Arthur, though he had only just woken from what should have been his death, could not find the peace of mind necessary to rest.
He alternated with increasing impatience between his window and his desk, never the bed he had been firmly told to stay in. The reports he was meant to read could only be focused on for a few lines. The food left on his table only enticed him for a bite’s worth. The hustle of the courtyard below his window was interesting for only a few moments. What he was looking for he could not say.
His father and Gaius had finally left him only an hour or so ago. They had ordered him to sleep and regain his strength but he could not. His mind raced and his fingers twitched as though to grasp a sword. The same instincts he used in battle were pulling him in twelve different directions. There was no reason for his anxiousness, the beast was slain and Camelot was safe. Still, he could not sit still.
He almost wished to be interrupted by his manservant, come to say vague things and give him ridiculous grins.
The frantic knock on his door was a welcome interruption.
The door flew open with Morgana’s pale, frantic face behind it and the sight startled him.
Normally Arthur would be pleased to see her so emotional over him but there was genuine fear in her eyes and that he could not abide. Her dark hair was a wild mess and her dress was rumpled as though she had rolled around in it for hours. This was not how she liked to be seen, especially not by him.
Morgana shut the door carefully and the concern she took to make sure it was properly shut and latched was completely opposite to how she looked. Clearly, she didn’t wish for them to be overheard.
“Morgana? What’s wrong?” He asked, moving carefully but quickly to meet her.
Morgana pulled in a shuddering breath that seemed to only marginally settle her. “Are you well now?” She asked, glancing down his body in a way that was not at all what he usually watched for.
“I am.” Arthur assured her, “Gaius came through for me again.” He tried to give her an encouraging smile but that seemed both beyond him and not enough for her. They weren’t as close as they used to be, plain and simple. Somewhere along the way they had started parting from each other. It bothered him but he was never sure how to fix it.
Morgana swallowed heavily and nodded her head but her terror didn’t seem to be eased. “Is Merlin with you?” She glanced around the room like Arthur might have been hiding the boy behind some drapes. “Has he been here lately?”
Arthur narrowed his eyes at her, what could Merlin possibly do to ease her mind? “No,” He said slowly, “He helped Gaius with the antidote or treatment or whatever it was and is presumably still helping clean up.”
“He would be here.” Morgana said with certainty, “He would stay with you. He always does when you’ve been hurt.” Her eyes drifted to the wound that should have never been enough to bring him down so thoroughly.
Arthur rolled his eyes with a flippancy he did not truly feel. Even if Merlin’s absence had puzzled him, he would not let it worry Morgana when she was obviously at the end of her tether. “Merlin is a loyal idiot, yes, but an idiot all the same. Who knows where he is or what he does?”
The words, nothing new from him admittedly, only seemed to upset her, “Don’t say that.” Morgana quickly snapped at him, “You don’t… I think…”
Her distress made him instantly regretful. “You think what?” Arthur asked gently.
She bit her lip, a habit that her vanity and position in the court would normally never permit. “I have had dream.” Her words were slow, as though she hated to say them. “Arthur, I think it’s true.”
“You think what is true?” He questioned her with a confused frown.
“I know what you will say.” Morgana laughed as though any of this was funny, “It is what Gaius says, what Gwen says. It’s what I try to tell myself, what I’ve tried to make myself continue to believe. My dreams, Arthur, they’re real. I don’t know how or why but I know they’re real.”
Arthur sighed and though he tried not to make it sound patiently pitying, Morgana’s flinch proved that it was. He tried to move her to a chair but she pulled her arm away from him.
“Do not look at me like I’m insane! I have dreamed so many awful things and it’s getting more real.” She almost yelled. Even upset and angry at his disbelief, she was not stupid enough to shout about her prophetic dreams in Uther Pendragon’s castle. “People I haven’t met yet show themselves while I sleep and then come forward when I’m awake. Beasts we haven’t heard of fill my head before you’re called upon to kill them! Injuries, disputes, problems with other realms, I dream them all before they happen!”
“You aren’t making these things happen, Morgana.” Arthur said, trying to soothe her. Even has he tried to calm her, he felt something different building in the room. Between her terror and his strange restlessness it felt as though there was something important that he was missing but might soon figure out if he asked the right questions.
If Morgana felt it too she didn’t let on. She practically whirled away from him, “I know I’m not! I would never!”
“Then what are you afraid of?” Arthur asked.
Instead of turning back to look at him, Morgana stared at the fire. Her voice was soft, “Why do I keep having these dreams? Why am I seeing what’s going to happen before it does?” She asked but since they both knew Arthur didn’t have the answer, he was certain she was just giving voice to the questions she was constantly asking herself. She looked over to him, the fire making the shadows under her eyes deeper, “Do you believe me?”
