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From the Start

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"Get back!"

Merlin jumped as he turned a bend and the sounds of a swordfight reached his ears. The logical part of his mind told him to flee, to keep his head down and out of trouble as his mother had told him when she had seen him off. Another part of him - a stronger, unknown part - pulled him towards the fight.

"I must be an idiot," Merlin muttered to himself as he followed the sounds to their source. When he reached the fight, he ducked behind a tree.

There were six men, eight counting the two that were either unconscious or dead on the ground. All but one were bandits if the dark clothes and semi-covered faces were anything to go by. The last one, who was surrounded by the other five standing men and fighting tooth-and-nail against them, was obviously someone of wealth. He was skilled as well, having held out as long as he had, but there was only so much one man could do against five. As Merlin watched, the young man managed to down one man and repel two more, but the fourth managed to get in close enough to slice his arm and the fifth nearly took his head.

While the young man attempted to hold off the fifth, Merlin noticed the two bandits the young man had repelled before had snuck behind him. Reacting on instinct, Merlin's hand shot out and magic welled up in him. A spear that had been dropped by one of the fallen bandits flew up to knock the two off their feet. The young man glanced over his shoulder for just a second, but then quickly refocused on the fight. The two bandits still standing went down easy. When the two Merlin had hit returned to their feet, the larger was felled by the young man's blade, but not before dealing him a blow to the head. The last bandit took one look at his fallen allies and deserted into the forest.

Relieved that the stranger was safe, Merlin turned to run off before he could be discovered.

"Stop, you there!"

Merlin glanced back, expecting the young man to be yelling after the fleeing bandit, only to see him pointing his sword towards the tree Merlin was hiding behind.

"I saw what you did. Come out, now, in the name of -"

The young man took two steps towards Merlin before collapsing.

Melin sat frozen. On the one hand, he should really leave. If the stranger really had seen him use magic then he would accuse Merlin of being a sorcerer, which was a death sentence in these parts. On the other hand, could he really leave a man to die in the woods?

"A right idiot," Merlin mumbled as he glanced around then shuffled over to the stranger.

He first pulled the young man away from the bandits and weapons - just in case - then kept an ear out in case the bandit returned as he checked the stranger for injuries. Aside from the slice on his arm, the man only had a few bruises scattered about and the bump on his head from where the bandit had hit him.

It must have been the hit that took him down. He's lucky he made it through the fight before he passed out, Merlin thought and pulled out his waterskin and a few scraps of cloth. He rinsed off the cut and used the cloth to dress and bandage it. It wasn't much, but it would do until the stranger could have someone proper look it over. Next, he poured a bit of water on a cloth and gently held it to the bump on the man's head to help with the swelling.

They stayed like that for a short time -- Merlin idly wondering how much of an idiot he must be -- before the young man started to wake. He groaned, eyes fluttering and hand coming to his head.

"Careful, you don't want to make it worse," Merlin warned.

The stranger's eyes blinked open and he stared up at Merlin in confusion.

"Are you okay? Besides the obvious, I mean. That was a stupid question, wasn't it?"

The young man stared up at him for only a second before jerking up into a sitting position with wide eyes filled with anger and a touch of fear. The look was wiped away a second later when he closed his eyes and moaned, hand brushing the bump on his head.

Merlin moved back all the same. "I'm guessing this means your memory is intact."

The stranger gave him a slightly pained glare. "You're a sorcerer. I saw you use magic to attack the men that were behind me."

"You're welcome by the way," Merlin commented and the man's glare grew.

"Magic is forbidden in Camelot. Those that practice it are evil."

"And yet I just saved your life. Obviously whoever told you that is an idiot," Merlin muttered to himself, but the other man heard.

" You're the idiot. Do you even know who you speak to?"

"King of the prats?" Merlin joked, before adding, "How should I know who you are? It's not like you've introduced yourself."

The stranger gave him an odd look. "What do you want, sorcerer? You must have had some reason to seek me out?"

"I didn't seek you out. I just saw you being attacked and I thought I'd help."

The young man snorted and narrowed his eyes once more. "Why would you risk revealing yourself and your magic just to save my life? You must have wanted something."

"I wasn't going to sit back and watch someone be killed. I didn't think I just... acted." When the man just stared at Merlin in an unconvinced fashion, he added, "I'm serious."

"I can't tell whether you are a really good liar or just a complete idiot."

"At least I'm not an ass," Merlin mumbled.

Neither had a chance to say more before the sounds of horses and men began to fill the air.

"That will be the knights. About time too," the stranger said, glancing towards the sound. He turned back to Merlin and looked him over. "You best be leaving."

"I - What?" Merlin asked.

"If you're still here when the knights arrive, I'll have no choice but to turn you over. Now leave," the young man said, slowly pulling himself to his feet.

"You're letting me go? Just like that?"

"You... assisted me in my fight against the bandits. For that, you have my thanks. I'm an honorable man and I repay my debts. Leave now and I will not hunt you."

"Assisted? I'm pretty sure I saved your life."

"I had the situation perfec- Are you trying to make me reconsider letting you go?"

"Who, me? I didn't say anything. I'll just grab my stuff and go." Merlin stuffed his waterskin and the unused clothes back in his bag and got up to leave.

"And sorcerer," the stranger added, "this is a one time deal. If I catch you doing magic again or if you try to threaten the kingdom, I will not let you live."

He nodded and said, "Thank you," before rushing into the forest away from the knights.


Merlin looked everywhere as he made his way through the lower town and into the citadel. Everything was so different from his small village, even at night. He only wished he could have arrived sooner and during the day. His detour, both the stop to help the stranger and the side road he had taken to be sure he didn't run into the knights, had led to him arriving later than expected.

"Where would I find Gaius, the Court Physician?" the warlock asked one of the guards stationed in the square.

The guard pointed to a hallway. "There."

Merlin nodded his head in thanks. He turned to head down the hall before pausing when hoofbeats echoed through the square. He glanced back to see a woman riding in alongside her guardsmen.

"That must be Lady Helen," one of the citadel's guards said. "Wish I could have gotten duty during the feast. Her voice is a gift."

Merlin watched the woman, Lady Helen, get helped down from her horse until he noticed a different guard glaring at him. He gave the guard what he hoped was a reassuring smile before slipping down the hall. It led to a staircase and he knocked on the door he found at the top.

"Hello?" the warlock called, opening the door. "Hello, Gaius?" He stepped in and glanced around the workshop, which was filled with vials and herbs and other such stuff Merlin assumed were necessary for a physician's work, but couldn't see the man he was meant to be meeting.

"What are you doing here?"

Merlin felt his blood go cold as he spun around to see the young man he had saved two days earlier. The stranger was standing in the doorway, glaring at Merlin with his hand coming down to rest on the hilt of the sword at his hip.

"W-what are you doing here?"

"I do believe I asked you first," the young man growled, shutting the door behind him. Merlin stumbled back as the man approached him. "I thought I made myself clear. You were allowed to leave with your life as long as you stayed away. Do you want me to turn you over for execution?"

"No! No, of course not!"

"Then why are you following me?"

"I'm not, I swear! How was I supposed to know you were here?"

"You knew I was injured. Why wouldn't I come to see a physician?"

"Sure, but how was I to know you'd come to see the court physician. He can't be the only one you could go to."

The young man gave him the same odd look he had given Merlin before. "Why are you here then? Are you trying to sabotage Gaius's work? Or is Gaius the one you're after?"

"No, I would never! I was just -"

The warlock cut off as the door to the physician's quarters began to open.


Arthur was furious. He should have never let the sorcerer run off with his life. Now he was going to attack Gaius or send a plague through the city or something equally terrible and it was all going to be Arthur's fault.

No. The boy wasn't going to do anything because Arthur was going to right his wrong before anyone could get hurt.

"Gaius," Arthur greeted the elderly physician as he slipped through the door.

"Ah, Prince Arthur, good timing. I hope I haven't kept you waiting. I was just dropping off your father's medicine," Gaius said, bowing his head respectfully.

"Prince?" Arthur heard the sorcerer squeak before he could think up a way to get the physician out of the line of fire. He glanced over to see that the boy was staring at him with shock and a touch of fear in his eyes. About time he realized who he was dealing with.

Gaius turned to the sorcerer with wide eyes. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't see you there."

"Oh, erm…" The sorcerer turned to Gaius with an uneasy smile. "Sorry, I had this letter, but it kind of got ruined when my waterskin leaked. I'm - uh - I'm Merlin."

Arthur watched as realization flashed through Gauis's eyes. "Hunith's son?"

"Yes."

"But you're not meant to be here till Wednesday!"

"It's... Thursday, actually."

"Ah."

"Sorry, I -" The boy, Merlin, glanced over at Arthur. "- got lost on the way here."

"It's fine, just as long as you're okay." The sorcerer nodded. "Ah, right then. You better put your bag in there. You must be tired. Have you eaten?" He nodded again. "Then go rest up, we can talk some more in the morning."

"Thank you," the sorcerer said before sending Arthur one last look and ducking through the door Gaius had gestured at.

"If you would, Your Highness, you can sit here while I check your injuries and change your bandages."

Arthur nodded and sat where he was told, still looking at the door that the sorcerer had disappeared through. "You know that boy?" he asked, finally turning to Gaius.

"Merlin?" the physician hummed, removing the bandages from the prince's arm. "Not personally, no, but his mother is a dear friend. She contacted me and asked for me to take him in; watch over him and teach him a few things. Why do you ask?"

Arthur briefly considered telling the truth. "He… was here when I arrived. I don't remember seeing him around so I was worried he was up to no good."

"Well, if he's anything like his mother then he'll be no problem at all. If he's like his father, though…" Gaius snorted and shook his head.

"He didn't seem to recognize me. In fact, I'm not even sure he understood I was nobility."

"I can't say I'm surprised. The village Merlin is from is in Essetir's boundaries, near the border of Camelot. At most, he's probably only heard your name in passing. And I doubt he's had much experience with nobles since Ealdor isn't near any major roads."

"Essetir? Why would he come here all the way from Cenred's kingdom?"

"I don't think Hunith had many other options."

"But why send him away at all?" Cenred didn't have Uther's hatred of magic. Merlin's mother must have known of the boy's powers. Why would she send him to the heart of Camelot?

"Merlin was having… problems with the people of Ealdor."

"He was causing trouble?"

"More like people were causing trouble for him. From what I understand, Merlin didn't quite fit in. I'm not too surprised. His father… has been gone a long while. As I know you can understand, growing up without a parent can be hard, and we all don't have the luxury of being the prince to keep the bullies away. Children can be harsh, teenagers can be worse."

Arthur still didn't see why escaping a few bullies would be worth the risk of discovery and execution. He wasn't about to say such to Gaius though; Merlin was his problem so he would just have to figure this out on his own.

He put on his best understanding face and nodded.


Merlin… Merlin…

Merlin's eyes flickered open and he sat up, glancing around. He could have sworn he heard a voice. He glanced around for a moment longer before shaking it off. He quickly dressed and stepped out into the main room of the physician's quarters.

Gaius glanced up at him as he entered. "I got you water. You didn't wash last night."

"Sorry," Merlin said, moving to grab the bucket of water, but stumbled and knocked it off the table instead. For a second, water and bucket froze in midair. Merlin glanced up, wide-eyed, and thanked the heavens that Gaius's back was turned. Of course, the moment his focus was off the bucket, it clattered to the floor with the water splashing around it. "I'm so sorry! I can be a bit clumsy sometimes," Merlin explained, blushing and fetching a mop.

"Well, we better keep you out of trouble. You can help me until I find some paid work for you. Here, Sir Gregory was feeling ill after his ride with Lady Helen. Tell him to take half at midday and the rest before bed. And this is for Sir Leon. Remind him that he needs to eat with it. Tell him that if he ends up sick again because he skipped a meal to train, he'll need to find someone else to treat him." Gaius said, taking the mop and handing Merlin two vials, each with a label stating who they were for. "And here," he added, holding out a plate with a sandwich. Merlin smiled in thanks before the older man shooed him away with an, "Off you go."

Merlin had finished his sandwich by the time he realized the castle was far too large to just wander about until he found who he was looking for. He was just considering asking one of the servants when the choice was made for him and he bumped into a maid as he was turning the corner.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, dropping down to help her gather the clothes that had fallen out of her laundry basket.

"No, it's okay. I was lost in my thoughts. I should have been paying attention to where I was going." The girl smiled up at him once they'd gathered the clothes, only to frown and tilt her head. "I'm sorry, I don't think we've met. I'm Guinevere, but most people call me Gwen. I'm Lady Morgana's maid."

"Right, I'm Merlin," he held out his hand for her to shake. "Although, most people just call me Idiot. Or Clumsy. Or Clumsy Idiot. Take your pick."

Gwen giggled and Merlin smiled. It was almost like being back with Will.

"I don't remember ever seeing you around here before. Are you visiting someone?"

"No, you see, the thing is…" he paused and Gwen leaned closer, curiosity shining in her eyes. "I'm a knight."

The maid snorted, then covered her mouth at the unladylike sound.

"What?"

"I'm sorry, it's just… You don't look like one of those big, muscle-y kind of fellows."

"Thanks," Merlin said, giving her a fake pout.

"No! No, I'm sure you're stronger than you look. It's just, erm... The knights are always real rough, tough, save the world kind of men, and… Well…"

"What?"

"You don't look like that."

Merlin glanced around before motioning for her to move closer. When she did, he whispered, "I'm in disguise."

She giggled again and he smiled, shaking his head.

"I've come to stay with Gaius, the court physician. Honestly, I'm supposed to be running errands for him, but… I don't actually know where I'm supposed to be going."

"Maybe I could help you," Gwen offered, standing up and settling the laundry basket against her hip.

"That would be great, thanks. I'm supposed to be dropping off medicine for Sirs Gregory and Leon."

"Well, Sir Gregory should still be in the knights' quarters, resting, but at this time of day you'd be more likely to find Sir Leon out on the training field." Gwen gave him directions to the knights' quarters and training field and he left with a quick thank you and goodbye, letting her get back to her work.


As Merlin left the training field, he wondered if Gaius would want him to come straight back or if he was allowed to have a look around first. Well, it wasn't like Gaius told him to come straight back, and he wasn't going to leave the citadel. He'd just take a peek around the market and then -

Hands latched onto the back of Merlin's jacket and he was dragged into an empty chamber. The warlock jerked out of his assailant's grip and yelled, "Hey! What's going o-" He froze and grew pale when he turned to see a glaring Prince Arthur. "Oh, hello again."

The prince drew his sword and Merlin stumbled back, only to find himself up against a column. Arthur leveled his sword at the warlock's neck and asked, "What are you doing here?"

"Well," Merlin chuckled nervously. "Shouldn't you be asking yourself that? You're the one that dragged me in here."

The sword pressed closer and the boy flinched.

"You know what I mean. What are you doing in Camelot?"

"My mother sent me to live with Gaius."

"That's what Gaius said."

Merlin glared at the prince and gestured to the sword. "If you've already talked this over with Gaius, then what's this about."

"Does Gaius know about you? About your magic?"

"Not unless you or my mom told him. And if he does, he certainly hasn't told me he knows."

Arthur nodded. "Then Gaius doesn't have the full story. I want the full story. Why are you in Camelot? Cenred hasn't banned magic and you already said your mother knows about your magic. Why would she send you away from safety to the heart of Camelot?"

"Safety," Merlin snorted. He was glaring again, though not at the prince. "Oh yeah, Cenred loves magic users. He just loves having them dragged down to and chained up in his dungeon. Loves having them trained until they are perfectly obedient. Loves having them muzzled and caged and dragged off to be weapons wherever he wants them. Weapons, not warriors, because of course people with magic are monsters and are less than even horses or dogs. They're just swords to be sharpened and beaten and used until they can't be used anymore. And oh yes, that's only the most powerful magic users, because the weak ones aren't worth training and are better left rotting in the dungeons. And they can't be too powerful either, obviously, because then they can't be controlled. No, they're just rabid animals that need to be put down.

"Safety, yes, that is exactly the word I would use for Cenred. Thank you. "


Arthur was stunned. So much so that it took him a moment to realize he'd lowered his sword sometime during Merlin's rant. He swallowed and looked down at his sword.

He'd known Cenred used sorcerers in his army, of course, but it had never occurred to him to think about how he acquired them. He supposed he would have assumed Cenred hired them, like men-at-arms. Slavery was a horrible practice, one that was not allowed in Camelot. However…

"That's still better than letting sorcerers run around freely, causing chaos." He met Merlin's glare and said, "If you choose to study and use magic, then you have to face the consequences."

"And what about those of us who don't get to choose?" Arthur's expression dropped into one of confusion. "You really think I chose to have magic? Do you think I'm that stupid that I would choose to study magic when my choices are between execution and enslavement? I don't even know where I would go to study magic!"

"Then how -"

"I was born like this! That trick I did with the spear to knock over those guys, I've been able to do that since before I could walk. I don't know spells or rituals or whatever else sorcerers do, things just… happen. I make them happen. Do I deserve to be enslaved because I was born a freak? No, I suppose you'd say I deserve to be executed, wouldn't you?"

The boy glared at Arthur, eyes insolent and defiant even as fear began to creep back in.

"Can't you just… not use magic?"

"Can't you just not use your arm?" Arthur tried to respond but Merlin kept on. "I don't mean it is injured and you have to put it in a sling. I mean, just one day you decide not to use your arm at all. You can't even move it. Do you think you could do it? No, you couldn't. You'd go to reach for something out of habit and there it is, you've used it. You'd subconsciously curl your fingers and it's over, you've used it. Your arm twitches and guess what? You've used it. I've tried to not use magic before. I have, and it was the most frustrating time of my life. My magic is just as much a part of me as your arm is a part of you. I can't even imagine what my life would be like without my magic and I don't want to. No more than you would want to imagine a life without your arm."

Arthur was dumbfounded. "That - That doesn't make sense. Magic is evil. For it to be that much a part of you - For you to have been born like that - you-you'd have to…"

"I would have had to have been born evil?" Merlin asked, finishing the prince's thought. "Do you think I'm evil?"

Arthur opened his mouth to answer, only to realize he didn't have one to give. He should say yes. The boy had magic. He was a sorcerer. Everything his father had taught him about magic told him the boy was the scum of the earth, evil to the core, and he needed to be killed before he corrupted the minds of everyone around him and threw the world into chaos.

However - and Arthur would never admit this out loud - this was the boy that had saved his life. Arthur could admit, if only to himself, that the chances he would have made it out of that fight alive without assistance were slim-to-none. The best he probably could have hoped for was a crippling, though survivable injury. Even with the assistance, if the boy hadn't stayed, if he had fled like anyone with half a brain would have done, who knows what would have happened. Would the knights have found him in time? Would the bandit have returned to finish the job? Despite Merlin's jokes, it was plain to see he hadn't expected to leave the situation with his life, let alone a thank you or reward. He had gambled with his life just to be sure Arthur - Not Prince Arthur or Knight of Camelot Arthur or Nobleman Arthur or Wealthy Arthur, but just Arthur - would survive.

"No."

Merlin jumped at the response and Arthur realized a bit of time had passed while he had been deciding on an answer.

The sorcerer - Was that even what Merlin was? - met the prince's eyes and nodded before glancing down at his sword. "Are you going to kill me?" It was barely more than a whisper, just loud enough that it carried to Arthur's ears.

Arthur looked down at the sword as well before putting it back in its sheath. "I told you: I'm an honorable man and I repay my debts. I have neither seen you do any more magic nor have you threatened the kingdom. As such, our deal still stands and you may walk away with your life. Just… do not make me regret this."

Merlin studied him, as if trying to determine if he was telling the truth. He must have found what he was looking for because he relaxed slightly and gave a small smile. "I won't. Thank you… Your Highness."

The last part was added a bit after the rest, an afterthought, but Arthur didn't bring it up. He just glanced away from the person who made his world flip upside down and waved his hand.

The boy took it as the dismissal it was and fled the room.


Merlin spun his spoon around in his soup as he thought over his conversation with Arthur. "Gaius?" When the man in front of him hummed to show he was listening, Merlin asked, "Studying magic is banned here, right?"

Gaius looked up at him with a raised eyebrow. "Of course. Uther banned all such work twenty years ago. You're not thinking of…"

"No! No. No, I-I was just wondering why?"

Gaius frowned down at his soup before meeting Merlin's gaze. "People used magic for the wrong end at that time. It threw the natural order into chaos. Uther made it his mission to destroy everything from back then, even the dragons."

"What? All of them?"

"There was one dragon he chose not to kill, kept it as an example. He imprisoned it in a cave deep beneath the castle where no one can free it."

Merlin frowned and glanced to the side, remembering the voice from nowhere he had heard that morning. Could it be… No, that was impossible.

"Now, eat up. When you've finished, I need you to take a preparation to Lady Helen. She needs it for her voice."


Merlin…

This was probably the stupidest thing he's ever done. He was walking about a part of the castle he's pretty sure he's not allowed to be in, following a voice he's pretty sure is in his head, and for what reason? In the hopes of meeting a dragon he's pretty sure doesn't exist. This probably ranks up there with saving the life of a prince who turned out to be a prat about how he chose to save his life, though thankfully not so much of a prat as to kill him for it.

Merlin…

"Merlin."

Think of the devil.

Merlin paused three steps down the creepy, pitch-black staircase he had somehow decided was a good idea to turned to see Arthur staring down at him with crossed arms.

"What are you doing here?"

Arthur narrowed his eyes.

"Hey, I actually managed to ask you first this time!"

"I spotted a certain someone skulking about the castle in the middle of the night and followed him to the dungeons since it's my duty to keep him out of trouble. For some insane reason, I've decided to let him live and therefore any trouble he causes is on my conscience. Your turn."

"I'm… taking a midnight stroll?"

"Through the dungeons? Tell me, Merlin, would you like me to show you what the inside of a cell looks like? Do I even want to know what you did to get rid of the guards?"

"I didn't attack them! I just tossed their dice down a hallway… On second thought, no, you don't want to know."

"What are you doing down here?" the prince growled. "No more lies."

Merlin…

The warlock flinched and shifted nervously. "Did you know there's supposed to be a dragon down here?"

"You're after the dragon?"

"No! Well, yes, kind of. I think he's calling me."

"You think the dragon is calling you?"

"Yes, I can hear this voice in my head -"

"You're hearing voices in your head?"

Merlin blushed. "Not-not like that! I think it's a magic thing!"

"You're using magic?"

"Not me! The dragon! He's using magic to call for me and so I'm playing along so he'll stop! Alright! Are you happy?"

"You do realize you sound completely insane, correct?"

"Yes, yes I do! Thank you for pointing it out," Merlin groaned turning back to the stairs. They suddenly seemed like a much better option than this conversation.

"Where are you going?" Arthur's voice called, followed by the stomping of his feet as he trailed after Merlin.

"We've been over this already."

"You do realize that this breaks our agreement, correct?"

"How does this count as you seeing me do magic?"

"This counts as you threatening the kingdom."

"How does coming down here to tell the dragon to shut up so I can sleep count as threatening the kingdom?"

"I - That's - The dragon…"

Merlin could feel Arthur's glare on his back as the prince failed to come up with a reason.

The two made one last turn and came out into a large cavern. Merlin gasped at the size, but Arthur just glanced around with an upturned nose.

"I don't see a dragon," he pointed out.

Merlin turned to glare at the prince, but it was cut short as a laugh echoed through the cavern.

"Where are you?" Merlin questioned at the same time that Arthur yelled, "Show yourself!"


There was a roar and both prince and sorcerer jumped back as the dragon came to land on a platform a short way from their outcropping. On instinct, Arthur drew his sword as he looked up into the face of the giant beast.

And here he was thinking "The Great Dragon Under the Castle" was just a story the knights and Morgana would tell him to scare him when he was little.

"I'm here," the beast said when it landed. It could speak! Maybe Merlin wasn't as crazy as he sounded.

The Great Dragon glanced over them as he settled down onto the platform. "How small you both are for such a great destiny."

"Why? What do you mean? What destiny?" Merlin asked. Never mind, the boy was absolutely insane. He was taking this all in far too easily.

"Your gift, Merlin, was given to you for a reason."

"So there is a reason," Merlin muttered under his breath.

The dragon seemed to hear it all the same though as he nodded and turned his eyes on Arthur. The prince flinched and raised his sword defensively, but neither he nor it moved to attack.

Instead, the dragon chuckled at him and stated, "You, young prince, are the Once and Future King who will unite the land of Albion."

Arthur's jaw dropped. Future King, sure. He was the heir to Camelot after all. But Once and Future King? Uniting Albion? Was Arthur the only one sane in this cavern?

"Right," Merlin said, not sounding much more convinced than Arthur.

"But you face many threats from friend and foe alike."

That wasn't news. He was prince, heir to the throne. People were always making threats on his life. Just the other day a sorceress had threatened his life when her son was executed. How did Merlin fit into this though? Or was he a threat? Or was the dragon just insane? Probably that last one.

"I don't see what this has to do with me," Merlin voiced Arthur's thoughts.

"Everything. Without you, Arthur will never succeed. Without you, there will be no Albion."

"Wait, why would I need his help? He's a sorcerer! I should have him executed!"

"But you haven't," the dragon pointed out, taking on that smug tone of someone who knows something you do not. Arthur hates that tone. It was Morgana's favorite.

"No. No, Arthur's right. You've got this wrong," Merlin agreed.

"There is no right or wrong, only what is and what isn't."

"But I'm serious! He wants to kill me! The only reason he hasn't yet is that it would hurt his honor or some other such nonsense."

Arthur glared at the sorcerer. "That nonsense is keeping you alive so I would show some respect."

"See!" Merlin exclaimed, waving his hands in Arthur's direction, but the dragon just laughed.

"He wishes to kill you no more than you wish to kill him, young warlock. None of us can choose our destiny and none of us can escape it."

"Warlock? Is that what he is?" Arthur asked, receiving a nod from the dragon.

"No. No way. No. No. There must be another Arthur because this one's an idiot."

"Excuse me," Arthur growled.

"Perhaps it's your destiny to change that," the dragon chuckled before flying off.

"Idiot?"

Merlin flinched before smiling at him. "At least I know you don't want to kill me."

"Trust me, I want to kill you a lot, which really makes me question your intentions," the prince continued to growl. He sheathed his sword before snatching the torch from the sor-warlock and stomping back the way they'd come. He'd leave the crazy boy with his crazy dragon. Maybe then Arthur's life could get back to normal.


Merlin never could understand how things could go out of control so quickly.

One moment he's having a simple conversation with Gwen, blushing as he realized he had been right before. It was a lot like his conversations with Will. Too much so considering he'd only known Gwen for not even two days and really didn't know how to respond.

The next moment he's saving Arthur's life (again) with magic (again) and Arthur's glaring at him like he's going to kill him ( again ).

"You know, next time I can just let you get impaled," Merlin muttered under his breath as the court politely clapped for his new appointment as Arthur's manservant.

Arthur surreptitiously elbowed him in the gut.

Chapter Text

“Seems you're a hero.”

Merlin glanced up to see Gaius coming into his room. “Hard to believe, isn't it?”

“No. I knew there was something special about you from the moment I met you.” The warlock flinched, though it went unnoticed by the physician, who was unwrapping a book. “Here, I borrowed this from the royal library for you. Be careful with it. There's no telling what Geoffrey would do to you for damaging one of his books.”

“This is a book on armor and tournaments,” Merlin said, flicking through the book once it was handed to him.

“Quite. Arthur will want your help with his armor, especially with the tournament coming up. And you’ll need to know about tournament etiquette before then. I’m sure you haven’t learned much of that in Ealdor.”

“Thanks,” Merlin said, setting the book aside before sighing. “How am I going to get through this? I don’t know the first thing about being a manservant or dealing with nobility, let alone royal prats.” Especially royal prats who want me dead.

“My first tip, don’t call the prince a prat,” Gaius deadpanned before his face softened and he set his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, things will work out.”

“You think so?”

“Arthur was the first person you met in Camelot, was he not?” Merlin nodded. “And now this? Something is definitely pushing you two together.”

“My destiny,” Merlin muttered, remembering the dragon.

“Indeed.”

A knock sounded from the door to the physician’s chambers. “Merlin, Prince Arthur wants you right away.”

“Your destiny's calling. You'd better find out what he wants,” Gaius chuckled, tilting his head towards the door.


“Prince Ar-” the guard cut off as Arthur threw open the door.

The prince glared at his new manservant and said, “About time.” He grabbed the boy and dragged him into his chambers. He waved off the guard and shut the door before turning to Merlin.

The warlock flinched and backed away. “So… Did you want to -”

“You really are a complete idiot, aren’t you Merlin. I tell you not to let me catch you using m-m- that and what do you do? You use it in front of not only me, but the rest of the court, including my father. You know, when I asked you if you wanted to be executed, I didn’t actually think you were actually suicidal.”

“Hey, I told you next time I’d just let you get impaled,” Merlin said, raising his hands in surrender.

“This isn’t a joke!”

“Who says I was joking?” Merlin muttered.

“If my father knew what you did -”

“Then why didn’t you tell him? I broke your rule, it would have been the perfect opportunity.” Merlin questioned. It had been bothering him since the events of the night before. He had been sure Arthur was going to turn him over the moment he could get a word in edgewise, even as Gaius had sent him away from the glaring prince. He had been up past midnight pretending to sleep until he finally realized the guards weren’t about to burst in to drag him away.

Arthur groaned and pushed passed Merlin to stand in front of a window. “I can’t accuse you without proof or else I’ll look ungrateful.”

“But… you saw me using magic.”

“Everyone in court saw what you did and none of them figured out you used it. Bloody hell, I know you used it and I can’t figure out how.”

“Well, I just -”

“Don’t.”

“Um, right. As you said, you know I used magic. You’ve seen me before. Isn’t that your proof?”

“And have to explain to my father that I knew you were a sorcerer and let you go?”

“You’re worried about making your father mad?” Merlin joked, moving towards the table.

