back,” She chuckled.

 

~*~

 

“What if Morgause challenges you to do something you don’t want to do?”

Merlin was blithering away, seemingly unable to understand why Arthur was going out to do this. But it wasn’t just that he had given his word. His father never spoke about his mother. He barely knew anything about her. Morgause promised answers, actual answers, and this was not an opportunity to be missed.

“I’m not expecting it to be easy Merlin, that’s why it’s called a challenge, “Arthur explained patronisingly. Please stop. If this was any other servant, they would never dream of arguing like this. Of course, any other servant would also never have helped him escape his chambers. Or secretly be a sorcerer. Oh well.

“So, you’d do anything she asked of you?” Merlin asked curiously.

“I gave her my word, it’s a question of honour.” Drop it, please, just drop it,

“What if she challenges you to do something even less honourable than breaking your word?”

“Will you stop rabbiting on?” Arthur snapped, “We’re in Odin’s territory, we could be attacked at any second.”

“I just think it’s strange to agree to do something, when you don’t know what it is,” Merlin explained patiently.

“One more word out of you Merlin,” Arthur threatened, “And you’ll be taking the challenge in my place.”

Merlin’s horse gave a loud whinny. Arthur whipped around, the horse was rearing up, Merlin had fallen to the ground. Arthur looked around wildly. Odin’s men were in the tree line.

He leaped off the horse, and pulled out his sword. Odin’s men swarmed him. Merlin looked slightly stunned and disorientated. Arthur quickly jabbed the man who came charging at him, then glanced around to see Merlin. Someone had charged at Merlin, brandishing an axe. There was no time, Arthur flung his sword, hitting them square in the back.

Three of them came charging towards Arthur, Arthur grabbed a sword off the body of the first unfortunate attacker and raised it defensively. Suddenly he heard a scream above him. In the corner of his eye he saw a man falling from the top of a tree where he must have been perched, holding a crossbow, which was on fire. There wasn’t time to question this, he was still under attack from one final man. He gave a quick jab, and the man collapsed to the ground.

Arthur spun around to see Merlin, still lying on the ground.

He raised his arms in an expression of exasperation.

“Don’t worry Merlin,” He called, “I’ll deal with this! You just lie there, make yourself comfortable!”

“Are you serious?” Merlin called sounding irritated, “Hidden people with crossbows normally just fall out of trees when you’re around?”

Oh. He really should have pieced that together.

“Magic?”

“Obviously.”

“Still only one guy though, I’d say we’re even, I got the one with the axe!” Arthur said, quickly recovering.

Merlin rolled his eyes. Arthur held out a hand, Merlin accepted, and pulled himself up.

As soon as he was up he glanced around for the horses. Arthur’s horse, no doubt due to the enchantment had stayed calm throughout the fight. Merlin’s however had scampered slightly further into the tree line. Merlin sighed and set out to retrieve it, as Arthur began to repack his sword and dagger.

Once Merlin returned, he continued his relentless babble, as if nothing had interrupted them.

“Maybe we should turn back. The woods could be full of Odin’s men.”

Arthur barely glanced at him, busying himself with his saddle.

“You can go back if you want to,” Arthur remarked, trying to keep his tone casual, “I won’t stop you.”

“You don’t know anything about Morgause!” Merlin burst out, “You don’t know what she’s going to ask you to do!” He continued with his rant, “We don’t even know where we’re going! We’re following a horse!”

Arthur turned to face Merlin.

“Morgause said she knew my mother.” Merlin’s face changed, the frustration melting away. Arthur jumped up onto his horse. Behind him, he heard Merlin hop onto his own, and together, they rode on in silence.

At about midday, Arthur called for a rest. Merlin got to work collecting firewood and built up a small fire.

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

Merlin looked up interestedly.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Arthur explained patiently, “You have magic, why are you lighting a fire like that?”

Merlin raised his eyebrows in surprise. He glanced towards the small stack of firewood.

“I mean, I could,” Merlin said looking intrigued by the idea. He leaned in.

“Forbearnan” He whispered. His eyes flashed gold, and fire burst up in the stack.

Merlin was looking quietly pleased about it.

“Why didn’t you just do that to begin with?”

“Habit?” He seemed to think for a moment. “I suppose it’s just safer to light a fire non-magically, anyone could see. Gaius is always nagging about that, because he always says that if you put too much emphasis on the spell, or if you just aren't that good at magic, you could start a forest fire.”

The last part was said offhandedly, as if it was something completely usual to say, as if Arthur would have already known.

Arthur looked at him slightly stunned.

“You...risked starting a forest fire?”

Merlin looked offended.

“No, of course not! I’d never do that!”

“But you could?”

Merlin considered. “Well...yes, but if someone was marginally annoying, you could run them through with a sword, but because you have control, you don’t. I have a lot of control over my magic, to the point that really, a spell going out of control isn’t something I generally worry about.” He shrugged.

Arthur shook his head. How the hell had Merlin not been caught for using magic? Then again...he’d never noticed. But this was ridiculous.

“Well, I suppose that's good for you that I do then.”

“Clotpole.”

“Still not a word.”

Merlin sighed, and sat down on a stump. He seemed suddenly lost in thought. Arthur sat down on a log near the fire and picked up a small stick. He turned it over in his hands.

What they were doing, going to see Morgause, was stupid, reckless, there were so many reasons why they should turn back, and yet...he simply couldn’t bring himself to do it. He had to know how Morgause had known his mother. He had to know more about her. His honour, fulfilling his word seemed unimportant at this point.

Merlin looked up.

“What was your mother like?” He asked quietly, clearly thinking along the same lines.

Arthur didn’t look up and continued to spin the stick around his hands.

“I never knew her. She died before I opened my eyes.”

“I’m sorry.” Merlin sounded sincere.

“I barely know anything about her.”

“Can’t you ask your father?” Merlin asked, curiously.

Arthur shook his head.

“He refuses to talk about her. It must be too painful for him?” Merlin looked into the fire, seeming unsure what to say. Arthur continued, voicing the thoughts he had never really been able to.

“Sometimes it’s as if she never even existed.” His voice grew softer. “I still have a... sense...of her, almost...as if she were...a part of me.” It sounded stupid saying it aloud, he shouldn't have said that-

“That’s the same!” Arthur looked up at Merlin in slight surprise, “With my father. I never knew him.”

Arthur had never thought about Merlin’s father. When they had travelled to Ealdor, no one had mentioned him, Arthur had assumed he had died, although he hadn’t really put much thought into it.

Merlin looked into the fire again.

“And my mother’s barely spoken of him. I’ve got...this vague memory…” Merlin trailed off, smiling slightly. Then the smile faded, and he quickly tossed a small stick into the fire, “It’s probably just my imagination.”

“I’d do anything for even the vaguest memory.”

“Is that why your so determined to find Morgause?” Merlin asked quietly, “To see what she knows about your mother?”

“Is that so wrong?” Arthur challenged.

“No.” Merlin looked as if he understood, as if the conversation was finished, he’d said all he needed to say. Arthur stood up.

“We should get some rest.”

 

~*~

 

Gaius pushed the doors open. Uther sat, writing documents with a quill. He glanced up when he saw Gaius.

Gaius bowed deeply.

“My lord, I must speak with you. It concerns Morgause.”

“What is it?”

“While I was treating her wound...I noticed that she wore a bracelet.”

“Go on.”

“It bore the mark of one of the great houses… The great house of Gorlois. There is only one person, other than Morgana, who would have cause to wear such a bracelet. That is… her half-sister.”

“I was led to believe the child had died.”

“The child lived, my lord. She was smuggled out of Camelot shortly after her birth.”

“How do you know this?”

“It was I, who entrusted the child to the High priestesses of the Old Religion.”

“You should have told me Gaius.”

“I had sworn a solemn oath, My Lord. I only break it now, because I fear what Morgause might do.”

