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Remember Remember, the Fifth of November

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Weakness had always been abhorrent to Uther. Weakness could cost him everything, his life, his kingdom. So actually admitting to weakness was something that was even worse, and thus was something he’d sworn to himself that he would never do.

Until he discovered that not admitting it could cause the same problems. He’d kept the secret of Morgana’s paternity, confiding it to Gaius only when she lay dying, and ultimately keeping it from her had led to his own overthrow and had sent his son into hiding.

The cell Morgana had gleefully consigned him to had been horrendous, and not just because of the squalid conditions. In that small space, Uther had not been able to hide from the things that he’d long refused to think of - Vivianne and the brief time they spent together, so brief that no whisper of it had ever surfaced within the court. Ygraine and Gorlois never knew, there was that much to be thankful for. But now Morgana knew. Knew that she carried Pendragon blood, knew that that same blood gave her a claim to the throne that was every bit as legitimate as her brother’s, knew that Uther had willfully kept that knowledge from her, had hidden away her parentage as though he was ashamed of it.

Yes, disaster had sprung from keeping that a secret. And disaster could spring from many of the other secrets that Uther had kept over the years. Which was why he must speak up this time, before disaster struck again. His silence had cost him one child. Perhaps breaking his silence would not cost him another.

He summoned Arthur from his bedchambers, where he had sequestered himself since Camelot had been retaken and Morgana had fled. His exhaustion and weakened physical state had prevented him from returning to the throne, leaving Arthur to take charge. Uther had tried on numerous occasions to rise from his bed, if only to pick up what was left of his life, but the act of dressing alone, even with the help of a servant, was enough to spend what reserves of strength he had gathered. So, he stayed in bed and rested, as Gaius ordered him to, and called for Arthur to come to him.

When Arthur arrived, he wasn’t alone, which didn’t surprise Uther. He’d been counting on Merlin treading on Arthur’s shadow, as she always did. She had once again proved her loyalty, staying at Arthur’s side throughout his brief exile, and had even accompanied Arthur and his few followers in the attempt to rescue him and retake Camelot.

Such irony, that she, who had never been allowed to become anything more than a simple servant, had proven more loyal to the Pendragon legacy than the daughter Uther had cosseted and raised to be the highest lady in Camelot.

The girl was carrying a small bottle, and she placed it at his bedside. “Gaius asked that I bring that to you, Sire,” she said quietly, curtseying.

Uther nodded, gazing at her with a critical eye. She was as rail-thin as ever, her dark hair tied back messily and hidden beneath a homespun scarf. Still, there was something different about her. She appeared tired, unusually so, and her skin was even paler than it normally was. Perhaps she was ill? Or just worn out from the events of recent days?

She turned to leave, slipping past Arthur so clumsily that she brushed against him and nearly stumbled in the process. Before she could step out of the room, however, Uther spoke, “No, girl, stay.”

Both Merlin and Arthur blinked at him in confusion, but neither argued. Nodding to the chair that was also kept at his bedside, Uther told Arthur to sit. Merlin secreted herself across the room, tiding the mess of dishes that had not been returned to the kitchens and failing miserably at appearing as if she was not eavesdropping on every word.

“What did you wish to speak to me about, Father?” Arthur prompted.

Uther fixed his eyes on his son. He too looked tired, no doubt from running the entire kingdom in his stead, but looking at him closely, Uther thought he also saw a spark of happiness in Arthur’s eyes, one that had not been there before. Uther was curious as to its origin, but put it aside. He had more important things to think of now.

“I've been thinking on recent events,” he said. “Morgana…” Uther’s throat tightened at saying her name out loud and he felt tears stinging at his eyes, but he shoved his grief to the back of his mind. Now was not the time for such weakness. Clearing his throat, he tried again. “Hiding Morgana’s parentage from you wasn’t well done of me. I still think it was best to not advertise it to the public, but I should have trusted you with the knowledge of who she was to you. Perhaps…” Uther sighed, and then shook his head. There was no point dwelling on what might have been.