“Even simply harboring a sorcerer is a crime punishable by death.”

The warlock froze. “Your father wouldn't have you executed, would he?”

“My father has made vows to uphold the laws of this kingdom, as have I,” he added the second part quietly, more to himself.

“But you're the prince! His heir and son! Surely he wouldn't -”

“If my father did nothing, it would make him look weak. He would sentence me to banishment. Temporary, of course, because I am the heir, but still. If he's extremely lenient, I might only get time in the dungeons, but… well… my father's never been known to be lenient. Especially concerning that. And he did make a spectacle of making you my manservant. That would surely cause him embarrassment if you're discovered and that won't make either of our cases better. So no, he probably wouldn't execute me, but…” Arthur trailed off, back stiff.

“I-I don't know what to say. I didn't realize that -- When you let me go -”

“It was supposed to be one time. A repaid debt. We weren't ever supposed to see one another again. This wasn't supposed to happen, not unless I was taking you down for attacking Camelot.”

“I-I'm sorry.”

The prince snorted. “Everything's gone mad.”

Merlin shifted nervously, not knowing what to say.


Merlin was reading through his armor book in Arthur’s servant’s quarters when the door leading to Arthur’s room slammed open alongside the prince’s shout of, “Merlin!”

Merlin flinched, snapping the book shut as Arthur’s laundry, armor, shield, and sword clattered to the ground.

Arthur glared at him. “Were you using that again?”

“No.”

“What's all this, then?”

Merlin glanced at the fallen items and shrugged.

“I should hand you over to my father.”

“Maybe if you didn’t give me so much stuff to do, I wouldn’t need my magic’s help,” Merlin huffed.

“Maybe if you were doing your job instead of lying around then it wouldn’t be a problem,” Arthur shot back.

“I’m not just lying around. I’m studying.” Merlin gave the book a shake, letting it fall open to show the armor diagram.

“No amount of studying could make you any less of an idiot,” Arthur scoffed, earning himself a glare from the warlock. “Now come on, I need to leave for the reception. Help me with my cape.”

“Of course, Sire, ” Merlin snorted, tossing aside the book.

“And no more using… that.”

“Whatever you say.”

Merlin.


“That was much better. Not that it could have got any worse.”

“See, my studying paid off. So next time -”

“Next time, you’ll do the work the normal way or I’ll throw you in the stocks.”


Taking a bite of sausage, Arthur narrowed his eyes at the warlock nervously fidgeting with his clothes.

“What did you do?” he asked when he couldn’t stand it anymore.

Merlin jumped and turned to him. “What? Me? I didn’t do anything.”

Arthur stared at him until he started to squirm.

“I’m telling the truth. I didn’t do anything.”

“Then who did?”

Merlin glanced away.

Merlin.

“Valiantisusingmagic!”

Arthur blinked. “Was that supposed to make sense?”

Merlin flinched, then repeated himself, slower.

Arthur scoffed. “Valiant may be obnoxious -”

The warlock snorted.

“- but he’s a knight. He wouldn’t lower himself to that.

“I saw him, Arthur,” Merlin started, before going into how he’d felt something was weird with the shield when he’d fetched Arthur’s armor, but had put it down to imagination until he and Gaius had been looking over Sir Ewan and realized he’d been bitten by a snake. Then he described what he’d seen in Valiant’s room when he’d went to investigate.

“And you didn’t feel the need to tell me this?” Arthur growled. Someone was putting his people in danger and this warlock was just going to keep quiet.

“Of course I did, but…”

“But?”

“Gaius said not to say anything,” he answered, shoulders up near his ears.

“You told Gaius?”

“About Valiant, not me. I thought it might help him heal Sir Ewan but he said he would need the venom from the snake.”

Arthur frowned and stood up. “Why would Gaius want to hide it from us?”

As he slipped behind the changing screen, he heard Merlin begin to clean up his mostly empty breakfast dishes and reply with, “He said it would be my word against Valiant’s and your father would never take the word of a servant over a knight. That I’d only get myself in trouble.”

Arthur’s eyes narrowed, but he conceded the point. He considered the problem as he changed. When he stepped out, he waved off Merlin’s attempt to help him with his armor and grabbed his sword. “Where was Ewan bitten?”

“On the neck.”

Arthur nodded and strode out of the room. “Bring my armor.”

“Hey, wait!” Merlin shouted, but Arthur continued on. A moment later the warlock appeared at his side, arms laden with armor and an affronted look on his face. “Where are you going?”

“I want to get in some light practice while the other knights are breaking fast with my father. You can dress me after.”

Merlin grumbled under his breath, but Arthur ignored him. They walked like this for a few moments before Merlin said, “This isn’t the way to the fields.”

“I’m aware, Merlin. We need to go to the armory. You forgot one of my gauntlets.”

“What? No, I didn’t! I didn’t even take your armor to the armory last night!”

“I think I know more than you, Merlin.

The warlock opened his mouth to object, but Arthur sent him a look that told him to shut up so he instead chose to glare at the floor with a pout and mutter traitorous things under his breath.

When they reached the knights’ quarters, Arthur kept an eye and ear out and was assured that the area was predictably empty. As such, Arthur didn’t break his stride at Valiant’s door, pushing through it with a hissed, “Keep watch.”

The boy gave a quiet yelp, but quickly hushed himself and didn’t follow Arthur.

Glancing around, Arthur spotted the shield leaning against a chair. He raised his sword and approached.

Nothing happened.

He got close enough to tap his sword against the intertwined serpents and still nothing. He glared at the shield for a moment before huffing and turning to confront his servant.

He made it two steps before a shadow rose up behind him. He spun around, his sword coming up on instinct.

The snake fell to the floor in two pieces.

Releasing a shaky breath and keeping the shield in his line of sight, he grabbed a used towel from next to the washbasin and wrapped the snake in it. He gave the shield one last look then slipped out the door, sheathing his sword as he went.

He dropped the towel onto Merlin’s load and gave him a glare. “Did you bring that salve I told you to get from Gaius?”

The warlock looked at him with bemusement.

Idiot.

“No, of course you didn’t,” Arthur said before he could respond. “We’ll have to go fetch it before we head down.”

He heard Merlin gasp as he started towards Gaius’s chambers.

“Shut up, Merlin.”

He glanced over his shoulder to see Merlin giving him a vapid smile that was just a little too proud and… something else to be genuine.

The towel had disappeared into the pile of armor.

Arthur led the way to Gaius’s, then pushed through the door without knocking.

He, unlike certain servants, was a prince and was allowed such privileges.

“Your Highness,” the court physician called, turning away from his patient. “How can I help you?”

“Merlin forgot to ask you for more muscle relaxing salve.”

Gaius gave the boy a look, but he was too busy glaring at Arthur to notice. “I’ll get it right away.”

“Before that,” Arthur started, holding his hand out to Merlin.

The warlock stared at it with a touch of annoyance, but no other recognition.

“The towel, Merlin.

He frowned before giving Arthur another vapid smile, this one cloaking a smirk.

He then proceeded to dump the armor he was carrying to the floor.

“Merlin!” Arthur and Gaius shouted as one.

“Here you are, Sire, ” he said, blinking innocently as he passed Arthur the towel.

The prince gave him a look that promised punishment before turning back to Gaius. “Merlin said Sir Ewan ran afoul of a snake. I happened across this one in the knights’ quarters and thought to bring it along in case it was the same one and could help with his treatment.”

The physician looked between the two and sighed. “What trouble are you two up to?”

Merlin’s shoulders crept up to his ears, but Arthur puffed up. “I have no idea what you mean.”

Gaius hummed and took the towel from him.

He set it carefully on a table and pulled the head out. He looked it over with a curious eye before shuffling over to the cot and leaning over to hold it up to Ewan’s neck.

“The bite’s the right size,” he confirmed, straightening. “I’ll need to make the antivenom.”

“I’ll leave you to it, then. Merlin can pick up the salve later.” Arthur threw his arm around Merlin’s shoulders. “I think he’ll likely need some as well. I believe I’ll do a bit of shield practice before the tournament.” The prince laughed at the warlock’s scowl and turned to leave. “Grab my armor, Merlin. Hurry up, now.”

Arthur didn’t hear his response, but he did hear Gaius scoldingly call out Merlin’s name.


“Prince Arthur!”

Arthur looked up from watching Merlin adjust his chain mail to see a guard run up to him and drop into a bow. “What is it?”

“The court physician sent me. He said he went to check on Sir Ewan during the break and he has awoken. He is requesting your immediate presence.”

Prince and servant shared a look and Arthur nodded at the guard. “Thank you. Return to your post.” Once the guard had bowed and left, he turned to Merlin. “Inform my father that I had to see to an urgent matter and will return in time for my match then meet me at Gaius’s.”

The warlock sent the king’s box a nervous glance, but nodded.

Arthur turned to head to the castle, only to catch sight of Valiant glancing away. He narrowed his eyes at the knight and continued on.

Merlin caught up with him when he was halfway to the court physician’s chambers. “Your father said to hurry back. He didn’t look happy,” he panted.

“Neither did Valiant.”

“You think he’s onto us?”

“He at least knows something’s going on. Keep an eye on Ewan. He’s our only witness so we can’t risk Valiant silencing him.”

Merlin nodded then fell silent, staring at the ground. He broke the quiet a few moments later to mumble, “Thank you.”

“What?”

“For believing me. Thank you. I know I’m not exactly your favorite person and you don’t really trust me.”

Arthur waved it off. “I would hope even you are not fool enough to lie about that given your circumstances.”

“Still, thank you.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “Quit being a girl, Merlin, and get the door.”

“Prat,” the warlock muttered before jogging forwards to open the door. He gave an exaggerated bow. “Sire.”

The prince ignored his antics. “You wanted me?”

It wasn’t Gaius that answered, but Ewan.

“Prince Arthur, it’s Valiant,” he said, attempting to sit up before the physician stopped him.

“What about Valiant?”

“The snake on his shield, it came alive.”

Arthur frowned and straightened up, pushing down the victorious feeling. “You’re sure?”

“Aye. It was magic, no mistaking it. It was like the snake peeled right off the shield. And it struck me at his command.”

Arthur turned to Gaius. “Do you still have the head?”

The physician nodded and grabbed the snake’s head off a nearby table.

“Was this the snake that bit you?”

Ewan stiffened when Gaius held up the head for him to see. “Yes, Sire.”

Arthur nodded. “I was near Valiant’s chambers when I found it. My father needs to be told.” Arthur turned to Gaius. “Will he be well enough to appear? My father will want to hear his account.”

“He should be fine for a short visit if he has help getting down, but he’ll need to rest right after.”

“I’ll be sure a guard is waiting to help him down.” He turned back to Ewan. “Rest up until you’re summoned. I won’t have you dying to Valiant’s treachery. I’ll leave Merlin here to help you clean up so you can appear in court with the dignity you deserve.”

“Thank you, Sire.”


“Where is this witness?”

“On his way.”

“My Lord, this is -”

Valiant cut off as the doors opened to allow Ewan to enter, the guard Arthur had sent to help him and Gaius following just behind. Merlin trailed after, a dopey grin on his face and a basket in his arms.

Arthur sent the basket a look and Merlin shrugged. He rolled his eyes at the boy and turned back to his father and Valiant. The latter’s face was pinched as he stared at Ewan.

“Sir Ewan, my son claims Sir Valiant is using magic. What do you know of this?”

“I was the one to alert him, My Lord. During our bout, Sir Valiant called forth one of the snakes from his shield and ordered it to attack me. I have been in a haze since and would have died if it were not for your physician.”

“A haze?” Valiant said before Uther could speak. “Could your haze not have been the cause of such an idea? Perhaps your mind could not handle your loss.”

“Unlike some, I can handle a loss with honor,” Ewan said.

Valiant took a step forward, but paused when Gaius cleared his throat. “If I may, Your Majesty?” he asked Uther.

“Speak.”

“The reason we were delayed was that another serpent, like the one Prince Arthur faced, found its way into my chambers,” the old man said, gesturing Merlin forwards.

Arthur stiffened as he realized the boy’s basket was hissing softly.

“An infestation?” Valiant offered.

“I might have believed so, if the creature had not bypassed myself, Merlin, and Rodric here in a desperate attempt to attack Sir Ewan.” He nodded towards the guard. “Rodric saw most of it.”

The guard bowed when the king turned to him. “It is as Gaius said, Your Majesty. The serpent passed me without my realizing it, but I spotted it just as it passed where Gaius and his ward were working. I drew my sword and called out a warning, but the boy must have spotted it as well because he was already darting over to grab a basket to trap the thing in.”

“Thankfully it only just made it onto Sir Ewan’s bed before Merlin grabbed it,” Gaius continued. “He likely would not have survived another bite, antivenom or not.”

“Which would have been beneficial to Valiant, no doubt,” Arthur said.

“Sire -”

Valiant cut off as Uther raised his hand and approached Merlin. “Let me see the snake.”

Merlin bowed his head and shifted the basket in his arms so he could hold it in one and open it with the other. He carefully opened it just a crack so the king could peek inside.

Uther glared inside before pulling back and waving Merlin off.

The boy quickly shut it and backed away.

The king studied Valiant’s shield and nodded. Turning to the knight, he said, “I have to agree with my son. It is quite a coincidence, too much of one. Given the evidence provided, I sentence you guilty of using magic.”

“My Lord -”

“Get him out of my sight.”

Valiant scowled and drew his blade as Arthur and the guards approached.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Arthur said, holding out his own blade.

Valiant met his eyes, then turned to the shield. “Kill -”

Arthur darted forwards before he could finish the command. Valiant swiped at him, but he dodged the blow and sunk his blade into the former knight’s gut.


“It’s good to see you actually doing your job for once.”

Merlin looked up from polishing Arthur’s gorget to see the prince in question closing the door to his room. “I figured I’d done enough illegal magic for the day and didn’t want to push you.”

Arthur frowned. “When did you use that?

“How do you think I caught the snake?”

“Merlin! Both a guard and Gaius were right there! The guard was watching you! How!?”

Merlin shrugged and turned his gaze to the gorget, shoulders creeping up. “I guess when you freeze time, it makes more sense to people that you just have quick reflexes.”

“You-you can freeze time?”

“Sort of. I guess it’s more like slowing it. Everything just slows down around me, but I’m the only one who notices. It’s how I saved you from the dagger.”

“That…” Arthur couldn’t think of what that was. It certainly didn’t sound like something any old sorcerer could do. He couldn’t believe his father ever could have won against sorcerers if it was. Maybe it was a warlock thing?

Or maybe Merlin was just that powerful?

Arthur shook that thought away. Merlin was too much of an idiot to be powerful.

He tossed the book he was carrying onto Merlin’s lap, making the warlock jump. “Here.”

“What is it?” he asked, setting aside Arthur’s armor and pulling off the cloth Arthur had wrapped around it to keep it hidden from prying eyes.

“A book of spells, I think. At least that’s what the label said. Most of the books on that were burned during the purge, but my father stored a few deep in the vaults. No one will notice it missing. The only problem is it’s written in some weird language I don’t recognize. We’ll need to figure out some way to translate it.”

Merlin’s eyes had widened, flipping through the pages and clearly not listening. “You… This… Why… This is amazing!” He slowed down his flipping to read a few of the pages. “Fire spells, wind spells, unlocking spells, and it was just sitting down there?”

Arthur frowned and leaned over to see the book, but it still only showed the unknown runes. “You can read that?”

“Yes,” Merlin answered without a thought, still flipping through the book. Then he paused and tilted his head. “Yes,” he repeated slowly. “I don’t know. I don’t recognize it; it’s obviously not Brythonic or Latin. I can’t really read it, I just… know what it says. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“Is it because of that maybe?” Arthur asked, frowning at the book. Did it have some sort of magic so that only people with it could read it? Hold on. “Wait, you can read? And you know Latin?”

“Maybe. Wait,” the warlock looked up at him with a frown, “you saw me studying before.”

“I thought you were just looking at the pictures.

Merlin huffed and turned back to the book. “Yes, I can read. And yes, I know Latin. My mother taught me.”

“Your mother? I thought you were some farm boy from an outlying village. How would she know Latin or how to read?”

He scowled at the book. “For your information, we can also write and do math. Just because we’re not nobility doesn’t mean we can’t be learned. My grandfather was a scholar. He taught Gaius and Gaius taught my mother.”

“So that’s how Gaius and your mother know each other. He was her father’s student?” Arthur said.

“No. Well, yes, technically. But Gaius is actually my mother’s half-brother. They didn’t grow up together -- they’ve got quite a few years between them -- but after my grandparents died she lived with him for a short time and he taught her to read and write and some basic herbalism.”

“Gaius is your uncle! He hadn’t told me that.”

Merlin shrugged and turned the page. “My mother moved to Ealdor a few years before I was born and Gaius is too busy here to visit, so I’d never even met him until I came here. And as I said, he and my mother didn’t exactly grow up as siblings. It’s probably just easier not to explain.”

He supposed that made sense, though Arthur still felt like he was missing something.

“Well, I suppose that makes this easier then. I hadn’t known how we were going to translate the book.”

Merlin nodded, then set the book aside. “Why… Why are you giving me this? Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing, but you aren’t exactly thrilled about my magic.”

Arthur frowned and went over to his desk. “Don’t misunderstand, I still would rather you not do any of that, ever. But I also know telling you not to do anything isn’t going to work. So the least I can do is make sure you know enough about what you’re doing that you don’t accidentally burn the castle to the ground.”

“I’ll have you know that in fourteen years I’ve never set fire to anything accidentally so I doubt I’ll start now!”

Arthur paused and looked back at the warlock. “You’re fourteen?”

Merlin blushed and grabbed one of Arthur’s gauntlets. “Um, no. sixteen. But what two-year-old doesn’t cause trouble while in a tantrum.”

“Most two-year-olds can’t start fires with their minds.”

Merlin grew redder. “It was just a little fire that my mother was able to put out in a second. Everything was fine.”

“What did you set on fire in the first place?”

Merlin fidgeted with the armor and muttered something.

“What was that?”

“Oh look, I found a den-”

Merlin!

“I set my vegetables on fire because I didn’t want to eat them.”

Arthur stared at the tips of Merlin’s red ears for a moment after the warlock’s snapped comment before he burst out laughing.

Chapter Text

Arthur stared down at Merlin, unimpressed.

“Where are you, you little -”

“What are you doing?”

The warlock gave a yelp as he hit his head on the bottom of Arthur’s bed frame with a loud thump!

“A-A-Arthur, what are you doing back from training so soon?” he stammered, scrambling out from underneath the bed.

“I left my -- That’s not important, what were you doing underneath my bed?” Arthur asked, taking in the boy’s rumpled appearance and the thin scratches on his face.

“Y-your bed? Oh, I, um, I dropped… something.”

“Something?” Arthur said, crossing his arms.

“Yes.”

“Was it your brain?”

Merlin glared at the prince and opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by a soft chirping sound coming from Arthur’s feet.

Both looked down to see a black cat curling around the prince’s boot, trilling as it stared up at Arthur with vivid yellow eyes.

“Why is there a cat in my room?”

“Well, you see… I was trying something and, well…”

“You let a cat into my room?”

“I don’t think let him in is the proper way of putting it,” Merlin chuckled nervously.

“You brought a cat into my room?”

“No, no, he sort of, kind of, originated from your room. In a way. Though I guess I did bring the toy in here so -”

Merlin!” Arthur snapped. “What did you do?”

“So I was thinking about what happened with Valiant and I realized that if I could have just summoned the snakes from his shield myself it would have saved us a lot of time, so I found a spell in the book to bring artwork to life and got a toy cat from the market and, well, the spell worked,” Merlin said quickly and finished it off by waving at the cat in a ta-da fashion.

“You brought a cat to life! In my room!”

“You’re the one who said not to practice outside of here!”

Arthur glared at the warlock and pointed at the feline. “Turn it back.”

“That was the plan, but the book doesn’t list the counterspell.”

“You,” Arthur deadpanned slowly. “Are. An. Idiot. Why would you bring it to life without knowing how to turn it back?”

“I didn’t think it was important. He was just a little cat toy.”

“Well, as per usual, you thought wrong. I don’t want some animal prowling around my room, especially one summoned by that. Get rid of it.”

“That’s what I was trying to do,” Merlin said, gesturing to the bed. “But he keeps running away from me.”

Arthur rolled his eyes and bent down.

“Wai-”

The prince scooped up the purring cat, who nuzzled into his vambrace. He held it out, saying, “Here.”

“You… He… How did you do that?”

“I don’t have all day.”

“Right.” Merlin came forwards and reached out for the cat.

He then jumped back as the cat hissed and nearly scratched him.

“Menace,” he muttered and Arthur snorted.

Meanwhile, the cat, content that Merlin wasn’t going to try again, cuddled Arthur’s chainmail-covered chest and resumed its purring.

The prince’s hand came up unconsciously to settle on the squirming cat’s head.

“I’m guessing this explains those scratches on your cheek?” he teased.

Merlin’s hand came up to said scratches and he pouted. “He hates me! I think he knows I’m trying to turn him back into a toy and is angry with me.”

“It’s a cat, Merlin.”

“Cats are pretty smart animals.”

“Smarter than you, maybe,” Arthur snorted.

Merlin noticed Arthur’s hand, which had begun scratching the cat’s ears and he smirked. “Well, he seems to like you well enough.”

Arthur most certainly did not blush when he realized what he was doing. He did, however, shove the cat into Merlin’s arms. “Of course it does. Everyone does,” he snapped, ignoring Merlin’s snort that immediately followed. “Now get it out of here.”

Merlin gave the cat an anxious look as it loudly chattered and clawed at Merlin’s jacket, all the while staring at Arthur in a clear showing of who it would prefer at the moment. “Right,” he said slowly.

A knock came from the door and the two turned as it opened to admit a servant. The man’s eyes widened as he caught sight of the prince and he immediately dropped into a bow. “I’m sorry for intruding, Your Highness.”

“What is it?” Arthur snapped, completely done with servants.

“Gaius sent me. He is in need of Merlin’s help in the lower town.”

“Thank you, Michel,” the boy said and the older servant nodded before glancing at the prince, who dismissed the nervous-looking man with a wave of his hand.

A part of Arthur wanted to pile a load of chores on the warlock’s back for this recent misuse (and really, wasn’t any use of magic a misuse) of his powers, could he really deny the court physician assistance?

“Did you at least finish your chores before deciding to play around with animals?” he asked the boy, who nodded and gave a hum that didn’t sound entirely convincing. “Then go. Make sure you’re back in time to deliver my lunch. Hopefully, Gaius will find you more useful. At the very least it will keep you out of trouble.”

Merlin frowned before putting on his usual pseudo-smile. “Thank you, Sire,” he said, bowing his head. Then he proceeded to shove the cat back into Arthur’s arms before darting out the door.

Merlin!

Despite the fact that the idiot had to have heard him, Arthur got no response.

He glared down at the cat, who was once more snuggled up to him with a purr. “You are an abomination and I will not have you in my rooms.”

The cat gave a cheerful meow.

Arthur scowled and snatched his dagger off the table then stomped out of the room. Once his door was firmly closed, he dropped the cat next to it and waved his hands. “Shoo.” He then marched off without a backward glance.


“Sorry Gaius, we're searching every room in town.”

“What for?”

“The sorcerer.”

“But why would he be here?”

“I'm just doing my job.”

“Well, we've nothing to hide. Go on then, search.”

Despite the fact that he knew his only magical item was hidden away in Arthur’s own wardrobe, Merlin couldn’t help the nervous energy building in him as he watched Arthur’s men rustle through Gaius’s chambers

“What are these books and papers?”

“My life's work, dedicated to the understanding of science. You are quite welcome to read through them if you wish.”

Merlin felt the faintest flicker of amusement at the face Arthur made at that, but it quickly died as Arthur turned to his own room.

“What's this room up here?”

“Er, it's mine,” he said, stepping forward.

“And what do you expect to find in there?” Gaius asked as Arthur started towards the door.

“I'm looking for material or evidence suggesting the use of enchantments.”

Merlin flinched when Gaius patted his back. The physician gave him an odd look as he said, “It’s alright. They’ll be gone soon and then we can get back to work.”

“R-right.”

“Merlin, come here. Look what I found.”

Merlin jumped at Arthur’s voice and rushed into his room, only to see Arthur standing in front of his wardrobe.

“I found a place where you can put things. It's called a cupboard.”

“I, uh, right,” Merlin said, glancing around his messy room.

Arthur sent him a glare as he closed the cupboard and walked passed him. He pretended to close the door so he could look behind it, but as soon as it was shut, he grabbed Merlin’s arm and towed him over to the far side of the room. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t turn you over to the guards right now?” he hissed.

“You… don’t have any proof?” Merlin whispered back. At Arthur’s unimpressed look, he added, “I can help?”

“Help against your own attack?”

“My a-” Annoyance washed away the fear. “Arthur, even if I wanted to hurt people -- which I don’t -- why would I do it in such an obviously magical way when I know that you know what I am?”

“You’re the only sorcerer in Camelot that I know of.”

“And you’re the only royal prat I know, but I’m sure there are more out there!”

“If you didn’t do this, who did?”

“I don’t know,” Merlin huffed, trying to tug his arm free. “The only other one with magic that I know of is the dragon and considering he’s been locked beneath the dungeons for twenty years, I’m guessing he would have done something a long time ago if he could.”

“Then how do you think you can help? Can that lead us to the sorcerer?”

“I don’t know.” Could it? Was there a way to track someone else’s magic? He didn’t remember seeing something like that in his book. Maybe if he could check the other books in the vaults…

“Then why did you say you could help?”

“I can heal people.”

“With that?” Arthur finally let him go, only to cross his arms. “You really are an idiot, aren’t you? Did you forget my father has me hunting sorcerers? Everyone is suspicious of everyone else right now. You’d be found out in a moment.”

“I could save lives!”

“And lose your own in the process.”

“I didn’t think you cared,” Merlin snorted.

“I don’t… but if you aren’t the one who did this -- and I’m still not convinced you aren’t -- then we’d be wasting time dealing with you instead of finding the actual threat.”

Merlin bit his lip and glanced at the door. “So what are you going to do?”

“What my father asked. I’m going to look for any signs of a sorcerer.”

“And if you can’t find any?”

Arthur turned around and stomped out of the room. “How long do you think it may be before you find a cure?” he asked Gaius.

“It depends on how many interruptions I get.”

“Of course, I'm sorry.” He turned to the guards and gestured them out. “We're finished here.”

Merlin watched them leave, then turned to Gaius, who was going back to his work. “Do you think he’ll find them, the sorcerer?”

Gaius sighed. “A sorcerer who's powerful enough to do this will never be found searching the town.”

Merlin swallowed and nodded.


“No, please. You've got to listen to me! Please, I haven't done anything wrong!”

Merlin turned a corner to see Gwen being dragged down the hall by a pair of guards led by Arthur.

“You have to listen to me, please! I am innocent, I swear! Let me go!” she shouted before turning to see him. “I swear to you! Merlin!” 

Arthur turned at the sound of Merlin’s name.

“Merlin, please help me! Why won't you listen to me? Merlin, please!”

Arthur stepped off to the side and told the guards, “Take her to the king. I will be along shortly.”

The guards looked confused, but did as ordered. As soon as they were out of sight, Arthur grabbed Merlin and dragged him into an alcove. “What did you do?”

“What?”

“I warned you about using that! And what did you do?”

“I couldn't let her father die knowing I could cure him.”

“And you didn’t think I’d have to look into why he’s the only one to recover?”

“Well then, all I have to do is… I'll cure everyone! No one will ever have to know it was magic.”

“It's too late!” Arthur hissed, shoving him. “The guards saw the poultice and her father admitted to everyone that Guinevere was the only one around. I can’t hide it and we both know my father’s going to think she caused the disease!”

“But she didn't! You know that!”

“Of course I do, but my father’s not going to listen,” Arthur growled before stomping off.

“Arthur!”

“Shut up, Merlin. You’ve done enough. Just do as you’re told before I turn you over myself.”


“You idiot!”

“Funny, I thought that was my line,” Arthur snorted as he closed the doors to his room. “You should be thanking me for saving you from your own stupidity.”

“What else could I do? It's my fault Gwen's going to die!”

“Of course it is, but what do you think is going to happen when you burn and the plague continues. My father will just burn her as well. And then two will be dead for nothing.”

“You’re the one who sa- Wait, so you don’t think I’m the one causing it anymore?” Merlin perked up and Arthur rolled his eyes.

“No, clearly you’re too stupid for that.”

“Clearly,” Merlin huffed.

“You and Gaius need to either figure out what’s wrong with the water or find the sorcerer so I can get it out of them,” Arthur said, crossing the room to his table. “That’s the only way my father can be convinced to let Guinevere go. Has Gaius got any leads?”

“No, but we’re going down to check the water supply as soon as he’s done talking to Uther. Hopefully, we’ll find something there.”

“Right, then ge-”

“Meow.”

The two blinked, then turned as one to see a black cat curled up on Arthur’s pillows, blinking slowly as it watched them.

“Oh, so this is where you’ve been?” Merlin said, while at the same time Arthur shouted, “This is the seventh time! How do you keep getting in here?”


“Merlin, what are you doing?”

Merlin didn’t look up from his searching; he just said, “Looking for a book.”

“Care to tell me which one?”

“A book on elements.”

“Elements?” Gaius asked, coming closer.

“Yes. Which one would I find them in?”

“Well, most of them. The study of base elements is at the very heart of the scientific process.”

“But how would they help me kill the Afanc?” Merlin said without thinking. He finally looked up as his words registered.

“Well, the Afanc is a creature made from earth and water. That's two of the four base elements,” Gaius answered, staring at him with a raised eyebrow.

“What about the other two?”

Gaius looked surprised. “Well, perhaps they will destroy it. You want fire. Wind and fire.”

Merlin mouthed the words and stood up.

“How did you find this out?”

“Erm… It just came to me, you know? Guess your lessons must be sinking in more than we thought.”