Arthur hesitated. Magic, sorcery and all of its subsets were evil and Morgana, frustrating and headstrong as she was, was not evil. “I know that you believe they are.” He settled on, finally, “And I believe in you.”
“How much did it cost you to say that?” Morgana asked, her words playful but her laugh harsh.
Her mocking was reassuring, even if it was also annoying. “A lot,” Arthur admitted to make her laugh again, “But I think the price would be higher if I didn’t.”
At the word price she stiffened again. “I’ve had another dream… not just about you being bitten.”
Arthur wanted to brush that dream off. Some part of him wanted to act as everyone around Morgana had always been encouraged to act. They weren’t supposed to make her terror worse by believing in it. He trusted Gaius so he had never really stopped to think about how that would make her feel or the consequences if she really was telling the truth. Now though, with her finally confronting him with all of this, it seemed wrong to brush her aside yet again. He couldn’t risk it. “And so?”
Morgana turned back around to face him and stared into his eyes so unflinchingly he was powerless to look away from her, “Merlin was in a courtyard of a crumbling castle.” She explained quietly, “There was a woman there, in a red dress. She looked so smug. He called her Nimueh. He was demanding something from her and… and…”
Arthur straightened, the mention of Merlin made it all seem more real. “And what, Morgana?” He demanded when she stopped talking.
“She threw fire at him and he fell.” Morgana finished, watching Arthur carefully.
Now it was her eyes that held pity and he didn’t want to think about why. “And then what?”
“She laughed and Merlin didn’t move.” Morgana shrugged helplessly. “I woke up. I don’t know what happens next, but Arthur, I think…”
All at once, he was tired of her and her dreams. She was playing games, yet again. “If the next words out of your mouth aren’t ‘I think I’m having silly nightmares’ then I don’t want to hear them.” He said, crossing his room to stare out the window again. Merlin was absolutely fine. He had seen his manservant not too long ago and the fact that he wasn’t buzzing around the room like usual meant nothing special. Morgana was going too far.
“What if I’m not having silly dreams, Arthur? What if Merlin is really going to die?” She called at his back, “Don’t you want to save him?”
“There’s nothing to save him from, Morgana.” Arthur answered shortly.
Morgana made a disgusted noise from behind him. “And you won’t even check? You’re so sure I’m wrong that you’d risk Merlin’s life?”
Arthur’s patience snapped and he turned back to face her, “Let’s go then!” He said, grabbing her wrist before she could pull it away again. “Let’s go and tell Merlin that a woman in a red dress is going to hurl fire at him and he’ll die.”
Morgana didn’t answer but she let him pull her down the corridors and up the stairs to Gaius’s tower. She even seemed to be pulling him some of the way.
Arthur banged the door to Gaius’ chambers open without knocking, permissible to only the King’s children. “Merlin!”
No one came out until he called again and even then it was only Gwen.
“Guinevere?” Morgana asked, surprised.
Gwen nodded and curtseyed absentmindedly. She looked tired and worn with worry. “Quiet, milord, please.” She looked back to what Arthur knew to be Merlin’s room.
“What, you don’t want me to wake Merlin after you tucked him in?” Arthur asked, glancing behind her waiting for his bumbling servant to walk out and give his normal rambling explanation for whatever he and Gwen had been doing. In this particular case Arthur would believe that Merlin wasn’t doing the obvious with Gwen because that would be absolutely laughable. He tried to make himself believe it was because Gwen was obviously too pretty for Merlin but even in his own head it felt like a disloyal lie.
Gwen seemed to only be able to hold back from rolling her eyes because he was the prince. It was a frustrating thing to know. “No, Merlin’s mother is here. She’s horribly ill. Gaius has no idea what’s wrong but she’s fading quickly. She’s sleeping in Merlin’s room.”
Morgana squeezed the hand that she was still holding. “Hunith is ill?”
The servant glanced back at Merlin’s door, “Hunith is dying.” Gwen corrected gently.
Arthur felt something in his chest tense. Merlin had no father and clearly adored his mother. He himself knew the fear that a child who had already lost a parent felt for the remaining one and his bond to Uther was clearly not as close and affectionate as Merlin and Hunith’s. Merlin would be devastated if she died. “Where is Merlin?” He asked, because it was clear he wasn’t there and Arthur couldn’t imagine him being anywhere else if his mother was truly dying.
“He was very upset and he and Gaius were arguing about something. Merlin left, I don’t know where, but I haven’t seen Gaius in even longer.” Gwen answered. Beside Arthur, Morgana stiffened.
That same feeling from before, that something was building if only Arthur was clever enough to figure it all out, returned and Arthur felt it coiling around his spine, “You have no idea where either one is?” Arthur pushed her again.