“Does Morgana know?”

“I don’t believe so.”

“Morgana must never find out that she has a half-sister. I will not have her loyalties divided.”

“Of course. The high priestesses will have trained Morgause from birth. Her magic will be powerful-”

“Then we must hope the search party finds Arthur, before he reaches her.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Secrets and Lies

 

 The forest opened out to a lake. A waterfall crashed far away on the opposite side. Arthur barely registered the view. There was no way to cross. There was nowhere to go.

Hengroen, however, had other ideas.

With a snort, he plunged into the lake.

“Now where’s he going?” Arthur exclaimed.

“I think you’re going to get wet!” Merlin pointed out. Arthur could hear the grin in his voice.

“You don’t say,” Arthur muttered irritably. The lake wasn’t as deep as he had first assumed, but there was something so intensely humiliating being directed solely by a horse.

“ARTHUR!” Merlin called.

He was halfway across the lake now, Merlin was still on the shoreline. Merlin seemed to give a small sigh, before directing his own horse towards the direction Arthur had taken.

He had glanced back at the wrong moment. He had apparently reached the waterfall, and his horse had apparently decided that that was the correct path. He was doused heavily in the water, not as forceful as he had expected thankfully, but still thoroughly soaking him. He ruffled his hair, trying to shake the worst of the water out, and checked his pack quickly in case anything had fallen out.

Merlin burst through the waterfall. His horse was decidedly unimpressed and snorted loudly.

Together, they travelled through the cave, coming out into the sudden sunshine. Arthur blinked.

The castle rose above them, all grey stone, imposing and darkly oppressive. It seemed oddly menacing, and cold, despite the sun which had barely begun to set.

“Where are we?” Merlin asked, sounding stunned.

“I don’t know.” Arthur gave his horse a nudge, and they moved off.

“Well, if we weren’t sure Morgause was a sorcerer before,” Merlin quipped, “We can be certain of it now.”

A sorcerer. He hadn’t given much thought about it really, but maybe…

“That must have been how she defeated me! She was using magic,” Arthur finished triumphantly.

“Hmm,” Merlin said, noncommittally, “It didn’t look like she was.”

Dammit Merlin. Arthur shot Merlin a look, Merlin didn’t seem too regretful.

They came to a stop by a small side door, with a small set of stone steps leading up to it. The side door was cast in shadows.

Arthur dismounted, Merlin followed suit. Pulling his sword into his scabbard, Arthur made his way up the stairs, through the door.

Inside was a small room. It was empty, except for one rectangular block of wood, in the centre, with an axe embedded inside. Arthur shivered. The sun had begun to set in earnest now, and mist that hung around the deserted (it was obviously deserted) castle caused the room to be filled with a cold, blue tinged light.  

Arthur picked up the axe and tossed it in his hands. It was a good axe, well balanced, not the sort of thing someone would just abandon in a castle in a random block of wood. Arthur looked around him. Was it possible the horse was wrong? Could Morgause have forgotten? Was the horse enchanted? Had all this been for nothing?

“Now what?” He asked Merlin.

“Maybe we should ask the horse…”

Arthur shot him another look. Merlin was looking around the room, taking in the surroundings. Arthur spun the axe in his hands, before plunging it back into the wood.

“Well,” Merlin began, “There’s no one here.” He began to turn, as if to make his way out.

“You kept your promise.” Morgause’s soft voice echoed around the room. Arthur spun around. Morgause was making her way down some steps leading into the axe room. Another woman, Arthur struggled to remember her name (Clara? Cecily? He had no clue) followed behind her.

They moved with a certain grace, their footsteps making no noise against the cold stone floors. Morgause approached him, while the other hung back, watching. Morgause’s eyes were cold, as she strode towards him.

“What is the nature of the challenge you wish to set me?” Arthur asked. This was it.

“Place your head on the block,” Morgause requested coldly, “Caelia,” She beckoned the other woman (Caelia! That was it!), who stepped forward. She picked up the axe with a practiced move. That was when it hit him.

All this had been for nothing.

It ended here.

“You gave your word.” Caelia said. It sounded almost like a challenge.

“Arthur, don’t,” Merlin sounded almost forceful, all humour gone.

Why would they kill him here? Just to toy with him? But that didn’t make sense, although it was possible. A test then? A test...

Ohh. That fit. They probably weren’t going to kill him. Probably. He searched Morgause’s eyes. They betrayed nothing. He had given his word. He was not going to run away like a coward, that wasn’t in him.

Decisively, he strode to the block.

“What are you doing!” Merlin gasped, stunned. Arthur knelt, before the block.

“I won’t let you do this!” Merlin exclaimed, sounding desperate.

“Stay out of this, Merlin.” Arthur ordered.

He was reasonably confident he wasn’t about to die. And anyway, even if he was, he had no choice. He had agreed to this. He had to see it to the end. He felt the cold of the axe against his neck as Caelia measured up the strike. Then it lifted. He had seen enough beheadings to know the routine. He focused on steadying his breathing. He was not going to die a coward. He would not. He would not.

The axe was gently placed next to block.

Caelia stepped back. Morgause watched him, her eye’s seeming less cold now. Arthur scrambled to his feet, feeling the wave of relief crash over him.

“You have shown that you are truly a man of your word, Arthur Pendragon,” Morgause remarked, softer now. She faced him. “And for that, I will grant you one wish. Tell us what it is that your heart most desires.”

There was only one choice.

“You said you knew my mother. Tell me all that you knew about her.”

“Perhaps you would like to see her.” The words echoed around his head. She seemed entirely serious.

“I want that more than anything.”

“As you wish.”

Morgause and Caelia turned and left the room up the stairs they had entered by. After a moment of hesitation, Arthur followed.

 

~*~

 

Morgana sat in the window looking out over Camelot. Uther was getting more frustrated by the hour, Sir Leon had brought no news, apparently, they had been unable to pick up a trail. She couldn’t bring herself to be particularly worried. Arthur and Merlin always made it back, and if Morgause had spared Arthur’s life in the arena, she couldn’t wish him harm...really. Still, it was quite boring. With Merlin away, she couldn’t do her magic practice, Gaius never really approved. It was just her and Gwen. Gwen was lovely, but she was very aware of being a servant, making it difficult to simply have a chat. Still, she didn’t mind too much. She looked out the window, watching the moon, high above.

 

~*~

 

Morgause lit the candles around a table. They were in an abandoned corridor of the dilapidated castle, moss coated the floor and ivy trailed up the walls. The only light were the flickering candles around the room.

Merlin leaned over to Arthur.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” He murmured.

“If you were granted the same opportunity, would you not want to meet your father?”

Merlin looked down at his feet. His silence was an answer in itself.

“Uther won’t forgive you if he finds out.” Arthur looked surprised.

“Merlin, if you’re arguing that Uther would be against collaborating with sorcerers…”

“No.” Merlin sighed, “No, but I don’t trust these people.” Merlin spoke quietly, not wanting to be overheard.

“You and Morgana are proof that my father’s attitude to magic isn’t right, it’s not as simple as he would have us believe.” Merlin’s eyes seemed filled with hope, but he was clearly not ready to give in just yet.

“We don’t know why she’s doing this-”

“It is time,” Morgause interrupted quietly.

She held out her hand. As if in a daze, Arthur took it, and was gently led to the front.

“Close your eyes,” Caelia said quietly.

Arthur followed their instruction.

Morgause and Caelia began to chant, soft, like the summer breeze, almost like song

“Aris mid min Miclan. Mihte thin Suna, To Helpe, Hider Eft Funda, The on Thyssum Laenum, Life The Gehldost Waes” The ivy began to rustle gently, as if caught in a wind.

Then everything stilled.

“Arthur.”

Arthur opened his eyes. A woman stood there. It was Ygrain, his mother.

“Mother,” He breathed.

“My son.”