“Uh, huh,” Gaius said, looking unconvinced.

“I need to talk to Arthur.”

“Arthur?”

“He’ll be able to take the Afanc.”

He heard Gaius call after him as he raced out of the room, but kept going until he bumped into Morgana on the stairs.

“They're bringing forward the execution. We have to prove Gwen's innocence.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do.” He steadied her before continuing on his way.

“Please, just tell me what I can do to help,” she said, following.

“I’ve got a plan. I just need Arthur.”

“Arthur?”

“Yes?”

The two stopped as Arthur stepped out in front of them.

“What are you doing here?” Morgana asked.

“Same as you I suppose. Checking to see if Gaius has discovered anything new. Merlin?”

“I… There's a monster, an Afanc, in the water supply. That's what's causing the plague.”

“That’s good. If it’s a monster that’s causing this then that means there’s no sorcerer. I can tell my father and he’ll let Guinevere go.”

Merlin bit his lip as Arthur turned to do just that. “Wait, Arthur.”

“Merlin, we don’t have time for this.”

“Just listen. Gaius said the Afanc is a creature that’s summoned by a sorcerer. If your father finds out he’ll just blame that on Gwen too.”

“He has a point Arthur,” Morgana agreed.

“It seems you do have a brain somewhere in there. So tell me, Merlin, what do you suggest we do?”

“We need to destroy it. Then the plague will stop and Uther may see sense.”

“I won’t lie to my father.”

“I’m not asking you to.”

“Leave Uther to me,” Morgana said.

“You can’t lie to him either,” Arthur sighed.

“I won’t. I’ll just keep him distracted until you two can destroy that beast. Maybe then he’ll see sense.”

Arthur looked between the two before spinning around and marching off with a huff.

Merlin gave Morgana a grateful look before following.

“You better be right about this, Merlin,” Arthur muttered as he led the way to the water supply.

“I am, I swear. You just need to trust me.”

Arthur snorted and opened the doors. He grabbed his sword, but Merlin stopped him.

“Gaius said we’ll need fire and wind to destroy the Afanc.” He pointed towards the torch.

Arthur narrowed his eyes. “And where do you suppose we get wind?”

“Let’s just say it’s a good thing Morgana decided to stay back.”

“You!”

“Do you want to destroy this thing or not?”

“Of course I do, but there has to be another way.”

“Maybe, but we don’t have time to look. Please, Arthur.”

Arthur stared him down before grabbing the torch. “Let’s go.”


Blue eyes glared into yellow ones. “It has that, that’s the only explanation.”

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Merlin snickered as he cleaned the hearth.

“It was created from that, why couldn’t it have it?”

“He’s a cat.”

“A magic cat. How else could he keep getting in here?”

“The chambermaids? I’ve heard quite a few of the kitchen-maids talking about him, maybe some of the girls have seen him sulking outside your door and think he’s yours so they’ve been letting him in.”

“Why would anyone think I’d keep a cat?” Arthur scoffed.

“He’s cute?”

“You’re such a girl, Merlin,” Arthur snorted, sitting back and crossing his arms. “No, it’s definitely got that. Its eyes even look like yours do when you’re practicing.”

“I knew you’ve been watching me,” Merlin muttered just loud enough for Arthur to catch. Louder, he added, “That’s just how cats’ eyes look.”

“You need to get rid of it. I can’t have some magic cat skulking around my chambers.”

“He’s not skulking. He just likes you, for some unknowable reason. You should name him.”

“I’m not naming it, and neither are you. Do not get attached to this thing, Merlin. It’s going straight back to were it came from, understand?”

“I was thinking something along the lines of Palug.”

“We are not naming it, and even if we were, we’re certainly not naming it that.”

“I liked it.”

“Shut up, Merlin.”

Chapter Text

Arthur smirked as he glanced over his shoulder.

It didn’t completely make up for Bayard's speech, but seeing Merlin in that stupid outfit sure made things a little better.

He turned back to the speech, only for Morgana to catch his eye.

She glanced over at Merlin then sent Arthur a scolding look.

He rolled his eyes and nodded at Guinevere, who was giving his servant doe eyes.

She smiled and when his father left the table, she whispered, “I think they’re quite adorable together.”

“Too bad Merlin’s too much of a moron to notice,” he whispered back before following.

He stood at his father’s side as the two kings came together to sign the treaty. As his father bent down, Arthur risked another glance at Merlin.

He traded an amused look for Merlin’s pout then focused back on the treaty.

Once it was signed, he clapped with everyone else then he and his father returned to the table. He’d hoped that would be the end of it, but then Bayard set into another speech. He paid enough attention to know he was giving them some goblets, but tuned the rest out.

He glanced back at Merlin for a pick-me-up as the foreign king droned on and on, but the boy was gone.

“To your health, Uther, Arthur…”

Arthur stood alongside the others and tried to drink, but Bayard just kept going.

“… The Lady Morgana… The people of Camelot.”

Arthur lifted his cup.

“And to fallen warriors on both sides.”

And dropped it.

Finally, the others started to drink and Arthur brought the cup to his lips for the third time.

“Stop! It's poisoned! Don't drink it!”

I’m going to kill that warlock! he thought as Merlin stole the cup from his hand.


“He's getting hotter,” Gwen called out.

“Hmmm, liffrea, wuldres wealdend, woroldare forgeaf. ”

Gwen frowned at the mumblings that quieted as Gaius grew closer. “What language is that?”

Gaius leaned closer to try to hear, but Merlin had stopped.

“I couldn’t hear. Likely none. The fever may have taken hold. I’ll brew him something to soothe his mind,” he said, his hand on Merlin’s wrist. His frown grew. “His pulse is weaker.”


“Oh Merlin,” Gwen said, wiping his brow.

“Ar’ur. I's d’rk. T’ d’rk,” he slurred and she began to worry anew. The potion Gaius had given him earlier had quieted his words to nearly inaudible hums earlier, but it seemed to be wearing off as he was slowly growing agitated and she could just catch his words. “ F’om’m f’gif’um ‘n f’der b’rme. Fr’mum feoh’ft’m. ”

She opened her mouth to call to Gaius, but stopped as she spotted something glittering near the edge of Merlin’s bed. She pulled back the covers and barely held back a gasp at the swirling orb of light floating above his hand. She quickly threw the blankets back over him, tucking them around him so no light escaped. She glanced over her shoulder and relaxed when she saw Gaius’s back to them.

“Merlin,” she whispered, staring at the boy’s face.

Magic! Merlin had magic! But Merlin was… Merlin. He was sweet and kind and… How could he have something as evil as magic?

Suddenly she remembered something Morgana had told her.

“You know, I approve.”

“Approve, My Lady?” Gwen asked as she filled the lady’s goblet.

“Of your crush on Merlin. He’s such a sweet boy.”

Gwen blushed. “I don’t have a crush on Merlin.”

“Of course,” Morgana said with a wink. “He is a sweetheart, though. I hope someday I can find a man who would do for me what he tried to do for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You haven’t heard?” Morgana asked, bringing her goblet up to her lips as if to hide the smirk she was obviously wearing. “Merlin burst into a council meeting and announced -- in front of the king, no less -- that he was a sorcerer and had been the one to save your father.”

“He did what!?”

“Apparently he couldn’t stand to let you die and was willing to lie on your behalf.”

Gwen blushed at the memory even as the realization sunk in. Gwen, like Morgana, had assumed Merlin had been lying on her behalf, but Merlin was a sorcerer so maybe none of it had been a lie.

“Lea’m, Afur,” Merlin mumbled, shaking his head.

Gwen grabbed the cloth and dunked it in the bucket of water.

Merlin had known her father was well before she’d told anyone. She’d known he had, but she’d never considered why. She’d just let him run off with his silly joke about being psychic.

“Go. S’you’s’f. F’ll’ the li’t.”

And if Merlin had done this, saved her father and then tried to save her when she took the blame, could she really think magic was evil? Could she think Merlin was evil?

“F’ster. G’ fas’r. Fo’w the ‘ight!”

“Hush, Merlin. It’s okay. Arthur will be back soon.”

“M’v’. Cl’mb.”

“Everything will be okay, I swear.”

Merlin relaxed into the bed and Gwen peeked under the blankets. She sighed with relief when she saw the orb fading to nothing and covered him back up.

“I swear.”


“He’s back!” Gaius and Gwen looked up as Morgana peaked in the doors for just a second. “Arthur’s back,” she reiterated before ducking out again.

The two shared a look before Gwen followed after her mistress. They raced into the courtyard, only to see Arthur being led off towards the dungeons by a group of guards.

“Arthur,” Morgana called out, rushing towards him.

“Halt, My Lady,” a guard said, stepping between them.

“Out of the way, I need to speak to Arthur.”

“Apologies, but it’s the king’s orders. Prince Arthur is not allowed any visitors.”

“That man,” Morgana growled. “Where is he?”

“Waiting for the prince in the dungeons, My Lady.”

“Take me to him!”

The guard hesitated, but bowed under her glare and led her off. Gwen didn’t follow, knowing her presence was likely only to anger the king. Instead, she returned to Gaius with the news.


Arthur reached through the bars desperately for the flower he’d risked so much for.

Why, though? My father is right, isn’t he? Merlin is just a servant, and a sorcerous one at that. Why should I, the prince, have risked my life for him? a demanding voice said from the back of his mind. One that sounded much like his father.

Because Merlin has saved my life at the risk of his own. And not for the first time, either. So what if he has magic, a second voice countered, this one with Morgana’s snippy tone.

But I’m the prince, I have a duty to my people!

My people, including the boy dying up in Gaius’s rooms!

“Just shut up,” he hissed, stretching out his hand just a little farther. “Yes!” he grabbed the stem with the tips of his fingers and drew it back into the cell with him. The elation lasted for all of a moment before he remembered exactly where he was: Locked in a cell with no means of getting the flower to Merlin.

He’d failed. He’d disappointed his father, angered him into locking him up, and for what?

He let his head fall against the bars.

So much for their great destiny. Take that, you crazy old dragon!

“Merow.”

Arthur looked up to see yellow eyes staring at him. “Oh great, you’re here. As if things couldn’t be worse.”

The cat chirped and slipped through the bars to nuzzle Arthur’s knee.

Arthur sighed and scratched its ears. “At least you’ll keep the rats away while I’m in here. Unless you’re as useless as your idiot creator.”

It purred and leaned into his hand.

“Though if you really want to be useful, you’d take this up to Guinevere and Gaius,” he said, waving the flower in its face. “I’d even give you a name if you can pull that off. Maybe stop kicking you out of my rooms.”

The cat tilted its head, eyes following the flower.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” he snorted, moving to get up.

The cat jumped forwards and snatched the flower out of his hand before darting through the bars.

“Hey!” he shouted, but the cat disappeared into the shadows. “Perfect. There goes Merlin’s last hope.”


Gwen bit her lip as she approached the kitchens. This was a bad idea, a really bad one, but what else could she do. Merlin needed the flower and her best chance at getting it from Arthur was pretending to bring him a meal. She’d worked the dungeons before when the kitchen-maids needed an extra hand. The guards wouldn’t think anything of it.

If she was discovered to be lying though…

“Churrrr.”

Gwen jumped and looked over to see a cat perched on a console table next to her, licking its paws. She smiled as she recognized it as the one who’d been haunting Arthur’s chambers as of late. At least, according to all the other serving girls that worked the area. They swore it was Arthur’s, but Gwen couldn’t see the prince keeping a cat. If anything, she thought it was likely Merlin’s. He seemed the type to take in strays.

“Hello, little one. I don’t have anything to give you, sorry. I need to -” Gwen cut off as she spotted the yellow flower resting at the cat’s feet.

There was no way…

Gwen picked the flower up and spun it in her fingers.

It looked just like the picture in Gaius’s book.

“Where did you get this?”

The cat ignored her, starting to clean its face.

Gwen stared at the cat for a beat before shaking herself and running down the hall back towards the court physician’s chambers.


Merlin rolled his eyes as he glanced at the prince to see him still staring at the cat curled up on his desk. “Are you going to do that all night?”

“I still can’t believe it listened to me.”

“I told you he’s smart.”

“And I told you it’s magic.”

“Right… So what are you going to name him?”

Arthur scowled. “Are you even sure it’s a boy?”

“You’re free to double-check.”

Arthur crossed his arms and shot the warlock a look.

“Perhaps -”

“Palug is still a stupid name, Merlin.

“It’s fitting,” Merlin muttered under his breath, turning away. A few moments passed in peace before Merlin said, “There’s something I still don’t understand.”

“I’m sure there’s a lot you don’t understand.”

Merlin ignored that and continued, “Gaius and Gwen said the sorceress was the one who poisoned the cup, not Bayard, but then why would she tell me just to trick you into going into the forest. She could've just kept quiet and killed you with the poison.”

Arthur frowned and looked away from the cat. “I’ve been thinking about that too. I’m not sure I was her target at all. She said it wasn’t my destiny to die by her hand.”

“So who, your father? Bayard?”

Arthur stared at Merlin for a minute. “I think she knew my father would go to war over this, just like he would have had Gaius not stopped him, but her real target… She wasn’t in the forest to trap me, she was there to delay me. I think she somehow knew that my father would make you drink the wine.”

Merlin felt his still sickly face go a little paler. “You think she was trying to kill me? Why?”

“Maybe the dragon’s not the only one who’s heard his crazy stories.”

The two contemplated that in silence until a knock sounded.

Arthur turned back to the cat with a blank face. “Enter.”

The door opened and Gwen stepped in. She curtsied and said, “Apologies, Your Highness, but may I speak to Merlin for a moment? It won’t take long.”

Arthur waved her off. “Fine, he’s getting on my nerves anyway. Just make sure he’s back in time for dinner.”

“Thank you,” she replied, glancing between him and the cat in bemusement.

Merlin led her out with a snicker, shoving the troubling thoughts to the back of his mind.

“Why was he staring at that cat?” she asked as they started down the hall.

“He’s trying to figure out a name for him and it’s taking all his brainpower.”

“You shouldn’t talk about the prince that way,” she said playfully. “So it is his then?”

He opened the door to Arthur’s servant's quarters with a nod. “If you ask Arthur, he’s mine, but you don’t see him swiping at Arthur every time he goes near it. In fact, he adores the prat. So yeah, he’s Arthur’s.”

Gwen giggled. “It doesn’t really swipe at you.”

Merlin raised an eyebrow and pulled up his sleeve to show faint scratch marks. “He does. He also climbs all over me while I’m trying to work and yowls at me if he sees me with food. Honestly, it’s like having another Arthur around.”

Gwen giggled again. “I’m sorry.”

Merlin shrugged. “At least he’s cute, unlike His Royal Highness. So what did you need?”

Gwen’s amusement immediately fled her. “I-I wanted to say thank you.”

Merlin’s blinked. “Me? I should be thanking you. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you, Gaius, and Arthur.”

Gwen shook her head. “That wasn’t what I meant. I wanted to thank you for-for saving my father when he grew ill during that plague.”

Merlin felt his heart skip a beat. “Your father? I have no -”

“Merlin, it’s alright. I know.” She glanced at the doors before stepping closer to him. “When you were ill, you summoned a ball of light to your hand.”

Merlin’s eyes widened.

“It’s okay, I won’t tell anyone. I swear. It’s the least I could do after you saved my father and then tried to turn yourself in when I was accused.”

“I swear, Gwen, I never meant for you to -”

“I know, it’s alright,” she pulled him into a hug and he quickly returned it.

They parted after a moment when something occurred to Merlin. “You said I summoned a light? Did Gaius see too?”

“No, I hid it under your blankets. No one saw.”

“Thank you.”

“Thank you.

Merlin smiled at her, then turned to walk through the door to Arthur’s room.

“Merlin,” he heard Gwen squeak.

“You were right.”

“I usually am, Merlin. You’ll need to be more specific.”

The warlock rolled his eyes. “I was the one that summoned the light for you.”

“Obviously. Who else wou-” Arthur cut off with a choke as he glanced past the boy. “Merlin!

Gwen stepped up to Merlin’s side, looking between him and Arthur with terrified eyes.

“So… Gwen knows. As does Arthur.”

“Merlin!” two voices shouted.

Chapter Text

“Grummund's the third to fail this month. How am I meant to defend Camelot with rubbish like that?”

“Well, I think I might be able to help.”

“You, Merlin?” Arthur scoffed. “You haven't the faintest idea what it takes to become a knight. Courage, fortitude, discipline, lawfulness.”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “No, no, no, of course, I don't, but I do know someone who does.”

“Yeah?” Arthur said mindlessly, still trying to imagine Merlin as a knight. The boy couldn’t even hold a sword right. He’d be on the ground in seconds in a bout against Arthur, supposing he didn’t cheat with a little…

“He saved my life.”

Arthur snorted. “That's blowing it for starters.”

Merlin bumped his shoulder against Arthur’s. “No, no, no. He's really good. Honestly.”

“Good as in with a sword or…” Arthur wiggled his fingers.

“With a sword. If he’s got,” Merlin mockingly wiggled his fingers, “then I don’t know about it.”

Arthur bumped their shoulders together this time and Merlin staggered to the side.

Yeah, he definitely could never be a knight.

“That's great, Merlin. I'm sure he's terrific, but you forget the First Code of Camelot.”

“The what?”

“The First Code. Only those of noble blood can serve as knights. So, unless your friend is a nobleman…”

“Oh, er, he, he is a nobleman.”

Arthur turned to face Merlin fully. “Want to try that again?”

“He is.”

“Is he?”

“Absolutely,” Merlin said, resolutely.

Arthur stared him down. “Very well. Bring him to the training ground tomorrow. And make sure he brings his seal of nobility.”

That should put the idiot off whatever hair-brained scheme he’s cooked up.

“Thanks, Arthur. You won't regret it,” Merlin said before running off.

He really needed to stop overestimating the warlock’s intelligence.


Arthur looked over the paper as he walked up behind Guinevere. It sure seemed real, however…

“Please tell me you at least tried to talk him out of this.”

She jumped and spun around. “Your Highness,” she greeted curtsying.

He just stared at her and held up Lancelot’s seal.

She sighed. “I warned him it would be dangerous. I explained why your father created the first code -- or at least what I’d learned about it while Mother was working in the DeGrance household -- but he simply said it was unfair and showed up with that to talk Lancelot into it. We’re just lucky Gaius hadn’t overheard Lancelot say he wasn’t a nobleman or it never would have gotten this far.”

“That would have been for the best. I can’t let him be a knight.”

Guinevere ducked her head. “I know the law, but… couldn’t you at least give him a chance? Lancelot is a good man, doesn’t he deserve the opportunity to prove his merits despite his blood?”

“The law is the law.”

She nodded. “Of course.”

Arthur watched her walk off, then glanced down at the paper in his hand.


Arthur scowled as he felt a familiar presence at his side.

“Is this all just a game to you?”

“No, of course not.”

“You’re playing with other people’s lives.”

“All he wants is to be a knight. To serve and protect his kingdom, like you. I owe Lancelot my life. I am paying for that debt the only way I can by giving him the opportunity he deserves. If you want to punish me for it, go ahead.”

Arthur walked off, having never looked at the warlock. He grabbed a broom as he neared Lancelot.


Arthur was pacing when Merlin reached his room. He paused and turned to him as soon as the door was shut. “Is it true? The griffin can only be killed by that?

“Gaius certainly thinks so. Arthur, you can’t go out there.”

“I have no choice, not unless my father can see reason.”

Merlin snorted and walked over to check Arthur’s armor. “Right, and the chances of that are?”

“Slim, but we need to defeat the beast before it hurts anyone else, which means there’s only one thing we can do.”

He froze. “Are you actually suggesting…”

“If that is the only way to kill it, then we have no choice. ”

“You’re always the one getting mad when I use it!”

“You’re always the one using it like an idiot. Why are you complaining?”

“Because this is madness,” Merlin said, starting to pace himself. “I don't have magic that powerful. There must be another way.”

“Not according to Gaius.”

Merlin threw his hands in the air. “And what happens if one of the knights see? Do you even care what happens to me? Oh, just do this, Merlin. Do that, Merlin. Help me kill the griffin, Merlin. It’s just death you’re worried about, Merlin!

Merlin!” Arthur snapped, grabbing his shoulders. “What would you have me do? Just abandon my people? Let them be picked off by the griffin one by one?”

Merlin flinched and ducked his head. “I'm sorry.”

Arthur sighed and let him go. “I’m not… It isn’t an order, Merlin. I need you. Camelot needs you. I know what I’m asking, but…”

Merlin nodded. “You’re right.”

Arthur shifted and looked away. “I’m always right, haven’t you learned that by now?”

The boy rolled his eyes and walked over to Arthur’s wardrobe.

“Something to say, Merlin?

“Only that I should get to work, Sire, ” he said, pulling his magic book from the hidden compartment. “You’ve given me two hours to find a way to kill that thing.”


Lancelot leaped to his feet as a guard opened the door for Arthur.

“Leave us,” Arthur ordered. The guard hesitated for a second before marching off.

“Prince Arthur, I'm sorry. I-”

“Don’t be.”

“But I lied to you. I should never ha-”

“Lancelot, I’ve always known you weren’t of noble blood.”

The former knight paused. “You knew?”

“I know Merlin too well to be fooled by his tricks.”

“But then why did you let me become a knight?”

“As a favor to Merlin. And because you fight like a knight.”

“I’m honored that you’d turn a blind eye for me.”

“It’s not just for you. Camelot needs good knights, especially right now.”

“The creature?”

“We could not kill it. I've never faced its like.”

“I faced it myself, Sire. Some days past.”

“So Merlin said.”

“I struck it full square. I wondered how it endured.”

“There are those that believe this creature, this griffin, is a creature of magic, that only magic can destroy it.”

“Do you believe this?”

Arthur thought about the warlock currently studying in his room. He turned away from Lancelot. “It doesn't matter what I believe. The use of magic is not permitted. The knights must prevail with steel and sinew alone.”

“Sire…”

Arthur sighed and stepped aside so he wasn’t blocking the door. “There's a horse waiting outside.”

“Thank you. Thank you, Sire.”

“Lancelot,” Arthur cut in, facing the former knight. “Take it and never return to this place.”

Lancelot shook his head. “No. No, please, I…” he begged, stepping towards the prince. “It's not my freedom I seek. I only wish to serve with honor.”

“I know.”

“Then let me ride with you, Sire.”

“I cannot. My father knows nothing of this. I release you myself, but I can do no more. Now go before I change my mind,” Arthur said, stepping across to a wall so his back was to both the door and Lancelot. He waited until the footsteps had faded away before leaving. The guard looked up at him as he passed, but he waved him away, back to his duties.

He checked in on his knights before returning to his room to see Merlin huddled over his book, Cavall draped over his shoulders.

“Anything?”

“I’ve found a spell that should work, but, Arthur, I've never cast a spell of enchantment this powerful.”

“Will anything less kill it?”

“No.”

“Then you have to try. I’ve seen you slow time, this shouldn’t be too hard for you.”

“Th-that was just instinct!”

“All the more reason this should be easy!”

Merlin groaned and muttered something that sounded treasonous under his breath, but Arthur ignored him and looked down at the book. Like always, he couldn’t read the writing, but the glowing sword drawn on the page was obvious enough.

“The spell enchants a weapon?”

“Yes, which should allow the wielder of the weapon to strike down the griffin.”

Arthur pulled out his dagger and held it out. “Then practice with this.”

Merlin took the dagger with a nod. He sat up straight, waking Cavall. The cat gave an annoyed hiss and jumped off to go lie on Arthur’s bed.

Arthur glared at the cat before turning to the warlock to see him focusing on the blade.

“Bregdan anweald gafeluec.”

They stared at the dagger for a few moments before Merlin sighed and lowered it.

“Keep trying.”


Arthur idly scratched at Cavall’s head as he watched Merlin try the spell.

“Bregdan anweald gafeluec.”

Someone knocked on the door and the two shared a look, Merlin looking ill.

“What is it?” Arthur called and Merlin tugged some papers over the spellbook.

“The knights are ready Sire.”

“I’m coming.”

“Arthur,” Merlin whispered.

“Keep trying.”

“You can’t go.”

“I have to. Just catch up once you’ve figured it out,” the prince said, standing up and grabbed his helmet.

“And if I don’t?”

“You will.”

“Arthur.”

The prince ignored him as he pushed through the door.

Merlin groaned and refocused on the dagger, saying the spell once, twice, three times, to no effect. Merlin growled and looked back down at the book. “What am I doing wrong?”

The door slammed open and Merlin jumped up, starting to shove the papers back over the book before relaxing when he saw it was only Gwen.

“Merlin!”

“Gwen, I’m sorry, but not right now, I have to fig-”

“Lancelot's riding out to kill the griffin!”

“He's what?” Merlin breathed and Gwen shrugged. Great, I’ve got two idiots riding to their deaths, Merlin thought, standing up. “Hide the book,” he called to her before running out of the room.

He ran down to the lower town to see Lancelot saddling a horse outside Gwen’s house.

“I'm coming with you.”

“No, you're not.”

“Just try and stop me.”

“Merlin, you're not a soldier.”

“You said it yourself, Lancelot, Arthur needs all the help he can get. Now let's go.”


Gwen was still in Arthur’s room when Merlin returned.

“You did it?”

“I did it! They’re both safe.”

“Thank god,” she sighed, hugging him. “And Lancelot? What’s going to happen to him?”

Merlin frowned. “He’s decided to leave. He feels he needs to restore his honor after everything that happened.”

“Which he’s already done by slaying the griffin,” Arthur huffed, coming into the room.

“Yes, well, he doesn’t seem to think he should take credit for that,” Merlin snorted. “Which doesn’t make sense, as he’s the one that actually stabbed the thing with the lance!”

Arthur narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms, but it was Gwen who spoke. “If he killed the griffin, why does he think he doesn’t deserve the credit?”

Merlin looked between the two before pointing at Arthur. “I told him it was a bad idea to have me out there. I knew someone was going to see me.”

“Clearly I overestimated your ability to be stealthy,” Arthur muttered quietly before saying, “So Lancelot knows?”

“Yes… But he swore he wouldn’t say anything!

“Honestly, Merlin, do you even understand the concept of a secret?”

“Do you trust Lancelot to keep quiet?” Gwen asked before they could get going.

“I do,” Merlin said at once.

Arthur was quiet for a moment before nodding. “Lancelot is honorable, even if someone was able to talk him into lying. If he said he wouldn’t tell, then I believe him.”

“Then I don’t think there’s anything we can do now,” Gwen said and the two agreed. “I should get going. It’s getting late. Goodnight, Your Highness. Merlin.”

“Goodnight, Guinevere.”

“Goodnight, Gwen.”

Arthur watched her curtsey and leave before nudging Merlin. “You should have offered to walk her home.”

“I have to get you out of your armor. Gwen can handle herself.”

“It’s not a matter of handling herself, it’s a matter of her fancying you.”

Merlin blushed as the memory of their kiss flashed through his mind and quickly went behind Arthur to start work on his armor in order to hide it. “I told you before, it’s not like that between us.”

“Maybe not on your end, but she definitely fancies you. You know, she’s quite pretty, and for some reason she actually likes you. You could do worse.”

Merlin just rolled his eyes. “If Gwen fancies anyone, it was Lancelot. You should have seen the way those two stared at each other.”

“See, you already have competition. Better scoop her up before you lose your chance.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Merlin said with another eye roll and an accidental tug on a piece of armor that had the prince yelping in pain. “Sorry, Sire.”

Chapter Text

“How is she?” Arthur asked when Merlin met up with him.

Merlin smiled, then shook his head and started pacing. “It's gonna be alright. It is. I know it is. She's gonna be absolutely…”

“Merlin.”

“What?”

“You're making me anxious.”

“But I'm not worried.”

“Then stop pacing.”

Merlin sat down and Arthur got one second of peace before he started tapping his fingers.

Arthur stood up and started pacing.

“There must be something Gaius can do?”

Merlin stopped tapping. “Gaius is going to keep trying. He made me get him rosemary to stimulate cerebral circulation and yarrow to reduce any bleeding, but…”

“But?”

“He… said she's all but dead.”

Arthur slammed his fists against the table. “We cannot let her die!”

“I was wondering…”

The prince looked up at Merlin. “No.”

“I can help.”

“Like you helped Guinevere’s father.”

Merlin flinched.

Arthur started pacing again. “There's a man, he came to the castle today. He claims he can cure her.”

“How? He hasn’t even seen her.”

“He says he has a remedy that can cure all ills.”

Merlin snorted. “Gaius says stuff like that is just fake -- it’s just a charlatan looking for easy money -- and even with magic, there isn’t one spell that can heal everything. The body is too complex and wounds, infections, and diseases all affect it differently. Something that might help with one illness could actually make another worse.”

“I don't care! If she's about to die, what harm can it do?”

“He could kill her just before Gaius finds something to help,” Merlin said softly and Arthur froze. “He could cause her unnecessary pain.”

“And how do you plan to help her if magic isn’t a cure-all?”

“Gaius knows there’s something wrong with her mind, so I can use a mental detection spell to figure out exactly what’s wrong and then I’ll know how to heal her from there.”

Arthur closed his eyes and leaned against the wall.

“… okay. We need to be careful though.”


“Are you sure this will work?” Gwen whispered as she let Merlin and Arthur into Morgana’s room.

“It has to,” Arthur said, staying back as Merlin rushed to the bed.

The warlock pulled his book and some vials out of the bag he had brought with him. After flipping to a certain page, he tipped a few of the potions into her mouth and helped her swallow.

As Merlin climbed onto the bed, Arthur stepped closer to the door.

Realizing what he was doing, Gwen went over to the other door to keep an ear out.

Merlin knelt next to Morgana and placed his hands on her temples. He leaned over and whispered something Gwen couldn’t hear.

She figured it was a spell because he jerked upwards a second later, his hands still on her head and his eyes glowing gold.

“What’s wrong?” Arthur called out quietly, but Merlin didn’t answer.

