The young tall countertenor tumbled out of the cab, almost forgot his music, which he didn't need anyway. His music books kept his hands from wandering. At least one hand. With the other, he tried to smooth his clotted black hair in nervous gestures. He tripped almost over his own long legs, running to the impressive Camelot Music Hall, knowing he was late. At the artist's entry, he stumbled into an even taller man, tall as a basketball player, with the look of that of a football player. "Ho, ho, young man', Percival shouted, "where do you think you are going?" He held him in a firm grip, looked at him with a curious expression and added; "Mr blue-eye?." "So sorry", he mumbled, "I er, I am late for the recording of..." "Ah, you must be Mr Emrys hm? Nice! Mr conductor is not particularly fond of divas keeping him waiting. But, I'll sneak you in, since my friend Gwaine seems to like you"
Merlin followed the handsome caretaker into the basement and up to the scenes. Gwaine played bass in the orchestra and in his free time he accompanied Merlin as a jazz singer. During the last year, since Merlins return to London, they had become good friends. They were greeted upstairs by a rumble of voices and instruments being tuned up. Merlin thanked Percival and ducked for the first row, unnoticed he hoped, to meet his friend Gwen, first violinist of the Albion Orchestra. She rolled her eyes to him for being late, as always, but hugged him in a warm motherly way. "You can do this", she whispered. "I know", he sighed, "I know, if only my body would believe it too!" She showed him his music stand and the technician adjusted the microphones. He waved to Gaius, his uncle, who was standing in the technician stand. Normally he played the clarinet but had no role in this recording. He was here because he was responsible for the condition of the instruments of all members of the orchestra. Merlin remembered spending a lot of his childhood vacations in his workplace in the basement. Slowly the noise went down and fell complete silent the moment their conductor energetically jumped to his central position. He looked at his orchestra members one by one and stopped with one eyebrow raised at Merlin. "Who the hell are you, young man", Arthur Pendragon shouted.
Merlin blushed and stuttered something when he looked at the non-worldly handsome conductor, his blond hair a mess, his gorgeous blue eyes staring at him. Suddenly he felt his magic tingling under his skin. He could only think that he wanted to kiss those lips. Gwen came to his rescue; "He is your stand-in since your soloist couldn't make it today. I told you about him. He is my good friend Merlin". "Ah. Oh, er, yes, of course", he grunted. "Well, er, welcome, I think." The intense stare continued. Merlin started to feel more uncomfortable if that was even possible. "Merlin", Arthur finally said, "there better be some magic in your voice then. Never heard of you and we do not have much time to practice, so you better be good at it". That was just all Merlin needed to lose what little was left of his self-confidence. "Prat", he mumbled. To his utter shock, his microphone was on. A somewhat awkward silence fell, some members of the orchestra coughed. Merlin blushed again and hoped the earth would open and swallow him now. Arthur Pendragon roared with laughter, to his surprise and relief. "I heard that. You idiot." Merlin sighed, hoped it all would be over soon and tried to concentrate on his breath. He fumbled with his ear monitor. The song they were about to record, Eternal source of light, composed by Handel was quite restraining and took good breath control. He knew it by heart. The only reason he was happy to have his music with him was to avoid looking at that Pendragon conductor. He hated him already. Clearly, the rumours were true. And yet, he couldn't not look at him. Handsome beyond belief he felt he already was head over heels. He had to put those thoughts, those feelings away right here and right now to be able to give some professional performance. Or be filed forever in the dungeons of the Pendragons as 'not good enough'.
He still felt his magics reassuring presence through his body and he surrendered, as always completely to the music. His voice was clear from the first note, pure, pristine. Immaculate and strong. Once he was singing he forgot the world around him, comfortable and confident.
His eyes still closed when the last note faded. It kept silent. Then members of the orchestra cheered over his performance. He had not expected it. Even Arthur nodded. "Okay, so you CAN sing. That's good. How did you like it yourself?"
"Fine, I think." His professional confidence took over. "Only I would like it a little bit slower and I feel I want to stand next to the trumpeter as to me this piece is kind of a duet for the singer and the trumpet." Arthur raised his eyebrows. Gaius stared at him in surprise. Gwen smiled kind of proud and looked at Arthur. "I was under the belief I was conducting here", he said bluntly, "but if you want to take over on your first day it is fine by me." They stared at each other, for a long time like primates over territory.
"You're the one who asked how I liked it myself", Merlin snapped, shrugging, still staring back. "Yes. Right." Arthur was the first to blink. "Will, Gwen, arrange it as his young master said." There was a hustle of noise when their places were rearranged in the orchestra. "Must you really be that stubborn?" Gaius asked his nephew.
Merlin smiled faintly to Gaius. "What did you think? I'd change overnight?" His uncle sighed and responded: "I love you too, but keeping a bit low profile would make things easier for you."
All this time Arthur's look followed every move he made, although he was making conversations with his musicians and giving directions every now and then. Merlin could feel his eyes as if he was actually touching him. He wondered if he made him angry. Being a world-famous conductor, dominant by nature and nurture, and a Pendragon on top of it, he might not be used to a soloist speaking up to him, although he would have to put up with diva-behaviour every now and then.
