Categories: Ship, Femslash, Drama
Pairings: Gwen/Morgana, Gwen & Merlin friendship, mentions of Gwen/Arthur and Gwen/Lancelot.
Characters: Gwen (primary), Morgana, Merlin, Arthur
Spoilers: Through series two. Contains references to The Nightmare Begins, Gwenevere and Lancelot, Sweet Dreams, The Witch's Quickening, The Fires of Idirsholas and The Last Dragonlord. Breaks with canon after The Witch's Quickening.
A/N: Written for Vicky_V. for the merlin_santa holiday exchange. The Camelot legends are among the most powerful and enduring myths in western civilization, and as such, their fundamental truth depends not upon the facts.
Credits: Additional inspiration from the prompt love at 100_women.
Disclaimer: Merlin -- at least this particular version of his legend -- belongs to the BBC.
Outside the Crystal
"You remembered to knock." Gwen opened the door, and frowned. "Merlin, you look terrible."
He collapsed at her table with his head in his hands, and ignored her attempts to offer him refreshment. When she gave up and sat down across from him, he jumped back to his feet and started pacing.
"We need to talk," he said.
She waited. "Well?"
"There's so much. I don't know where to start."
"Start at the beginning."
"Gaius says it's only a possible future, that we are always masters of our own fates, but what I learned -- I can't stop it."
Gwen tried for an explanation. "What you learned?"
"The Crystal of Neahtid showed me the future."
"That's the relic that Alvarr stole?"
"Yes and no." He paced a bit more.
"Well, which is it?"
"Which is what?"
"Is the Crystal of Neahtid the relic that Alvarr stole?"
"Yes, that's the artifact that was stolen, but no, Alvarr wasn't exactly the thief."
"Then who -- not you?"
"No! No, of course not." He slumped down at the table again and stared at her. "It's up to you, Gwen. I need your help to prevent these disasters."
"The beginning, Merlin."
"Right." He nodded, and as his awkward restlessness calmed, he appeared somehow older and wiser. Or perhaps that was just the exhaustion overwhelming his panic. "Maybe I should just tell you as I heard it, but remember, it's only a possible future. One we must change."
Gwen nodded fiercely. "We will. Now tell me what you saw."
Merlin sat by the fire, transfixed by the crystal. It called to him. Like it was meant for him. A trick of the magic, he knew. Just a thing of sourcery recognizing a kindred spirit. He had the willpower to overcome temptation.
So why was he holding it, and staring into its depths? He saw the dragon, the destruction -- and flung the crystal to the ground.
His hands trembled, but now it did more than just lure him with a siren song. Now it screamed at him, and the sound grew to fill the whole forest. Only Arthur's continued sleep told him that the noise was confined to his own head.
He retrieved the crystal, and this time the face of an old man filled the surface. "The dragon is nothing," the image whispered. "You will find the skills to deal with such a petty crisis. It's the rest of history that needs changing."
Petty? A dragon razing the castle to the ground was a petty crisis? Who was this idiot?
"Listen well, young Merlin, for I was once you, and I watched the fall of Arthur's Camelot. I've recorded the history upon this crystal, so that I might send it back through time. Knowledge is a power far greater than magic, and if you wield it well, you might yet prevent the downfall of all those you hold dear."
The image disappeared, and Merlin's fear grew into panic. What if the magic had failed somehow, and he had only this dire prediction, but none of the details? Then the surface filled with text, and he began to read.
Gwen listened to Merlin's tale with growing horror. Any brief joy she felt at the notion of actually marrying Arthur only made the pain all the more real when Merlin told her she betrayed him. And Lancelot! She thought he'd exited her life forever. The prospect of him returning to serve as a knight of Camelot would have made her glad, if not for the circumstances Merlin now described.
"I'm sorry," Merlin said. "Love is like magic; a gift, not a curse. It shouldn't be the force that destroys a kingdom."