The warlock was staring off in space, looking shocked while his head was tilted to the side as if someone was whispering in his ear.

Merlin!” the prince hissed. “Stop ignoring me!”

Merlin moved his hands so they covered her ears and closed his still gold eyes. “Bebiede þe arisan ealdu. Áblinnan.”

“What’s happening?” Gwen asked, but Merlin didn’t answer her either

He stayed frozen over Morgana for a few more seconds, then pulled away.

Arthur came to his side as he got off the bed. “What did you do?”

Merlin held out his hand and Arthur’s face screwed up. Gwen came closer to see a black beetle sitting in his hand.

“What is that?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know, but it’s what’s been causing her to be sick and… I sensed magic in it.”

“It wasn’t an illness, it was an attack,” Arthur growled.

“We don’t know that for sure,” Merlin said, sticking the beetle into one of the used bottles. “The beetle might just have crawled into her on its own. I need to figure out what it is first.”

Gwen put her hand on Morgana’s forehead, flinching back when the woman rolled over.

Merlin quickly grabbed his things and he and Arthur left before Morgana could wake.


Arthur was leaning against the wall watching Morgana and his father talk on her bed when he noticed Merlin slip into his room.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” he said, straightening up. “I should go check on the knights.”

Morgana nodded and Uther waved him off so he left the room.

“What did you find out?” Arthur asked.

Merlin held up a book. “I found the beetle in here. It’s one of the bestiaries Gaius has me get him when magical creatures attack.” He opened the book up to a page marked by a scrap of cloth. “It says it’s an Elanthia Beetle. They’re -”

Arthur hushed him as they passed a pair of guards. They slipped into an empty room and the prince gestured for him to continue.

“It says the beetles are conjured by dark magic and are used to affect the brain.”

“So someone did attack her,” Arthur growled.

Merlin nodded. “They go into hibernation when not enchanted. It couldn’t have crawled into her on its own.”

“Is there a way to track them?”

“I don’t know. I’ll need to do more research. I think I know a book that should have more information, but I’d have to sneak it out of Gaius’s library.”

“Get Guinevere to help if you need to. We need to capture whoever is doing this.”

“Alright, but if Gaius catches me and makes me clean the leech tank or something, you’re getting leeches in your soup,” Merlin muttered, heading for the door.

“You can’t threaten me!”


“Gwen!”

The maid looked up at her name and smiled. “Hello, Merlin.”

“Afternoon. Nice flowers.”

She blushed and tucked the basket of lilies further under her arm. “Oh, yes, aren’t they. Morgana gave them to me. I mean, she didn’t get them for me, someone got them for her, but the smell has been making her headache worse and she was going to get rid of them, but they’re so pretty I asked to take them. It seemed like a waste to get rid of them when they’re still fresh.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s a lot of flowers too. Who would get Morgana so many? Does she have a suitor?”

“No, I’m pretty sure she purposefully scares off most anyone who tries. I’m not sure who they were from. I thought it might have been Arthur.”

“Arthur?” Merlin snorted. “I don’t think he’d even be able to come up with the idea of giving a girl flowers, and he certainly wouldn’t have done it himself. He’d have sent me and I would have gone with wildflowers in a color she’d like. Lilies seem too formal.”

“And heaven forbid you ever be formal,” she giggled and he shrugged. “So, did you need something?”

“Yes, right, I need your help sneaking a book from Gaius’s library. I think it might have information on the beetle I found in Morgana, but if I try to just take it, Gaius will ask questions. Do you think you’d be able to distract him for me?”

“Of course, how would I distract him?” They considered it for a moment before Gwen looked down at her basket. “Maybe I could offer him some flowers? Do lilies have medicinal properties?”

“No clue, but tell him you heard they did though you can’t remember what for. If they don’t, you’ll get a lecture about the danger of believing rumors about medicine. If they do, you’ll get a lecture on what exactly they’re for. That will give me more than enough time to grab the book.”

“Sounds like you’re speaking from experience,” she teased and he pouted.


Merlin was lying on Arthur’s bed, Cavall on his back, when Arthur returned from having dinner with his father and Morgana in her chambers.

Arthur cleared his throat, but Merlin barely looked up.

“Hey, I got the book from Gaius, but it doesn’t have much more infor-”

“What are you doing on my bed?” Arthur interrupted, crossing his arms.

“Reading,” he deadpanned, gesturing both to the book he was holding and the three others stacked next to him.

“On my bed.”

“It’s more comfortable.”

“Get off.”

“I can’t. The last time I tried to move, your cat threatened to claw my back to shreds.”

Cavall gave a short chirp and rolled over in his sleep.

Arthur marched over to pick the beast up and set it on the ground. “Stop being such a girl, Merlin.”

As he got up, he glared first at Arthur, then at the cat who was now purring and rubbing itself all over Arthur’s boots. “Speaking of girls, Gwen’s annoyed with both of us now.”

“Why?”

“In order to distract Gaius so I could get the book, I told her to offer him lilies for his medicine and he ended up giving her an hour-long lecture.”

“That explains why she’s mad at you, but why me?”

“I told her it was your idea for her to be the distraction.”

Arthur swatted him on the back of the head. “Did you at least get anything useful out of it?”

“Well, I think I know how the bug got in her room.” Merlin waved the book. “According to this, Elanthia Beetles can’t travel long distances because they can’t stay active for long without a food source -- meaning a person’s head -- so the beetle would have had to be in her room already when it was woken up.”

“The sorcerer planted it there?”

“I think he snuck it in with some flowers. Gwen said they were given to Morgana anonymously and she got them right before she fell ill. No messenger would have thought twice about a bug in some flowers.”

“How far could the sorcerer be from the beetle to still be able to activate it?”

Merlin frowned and looked down at the book. “I’m not sure, the books all have differing opinions. Definitely within the city at most, but more likely within the citadel. I’d bet they were in the square. It’s not far from her room and depending on how early in the night they activated it, the guards wouldn’t have bothered them.”

Arthur glanced towards the window consideringly. “I suppose that makes sense. I’ll question the on-duty guards to see if they saw anyone hanging around the square that night.”

“Won’t your father wonder why you're asking questions?”

Arthur waved the servant off. “I’ll just tell him I’m making sure Morgana’s illness was just that instead of an attack.”

“Sure, he’s paranoid enough to fall for that,” Merlin hummed, nodding.

Arthur turned back to him with a scowl, which narrowed as he realized the boy was still on his bed!

“How would you like to spend the night in the stocks?”

“But then who would tuck you in and read you a bedti-OW!”


Edwin scowled into his drink as he heard the people discussing the Lady Morgana’s illness and miraculous recovery.

It was impossible. No simple medicine could have removed his beetle. Gaius shouldn’t have even been able to tell the beetle was there. And yet here everyone was, singing the murder’s praises for saving their beloved lady.

He was using magic, that was the only explanation. After all the lying and treachery, Gaius was still using magic. He’d turned his back on all his friends to save his own skin, and hadn’t even given up the craft. Was he hiding it, or was hypocrisy just another fault of Uther’s?

Edwin could believe either. Gaius was the kind of snake to play both sides, but Uther was monster enough to vilify magic while keeping a sorcerer in his pocket.

Unfortunately, this was a massive wrench in his plans. Without his help being needed for the Lady Morgana, he had no way of entering the castle. Uther was out of reach.

At least he’d be able to take his revenge on one of his enemies.


Arthur was beginning to think this whole thing was the worst idea he’s ever had, even if his father had praised him for his vigilance. If he had to listen to one more guard drone on idiotically about farmers or servants or birds or “this one odd mouse that I swear has a spot on its back that changes color depending on the weather” then he was going to go insane.

He was starting to miss Merlin’s idiotic chatter, it was so bad.

“- shoo them away, but I think Beli let them back in. Oh, and there was that one odd-looking fellow in the robes. And these three cats -”

Arthur’s head shot up. “What?”

“Yeah, their all black and -”

“No, go back to the man in robes,” Arthur hissed. Honestly, who thought cats were more interesting than a stranger in robes? He needed to remember to have a talk with Leon about putting together some new training for the guards.

“Oh yeah, he came around early in the night to have a look around, didn’t stay long. I didn’t think much of it. Figured he probably just realized he came too late to get an audience since he came back the next day and talked with you?”

Arthur frowned. “I talked to him?” His eyes widened. “You mean the physician? Red hair, slight hunch, had a big scar on his face?”

“That’s him.”

Of course, what had Merlin said again about cure-alls being fakes looking for quick shillings? Maybe it wasn’t about money, but a way into the castle?

“Thank you, you can go.”

The guard nodded and left while Arthur considered how to move forward.


“Take these back to the castle, I’ll be along shortly.”

Merlin frowned as he put the herbs Gaius had just bought into his satchel with the rest of the supplies they’d gotten at the market. “Are you sure? If you have another errand -”

“No, no, it’s alright. There’s just a man ill at the inn. A traveling physician has already seen to him and said he’d be fine, but he hoped I could give a second opinion. It should only take a moment. You drop those off and get back to Arthur.”

“Alright. I’ll see you later.”

Gaius patted his shoulder and they split up.

Merlin was halfway back to the castle when he spotted Arthur coming towards him. “Where are you going?” he asked, walking up to the prince.

“Not that it’s any of your business,” Arthur huffed before lowering his voice. “I’ve got a lead. One of the guards saw that physician I told you about, the one with the cure-all, in the square that night. He might have used the beetle as a means to get into the castle. I’m going to the inn to question him.”

“That makes sense. I should -” Merlin cut off. Physician… Inn… “Gaius.”

“What?”

Merlin turned and started running towards the inn, Arthur following.

“What’s gotten into you?”

“Gaius said a man at the inn got sick and a traveling physician treated him before asking Gaius for a second opinion. If it’s the same physician…”

“It could be a trap.”


“Help.”

Gaius paused at the alley next to the inn and turned to see a young man sitting a ways in, holding his ankle. “Hello?”

“Please, my ankle, it hurts.”

Gaius approached cautiously, but the man wore simple robes and was unarmed. “What happened?”

“I had stepped out to fetch some herbs for my patient and thought I could cut through this alley, but tripped over a box.”

Gaius knelt at his side. “Ah, you are the physician I was meant to meet. Edwin Muirden, right?”

The man finally faced him and Gaius took in the scar that covered most of the left half his face.

The next thing he knew, he was slamming into the wall opposite the man.

He crumpled to the ground as the man stood up and walked over, untroubled by his supposedly injured ankle.

“You can call me that, though the last time we met I was still Edwin Lloyd.”

Gaius turned over the semi-familiar name. “Y-you used your mother's maiden name. You are Gregor and Jaden's son,” he said sadly.

The man grew angry at the sound of the names. “They were friends of yours."

“They were sorcerers.”

“They practiced magic. And so did a lot of people back then, Gaius. Like yourself.”

Gaius shook his head and pushed himself up. “You cannot be here.”

Edwin knelt next to him. “No, you should not be here. Here, in Camelot, alive and well, in the very city where all the people you turned your back on died. Where the king you placed before your friends rules and prospers. Especially as you still practice that which he hates. You deserve the fate you let them face.”

Gaius shook his head. “I have not practiced since magic was outlawed.”

“You can spit your lies all you want, I know the truth.” Edwin pulled a box out of his robes and opened it to show Gaius the contents. “You recognize them, don’t you?” He pulled out one of the hibernating beetles and held it up. “I had planned this fate for Uther, had merely wanted to oust you and have you watch as Uther cast you aside only to die a horrible fate, but plans change.”

Gaius swatted his hand away.

“Wáce ierlic!.”

The old man’s head cracked against the wall and darkness spotted his gaze.

“Goodbye, Gaius,” Edwin said and pressed something to his ear.

The last thing Gaius took in was Edwin whispering something and a pair of shadows appearing at the opening of the alley.


“Gaius!” Merlin shouted and Arthur turned to see a familiar robed figure kneeling next to an even more familiar slumped form.

He drew his sword and stepped into the alley. “Step back from him, now.”

The sorcerer rose, holding up his hands as he gave a shallow bow and backed away. “I was only trying to see to his wounds. I found him here while heading out to fetch herbs.”

Merlin rushed ahead of Arthur before the prince could react, knocking his shoulder into the physician’s as he rushed to his uncle’s side. Arthur assumed he must have put some magic into the act, as Edwin stumbled under the hit and a box fell out of his robes. The box opened as it fell, spilling small black beetles across the ground.

“Your remedy to cure all ills, I’m guessing?” Arthur snorted, following Merlin into the alley, but keeping his eyes on the older sorcerer. “You are under arrest.”

“My Lord, I -” he cut off as Gaius gave a groan and turned to the elderly man with shocked eyes.

Arthur glanced over to see Merlin with one hand fisted at his side and the other running over the back of Gaius’s head as the man gave another groan.

“That’s impossible. You…” Arthur focused back on his enemy as the man’s eyes widened. “You have magic.”

He looked at Arthur and the prince scowled. “If you think falsely accusing someone will save you, you are mistaken.

The man glared back at him and raised his hand. “Forbærne yfel!”

Fire raced towards Arthur, but a sudden gust of wind shot down the alley, blowing the fire back towards the sorcerer. He jumped back from the flames and Arthur struck out, swiping across his chest. Another blow and the sorcerer was dead.

Arthur checked on Merlin to see the boy fussing over Gaius, the beetle he’d been holding left on the ground at his hip. Arthur grabbed the box and swept the few bugs that had been missed by the fire into it.

“Sire!”

Arthur stood up as a trio of guards rushed into the alley.

“We saw the fire,” one of them stated.

“A sorcerer attacked Gaius,” he said, gesturing towards the nearby corpse. “I believe he is the cause of Lady Morgana’s illness. You, send for a gurney for Gaius and inform my father of what has happened. You two, take up spots on either end of the alley. Keep the people away and calm until this can be taken care of.”


“I’m grateful you could reach me before he finished his spell, Your Highness,” Gaius sighed as he finished relaying what he could remember of the attack.

“I only wish I could have gotten there sooner,” Arthur said. “If I’d been quicker with my investigation…”

“If it hadn’t been for your investigation, you wouldn’t have been near the inn, to begin with.” His father clapped him on the back. “You did well.”

“Thank you, Father,” he said, a warm feeling settling in his stomach.

Uther nodded and stepped away. “Rest up, Gaius. Anything you need, you shall have.”

“Thank you, Sire.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, Gwen?”

Gwen smiled as Merlin came up to her side. “Hello, Merlin. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing with me, but is Morgana feeling okay? She was acting weird earlier, asking questions about Sophia.”

“Sophia?” Gwen stopped to face him.

“Sophia Tír-Mòr, she and her father are staying in the castle awhile. Morgana looked panicked when she saw her. Said Sophia couldn’t stay here.”

Gwen’s eyes widened, remembering what Morgana had said about her latest dream.

“What?”

“I… Merlin, can you keep a secret?” She shook her head. “No, nevermind.”

“Hey!”

Spotting his offended look, she patted his hand. “No, that’s not what I meant. I mean, you’re awful at keeping your own secret, but I trust you to keep someone else’s.”

“Thanks?”

“It’s just, it’s not my secret to tell. You understand?”

“Yeah,” he said and held her hand. “Morgana is okay though, right? Can you tell me that much?”

Gwen bit her lip and nodded. “She's okay, just… keep an eye on Sophia.”

Merlin looked confused, but agreed.

“Thank you. I need to go.”

“Alright. See you later.”

She said goodbye and rushed off. She found Morgana near the stairs to Gaius’s quarters. “Milady.”

“Gwen,” she greeted with a smile, though Gwen could see she looked distressed.

“Can I talk to you?”

“Okay,” she said and they slipped into an empty room. “Is something wrong?”

“Merlin just came to talk to me. He was worried about you. He said -- Well, Sophia, she’s the one from your dream, isn’t she.”

Morgana looked pale as she nodded. “You didn’t tell him anything?”

“Of course not, and he didn’t ask once I told him I couldn’t tell. He just wanted to be sure you’re okay.”

That made Morgana relax a little, but only just. “He’s a good person.

“You're sure it's her? Sophia.”

“I could never forget that face,” Morgana sighed, sitting down against the wall.

Gwen sat next to her and took her hand. “You should speak to the King.”

“And tell him what? That I can see the future?”

“If you think Arthur's life is in danger -”

“You know how he'd react,” Morgana said, pulling away.

“You're his ward, he wouldn't harm you.”

“He hates magic more than he cares for me.”

“That's not true.”

“Would you care to put it to the test?”

Gwen swallowed. She wanted to believe the king would never hurt her friend, but Morgana was right, she would never risk Morgana’s life like that. But there had to be something…

“Maybe you should talk to Merlin.”

“Merlin? What can he do? I was going to speak to Gaius, but…”

“He’ll just give you another sleeping draft. You know that. Talk to Merlin. He’s always by Arthur’s side. He can make sure she can’t do anything.”

“How do you know I can trust him?” Morgana stood up and Gwen followed, taking her hand again.

“Merlin didn’t grow up here. He’s not as prejudiced. You can trust him. As you said, he’s a good person.”

Morgana bowed her head.

“Please, Morgana.”

“I’ll consider it.”


“I'm taking Sophia out for a ride today. You know, show her around.”

Merlin frowned, remembering Gwen’s warning. “Where do I come into this?”

“Well, I'm supposed to be on patrol with the guard and my father this morning, so I need you to cover for me.”

His eyes widened. “What, and lie to the King? No. No way. No, he'll see right through me. He'll have me in the stocks quicker than you can say rotten tomatoes.”

“Merlin, I need you to do this for me.”

“I am a terrible liar. I start sweating, my…my vision blurs, my…my brain stops working.”

“Well, no change there, then.”

“Also, Gwen said to keep an eye on Sophia. Her and Morgana are worried about something.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “Morgana’s just in one of her paranoid moods. It happens here and there and Guinevere encourages it. You’ll get used to it.”

Merlin wasn’t convinced, and it must have shown on his face because Arthur came around the bed to stand next to him.

“Look, I promised Sophia I'd take her out and if I don't turn up it'll blow my chances.”

Merlin’s lips twitched up. “You like her, then?”

“Yeah. What's not to like? I want to spend some more time with her, but I need to get my father off my back. I can't order you to lie to the King, but… you'll be a friend for life if you do.”

Merlin smiled, but there was a nervous energy still in his stomach. “Okay, but… take Gwen with you.”

“We don’t need a chaperone.”

“No, but knowing you, you’ll need a servant,” Merlin said, thinking quickly. “And I’m sure Sophia would prefer to be alone with you and a maid rather than you and another man.”

“I wouldn’t classify you as a man,” Arthur snorted.

“Besides,” Merlin huffed, ignoring the comment. “If Gwen’s with you then hopefully her and Morgana will calm down faster. And do you really want to deal with Sophia’s father if he finds out you were alone together? What if he takes it up with your father and he finds out you purposefully skipped out on patrol?”

“Alright, fine. Have Guinevere meet us in the square. You still need to cover with my father though.”

“Go on, then, you don't want to keep her waiting.”


“He’s what!?”

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t talk him out of it.”

“You need to go with him, Gwen,” Morgana said, looking at her maid pleadingly. “I’ll be fine without you.”

She curtsied and left quickly.

“Thank you,” Merlin said and Morgana shook her head.

“No, thank you for doing what you could. I know how stubborn Arthur can be.”

“Can… Can I ask what has you both so worried?”

Morgana looked away.

“Nevermind, I understand.”

She turned back to him and was surprised to see he didn’t look annoyed, only worried. “I -”

He shook his head. “It’s okay. I don’t need to know.”

She nodded, tears in her eyes.

He took her hands and gave them a squeeze, smiling. “Besides, now I’ve got to go lie to the king and hope I don’t end up in the stocks, or worse.”

She squeezed his hands back. “I’ll handle Uther. It’s the least I can do?”

She barely held back a laugh when the boy was obviously extremely relieved. “You don’t owe me anything, but thank you so much.” He stepped back and looked around. “I guess I’ll help you out in here since Arthur’s gone for the day and I kind of stole your maid.”

“You don’t need to do that. You should take the day off.”

Merlin shook his head, already heading over to the bed. “It’s fine. If I head back to Gaius’s, he’ll just put me to work anyways and I’m putting off cleaning the leech tank for as long as possible.”

Morgana chuckled and went to the door. “Well, I’d be happy to help you evade your chores.”

“Thanks, though I should warn you: I’ve been told I’m a terrible servant.”

“Whoever told you that sounds like a… what is it… a prat?”

The two laughed and Morgana slipped out the door.

Uther was tying his cape on when she entered the Council Chamber and she came up to help.

“Where’s Arthur?” he asked as she adjusted the ties.

“Arthur?”

“We’re supposed to do a patrol with the guard.”

She gave him a surprised expression. “He was telling the truth?”

“The truth?”

“I asked -- well, forced, really -- him to do a favor for me. He said he was supposed to go out with you, but I thought he was just making excuses. He’s likely already out of the city.”

Uther sighed and shook his head. “Should I be concerned about what you two are up to now?”

She smiled and brushed a wrinkle off his shoulder. “Of course not, just some playful teasing. I am sorry. It’s all my fault, don’t be mad at him. If I had known he really was supposed to be with you…”

Uther took her hand and pressed a kiss to it. “It’s fine. I’m just glad you two aren’t fighting again. He can make it up another day.”

“Thank you,” she said, victorious.


Gwen knew she was supposed to be protecting Arthur, a brave and honorable cause, but she just felt awkward as she led the horses and tried to ignore the nobles flirting ahead of her. She was especially ignoring the angry looks Sophia kept sending her. Sophia definitely wanted Arthur alone, either because she wanted to kill him or for… other reasons.

Gwen blushed as the two stopped and Sophia leaned in close to his face to whisper something to him. She looked away and her eyes widened when she spotted a group of guards coming their way.

“You there! Halt!”

“Arthur!” Gwen shouted as one of them raised their crossbow to fire.

He grabbed Sophia and pulled her down as the bolt flew over their heads. He then stomped over to the guards, yelling as he went.

“Are you alright, milady?” Gwen asked, coming closer.

“Fine,” the other girl breathed shakily, staring at the bolt.

“I’m glad. Here.” Gwen grabbed the wooden staff Sophia had sat down just before the incident to hand back to her and her eyes caught on the weird symbols carved into the staff below the crystal embedded into the top.

“Don’t touch that!” she hissed, snatching it away.

Gwen blinked then took a step back and bowed her head. “Apologies, milady.”

“You okay?” Arthur asked, jogging over and looking between the two girls.

Gwen nodded and Sophia gave him a smile and batted her eyes. “Yes. Thanks to you.”

“They were searching for the bandits that attacked you yesterday.” He wrapped an arm around her waist and Gwen took that as her cue to slip back to the horses. “Are you sure you’re okay? You seemed angry with Guinevere.”

“I’m fine. This staff is just a special family heirloom and I don’t allow the servants to touch it.”

Gwen held back a giggle as she thought of the faces Merlin and Morgana would make hearing that.

“I'm sorry… Maybe we should go back.”

“It's fine. Don't let her spoil our day together,” she said, setting a hand on his chest. “We were having such a nice time. Let's go down to the river.”

She tried to step out of his grip, but he turned her towards Gwen. “I'm taking you back to Camelot. Your father would never forgive me if I let anything happen to you.”

Gwen sighed with relief as the girl grew annoyed, but marched towards the horses.


“How was it?” Morgana asked once Gwen had shut the door.

“It was fine. They just walked and flirted until -” Gwen cut off as when she noticed Merlin off to the side, scrubbing the floor. “Oh Merlin, you don’t need to do that.”

Morgana smiled and waved her hand. “He’s hiding from Gaius.”

He shrugged and stood up. “I should probably be going now. Arthur’s probably already got a list of things for me to do now that you guys are back. I know he’ll be wanting his dinner soon.”

“I’ll come with you,” Gwen said and glanced at Morgana, who tilted her head in agreement.

Once they were out of the room, Gwen whispered, “I think there’s something wrong with her staff.”

“Sophia’s? What do you mean?”

“She yelled at me when I tried to hand it to her. She said it was just because I’m a servant, which isn’t impossible, but it had these were symbols carved into it.”

“You think it’s magic?” he asked, looking around to be sure no one was listening in.

“I don’t know. They didn’t look like the ones in the book, but it wasn’t anything I’ve seen in Morgana’s books either.”

Merlin frowned. “Arthur wanted me to take care of her and her father, so I’ll try to take a peek. Maybe there’s something in Gaius’s books that I can match them to.”


Merlin slipped into Aulfric’s room and looked around. Seeing no one, he shut the door and crept over to the staff resting against the wall. He looked over the engravings with a frown, trying to match them to anything he’d seen in Gaius’s books. It definitely wasn’t Graecus or Aegyptiacus.

He heard someone at the door and darted over to the bed.

“What are you doing here?”

He turned to see Aulfric glaring at him suspiciously.

He bowed. “I’m Merlin. Prince Arthur told me to make sure you and your daughter are comfortable and have anything you need. I was just checking your bedding.”

“I do not want you in my chambers when I am not here. Leave.”

He nodded and left at a relaxed pace. He walked down the hall and turned the corner where Gwen was waiting for him.

“What happened?”

“He almost walked in on me, but I was able to get a look at it before he came in. I didn’t recognize it, but I think it looked familiar. I need to double-check the books now that I’ve seen it. Can you help or does Morgana need you?”

She shook her head. “She wanted to go to bed early so I have the night off. I’ll do what I can.”


“You're dressed!” Merlin said when Arthur walked in, dressed in simple clothing.

“Nothing gets past you, does it, Merlin?”

“What… You're supposed to be wearing these!” he said, shaking the armor he’d been preparing. “Your father's bestowing a knighthood on one of your men this morning!”

“I'm giving it a miss.”

He sighed and set it down. “Won't the King mind?”

“Not if you…er…cover for me, again. By the way, thanks for yesterday. I don’t know how you convinced Morgana to lie for me.”

“She offered. Arthur, I think you need to be more careful around Sophia.”

“Not you too,” he huffed, glaring at Merlin.

“Arthur, there’s something off about her staff, her father’s too. There are these engravings -”

“Are they magic?”

“I don’t know. Gwen and I tried to find them in Gaius’s library last night, but we were still looking when she had to leave.”

“So you’re worried over a fancy walking stick.”

“Please Arthur, just… why not stay in the castle? Take her to the garden or -”

“Stop being such a girl, Merlin. She wants to see the river.” Arthur looked up at him and sighed. “If it will make you stop pouting, I’ll take Guinevere with me again.”

Merlin groaned, but he could see Arthur wasn’t going to relent. “Alright, fine, but take Gwen.”

“You just make sure you don’t end up in the stocks.”


“We ought to just let him face Uther’s wrath,” Morgana huffed as Gwen ran out the door to attend to Arthur.

“I would never hear the end of it if I did,” Merlin groaned. “And Uther would probably take it out on me.”

“You’re right,” she agreed, looking annoyed.

“What am I supposed to tell Uther? I can’t lie to save my life.” Unfortunately. He really needed to get better at that considering it really could save his life.

Morgana hummed for a moment, thinking. “Tell him exactly what I say. Say…”


“Prince Arthur sends his regrets, but he received information pertaining to the bandits who attacked Lord Tír-Mòr and his daughter and the safety of his country, unfortunately, has to take precedence to such pleasantries.”

Merlin fidgetted as Uther and Leon stared at him. Despite Morgana’s assurances that Uther would assume he was just worried about giving the king bad news, he was still anxious that Uther would know he’s lying.

“Tell Arthur I want to speak to him once he returns.”

Sighing with relief, Merlin bowed and left. As he slipped out the door, he heard Uther tell Leon, “I’m glad he’s taking his responsibilities seriously, but he needs to learn when to delegate such tasks to others.”

Arthur’s going to kill me, Merlin thought with a sigh.

Chapter Text

Gwen frowned when Sophia went running and Arthur chased after her.

She hiked up her skirts and followed, only to find them nearly chest to chest, staring into each other’s eyes. She was about to go back when she realized Sophia’s eyes were glowing red.

“Your Highness?”

The two blinked and Arthur turned to Gwen. “Do you mind?”

“I -”

“Privacy, Guinevere! Now!”

She looked between the two and curtsied. “Of course.” She retreated into the trees, but stayed close enough that she could still keep an eye on them. It seemed pointless though as they only talked for a moment before turning to head back to the horses.


“I found it!”

When he didn’t receive a response, he looked up to see Gwen focused on a book. He moved closer to peek over her shoulder.

The page she was on talked about seers.

A seer is one who is tied to the strings of fate.

An oracle seer, or Oneiromancer, gets visions within their dreams that hint at events yet to come. They are drawn into their visions and have no control over what they see or when the vision begins or ends. As a result, these visions are often mentally and physically taxing on the seer. The ability usually presents itself around puberty, but can develop sooner or later due to a variety of factors; such as bloodline, trauma, or magical ability.

A divination seer, or Reader, is someone with the ability to perceive the future within crystals or through reflective surfaces. These seers have to search for the future themselves, though their visions are often much clearer than an Oneiromancer’s as a result. Likewise, a Reader’s visions also require great magical ability to reach the length of an Oneiromancer’s vision. A notable exception to these facts is certain mystic crystals that are, themselves, tied to fate. These crystals call out to Readers and draw them into visions with a pull that only the most willful can resist.

An odd occurrence that has been noticed is that while Oneiromancers are not clairvoyant and are often incapable of developing any of the associated abilities, Readers have a propensity for clairvoyance and tend to be prodigies. This has led some to believe Oneiromancers are the true seers while a Reader’s ability simply stems from their natural clairvoyant powers.

“Why are you reading about seers?” Merlin asked and Gwen jumped.

“I wasn’t! I was just, I mean…” She snapped the book closed. “Did you say something?”

He sat down next to her. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. So, what did you find out?”

He raised an eyebrow, but decided to drop it. Instead, he opened the book he was holding to the page he had saved. “The symbols on the staff are an ancient script called Ogham. I can’t remember all of it, but what I can remember translates vaguely into holding life and death I think.”