Gwen shook her head, “No, but I hope Merlin is back soon.”
A low moan came from Merlin’s room and Gwen turned but stopped to address them both, “You have to find Merlin,” She whispered before closing her eyes and shaking her head, “Well, you don’t have to do anything, sire, but…”
Morgana cut her maid off, “Arthur, we have to find Merlin.”
Another moan from Merlin’s room sent Gwen rushing back, barely pausing to flash Morgana a grateful smile.
Arthur felt a grim swell of dread inside of him. Merlin had gone and done something stupid to save his mother obviously. Adding in Morgana’s dream and it suddenly seemed that she was telling the truth. “Where was he in your dream?”
“I would know it if I saw it…” Morgana said, her face falling when their limitations became obvious.
“Search the room,” Arthur ordered, glancing around to do the same. The stacks of books, papers and bizarre implements gave Arthur little confidence that they would find something to point them in the right direction but he had to try. The both worked quickly, sifting through Gaius’ hoard of healing materials.
“Arthur!” Morgana called and he was by her side instantly.
She held up a map, “This was right on top of the stack. Someone must have used it recently.”
He glanced over it, “If Merlin needed a map to find wherever he is, wouldn’t he take it with him?”
“What if he’s been before and was just, I don’t know, refreshing his memory or something?” Morgana suggested. “He looked familiar with the surroundings… he didn’t need to look for that woman, she was right where he was heading but he wasn’t surprised.”
Arthur’s eyes scanned over all of the written locations on the map but only one caught his eye.
The Isle of the Blessed.
His father had warned him about it years ago, as a place suspected of sorcery. He’d never had cause to go there but the Isle of the Blessed was known to him. “Was he on an island?” He asked with dread.
Morgana’s eyes focused somewhere beyond him, clearly trying to shift through the chaotic mesh of scenes in her dream. “Sea air… he was in a boat…” She whispered, “This must be it.”
Of all the places for Merlin to make a stupid, desperate gamble… Still, Arthur was responsible for Merlin and so he would be the one to go.
He nodded sharply, “Then this is where I’ll go.”
“Where we’ll go.” Morgana corrected. Before he could protest as she knew he would, she pressed on in a rush, “You’re still injured and I will not let you go alone. Besides, I’ll know if we’re on the right track, you need backup and you need me.”
He should have fought harder but his side still throbbed and her whole face was determined. There was something else, though, obvious in her eyes. The dreams frightened her constantly and everyone close to her knew it. He could see how desperately she wanted to be able to do something about the dreams that plagued her. Even if it was dangerous, he could see that she wouldn’t take no for an answer not just for Arthur or Merlin but for herself.
He couldn’t deny her that.
“Go change into something less frilly quickly. I have a sword you can borrow. We’re leaving.”
When they reached the shore and found a boat, Arthur had prepared himself to argue with Morgana about staying behind. She had come this far, there was no need to go across to the Isle and risk her life when Arthur could handle what came next himself. Of course he would spare no detail when he got back, because he fully understood how desperately she needed to know if what she had dreamt was real.
He hadn’t even gotten a chance to argue about it, though. He sat in the boat and nothing happened, no movement, no oars to use, nothing. It wasn’t until Morgana sat down, determined and glaring, that the boat moved. Someone wanted them both and for the first time, Arthur had to consider that somehow it was all a trap. Even if Morgana’s dream hadn’t spurred him to find Merlin, there were other ways to get his attention and whoever the woman harming Merlin was, she could have planned for his arrival.
It didn’t matter though, because he wasn’t leaving Merlin to die. He could only hope that Morgana’s dream had given them enough time to find Merlin before his idiot found his death.
When the boat left them on the Isle, Arthur could clearly make out voices. Strange words in a woman’s voice echoed all around the ruined castle. Magic words said with purpose. Arthur gripped his sword and made Morgana creep behind him.
Merlin! His idiotic servant was interrupting a magical chant with no weapons that Arthur knew of, no clear plan and obviously no sense of stealth.
The worked their way through the old halls of the ruins, Morgana pulling Arthur’s arm when he nearly went what was apparently the wrong way. All the while, they listened to the shouted words coming from the center of the castle.
“Back again so soon, Warlock?”
“What have you done?”
The words were quieter but they were closer. Arthur couldn’t understand what she meant by Warlock but behind him Morgana gasped. Was there someone else in the clearing that she’d forgotten about?
“Your mother is safe. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
At least that made sense, Arthur decided. Merlin would go headlong into a dangerous and dumb quest for someone he cared about with little thought to strategy or personal safety.
“Have you killed him?”
“It was his wish.”
“I bid my life for Arthur’s! Not my mothers! Not Gaius’!”