Arthur’s face had taken on a grim edge. He also shook his head, clearly reading Uther’s thoughts. “There’s no way to be certain if my knowing would have made any difference, Father. Morgana chose Morgause over us, likely in that year that she was away from Camelot, and returned here as an enemy. We were so caught up in our relief and affection for her that we did not see her true intentions. That wouldn’t have changed if I’d known who she was.” Inexplicably, Arthur glanced over at Merlin, who was now dusting various pieces of furniture. Her head was turned away from them.

Again, Uther wondered what was between the two. Perhaps Merlin had known something even before Morgana had revealed her true loyalties to the world? Perhaps she had tried to warn Arthur and had been rebuffed?

“Regardless of whether or not it would have changed things,” Uther responded, “you didn’t deserve to have it thrown upon you in the way that it was. As such, I promise you now that I will be more honest in the future.”

Arthur smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Father. I’m grateful.”

He started to rise, but Uther held out his hand, steeling himself for what was to come next. “I will start now,” he said. Arthur’s eyes widened, but he nodded, and settled back into his chair. Taking a deep breath, Uther decided to be blunt. “In my life, I have fathered a total of three children -- Morgana, you, and one other, another girl.”

The room was completely silent. Arthur stared at him, blinking rapidly as he digested this new piece of information. Uther glanced over at Merlin. She had dropped all pretense of working, and was instead riveted by the conversation. If it had been anyone else, at any other time, he would have delivered a sharp reprimand and ordered her out.

Not this time, though.

“Your younger sister was born almost three years after you,” Uther explained. “Her mother was… among the household staff. She had no family, but was a close friend of Gaius. He had taught her herb lore and other such things, which made her an excellent asset in the kitchens.”

Arthur nodded. “She would be able to see poisonous herbs if someone attempted to poison the food,” he said.

“Yes, exactly,” Uther agreed. He sighed, “She was… a very kind woman, and I was… not exactly at my best during those years. The war against magic was at its headiest, and my enemies were all around me, even within the court. She was… a comfort to me. We were only together in that manner a few times, but it was enough to result in a child. At the time, I could not afford to have my foolishness bandied about the court, so I offered her a place in one of the outlying estates, near the border with Caerleon. There, she could give birth and raise our daughter in relative privacy.”

“And did she?”

Uther shook his head. “No. She instead chose to go east, to Cenred’s kingdom. She had saved her wages over the years and also had a small inheritance from the sale of her parents home here in Camelot. It was enough for her to start over, elsewhere.”

Arthur was horrified. “My half-sister is in Cenred’s kingdom?” he sputtered. “We have to find her. If Morgana were to learn of this -”

“There’s no chance of that,” Uther cut him off. “No one ever knew Hunith was with child. She -”

Hunith?!” The interruption came not just from Arthur, but from Merlin as well.

There. Now it was out. Looking at Merlin, who had gone stark white, Uther forced himself to nod. “Yes, Merlin,” he said. “Hunith, your mother.”

Arthur was struck dumb, and he too had grown extremely pale. Merlin’s hands, so thin and completely unlike Uther’s own, were shaking. “B-but that would mean…” she trailed off, unable to complete the sentence.

Again, Uther nodded. “Yes, child. You are mine.”

“Oh, Gods…” She was teetering on unstable legs, close to falling. Before Uther could say a word, Arthur was suddenly out of his seat and across the room. He caught Merlin in his arms, holding her up and close against his own body.

Uther watched as Arthur buried his face against her shoulder for a brief moment, embracing her tightly. Then he looked up and whispered into her ear. His words were soft, and Uther couldn’t make all of them out. “It… nothing, Merlin.”

“B-but,” she protested through the tears that were slipping down her pale cheeks.

Arthur shook his head, and spoke again, this time not bothering to whisper. “No, I don’t care. It changes nothing.” Still not releasing her, Arthur turned in Uther’s direction. He was shocked to see a hard expression on his son’s face. “Does anyone other than us know of this?”