“Ogham? I think I saw something about that in here,” she said, opening her book up again and flipping through the pages. “It didn’t have the alphabet so I didn’t realize it was what was on the staff.”

She stopped on a page that had a drawing of a blue humanoid creature. It had insect wings and antennae with horns on its chin and large ears.

“It says Ogham is the language of preference of the Sidhe.”

“Sidhe?”

An immortal race of Avalon, the Island of Youth,” she read. “It says they specialize in enchantments and will occasionally implant their young in human infants to create changelings. They’re also apparently very brutal.”

“Enchantments? Do you think that’s what you saw her doing to Arthur?”

“It has to be. There’s no other way he wouldn’t have seen her eyes glowing with how close they were.”

“I need to talk to Arthur.” Merlin jumped to his feet and looked at the piles of books scattered around his room.

“I’ve got it. Go,” Gwen said, nudging him.

“Are you sure?”

“Go.”

He darted out of the physician’s quarters, grateful Gaius was still busy with the king. He rushed through the halls until he reached the one that led to Arthur’s chambers. He turned the corner, then immediately scrambled back around it.

He peaked around the wall to see Aulfric pacing down the hall. A moment later Sophia stepped out of Arthur’s chambers.

“He's ready. Tomorrow he'll do what we need him to,” she told her father.

“Good, you have done well. I must go to the elders.” He walked off and she went back into the rooms.

Merlin came around the corner again. He glanced at the door she’d gone through, but followed Aulfric. They needed to know more about what was going on.


“Uther should have just killed them,” Merlin huffed. “It would have saved us a lot of trouble.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Arthur dismiss Uther like that,” Gwen sighed. “He’s definitely under a love spell.”

“Love spell?”

The two jumped and turned to see Morgana standing in the doorway to the room they’d taken shelter in.

“What are you talking about?”

They shared a look.

“Sophia is a Sidhe.”

“Gwen!”

“Sidhe?”

Merlin glanced between the two. “They’re immortal magical creatures. We’ve been looking into her and we found Sidhe writing on her staff and last night I saw her father talking to the Sidhe at a nearby lake. They want to sacrifice Arthur so that Sophia can be immortal.”

“My dream's going to come true,” Morgana gasped, covering her mouth.

“Dream?”

… visions within their dreams…

Merlin placed his hands on her shoulders. “Morgana, breath. It’s okay, we won’t let anything happen to Arthur, but you’ve got to tell me what’s doing on.”

Morgana glanced at Gwen, who nodded. “I-I had a dream. Sophia lead Arthur into a lake where he drowned. But I had the dream before Sophia even arrived in Camelot. You have to believe me.”

“I do.”

“You do?”

He squeezed her shoulders. “I need to find Arthur. I-Do I have your permission to tell him about the dream? It might be the only way to convince him.”

“I tried to tell him, he didn’t believe me.”

“I’ll make him believe.” He looked up at Gwen. “Stay with her.”

“I will.”

Merlin ran as fast as he could and was grateful to find Arthur in his room.

He was packing.

“Get out.”

“Arthur, we need to talk.”

“I ordered you to get out. Now leave me!”

“Sophia’s a Sidhe. She wants to sacrifice you.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I do. You know I do, Arthur. Please, I’m your friend.”

“No, Merlin, you're my servant.”

That… hit harder than Merlin expected it to. “You don't know what you're doing. She's cast a spell on you. You're enchanted.”

“I told you people would try to keep us apart.”

Merlin turned to glare at the girl and suddenly she was screeching.

Having jumped down from the canopy of Arthur’s bed, Cavall had landed on her shoulders to carve deep gashes across her skin. She managed to throw him off, but he landed on his feet, unhurt. He came to Merlin’s side, placing himself between Arthur and the Sidhe-turned-humans with a hiss.

“Familiar,” Aulfric said, looking shocked and pointing his staff at the cat.

“Sophia,” Arthur said, stepping towards her. He glared down at the cat and tried to kick him, though he leaped onto Merlin’s shoulders before his foot could connect. “Control that beast.”

“Kill it,” Sophia screeched, her eyes bright red.

“Look at her eyes. Look at -” Merlin started, but then Arthur’s eyes began to glow red as well. “Arthur, you have to fight it.”

“Na þing biþ!”

The world slowed down around Merlin. He saw the spell light up Sophia’s staff and turned, dragging Cavall down so he was tucked into his chest. The spell hit his back and


Sophia smirked as the familiar went limp in its master’s clutches. She had hoped to kill the beast itself, but a familiar can’t live without its master so she supposed killing him worked out just as well.

“Let’s go,” her father ushered them out and she grabbed Arthur’s hand.


“Gwen!”

Gwen dropped the vase she was holding and rushed to Morgana’s side at the scream. “Wha-” she started before seeing the three figures leaving the square.

“I’ve got to tell Uther.”

“You can't,” Gwen said, grabbing Morgana’s arm before she could run off.

“I've got to do something, if I don't then Arthur will die.”

“Morgana, you’re a seer. I read about it in one of Gaius’s books. It’s magic. If Uther finds out, he’ll burn you.”

“I don't have a choice. I couldn't live with myself knowing I'd let him die.”

“Wait,” she pleaded. “I’ll find Merlin. He knows where they’re going, the lake. We’ll bring him back.”

“But -”

“Please, Morgana, trust me.”

“I-I do.”

“We’ll take care of it. Just stay here.”

Gwen slowly backed away from her mistress, then ran out. She had to find Merlin.


Gyfareddau rolled out of Emrys’s arms and stretched themselves out. They looked around and were disappointed to see the People of the Mounds had left. Pity, they had quite enjoyed tearing open the female.

Their head ached from the collision with the wall, but they deliberated quickly and passed the pain onto one so the other two could focus.

Was this a matter for them? Yes, Emrys was too fresh. He could handle the People of the Mounds and Rydd thought he should be left to it, but Wyllt thought it was an unnecessary risk.

Then should they follow after The King? Stay at Emrys’s side? Fetch The Queen? They could sense her coming near. Perhaps they should split? No, Emrys’s magic was focused inwards due to the blast. It would be unwise to draw from him now as it could send his full power outward. 

The Queen could see to Emrys, he would want them to focus on The King.

Nodding, Gyfareddau let space shift around them until they were in a tree above The King and the People of the Mounds. They could see the People of the Mounds’ energy around The King and Rydd wished to claw it away, but he did not have Emrys’s power to use and his own was not yet a match for the People of the Mounds’. Instead, Wyllt came to the forefront, the wilds responding to his call.

The winds lengthened his jumps as he leaped from tree to tree. The branches supported his weight no matter how thin they were. The animals of his domain added their call to the air to mask his chase. Below, roots tripped up his prey to slow them down. When they reached the lake, waves clawed at the bank and crashed together to give the group pause.

He felt Emrys wake and slipped back to join his brothers.

Gyfareddau curled up on a branch and watched over The King and Emrys.

The People of the Mounds stared at the lake, chittering in human language as The King stood mindlessly at their side.

Emrys rose with the help of The Queen and the two rushed out of the castle and into the woods.

Wyllt left to ease their way and Rydd dropped down to sneak towards The King’s side as Ddof rested through his pain.


Merlin and Gwen rushed through the forest towards the lake as dawn rose around them. Thankfully it seemed the three had taken a deer trail and their tracks were obvious in the soft ground so the two were making quick time, the wind at their backs and the path clear.

They reached the lake to see Sophia leading Arthur into the choppy water of the lake.

“What do we do?” Gwen asked as Merlin looked around.

He spotted Sophia’s staff on the ground next to Aulfric. “Ongebringan,” he whispered and the staff shot into his hand.

Suddenly Sophia shrieked and they looked up to see Caval standing on Arthur’s shoulders. She tried to grab him and he scratched her hands.

Aulfric raised his staff, but Merlin was faster this time.

“Swilte, gold beorþ.”

“Father!” Sophia yelled. “No! No! Stop him!”

Arthur took an aborted step forwards before placing a hand on his head as Cavall nuzzled his cheek.

Merlin turned the staff on Sophia and she faced the same fate as her father.

Gwen and Merlin ran forward as Arthur collapsed into the lake. Thankfully the water was calming so he wasn’t dragged out far and they easily pulled him up onto the bank.

“Arthur?” Merlin called as they started pulling off his armor so he could breathe easier.

“What happened? Where am I?” he groaned, sitting up slightly.

Gwen went to answer, but was cut off by a hiss. They turned to see Cavall climbing out of the lake, sopping wet and annoyed.

“Why is he wet?” Arthur asked as Gwen went to help the cat. “Why am I wet?”

“Can you remember anything?” Merlin asked.

Arthur groaned and put a hand on his temple. “Oh, my head! There was a girl. Sophia, she… I asked my father something about her, I asked him…” Arthur was silent for a moment then he sat up straight. “What was I thinking!?”

“You weren’t. Sophia used a love spell on you and was about to sacrifice you to make herself immortal.”

Arthur stared at him blankly. “You’re kidding.”

“We tried to warn you, Your Highness,” Gwen said, cradling a pouting Cavall.

“So did Morgana,” Merlin added.

“I remember she said something about a dream. I thought she was just being jealous.”

“Jealous of your ego?” Merlin muttered. He glanced back at Gwen then said, “It’s not paranoia, or jealousy. Arthur, Morgana’s a seer. She has visions of the future in her dreams.”

The prince rubbed a hand over his face. “You’re trying to tell me Morgana has magic?”

“Not exactly,” Gwen said quickly. “Oneiromancy is technically a type of magic, but it’s not a learned skill and Oneiromancers don’t always have magic.” She blushed when the two turned to her. “I did some reading.”

“You can’t be serious. My father -”

“Can’t know,” Gwen declared firmly.

Arthur sighed and started to stand, Merlin moving closer to help him. “Obviously, but I still don’t buy it.”

“Arth-”

“Wait, what time is it?” Arthur asked, looking around.

Merlin’s eyes widened as Gwen said, “Early?”

“Patrol!” Merlin gasped.

“Hopefully Morgana foresaw this and gave Father another excuse,” Arthur joked as they started for Camelot, “or else you’re going to be spending the day in the stocks.”

“Me? Why?” Merlin whined.

“What kind of magical protector lets their prince fall under a love spell?”

“The kind that can’t tell the difference between enchanted stupidity and the prince’s normal stupidity?” Merlin muttered and Arthur smacked the back of his head. “For the record, I did tell you to keep away from her and you just told me I was worried over nothing.”

“If you’d do your job, it would have been nothing.”

“If you’d let me do my job, then it would have been nothing.”

Gwen rolled her eyes as the two bickered all the way back to Camelot.

Chapter Text

Arthur was sitting at his desk and staring at the door with a scowl set on his face and his arms crossed when Merlin entered.

“Where is he?”

Merlin bit down a cheeky comment and bowed his head. “How did you know?”

“You are always involved somehow when something like this happens and the druid boy wouldn’t be able to hide without help.”

Merlin sighed and came up to his prince. “I heard him calling out. He was nowhere to be seen, but I could hear him... like he was inside my mind. The same as with the dragon. Arthur, he’s just a young boy. He doesn’t mean any harm.”

Arthur shook his head. “Where is he?” When Merlin opened his mouth to keep arguing, he held up his hand. “My father is going to send me out soon to search for him. I need to know where he is so I can be sure the guards don’t discover him.”

Warmth filled Merlin and he smiled. “I don’t think that will be hard.”

“What do you mean?”

Merlin nodded his head to the side.

Arthur glanced at his second door for a moment before turning back to Merlin. Then he did it again, eyes widening. “Merlin, please tell me you did not hide him in my chambers.”

Merlin bit his lip.

Arthur shoved himself to his feet and stomped over to the door, throwing it open to reveal Gwen sitting on the bed next to an unconscious boy. He was pale with dark brown hair. He also had a druid cloak wrapped around him like a blanket. “You idiot!” he growled and Gwen flinched. “I see you also dragged Guinevere into this.”

“For the record, she came to me.”

Gwen blushed and ducked her head. “It wasn’t hard to guess who had him.”

Arthur saw that she had a bloodstained rag in her hand. “He’s injured.”

“Yes, and it looks bad.”

“All the more reason for us to get him back to his people as fast as possible. They’ll know how to treat him,” Arthur said. He turned to Merlin. “Ready one of the horses and place it in the stables in the lower town. At midnight you’ll take him out through the secret door in the armory. When I give the guards their routes, I’ll be sure to plot out a delay that will give you time. After dinner, you will leave out of the castle under the premise of running an errand for me then return in secret. As far as anyone will know, you were out all night on my errand, understand?”

“Yes, Arthur,” Merlin said, bowing his head.

“Guinevere, would you mind watching him until this idiot returns?”

“Of course not, Your Highness.”

“Thank you.”


“What took you so long?” Gwen asked when she let Merlin into Arthur’s chambers.

“Sorry. Once Gaius gets talking about anatomy, there's no stopping him.”

“Anatomy?”

Merlin pulled out a few vials. “Before I left to hide the horse, I wanted to get him something to make the trip easier on him. Gaius saw the book open. I think he’s decided to make me his apprentice instead of his dogsbody. As if I don’t have enough to do.”

“I’ll give them to him,” she said and Merlin passed them to her. “Arthur left the key to the tunnel on the table as well as a cloak. He didn’t want to risk anyone recognizing you if you’re seen.”

As Gwen ducked into the room, Merlin ran over to Arthur’s desk.

Cavall stared at him from where he was nesting in the mound of fabric.

“Up you go,” Merlin said, half pushing, half shooing him away.

The cat nipped his finger, but hopped down and headed towards Arthur’s bed.

Merlin quickly hooked the key to his belt then picked up the cloak. It was one of Arthur’s old ones. It had once been bright pendragon red with the golden crest on the shoulder, but the color had faded and the patch had fallen off, leaving a slightly brighter red in the shape of a dragon.

Merlin frowned at the light color before whispering a spell. The cloak darkened to black, the dragon becoming a dull grey. He slipped it across his shoulders and tied it.

Gwen was helping the boy to his feet when he entered, but she stopped to stare at the cloak.

“I thought it’d be more discreet,” he said to her before asking the younger boy, “How are you feeling?”

Tired and cold, but a bit better, he answered with his mind.

“Your people will be able to help you, won’t they?” Merlin asked, watching how shaky he was on his feet.

I think so.

“Will he be okay to ride out?” Gwen asked.

“He has to be.” Merlin pulled both their hoods up then wrapped an arm around the younger boy’s shoulders. “Ready?”

Yes, Emrys.

Merlin frowned at the name, but nodded at Gwen. She unlatched the door to the hall and stepped out. “It’s clear, go,” she whispered before walking off down the opposite way they fled.


Merlin glanced around nervously as they neared the stables.

“Stop, you there!” a voice yelled and Merlin tilted his head just enough to see three guards approaching.

He pushed the younger boy behind him and pulled his hood farther down. He held up his hand. “Swefe nu.”

The guards collapsed to the ground, asleep.

“Hurry,” he whispered and pushed the boy into the stables. He helped him up onto Hengroen before leading the stallion out of the stables. He swung up behind the boy and kicked the horse off.

Camelot’s bells began to ring just as they disappeared into the trees.

They rode hard into the night, following the directions the boy gave him. Hours later, Merlin was starting to worry the boy would collapse before they could find the druids.

"The man you came with, I'm sorry we could not get him out as well. Is he your father?" Merlin asked, trying to keep him awake.

Mordred shook his head. I-I don't know my father... My mother was a noblewoman of Essetir. I don't -- turn left here -- know what family, but I remember her name was Anna. She gave me to the druids when I was really young because she feared what would happen to us if she kept me since she wasn't married. I've been apprenticing under Cerdan for the past year.

"I never knew my father either. My mother never talks about him, but I know they weren't married either. It was hard growing up." He frowned and in a soft whisper admitted, "I almost wish she had given me to the druids too. I love her more than anything, but I know her life would have been far easier without me in it. And maybe the druids could have helped me figure all this out so much sooner."

The younger boy looked up at him, but before anything else could be said, they came across a group of men in cloaks like the boy’s standing on the road, clearly waiting for them.

"You're people," he asked quietly and Mordred nodded.

To Merlin’s confusion, they kneeled as he stopped in front of them, heads bowed.

“He needs help. He’s injured,” he said, slipping off the horse.

“Our healers will see to him. We are forever indebted to you, Emrys, for returning him to us,” one said, standing up and coming forward to help the boy down.

Merlin frowned. “He called me Emrys as well. Why?”

“Because that is your name,” the man said, holding the boy close.

“I'm pretty sure my name's Merlin, always has been.”

“You have many names.”

“Do I? How do you know who I am?” Merlin asked. “I've never even met any druids until now.”

“The druids have heard many of your tales which have not yet come to pass. We know of you, just as we know of your king.”

“Uther?”

The man sent him a look that said he knew that Merlin knew that wasn’t who he meant.

“You can’t tell anyone, please.”

“We will not. You have my word.”

“Thank you.” Merlin looked over at the boy with a smile. “Take care.”

Thank you, Emrys.

“Merlin, please. Can I know your name?”

The boy looked up at the man, who nodded. “It's all right.”

“My name is Mordred,” he said, his first words aloud since Merlin had found him.

“Good luck, Mordred.”

“You too, Merlin-Emrys.”


Merlin… Merlin…

“Merlin,” Merlin groaned as he stomped into the dragon’s cave, “is trying to sleep.”

The dragon was waiting for him, looking unimpressed. “What happened with the boy?”

Merlin perked up. “How do you know about him?”

Mordred’s mentor had been executed earlier that day and Merlin was grateful that they had gotten the boy out of the city before that happened. If he’d come back…

“Like you, I heard him speak. Where has he gone?”

“I brought him to Arthur and he helped me get him out. Why?”

“You brought him to Arthur?”

“Well, to Arthur’s rooms. Arthur just happened to figure it out.”

The dragon hummed and looked towards the ceiling.

“What does it matter?”

“Time will tell.”

Merlin ran his hand over his face. He was far too tired for this. “Can’t I get a straight answer for once?”

The dragon looked back down at him. “This boy, his fate is tied closely to your own. And by extension, Arthur’s.”

“That’s… good?”

“Perhaps, though I feel that his fate is also tied to that of the witch.”

“Witch?”

“That tie seems weak. Hopefully, this bodes well.”

“… I’m going back to bed.”

“Merlin,” the dragon called just as the warlock made it to the door. “Please tell your daimons to keep away. Their presence annoys me.”

“Daimons?”

“Meow.”

Merlin looked down to see Cavall walking into the light of the torch.

“That,” the dragon huffed.

“He’s Arthur’s cat, not mine. And there’s only one.”

“At this point in time.”

Merlin decided to ignore that and simply shooed the cat towards the stairs. “Go on, Cavall, go lay on Arthur or something. Stop bugging him before he eats you.”

The dragon snorted and Cavall flicked his tail at the sound, but thankfully he started up the stairs.

“You should keep better control over them,” the dragon said.

“He’s Arthur’s. He listens to me about as much as Arthur does, meaning he doesn’t.”

The dragon gave another snort and flew off.

They reflect the temperament of their master, young warlock.

Merlin shook his head. Wasn’t that what he just said?

Chapter Text

Arthur was glaring out the window when Merlin came into his room. “Can you believe my father kept me from accepting the challenge?”

“I think we have bigger problems.”

“Oh?” Arthur turned to Merlin. “This involves that doesn’t it.”

“It’s Gaius’s theory, for the record. He believes the knight is a wraith. A dead man brought back to life.”

“A dead man?”

“Your…” Merlin shifted nervously, “uncle to be precise.”

“My uncle? You mean my mother’s eldest brother, Tristan?” Arthur asked, stepping closer. “My father said he died when I was little.”

“Gaius said he blamed your father for your mother’s death and challenged him to a fight to the death. He thinks a sorcerer brought him back so he could get his revenge.”

“Why would he blame my father? My mother died in childbirth.”

Merlin’s eyes widened. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Gaius didn’t say.”

Arthur turned away, face blank. “Did Gaius say anything else about the wraith, if that is what he is? How can we stop him?”

He shook his head. “He said no mortal weapon could stop it. It won’t stop until it gets what it wants.”

“You mean until my father’s dead.”

“Most likely.”

“We can’t let that happen.”

“I know, Arthur.”


“What were you thinking?” Merlin snapped when he came into the room.

“I got this from my father already. I don’t need it from you too,” Arthur growled, pulling off his gauntlets.

“We don’t have any idea how to kill the wraith yet! How could you challenge it?”

Arthur threw his gauntlet at Merlin’s head, but the warlock ducked.

“Oh, now you’re challenging me?

“I will not allow my knights to die needlessly!”

“Oh, but you can die needlessly!”

“Not if you do your job and find some way to kill the thing.”

Merlin narrowed his eyes at Arthur. “You know if a mortal weapon won’t work -”

“I know, Merlin. As I said, do your job.”

Merlin nodded and went to fetch his spellbook.


“I’ve got it!”

Arthur looked up from his dinner. “What have you got? Obviously not my dinner as Gwen had to deliver it.”

“I know, I asked her to,” Merlin said, waving his hand. “I was busy with my other job. Which was what I was trying to tell you, I think I’ve got it!”

“You’ve got something that can kill the knight?”

“Yes, well, maybe,” Merlin said, pacing in front of Arthur. “There’s a story about how a sword forged in dragon flame can kill anything, alive or dead.”

“Including a wraith?” Arthur perked up.

“I said anything, didn’t I? It’s just a story, but it’s all we’ve got,” Merlin said.

“How would we even obtain such a sword?”

“We know of a dragon.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “Yes, but we can hardly bring him to a blacksmith.”

“But we might be able to bring a blacksmith to him,” Merlin countered.

“We can’t reveal you or the dragon.”

“We won’t have to,” Merlin said, jumping forwards and slapping his hands on the table.

The noise clearly disrupted Cavall, whose head peaked over the table to glare at Merlin before disappearing back into his spot on Arthur’s lap.

Merlin considered commenting on it, but pressed on instead with, “Gwen’s father is a blacksmith, remember. She’s helped him out before. She might be able to forge the sword for us. Then you can use it to kill the wraith in your duel.”

Arthur thought for a moment before nodding. “Go to her, tell her what’s happening and see if she can help. If she can, do it immediately. Don’t waste time coming back.”

“Right,” Merlin turned to leave.

“And Merlin, bring the sword straight to me. We can’t let a magic sword end up in the wrong hands.”

“Of course.”

“Now hurry!”


“You have no idea how long it takes to forge a sword, do you?”

Merlin blinked.

Gwen sighed and shook her head. “Merlin, it can take days, weeks, sometimes even months to forge a sword worthy of a prince.”

“Arthur has hours.”

“I know.”

“Is there nothing you can do?”

Gwen bit her lip and glanced back towards her house. “Does the sword have to be truly forged in the dragon’s fire or can it just be reforged?”

“I don’t know,” Merlin said, mentally wondering what the difference was. “The story only said it was ‘begotten in the dragon's breath’. That might work.”

“It will have to,” she said, tugging her scarf closer with a shiver. “We don’t have time to forge a sword, but we might be able to reforge one if we hurry, and with a little bit of magical help.”

Gwen led the way into her father’s forge and started gathering supplies. Merlin held out his arms and she began piling different tools in them. When she was finished, she slung a bag over her shoulder and grabbed one of the nicer looking swords from the rack.

“Let’s go.”


“Merlin,” the dragon greeted them when they came into his cavern. “My Lady.”

Gwen blushed. “I am no lady.”

“Perhaps not yet.”

Gwen turned to Merlin, who shrugged. “He’s always like this. Just ignore it.” He turned to the dragon. “Do you know why we’re here?”

“It may surprise you, Merlin, but my knowledge of your life is not universal.”

“It's to do with Arthur. His life's in danger. He will die unless Gwen can make a weapon that will kill the dead.”

“So what do you come to ask of me?”

Gwen held up the sword. “Merlin believes if we reforge this sword with your fire, it will have the power to do so. Is he right?”

The dragon nodded. “Yes, My Lady, but the dead do not return without reason. Who has he come for?”

“Uther,” Merlin answered.

“Then let him take his vengeance and the wraith will die without my aid.”

“But it's Arthur who's going to fight him. You have to save him.”

“That is your destiny, young warlock, not mine.”

“But if Arthur fights the wraith and dies, Camelot will have no heir. I will have no destiny.”

The dragon shifted, looking between the two. “A weapon forged with my assistance will have great power.”

“We know.”

“You do not know. You can only guess. You have not seen what I have seen. If you had, perhaps you would not ask this of me.”

“What do you mean?”

“In the wrong hands, this sword could do great evil. It must be wielded by Arthur and him alone.”

“I have already promised Arthur to bring it straight to him. No one but he will wield it.”

“You must promise me as well.”

“I promise.”

“Then I will help you.”


“Arthur, we did it!” Merlin said, closing Arthur’s door and unwrapping the sword.

It was beautiful. Gwen had fashioned a hilt for it worthy of a prince and the dragon’s fire had engraved the blade with runes proclaiming Take me up on one side and Cast me away on the other.

“Arthur?” Merlin asked when he received no response, looking up to see Arthur lying on his bed, fully clothed.

He set the sword down on Arthur’s desk and rushed over to his prince. He sighed when he felt Arthur’s breath and heartbeat. He gave the prince a shake and called his name, but received no response other than a hiss and swipe from the cat curled up against his side.

He looked around the room and spotted a vial like the ones Gaius uses for medicine on Arthur’s table. He grabbed it and brought it to his nose.

It was a strong sedative.

Uther.

At least that explained why Arthur’s door was locked.

Merlin ran over to Arthur’s wardrobe and pulled the book out from its hidden compartment. He flipped through before finding the spell he was looking for. “Ic ácwice þé.”

Arthur groaned and sat up.

“Arthur!”

“Shut up, Merlin,” he muttered. He rubbed his eyes then looked out the window. “What time is it?”

“Nearly time for the challenge.”

“What?” Arthur jumped to his feet, then wavered under vertigo.

“Careful. The spell woke you, but the sedative is still in your system.”

“Sedative?” Arthur glared at the bottle on the table. “Gaius drugged me!”

“He wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t on your father’s orders.”

“Oh, I know. As soon as I’m done with the wraith I’ll deal with him.” Arthur marched over to his wardrobe. “Did you get the sword?”

“Yes. The dragon said it should work, too.”

“Good.”

Merlin helped Arthur dress then hid the book as the prince grabbed the sword.

Arthur looked it over appraisingly. “It’s perfect, worthy of a king. Give Guinevere my compliments, and remind me to pay her. A sword like this deserves a hearty commission, even without the magic.”

“She didn’t do it for the money, you know.”

“Still. Come on, I need my armor.”

“I helped make it, by the way.”

“Shut up, Merlin.”


Arthur was still looking over the sword as Merlin finished his armor. “You know, a sword as fine as this deserves a name.”

“Really? You didn’t want to name Cavall, but you’ll name a sword?” Merlin muttered.

“Your beast wasn’t deserving of a name.”

Merlin rolled his eyes.

“I think I’ll call it… Caledfwlch.”

“A fine name, sire,” Merlin said sarcastically.

“Arthur!”

The two turned to see Uther marching into the armory.

“Father,” Arthur said, turning away.

“What are you doing here?”

The prince sheathed his sword and grabbed his helmet.

“I have a fight to win. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” He marched out before the King could say another word.

Uther glared at his back before turning to Melin, who flinched. “You let him out?”

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty. I hadn’t known you’d wanted him locked up,” Merlin lied.

“You better hope Arthur comes out of this without a single scratch or you will regret it,” Uther growled before leaving.

“You alright,” Gwen asked, coming in.

“Uther is going to kill me one of these days,” Merlin bemoaned.

“Arthur won’t let that happen.”


“Leave,” Uther snapped as he pushed through the doors to Arthur’s room.

Merlin quickly fled at Arthur’s nod.

“My son -”

“You had Gaius drug me!”

“It wasn’t your fight.”

“It was. The Knight's Code is very clea-”

“Be damned! I believed you would die. And that was a risk I could not take. You are too precious to me. You mean more to me than anything I know, more than this entire kingdom, and certainly more than my own life.”

Arthur was stunned. “I… always thought that…”

“What?”

“Well, that… I was a big disappointment to you.”

Uther sighed and came forward to set his hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “Well, that is my fault, and not yours. You are my only son. And I wouldn't wish for another.” He gave his shoulder a squeeze then stepped back. “I am proud of you. You fought well and won. According to Gaius, it shouldn’t have been possible.”

Arthur felt a sliver of guilt sink into his heart as his hand fell on Caledfwlch's hilt. “Thank you, father.”

“Once more magic has failed against Camelot’s might. Your might.”

Arthur bowed his head as Uther took his leave. Merlin slipped back inside a second later.

“I’m living a lie and it’s all your fault.”

“I’m sorry,” Merlin said. “Honestly.”

“I know.” Arthur’s grip tightened before he drew Caledfwlch and held it out to Merlin. “Here. You need to hide it.”

“It was made for you.”

Arthur shook his head. “It’s too powerful. I’m not worthy, not yet. I said it was fit for a king, and I was right. Once I’m king, once I’m no longer living a lie, then perhaps I will be worthy of it.”

Merlin smiled and accepted the blade. “This is why you will be a great king one day.”

“Just make sure you put it somewhere no one will ever find it.”

“I know just the place.”


“I DIDN’T MEAN LEAVE IT AT THE BOTTOM OF A MAGICAL LAKE, YOU BLOODY IDIOT!”

Chapter Text

“What happened? Who did this to you?”

Hunith ducked her head. “It’s why I’m here. Ealdor needs help.”

Merlin linked his arm with hers and grabbed his bucket before leading her towards the castle. “What happened?”

“Raiders, led by a man named Kanen. They attacked the village and are demanding most of our harvest. You know how Cenred is. I hoped Uther might spare us.”

“Is he the one who did that to you?” Merlin asked, voice dark.