Arthur stopped dead. The pieces were falling together in a sickening picture. No one survived the bite of a questing beast… Merlin’s absence and Gaius’ evasive answers… Hunith’s sudden, awful illness…
“The old religion does not care who lives and who dies! Only that the balance of the world is restored. To save a life, a life must be taken. Gaius knew this.”
“It is not the old religion that has done this. It is you.”
“Come now, we are too valuable to each other to be enemies.”
“No! I am nothing like you!”
“With my help, Arthur will become King!”
“I will make Arthur King but you will never see that day. Astrice!”
The roar of flames brought Arthur out of his horrified stupor. With every new word he heard, the picture was getting clearer. Merlin’s voice calling out some sort of flame spell made a terrible sort of sense. He could not see, though, how his kind to a fault and often bumbling servant could be an evil sorcerer. Especially if all of the strange, lucky coincidences he’d had in battle over the last few months could at least partly be attributed to Merlin.
Then there was Merlin’s deal to save him from the questing beast… that was exactly the sort of thing that Merlin would do for him but not the sort of thing that a magic user determined to bring down Camelot would do.
There were two options: One that his father was right and all magic was evil, even Merlin, and that he would have to kill his servant and, though it felt silly to admit it, his best friend.
Or, and that or was a treasonous and un-filial word to even think, magic was far more complicated than his father made it out to be and Merlin was not evil. Both answers would turn him inside out, so he hardly knew which one he could hope for.
He couldn’t make a decision now though, not with Morgana at his back and a witch threatening all of them not fifty feet away.
Whatever Merlin had done to the woman with flames, it clearly hadn’t done much. No surprise there, Arthur thought with a comfortingly familiar roll of his eyes, Merlin wasn’t hugely competent with magic either.
“Your childish tricks are useless against me, Merlin! I am a priestess of the old religion. Forbearne! Akwele!
The crash and flames made Arthur and Morgana move again, determined to help against a foe that Merlin clearly had no idea how to kill.
This was, luckily for Merlin, one of Arthur’s specialties.
“You too are a creature of the old religion. You should join me.”
“You think I would join forces with such a selfish and cruel magic? Never.”
“So be it.”
That heartened Arthur greatly. Even if Merlin’s morality was in question, the woman was unquestionably evil. That Merlin wouldn’t join her, even to save himself, was a mark in his favor. Arthur charged into the courtyard, ready to lend Merlin a hand but the woman was standing right over him and they were across the field.
The fire hit Merlin in the center of his chest, throwing him back and making his shirt smolder. As she moved to turn, he swung his sword at the ready.
“Pity. Together we could have ruled the world.”
Merlin stood, shakily, and lifted his hand towards the woman. “You should not have killed my friend.”
Every sorcerer Arthur had ever had the misfortune of meeting used words to command magic. Merlin had and even this supposed high priestess had used incantation to wield her spells. Whatever Merlin did now, he did with his hands and no words. Arthur didn’t know what that meant but it seemed important.
Before he could step in to help, Merlin had called down some sort of lightning from the sky itself. The woman, whoever she was, was struck and blown to ribbons, right in front of Arthur’s eyes. He could not reconcile such power with his Merlin.
For a long moment, no one moved, even as the pieces of the witch floated down to the ground. Arthur had been behind her and once she was gone, Merlin could see him and Morgana clearly.
Merlin glanced between Arthur and Gaius and then back to Arthur before his face crumbled. Really, that was all Arthur needed.
“See to Gaius,” He directed Morgana, who didn’t hesitate to run to the man they’d known their whole lives.
Arthur walked more slowly to Merlin, who didn’t move. The younger man bowed his head and let his hand drop to his side, as if unwilling to fight Arthur. He probably wasn’t. It twisted Arthur’s heart, that Merlin instantly assumed he was there to kill him and that he wouldn’t even defend himself.
Merlin let out a shuddering breath, “I had to save you from the questing beast’s bite. I had to, Arthur, it’s my destiny to protect you.”
Arthur was close to him then, close enough to touch. He did, no longer considering Merlin a threat of any kind. “Says who?” He asked, lifting Merlin’s face with a gentle hand under his chin.
“Dragons, Druids, magic itself. You’re going to be the greatest King there ever was or will be and it’s my job to help you.” Merlin explained quickly, as though if he didn’t get the words out fast enough he would never be able to say them. If Arthur was his father, that might have been true. It was a sick thought, knowing that his father would have killed Merlin by now, or at least had his execution scheduled. Arthur wasn’t going to be rash like that. He needed to hear this, as desperately as Merlin needed to say it. “Arthur, I’ve never used my magic to hurt anyone who hasn’t already made a move against you. I never will, I swear. You have to believe that I would never hurt you. Magic isn’t inherently evil, it’s like your sword… only as harmful as the one wielding it wishes it to be.”