Uther shook his head. “No,” he said, wondering where this was going. “Only the three of us, and Hunith, obviously. Not even Gaius knew.”

“M-my mother never even hinted of this,” Merlin mumbled tremulously, her face still buried against Arthur’s shoulder. “I d-don’t think she told anyone.”

Arthur nodded, and Uther saw relief pass over his features, though the heated look did not fade. “Then it goes no further,” he said. “I think we can all agree on that, yes?” Not bothering to wait for Uther to concur, Arthur turned his attention back to Merlin. “Go to my chambers, Merlin, and wait for me there. I’ll meet you soon. I promise.”

She pulled away enough to look at him, and Uther was able to see her face clearly again. Her skin was still ashen, making her eyes stand out even more than they normally did. She looked… afraid. Why? Uther wondered. What did she have to fear? Surely she knew that this revelation would ensure her own safety. He had no doubts about her loyalty, and thus didn’t believe that she would ever turn on Arthur, as Morgana had. Plus, Arthur was known to be very fond of her, and had been so for years. Even if they kept this news between them, they would slowly be able to raise her own status, and she could one day be an honored member of the court. So what was she so afraid of?

Arthur offered her a reassuring look, and even pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Go,” he repeated his order gently. “I’ll be along soon, and we will speak of this.”

Slowly, Merlin nodded and pulled out of his arms. She didn’t even glance Uther’s way as she turned around and quietly left his chambers. When the door closed behind her, Arthur didn’t immediately return to his seat next to Uther’s bed. Instead, he stood with his back to him for several moments, and Uther could see him breathing deeply, in and out.

Finally, Arthur turned around, allowing Uther to gain a look at his son’s expression. It was blank, devoid of any kind of emotion that he could discern and interpret. Gradually, Arthur returned to the chair and sat down again. He still would not look at Uther directly, keeping his gaze on the counterpane.

“Arthur?” Uther prodded him, wanting to know what was going on in his son’s mind.

“How long have you known who she was?” he asked. “Hunith left before she was born, you said. How long have you known?”

Uther hesitated, remembering when Hunith had appeared before him in court, looking prematurely aged but still as kind-faced as ever. Arthur had introduced her as Merlin’s mother, and he’d known. “Since Hunith came here, asking for our assistance against bandits attacking her village.”

After several moments, Arthur finally met his gaze, and at last Uther saw the anger simmering there. “I do not understand you, Father,” he said at last, his tone frigid. “You father two bastard daughters, and your treatment of them is rather disproportionate. One, you welcome into your home, and bring her up as your own child, even if you don’t publicly claim her as such. You raise her high in the world, making her the first lady in the kingdom, given the lack of a queen. The other, you consign to the life of a lowly maidservant, serving her own brother, and leave her to live a life full of hardship.” Arthur’s hands had clenched into fists. “How many times have you consigned her to the stocks or, worse, death? And how many times did you fret over Morgana whenever she was ill or injured, even being willing to sanction magic, something you despise over everything, to make her well again?”

“Arthur,” Uther snapped. “Mind your tone and remember who is king here!” Normally such a reprimand would be enough to get Arthur to reign his temper in, when it got away from him.

Not this time.

“You should have told us long ago, Father,” Arthur growled back. “Yet again, your inaction has us on the brink of disaster.”

Uther narrowed his eyes. “What are you talking about?” Surely he hadn’t been wrong about Merlin’s loyalties? Especially given the way she had clung to Arthur just minutes before.

“Merlin is with child,” Arthur hissed. “With my child!”

Uther’s blood ran cold, and he could feel it draining away from his face. The room suddenly seemed unbearably cold.

Arthur had bedded his own half-sister, and gotten a baby on her. Such knowledge would be a disaster, if it got out. Right now, to the world, Merlin was known as Arthur’s faithful and devoted servant. If this had happened a year ago, and to any other girl, there would have been some snorting and sniggering, but nothing would have come of it. Uther would have packed the girl off to one of the outlying estates - much as he should have insisted with Hunith, instead of letting her wander off to parts unknown - to give birth to his bastard grandchild in privacy. He’d have decided on what to do with the child after it was born and if it lived.