"My mistake can't be that I love them." Gwen stared into the candle on the table, and tried to imagine choosing between the two men she cared for in such different ways. If she'd ever thought about it at all, she'd assumed that circumstances would take the decision from her hands. "I can't help but feel love. It's my decisions that go wrong. But what do I do?"
"I haven't a clue." Merlin treated her to a goofy smile that looked almost ghastly on his pale face. "In the future, he -- I mean I -- me, in the future, that I -- "
"Anyway, I seem to think you could have figured it out, if you'd known the facts in time."
"Do I have time?"
He nodded, but there was more to the tale, and he'd saved the worst part for last. His prediction struck Gwen like a physical blow. Morgana would leave Camelot, only to return as an enemy.
"No," she said. "You must be wrong. That can't happen. Morgana is the kindest, most warm-hearted -- she would never do anything -- "
"It's not her fault," Merlin said. "It's mine."
"How can it -- "
"Morgana needed me to be her friend, and I let her down. I kept a truth from her, one which she needed -- and deserved -- to hear. She might have forgiven me, but if history repeats, I'll soon be forced to do something she can never forgive."
"That's simple." Gwen knew better, she could read it in Merlin's face, but she had to hope it, even if only for a moment. "Whatever it is, you know better now. Just don't do it."
"Then Arthur will die. According to the history -- the history of the future -- poisoning Morgana is my greatest regret, but even with a lifetime to look back on it, I can see no other action I could have taken."
Gwen gasped. "Poison! Merlin, no, there has to be something else that can be done."
He nodded. "There is, but it can't be up to me. You must keep it from ever being necessary. When the fires of Idirsholas burn again, you must stay by Morgana's side at all cost. Don't let her become the vessel for Morgause's spell."
He shook his head. "I don't know. Morgause lured her out of the castle to perform it, but that's all I know. When I -- in the future -- returned from Idirsholas with Arthur, it was already too late, and he -- I -- never learned the details."
"I'll protect her," Gwen vowed. "But this truth you failed to share with her? Find a time to tell her. Maybe some lies are necessary, but lies between friends seem to be the root of all of the trouble you described."
Gwen watched Morgana as she did her work the next day. Her lady had slept better in recent weeks, but she also seemed . . . not quite herself. The difference was subtle, and Gwen found herself unable to put it into words, but something more than her sleep habits had changed.
Before her talk with Merlin, Gwen had written it off as a reaction to any one of the recent events that had unsettled the whole court, and maybe there was little more to it, but it couldn't hurt to remind Morgana that she had friends in Camelot.
"Flowers!" Morgana flashed one of those smiles that lit up the whole castle. "They're lovely." As she reached to take them, Gwen found her eye drawn to the bracelet on Morgana's slender wrist.
Gwen could mentally inventory all of Morgana's possessions, and she knew the bracelet to be a recent acquisition, but she just now realized that she'd neglected to ask after its origin. A gift, no doubt, from one of the many recent visitors, but Morgana seemed to show it special favor.
Was it from Morgause, the half-sister Morgana had yet to know as such? The more Gwen thought about it, the more she convinced herself that the bracelet had first appeared soon after Morgause visited Camelot. Visited -- too civilized a term, really. She'd killed the palace guards, issued her challenge to Arthur, nearly killed him, sowed some unnamed discord between Arthur and Uther, and never adequately explained her motives.
The things Merlin had learned from the crystal shed new light on the whole incident. They also convinced her that the bracelet was a thing of magic, one which linked Morgana to Morgause. Would stealing it prevent the disaster Merlin had predicted? It would be easy enough to slip the jewelry into her pocket while Morgana bathed. But like she had told Merlin, lies led to trouble.
If she betrayed Morgana's trust now, she might lose any ability to protect her at all. She tried a more direct approach. "That bracelet is beautiful. The design is unique."
Morgana's hand moved as if to cover it before she smiled and agreed. The movement was slight, but Gwen guessed its meaning. Morgana felt a need to hide the bracelet. Perhaps it even influenced its wearer to guard it.