The comparison had been made to him before and he’d thought about it himself, especially when he’d discovered that Gaius had used magic for healing in the past. “Ignoring that you’ve apparently spoken to Dragons and Druids, what made you turn to magic to do whatever you think is necessary for… our destiny?”
Merlin shook his head, tears still steadily leaking out of his eyes. “I was born with it.”
That made sense in a strange sort of Merlin-way. “Why couldn’t you use it to heal me?” Arthur asked, “Why all of this?”
“I tried, it didn’t work. This was the only way. A life for a life and I chose to give mine but the magic tried to take my mother instead.” Merlin explained. “So I came back to make it right.”
“Your death wouldn’t be right.” Arthur protested immediately. The words felt right. Finally, the feeling that had been slowly torturing Arthur, prodding him along to this moment, eased.
“I quite agree.” Came from behind them.
Merlin’s smile was one of pure relief. Arthur turned to see Gaius alive and leaning heavily on Morgana, who was smiling just as widely.
Arthur looked between the three of them and let out a strangely shaky breath of relief. He didn’t know what came next but as long as he hadn’t failed to keep the three of them safe, they had time to figure it out.
The journey back from the Isle of the Blessed was a near silent one. Gaius dozed in the saddle, perhaps even on purpose, and Merlin stubbornly refused to meet Arthur’s eyes the whole way. Morgana shot Arthur dirty, pointed looks but he didn’t break the silence either.
He still had a lot to think about. Merlin’s brief explanation hardly settled any of the questions that were spinning in his head. Certainly Merlin wasn’t evil and he’d been using his magic for good, for Arthur, but switching off suspicion and fear long-held was hard. Inevitably, faces of sorcerers that he’d brought to his father for execution plagued him. If Merlin was good… could they have been?
The answer had always been there but never before had he allowed himself to truly feel shame over his actions. No doubt some of those people were the foul creatures he’d believed them to be but some of them were just like Merlin, born with a power that their kingdom had condemned and trying to do the best they could with it.
“Tell us what you’re thinking about.” Morgana demanded. Merlin jerked towards Arthur in his saddle, as though his words were to be a death sentence. Arthur smiled grimly, if only he could get such attention out of his manservant when he wasn’t terrified for his life.
They had enough to worry about, they didn’t need to know that Arthur had been contemplating the tearful face of a young girl he’d arrested once. “That apparently I have two magic-users to hide from my father.”
Morgana stiffened, “Gaius?”
“I’m fairly certain that he knows Gaius once did some magical healing dabbling and he’s chosen to turn a blind eye. I meant you, my Lady of Prophetic Dreams.” Arthur teased with a gentle smile. He could tell that Morgana was still frightened of her dreams, even though they’d gone from terrifying nuisance to terrifyingly helpful.
“I’d been trying to make you less scared about being a seer but I didn’t see how I could without letting on about what I am.” Merlin offered quietly.
Morgana’s face hardened but Arthur wasn’t sure if that was against him for putting it into words or Merlin for suspecting and not helping.
That wouldn’t do.
“All right,” Arthur decided, using the same voice he relayed orders to his knights with, “From here on out, we start fresh and honestly. When we get back to the castle, we’re having a very open, very long discussion about whatever powers you two have. No secrets any longer. After that, we will continue to be very open, with each other only, about magic and the like. Clearly you both have a lot of control to learn. After we complete this we will move forward as a unit dedicated to protecting ourselves and Camelot. Am I very clear?” He asked, with a glance to the side.
Instantly, Arthur felt a weight lift from his shoulders. The decision was made and it felt so stunningly right.
Merlin, bless his big eared face, smiled widely as though Arthur had given him an amazing gift. Morgana’s face was still closed off but he could see that the prospect of instruction and companionship, of true help, was a comfort to her.
Arthur sat in his chair next to the window, awake because his mind was still churning. Merlin and Morgana were asleep in his bed, where he’d purposefully put them, curled up together. He hadn’t wanted to let them out of his sight quite yet, even if Morgana’s rage had subsided with the new camaraderie she’d gained from Merlin and Merlin could apparently defend himself better than Arthur had realized.
The conversation had lasted hours into the night. It would probably only be a couple more before the sun rose and the day began. Gwen had briefly stopped by to tell Merlin his mother was comfortably resting and that Gaius was sure she would survive. She’d also brought supplies from Gaius to take care of the charred hole into his shirt that led to a red, somewhat raw looking burn. After that, Arthur had ordered no one else was to disturb them.
Some things he’d learned were not surprising, like Morgana’s desperate need for answers. Her alternating hatred and love for Uther, however, was a bit of a shock. She loved him and loathed him, often at the same moment. Arthur wasn’t sure how one person could have so much feeling inside of them and not explode.
