Arc I: Destiny's Favor
Arthur had been especially quiet lately- which was concerning to say the least. There was no banter, no teasing. Something had happened, that Merlin knew for sure, but the king seemed less than inclined to talk about it. It wasn’t for any lack of effort on Merlin’s part. He had spent the good part of yesterday evening pestering the man, only to be left empty handed with the results.
Still. Arthur didn’t seem angry with him. Usually if there was something Arthur didn’t want to talk about, he would respond to Merlin’s efforts with frustration and more chores, but this time, Arthur seemed content to change the subject in an attempt to move on.
Merlin was about to breach the conversation again when Arthur finally spoke.
“Merlin.” Arthur said seriously, gesturing towards the seat across from him at the table. “Sit down for a moment. I need to speak with you.”
Merlin merely raised an eyebrow, looking down to the shirt he had just picked up off the floor. “I’m cleaning your room.”
“That can wait until tomorrow.”
Easy for Arthur to say. Putting this off until tomorrow would only increase his workload then. Merlin sighed and made his way over to the seat anyways. Perhaps now Arthur would finally tell him what was on his mind. Or maybe he just wanted to berate him for some forgotten task. The latter seemed far more likely.
“Edwin.” Arthur began, then stopped.
Merlin furrowed his eyebrows. “Edwin?”
“Edwin.” Arthur confirmed. “You remember him? The sorcerer physician who came to Camelot to heal Morgana?”
“Ah.” Merlin nodded once, still very unsure as to where this could possibly lead. It had been years since Edwin and neither of them had ever brought it up in that time. To mention it now was… a bit more than curious.
“You spent a lot of time with him when he was here, did you not?”
“Uh.” Merlin started. “A bit, yeah.”
Arthur clasped his hands together. “Merlin. Whatever we speak of here- it will not leave this room. Anything you admit to or confess… it will not be held against you in any manner.”
If possible, Merlin’s eyebrows rose even higher. Confess? What was Arthur accusing him of? Did he… “I didn’t know what Edwin was planning. If I thought he was going to try to kill the king, I would have told you.”
“I know.” Arthur placated. “I know.”
Merlin shook his head slightly. “I don’t understand. What’s this about then?”
“I’ll get to that.” He supplied. “I just need you to tell me the truth. I don’t care if you broke the law. It was many years ago, but I need you to tell me the truth. Can you do that?”
It took Merlin a moment to close his gaping mouth. The truth about what? If this was about his magic, then why bring up Edwin of all people? After a minute, Merlin realized he still hadn’t answered the question. “Yes.” He cleared his throat, nerves beginning to overwhelm him. “Yes, I can…”
“Good.” Arthur replied, unconcerned. “Were you aware that Edwin showed interest in having you as his apprentice once he took over Gaius’s position?”
Merlin thought back, shaking his head. “No. I don’t believe so.”
Arthur nodded. “Well, he did. Knowing what we do now about him, it was not unlikely that he had intended on teaching you magic as well.”
Merlin’s mouth opened slightly. “Oh.”
“Yes.” Arthur replied. “Now… did you know of Edwin’s magic before it was revealed to the rest of us?”
Merlin’s breathing quickened, and he didn’t know how to respond.
“Like I said.” He continued when Merlin didn’t speak. “Nothing you admit to here will be held against you. I just need the truth.”
Merlin waited another long moment before nodding slowly. “Yes… I did. But I thought he was harmless. If I knew he was behind Morgana’s illness to begin with…”
“Your intentions are not in question, Merlin.” Arthur interrupted his rambling. His voice was firm but not unkind. He didn’t appear to be upset by Merlin’s response. If anything, Merlin’s answer seemed to only confirm his prior suspicions. “I am not assuming any malice on your part. You were young. You would have been easy to manipulate. I can assure you, I never once thought you meant any harm to anyone in Camelot.”
Merlin was calmed slightly by his words.
“With that in mind…” Arthur continued. “Did Edwin ever attempt to teach you any magic?”
Merlin wasn’t quite sure what the answer was, to be honest. They never had any proper lessons or anything, but he did show him some spells. “A little, yes.”
“Did he succeed?”
That. That was the question, wasn’t it? What a roundabout way of asking? Did you succeed? All that translated to was ‘Did you use magic?’ All of Merlin’s instincts had him wanting to lie- to claim that he had never used magic in his life. It would be safer that way. Arthur didn’t need to know. Arthur would never know.
But he said he wouldn’t lie, and because of that and that alone, Merlin couldn’t bring himself to do it.
This brought a small look of surprise to Arthur’s face- as if he didn’t believe Merlin was capable of doing magic. How wrong he was.
“Edwin…” Merlin continued. “He showed me how the beetles worked- the ones he used on Morgana and Uther. He taught me the spell to bring them to life and control them. And I...” He took a breath. “I used the beetles on Uther. To reverse what Edwin had done.”
“You used magic on my father?” Arthur asked, and Merlin tensed. “You healed him?”