Ygrain walked quickly towards Arthur and embraced him in a tight hug.

“When I last held you, you were a tiny baby. I remember your eyes, you were staring up at me, those few second I held you were the most precious of my life.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“It was my birth that caused you to die.”

“No, you were not to blame-”

“I cannot bear the thought that you died because of me.”

“Do not think that! It is your father who should carry the guilt for what happened.”

“What do you mean?”

“It is not important. What matters is that you lived-”

“Why should my father feel guilty?”

“It is better left in the past.”

“You cannot leave me with more questions. Please.”

“Your father...he was desperate for an heir. Without one the Pendragon dynasty would come to an end.

‘But I could not conceive.”

“Then how was I born? Tell me.”

A moment of hesitation.

“Your father betrayed me. He went to the sorceress Nimueh and asked for her help in conceiving a child. You were born of magic.”

“That’s not true-”

“I’m sorry, Arthur, your father deceived you as he deceived me. To create a life, a life must be taken, your father knew that-”

“No-”

“He sacrificed my life, so the Pendragon dynasty could continue, it makes you no less my son, or me any less proud of you, now I see you, I would have given my life willingly. Do not let this knowledge change you.”

“No.”

The ivy shook once more in a sudden wind. And Ygrain was gone.

“NO!” Arthur shouted, “Bring her back!”

“I cannot.” Morgause stepped forward, “Once the doorway is closed, it is closed forever. I am truly sorry that you learned of your mother’s fate in this way. I can only imagine how it must feel. To discover your father is responsible for her death. It is an unforgivable betrayal.”

Merlin looked at Arthur, his face slightly ashen.

“Are you alright?” He seemed to know how inadequate his words were. “Arthur-?”

“Fetch the horses.”

~*~

 

They didn’t talk much on the way back to Camelot. They didn’t rest, they galloped, only pausing briefly for the horses. Soon enough they saw Camelot rising up ahead. They rode into the courtyard. Arthur jumped off his horse, his expression grim. He pulled out his sword and strode into the castle. Merlin slid off his own horse and began to hurry after Arthur.

“What are you going to do?” He called. Arthur didn’t so much as turn.

Gaius came out of the castle.

“Merlin! I’m relieved to see you safe, where’s Arthur?”

Merlin looked at him. He had no doubt that Gaius had known. He began to walk away, but then he paused. Gaius had followed behind him.

“Arthur was born of magic. Wasn’t he?” It wasn’t a question.

Gaius looked at his feet.

“Uther used magic.” Merlin had tears of anger in his eyes.

“Merlin-”

“All those people he’s executed, he’s as guilty as they are. He sacrificed Arthur’s mother! He as good as murdered her!” Gaius didn’t respond.

“People should know the truth about what he’s done.”

Merlin turned, he was so full of anger, he didn’t know what to do. He looked back at Gaius. “How could you not tell me?”

“I feared what Arthur would do if he ever found out.”

“Well, he’s found out now.” Suddenly the truth of that hit him. What was Arthur going to do? Oh no. Oh no. He would never forgive himself. Merlin turned and sprinted up the stairs, tearing through the corridors, racing up the stairs why are there so many damn stairs, through the corridors. The door to council room was shut, Merlin heard the sounds of swords clashing. He didn’t notice the guard until he shoved Merlin out the way.

Merlin flung himself at Sir Leon, he needed to get in there, he needed to stop this, he wouldn't let this happen. Leon pushed Merlin away easily, slamming hm against the wall.

“The king has forbidden anyone to enter!” Leon snarled.

“They’re going to kill each other!” Merlin gasped.

Leon looked at Merlin for a moment and seemed to take in the sounds of the swords. He looked unsure suddenly, releasing Merlin quickly. Then he turned to the doors and flung them open. Uther was against the throne, Arthur, his face filled with fury, holding a sword to Uther’s neck.

“ARTHUR DON’T!” Merlin yelled, bursting in the room, “I know you don’t want to do this!”

“MY MOTHER IS DEAD BECAUSE OF HIM!” Arthur roared, hand gripping the sword a little tighter.

“Killing him won’t bring her back!” Merlin pleaded, “You’ve lost one parent, do you really want to lose another?” Arthur panted, his hand gripping the sword a little less…

“Listen to him, Arthur,” Uther gasped. Shut up, you’re not helping, you hypocrite. For a moment, Merlin looked at Uther, helpless, against his throne. He could let this happen, he’d tried to stop it, it wouldn’t be his fault. Arthur would never forgive himself. He had to persuade him.

“Arthur, please,” Merlin pleaded, “Put the sword down.” He thought of Gwen’s words, it felt so long ago, ‘It would make me as bad as him’. Whatever else he knew, he could not let himself be as bad as Uther.

“You heard what my mother said.” Arthur was panting hard, his eyes glistening with tears, his hair clinging to his forehead, still clutching the sword.

“After EVERYTHING HE HAS DONE, do you believe he deserves to live?”

No, but I don’t believe you deserve to live with that guilt.

He EXECUTES those with magic and yet HE HAS USED IT HIMSELF”

I know, believe me I know, stop making this so difficult…

Arthur turned back to Uther, shaking slightly.

YOU have caused so much suffering, and pain, I will put an end to that” His knuckles were white against the sword.

“NO ARTHUR!” Merlin shouted, “This is what Morgause’s plan was all along, I’m begging you don’t do this!”

Arthur’s hand shook slightly.

Merlin continued.

“If you do this, you will never forgive yourself, don’t do this, you don’t want to lose another parent, you don’t want this.”

Arthur’s breathing was erratic, looking angry but uncertain at Uther.

“Arthur,” Uther began, “I swear on my life, I loved your mother, there isn’t a day that passes I don’t wish she were still alive, I swear I could never have done anything to hurt her. Nimueh tricked me, I didn’t know the consequences.”

Arthur looked at him, his eyes, glittering with unshed tears, filled with pain. The sword clattered to the ground. He took several deep breaths. He bit his lip, he seemed so unsure suddenly. He looked at Uther, still sitting on the throne, watching Arthur his eyes wide. He didn’t look scared for his life, he seemed terrified about what Arthur would do next. As if letting go suddenly, Arthur sank to the ground.

“I’m sorry” He breathed, what he’d nearly done seeming to hit him properly for the first time.

Uther pulled Arthur towards him. Arthur let him. “My son,” Uther murmured, “You mean more to me...than anything.”

“I’m sorry,” Arthur repeated, still breathing quickly. Tears were falling in earnest now, his lips were pressed tight together, his whole body shaking slightly. “I... I am so...so sorry,” He murmured.

Uther held him. Merlin felt suddenly that he was intruding. It was so surreal. This man, this man he had hated with every fibre of his being, only until a few moments ago, seemed so human now. He seemed to care so completely. He was being entirely honest, all his guards down. He couldn’t help but feel torn. He had done the right thing, by most accounts, he had prevented Arthur committing patricide, but then again...Uther had hurt so many people. All because of his mistake. Merlin stayed quiet.

Uther looked up after a while, seeming to realise that he had an audience. Gaius had joined, and Leon was standing by the door carefully concealing his shock and confusion. Uther dismissed them, and they promptly left, keen to escape the scene.

 

~*~

 

Arthur was leaning against the wall, looking out the window overlooking Camelot, not really seeing it. He could barely believe everything that had happened. There was a knock on the door. “Come in!” He called.

The door opened.

“Ok.” Arthur turned, that was not the voice he’d been expecting. Morgana looked at him, her eyebrows raised,

“Tell me what happened.”

She waited for answer, her gaze was searching. Arthur looked at her, unsure how to explain everything.

“Well…” He hesitated, “Well, I rode out to see Morgause and this Caelia person.”

Morgana nodded encouragingly, as she pulled out Arthur’s chair and sat down, waiting for him to continue.