Merlin turned out to be less of a surprise. Certainly the idea that his servant, his idiotic clumsy Merlin, could be a powerful warlock was something to get used to but once he did the rest of it fell into a place with relaxing ease. Over the time he had known Merlin, the boy’s dedication to him was obvious if confusing. That Arthur was guaranteed to have that devotion was fitting and that their names would go down in history together was… right.
While all of that was a comfort, it was obvious that both Merlin and Morgana had a lot to learn. They were not all-powerful and, if Uther had taught him anything about magic, it was that they were still mortal and still easy to kill. If his father found out about them, even Morgana, they would be condemned to death. Merlin would probably be burned to death and Morgana could hope for little better.
He would not let that happen.
Arthur stood from his chair and walked over to his bed. Merlin and Morgana were tangled together, Morgana’s head on his shoulder and her arm around his waist. Merlin turned his face into her hair to hide but Arthur could still see that his face had finally relaxed from the worried, anxious frown he’d had the entire journey home.
“What keeps you from your bed?” Morgana whispered, her eyes still closed, “A servant boy or a woman who is not your wife?”
Arthur laughed, though he hardly felt in a happy sort of mood. He sat down on the side of his own bed. “Neither is much of a problem for me. I was just thinking.”
“About?” She asked mildly. Even with her studied casualness, he could see what she was really questioning: Have you changed your mind already? Will you condemn us to burn? Will you betray me? Morgana had always been an untrusting thing.
He leaned his back against the post of his bed. “A lot of things. It’s a lot to take in.”
“You seemed positively enraptured when Merlin told you all of the things he’s done.” She commented, “Not scared at all.”
“I’m not scared!” He protested. He could see that wasn’t the thing to say though and it was a lie as well. “Well,” He amended, “Not of his magic.”
“Of what then?” Morgana asked.
He could brush it off but they had given him so much trust and so many of their secrets, he figured he owed her his actual thoughts. “Scared that those I condemned to death were not all the evil that Uther said they were, scared that my actions will keep this war between Camelot and Magic burning for too long, scared that I will not be enough to keep you and Merlin safe, scared that all of this makes me a terrible son…”
Morgana looked sympathetic in a way that she rarely did. Just like Arthur, she tended to see her life first and her interests as right. He was growing out of it, Merlin and growing responsibilities getting most of the credit, but she hadn’t really. Sometimes he thought she would and this was one of those times.
“Arthur, it will be your actions as King that will prove your worth to everyone, not just sorcerers or Druids. And as for your father…” Morgana trailed off when Arthur turned his head away. She sat up then, pulling away from Merlin. “Sometimes I hate Uther and sometimes I love him like the father he has been to be for years. It scares me how much hate I feel for him but I truly believe, even when I hate him, that he loves you. Above all else he wants you to be a good man and a good King.”
“It hardly ever seems so.” Arthur admitted. “Magic is almost always his first concern.”
“You didn’t see him when we brought you back after the questing beast bit you.” Merlin’s sleepy voice came from behind Morgana.
Merlin sat up in Arthur’s bed, rubbing his hand over his eyes and through his hopelessly messy hair. Arthur saw an affectionate look on Morgana’s face that few beings ever got credit for. He wondered what that meant.
“He was practically sobbing over you. He wanted to carry you to your room himself but he collapsed in grief halfway there and the knights carried you the rest.” Merlin revealed, his voice catching a little. It couldn’t have been easy for him either. Knowing that so many depended on and cared for him wouldn’t stop Arthur from riding out to protect Camelot but it would make him fight that much harder to return. When Merlin looked a little ashamed because Arthur hadn’t answered, the Prince slid down the bed to lay beside Merlin. Morgana laid back down as well, curling back around Merlin on the other side.
Arthur draped his arm over Merlin’s waist and across to rest his hand on Morgana’s hip, a breech of protocol both ways but he didn’t much care by then. “How’s your chest?” He whispered to Merlin.
Merlin shifted between them, “Not so bad… aches a little.”
“Did Gaius’ salve help at all?” Arthur asked, concerned in spite of himself.
Merlin nodded, “Yeah,” He answered, his voice thick with sleep again.
Morgana’s eyes darted between them in the darkness, “Could you…” She whispered, glancing at Arthur again, “Could you heal it yourself?”
Arthur narrowed his eyes, not at the prospect of Merlin doing magic but at the idea that he could have saved himself pain but did not.
“Don’t think it works like that,” Merlin answered, “I’d need a spell and I don’t know if Nimueh’s magic would interfere. Safer not to, I think.”
That was slightly annoying. The one bit of magic that Arthur had never quite been able to agree with his father on was that of healing. He didn’t see how a desperate mother turning to magic to heal her sick baby when nothing else had worked could be considered evil. He’d disagreed with his father fervently after a woman was sentenced to death for doing such a thing. If Merlin could heal someone with his magic, could heal himself with his magic, then Arthur would welcome it.
