"The child--" Uther turned from his wife's body, so still, to the midwife. But the midwife was not there. The Priestess was there, holding a bundle of cloth, from which issued strange cooing noises.
"Your son." She nodded to the bundle. "Though..."
"What?" He snapped, hand still tangled in Ygraine's cold fingers. He loosed his grip and reached out, taking the bundle from her.
"I ... that is, the magic... There seems to have been a mistake."
Uther pulled back the corner of the blanket that had been obscuring the infant's face. When it was revealed, he nearly dropped the bundle in shock.
"What-- What IS that thing!? That is not the son you promised me!" Uther's face grew red, his whole being radiating fury.
Nimueh stepped forward and took the bundle. "Yes, well. It's not like I do this every day, is it?" She snapped back. "Clearly, there has been a mistake."
"Clearly." Uther's voice was quiet, nearly calm, which Nimueh knew was simply a warning of the coming storm.
"Moo?" the bundle cooed. Nimueh reached into the bundle and rubbed the infant's nose. He waved a hoof at her.
"Still, he has your eyes."
Nimueh very much enjoyed watching Uther throw furniture against the walls. It was much more amusement than she ever got on the Isle of the Blessed.
"I think I can fix it." She said, some days later.
"How?" Uther asked, hopeful but suspicious.
"A spell. He'll be completely normal." She spoke with confidence, and the hope slowly overcame the suspicion.
"Will it be permanent?" He attempted to tower over her, which he could do, but it did no good. That sort of thing rarely did, when the person being towered over could squash the tower-er like a bug with a flick of her wrist.
"Nearly. Nearly!?" His voice rose, growing louder and sharper, and she raised a hand to silence him.
"Every spell can be undone. This particular spell is very strong, and it would take a very strong force to undo it."
"What sort of force?"
"A sorcerer could unwork it, of course. But that sorcerer would have to be nearly as strong as I." Uther's eyes narrowed.
"And that is all?"
Nimueh thought for a moment.
"Well, I suppose True Love's First Kiss would also work. It usually does, with things like this. This spell isn't traditionally used to make people look normal, you understand." She shrugged.
... Uther could work with that.
"Do it." He ordered, and she inclined her head and went to make her preparations.
Uther Pendragon was not a stupid man. He took precautions.
For one, he executed every sorcerer to set foot within the bounds of his kingdom. She had claimed that it would take a sorcerer of great power to overcome the spell, but Uther was not going to take chances. Every magic user in Camelot, from the priests of the druid tribes to the lowliest village hedgewitch, fled the land or met the executioner's blade.
And for another, he raised young Arthur according to a strict plan.
By the time the boy became a youth became a man, he was spoiled, self-centered and prattish. He was often cruel to the servants, and while he had dalliances with the young noblewomen of the kingdom, he discarded them easily and had gained something of a reputation for it.
Uther considered this a job well done.
And then Merlin arrived in Camelot.
It took Uther no time at all to place the boy at Arthur's side. For one, he had saved Arthur from a sorceress, and who could know what enchantments (or worse, counter-enchantments) had been placed on that blade? And for another, he and Arthur couldn't stand each other. This was excellent, since Uther had noticed Arthur occasionally passing glances at the young noblemen, and even a few of the young serving men, which was a problem.
Yes. It was absolutely perfect.
And then, somehow, the two of them managed to fall in love anyway.
But Uther didn't know about that.
"Merlin..." Arthur murmured into Merlin's hair, running his hands down the other young man's back and pressing them closer together. Merlin clutched at Arthur's waist, kneading the soft flesh there in a way that could have been painful but was anything but.
"I love you." Merlin murmured back, resting his forehead against Arthur's shoulder. "I don't even know when--"
Arthur pulled away slightly, releasing Merlin's body to frame his face with his hands. He brushed his thumbs along Merlin's cheekbones, something he'd wanted to do for longer than he felt like admitting.
"Yes." He couldn't say it, not yet, but Merlin's eyes sparkled and he smiled so happily that Arthur couldn't hold back anymore, he had to kiss Merlin, and Merlin seemed perfectly fine with that.
A few minutes later, Merlin woke up on the floor of Arthur's chambers, wondering what in the world that strange light had been and how long he'd been unconscious. He'd been unconscious, and once that thought penetrated, he shot up and looked wildly around.
"Arthur!?" He called out, but there was no answering voice. There was only--
Merlin blinked. He was quite sure there had not been a cow in Arthur's chambers before he had been knocked out.
It took a moment (in which Merlin's brain came up with all sorts of outlandish theories, including brain-stealing aliens, which was crazy, since he wasn't even sure what an alien was nor why they should be interested in brains, and least of all Arthur's--if someone wanted to steal a brain, surely they'd want a working one?), but finally Merlin noticed the cord around the cow's neck.
The cord, from which dangled Arthur's ever-present red horn pendant.
Merlin's eyes widened.
"Arthur?" He gaped. The cow only mooed again, but it seemed to be looking at him sadly. ...And it had Uther's eyes.