“And… well.” And then it all came spilling out, everything that had happened...and what had nearly happened. Morgana didn’t interrupt, although her gaze hardened as he spoke. When he described how he had nearly killed Uther she seemed slightly stunned, although she didn’t seem entirely worried. Arthur described how Merlin had persuaded him not to, and she frowned.

“Merlin? Merlin said that?” Arthur nodded. Morgana looked stunned.

“Why?”

Arthur shook his head a little. “I don’t really know.” He took a deep breath, “He said that I would never forgive myself.” Arthur paused for a moment, “He was probably right. Don’t tell him I said that!” He added quickly, smiling slightly.

Morgana stood up. There was no trace of humour in her eyes.

“I can’t believe this. He used MAGIC himself!” She looked furious. “He has SLAUGHTERED so many people, he’s as guilty as any of the worst!”   

“Morgana-” He started placatingly.

“I can’t BELIEVE this, this so unjust, the hypocrite,” She seethed. She pressed her lips tightly together, looking absolutely murderous.

“Morgana.” Arthur stepped towards her and put his hand on her shoulder. She shook it off.

The door opened. Merlin walked in. He stopped, looking at Arthur and Morgana, looking as if he was suddenly regretting that he never knocked.

“Er…” He looked between them, “I can...come back later?”

Arthur looked at him. Morgana seemed to be breathing more deeply than normal.

“No, it’s fine, Merlin,” Arthur said quickly, “I was just telling Morgana about...everything.”

Merlin’s confusion seemed to fall away instantly. He looked suddenly anxious. He looked at Morgana.

“Morgana.” She looked at him, eyes burning with fury. Merlin shut the door behind him.

“Morgana, it was their plan all along, they wanted Arthur to kill Uther, it would plunge Camelot into chaos, I suppose they would have launched an attack, and everything would have been lost.” He looked at her seriously, clearly wanting her to understand. “Believe me,” He said quietly, “I know how exactly how wrong Uther has acted, and I am never going to try to justify it. I just don’t think murder is the answer.”

Morgana looked at him, considering. She seemed to be thinking it over. She sat back down.

“I won’t forgive him for this.” It sounded almost like a warning. Merlin glanced at Arthur, as if he secretly agreed with Morgana, but seemed to realise he probably shouldn’t say that in front of Arthur. Morgana seemed to understand. She gave him a quick nod, before standing up. The chair screeched across the stone floor, and Arthur winced slightly at the noise.

“I’ll see you later.” Morgana sounded calmer, although still angry. She left the room. Arthur looked worriedly at her as she left, although he was no longer worried that she would murder Uther anymore. The door closed behind her.

Merlin wasn’t meeting Arthur’s eyes, he was beginning to tidy up some of the clothes scattered around the room.

Arthur cleared his throat. “Um,” He started. He paused, unsure what to say. Merlin glanced up, then, seeing that Arthur didn’t look as if he would continue, carried on folding shirts. I need to thank him, Arthur thought, tell him thanks for what he did. He opened his mouth, hoping the words would miraculously come to him. Merlin looked as if he considered his job with clothes finished and was moving on to collect Arthur’s sword. “Merlin,” Arthur began again. Merlin looked over at him. Just say thanks, it’s not that big of a deal, “You missed one,” Arthur said, looking a shirt dangling over a chair in the corner. WHAT WAS THAT? Merlin rolled his eyes, and sighed, as he walked over to pick up the shirt.

“Anything else?” Merlin inquired, raising his eyebrows, as if to say that there had better not be. Arthur stood a little straighter.

“Yes, my sword needs sharpening, my horses need grooming, my armour needs polishing, and my dogs need feeding.”

Merlin gave Arthur a slight death glare. Arthur chuckled. It seemed things were going back to normal. The corner of Merlin’s mouth twitched, as if he was restraining a smile.

“Alright,” He said, rolling his eyes. Arthur watched him collect the sword, and pile it into a basket with Arthur’s armour, and began to head out.

“Oh Merlin,” Arthur called after him, before Merlin could leave. Merlin turned, “Thanks...for...for everything you said.” Arthur felt exceptionally awkward, this wasn’t just something you could just say thanks for. He should say more, but what else could he say? Merlin however smiled.

“Happy to help!” He grinned. He turned, yet again.

“Actually Merlin,” Arthur said, making a spur of the moment decision, “Put that down. Take the rest of the day off.”

Merlin smiled and put down the basket in the corner. He looked out the window, as if to gouge the time. Then his expression changed to exasperation. Arthur turned. The sun was setting. Oh well. He could still have a night of no chores or whatever he did.

After Merlin left, Arthur sat back on his bed. That had been a very long day.

~*~

Morgana sat alone in her room. Fury was brewing. How dare Uther. How dare he. He had caused a genocide, over one sorcerer. Over one death. She understood, of course, that one death had been his wife, Arthur’s mother, but it was no justification. How dare he. He, lecturing people about honour. Calling himself a ‘fair and just king’. She would not forget this.

~*~

Merlin looked out the window over Camelot. The city was quiet, the night was peaceful. The moon was beginning to wane. There were no stars visible that night. There were a few streams of smoke, rising steadily from chimneys, and if he looked, he could see the torches moving around the courtyard as the guards patrolled half-heartedly. Merlin wasn’t watching. He was lost in his thoughts. He had done the right thing, by most accounts. The death of Nimueh still haunted him sometimes. He didn’t want another death on his conscience. But that wasn’t why he’d done it. In the moment, he had only been able to think of Gwen’s words, when he’d had the same dilemma before. About Arthur, how he would have reacted to it all. He didn’t know what to feel.

One day, he swore to himself, one day magic would return. In the meantime, he would do anything in his power to make sure that no one else would die from this. He didn’t know how he would go about this, but he could not stand by. Not anymore.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: In Which Arthur Is Not Fat

 

Cold. So, so cold. Shivers rocked her whole body, uncontrollably. Rain was bucketing down, thunder boomed, and she couldn’t stop shaking.

There was no moon, the streets were in almost total darkness, except for the lights shining from houses. She was curled in a corner of the cage, which rattled on the cobblestones.

Her head was full of the sound of the thunder, the horse’s hooves on the cobblestones, thunder, cobblestones, rain, cold.

Unceasingly.

She screwed her eyes shut, trying to imagine she was anywhere, anywhere else. Anywhere at all. Cold. So cold. They stopped.

She opened her eyes, still shivering uncontrollably. Let me go, please let me go, she begged silently. Please.

The man stepped out of the carriage and walked over to her. He reached up, carefully checking the padlock was secure, gave a snort, pulling his hood over his head, protecting himself from the rain.

Don’t just go, I can’t stay here I can’t stay Ican’tstayhere.

He turned away from her and began to saunter away towards a building. The door opened. Warm light burst out, flooding the street, releasing the sounds of laughter, and people talking.

There was a sign above the door, creaking as it was battered by the rain. “The Rising Sun” it proclaimed cheerily. A tavern. The door swung shut, leaving her alone, plunging her into darkness. She curled into a tighter ball, trying in vain to retain any warmth at all.

Footsteps. Someone was coming. She looked up. Two figures, walking calmly in the rain. One seemed to be an old man, the other younger. She sat up properly, clutching at the bars. Her voice didn’t seem to be working. The younger, who had just been passing, jumped at the noise of her chains rattling. He stared at her, seeming horrified at her predicament.

“Gaius!” He said, sounding shocked. The old man turned and looked at her. His eyes seemed full of pity.

“She’s fallen prey to a bounty hunter,” He murmured, only just loud enough for her to hear him. The younger looked at the old man in horror.

“She’s only a girl,” He said, in shock.

“She’ll fetch a good price though,” The old man said, pity evident in his tone.

The younger rounded on him. “Someone’s going to pay for her?”

“Uther offers a handsome reward for anyone with magic.” With that, the older turned, beginning to walk away. The younger looked almost desperate.