Little did he care. He only wanted to sing on his own conditions. Although gifted with the most beautiful voice he still was not known out of London because of his behaviour. And he did not mind. He sang in a few jazz clubs to pay the bills, and he loved doing it, especially since he met Gwaine, the sympathetic and gifted bass player, who also had a beautiful voice. Every now and then he had a part in the well-known oratories around the holidays or easter. He was volunteering in summer music schools and did singing projects at the conservatory. Quite happy with his life, his friends Gwen, Will and Gwaine, he lived with his uncle Gaius in a nice spacious Kensington house. Gaius who taught him everything. On Mondays and Tuesdays, he volunteered in the Kensington hospital at the children's Oncology. He was magic with kids who were sometimes deadly ill. Not only because of his well-kept secret in performing actual magic but also for his ability to really listen too and comfort the young patients.
Despite his rather outspoken beliefs on singing and performing, he sometimes longed for the big stages. Specifically longing to work with a conductor who understood his needs and his abilities. Gwen believed Arthur could be that one.
"Take two", he heard Arthur announce. He took his position, close now to the young, dark-skinned trumpeter, who introduced himself as Elyan. "Ah, you are Gwen's brother. Heard a lot about you. Nice to meet you." "Nice to meet you too. Always love a brave soloist", he winked.
The music started. Merlin looked solely at Elyan while singing, who looked back as intense. Their stare gave their performance even more soul, a real duet, pure for the love of music. Arthur took it just a little bit slower than the first take. It was over before he knew it. He felt it was perfect, never had been closer to it. A great relief came over him while he gathered his things and strolled over to Gwen. She beamed at him. "You were wonderful dear", and she kissed him on his cheek.
"Merlin", Arthur came in their direction, "In my office!" Merlin turned around, raised one eyebrow and said: "I beg your pardon?" Arthur sighed, bent his head and said; "Please? We need to talk. Now" "Kay", Merlin responded and followed him waving to Gwen en Gaius. They went silent next to each other through the long corridors to his office. "Close the door behind you", Arthur commanded upon entering the extensive luxury room. A pompous grey desk, some exotic plants, comfy chairs and one wall of only glass, looking out over London. No pictures, paintings or art. "Impressive", said Merlin. "Yeah, whatever'" Arthur sat on the corner of his desk, arms folded and browses frowned. "Are you always directing your conductor? Merlin sighed en fumbled himself in one of the comfy chairs opposite Arthur's desk. He stared at Arthur, who stared back, his jaws clenched. "Yes, I do", nodded Merlin in a soft voice, "whenever I know what I am talking about." "Ha", sneered Arthur, "Mister Know It All. Idiot. You made a fool out of me, in front of my orchestra, on your first appearance. Might as well be your last."
Merlin shrugged. "Pity". "What am I going to do with you?" Arthur said in response. "I dunno", Merlin raised his eyebrows and said without thinking: 'What you have in mind?" Arthur gasped in astonishment, till he saw the little uncertain naughty light in his eyes. "I should throw you out and never work with you again. But, you have such an extraordinary voice, I would never forgive myself if I let you go." Merlin did not say a word. People complimented him every now and then. He was used to the laurel and praise of Gwen and his mother. But this was different. Besides being a demanding, dominant prat, Arthur was a well-known conductor, extremely musically talented. He founded and funded his own Music Hall, his own orchestra and choir. He was consulted all over the world. And although he rarely accepted it, he was constantly invited to conduct the famous orchestra's around the world. This arrogant bastard of a gifted conductor seriously complimenting him made him shiver with pride. Maybe for the first time in his entire life.
"But", Arthur continued, "you have to learn how to behave."
Merlin stood up and raised his voice: "Behave? Behave! I do what I want and I say what I want about my music." "Your music?" Arthur closed in on Merlin. Fierce. "When I am conducting it is MY music, I am responsible for the interpretation. Not you, idiot. You just perform as I want you to." Merlin held his breath. He wanted to shout more to this arrogant prick and at the same time he was crushed with the handsome looks of him, even more now he was angry and so close. To close. He had to back away or kiss those angry lips. Merlin backed away, blushed by his thoughts. He turned around, leapt for the window. Always so angry when people told him what to do and how to behave. His magic buzzed with his anger.
"I could make you famous with one single signature", Arthur finally said after a long silence. Merlin turned around. His eyes locked with Arthurs.*
"I could make you lose all this with less than that", Merlin responded in a whisper and started to walk out of the office.
"Merlin", Arthur sounded still angry and arrogant but with a kind of sudden despair, Merlin could feel it. "I need your voice", he said. Merlin stopped, hesitated. Arthur threw his hands in the air. "I have worked with many soloists, many countertenors as yourself. All fine voices, professional, skilful, yet, er, they missed something. The magic I am looking for in singers. People say I am too demanding, to much a perfectionist. But I am not! Because I found my magic voice. You Merlin. You,"
Merlin rediscovered he could breathe after this, this litany. He slowly walked to the door. Standing in the door he turned back to Arthur. He gestured with his long arms and his delicate hands. "I long for a stage like yours. I long to work with someone as gifted as you, mister Pendragon. I love what you do with your orchestra. I love what you do with music. But I can only give you my magic being equals, never subordinate."
"And then I walked away", said Merlin with a weary voice to Gaius. They were seated in his cosy kitchen after they cooked dinner together. Empty plates and an almost empty bottle of wine. The April sunset reddening the walls. Gaius had an expression of love and empathy on his wrinkled face and waited some more. "I am what I am", Merlin said, "I need to love what I do with all my heart. Not being told what to do and how to do it. I simply can't."
"I know', said Gaius and touched Merlin’s arm in a parental loving way. "I know, dear boy. Your talents are your destiny as well as your burden. We will see what happens in the next few days. Maybe I can talk to Arthur?" “Don’t bother”, Merlin said pensive, “I am not a beggar.”