“You mustn’t get involved,” she said softly and he knew immediately he’d been right.

“I’ll speak to Arthur. He’ll be able to get you an audience with Uther, hopefully.”

Hunith’s eyes darted about as they stepped through the gates into the citadel. The guards eyed her curiously, but didn’t give Merlin a second glance. One even gave him a smile. “You mentioned the prince in your letters. How is he?”

“Same as always, a bit of a prat but still a good man.”

Hunith tutted, smacking his arm lightly and glancing at the guards. “Talking like that in your letters is one thing, but you need to be careful who might hear you.”

“It’s fine, mother,” he said, patting her hand. “I don’t do it in front of the lords or Uther and the knights and guards think it’s funny. And Arthur gives as good as he gets.”

Her face paled. “You do it in front of the prince?”

“Someone has to keep him in line.”

“Merlin!”

“Glad I’m not the only one that yells at this idiot.”

The two turned to see a young man walking up.

Merlin perked up. “Arthur, good timing!”

Hunith’s eyes widened as she realized who was in front of her. She dropped into a curtsy and lowered her eyes as she had learned to do years before. “Your Highness.”

Merlin tugged her up. “Don’t do that, you’ll make his head even bigger and then his helmet won’t fit.”

She shot her son a look before turning back to the prince with fear. It was unfounded as the prince merely snorted.

“Speaking of helmets, I thought you couldn’t polish my armor because Gaius needed you for errands, not because you needed to show women around.”

Merlin lifted up the bucket, spilling a little of the water inside. “For your information, I was fetching water for him when I spotted my mother in the market.”

“Your mother?” The prince turned his full attention to Hunith for the first time. He stepped forward and took her hand. She blushed as he pressed a kiss to it. “Ma’am, you must be a saint, having to watch after this fool for so many years.”

“Prat,” Merlin huffed.

Prince Arthur pulled back, giving Hunith a smile. “I’ll leave you to it. I suppose you can finish my armor tomorrow so you can spend time with your mother. Just be sure to bring my dinner on time for once.”

“Wait, Arthur,” Merlin called before he could walk off. “I need a favor.”

Arthur’s incredulous look shifted into a frown as Merlin explained. “I can’t make any promises, but I will speak to my father.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” Hunith said, giving him another quick curtsy.

“It’s fine, I owe Merlin one.”

“I’d say you owe me more than one,” Merlin muttered.

“Shut up, Merlin,” Arthur snorted, knocking Merlin’s shoulder with his own as he passed the two.

Hunith glanced between the prince and her son with astonishment. She knew Merlin had said the two were close, but she’d never expected this. That Arthur would act so fondly towards her son, who as far as he could know was nothing but a lowborn peasant from a small village, was unthinkable. And yet there they were, joking as if they were brothers.

“Come on, we can wait in Gaius’s chambers.”


Hunith watched Merlin scrub the floor with a smile on his face. “You look well. Camelot has done you better than I could have hoped.”

“There’s been good days and bad days, but overall it’s nice,” he answered, focused on his scrubbing.

“And Gaius, how has he treated you?”

“He’s been great, when he’s not running me into the ground with Arthur’s help,” he joked. “I told you he’s started to teach me how to be a physician, right?”

“You did, and I’m glad. You’ve always had a kind soul, healing suits you.” Hunith frowned. “Is that all he’s been teaching you?”

“What else would he teach me? I already know how to read and write and I know my languages,” he said, narrowing his eyes at a stubborn spot.

Worry set into her gut. “Merlin, did you remember to give Gaius that letter I gave you?”

“Letter?” He looked up and blinked at her. His eyes widened. “Oh, no. I mean, yes, I remembered, but I might have, um, accidentally ruined it by not capping my waterskin tight enough.”

“Oh Merlin,” she said, shaking her head, and he blushed.

“Sorry. Was there something important in there?”

“Not exactly.” She slid off the bench to sit next to him on the floor. Her eyes darted to the door and she whispered, “How has your magic been since coming?”

Merlin smiled and took her hand with his dry one. “Much better, more focused. I haven’t had an accident in ages.”

“You’re sure? Merlin, I know I sent you here, but -”

“I swear, mother. I’m fine.” He gave her hand a squeeze. “Safer than I’ve felt in a long time. I think Camelot is where I was meant to be.”

She searched his face before kissing his brow. “I just worry about you.”

“I know, but I’m alright. Everything’s under control.”

“If anything happens -”

“Nothing’s going to happen.”

If anything happens, you come straight to me. We’ll find someplace new.”

He frowned. “I won’t make you uproot your life for me.”

“I’m your mother, it’s my job to do whatever I have to to keep you safe.”

He sighed and leaned his head on her shoulder. “I’ve missed you.”

“And I’ve missed you. Ealdor is far too quiet without you and Will causing trouble.”

“Will isn’t causing trouble anymore?”

“Of course he is, just quieter trouble.”

Merlin pulled back with a laugh and returned to his scrubbing.

Hunith watched him with sad eyes. She had sent him here so Gaius could help him, but if he was figuring things out on his own, then perhaps that was for the better. The fewer people that knew, the safer he would be.


“If it was the other way around, you'd help us. You already have. You saved my life.” And my father’s, Gwen thought, though she didn’t dare say it in front of Morgana.

“And you listened to me about my dreams of Sophia. We owe it to you. Both of us,” said lady agreed.


“She’s asleep,” Gwen said, coming over to sit next to Hunith. She gave the woman a smile. “It’s nice to meet you. I just wish it was under better circumstances.”

“You as well. Merlin’s told me so much about you all. I’m glad to see he’s made such good friends in Camelot.”

“It’s hard not to make friends with Merlin. He must have been a delight to raise.”

“At least someone doesn’t think my mother’s a saint for putting up with me,” Merlin huffed with a fake pout.

“Did Arthur really say that?” she giggled and he nodded.

Hunith chuckled. “He has always had a habit of getting himself into trouble.”

Merlin’s pout became a bit more genuine.

“I’m sure. Especially considering his gifts.”

Merlin immediately went pale and started shaking his head behind his mother’s back.

“Gifts?” Hunith asked warily. She turned to her son, who immediately froze before giving her a nervous smile. “What is she talking about?”

“I, um, she just means, you know, I mean…”

Gwen’s eyes widened. “You didn’t tell her?”

Merlin’s shoulders crept up to his ears.

“Merlin?” Hunith’s asked in her Mom Voice.

“You know how you worry, mother.”

“You said -”

“I know. And I meant it. I’m fine. Gwen would never tell anyone.”

“I wouldn’t,” Gwen agreed immediately. “Merlin is my friend. I would never betray him.”

“She’s even helped me keep it a secret. I don’t know what I would have done without her.” Merlin shifted over to kneel in front of his mother. “It’s alright, mother. Truly.”

Hunith looked between the two.

“Trust in me, please.”

“I just want you to be safe.”

“I am safe.”

She didn’t look entirely convinced, but she nodded.

He smiled and leaned in to kiss her cheek. “Thank you.”

“I’m going to rest.”

“Of course. Goodnight, mother.”

“Goodnight, Hunith.”

“Goodnight, you two.”

They watched her walk over to the bedrolls and lie down before Merlin collapsed back onto the log with a groan.

“I’m sorry. I thought she knew,” Gwen whispered.

“Mother sent me away because my lifelong best friend found out,” he whispered back. “I didn’t dare tell her a girl I barely knew had found out, let alone you-know-who. She’d probably have shipped me off to Bernicia.”

“Well, at least she doesn’t know about him yet.”

“Let’s hope she never finds out.”


“How many men does Kanen have?”

“Erm, I'm not sure. I think, from what my mother said, maybe as many as forty.”

“Do people in Ealdor know of your abilities?”

“No. Before you, only my mother and my friend Will ever knew.”

“So we won’t be able to rely on you using it unless we want everyone from Cenred to my father hearing about it.”

“No, sorry. And please, don’t let my mother know you know. She worries.”

“So you get it from her then?”

“Arthur!”

“Calm down, I’m not going to tell on you, you big baby. Now, you should get some rest. It's going to be a long day tomorrow.”


“I trust Arthur with my life.”

“Is that so? So he knows your secret, then?”

Merlin raised his chin. “Yes.”

Will’s eyes widened and he took a step back. “You told him? You told him when you wouldn’t even tell me?

“I didn’t tell him, Will,” Merlin sighed. “He found out, same as you. And he kept it, same as you. He hid it from his father, protected me. He’s a good man.”

Will’s fists clenched and he stomped up to Merlin. “So he’s keeping you as his little secret.”

“He -”

“He’ll use you as long as he thinks he can get away with it and then he’ll hand you over to the executioner's block!”

“That’s not true!”

“Face it, Merlin, you're living a lie, just like you were here,” Will snapped before stomping out.


“He must care for you a great deal.”

“Arthur'd do the same for any village,” Merlin said, pulling on his jacket. “That's just the way he is.”

Hunith shook her head. “It's more than that. He's here for you.”

“I'm just his servant,” he scoffed.

“Give him more credit than that. He likes you.”

“I don’t know,” Merlin sighed, Will’s words echoing in his head. “Maybe he just likes what I do for him.”

“You don't really believe that, do you?”

Merlin’s head fell. He saw his mother about to speak so he kissed her cheek and darted out the door. “Arthur needs wood.”


“You'd be able to defeat Kanen on your own, wouldn't you?”

“I'm not sure. Maybe.”

“Well, so what's stopping you? Arthur already knows.”

“I don't expect you to understand.”

“Try me.”

“One day Arthur will be a great king, but he needs my help. And if anyone ever found out about my powers, I'd have to leave Camelot for good.”

“Are you telling me you'd rather keep your magic a secret for Arthur's sake than use it to protect your friends and family?”


“Merlin!”

Will and Merlin turned at Morgana’s call and Arthur looked away from Kanen.

“I saw that tornado form right in front of you. Are you okay?” she asked, running up. “Both of you?” she added, looking at Will.

Merlin’s back stiffened and Will took half a step in front of him.

“Morgana, leave them be,” Arthur said, coming up to them.

“Come now, Arthur. Didn’t you see that wind?”

Will turned to Arthur with a fierce look, which morphed into surprise. “Look out!” he shouted, then Arthur was falling to the side.

“Will!”

Arthur looked up to see Merlin cradling his friend, a bolt rising out of the fallen boy’s chest.

“You just saved my life,” Arthur said, surprised.

“Yeah. Don't know what I was thinking.”

Arthur’s eyes narrowed at his weakened voice. “Come on! Get him inside!”

A few men stepped forwards to help Merlin and Arthur lift him up and carry him into one of the houses.

“That's twice I've saved you.”

“Twice?” Arthur asked.

“Yeah, that wind? It was me. I summoned it, with magic.”

Arthur sent a shocked look to Merlin, but his eyes were focused on his friend.

“Will, don't.”

“It's alright, Merlin. I won't be alive long enough for anyone to do anything to me. I did it. I saw how desperate things were becoming and I had to do something.”

Arthur looked up to see Morgana, Hunith, and Gwen watching them from the end of the table while a few of the villagers peaked in through the door and he realized what the boy was doing. “You're a sorcerer?”

“Yeah. What are you gonna do? Kill me?”

“No. Of course not.” He waved the lot off. “Give the two some privacy!”

The villagers quickly bowed out and the women gave Merlin sad looks before following. Arthur went to do the same, but Will grabbed his arm.

“I was right about you,” Will joked. “I told Merlin you were going to get me killed.”

“You're not going to die,” Merlin said.

“I’m warning you, Pendragon,” Will said, the joking tone leaving his voice as he glared up at the prince. “You better do right by Merlin. He’s a good man -- a great man. If you turn him over to your father, I will come back and kill you myself, you hear.”

Arthur grabbed his arm and squeezed it as he would a knight’s. “I swear to you, that will never happen.”

Will searched his eyes before lying back.

Arthur shared a look with Merlin before leaving the room so the two friends could share their final moments together alone.


“When were you planning on telling me Arthur knew your secret?”

Merlin flinched and turned to his mother. “What? Arthur?”

She crossed her arms. “You know you can’t hide anything from me.”

Merlin sighed. “How long have you known?”

“When Morgana brought up the wind, he came to your defense and he was shocked when Will said it was him.”

Merlin ducked his head.

“You promised to be more careful.”

“I know, Mother. It was an accident. Arthur isn’t his father, though. It really is okay.”

“I know. I’ve seen the way he looks at you, looks to you.” She glanced over her shoulder at where Morgana, Gwen, and Arthur were talking. “Seen how much you need each other. You two belong together. You're like two sides of the same coin.”

Merlin chuckled. “I've heard someone say that about us before.”

She wrapped him in a hug and he held her tight.

“I'm going to miss you.”

“I'm going to miss you, too. When you left, you were just a boy. Now look at you. I'm so proud of you.”


“Merlin, get armored up and get over here.”

The warlock pouted at the prince. “Shield practice, again?”

“Now, Merlin!”

Merlin shuffled his way into the armory, suited up, then shuffled his way back out.

“Can you move any slower?”

“Can you be any less of a prat?” Merlin mumbled, grabbing a shield.

“You won’t need that,” Arthur called and Merlin looked up just as he tossed a training sword at him.

He clumsily caught it, dropping the shield in the process. Thankfully the blade was blunt or else he would have sliced his hand off. “Oi!”

“Focus, Merlin! The first rule in sword fighting, be aware of your surroundings.”

“Good thing I’m not a swordsman then.”

“Not yet, you’re not.”

“What?”

Arthur grabbed his own training sword and gave it a few swings. “I saw how you fought in Ealdor, it was terrible. The farmers who had never picked up a sword fought better than you.”

Merlin scowled at the prince, but he carried on before he could interject.

“I figure if you’re going to insist on following me out on dangerous missions and patrols I might as well teach you some basics so I’m not having to save you all the time.”

Merlin was about to point out that he was the one doing the saving before Arthur’s words really hit him. Arthur wanted to teach him how to fight, how to protect himself in a way that wasn’t illegal and therefore wouldn’t get him in trouble.

He gave the prince a wide smile. “Thank you, Sire.”

“Get that stupid grin off your face and get over here. We’ll start with some basic positions.”

Chapter Text

“Are you alright, Your Highness?” Gwen asked as Arthur passed her, looking huffy.

“Me? I’m fine. Other than the fact my servant keeps moping around over a glorified horse and my chambers have rats.”

“Rats?”

“Yes! Apparently that beast is as useful as Merlin. What’s the point in having a cat if it can’t catch rodents?”

“I’m sorry.”

He waved it off. “My father’s summoned me.”

She curtsied as he marched off then went to his chambers.

Merlin was inside, glaring at Cavall.

“Arthur said he’s got rats?”

“Apparently.”

“He also said you’re moping about the unicorn?”

He sighed and sat down on Arthur’s bed. “It was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. I wish you'd been there.”

“I’m sure it was lovely,” she said, coming over to pet Cavall. The cat melted into her touch, to Merlin’s obvious disappointment.

“It was more than lovely, it was… I can’t even explain it. I don't understand how Arthur can have taken any pleasure from killing it.”

“Men and their hunting.” She blushed as she realized what she said and looked up to see Merlin with a raised eyebrow. “I just mean, men like Arthur really like to hunt and they feel accomplished when they get a rare kill. You’re a different sort of man. A softer sort. N-not that that’s a bad thing. I really like that about you. I mean -”

“I get it,” Merlin chuckled.


“Gréot gecumen lecan… Gecumen gé drý wæter.”

“Someone’s coming,” Gwen said and Merlin shoved his book under Arthur’s pillow.

The prince came marching in, looking annoyed. As soon as the door was shut, he said, “Can’t you make yourself useful and fix this?”

“I’ve been trying,” Merlin sighed, pulling the book back out.

“We think whoever did this is blocking certain magic. Anything to do with water won’t work and he can’t make any plants grow,” Gwen explained.

“Then we need to find out who did this.”

“I still haven’t found a spell to track magic,” Merlin said, flicking through the book. “I might need another book. I’ve read this whole thing through.”

“I’ll think about it. In the meantime, have you or your beast caught that rat?”


“Arthur, he can disappear into thin air. He didn't have to talk his way out of anything.”

“We all know you’d never intentionally do anything that could harm your people,” Gwen said, cutting between them before they could really get into it.

“You’re blaming me too?”

“No one is blaming you.”

“You just think it’s my fault.”

“No, none of us had any idea what would happen if a unicorn is killed, that anything even would happen. You literally called it a glorified horse.”

“What?” Merlin shouted, sounding horrified and offended on the creature's behalf.

“It is a glorified horse.”

The warlock threw his hands in the air and left the room.

“It’s a magic horse, Your Highness. Killing it might have released something. I’m not saying it’s your fault, any of your men could have made the killing blow.”

“But it was me,” Arthur sighed. “So what do you think I should do if you’re so convinced?”

Gwen frowned, thinking. “This Anhora said you would be tested right? So you just need to be on your guard and make sure you pass whatever the tests are.”

“So you just want me to wait around while my people starve?”

“Of course not. What you would normally do in a crisis like this?”

Arthur looked considering. “We’ve been having a problem with looters, so I would probably monitor the stores.”

“Then do that, just be ready for whatever happens.”


“I owe you some thanks,” Arthur said, stopping Guinevere in the hall.

“No, You-”

“Yes, if you hadn’t gotten through to me -”

“You would have made the same decision. Besides, Merlin was the one who was sure Anhora was telling the truth.”

“Yes, well, I can’t say anything to him. He’d get a big head.”

“I’m sure he’d say the same to you.”

Arthur smiled as she realized what she’d said and immediately grew flustered.

“I-I just meant -- I meant no disrespect, Your Highness, I just -”

“It’s fine, Guinevere.”

“I sh-I should be getting back to Morgana,” she said before curtsying and fleeing down the hall to the sound of his laughter.


“Did you really serve him rat?” Gwen asked, lifting her skirts as she carefully stepped over a root.

“He wanted food. Besides, he made me eat some as well.”

“Remind me never to eat anything you make for Arthur,” she joked and Merlin blushed as he held up a branch for her to duck under.

“You… might want to warn Morgana too.”

She shot him a look. “You didn’t.”

He waved his hands around. “She came in while the pot was right there on the table and asked if we had any food, what were we supposed to do?”

They shared a look then burst out laughing.

“M-Morgana can nev-ver know. She’d never for-forgive either of you,” she said through her giggles once they’d calmed some. “What are we looking for out here anyways? Do you think we can find some wild food?”

“I doubt it. Can’t you hear that?”

She frowned and tried to listen. “I don’t hear anything.”

“Exactly.” He jumped down a short ledge then held his hands out to help her down. “The animals are all gone. They’ve probably sensed the curse and fled. Either that or their food’s gone as well and they migrated to find more elsewhere.”

“So the hunters will be coming back empty as well,” she sighed. “Why are we here then?”

“I want to try and find Anhora. We have to persuade him to give Arthur another chance. You’ve seen how Arthur’s taking this. He knows it’s his responsibility and he’d prove his worth and lift the curse, given the chance, you know that.”

Before she could respond, a voice behind them spoke.

“You have faith in Arthur?”

They spun around to see an elderly man in pale robes.

“Anhora,” Merlin whispered to her before stepping towards the man. “I trust him with my life.”

Gwen frowned at the man’s blank expression and stepped next to Merlin, taking his hand. “As would I.”

The man considered them for a moment. “Arthur must go to the Labyrinth of Gedref. There, he will face a final test. If he fails, there is no hope. The curse will destroy Camelot.”

They both looked around for him as he seemed to disappear when they blinked.

“Wait! What kind of test will he face?” Merlin called.

“That is for Arthur alone to discover,” Anhora said, his voice seeming to come from everywhere.


Gwen shook her head at Merlin’s face when he came out of Arthur’s chambers. “Let me guess: he told you to stay here, but you’re going to go anyways.”

“I can’t let him go alone,” he said, turning to her. He blinked. “What are you wearing?”

She brushed her hands self-consciously over her tunic and trousers. “I’m coming with you.”

“But it could be dangerous.”

“Both tests have been tests of character. What’s dangerous about that?”

He frowned. “It could be dangerous getting there.”

“Then I’ll have you to protect me. Please, Merlin, I want to help you both.”

He bit his lip, then nodded. “Okay, but stay close to me.”

“Great, I’ve already packed our bags and gotten the horses ready.”

“… You need to knock it off or Arthur’s going to expect even more from me as a servant.”


“Merlin? Guinevere?”

Guinevere gave Arthur an apologetic expression and Merlin said, “I'm sorry.”

Arthur glared at the old man standing off to the side of the table the two were sitting at. “Let them go. I'll take your test, but not till they're released.”

“That is not possible. They are part of the test. Please go to the table.”

Arthur glanced at it, but otherwise ignored the man’s request.

“If you refuse the test, you will have failed and Camelot will be destroyed.”

He ground his teeth and walked over to the table. “I thought I told you to stay at home. Why did you bring her here?”

“I made him,” she said.

Arthur sighed and turned to the man. “Let's get on with it.”

“There are two goblets before them. One of the goblets contains a deadly poison. The other goblet, a harmless liquid. All the liquid from both goblets must be drunk, but each may only drink from a single goblet. You must choose who drinks from which.”

“What kind of ridiculous test is that?” Arthur snapped. “What does that prove?”

“What it proves is for you to decide. If you pass the test, the curse will be lifted.”

“Let's think about this,” Merlin said, eyeing the goblets. “What if I drink from my goblet first?”

“If it's poisoned, you'll die,” Arthur said.

“And if it's not, then Gwen'll have to drink from hers, and she’ll die. There must be a way around it.”

“It is perfectly simple. One of us has to die. We have to find a way to determine which goblet has the poison. And then I'll drink it,” Guinevere said firmly.

“I will be the one to drink it,” Merlin argued.

“Arthur needs you. I'm drinking it.”

“Isn’t this supposed to be my decision?” Arthur huffed and they turned on him.

“Choose me, Arthur. It’s my duty to serve you.”

“You both are destined for greater things. I'm just a servant.”

“We don’t even know which is poisoned,” Arthur pointed out.

“What if I drink from mine first, and if that's not poisoned, I will then drink yours?” Merlin said to Guinevere.

“He said each of us is only allowed to drink from a single goblet.”

Arthur’s brow furrowed as he thought over the old man’s words and an idea came to him. But first, he needed to know which goblet was poisoned.

“I've got it!” Merlin said. “Right, we pour all the liquid into one goblet and then we can be sure it is poisoned. Then all the liquid can be drunk, and it will be from a single goblet.”

“That’s it!”

“You never cease to surprise me. You're a lot smarter than you look,” Arthur said, relieved.

“Is that actually a compliment?” Merlin asked, smiling.

Arthur looked down at them for a moment, then glanced up. “Look out!” he said, pointing. When they turned, he grabbed the goblets and poured all the liquid into one. He set the empty one down and stepped back with the other.

“What are you doing?” Merlin said and Guinevere shouted Arthur’s name as they both reached for him.

“He said someone had to drink, he didn’t say it had to be you.” He looked up at Anhora. “I choose myself for this goblet.”

Anhora just watched.

“You can’t do this!” Guinevere said

“You can't die! This isn't your destiny!” Merlin said, trying to stand up but he seemed to be magically sealed to his seat.

“It seems you're wrong again.”

“Listen to me!”

“You know me, Merlin. I never listen to you,” Arthur said, raising his glass to the warlock.

“Arthur!”

“Make sure this idiot gets back okay,” he told Guinevere, toasting her as well.

“Don’t do this, Arthur,” she said, tears forming in her eyes.

Arthur downed the liquid as they both shouted, “No!”

The last thing he heard was Merlin asking, “What have you done?”


Arthur groaned.

“He’s waking up!”

Arthur scowled and cracked his eyes open just enough to see Merlin’s face hovering over his own. “Even dead, I can’t get away from you.”

“Nope.”

“Your Highness,” Gwen said and Merlin moved back so he could see them both. “Thank God, we were starting to worry we’d have to carry you to your horse.”

Arthur sat up and looked around to see he was still on the beach, though the table, chairs, and Anhora were all gone. “What happened? Why am I still alive?”

“Anhora lied,” Gwen said. “It wasn’t a deadly poison, it was a sleeping draught.”

“What?”

“He said that by sacrificing your life for ours -- or trying to, anyway -- you proved you were pure of heart like a unicorn,” Merlin said. “The curse is gone.”

“You're sure?”

They shared a look. “Well, it’s what he said. I suppose we won’t know until we return to Camelot.”

Arthur nodded and rose to his feet. “Let’s go.”

If the sorcerer had lied once, who’s to say he wouldn’t again.

Such thoughts proved thankfully to be unfounded as they could see the results being lifted as soon as they made it into the city.


“She’s beautiful,” Gwen gasped as they watched the unicorn walk through the trees.

“I told you.”

“Can I…”

Arthur rolled his eyes and marched forward.

“Arthur!”

“Don’t be such a girl, Merlin. Either it will run away or it won’t.”

“Prat,” Merlin huffed, but followed with Gwen right behind him.

The unicorn slowed as they approached, but didn’t stop.

Likewise, Arthur slowed his approach, raising his hands. “Easy there, girl,” he said, using the soft voice he used for new foals and pups that were just starting to be trained.

Merlin cleared his throat as the unicorn snorted and turned away. “It’s a stallion.”

Arthur glared at him. “You couldn’t have said that sooner.”

Merlin shrugged with a smirk.

Gwen rolled her eyes at them and stepped ahead with her hand outstretched. “Hello there. May I pet you?”

She could see it watching her through its wild mane until it stopped and turned its head to her. Slowly she approached to run her hand down its neck.

She smiled at Merlin as he came up to its other side and he smiled back.

“Before either of you get any ideas, we’re not keeping it. We’ve already got one magical beast too many at the castle.”

“I told you, Cavall doesn’t have magic,” Merlin huffed before chuckling when the unicorn leaned down to nibble at Gwen’s skirt.

“I wasn’t talking about Cavall.”

“Yes, you were,” Gwen said. “Now stop fighting and come pet the unicorn.”

“I miss the time when servants actually listened to me,” he muttered as he came over to stroke its flank.

“No, you don’t,” Gwen and Merlin said at the same time before devolving into laughter.

Chapter Text

“It's beautiful!” Gwen gasped, looking over her new dress with its bright colors and intricate buttons.

“Well, you're a beautiful girl, Gwen. You deserve beautiful things,” her father said, smiling down at her.

“But how? I mean...it must have been expensive,” she said, running her hand over the fabric. The few things she had so colorful and fine were the things Morgana gave her. They’d never had problems with money, but they could hardly afford such finery with just her and her father.

“Oh, very. But we're on the up now. Things are going to be different.”

“What's going on?”

“It'll be all right. Trust me.” He kissed her cheek. “I won't be back for supper.”

She watched him go for a moment before shaking out of her stupor. “Wait.”

He stopped and she came to his side. “Do you have to go out tonight?”

“I’ve got a job. The buyer won’t be by until late.”

“It’s just…” She bit her lip and glanced around at the people wandering around before tugging him to a quiet corner. “Prince Arthur told me to stay in. He said they’ve gotten word a dangerous sorcerer was in town. They think he’s going to be in our area tonight and the knights and guards are going to be doing raids. I don’t want you to be caught in the middle. Can you ask your buyer to come by another time?”

“I don’t know. He was specific about the time.”

“Please, Father. Arthur said Tauren is very dangerous.”

“Tauren?” he said, looking shocked.

“Yes, why?”

He looked away.

“What is it?”


Arthur was discussing the plans for the night with Leon and the Captain of the Guard while Merlin fiddled about in the background when a knock sounded at his door. “Who is it?”

“Your Highness, please, I need to speak with you,” came Guinevere’s voice.

“It will have to wait,” Arthur said, even as Merlin went to open the door.

“What’s wrong, Gwen?” he asked.

“My father needs to speak to Arthur immediately. Please, it’s important.”

Merlin turned to Arthur, who glanced at his guests and shook his head.

“It’s about tonight.”

Arthur frowned and nodded. “Let her in.”

Guinevere came in with her father just behind her. “Thank you, Your Highness,” she said, giving a curtsy as her father bowed.

“Say what you have to say. I don’t have much time.”

She nodded and turned to Tom. “Tell him. Prince Arthur is fair, he won’t hurt you.”

Arthur’s frown grew at her words and her father’s nerves.

“I…” the man started. He glanced between Arthur, Leon, and the captain before dropping to his knees. “I beg mercy, Your Highness. I swear, I had no idea.”

He gestured for him to continue.

“A man came to my forge and offered to pay me a fortune for my help. I-I didn’t know who he was. I never would have agreed if I’d known. I would have gone straight to the guards.”

Arthur felt something sink into his stomach and glanced up at Guinevere. “Who was he?”

“H-He said his name… was Tauren,” Tom said before continuing quickly on. “I didn't know he was a sorcerer. I meant no harm, I swear.”

The captain stepped forward, but Arthur held out his hand to stop him. “What have you done for him?”

“Nothing. He was supposed to come to my forge tonight.”

“What did he want from you?”

“Not weapons, I would have been more suspicious if that’s what he’d asked for. He needed my help and forge for an experiment or something.”

“What kind of experiment?”

“He didn't say.”

Arthur nodded and waved the two out. “Wait outside, I need to discuss this with Sir Leon and the Captain of the Guard. Do not leave.”

He nodded and Guinevere lead him out, whispering reassurances.

“Sire, if he’d been consorting with the sorcerer -”

“You believe he’s lying about not knowing?”

The captain frowned. “I’m not sure.”

“I believe he’s honest,” Leon said.

“As do I,” Arthur agreed. “And even if he isn’t, he’s clearly recognized his error. More importantly, he’s given us an opportunity.

“Opportunity?”

Arthur pointed at Tom’s forge on the map of the market. “Now we’ll know exactly where he’s going to be tonight.”

“You wish to use the blacksmith as bait,” the captain said, sounding intrigued.

Merlin shot Arthur a glare, but he ignored him.