“There must be something we can do!” The older man turned, looking serious.

“Merlin. Bounty hunters are dangerous men, they are not to be meddled with. You of all people should understand that.”

The man turned, walking away. The younger however, looked at her, his gaze seeming to harden in determination. Then, he turned and strode away, after the older.

And she was alone again. The cold, the rain, the thunder, the bars of the cage. She curled back into a ball, pulling her dress tighter around her, trying to gain any warmth. She fell into a light doze, aware of the rain, aware of the cold, but lost in her mind, thinking.

She lost track of time. It felt like days, every minute was as long as an hour.

The rain stopped eventually, ending all at once.

She sat up, leaning her back against the bars at the back of the cage, her legs curled up beneath her. Quick footsteps. She looked over. The younger of the two had returned. He hurried over, he was darting looks around, oddly birdlike movements, clearly, he knew he wasn’t meant to be there.

He opened the tavern door a little, looking around. Evidently, he saw what he wanted to see, he quietly shut the door again, and darted over to her.

“Don’t worry, I’m not here to hurt you,” He said, his voice hushed, his eyes wide.

He strode to the front of the cage.

Tospringe” he whispered. The door burst open. A sorcerer. She tried to hide further back in the corner, but there was nowhere to go. She felt a wave of fear crashing over her.

The boy jumped into the doorway. He crouched down near to her, and held out his hands, not quite touching the manacles binding her wrists.

Unspanne thas maegth” He murmured. His eyes shone suddenly gold.

The manacles sprang apart. He held out his hand. She didn’t hesitate. This was her one chance. Maybe he was a sorcerer, and maybe he was dangerous, but at the moment, it was her only opportunity to escape. She took hold of it, and let him pull her away, out the cage. She jumped down, and he caught her. The door to the tavern creaked, about to open. He grabbed her and bundled her quickly away, out of sight behind the cage.

The bounty hunter stepped out the tavern. He stumbled slightly, evidently drunk. He staggered towards the cage and stared at it for a moment, taking a moment too long to realise that it was empty. His eyes widened, he stalked to the front and ran his hands over the now unlocked chains. He walked around, checking to see if she was near. He came closer to their hiding spot.

The boy next to her watched him carefully.

“Ic bebíede þis giestærn tácen fielan” He murmured.

The sign advertising ‘The Rising Sun’ fell, hitting the bounty hunter’s head. He collapsed on the ground.

The boy wasted no time, grabbing her hand, and together they ran out into the street.

He pulled her into a small doorway she hadn’t noticed, a small passage leading underground. It was in total darkness.

Bryne” A fire burst up from a torch the boy was holding. He led her through a few corridors, finally reaching a small alcove set into the wall. He stopped and looked at her seriously.

“He won’t find you here,” He said. He seemed to be genuinely interested in helping her, to care about her fate. He looked concerned when she didn’t reply. He seemed to notice her shivering slightly. He pulled off his jacket.

“Here.” She flinched away. He held his hands up slightly in a gesture of surrender.

“Sorry.” He backed away a little. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you.” His voice was soft, “I just thought you might be cold.”

She looked at him.

“Why did you do that?” He looked momentarily wrongfooted.

“What?”

“Help me.” Understanding dawned suddenly.

“I saw you and…” He thought for a moment, then shrugged. “It could have been me in that cage.” He thought she was a sorcerer. That’s why he helped her. Oh.   “You’ll be safe here,” He continued, “I’ll be back in the morning, with food and candles.” He smiled gently, “Will you be alright until then?” She nodded. “I’m Merlin, by the way,” He said, smiling.

“I’m Freya.”

~*~

 

The sun was streaming in through the corridors. Morgana swished her way through, occasionally pausing to glance out the windows, to watch the events in the courtyard. People were being lined up, and inspected by a bounty hunter who had apparently, somehow let a druid girl escape. Uther had ordered a search, and as apparently, she had been seen escaping with someone else, he was inspecting everyone in case he recognised anyone. She felt the cold bubble of fear somewhere in her throat. She really didn’t need more reminders of Uther’s feelings towards those with magic. Then again, Uther had mentioned over breakfast, that she had been cast out by the druids. Perhaps she really was dangerous then? Or it could simply be a fabrication for a bounty hunter, wanting to speed up the search. She turned from the window, and began to walk on, when she saw a figure nearing her. Arthur. As he walked, he ran his hand through his hair, evidently distracted by something. He was alone, which was unusual, he was always with Merlin, or some knight or other. He seemed to notice her for the first time as his eyes seemed to widen slightly in surprise.

“Arthur,” Morgana acknowledged, intending to keep walking. Arthur however paused, as if to initiate a conversation. Damn.

“Ah, Morgana.” He gave a quick, slightly distracted smile. Not the druid girl, don’t talk about that druid girl.

“So, Arthur,” Morgana supplied, wondering whether Arthur really had something to talk about, “Where’s Merlin?”

Arthur shrugged, running a hand through his hair again. “Quite honestly, I have no idea.” Arthur still seemed to be half thinking about something, “I think he’s annoyed with me.”

Morgana chuckled, “What gives you that impression?”

“I…” Arthur hesitated for a moment, then shrugged, “I dumped a bucket of water over his head.”

Morgana stared.

“You…? Why?” What was happening?

Arthur looked slightly uncomfortable.

“I... well…” He hesitated, “He may have indicated that...well,”

Morgana stared at him, a small smile creeping up the corner of her mouth. What did Merlin do?

“Merlin indicated...what?” She asked, fighting a grin.

Arthur ran his hand through his hair again.

“He...look, I am not fat, and yet-”

Morgana couldn’t contain herself. She started laughing, actually shaking with laughter. Arthur looked so offended, it was too good. Arthur looked at her, appearing almost betrayed.

“Well,” He said, looking thoroughly disgruntled. He didn’t seem to know what to do, with Morgana laughing at him. It was mean, she should stop, but his face. She took a deep breath and managed to pull herself together, barely restraining her grin.

“Arthur, it doesn’t matter, you can stop worrying about that,” She smiled. Arthur looked slightly suspicious, as if he thought she was about to start laughing. She pursed her lips together. She mustn’t laugh, she shouldn’t, don’t laugh, don’t laugh. He looked so offended. “So, you poured water over his head?”

Arthur shrugged. Clearly, he wanted to change the subject.

“So where is he now?” She asked, curious.

Arthur shrugged again, “I really don’t know, he seemed distracted all morning, and then he went off.” Morgana frowned, her amusement fading. That didn’t seem like Merlin.

“Well,” Arthur said, slightly more cheerfully now, “I will...see you later.” He gave a brisk nod and began to stride off. Morgana shook her head slightly in exasperation. She glanced out the window again. The queue was shrinking slightly, although several people had been pulled aside for questioning, she supposed.

He seemed distracted all morning.

No. Would Merlin-yes. Yes, of course Merlin would have broken the girl free. Memories of the druid boy swam to the surface. Merlin could never leave someone who needed help. He might not have done of course, he may have been entirely innocent, but really, what were the chances of that? Dammit Merlin. She set off. She needed to find him.

 

~*~

 

Arthur strode along the corridors. Merlin was a prat, Morgana was frustrating as anything, and he was fed up. He had had an apple, an apple, and what was up with the vanishing sausages? And Merlin was acting so weird. It all was so extremely odd. And his father would not stop talking about that druid girl. And where was that dratted servant anyway?

He walked out into the courtyard, Halig and the knights had been searching the townspeople for the person seen breaking the girl free. Although Halig seemed to have left. As well as a few guards. Arthur frowned. They weren’t meant to have done that. He glanced around, and noticed a familiar figure, holding a basket, wearing a faded purple dress, her expression seeming a mix of irritation and worry. Gwen. Perhaps she knew what had happened to Halig. Or Merlin for that matter.