Merlin fought the urge to clench his eyes shut, but Arthur, once again, did not seem upset by the implications. Merlin nodded once, and Arthur’s eyes roamed over him.
“Merlin.” He began, reaching an arm towards him. Merlin flinched away without thinking, making Arthur pause. “It’s alright, Merlin. You’re not in any trouble.”
Merlin shook his head, a smile crossing his face despite the situation at hand. “I just admitted to the King of Camelot that I’ve used magic. You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little on edge.”
Arthur pulled his arm back, watching Merlin with caution before he finally spoke. “Go on home for the night. You look like you’re about to faint.” A teasing tone took over his voice towards the end, and that did more to placate Merlin than anything else had.
“What’s this about, Arthur? You can’t just leave it at that.” Merlin pleaded.
“I’ll tell you tomorrow.” Arthur promised. “Everything’s fine. Don’t worry so much.”
Merlin wanted to push it further. He wanted to give an excuse to stay. Arthur wasn’t dressed for bed. He hadn’t finished his chores. Anything to get an explanation for what was happening.
But the still remaining fear took hold, forcing him to only nod before evacuating the premise. What was this about? Did Arthur know about him? Did Arthur mean it when he said he wouldn’t be punished? Arthur wouldn’t lie to him about that, Merlin knew, but it did little to quell the anxieties.
What if Arthur fired him? Banished him? Executed him?
Merlin’s thoughts distracted him and before he knew it, he was standing in the doorway of Gaius’s chambers.
“Ah.” Gaius said upon seeing Merlin. “You’re home early. Arthur let you leave?”
Merlin nodded, not trusting himself to speak in that moment. “Gaius. I think Arthur knows.” He finally entered the room completely, shutting the door. “About me. I think he knows about me.”
Gaius set down the glass bottle of the potion he had been measuring out just moments ago, turning to look at Merlin completely. “What makes you think that?”
“He kept asking me all these questions about Edwin. He wanted to know if he had ever taught me magic.”
“And you denied it?” Gaius sighed when Merlin shook his head. “Why on Earth would you admit to such a thing?”
“He asked me to tell him the truth!” Merlin closed his eyes, slumping in a chair at the table.
“Well.” Gaius sat down next to him. “Did he give you an idea of what was going to happen next?”
“He said we would talk tomorrow, but I don’t know what that means!” Merlin gave a frustrated groan, covering his face with his hands. “I told him I used magic on his father. He didn’t seem angry, but he must have been. I don’t know what to do.”
“I suppose there isn’t much you can do besides wait and see. Unless you plan on trying to flee the city.”
“No.” Merlin shook his head. “No. Not yet. I don’t think… he said he wouldn’t punish me, but that was before I admitted to having used the ‘dark arts’ .”
“We’ll just see what the morning brings.” Gaius placed a comforting hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “Maybe things will work out for the best.”
Merlin just sighed, laying his head on his folded arms across the table. “Maybe.”
When Merlin awoke the next morning, he was half way to Arthur’s chambers with the king’s breakfast when he remembered what had occurred the night before. Even then, he wasn’t entierly sure if what he was remembering had actually happened, or if it was just some strange dream. It wouldn’t have been the first he’s ever had. The fact that Arthur was dressed and waiting for him when he arrived seemed to confirmed that it did indeed happen.
“You’re dressed.” Merlin said, placing the tray down on the table.
“Yes, Merlin.” Arthur replied as he began to walk towards the table. “How very observant of you.”
For a long moment, Merlin hoped that maybe Arthur had forgotten entirely about the conversation last night, only to be disappointed when the king gestured to the seat across from him. With a silent sigh, Merlin sat down in the empty chair.
“Have you eaten this morning?” Arthur asked, curiously off topic.
“Uh.” Merlin thought back to this morning. He had woken late and therefore had been rushed to get Arthur his meal. “No.”
“Join me, then.” Arthur nodded towards the food.
Merlin hesitated. It wasn’t terribly often that Arthur shared his meals with his servant. It wasn’t unheard of, so to say, but not common. If anything, Arthur seemed to only be delaying the inevitable. It was almost as if he was dreading the conversation as much as Merlin was, but, of course, Arthur had much less to fear from it.
“I’m aware that my father had asked Gaius on numerous occasions to perform magic despite the ban.” And they were off. “Did my father ever ask the same of you?”
Merlin shook his head, biting into a soft piece of sausage. Eating during this discussion was almost certainly a choking hazard, but that wasn’t exactly his greatest concern at the moment. “No. He didn’t know anything about me and… magic.” And if he had, he would have most certainly been killed. “But…” Merlin hesitated. If there was ever an opportunity to tell him, this was it.
“Yes?” Arthur pushed, leaning forward slightly. Merlin wasn’t sure whether he was doing it consciously or not.
“There were certain occasions where Uther had asked Gaius to do something that… that he couldn’t. He wasn’t strong enough. So… I did instead. Uther just believed it to be Gaius.”
“Can you give me an example?” Arthur looked curious more than anything else.
Merlin had to think for a moment. “Morgana. When she fell down the stairs. Uther asked Gaius to heal her, but he couldn’t. So I did instead.”