Only an enchanted object could hold such power.
Gwen wished she knew more about magic. If an enchantment could be removed from an object, she could find the solution without upsetting Morgana at all. But if a lost piece of jewelry could save them all from a grim future, Gwen would cast it into the nearest lake herself.
Gwen spoke with Merlin at her first opportunity. "Could you sense an enchantment, perhaps even remove it, if you handled a thing?"
"Possibly," he said. "Can you bring it to me?"
"Morgana never lets it out of her sight. Perhaps when she's asleep, if you could manage to be nearby . . . "
"Tonight. Place the bracelet on Morgana's window ledge when you are able, and I'll return it by first light. If there's a way to break the enchantment, I'll find it."
Later that evening, Gwen busied herself with the cleaning while Morgana sat by the window and embroidered.
"You needn't work so hard," Morgana said. "Come sit with me."
The work never bothered Gwen, but she was grateful for the chance to simply enjoy Morgana's company. It seemed a lifetime since they'd talked. Funny how a few weeks could pass so quickly, and yet feel like such a stretch.
Morgana smiled. "Any men in your life these days?"
By instinct, Gwen started to treat the question as absurd, but then she paused. "I'm being silly, of course I can trust you. The true answer may be no, but truest answer is two."
"Is that a riddle?"
"Two wonderful men have touched my heart, and I know my feelings to be returned in both cases, but there are . . . obstacles. Distance, in the case of one."
"Lancelot?" Morgana smiled knowingly, then frowned and lowered her embroidery. "You wouldn't leave Camelot for him? I couldn't bear it here without you! Who's the other?"
Gwen ignored the more complicated question, less because of her need to evade it than due to Morgana's previous statement. "Of course you could do without me, far better than I could do without you. This is your home, your family."
"Uther Pendragon is no family of mine!" Fire flashed in her eyes, and for all that Uther had earned Morgana's anger, the reaction startled Gwen. "Arthur is little better, with his arrogance."
"Arthur's arrogance is nothing but boyish immaturity. You see more of it, of course, having grown up as a sister, or near enough, but he's already maturing out of it. You've said yourself that he'll make a better king than Uther."
"A toad would make a better king than Uther."
Gwen gave the door a sharp glance. "Milady, might I urge you to guard your words with caution."
Morgana sighed. "You're right, of course. Sometimes I just feel so helpless."
That she could understand. Gwen reached over and laid a hand on Morgana's arm. "We all do sometimes. What helps me is knowing that I have caring friends. I promise, you'll never be alone."
Gwen lay awake long after Morgana retired to bed. She tried to remain absolutely still as she concentrated on her friend's breathing. Once it grew steady, she made herself count off several long minutes before she arose and crossed the chambers in her bare feet.
The bracelet rested upon Morgana's nightstand, only inches from her pillow. Gwen lifted it carefully, scarcely daring to breathe, and her heart hammered louder with every step as she approached the window. It seemed to protest when she placed it on the ledge, the metal of the bracelet striking the stone with a clink that would wake the dead, but Morgana remained asleep.
Then Gwen settled down to wait. If Merlin were delayed, this might be for nothing.
She didn't know when -- or how -- Merlin took the bracelet, but hours later, when she woke up in the chair with a distinctly painful crink in her neck, it had disappeared. She glanced at Morgana, and as the moonlight fell across her dear friend's face, guilt washed over her. Instead of sleeping peacefully, as she had for weeks, Morgana was tossing anxiously, her face damp with sweat. Gwen hurried to her side, and climbed onto the bed to speak soothingly to her, as she had in the past.
Morgana's eyes snapped open, and she clung to Gwen. "Don't leave me," she said. "Promise you'll never leave my side. I don't like what will happen if you do."
Gwen shivered. Had Morgana just seen the same grim future that Merlin had described? "As long as there is breath in my body, I will remain your friend. I will not let any force divide us."