With that thought, he began to make a beeline towards her. She seemed to notice him drawing closer, as she started to smile slightly, and her cheeks began to flush slightly.

“Gwen,” Arthur said, nearing her. He couldn’t be as casual as he would have liked, there were simply too many people, “Would you follow me for a moment?” Gwen looked slightly alarmed for a moment, before quickly adjusting her grip on the basket.

“Of course, my Lord,” She said, demure as a servant should be. It felt so wrong. He set off to the other side of the courtyard, Gwen following him. When they reached a corner that they would talk freely without being overheard, he turned to her. She was shifting her grip on the basket and bit her lip.

“Gwen,” Arthur began, feeling that he may as well get to the point, “Do you know where Halig left to?”

Gwen’s eyes widened, “Arthur,” She said, sounding anxious, “He left with Merlin.” What? “Merlin?” Arthur said, stunned.

“Merlin was led off with a few knights and Halig, I’m not sure why, it could be anything-”

Arthur cut her off, “Where are they now?”

Gwen pointed over to the castle, “It looked like they were going to the dungeons, although I don’t know....” Arthur nodded.

“Thank you so much Gwen,” He said, looking at her. Her eyes were wide. The sun was hitting them, filling them with an almost bronze hue-no, he couldn’t do this now. Halig had Merlin. He gave a decisive nod.

“I’ll find them,” Arthur said, determinedly.

He dashed away to the dungeons. The lights grew sparse in this part of the castle, the only light that from the small windows set into the tops of the walls. There was the sound of chains rattling, and Halig’s voice, coldly to a guard no doubt,

“Hold him.” There was the sound of someone hitting something, Arthur strode quickly over to where the sounds were emanating from.

“I think you’re lying to me-” Halig sounded coldly furious,

“I’m not!” Definitely Merlin. Oh damn.

“I don’t believe you” Halig hissed. Arthur rounded the corner.

“Halig!” He called. Merlin was being held down in a chair by two guards, Halig had his fist in the air as if about to strike him.

What do you think you’re doing,” Arthur said, his tone dangerous, taking in the scene.

Halig wasn’t meeting his eyes.

“We caught the boy, behaving suspiciously, sire.” Merlin was looking at Arthur, his expression clearly silently asking for help. He shook his head minutely, as if to deny the accusations.

“Merlin?” Arthur said, trying to sound as if the idea of Merlin hiding something was hilarious, as if this could be a huge misunderstanding.

“He could be harbouring the girl,” Halig leaned slightly closer to Merlin, who tried to flinch away, “And he’d going to tell us where…” Arthur gripped Halig by the shoulder and pulled him away a little.

“Leave him alone.” He leaned over, gripping Merlin by the arm, pulling him up, “Merlin is my servant, he has my absolute trust,” suspicious behaviour aside…

“If you have a problem with him, you come to me. Understand?” He looked Halig straight in the eye.

Halig inclined his head. “Sire,” He bowed. He made to leave, “Goodnight Merlin,” He said viciously, “Don’t forget your dinner.”

What?

Halig left the room. Arthur glanced down at the floor...where three sausages lay at Merlin’s feet beside the large jug Merlin had been carrying earlier. Dinner. Oh, this was just ridiculous.

“Thank you,” Merlin said, sounding sincere. Then he noticed what Arthur was pointedly looking at. “Ah.”

“Are those my sausages?” Arthur inquired.

“Mm,” Merlin evaded.

“You took them?” What was happening to his servant?

“To keep you in shape!” Merlin said, brightly, bending down to pick them up off the stone floor.

“Are you saying I’m fat?” Arthur demanded.

“No!” Merlin said, hurriedly. He hesitated. “Well, not yet.”

“I am not fat!” Arthur insisted. He wasn’t. What was this?

“You see,” Merlin explained, cheerily, clutching the sausages, Arthur’s sausages, “It’s working!” Arthur threw his hands up, demanding an explanation, but Merlin merely grinned, and ducked out the room, leaving Arthur alone. He glanced down at his stomach. Next time, he vowed silently, next time he was leaving Merlin to Halig’s mercy.

 

~*~

 

Oh, for goodness sake!

Morgana rubbed her temples, leaning against a wall. She had been looking around, and yet Merlin was nowhere to be seen. Arthur seemed perpetually annoyed, Gwen had apparently not yet been able to pass through the ridiculous security, Morgana had been informed by at least three messengers, and even Uther himself, that she was not to leave the citadel, preferable not the castle, and she was getting the distinct impression that people would be a lot happier if she were to spend the rest of her life hiding under her bed.

It was absolutely infuriating.

They wouldn’t be so worried about your safety if they knew what you are.

She shook her head, she wouldn’t think about that, she couldn’t. Arthur had accepted her, and she had Merlin. And she was getting really good at magic… she stood up straighter and began to move off.

She had to find him. If he was hiding the druid girl...well, he’d need help.

That was when she noticed. Through the window, a familiar black-haired figure, adorned with a bright blue neck scarf that stood out starkly against his hair, and his usual brown jacket, sneaking, yes, definitely sneaking, his way back into the castle. He gave a nod to the guards and walked back into the castle. Morgana wasted no time, turning on the spot, and striding away. He would go back to Gaius’s rooms, she knew him well enough to know that. She made her way the old door and pushed it open, feeling the familiar squeal of its hinges. Merlin was humming to himself, reading a book she recognised as his spell book, seeming not to notice her enter.

“Merlin.”

He stopped humming, and glanced up, looking mildly embarrassed.

“Morgana!” He sounded cheerful, putting the book down.

Morgana looked at him seriously.

 “I know you’re hiding the druid girl.” Merlin’s face froze for an instant, before relaxing, appearing slightly confused.

“Sorry?”

Morgana rolled her eyes. “Stop lying, I know.”

Merlin’s carefully casual expression fell away, he seemed horrified.

“Please don’t tell anyone.”

Morgana stared at him, slightly affronted.

“What do you take me for? Of course, I’m not telling anyone, I want to help.” Honestly. Merlin truly was an idiot sometimes.

“Sorry,” He said, sheepishly. Morgana tapped her foot slightly impatiently. Merlin looked confused. “What?” He asked, curiously.

“So, what do I need to do to help?” She said, impatiently. Merlin grinned.

He rubbed his nose, thinking. “Well, I’ve been bringing her candles, I think she’s got enough now, and food of course, although that’s been tricky at times, and I need to find a way to help her escape Camelot soon enough of course.”

“Have you told Arthur that it was you who rescued the girl?” The thought had just occurred to her. He looked sheepish again.

“No…” Morgana’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully, Merlin hastened to think of a plan, “but...I certainly-well, I intend to tell him?”

Morgana raised an eyebrow sceptically. Merlin faltered under her look.

“Well, probably...maybe…”

Morgana cut him off.

“Stop, just stop.” Merlin seemed to shrink beneath her look, “Ok, I’m sure that Arthur would help, but honestly I’m not sure how he would help. Let’s just keep this quiet for now, and we’ll see what we can do.”

Merlin’s eyes, pools of pale blue, flickered with surprise. Morgana rolled her eyes.

“Alright,” She continued, after Merlin hadn’t replied (She hadn’t exactly given him much time, but...oh well) “How is she getting food?”

Merlin perked up at that, “I’ve been bringing her food, good food as well.”

Oh. Well that was a small mystery solved.

“Good food, as in, Food-That-Was-Intended-For-Arthur-Food?”

Merlin stared at her, taken by surprise. Morgana tried to conceal how much she was enjoying making Merlin squirm.

“Yeah...yeah. I... I don’t actually know how you know that, but...I mean...you’re right.”

Morgana struggled to restrain her grin. Merlin seemed to notice how much she was enjoying this, and a reluctant smile began to curl up the corner of his mouth.

“Well, I can buy some food, and we can take it in turns to bring it to her, that way we’re less likely to be caught.”

Merlin smiled fully now, looking relieved.