Arthur leaned back as to think about this information. “There’s one thing I don’t understand, though. If Gaius couldn’t do it, why were you able to? Surely he would have had more practice in the area than you?”
Now he had done it. “Well.” Merlin began, clearing his throat. “From what I understand… some people are just… stronger than others. Some can practice magic for years and only grasps the basics while others can learn very quickly.”
“So you’re just stronger then?”
Was this a trick question? To get him thrown in the pyre? No. Arthur said he wouldn’t. Arthur never broke his word. “...yes.”
To Merlin’s disbelief, Arthur still didn’t seem concerned in the slightest by his potential power. Even if he didn’t know the whole truth, he should still be a bit more… unsure? “Uh… very. Um. Very strong.”
“Not stronger than Morgana, though, right?”
Merlin’s eyebrows rose alarmingly. “I don’t know.” That wasn’t entierly true nor was it false. Morgana had far more opportunity to practice and use her magic openly, and that gave her the potential to be more dangerous. But as far as raw power goes, Merlin knew he trumped her. It all came down to perspective. “Arthur, please, what is this about?”
Now it was Arthur’s turn to hesitate. Merlin couldn’t help but notice how nervous he looked. Arthur never looked nervous, but here he was, sitting across from Merlin, looking incredibly uneasy.
“A few days ago,” Arthur began, placing his hands on the table. “I pondered the possibility that we may not be able to defeat Morgana without magic of our own. She’s too strong, and she has too many followers. That being said, I don't like the idea of going out and finding a sorcerer to assist us.”
“What about the old man?” Merlin asked before he could stop himself, wincing instantly.
“I considered it.” Arthur admitted. “Perhaps he was truly trying to heal my father as Gaius had said, but I can’t trust him. I need to be able to trust this person.”
That hurt slightly. Of course, Arthur didn’t know the old man was him, but the lack of trust still burned. If he knew the truth, Arthur wouldn’t trust him either.
“The solution was to have someone I already trusted learn magic.” Arthur spared Merlin a glance. “You… were one of the first people that came to mind. You live with Gaius, therefore you’ve probably had more experience with magic than anyone else I could think of. Then I remembered Edwin, and I began to wonder if maybe he had tried to teach you anything…”
Merlin froze for several seconds before squinting at Arthur across the table. “I feel like I’m definitely misunderstanding the situation here.”
Arthur sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “I really don’t think you are.”
“You want me to learn magic?”
“If the answer is no,” Arthur said firmly. “Then we will never speak of it again. We can pretend this conversation never happened. I am not ordering you to do this. I’m just… asking you to.”
“Right.” Merlin nodded once, leaning back in his chair. “Is this a test? Like… I agree to become your secret sorcerer and some guards pop out of the closet ready to drag me to the deepest reaches of the dungeon.”
Arthur raised an eyebrow. “Are you taking this seriously?”
“Yes!” Merlin tried, crossing his arms. “I’m just… covering all the ground first.”
“Well I can assure you there are no guards in my closet.” Arthur said, gesturing towards the rest of the room. “Would you care to check?”
Merlin almost considered it before he remembered exactly what he was supposed to be agreeing to. “So… if I do this, what does that mean exactly?”
“It means you’ll be given access to the few magic books we have left in the restricted section of the library. Fortunately, Geoffrey managed to hide some during the purge. You’ll begin studying and learning what you can. I’m not expecting you to be able to best Morgana. I’m just hoping for something to give us an edge or take her by surprise at the very least.”
“So is this instead of mucking out the stables?”
“ Merlin .” Arthur sighed, obviously beginning to grow frustrated by Merlin’s tactics of avoiding the question.
“Sorry. Sorry.” Merlin took in a breath. “What about afterwards, though? After we defeat Morgana. What happens then?”
“It depends.” Arthur looked relieved to be back on topic. “If we both come to the conclusion that using magic hasn’t corrupted you, then we can talk about the possibility of revoking the ban. Whether or not you continue to practice is up to you. If after using magic, you believe it to be as evil as they say, then you will receive an official pardon, and you will stop practicing.”
This could lead to the end of the ban on magic. This could be it.
“I’m trusting you, Merlin,” Arthur spoke seriously. “To be honest with me during this process. If you begin to feel the magic changing you at all, you have to tell me. You have to stop. I won’t lose you to this.”
Merlin nodded rapidly. “Of course.”
“You don’t need to give me an answer now. Take a few days to think about it.”
“I’ll do it.” How could he not? How could he refuse this?
Arthur raised an eyebrow. “You don’t want to, I don’t know, think about it a bit more? This is a big deal, Merlin.”
“I know.” Merlin said genuinely. “It’s just, I really hate mucking out the stables. I’m going to take any excuse I can to get out of it.”
Arthur stared at Merlin, his mouth gaping, his features a mix of disbelief and fondness. He shook his head slowly. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Merlin gave him a single nod. “Yes, sire.”
This was the beginning of something, and maybe, just maybe, it would lead to something great.