"I do," Gwen assured her, holding Morgana even more tightly as she thought of the dark future Merlin had described. A future without Morgana in her life. "I swear it on my own heart."
Morgana gripped her face in both hands, her eyes searching wildly in the dim light, and then she seemed to calm. She pressed a kiss to Gwen's forehead. "You're so patient with me, Gwen. I hope you know I'm grateful."
Gwen returned her embrace, glad to be at Morgana's side, and determined to remain so. Together they settled down for the rest of the night.
"Merlin, where are you?" Gwen paced the room, straightening things that were already perfectly in order. Any moment, Morgana would awake and notice the missing bracelet.
First light had come, and the sun crept ever higher in the sky. Morgana had been known to sleep until midday, but Gwen hardly dared count on that now, although she had little choice but to hope it.
A knock at the door, so soft that Gwen thought she might have imagined it, sent her heart pounding once again. If one of the kitchen staff woke Morgana now . . .
He passed her the bracelet through the half-open door. "I couldn't quite break the enchantment," he said. "But I changed it. Now -- "
"Gwen, who is -- Gwen!" Morgana snatched the bracelet from her hand. "What were you doing with this?"
Tears welled in her eyes at the look on Morgana's face, and despite her recent vow to avoid them, a lie fell from her lips. "It needed cleaning. Last night it fell from your nightstand, and -- "
"It looks perfectly clean to me." She studied it and frowned. "What have you done to it? It . . . feels different."
"It's for your own good," Merlin said. "It was enchanted."
Morgana looked wildly from one to the other. "I -- "
"It's okay," Merlin said. "That you have magic, but -- "
"How dare you! Were you plotting against me all this time? I knew I couldn't trust Arthur, but the two of you were my dearest friends!"
"Morgana -- "
"Go, Merlin," Gwen said. "Let us talk."
"You too," Morgana said. "Get out of my sight. I never want to lay eyes on either of you again."
"Morgana, please -- "
"I said leave me! Shall I call the guards?"
Gwen took a step toward the door, and laid a hand on latch. "I made a promise, and I will keep it. Find me when you're ready to talk."
Morgana stared down at the bracelet clutched in her hand, then turned away. Her shoulders trembled, and Gwen left before she had to repeat herself again.
Gwen spent the morning attending to other duties, and she happened to be in the kitchen when Morgana's lunch tray returned untouched.
"She wouldn't even open the door," the girl said. "What should I do with it."
"Give it to me." Gwen took the meal, and hurried up the castle steps, her heart pounding out her dread. What if their bumbling attempt to change history had only hurried it along?
The room was empty. Morgana's favorite jewels were gone from her dressing table, along with her hairbrush. The half finished embroidery -- a pattern of flowers -- had been flung to the floor, and the sword Morgana kept hidden in her wardrobe had gone as well.
Gwen ran, her skirts balled in her fists as she took the castle steps two at a time. She found Merlin mucking out the stables. "Get me a horse."
"Morgana's gone. Tack up a horse."
"Take Arthur's." Merlin grabbed a halter and hurried into one of the stalls. "Morgause enchanted it to find her. I don't know if it'll still -- "
"It's a better lead than mine," Gwen said. "Hurry, before anyone asks questions."
Gwen bridled the tall bay while Merlin saddled it. Then she swung astride, and hit a full gallop before she'd even cleared the courtyard.
"An errand of great urgency for the Lady Morgana," she told them at the gate. It crossed her mind too late that someone might recognize Arthur's horse, but any problems she might encounter upon her return paled beside this emergency.
It started to rain.
She headed north, and kept to the path. Wet grass was slicker than mud, and if the horse went down, her mission would fail. The horse seemed to agree with this plan, but whether it was following directions from an enchantment or simply enjoying a brisk gallop remained unclear.
Even with her head start, Morgana could have covered little ground on foot, and if she'd taken a horse, Merlin would have known. Probably. On horseback, one could only leave Camelot through the gate. Morgana, frightened and angry, would have slipped out by more subtle means.
