Merlin looked up to find Percy peering expectantly around the doorframe of the plush hotel room. He swiftly let go of the loose thread on his jumper that had served as a distraction for the past twenty minutes and wiped his palms on his trousers. “Yes?”
“We’re ready for you now, if you’d like to follow me.”
Merlin slowly rose from the chair he’d been perched in and made to follow Percy into the corridor. He ignored the anxious glances Gwen and Lance were shooting him from across the room; their concern would only undo the tenuous hold he had on his nerves and he couldn’t risk falling apart. Not here, not now.
“So, you don’t need to worry about being brief,” Percy was saying as Merlin tuned back in. “Like I said earlier, we’ll be thoroughly editing all of the interviews, but from ou r point of view it’s better for us to have excess material than not enough.”
“I really don’t think people will be very interested in anything I have to say,” Merlin shrugged as he followed Percy into the room at the end of the corridor. God, but that wasn’t true, was it? He knew why he was here; he knew what they were going to be asking him to talk about. He was horribly aware that people would be dissecting his every word, looking for clues that would lead them closer to the truth he’d tried so hard to hide. “I’m nobody.”
A throaty, feminine laugh came from behind him and he almost tripped over his own feet as he involuntarily turned towards the source. His heart sank further as he took in the familiar, blonde figure sashaying towards him with a predatory smile on her face. Morgause Gorlois had been lurking on the periphery of his life for the past two years and he kicked himself for bein g so unprepared to deal with her now. He knew she’d be the one he had to face; but somehow he’d convinced himself it would be okay. The spark of insecurity he’d been feeling all day suddenly flared into a blazing unease and he curled his fingernails into his palms to stop himself from blurting out something he knew he’d regret later.
“Come on, Mr Emrys,” Morgause ran her tongue across her bottom lip in what she clearly thought was a seductive manner, “everyone knows you aren't ‘nobody’.”
“I really don’t have anything interesting to say.” Merlin invoked as much confidence as he could muster into his voice and hoped she’d missed the faint tremor. “ I haven’t seen Arth-,” he pressed his fingertips further into the soft skin before he corrected himself, “His Royal Highness in months. We graduated in July and haven’t stayed in touch.”
"This isn’t about now,” Morgause smirked as she gripped his arm and led him towards a plush sofa. “This is about then.”
Merlin’s hands automatically reached out for purchase as he sank into the soft cushions, each finger slipping over the material uselessly. Before he could reply, he found his hair being roughly tugged into shape by one woman as another applied a thick layer of powder to his face.
“Look,” he croaked out eventually, receiving bristles in his mouth for his pains, “I don’t even really know why I’m here.”
“Your name was on the list of approved interviewees we received from Clarence House’s Press Office,” Morgause was now balanced carefully on the edge of an armchair directly opposite, leaning towards him with another devious-looking smile. “We thought it better to include you in the interview segments, rather than have you face t he speculation surrounding your absence. I’m sure you’re aware of the public interest in this programme, and by extension, in you.”
Merlin forced himself to remain silent. Of course he knew what would have happened if he’d refused the invitation to appear; even still, it had taken Gwen and Lance three solid days of pestering him with annoyingly sensible arguments to get him to agree. For the sake of his sanity, and that of his friends’ he needed to be here if he was ever going to be allowed to get away from him.
“I’m glad you agree,” Morgause flipped her long hair over her shoulder and settled casually against one arm of the chair. “All you need to do is share some anecdotes of your time at university with His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. Obviously we have a clear idea about what our audience will be interested in hearing about so just allow me to guide the conversa tion. We’ll start at the beginning, of course, but we’d really like to follow the progression of your friendship through until graduation.”
“Can we just get on with this?” Merlin practically spat as his jumper was smoothed over his shirt for what felt like the hundredth time by yet another of Morgause’s production crew. Gwen had told him that he needed to look at this like he was pulling off a plaster – “it’ll hurt a bit, of course it will, but it’ll be quick” – and really he just wanted to get the inevitable over and done with.
“Certainly,” Morgause smirked, the clear hint of a challenge swirling in her eyes, “we’ve got a lot to get through, after all.”
Merlin looked quickly at his watch and sighed. It was barely nine am and he knew Gwen’s stint in front of the camera wasn’t scheduled until four-thirty that afternoon. He hoped she and Lance w ouldn’t stray too far from the hotel room he’d left them in; he had a horrible feeling he’d be needing them before Morgause was finished with him.
“Right, Mr Emrys,” Percy called from next to one of the cameras that had been set up for a unobstructed view of Merlin’s face, “Morgause will lead you through the interview. All you need to do is answer as accurately, and in as much detail, as possible, okay?”
“Please,” Morgause purred, “don’t hold back.”
Merlin nodded shortly and resigned himself to his fate.
“Quiet, please,” Percy called one more time and the production team immediately stilled. “Action in three, two, one.”
Morgause looked directly into one of the cameras. “It was well-documented in the press that, despite a large circle of acquaintances, Prince Arthur formed only a few close friendships with fellow students during his time at Albion. One of those friendships was with Merlin Emrys, a then-English Literature student, who had no prior association with the Prince. Even casual readers of the press could not have failed to notice the headlines that documented the dramatic meeting of these two young men in the winter of their second year of study at the prestigious university.”
Merlin had a horrible feeling that this section could have been pre-recorded without the need for him to be present, but with the other camera trained firmly on him he couldn’t allow himself the slightest squirm. He held himself rigid as Morgause continued to introduce him to a public who already knew exactly who he was.
“Merlin,” Morgause turned to address him directly once more and he schooled his features into something he hoped approximated detachment, “the events of December fourteenth, just over two years ago now, will be preserved in the annals of Bristish history for centuries to come.”
Merlin nodded slowly as Morgause paused.
“The world looked on as the dramatic scenes unfolded, and until now there has never been a personal account of the day from the two people involved; you and Prince Arthur.” Morgause drew back and fixed him with another treacherous smile. “It seems fitting that as Prince Arthur’s first year of Royal Duties is about to dawn that we hear the full story of what happened, from you; the man who saved the Prince’s life.”
Oh God, Oh God, OhGodOhGodOhGod. Ground, Merlin thought, I’d appreciate it if you would open up and swallow me now. I can’t do this. I am going to kill Gwen. Please don’t make me relive all of this. Once was enough for a lifetime.
“So,” Morgause fixed him with a stare and he immediately stilled once more, “why don’t give us some context first. What brought you to Meribel in the first place?”
With a quick plea to any greater power that would listen, Merlin took a deep breath and began to speak.