“That sounds perfect, we can start to look for ways to get her out as well, she can’t stay there forever.”

Morgana nodded. The plan seemed solid enough, really, if they kept to the plan, nothing could go wrong, really.

 

~*~

Gaius poured over the books. Books telling of creatures in the land, books with intricate pictures detailing fantastical creatures of myth and legend. Somewhere, there had to be something that matched up. People were dead. Something had caused it. He had to find out what. He turned the page. A picture of a beautifully intricate cat like creature, rearing in front of a crescent moon, horns poking out its head, wings sprouting from its back. And beside the picture, a description. And it fit. It made sense. No wonder that girl had been driven from the druids. He knew what he had to do.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: The Curse

Morgana and Merlin made their way to where Merlin had hidden the girl, Freya. The passage was dark, but after a certain distance, she began to see a small glowing light, flickering slightly. Candles.

Merlin turned to her.

“Wait here just one second.” His expression, which was cast in shadows, candle light flickering slightly, making his eyes seem much darker than usual, was earnest.

Morgana nodded, and Merlin turned and scampered over to where the candlelight was strongest, and out of sight.

“Freya.” His voice was softer than she had ever heard.

There was a sound of someone stirring. Merlin kept his voice hushed as he spoke to her, Morgana couldn’t make out what was being said. After a short, hushed conversation, Merlin came back out, into view, and beckoned to Morgana.

She walked over, cautiously.

The girl was curled up slightly, leaning against the wall, arms hugging her knees that were pulled up to her chest. Her hair was long and dark, although it was difficult to make out the specifics of the colour in the lighting, and her expression was fearful, eyes glancing around, taking in Morgana. Merlin was crouched down, magically lighting a few candles that had gone out, and very deliberately not watching Morgana’s reaction.

Morgana cleared her throat.

“Well,” She began, trying to cover her awkwardness, “Hello. My name is Morgana, and you don’t have to be afraid of me.” She crouched down, so that she was at the same height as Merlin and Freya.

Freya gave her a slightly wary look, and glanced back towards Merlin, who had finished with the candles and was now rummaging around in his pockets.

Morgana frowned. “What’s wrong, Merlin?”

“The food. I can’t believe it, I forgot the food.”

Morgana rolled her eyes.

“Oh, for goodness sake Merlin! Honestly. Look, I’ll go back and get it, I’ll bring it along in a bit, we can’t risk being spotted.”

Merlin looked slightly embarrassed, and very grateful.

“Thanks.”

Morgana grinned, turned to Freya to give her a reassuring smile, before turning around, and making her way back out.

 

~*~

 

The small parcel of food was perched on the small table in Merlin and Gaius’s chambers. Morgana sighed to herself and picked it up. It was her food, she’s asked the kitchens for a larger meal than usual and bagged up the remains. No doubt Arthur would be more cheerful by this change as well. Although this really couldn’t be a permanent solution. Soon, she and Merlin would have to do something. But for now, this would help.

She had only just grabbed the parcel, when the door burst open. She spun around. How would she explain this to Gaius?

Merlin stood in the doorframe.

“Hey, Morgana,” He said, hurriedly, “We were thinking, Freya can’t stay in that tunnel forever, so, I could help her escape, can I have some of your clothes for her?”

Morgana blinked at him.

“You’re escaping tonight?”

Merlin looked surprised. “Yeah, she can’t stay forever, this couldn’t be a permanent solution, so I feel this is the best way.”

It could work. Merlin had snuck out many times before and never been caught (Really, Arthur needed to spend more time training the guards.)

She nodded.

“Alright, absolutely, I can spare a dress for her.”

Merlin grinned.

 

~*~

 

Morgana woke to the sound of bells ringing. Another attack, no doubt. After getting dressed, she went out, making her way to Merlin and Gaius’s chambers. She had to talk to Merlin, he had said he would be taking the dress to Freya that morning, and since the sun had risen pretty high already, he may have already done so. They had picked out a dark purple one, with dark trimming on the edges. It was too fancy for a peasant girl, but it was the least elaborate in her wardrobe, and hopefully during the night, the fabric would be less noticeable. It had been interesting getting it out the castle. They had decided that there would be no reason for Morgana to be walking around the castle with a dress, so Merlin had taken that job of sneaking it out the castle.

Morgana made her way up the stairs, giving the door a quick rap, and pushing it open without waiting for an answer as usual. Gaius and Merlin were sitting on a bench, Merlin looking wary, Gaius accusing. They both looked up as she entered. Gaius seemed slightly surprised to see her.

“What’s going on?” Morgana inquired, keeping her expression carefully neutral.

Gaius sighed.

“I suppose it is too much to presume that you know nothing about the druid girl?”

Merlin looked at his feet. Morgana looked at Gaius defiantly.

“Alright, yes I did.”

“Then you should probably sit down for this.”

That was...not the reaction she had expected. Merlin was tapping his foot impatiently.

Morgana sat. Gaius set a book on his lap and began flicking through.

“There was another attack last night,” He said, as he seemed to get to the page he was looking for. He glanced up, looking at Merlin.

Merlin glanced at Morgana, seeming as puzzled as she was about this topic change.

“That’s awful…”

“Two more deaths in the lower town.”

“Do you know what it is?” Merlin asked.

“Again, no tracks beside the bodies, but human footprints were leading away.”

Morgana and Merlin exchanged another look.

“Right-” Merlin said, slightly confusedly.

“It doesn’t seem to add up. The footprints indicate that a human is responsible, but the wounds inflicted, are definitely the work of a beast.”

“Gaius,” Morgana interrupted, “This is awful, but I’m not sure what this has to do with the druid girl.”

Gaius looked at her, his expression unreadable.

“I remembered what Halig said about the druid girl.” Merlin looked up at Gaius, seeming to be trying to appear nonchalant, “That she’s cursed.”

“What’s that got to do with the monster?” Merlin said, slowly. Gaius continued as if he hadn’t heard him.

“Ancient chronicles,” He indicated the book, “speak of a heinous curse. It dooms its victim to turn at the stroke of midnight, into a vicious and bloodthirsty beast. It was called a ‘Bastet’. A monster of the twilight hour, between the living...and the dead.”

Merlin looked away from Gaius’s eyes. Morgana felt the dread stirring, surely, he couldn’t mean what she thought he meant?

Gaius looked between them.

“I want the truth. Did you release the Druid girl from the cage?”

Merlin looked pained.

“Of course not!” He said, too quickly.

Morgana felt suddenly as if she was intruding.

“There was a time,” Gaius said, quieter now, “When you thought twice before lying to me.”

“I did what I thought was right.”

Morgana nodded in agreement, although she felt slightly sick. Could Freya truly be a Bastet?

 “You know the creature and the girl are not the same.” Gaius said, in the same quiet voice.

“You’re wrong!” Merlin burst out, “Freya is just a girl.”

“Merlin, please think about what I’m saying, you know it is the truth. Where is she now?”

“No,” Merlin shook his head violently.

“She’s already killed, and she’ll kill again, she can’t stop herself.”

“Please, Gaius-”

Gaius stood.

“Where are you going?” Merlin demanded, standing as well.

“To Uther.”

“I’m begging you,” Morgan had never heard Merlin so desperate, “Give me time to get her out of the city, please.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t let more innocent people die.” And with that, Gaius opened the door, and walked out. Merlin turned, his face suddenly determined, as he grabbed a bag, no doubt full of supplies.

“Where are you going?” Morgana asked, trying to sound calm.

“I’m leaving, with Freya.”

Morgana felt speechless. Merlin threw the bag over his shoulder, and left running. Leaving Morgana standing alone. She shook her head and followed Merlin out. She had to do something.

 She walked briskly to where she knew Merlin would go, to Freya.

He was sitting, eyes filled with angry tears, beside her dress in the cave where Freya had once been. He looked up briefly as he heard her approach.