“It’s a better plan than having multiple raids and hoping Tauren or his spies don’t spot one.”

Leon nodded and the captain took his lead.

Arthur called Tom back in.

Guinevere grew even more nervous when she saw Merlin was still glaring at Arthur, but he ignored her as well. He stared down at Tom, who retook his position on his knees. “Consorting with sorcerers is a serious crime.”

Both servants gave him disbelieving glares, which was fair, but it wasn’t his fault Tom had confessed in front of a knight and the Captain of the Guard.

“I know.”

“Unfortunately, it is not in my power to pass judgment on such a crime. However, I will see that you are given a fair trial before my father and ensure he knows you came forward of your own free will as soon as you learned Tauren. I will also speak on your behalf to request you are given leniency as such.”

“Th-thank you, Your Highness,” Tom said, bowing his head.

“That said, while I do not have the power to pass judgment, it is in my power to grant you a pardon.” Tom looked up with wide eyes and Arthur held his hand up before he could speak. “I will offer you this pardon, in return, you will meet with Tauren as planned.”

“I-I don’t understand.”

“Your meeting gives us an opportunity. Tonight there was meant to be raids to track down this sorcerer,” he explained, as if he wasn’t well aware Tom knew this already because Arthur had told confidential information to a handmaid. “If you keep your meeting, then we will know exactly where Tauren is going to be. When Tauren arrives, you will give us a signal and we will move in to apprehend him. I warn you, this may be dangerous, but, unfortunately, it is likely the only way I can guarantee you will face no punishment for your dealings.”

“Father, you can’t,” Guinevere whispered.

“I’ll do it.”

“Father!”

Tom stood and took her hands. “I should have never agreed to this, but I didn't want to let an opportunity pass. I knew you wouldn't like it, Gwen, that’s why I didn’t tell you. I should have been more cautious, like you. I need to make this right.” She shook her head, but he turned to Arthur. “What do you need me to do?”


Tom glanced around nervously as he worked the bellows.

He heard a hiss and turned to see the black cat that had been lounging in his forge all afternoon and night darting out of the forge.

“Is it prepared?”

Tom flinched and turned to see Tauren step out of the shadows.

“Yes. Look.” Tom stepped away from the bellows. His eyes went to a crate that was supposed to have a mirror atop it, but the mirror was gone.

“Very good.”

He focused back on Tauren to see that the sorcerer had pulled down his hood to get a better look at the lead. He pulled out a stone with silver metalworking wrapped around it in the shape of claws.

“What is that?” Tom asked.

“I'm not paying you to ask questions,” Tauren said, not looking up. “The lead, please.”

Suddenly guards burst through the doors led by Prince Arthur, Sir Leon, and a knight Tom didn’t know.

“Seize him!” Arthur ordered and two guards grabbed Tom while Tauren ran for the back of the shop. “Quickly, after him!”

The sorcerer threw down a table and fled into the night.

“Stop!” the unfamiliar knight yelled as he and Sir Leon led the rest of the guards to take chase.

“He must be caught!” Prince Arthur yelled after them.

“Stop that man!”

The Prince turned to Tom and he bowed his head. “Sire, please…”

“You're under arrest. Take him to the dungeons,” Arthur ordered.

The men nodded and dragged him out. They brought him up to the castle and in the direction of the dungeons, but took a wrong turn at the last minute. When they reached a door, one of the guards opened it to reveal a small bedroom. Inside were Gwen, the Lady Morgana, and Gwen’s friend Merlin.

“Father,” his daughter shouted, throwing her arms around him as soon as the guards released him.

“I’m alright, Gwen. I’m fine.”

“It’s good to hear it,” the Lady Morgana said, and he bowed to her. “None of that. Gwen is my closest friend. I won’t have her father treating me as anything but her friend.”

Tom wasn’t sure how to respond to that, but thankfully he didn’t have to as Prince Arthur came into the room at that moment.

“Well?” the Lady Morgana asked.

“We lost him.”

“So you put Gwen’s father in danger for nothing.”

The prince ignored her and turned to Tom. “You will have to stay here for the night and most of tomorrow. After that, we will spread word that you were tried and found not guilty due to a lack of knowledge so you can return to your home in peace. Tauren should have no reason to think you betrayed him.”

“Thank you, Your Highness. And I’m sorry. I tried to alert you, but the mirror disappeared.”

“I know. Sir Leon saw it vanish. Tauren’s work, we assume. He must have worried a passerby would catch sight of him. Thankfully we had a backup. Were you able to find out what Tauren wanted from you?”

“No. He had some stone, but you arrived before he could do anything more than pull it out and he wouldn’t answer my questions.”

The prince nodded and gestured for the guards to leave. “We will let you rest then. I will inform you when you can leave.”

“Thank you again.”

The prince glanced at Morgana, who rolled her eyes and gave Gwen a hug before leaving with the prince.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Gwen asked and he kissed her cheek.

“I’m fine. I’m more worried about you walking to an empty home at this time of night.”

“She can take my room,” Merlin offered and they turned to him. “Gaius isn’t caring for anyone right now so I can sleep on the patient’s cot in the main room with him.”

“Oh Merlin, I couldn’t,” she objected and he shook his head.

“It’s fine, Gwen. It really is too late to be walking home.”

Tom studied the boy, then turned to his daughter. “I’d feel better if you stayed in the castle, especially with Tauren still out there.”

She stared up at him, then Merlin. “Alright.”

Merlin smiled and walked to the door. “I’ll let you guys say your goodbyes.”


“Do you have any idea what this experiment might have been?” Arthur asked, eyeing Merlin.

“No, not without knowing what the stone was. The-” Merlin yelped and ducked a blow. “There are all kinds of things he could have been doing with lead.”

“Faster, Merlin,” Arthur huffed, swiping at Merlin again, his sword hitting Merlin’s and knocking it out of his hands. “You need a tighter grip. Do you think you could figure it out if Guinevere got a description of the stone from her father?”

“Maybe,” he groaned, rubbing his wrist as he went to fetch his blade. “Depending on how significant the stone is, I might be able to find something in Gaius’s books. I can ask her to talk to him once she’s awake. Can’t we talk about this after training?”

“No. You need to learn to multitask in a battle. Now then -” Arthur cut off at the sound of footsteps and the two turned to see Morgana walking up.

“Merlin, have you seen Gwen?”

“She’s asleep in my room. Her father didn’t want her walking home alone so I offered my bed.”

She looked relieved and turned to leave, only for Leon to come running up.

“Sire!”

“What’s wrong?”

“Your father has just had Tom arrested.”

“What?” Morgana and Arthur shouted at the same time before they both took off across the field.

“Father!” he called as they came into the Council Chambers to see Uther standing next to the table. “Why has Sir Leon just informed me you’ve arrested Tom the Blacksmith?”

The king glared at him, then over his shoulder. He glanced back to see Leon and Merlin had followed them, Leon ducking his head at the king’s ire.

“The blacksmith has been consorting with sorcerers. You should have had him arrested last night.”

“Tom was acting under my orders. Surely Sir Leon explained that he assisted us in our attempt to lure Tauren into a trap.”

“He explained. He explained that the blacksmith had already had dealings with the sorcerer before he came to you in a desperate attempt to save his own skin.”

The look on Morgana’s was deadly so Arthur quickly stepped between her and his father, saying, “He had no idea Tauren was a sorcerer and as soon as he realized it, he came to me personally to confess. He had no desire to break the law, let alone have anything to do with magic.”

“So he says.”

“Father, I granted him my pardon in return for him putting himself in danger by meeting Tauren. You cannot keep him imprisoned.”

“You should never have granted him such,” Uther spat. “The law -”

“He broke no law!” Morgana spat back, pushing Arthur aside. “He did business with a man, and when he realized his client was a criminal, he came here for refuge. Do you plan to imprison anyone who reports crimes from now on? I’m sure that will make the knights’ and guards’ jobs far easier!”

“Enough! Guards!” A pair of guards stepped into the room at the king’s call. “Escort Morgana to her chambers.”

Morgana scowled, slipping away from the men when they tried to grab her and marching up to the king. “You’re a monster, Uther Pendragon!”

“May I remind you that you're speaking to your King.”

“May I remind you that a king is wise and just. You are neither. You rule only with the sword.”

“Morgana,” Arthur said and she turned her glare on him.

“You know nothing of what it means to be King. The fate of Camelot rests in my hands. It's my responsibility to protect the people of this land from its enemies.”

“Then the kingdom is doomed!” she snapped, turning back to Uther. “For one by one, you make enemies of us all!”

“You speak treason, Morgana.”

“Only a mad man hears the truth as treason.”

“Take care, child, or I'll have you restrained.”

“You just try.”

“Guards, escort Morgana to the dungeons. I will soon follow.”

They finally grabbed hold of the lady and led her out as she hissed, “You hurt Gwen's father, and I will never forgive you. Never.”

“Father, pl-” Arthur cut off when his father raised his hand.

“I will hear no more about this.” He set his hands on the table, facing away from Arthur. “Given the circumstances, I will allow for leniency. He will be fined a fee of ten gold.”

“What about his trial?”

“He has already confessed, what use is there for a trial?”

“I… will see that it is done.”

“Tauren slept somewhere, he fed somewhere,” Uther added. “Find anyone who helped him in any way. They must be punished. The people must see the laws of Camelot are not to be trifled with.”

“Yes, Father.”

Uther dismissed him and he gestured Merlin and Leon out ahead of him.

“See that Tom is released and sent home as planned,” he told the knight.

“What abou-”

“The money will be sent to the treasury.”

Leon bowed his head and left.

“You should go to Guinevere before she finds out from someone else,” Arthur sighed. “I need to talk to the Captain of the Guard.”

He felt Merlin’s hand on his shoulder for a second then the warlock was gone.


Gwen sighed as she reached her house. She had come to clean up before her father got home, but she felt awful knowing her father was down in the dungeons and wouldn’t be released for another night due to Uther’s interference.

She stepped into the house and closed the door.

Suddenly there was a hand over her mouth.

“I want the stone! Where is it?”


“I think I’ve found something,” Merlin said, coming into Arthur’s chambers.

“Merlin.”

He looked up from his book to see Gwen alone in the room. “Where’s Arthur? Why are you crying?”

“I came to talk to him. I thought… But Leon said he’s in the lower tower searching for signs of Tauren. I don’t…”

“Gwen,” he said, setting the book on Arthur’s desk and taking her hands. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s… It’s Tauren. He was in my home. He wants the stone, the one my father saw. He must have dropped it and he…”

His eyes narrowed. “He threatened you.”

“He wants me to bring it to him in the Darkling Woods, but I don’t know where it is. I checked everywhere in the forge. I wouldn’t have taken it to him, but -”

“I know, Gwen. It’s okay. I’ll tell Arthur. He and the knights will scour the woods.”

“That’s just it, I thought he’d already be searching by now.”

“What do you mean?”

She looked down at the floor. “You weren’t the first person I told. I-I didn’t want to get you involved. You’ve already done so much. I thought…”

“Gwen.”

“Morgana. I told her what happened this morning. She said she was going to send the guards.”

He frowned. “Arthur hasn’t heard anything about this, and the guards definitely would have told him.”

“I know.”

“We need to find Morgana.”

They were halfway to her chambers when Merlin froze. There was a noise, or a feeling, or something in the air. A ringing buzzing something that sent a shiver down his spine and tugged at him. It was unfamiliar, yet he’d felt it before. The morning after the raid. He’d thought it was just the lack of sleep, but…

“Merlin?”

“Follow me,” was all he said, before leading Gwen down a different hall. His senses were going crazy and they easily slipped past guards until they reached a landing with windows overlooking the square.

They looked out to see a woman’s figure in a cloak slipping out of the castle.

“Morgana?” Gwen asked.

“She’s got the stone.” He set his hand on her shoulder. “Go back to Arthur’s chambers. He should be back soon. Explain what’s going on.”

She shook her head. “I’m coming with you. She’s doing this for me.”

“Arthur needs to know what’s happening. I’ll watch out for her.”

Gwen hesitated.

“We’ll be alright, I promise, but we don’t have time to argue.”

“Okay. Be careful.”

“Aren’t I alw- Nevermind. We’ll be fine.”


“There you are,” Gwen said, sitting down next to Merlin. “What are you doing down here?” she asked, looking around the darkened staircase they were sitting on. It was one that led to the dungeons, but most never used it.

He shook his head, face pressed against his knees. “Just thinking.”

“Alright. Are you okay? I haven’t seen you since you ran after Morgana. Was everything okay? When Arthur brought her home, she didn’t have a scratch on her. She said Tauren just took the stone and left.”

He hummed, but didn’t answer.

“Merlin.”

“I… Uther’s done so much harm.”

“Yes?”

“He… Your father was arrested even though he didn’t do anything wrong and Arthur gave him a pardon. And he arrested so many people just for -”

“What’s this about?”

“I just…”

“Merlin,” she said, moving in front of him and grabbing his chin so he would look at her. “What’s wrong?”

“Morgana… She didn’t just give Tauren the stone. She… She made a deal with him.”

“A deal?”

A pulled away to press his face back to his knees. “To kill Uther.”

Gwen sucked in a breath.

“I don’t know what to do?” he whispered. He looked up at her. “The dragon thinks I should let him die and maybe that would be best because then Arthur would be king, but Arthur, if he found out, and Gaius thinks Arthur’s not ready to be king yet -- I didn’t tell him what’s going on, but I asked some questions -- and I… can I really just sit back and let this happen, but -”

“No.”

He swallowed and waited.

“Of course you can’t just sit back, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if you could. You’re too good for that. If you just sat back, you would be as bad as Uther, and you’re not.”

“You're right. Of course, you're right.” He shakily got to his feet. “I don’t know what got into me.”

“You’ve had the wrong people whispering in your ear,” she said, standing up to hug him.

“I need to go. I have to stop her.”

She squeezed him then stepped back. “Hurry. They’ve already left.”

As soon as he was gone she scowled and turned towards the dungeons.

“You told him to let Uther die!” she shouted as she marched into the dragon’s cavern.

“My Lady,” the dragon called before he landed on his platform. “Uther -”

“Is a tyrant and a madman, but he’s also the father of Merlin’s best friend. What do you think Arthur would have done to him if he’d discovered Merlin knew? Not to mention you were trying to get Merlin to go along with cold-blooded murder!”

He started to growl. “It would not be -”

“It would. Don’t bother trying to use whatever excuses you used on Merlin. It would be murder and if you don’t realize that then you’re insane.” She ignored his growls and stepped closer to point a finger at him. “I understand you hate Uther, you have a right to. I’m not too fond of the king myself right now, but leave Merlin out of your revenge fantasies. He is a good person and I won’t have you corrupting him.”

“Uther must die for Arthur’s reign to begin and for their destiny to come to pass.”

“But not yet, and not with Merlin taking any fault,” she ordered before leaving.


“YOU WHAT!?”

Merlin flinched. He wanted to hide behind Gwen, but stood his ground.

“I can’t believe you wou- I should have you arrested!”

“I know. I’m so sorry, Arthur.”

“Get out! I can’t even… Get out!”

He bowed and left, tears in his eyes.

“He’ll calm down,” Gwen said softly when she caught back up to him.

“I deserve it.”

Gwen looped her arm with his. “You knew it was wrong and you tried to stop it.”

“I almost didn’t.”

“But you did.”

“Thanks to you.”

She squeezed his arm. “You underestimate yourself.”

When he didn’t respond, she laid her head on his shoulder.

“Come to dinner with my father and me.”

“I don’t think I’ll be very good company.”

“I think you’re the one in need of company. Come on, please.”

He finally gave a small smile. “Okay, but only if you let me help. I don’t want you having to cook for me.”

By the time they’d reached her house, an almost pleasant mood had settled over them. However, it quickly fled when they spotted the home.

“Father?” Gwen said, running over to where Tom was placing a box onto a packed cart. “What’s going on?”

He gave her a sad smile and brought her into the house. Merlin hovered in the doorway, unsure if he should leave or not.

“I’ve decided to leave the city,” Tom said once the two were sitting.

“What? Why?” Gwen said, shaking her head.

“You know every time a sorcerer is around, the first people the guards look at are always those who’ve been accused in the past. You have the Lady Morgana’s protection, but I… We were lucky this time that Prince Arthur was generous enough to pay my fine. If he hadn’t, we likely would have lost everything trying to pay it. Next time, we might not be so lucky and I won’t risk you having to pay the price for it. I can’t stay here with the threat of Uther’s rath.”

Her eyes teared up and she nodded. “O-okay. I’ll pack -” she started, but he cut her off with a shake of his head.

“You have a life here, Gwen. I can’t take you away from that.” He pressed a bag into her hand. “There’s enough coin in here to get you through until I am settled and can send more.”

“But -”

“No, I won’t hear any arguments. I know you want to stay, and I want you to stay.”

She threw her arms around him, crying. “Where will you go?”

“I heard rumors your brother might be in a small town near the DeGrance lands,” he said hugging her back. “I don’t know if they’re true, but I spoke to Sir Leon and he’s agreed to let me retake my old forge at the manor. Hopefully some good might come from this.”

She squeezed him tighter and sobbed, “I’ll miss you.”

Merlin took that as his cue to leave.

Chapter Text

Arthur turned to Merlin as soon as they’d split up from the rest of the hunting party.

Merlin nodded and held out his hand. “Bregdan anweald gafeluc!”

His sword crackled with blue light and they continued on into the cave.

“We should be careful. Morgana warn-”

“Forgive me if I don’t put too much stock in anything Morgana has to say,” Arthur snapped quietly, not looking at the warlock.

“I -”

“Or anything you have to say.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Merlin flinch and duck his head.

They reached a cavern and a hiss cut through the air.

“What is it?” Merlin whispered and Arthur shushed him, trying to pinpoint where the sound was coming from.

He heard rocks shift behind them and spun around. He shoved Merlin back and swiped at the great beast in front of him. He felt fangs sink into his shoulder just as his sword cut into its neck.

Everything went dark as the beast gave a dying shriek.


“Morgana asked me to check on him,” Gwen whispered, stepping up next to Merlin so they were both standing in the doorway to Arthur’s chambers.

“Gaius said the bite from the Questing Beast is a death sentence. Something about it having the power of life and death,” he said, marching off and she followed. “I -” he paused, glancing around. “I tried to heal him, but nothing’s working.”

“Merlin,” she gasped, glancing back towards the room. “The knights, Gaius, and the king have all been hovering over him. When… Please tell me you didn’t do it in front of them.”

“They’re distracted, and I had to try something! He’s dying, Gwen.”

She bit her lip and nodded. “Just be careful. I know he’s still upset, but he wouldn’t want you to get killed trying to save him. Is there anything else you can do?”

Merlin frowned, thinking. “I’ve tried everything from the book, but there’s one more place that might have information.”

She scowled. “I’d rather you not talk to him.”

“It might be our only chance.”

“Just… take everything he says with a grain of salt,” she sighed. “I’ll cover for you if someone asks where you are.”


Why do you search for the Isle of the Blessed?

Merlin pulled Hengroen to a stop and swung around to see a man standing at the edge of the road. His eyes widened as he recognized the druid and dropped down from the horse. “You’re the one who took Mordred.”

The man bowed his head. “I am Iseldir.”

“Merlin, but you already knew that. What are you doing here?”

“We felt you near,” he said, glancing back into the woods and Merlin thought he could see a few other druids hidden amongst the trees, watching them. “You travel too far south if you hope to reach the isle.”

A flicker of images passed through Merlin’s mind and he suddenly knew exactly where he needed to go. “Thank you.”

“Why do you travel to the home of the priestesses, Emrys?”

“Arthur -- Prince Arthur -- was bitten by the Questing Beast. I was told I could find a way to heal him there.”

Iseldir looked troubled. “If the Once and Future King is dying then you have no choice, but beware, dealing with the Old Religion can be dangerous.”

“Don’t you follow the Old Religion?”

“We do, but we respect the balance and seek only to live at peace with it. The High Priestesses use the balance to their own gain. They follow the Triple Goddess in her darkest aspects. Be cautious when you deal with what remains of them and know: a life can only be bought with a life.”

Merlin nodded and climbed back onto the horse. “Whatever the price is, I will pay it gladly.”

Are you sure? the druid called as he rode off. The price may not be what you think. Do not take her at her word, Emrys.

Merlin narrowed his eyes and urge his horse on faster.


Gwen was relieved when she opened Morgana’s door after hearing a knock to find Merlin on the other side. “Come in, Morgana’s not here.”

Once he was in, he held up a flask. “I need your help giving Arthur this.”

“What is it?”

“Water from the Cup of Life. It will save him.”

“Just like that?”

“Yes,” Merlin said firmly.

She took it from him. “I’ll do it while you distract Gaius.”

They rushed to Arthur’s chambers and Merlin went in first.

“Merlin! Where have you been?”

“I-I was collecting elderberry flowers. I know they can be used for snakebites so I thought -”

“They won’t work for this Merlin. I know you -”

“What harm could it do to try though!? Please, Gaius, just show me how to prepare them.”

Gwen stepped inside to see the physician giving in under Merlin’s sad face. “What’s going on?”

Gaius turned to her. “Would you mind watching over Arthur for a short time?”

“Of course not.”

She waited until Gaius was out of the room to whisper, “Did you actually get any elderberry flowers?”

He shrugged. “They were tiny white flowers on a tree. I’m hoping they’re elderberry flowers, but I’m sure to distract him either way.”

“Good luck,” she chuckled as she left, then she ran over to Arthur’s side. She poured the water from the flask into a cup and brought it to Arthur’s lips.

“What are you doing?”

She looked up to see the king standing in the doorway. “Just giving him some water. Gaius asked me to watch over him while he prepared some elderberry flowers for him.”

He nodded and she gave him the water.

When Uther came closer she moved away so he could sit at Arthur’s side.


Merlin looked up when Gwen entered his room.

“He’s okay.”

“That’s great.”

She frowned and sat next to his bed. “Then why don’t you look happy.”

He forced his smile a little wider. “I am. I’m just tired. Go see to Arthur. I’m going to take a nap.”

She stared at him. “Are you -”

“I’m fine. Go on.”

“Alright.” She stood up, still looking worried. “Rest up. I’ll come to check on you in the morning.”

As he watched her leave, a small part of him wanted to say something, but he kept quiet.


Merlin opened his eyes with a frown, looking around to see he was in his room.

He was alive? Had the Old Religion decided to spare him?

Smiling, Merlin ran into the main room. “Gaius.”

The only response was a groan.

“Gaius?” He went over to Gaius’s bedside, surprised his guardian was still asleep. Usually, Gaius was the one waking him. He gasped when he got close.

Gaius was barely breathing and his face and hands were covered with sores.

“Merlin?” Gwen said coming in with a tray. Her eyes widened when she saw Merlin kneeling next to Gaius and she set the tray down and ran over. “What happened?”

Merlin bit his lip then dragged her away. “It’s my fault,” he whispered.

“What?”

“I…” he glanced at Gaius and ducked his head. “To heal Arthur, it was a life for a life. I offered my life for his -”

“You what!?”

“- but she’s taken Gaius instead. The druids warned me, but I didn’t pay attention.”

“Who? What? Merlin, start from the beginning.”

Merlin told her everything Iseldir had told him and about his meeting with Nimueh.

“Oh, Merlin.”

“I need to go back to the isle. I have to fix this.”

“You can’t offer your life.”

“I won’t let Gaius die. Please look after him.”

Gwen shook her head and he grabbed her hands.

“Please.”

She frowned down at his hands and got a determined look.

“Okay, but at least go say goodbye to Arthur before you go.”

He nodded and scowled. “I’m also going to give the dragon a piece of my mind.”

“Good, I’ll make sure Gaius is taken care of.”

He nodded and left.


“Ah, Merlin,” Arthur said when the warlock walked in.

“How are you?”

“Good.”

“I'm pleased.”

“Yes. Why do I have a feeling you had something to do with it?” he teased as he sat down in his chair.

“You know I would do anything for you, Arthur.”

Arthur frowned and set down his cup. “About what happened with my father -”

“I’m sorry.”

“You should have talked to me.”

“I know.”

“That said… I should have been more understanding about why you were so uncertain.”

“He’s your father,” Merlin objected.

“And he’s killed hundreds, thousands, of your people.” He held up his hand before Merlin can talk. “We’re never going to see eye-to-eye on my father, I think that’s finally starting to sink in.”

Merlin didn’t know what to say.

“I’m still upset, but I don’t blame you and you chose to do the right thing in the end.”

“I never meant to hurt you,” Merlin said softly.

“I know.”

They sat in silence for a moment.

“I… Arthur, just promise me this, if you get another servant, don't get a bootlicker.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “I’m not getting rid of you.”

“I didn’t think that.”

Arthur watched him with a frown. “Sometimes I think I know you, Merlin. Other times…”

“Well, I know you. And you're a great warrior. One day, you'll be a great king.”

“That's very kind of you.”

“But you must learn to listen as well as you fight.”

“Any other pointers?”

“No. That's it. Just… don't be a prat.”

“What’s going on?” Arthur asked as Merlin turned to leave.

“Nothing.”

Merlin.

“Gaius wants me to fetch some herbs. I just wanted to s-to say goodbye before I leave.”

Arthur stood as he slipped out the door. “Goodbye.”


“Gwen?” Merlin called as he stepped into the Physician’s Chambers. He frowned when he found one of the chambermaids sitting at Gaius’s bedside. “Hello, Rhian. Where’s Gwen?”

“She said the Lady Morgana needed her.”

That didn’t sound like Gwen or Morgana. Gwen wouldn’t leave Gaius’s side without telling Morgana he was sick and Morgana wouldn’t force her away unless it was an emergency. Wait…


Gwen stared at the island with trepidation as she put the map away and slid off Morgana’s horse. She tied the horse to a tree and rubbed her neck. “Don’t worry girl, Merlin will bring you home.”

Carefully, she stepped down the hill to the boat docked at the edge of the lake. Climbing in, she glanced around with a frown as she realized she couldn’t make the boat move.

“I, um, I’ve come to talk to the High Priestess Nimueh,” she called nervously.

There were a few moments of peace that made her wonder if this was all for nothing before the boat suddenly jerked to life. It floated across the lake until it reached a tiny dock.

She climbed up the stairs to reach a courtyard with an altar at its center.

“Well now, this is a surprise.”

Gwen turned to see Nimueh walking into the courtyard.

“It has been a long time since a maiden has come here. Not many are brave enough to learn from a High Priestess in a time such as this.”

“I’m not here to learn. I’ve come to tell you to make things right.”

“Oh,” she chuckled, sounding amused. “And what makes you so certain you know what is right?”

“Merlin offered his own life for Arthur, you had no right to take Gaius instead.”

The sorceress hummed and began to circle her, but she stood her ground. “So you’re here on behalf of the warlock. Have you come to plead I take his life instead?”

“No, I come here on behalf of myself. Arthur and Merlin have a destiny together, which I think you know. He’s going to come and beg for you to take his life for Gaius’s. I ask you to take mine instead.”

“And why should I do that? Gaius and I have our own history. Why should I put that aside?”

Gwen was surprised by her words, but pushed forward. “The people of Camelot need a physician, Arthur and Merlin do. I am nothing but a servant. I won’t be missed.”

She tilted her head. “You underestimate your own destiny, and your part in theirs,” she hummed and reached out, plucking a golden chalice from nothing. “Tell me, are you willing to give your life for the future they will bring?”

Gwen hesitated, eyeing the cup.

“I'm waiting. Are you ready to die, Guinevere?”

She swallowed and nodded. “For them, I will give my life.”

Nimueh held the cup up and began to chant.

The words were lost on Gwen as the world began to spin and grow dark.

She closed her eyes and saw a city. An island made of gold and lapis that shimmered like light through water. The place was beyond description and beautiful didn’t begin to cover it. She reached out for it when suddenly its gates slammed shut in front of her and her eyes sprung open.

Someone was holding her, crying into her hair as rain fell down on them. She blinked up at the figure and spotted a familiar red neckerchief. “Merlin?”

“Gwen?” he pulled back to look at her and their eyes met. “Gwen, you’re alive!”

She hugged him back as he buried his face in her shoulder. “What did you do?”

She should be dead. Had Nimueh taken his life after all? But then he’d be dead. Who else could she have taken?

“Nimueh's dead. The balance of the world has been restored.”

“You…” she thought over that and her eyes widened. “You used the power of life and death? I thought only the High Priestesses could do that.”

He shook his head and held her tighter. “I don’t know. I just wouldn’t let her take you.”

She smiled and squeezed him back.


Arthur glared at the two as the finished explaining. “Merlin, did we not just have a discussion about telling me things?”

“In my defense, you were unconscious when I made the deal,” Merlin said, not meeting his eyes.

Arthur threw a goblet at his head, which he managed to duck. He wasn’t sure if it was the magic, but he was blaming the magic.

“We couldn’t let you die, Arthur,” Guinevere said.

“No more trying to give your lives for me, understand?”

The two shared a look and stayed quiet.

“Understand!?”

“No?” Merlin said and Arthur threw the pitcher at him this time.

It froze in the air, wine and all.

Merlin carefully scooped the liquid back into the pitcher and set it down on the table, muttering, “Would have made me clean it all up, ass.”

“Arthur, you’re the prince. People are going to die for you, you must know that,” Guinevere said.

“Knights, soldiers, in the heat of combat!” he shouted as he started to pace. “Not servants literally exchanging their lives for mine.”

“You’re our friend, you prat. You’d do the same for us, wouldn’t you?”

He opened his mouth to yell at the warlock, but nothing came out.

Chapter Text

“Merlin!”

“Yes, Sire?” Merlin said, coming into Arthur’s chambers to see the prince standing up.

“Are you deaf?”

Another crash came from below the castle and Merlin flinched. “I wish.”

“I want you to go down there and tell them to stop.”

“But they're working under the King's orders.”

“Then do something about this racket!”

Merlin considered the room then whispered, “Oþswíge.”

The room went silent.