Now, though, after the catastrophe of Uther’s own bastard daughter executing a coup d’état? The nobles would be concerned, to say the least. Some of the more extreme of them might even suggest that Merlin be put into conditions that would cause a miscarriage. And that was just when she was carrying Arthur’s bastard. He didn’t even want to think of what they might say if it was discovered that he had yet another bastard daughter, and that he had put her into her brother’s path without warning him of who she was. It wasn’t uncommon for noblemen to bed their servants, nor was it unusual for them to have their illegitimate children be in service to the legitimate ones, but to leave two half-siblings together in the position of master and intimate servant without them knowing each other’s blood relationship? The nobles would be furious.

“We must handle this carefully,” Uther finally said. “It’s imperative that your shared blood never be discovered.”

“On that, at least, we agree,” Arthur retorted.

He glared at his son, affronted by his disrespectful tone but choosing to ignore it for the moment. “We can send her to one of the manor houses in the west,” he said. “She can give birth there, and if the baby lives, we’ll decide what to -”

“No.”

Uther blinked, shocked by the single word. “No? What in God’s name do you mean, no?! Would you have her stay here and become a target of derision and scandal?”

“Of course not,” Arthur said, now sounding perfectly calm. “But it would hardly be appropriate for the future Queen of Camelot to be packed off to bear my potential heir in secret, as if it’s something to be ashamed of.”

For a minute, possibly longer, Uther could only sit there and gape at his son. “F-future Queen? What are you talking about? She can’t be your queen! She’s your sister, not to mention a servant!”

“A servant that you made her become, Father,” Arthur suddenly snarled, all previous calm gone. “I don’t care if she’s a servant or my sister. I was never raised to think of her that way. As for her social status, that can be remedied. I doubt it’s the first time Geoffrey had to create an obscure noble bloodline for someone. He can easily ‘discover’ one for Merlin, perhaps descending from one of our forbearers, which would make her perfectly acceptable as my wife and consort.” He snorted, adding, “Besides, she has Pendragon blood. That makes her more than acceptable, even if it can never be known to what degree our shared blood is.”

“No,” Uther protested, leaning forward, “I forbid this!”

Arthur’s expression didn’t even flicker. “You forbade me to marry once before. In that case, you were correct to do so, especially since I was under an enchantment at the time, but not now. You’re not only not going to forbid it, Father, you’re going to support it.”

He stared at his son coldly. “And how do you intend to get me to do that, my son?” he demanded.

Arthur’s tone was just as icy. “Because if you don’t, then we’ll see who the nobles and the knights will support - the man whose indiscretions almost destroyed the kingdom, or the man who saved it almost single-handedly.”

“You’re threatening to usurp me?!”

Arthur’s smile was as bitter as a winter wind. “One of your daughters already has, why not your son and other daughter as well?” He leans forward, his blue eyes as hard as diamonds. “Don’t test me, Father. You’re in no position to do so. The nobles, the knights, and the people are all toting my name far and wide as the one who saved Camelot from the tyranny of your precious Morgana. If they have to choose right now between us, it won’t be you that comes out as the victor.”

He stood up. “I am going to inform Merlin of our plans,” he said. “I suggest that you get some rest, Father. You wouldn’t want to miss your son’s hand fasting.” A few brisk steps, and Arthur was gone, leaving Uther alone in his chambers, gawking at the closed door.

He should get up, he knew, should roust the guards - if there were still any left in the wake of Morgana’s reign - order them to restrain the prince and Merlin. They couldn’t be allowed to get away with this!

Yet, Arthur’s threats still rang in his ears. His son had always been popular with their subjects, common and noble alike, and in the aftermath of driving Morgana out of Camelot, they loved him even more. Uther might be king, but it was Arthur who was in control, of the citadel, of the town, of the whole kingdom.

He’d lost everything.