Gwen liked this last argument, and scanned for any trace of Morgana as she rode.
It rained harder.
The wind whipped the rain in Gwen's face, and her dress soaked through. The reins grew slippery, and she wished she'd thought to wear gloves, especially when her hair impeded her vision, and she had to ride with one hand, and manage her hair with the other.
The horse slowed as they approached a fork in the path. Gwen straightened up and slowed it to a trot, then a walk. She gave the horse its head, and hoped it would make a clear choice. Then she saw a figure in the distance, half-hidden by shadows and slicing rain, huddled against a tree.
Gwen dismounted, and approached Morgana on foot. Her feet squealched in the mud, but the rain hid the sound. She considered hiding her approach by sticking to the trees, but she'd had enough of deception. She could only hope that when Morgana noticed her, she'd at least wait to hear what she'd come to say.
If Gwen even knew what she came to say. An apology, a plea . . . what could keep Morgana from this path? Honesty. She had to speak the truth. Lies had put them on this path.
Her lady, her dearest friend, looked so lost in this forest. Not a helpless sort of lost. Morgana could take care of herself. But today she just looked so . . . alone. Her long black hair hung in wet, limp strands around her face, and her gown was just as waterlogged as Gwen's dress. She looked up and noticed Gwen, and for a moment her face lit with a smile. Gwen thought it the most beautiful smile she'd ever seen, and she returned it as best she could.
"Gwen, why . . . " Her expression clouded. "If you ever cared about me at all, just tell Arthur you couldn't find me, and leave me in peace."
"Arthur doesn't even know you've gone," Gwen said. "Nor will he know of my absence, at least until he notices the loss of his horse."
Morgana looked puzzled, and Gwen noticed the redness around her eyes, as well as the handkerchief in her hand, useless now that the rain had soaked it.
"I promised you'd never be alone," she said. "I meant that promise with all my heart. If you truly intend to leave Camelot, I want to come with you."
"The bracelet you let Merlin -- "
"The bracelet is a very long story," Gwen said honestly. "I hope you'll let me tell it. I am sorry to have hurt you, but please know I acted only out of concern for you."
Morgana looked down at the bracelet on her arm. "It helped me sleep. I know it was enchanted, but the peace it brought me at night was worth the risk. Uther never had a clue, and whatever Merlin did, he must have used magic to do it. He's as guilty as me, so -- "
"Neither of you is guilty of anything," Gwen said. "Magic is a gift, not a curse."
The rain poured down between them, the trees offering little shelter from the growing deluge. Morgana seemed lost in thought.
"Uther might never accept magic," Gwen continued. "But there are people in Camelot who do, and Arthur will learn to see it as a blessing on his kingdom. Of that I'm sure."
"There is something you have failed to tell me."
"There are many things," Gwen said. "Most of which I learned only recently. I hope you'll let me tell them properly." She stepped closer, and took Morgana's hand. "Please."
Morgana smiled again, the uncertainty in her eyes fading the way it did when Gwen woke her from a nightmare. The rain ran down her face, and she looked beautiful as she nodded.
Relief washed through Gwen, as palpable as the rain, and she followed an impulse she had quelled before. She stretched up to softly kiss Morgana's lips.
Morgana brought her hands up to tangle in Gwen's wet hair, and she deepened the kiss beyond a gesture of friendship.
To kiss Morgana this way felt as natural as breathing. Gwen found herself pressing Morgana back against the tree, the warmth of the other woman's body contrasting sharply with the cool rain that soaked them both. "We should find better shelter than these trees."
"You're my shelter, Gwen. The one person I always trusted. I felt lost without you."
Gwen drew back to study Morgana's face. "I'm sorry I made you doubt me."
"It's so strange," Morgana said. "I was angry about the bracelet, but the rest, it feels like a dream. Some of it I remember less clearly than I remember my nightmares."
The bracelet had influenced Morgana, then. Gwen tried to find the words to explain. "There are two things you need to know about Morgause. I'm not sure which to tell you first."