How quickly his opinion was changing. Or perhaps it wasn’t changing so much as finally waking up.
It took nearly a week before his father was willing to be reasonable again after Arthur’s miraculous recovery from the bite of a beast that usually meant certain death. Uther insisted that Arthur remain if not in bed, then in his room resting. He was not to train the knights or patrol at all. Since Arthur could hardly explain that he was completely well again because of a cup from the old religion, he was stuck grudgingly going along with what Uther wanted.
The only good thing that came of it was the opportunity to hole up his room with Merlin and Morgana.
It had taken a few days of pleading on Morgana’s part but Merlin had finally smuggled his magic book into Arthur’s room to let her look over.
“Can you do all of these?” She asked, flipping through the pages and silently mouthing some of the spells. Arthur was faintly uncomfortable, some of the illustrations looked to be quite wicked indeed, but it was Merlin’s book and Merlin’s magic so he kept himself calm. It also helped that Merlin was nervously glancing at him every so often waiting for a harsh word so Arthur was determined not to give any.
Merlin shrugged next to Morgana, “Probably but I haven’t tried most of them.”
Morgana flipped a page and got a wicked look on her face, “A lot of these are love spells.”
Grinning, Merlin nodded, “I noticed that too. I figured there would be a lot but it’s kind of unreal how many there are.”
“Have you tried any?” Morgana asked playfully.
“No!” Merlin protested, glancing at Arthur with a blush. “Doesn’t seem right.”
“I agree,” Arthur said from his splayed slouch in his chair. “Who needs love spells?”
“Cocky princes who have personality disorders?” Morgana suggested with a sidelong glance.
Merlin grinned again, “Prats with swords?”
Arthur carefully kicked his foot against Merlin’s shoulder, knocking him down from his crouch next to Morgana. “Big-eared serving boys with mush for brains?”
“Them too.” Merlin agreed.
Morgana cocked an eyebrow. “You should show us how one works. Arthur would volunteer.”
“Arthur would not volunteer!” The Prince in question protested. Merlin laughed and Arthur sent him a dark glare.
“I wouldn’t do that anyway.” Merlin said with a gentle grin. They were still joking, Arthur was about half sure of it, but Merlin still seemed intent on showing Arthur that he meant no evil with his magic.
Arthur didn’t like it, that Merlin believed so little of Arthur’s loyalty to him when Merlin had been so very loyal to Arthur. It would take time to convince him otherwise but not time spent tiptoeing around his power. “Show us something else then.” The words were out of his mouth before he’d even really considered the request.
Morgana looked between them, pleased and eager. Merlin looked surprised.
It seemed wrong that their days together hadn’t yet included any actual magic from either of them. Morgana hadn’t suffered a dream and Merlin hadn’t done a single spell. They hadn’t yet moved into the training portion of Arthur’s plan, mostly because he still felt they needed more time to learn to truly trust each other.
Perhaps this was the next step they needed.
Merlin’s surprise slowly shifted. Arthur waited for the fear to fill Merlin’s eyes and for the sting that he would feel because of it. Instead, he was slow to realize, Merlin looked excited to show off for them.
He held his hand out towards the roaring fire they were clustered around and his eyes flashed their distracting gold. So distracting that Arthur didn’t notice what his magic had done until Morgana’s gasp drew his attention to the flames.
A dragon made of flame and Merlin’s magic.
Arthur watched the elegant figure flap its wings and move in flight. He had never seen anything like it before.
“That’s wonderful, Merlin.” Morgana breathed out. She reached her hand out, fearless in a way that Arthur wouldn’t have even considered.
The dragon sinuously turned to her and its tail, complete with tiny scales made of embers, wrapped gently around one of her fingers. She gasped, “It’s only warm. It… it feels like you, Merlin.”
“It sort of is.” Merlin shrugged. His hand was still outstretched, carefully guiding his flame dragon to nuzzle against Morgana’s palm.
“Feel it, Arthur.” Morgana said without taking her eyes from the dragon.
Arthur leaned forward before he had even consciously made the decision. He reached one hand out and brushed a finger down the dragon’s back. It felt like how he had assumed flames felt when he was a child who didn’t know better. Ethereal, soft and warm. Not at all like the truth.
And Morgana was right, there was something inside of the dragon that felt undeniably like Merlin. He couldn’t figure out what, not even when the dragon’s wing brushed over his wrist.
He managed to tear his eyes away from the sight to see Merlin’s lips twisting even as his gold eyes stayed on the dragon. Arthur pulled his hand back, “Is it hurting you?” He asked, alarmed.