“She’s gone.” He said, before she could say anything. His voice sounded numb. Morgana didn’t know what to do.

“Maybe it was for the best?” She said, her voice soft.

He nodded jerkily, then wiped his eyes, and stood.

“I should go back. Morgana, you probably want this back,” He said, holding out the dress.

She smiled sadly and took it. As he vanished, she rolled it up, and put it back on the floor. Maybe Freya would come back for it. She couldn’t help hoping.

She’d only just got back to her chambers, when alarm bells sounded.

 

~*~

 

The druid girl had been seen in the town square. Arthur called his knights to follow.

“There she is!” The cry went up, no doubt from one of the less experienced guards. Arthur gritted his teeth. There was no reason to give away the position, it was unnecessary, but there were more important things to consider now.

“Stop!”

The girl had begun to run, darting down a narrow alley. Arthur cursed slightly, and followed, and then pulled up short. The alley had led to a small, enclosed area. She was trapped. She looked terrified, with long slightly curling hair and a ragged dress. She looked nothing like he had imagined, from the description of a terrifying druid-girl-sorceress.

She backed away.

“Please, let me go,” She begged, her voice shaking a little.

One of the knights put his sword away.

“No one escapes from me.”

Halig, wearing a self-satisfied expression, stepped out.

The bell began to ring out, signalling midnight.

She began to scream and shake. She fell to the ground and began to change.

Then, where moments before had stood a small, terrified girl, was a beast. A giant cat, with wings. It hissed, before spreading its wings.

Arthur darted in with his sword and caught it a blow to the shoulder. It howled, and charged straight passed him, into the main courtyard, where most his knights had already fled.

It was limping, and the knights began to converge on it. It was cornered. It had killed before. This was the creature that had been killing in the lower town. Arthur hardened his heart.

It seemed it notice something and stopped for a moment.

Arthur began to move closer, taking advantage of its distraction, sword raised. He was going to end this tonight.

There was a cracking sound. Arthur looked up, just in time to leap out the way of one of the statues falling to the ground, where he had been standing only moments before.

The creature, taking advantage of their distraction, howled, and bounded away, moving fast despite the limp.

As he turned to see where it was going, a figure, not clad in armour, running after it. Someone else had been with them in the courtyard. It was too dark to see quite who it was. Arthur frowned. That was odd. He would think about that later.

 

~*~

 

Morgana ran down to the underground caverns where Merlin had been hiding Freya. She had no doubt that they would go there.

Sure enough, there they were. But something was wrong.

Merlin looked up as she walked in.

“Morgana, she’s been hurt.”

Freya was looking at Merlin, as if he was the only one she could see. There was a wound in her side. Morgana put her hands to her mouth.

“Merlin,” Freya sounded tired, “There’s nothing you can do, the wound’s too deep.”

“No,” Merlin argued, his eyes filled with tears, “I’m going to make you better.”

“There’s nothing you can do” Freya repeated, closing her eyes, “Please go.”

Merlin shook his head, “No, I’m not leaving you here.” He looked to Morgana, “Can you help me get her to a horse? Quickly.”

Morgana nodded. She didn’t see what a horse was going to do, but she couldn’t argue with Merlin when he was looking at her like that.

After Morgana had grabbed a horse, Merlin hopped up, somehow managing to support Freya as well. He looked determined, and he gripped the reins, and took off at a gallop out of Camelot.

 

~*~

 

Arthur walked into his room. Merlin was sitting on the floor, polishing boots. Somehow, he was making the act of polishing seem morose. It was most unlike Merlin. He had been strangely quiet all day, actually.

“Ah Merlin!” He said. He didn’t know what to make of a sad Merlin, he was never sad like this. It felt wrong somehow, “I’ve been looking for you-”

“Yeah, right, you’re going to ask me to polish your armour and wash your clothes and clean your room-” His voice broke slightly at the last word, and he went back to the boot in his hand.

Arthur had to do something. He sat down next to him. Merlin didn’t acknowledge this.

“Something’s been upsetting you, hasn’t it?” Merlin didn’t respond. Arthur racked his brain to think of what it was.

“Was it when I threw water over you?”

Merlin chuckled a little, a small, watery smile appearing. That was better.

“That wasn’t very nice.”

“It was a bit unfair,” Arthur acknowledged, “Like when you called me fat.”

Merlin looked up, seeming surprised.

“Why was that unfair?”

“Because I’m not” Merlin grinned a little wider.

Arthur grabbed him and rubbed his knuckle into his head.

“Oww!” Merlin complained, struggling futilely.

“Still think I need to get in shape?”

“NO! No! Please!” Merlin complained, almost laughing. Arthur released him, and Merlin rubbed his head gently.

Arthur couldn’t help grinning, at seeing his powerful warlock of a servant quite so undignified, hair mussed up, befuddled smile.

“That’s better.” Arthur said, feeling more satisfied.

“Thanks,” Merlin said, mildly confusedly.

Whatever was wrong with Merlin was his business. Perhaps it was best to keep Merlin busy. Arthur finished up, giving him a small mound of chores to get done, before hopping up. He was sure Merlin was going to be alright soon enough.

 

~*~

Morgana strode up the familiar staircase and pushed open the door to Gaius’s chambers. Immediately, she was hit by the smells of a thousand different herbs, and an oddly fragrant steam rising from a bubbling pot. Usually she would explore a little, but this time, she suppressed her curiosity, and made the short journey up to Merlin’s room

He was standing on a box, looking out his small window over Camelot. He didn’t seem to notice her enter.

“Merlin…?”

He turned, stepped down, and sat on his bed.

“Morgana.” His voice was much quieter than usual.  

Despite the lack of invitation, Morgana sat on the bed beside him.

“What happened, when you left?”

Merlin looked at her.

“I took Freya to a lake. I found it a while ago, and I thought she would like it.”

Morgana frowned slightly. Merlin, however, continued.

“There was nothing I could do for her. She wouldn’t have wanted to have that tunnel be the last place she saw.”

Oh.

Morgana didn’t know what to say. She felt she should say something, something that would take away all the pain, something meaningful and deep, but everything she could think of to say felt wrong.

Perhaps if she were quiet, he would continue to talk, and that might be enough.

Hopefully he would understand.

She bit her lip.

He was looking at the floor. He wasn’t talking anymore.

She needed to say something, something kind, but reassuring. Her mind was blank.

“What actually happened to her?”

Nope, wrong, that was the wrong thing to say, he’s going to hate you now. Should have said anything, anything else.

Merlin looked up. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad question then? Morgana wished there was someone around who could help, she didn’t know how to deal with this situation.

“Freya tried to escape on her own, but Arthur and his knights caught her. She turned into...the bastet, and so one of them, it was dark, I’m not sure which, and honestly, I don’t think I want to, one of them anyway...caught her with their sword. When I found her, she had escaped back into the tunnels again, and she changed back. And that’s when you found us.”

Morgana turned the information over. Arthur was responsible. Even if it wasn’t his sword, he had led the attack. And it was probably his sword. Her heart twisted.

“Merlin...I’m so sorry.”

Merlin nodded a little. She was aware of how painfully inadequate the words were, but she couldn’t think of anything else.

“Do you have any idea who...who it was?” She asked. She probably shouldn’t have asked that, but she couldn’t help it.

Merlin hesitated.

“Well...I mean. Arthur led them. So… but at the same time, he thought he was protecting Camelot. If I had gotten her out sooner-”

“Merlin, this isn’t your fault-”

Merlin shook his head and wouldn’t meet her eyes. He clearly didn’t believe her, but he also didn’t seem in the mood to argue.

She couldn’t leave him like this. She couldn’t think what to say.

Merlin looked so sad. Suddenly, unable to think of anything else to do, she pulled him into a hug.

She had no doubt that he would heal in time, but until then, she would try to help as best she could.