"She's a sorcerer, and she gave me the bracelet."
"I know. I think she meant to use it in a spell against Camelot. Against Uther. I know you hate him, but -- "
"I fear Uther," Morgana said. "But I do not hate him."
"When you wore the bracelet, you did. And Arthur, you said you could never trust him, but I know that wasn't always true."
"What you must think of me . . . "
"I love you, Morgana, with all of my heart, and that's why I must tell you one more thing, before I ask you to return to Camelot."
Morgana nodded, and seemed to steel herself for the worst.
"Morgause is your half sister."
"I see." Morgana turned away, to lean her forehead against the wet bark of the tree. "Did she think to do these things to help me, or was I a mere pawn to her?"
"I fear the latter, but I cannot claim to know for certain."
Morgana turned back, nodding, and lightning cracked in the distance. "We really do need to seek shelter."
"That leaves one question," Gwen said. "Do we head north, or south?"
"South, of course." Morgana took her hand and started toward Camelot. "Wait, you really would have come with me, despite everything, had I chosen to seek out Morgause?"
"Oh Gwen." Morgana swept her into a hug, and then they started for home together.
They made it as far as a rickety little lean-to that Arthur sometimes used during training exercises with his knights before the lightning grew near enough to threaten. They were both soaked to the bone, and Gwen could see Morgana shivering. "You need to get out of those wet things before you catch your death of cold."
"I was about to say the same to you," Morgana said. "There should be a blanket stored somewhere."
Gwen opened a small trunk, and found a scratchy thing that she had trouble reconciling with belonging to royalty. Still, it was better than nothing. She helped Morgana undress, and hung her things on wooden pegs meant for armor. Then she removed her own sodden dress.
Morgana opened the blanket, inviting her to join her against the straw bales by the wall, and Gwen happily accepted. "Remember when we were girls, and we hid from Arthur beneath that wagon tarp?"
"We thought we were clever, hidden among the straw, until the wagon started to move." Gwen laughed at the memory.
Their bodies warmed quickly in the small space, bare shoulders pressed damply together, and Gwen's heart sped at the more recent memory of kissing Morgana in the rain. She let her fingers trail along Morgana's calf, and smiled when Morgana squeezed her shoulders.
"We should enjoy ourselves," Morgana whispered against Gwen's ear. Her warm breath lit a fire in the pit of Gwen's stomach. "This rain could last all afternoon."
"We can hope." Gwen tilted her head back, and streched up to meet Morgana's lips. The kiss brought both comfort and excitement in equal measure. It made her heart swell with love, yet at the same time it fueled her deepest hunger.
She turned in Morgana's arms, and yelped as her foot slid out from the shelter of the blanket, and encountered cold ground.
"It's cold out there."
"Then imagine how he feels."
She followed Morgana's gaze to the horse, who stood watching them, with only his head inside their rough shelter. "Well he's not coming in here, there's not enough blanket, and besides, I want you all to myself."
"Ah," Morgana said. "But love should never be selfish. Or do you expect me to be jealous of your suitors?"
Gwen saw the wisdom in those words, and a solution to her future problems presented itself. When the time came, she'd just need to think outside the usual pattern of such things. For now, however, other matters demanded her attention.
Matters like what exactly Morgana intended to do with her hand. Oh. Oh. All right then. Gwen sighed with approval. And when Morgana's soft lips closed upon her throat, she leaned back against the straw bales, and hoped it rained until dusk.
Geoffrey of Monmouth stared into the mysterious crystal, and read the scrolling text with fascination. The details in this history were extraordinary. He could never reveal his source, lest he be labeled a madman, but with this discovery he could fill a whole volume on Britain's legendary but most mysterious king.
If only he'd paid more attention to the beginning of the tale, before he realized the significance. No matter. He dipped his quill into the ink, and wrote.
This transformative work constitutes a fair use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. Merlin™© and related properties exist as Registered Trademarks of the BBC. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, December 2009.