Morgana turned around, her red lips turned down in a worried frown. “Merlin, what’s wrong?” She asked when she saw the same look on his face that Arthur had.
“Nothing,” He answered. Before Arthur could press, Merlin shook his head, “Really nothing.”
“Your face doesn’t say nothing.” Morgana said gently. She pulled her hand away from the dragon as it faded into nothingness and ran it down Merlin’s cheek. “No secrets,” She whispered their new promise.
The words did the trick. Arthur wondered if they would ever stop being able to say that to each other and getting such an immediate response. He hoped not.
“I just never thought this would happen. Not even the Great Dragon believes me.” Merlin answered quietly. He ducked his head down, as though ashamed of the emotion on his face. Arthur understood that the emotion was some combination of happiness and relief, now that Merlin had sort of explained, so he didn’t dare make fun of him for being such a girl about it.
“And what did this Great Dragon say?” Morgana asked.
“I told him about… all of this, about us.” Merlin said.
Such a small word for such a powerful thing.
Merlin glanced up at the two of them, “He says we’ve changed things. The path that we were going to tread. I think that’s a good thing. I think he’s shocked.”
There was something in his eyes, especially how they lingered on Morgana, that made Arthur inclined to believe it was a good deviation as well. He traded looks with his prophet foster-sister and saw the same conclusion in her own eyes.
“Perhaps we should meet this Great Dragon of yours.” Morgana suggested.
Something inside of Arthur balked at the thought but even then he wanted to go through with it. If this dragon actually knew the future he could be a great resource.
“I’m not sure how he’d feel about that.” Merlin said with a soft laugh. “He’s not fond of either of you.”
Arthur and Morgana laughed with Merlin but shared another loaded look.
“I could understand why he doesn’t like me,” Arthur said slowly, “Uther’s son and all, but what’s his problem with Morgana?”
Merlin stopped laughing abruptly, aware of the trick that he had stumbled into. “I don’t know.” Morgana opened her mouth, no doubt to repeat their own spell, and Merlin cut her off, “I really don’t. Not exactly. He told me that you have power as well, though, and that I shouldn’t trust you or help you. He thinks… well, he says you’re going to be an enemy.”
Morgana flinched back. “I wouldn’t!” She protested.
The words were weak. Arthur had known her too long not to see it. The truth was, they could all see what had been previously destined to happen. Merlin, keeping secrets and unable to help her. Arthur, digging in the same knife in Morgana’s back as Uther did every day, both of them unaware of the hurt they were causing. Morgana, afraid and angry and lashing out. The three of them turned against each other. Merlin and Arthur united in secrets but unwilling to leave each other behind and Morgana on the other side from them, twisted and alone.
“But the Great Dragon said we’ve changed things?” Arthur pressed when Morgana and Merlin seemed unable to speak.
Merlin nodded quickly. He reached out and caught the sleeve of Morgana’s dress in his fingers, “He did. I think now that we’re together like this, it won’t happen.”
Morgana didn’t shake Merlin’s hand away and Arthur counted it as a victory.
Arthur slid out of his chair to sit on the floor beside the two of them. Merlin might not have been comfortable enough to reach out and touch Morgana’s skin but Arthur was. He reached for her hand and found it to be cold, “Morgana, there are so many paths we could have tread away from each other. What if I found out the truth and decided I hated the both of you? What if Merlin got so tired of how I treated magic that he came to hate me?”
“But that’s not what the Dragon said would happen!” Morgana hissed, “Only me. Only I would be your enemy. Not you hating Merlin and I, not Merlin angry with you… just me, Arthur. Just that I would be the enemy of Camelot.”
“I think Camelot’s got a lot of enemies, no matter how you look at it,” Arthur joked quietly. “The point is,” He said more seriously, “We all have the potential to let hurt turn us from each other. No secrets turned us from a dark path and no secrets will keep us off it.”
He spoke as earnestly as he could. To his right, Merlin tugged her sleeve to get her attention. Morgana looked at him a little tearfully. “Arthur’s right. We’ve set a new future in motion. If we trust each other, we can stay on it.”
Morgana looked between their determined faces and Arthur saw the last bit of hesitance in her melt away. He relaxed too. Once Morgana gave herself to something, she did it with everything in her. “All right, I believe you. I… I trust you. The both of you.”
Arthur didn’t know what path they had been destined to walk before. He wasn’t entirely sure he cared to find out in any great detail. It didn’t really matter to him. As long as he had Merlin and Morgana at his side, he could build his kingdom up from the ashes his father was turning it into. A new future, different than even the one he had imagined only weeks ago, spread out before him. It was golden and just and loving and Arthur felt unworthy of it. He would work harder, he would be the King such a Camelot deserved.
He would be a King that they deserved.