Arthur flopped down in his bed. “I’m too tired to be angry about that.”

“You’re welcome,” Merlin sniped back. He considered returning to his trek up to his room, but decided on sleeping in Arthur’s servant’s quarters instead. He laid down on the bed there, thankful he kept the sheets clean for cases like this. He was just about to use the silencing spell on the room when the sounds stopped. Sighing, he drifted off.

BONG! BONG! BONG!

Merlin jerked up in bed with a gasp.

He glanced out the window then raced into Arthur’s room.

“Arthur!”

“Sh’up, Mer’n!” he groaned, rolling over.

“The warning bell’s going off.” He ran over to the wardrobe and pulled a shirt and jacket out for the prince to put on.

“I don’t hear…” He pushed himself up with a glare. “You’re an idiot.”

“You wanted silence,” Merlin joked, tossing the shirt at him.

Once the prince was fully dressed and armed, they made their way out of his chambers and met a guard halfway to the council chambers

“Trouble in the tunnels, Sire. The miners are all scared out of their wits. No one can get a clear word out of the ones that know anything and the rest are scared of whatever might have scared them.”

“That explains the silence,” Arthur muttered and Merlin coughed to cover a laugh.

“The king wants you to investigate.”

Arthur nodded. “Find Sirs Leon and Cador and have them meet me at the tunnels.”

The guard nodded and rushed off.

When the four were gathered at the entrance to the tunnels, Arthur led them in. However, they only went a short way before they reached a fork. Arthur directed the two knights to the left then he and Merlin went to the right. They crept down the tunnel until they found an opening which led to a room filled with gold and jewels.

“Amazing,” Arthur said, moving his torch around to see the treasure better.

“Arthur,” Merlin called when he spotted a man kneeling next to a sarcophagus. He reached out to touch his shoulder and the man collapsed. Merlin jerked backward at the sight.

The man’s face was contorted into a scream while his flesh was white with thick black veins showing through.

“What happened to him?” Arthur asked, coming closer.

The world slowed down as Merlin spotted a tile sinking under Arthur’s weight and an arrow came flying out of the mouth of a raven statue. Merlin grabbed a gilded plate with his magic and brought it up to deflect the arrow.

Time continued and Arthur jerked back from the dented plate. He frowned and grabbed the plate. “Should have known a treasure like this would be booby-trapped.”

“You’re welcome,” Merlin hummed and Arthur swatted his shoulder with the plate.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Likely what would have happened to you if I hadn’t stopped that arrow.”

“Sire!”

They turned as Leon and Cador came into the tomb.

“Careful,” Arthur said. “Traps have been set to deter grave robbers.”

“Can’t imagine why?” Cador snorted, looking around.

“This must have been what scared the miners,” Leon said, coming to Merlin’s side to see the corpse. “Our way was clear.”

“Certainly looks ghastly enough to scare the faint-hearted,” Arthur said. “You two can head back to your beds. Leon, would you mind sending for my father and Gaius before you do?”

Both knights bowed and Leon said, “Of course, Sire,” before they both took their leave.


Arthur relaxed as the boar that had been charging at him only a second before collapsed dead at his feet. He turned and his eyes met Merlin’s.

“Good job, men. Let’s get this back to Camelot. Pork all around.”

As the servants came forward to prepare the boar for travel, Arthur went over to clap Merlin’s shoulder. “Don’t just stand around, Merlin,” he said before whispering, “That almost makes up for the saddle.”

“Prat,” Merlin huffed back, knocking their shoulders together as he went to help.


“Is that lunch?” Arthur asked as Merlin carried in a tray of food.

“No, its breakfast.”

Arthur was pointing down at the plate he was already eating from when the doors opened to admit Gwen and Morgana. Morgana sat down across from him with a smile.

“I don’t remember inviting you to breakfast,” he said as Merlin started gracefully setting out her breakfast. “And you’re never this good when you serve me breakfast.”

“That’s because she’s nicer to me,” Merlin said then used the empty tray to shield himself from a flying roll.

“And here I’d thought you’d outgrown playing with your food,” Morgana said, grabbing a strawberry off his plate.

Arthur countered by stealing her roll since his had gone missing. “What are you doing here?”

“I had a nightmare last night.”

Arthur frowned. “Are you sure it wasn’t just a normal nightmare?”

Morgana glared at him then turned to where Gwen was standing behind her and patted the chair next to her. “Come join us. We can’t eat all this on our own. You too, Merlin.”

Gwen sheepishly slipped into the chair while Merlin, who’d been making the bed, shook his head. “You might not be able to, but Arthur can.”

“Don’t you have better things to do, like muck out my horses?”

“Leave him alone, Arthur,” Morgana huffed, pushing more bread and grapes onto the plate Gwen was using despite the girl’s refusals. “We need to talk about my nightmare.”

“Fine. What did you see?”

“The castles gargoyles. And a bird.”

“That’s all?” Arthur said, unimpressed.

“What kind of bird?” Merlin asked, coming over.

“A raven.”

“A raven?”

“It was terrifying. What do you think it means?”

Arthur opened his mouth to say it sounded like Morgana needed to spend less time around the aviary, but then Merlin dropped into the chair next to him looking nervous.

“Last night Gaius told me the tomb the miners found belonged to Cornelius Sigan.”

“Sigan?” Morgana said. “Why does that sound familiar?”

“He was an arrogant sorcerer of old. He thought himself more powerful than all, including the noble families of Camelot and tried to take over the kingdom, but he was defeated by its armies and the king had him killed,” Arthur said. The others turned to him and he shrugged. “Father used to tell me the story at bedtime. Said it showed that even the mightiest of magic would fall to Camelot’s might.”

“Gaius told me something similar,” Merlin said. “He also said Sigan was said to be the most powerful sorcerer to ever live and that he sought a way to defeat death so his power and wealth wouldn’t die with him.”

“Clearly he failed since he’s dead,” Arthur snorted.

“What does this have to do with my dream?” Morgana asked and the prince frowned.

“The tomb’s covered in ravens,” he said and Merlin nodded.

“Gaius thinks the tomb might be cursed or something since Sigan vowed to return. I think he tried to tell Uther to seal the tomb back up, but if he did, he obviously didn’t listen.”

“You think my dreams mean that this Sigan might actually return somehow?” Morgan asked.

“It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve dealt with the undead,” Merlin whispered just loud enough for Arthur to hear. Louder, he said, “I don’t know.”

“We can at least keep an eye on it,” Gwen offered.

“Father put me in charge of guarding it. No one will be getting near it, so the problem’s solved.”

Morgana hummed disbelievingly and they finished their meal. Gwen collected the dishes, shooing off Merlin when he tried to help and the two left.

“You could try to take this seriously,” Merlin said.

“She had a dream about a bird, Merlin. Forgive me if I don’t think that’s world-shattering.”

“Last time she had a dream, you nearly died,” Merlin pointed out.

Arthur scowled. Maybe he should increase the security on the tomb. He’d have to go meet with the Captain of the Gaurd. He couldn’t let Merlin think he’d won, though. “Didn’t I tell you to muck out my horses?”


Arthur jumped out of the way as a pair of horses rushed past, his eyes widening as he recognized Llamrei among them. He sent the Captain of the Gaurd on his way and told a few nearby guards to track down the horses then rushed to the stables.

He scowled when he found Merlin asleep on the ground, though it turned into a frown when he saw his head lying in dung.

Merlin was stupid, but not that stupid.

He knelt next to the warlock as he slowly woke up.

“Arthur!”

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” he said, standing up.

“I can see that.”

“I wasn't sleeping. I was… I was just bending down.”

“Looking for something.”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps we're looking for the same thing,” Arthur said, standing as well.

“What?”

“Oh, I don't know, the horses!”

“The hor…ses. Oh!” Merlin said, looking around in a daze.

“One mistake I can understand. Everyone has a bad day now and then, but this is one thing after another!”

“I do-I don't know what happened!”

Merlin looked so shaken that Arthur shook his head. He pinched the bridge of his nose and his eyes trailed to the dung clinging to Merlin’s face. Annoyance turned to worry. “Look, clearly you’re tired.”

“I am not!”

“It’s understandable what with… everything,” he said, realizing how public the stables were at the last second. “Maybe you should have the evening off.”

“I don't want the evening off.”

“Of course you do. You’re always begging for time off.”

“Not when there’s danger.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “There’s no danger. You need a good night’s rest.”

“I did not fall asleep!”

Merlin.

Arthur,” the warlock said, mimicking Arthur’s tone.

“Go home.”

“No.”

“That’s an order.”

“I’m not leaving your side right now,” he hissed quietly. “There’s danger coming, and if you weren't such a clotpole. you'd see that!”

“A what?” Arthur said, taken aback.

“A clotpole.”

“Go home, Merlin.”

“But -”

“Go.”

Merlin glared at him and marched out.

Arthur shook his head. Honestly, between this and the loose girth, it was obvious Merlin was exhausted. Which was fair. Between his actual servant duties, his magical duties, and apprenticing under Gaius, Merlin practically had three jobs.

Maybe he should consider getting someone to help Merlin with his actual job to give him more time for the other two.

“Sire.”

Arthur turned to see the man from the day before leading Hengroen into the stables. As per usual, the stallion was putting up a fuss about anyone other than Merlin leading him about.

Arthur was pretty sure Merlin used magic on the stallion, even Arthur couldn’t keep him as calm as Merlin could. Then again, Merlin could keep pretty much any animal calm. It definitely had to be a magic thing. Or a Merlin thing? Were those two even all that dissimilar by this point?

Arthur stepped forward and took the reigns when Hengroen nearly took out the man’s knee. He tied up the horse and looked him over, glad to see he looked unharmed from his dash through the market. “Thank you. I know Hengroen can be a handful. I surprised you managed to catch him at all,” he said to the man.

“It is fine. When I saw the horses getting loose, I knew I had to do something. I didn’t realize they were yours. I wish I could have grabbed more of them.”

Arthur hummed and turned to him, spotting the dirt and hay that covered him. “You must be rewarded.”

“No, I couldn't possibly.”

“Come on. What do you wish for?”

“I desire only one thing, Sire.”

“Don’t be shy.”

“A position in the royal household.”

Arthur frowned and looked him over again. “There are no positions open right now, but I am in need of a servant for the night.”

“Even a night serving you would be more than enough, Sire.”

And maybe if it worked out, he could hire him on to lighten Merlin’s load.


“Here,” Gaius said as he started cleaning Merlin’s face with a wet rag.

“I'm not an idiot.”

“What happened?”

“I just want Arthur to trust me. And to respect me.”

“One day he will,” Gaius said. A year ago he would have been surprised by his words, but he knew they were true. Arthur had changed so much since Merlin had started to work for him, all for the better. Merlin had too. Less skittish, but he had also grown closer to the prince and more readily sought his approval.

“When? Everything I do is for him and he just thinks I'm an idiot.”

“Not everyone thinks you're an idiot.”

True, the boy could be a bit oblivious sometimes, but he learned quickly. Gaius knew he would be leaving the job of court physician in safe hands when he eventually retired. Give it a decade, maybe even less, and he knew his boy would surpass him.

“Although, looking at you now…” he teased scrubbing at a stubborn spot. Merlin looked up at him and they both laughed. Gaius sat in front of him so he could meet his eyes. “The connection you share with Arthur is strange, but strong. Arthur cares for you, Merlin, and I think you know that. He just doesn’t know how to show it due to your positions. One day he will come around.”

“It's hard.”

“I know it's hard, but you must give it time.” He patted his nephew’s knee and grew serious. "Until then, there are other things to consider. Camelot is in grave peril. I've translated the inscription. He who breaks my heart completes my work.

“What does it mean?”

“Do you remember the stone in the tomb, how it glowed?”


“Arthur Pendragon, you insensitive pig!”

“Cedric, can you go fetch my dinner?” Arthur sighed, ignoring the woman who’d just slammed open his door.

“Of course, Sire.” The man bowed and left.

“I should have known Merlin would go crying to you.”

“For your information, he didn’t say anything to me. I heard the maids whispering over it. How could you send him off like that!?”

“I gave him the night off. Aren’t you the one always saying I work him too -”

“And then you hire that obnoxious bootlicker to fill his place!”

“I hired him for the night as a reward for bringing Hengroen in. You know no one but Merlin could have managed that. It’s just for the ni-”

“How do you think that looks to Merlin! That you would just replace him!”

“Morgana!” he shouted. Once she was focused on him, he said, “Merlin fell asleep while working. He’s not in trouble, but he clearly needed the night off. He’s exhausted. I brought Cedric in to see how he does because he might be able to lighten Merlin’s load. I am not firing Merlin.”

“Does he know that?”

“Of course he does.”

“Did you actually tell him that or are you doing that stupid thing where you act nasty while doing nice things because you’re incompetent with emotions and you just assume everyone understands what you’re trying to say?”

He scowled at her.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Get out.”

“Talk to Merlin before he does the smart thing and leaves,” she said before walking out the door.

Arthur rolled his eyes. Merlin knew Arthur wouldn’t just replace him like that.


“Arthur, we’ve got a problem,” Merlin said, coming into Arthur’s chambers.

“What now?”

“The jewel on Sigan’s tomb, it’s enchanted. Or it was.”

“Is this about Morgana’s dream again?”

Merlin shook his head. “Gaius told me last night. I was going to tell you when I woke you up, but -” He waved his hand. “Gaius said the jewel held Sigan’s soul, and when the jewel was removed from the setting, the soul was released. Gaius found the jewel on the ground, but it’s nothing but clear crystal now. Whoever the thief was, they must be possed by the soul now.”

“Merlin, you realize how insane that sounds?”

“As insane as your uncle coming back to life to fight your father or a creature that’s half-bird, half-lion?”

“Alright, fair enough. But that doesn’t help us find the thief.”

“I know. Gaius asked about that. The gate wasn’t damaged so they must have used a key, but you’ve got the only one and no one could have gotten to it. You only take it off at night and no one was in last night.”

Arthur frowned and stood up. “Cedric!”

“That bootlicker from the hunt? What does he have to do with anything?”

Arthur froze. Merlin didn’t know?

“Arthur?”

“I… had Cedric serve me last night since you had the night off.” At Merlin’s glare, he added, “As a reward. Cedric caught Hengroen before he could run too far and brought him in.”

“He caught - Arthur, Hengroen hates everyone! He wouldn’t have let a stranger within five feet of his reigns while loose without caving his head in!”

“Well, he did! How else do you explain him walking in with Hengroen!? Unless -” Arthur was an idiot. He pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Unless?” Merlin said and Arthur glared at him. “Oh, did you mean unless he’d been the one to untie the horses and had kept hold of Hengroen’s reigns the entire time?”

“I’m going to send you to the stocks when this is over,” Arthur growled before calling for the guards so he could tell them who they needed to be looking for.


“Please tell me you have something,” Arthur said when Merlin and Guinevere came running.

“No, there’s nothing in the books. I risked asking Gaius, but he said the magic’s old. Far older than any living human,” Merlin said.

“Sigan’s begun his attack, we need to do something.”

“I’ll find him.”

“Merlin, Gaius said Sigan is the most powerful sorcerer to ever live! You can’t fight him,” Guinevere said, grabbing his arm.

“I don't have a choice. I’m the only one that stands a chance.”

“Don’t be a fool, Merlin,” Arthur said, shoving him back. “There must be something.”

“We’ve looked everywhere. There’s nothing.”

Nothing in the books. Nothing in human memory.

Human.

“Not everywhere,” Arthur said. “There’s still one place we can go for answers.”

Both looked at him with confusion that quickly turned to anger. “No.”

“We have no choice. Merlin, with me. Guinevere, you need to find Morgana before she misses you.”

“I’ll go. Your father will wonder where you are,” Merlin said as Guinevere hesitantly left them.

“I’ll tell him I was in the lower town or something. I’m not sending you to him alone.” He ran off before Merlin could object, leaving the warlock to hurry after him.

“Dragon!” Arthur called when they reached the cave.

The beast landed before them, looking angry. “You told me I would not see you again,” he growled at Merlin.

“We’re not here for me. We’re here for Camelot.”

“Camelot’s path lies with yours. You have made it clear that you do not walk in step with me.”

“You cannot want Cornelius Sigan to win. You're not evil.”

“At least Sigan knows where his loyalties lie. You have shown that you do not.”

“If anyone has shown that, it’s you,” Arthur spat.

“Careful, young prince,” the dragon snarled, turning to him.

“You would let Camelot fall!”

“I did not say that.”

“Then you will help?” Merlin pleaded.

“To defeat Sigan, you will need a spell more powerful than anything you know.”

“Please, I have to try.”

“Very well. But you must give me something in return.”

“What?” Arthur said, holding a hand in front of Merlin.

“A promise,” the dragon said, turning his attention to the prince.

“A promise?”

“That one day you will free me.”

“If we release you, what will you do?” Merin asked.

“That is not your concern.”

“It bloody hell is!” Arthur snapped while Merlin shouted, “I don't trust you!”

“Nevertheless, you must promise, or Camelot will fall.”

The two shared a look and Arthur directed Merlin into the stairwell.

“We can’t trust him,” they said at the same time and Merlin chuckled nervously.

“He’s right, though. We don’t have a choice,” Arthur said, glancing into the cover to see dust raining down as the castle shook above them.

“We can find another way,” Merlin said, but Arthur could hear the doubt in his voice.

He shook his head and Merlin nodded. They went back into the cavern.

“We promise. Now, please, give me the spell.”

“Close your eyes and open your mind,” the dragon said, rising. When Merlin did so, it breathed out a golden mist.

Arthur drew his sword, but hesitated when Merlin seemed unharmed.

“Merlin?”

“I’m alright,” the warlock answered. He opened his eyes and Arthur saw his eyes glowing for just a moment.

“Few men have ever been gifted such knowledge,” the dragon said. “Use it wisely.”

“I will,” Merlin said before leaving.

“You made a promise, young prince,” the dragon said before Arthur could follow. “And one day I shall keep you to it.”

Arthur sent him a glare and left. “What happened?”

“It was like when the druids showed me how to get to the Isle of the Blessed, but more powerful,” Merlin whispered. “Then it was just knowledge. I knew how to get there, but that was it. This time, it was knowledge, but also experience. I-I felt the spell being passed into me. If that makes any sense.”

It didn’t. “So what is it?”

Merlin frowned. “The shard of Sigan’s soul, it’s called a Horcrux. It can be destroyed, but only by the most powerful of dark magics. There’s another way though. I can place it back into a container, like the jewel.”

“Do that then. Gather what you need, I’ll go help hold the beasts off until you're ready.”

Merlin grabbed his arm. “No, it’s too dangerous.”

“Then you better hurry.” He tore his arm free and rushed off. He couldn’t sit back any longer.


Merlin fidgeted under Gwen and Arthur’s glares. “I -”

“I think the stocks would do him some good.”

“What?”

“You’re right, Guinevere. That sounds like a brilliant idea.”

“You can’t put me in the stocks!”

“I’m the prince, I can do whatever I want.”

“I just saved Camelot!”

“And nearly got yourself possessed in the process.”

“I had it perfectly under control!”

The two gave him unimpressed scowls.

Chapter Text

“How am I going to prove myself if my opponents aren't trying their hardest?”

“I'm sure it's not happening all the time,” Merlin said, barely ducking a blow to his head. He swiped at Arthur, but the prince easily diverted it.

“So it's happening some of the time?”

“No, I'm certain it isn't.”

“Now you're doing it!” he growled, hitting Merlin in the leg hard enough to send him to the ground. “You're telling me exactly what you think I want to hear!”

“Yes. Er… no,” Merlin groaned. “Uh… What was the question?”

“I know you’re doing that on purpose,” the prince growled, kicking at his side.

Merlin rolled away from the hit with a smile. “I thought you liked bootlickers. Why the sudden change?”

Arthur stabbed the training sword into the ground and pulled off his helmet. He stared down at it and sighed, “All my life I've been treated as if I'm special. I just want to be treated just like everyone else.”

“Really?” Merlin asked, sounding unconvinced as he pushed himself into a sitting position.

“You have no idea how lucky you are.”

“Well, anytime you want to swap places, just let me know.”

“That's not a totally stupid idea.”

“You're Prince Arthur. You can't change who you are.”

“Yes I can,” Arthur said, grabbing Merlin’s arm to pull him to his feet.

The warlock narrowed his eyes. “What are you plotting?”

“I have an idea.”

“Oh no. Whatever it is, don’t do it.”

Arthur shot him a glare and put his helmet back on. “You can’t tell me what to do.

“I thought you wanted me to talk back to you?”

In a move too fast for Merlin to block without magic, Arthur grabbed his sword and smacked his helmet hard enough that Merlin felt his brain shake.

“You’re really sending mixed signals,” he groaned, doubling over.

“Prepare yourself!”

“Of course, Sire. Whatever you say, Sire!”

Merlin was knocked to the ground again.


“Thank you for this, Guinevere,” Arthur said as he looked around her home.

He hadn’t expected it to be so… small.

“Of course, My Lord.”

“Please, just Arthur.”

She smiled and nodded. “I’ll prepare some dinner for us.”

When she was distracted, he whispered to Merlin, “I expected a bit more.”

“We can’t all be prince’s,” he whispered back. “Or live in the castle. Gwen’s is still nicer than most.”

“Sure, but…”

“You really can't go without your big bed and your soft pillows?” Merlin teased.

Arthur glared. “This will be fine.” Louder, he said, “How are the preparations coming along? Have you found someone to play our knight in the tournament?”


“I do all the work, someone else gets all the praise.”

“I know the feeling,” Merlin muttered.

“When I win this tournament, I'll reveal my true identity, get the credit I deserve.”

“Of course you will,” Merlin hummed and Arthur looked at him.

“Something to say?”

“Of course not, Sire.”

Arthur glared and shoved him. “Well don't just stand there. Help me off with my armor. And remember to polish it before tomorrow. The horse needs grooming. And don't forget to repair the broken lances.”


“Why are you doing this?” Guinevere asked, coming to the table.

“I fear that people respect me just because of my title.”

“I don't believe that's true of everyone.”

“Would you tell me if it were?”

“No.”

He looked up at her to see her smiling.

She sat in front of him, shaking her head. “I cannot speak for everyone, but I know I do not, and I think everyone knows Merlin doesn’t.”

“Merlin doesn’t respect me at all. He just acts like it when he’s trying to get under my skin.”

“He respects you, just as you respect him. You both just have your own ways of showing it.”

He rolled his eyes, but the humor faded quickly. He looked down at his cup and said, “That may be true for you two, but everyone else? When I'm competing as William, my title doesn't matter, nobody gives me any special treatment. So when I win this tournament -- If I win this tournament -- it will be because I deserve it and not because I am Prince Arthur.”

He looked up to see her giving him a sad smile.

He stood up. “I think I'll take a bath.”

“That might be difficult seeing as I don't have a bathtub.”

“Really? Er… perhaps you could prepare me a bowl of hot water. I take it you have a bowl.”

“I think I can manage a bowl,” she said and he looked up at her angry tone to see her marching over to the door. “I’ll just walk all the way down to the well and fetch some water then, shall I?”

“I -”

She stormed out of the house.


“Do you think I sit around doing nothing?! I haven't had a chance to sit around and do nothing since the day I arrived in Camelot! I'm too busy running around after Arthur! Do this, Merlin! Do that, Merlin! And when I'm not running around after Arthur, I'm doing chores for you! And if I'm not doing that, I'm reading book after book about tinctures and extracts and bruises and infections! Do you know how many times I've sav-been in danger by following Arthur around? I've lost count! Do I get any thanks? No. I have fought griffins, witches, uh… bandits! I have been punched, poisoned, pelted with fruit, and all the while I have to clean his socks and study medicine and slog through bogs for thorny plants and things I can’t even talk about! Sometimes I feel like I'm being pulled in so many directions, I don't know which way to turn!”


Merlin was watering Passelande when a man approached. The horse eyed him, but thankfully was calmer around strangers than his brother or even Llamrei and only pulled away when the man reached out as opposed to kicking him or biting at the approaching fingers.

“He's a fine horse,” the man said, not seeming to notice the horse’s nerves, or the way Merlin was responding to his nerves.

Passelande was pretty intuitive when it came to danger.

“I see your master has advanced to the final. He's extremely skilled with a lance.”

“He's doing well. Just one more match to go,” he answered, stroking the gelding’s neck.

“Tell me, what is he like to work for?”

Merlin felt a weight on his shoulder and a hiss in his ear and sighed. “Between you and me? He can be a bit of a prat,” he joked, setting his hand over Cavall’s head before the cat could do something stupid.

He bit him.

“Are you alright?”

“Fine. He’s the prince’s cat so he seems to think he’s a prince as well.” Merlin shook out his hand and grabbed the cat off him with the other. “Go beg for food somewhere else. I know the kitchen maids all dote on you.”

“You still work for Prince Arthur then?” the man asked, eyeing the cat as it eyed him right back.

“No. Yes, yes. Not right now. Arthur's away. I'm just… helping out.”

“Well, I, erm, I wish your master luck in the final.”

“Thanks.”

He watched the man leave then turned back to the horse. “So neither of you liked him then?”

Cavall hissed and Passelande snorted.

“Great, as if I don’t have enough to worry about.”


“About how rude and arrogant you can be!” Guinevere exploded. “This is my home and you are my guest in it! I know you are used to more luxurious quarters, but that is not an excuse to be so rude! You claim titles don't matter to you, but you behave like a prince and expect me to wait on you like a servant! Saying it means nothing if your actions betray you! Would it kill you to say please and thank you once in a while?”

She stared into Arthur’s eyes before looking away.

“My Lord,” she tacked on.

“Is there anything else you'd like to add?” he asked after a moment.

“No, I think that's it,” she said, not looking at him but for the slightest second.

He waited until she looked back up at him before saying, “You're right. You have invited me into your home and I have behaved appallingly.”

“I didn't mean to make you feel bad.”

“Oh, really?”

“Well, perhaps a little,” she chuckled and he smiled.

“There's no excuse. I'll make it up to you. Tonight, I will make dinner for you.”

“You're going to cook me dinner?” she asked as he pushed her out of the house.

“I most certainly am. Now go for a walk or do whatever it is that girls do at this time of the evening.”

“A walk would be nice.”

“Your dinner will be ready when you return.”

He shut the door then turned to look at her kitchen. He clapped his hands together and approached the raw chicken, then frowned down at it. The door opened and he turned to see her peeking back in.

“Guinevere -”

“You have no idea how to cook, do you?”

“I…” He glanced down at the meat, then back up at her. “I can kill a chicken from a thousand paces, just don't ask me to cook it. But -”

She came in and hung up her scarf. “How about we make dinner together? I can show you how.”

“That would be wonderful,” he said coming closer to her.

That was, of course, when Merlin barged in to ruin the moment.

“Arthur -”

The prince marched over and grabbed him by the scarf. He dragged him out of the house saying, “Leave, Merlin.”

“But don’t you want me to -”

“No, you have the night off. Leave.”

Merlin frowned and glanced between Arthur and the door. His eyes widened. “Wait, are you and -”

Arthur slammed the door in his face and turned to Guinevere.


Merlin looked up when Gaius came in. He gestured to the dinner he’d prepared, including some pork he’d picked up from the market to apologize. “Dinner's ready… What I said this morning -”

His uncle cut him off with a raised hand. “It is I who should be apologizing to you. I have failed to appreciate just how heavy your burden must be, acting as both servant and apprentice.”

“I shouldn't have lost my temper with you.”

“It's no wonder you're upset. There's so much resting on your young shoulders. Now that Arthur's away, you must take time to enjoy yourself.”

“What about the leech tank?”

“Don't even think about the leech tank.”

“Really?” Merlin asked, relieved.

“All this talk of leeches will put us off our dinner.”


“I think I better stop talking,” Gwen giggled, getting up.

“I'll do that,” Arthur said, taking the plate from her and bringing his own.

“Thank you, for dinner,” she said, turning as he went.

“I didn’t do much. Honestly, I likely would have given us food poisoning if you hadn’t been watching over me.”

“I don’t know about that. It certainly would have tasted awful though, with how much spice you were trying to use.” They both laughed and she stood up to take his hand. “A good king should respect his people, no matter who they are. Helping me, offering to make me dinner, you've done something kind for me even though I'm just a servant.”

“I…” He took her other hand and their eyes met. “Guinevere, I know I have much to learn. There are some things that I am terrible at -- cooking being one of them -- but also, knowing what to say to someone I care about.”

Gwen felt a tightness in her chest and she moved closer to him.

“Arthur, there's an assassin in Camelot! He's here to kill you!”


“No one but us knows where you are. If the assassin can't find you, he can't kill you. That said…”

“What?” Arthur asked when Merlin trailed off.

“There was a man at the tournament earlier today. Asking after you.”

“You think he could be the assassin?” Gwen asked.

“Cavall and Passelande both didn’t like him.”

“Well if that’s all it takes,” Arthur snorted.

“Animals are intuitive.”

“Cavall hates you, what’s that say?”

“That he treats me the same way his prat of an owner does?”

“What did he want to know?” Gwen said, cutting between them.

“He asked if I was still working for Arthur. I told him I was just working for William while Arthur was away, but I don’t know how much of that he believed.”

“Given your ability to lie, none of it,” the prince snorted. “We’ll need to be on guard tomorrow. Do you think you can track him down?”

Merlin considered it, but couldn’t think of a tracking spell that would work without more knowledge of the assassin or something of his. “No, but Cavall might. He can be pretty good at tracking when he actually wants to. Maybe I can bribe him with some fish from the kitchens.”

Arthur rolled his eyes and turned to Gwen. “May I continue to stay here? I don’t want to put you in danger.”

“You’re welcome to stay for as long as you need. He might not know you’re here, but he’ll certainly notice if you return to the castle.”

“Thank you. I'll sleep on the floor tonight.”

“No, have my bed. You need to be well-rested for the tournament tomorrow.”

“I'll not hear of it. Goodnight, Guinevere.”

“Goodnight.”

As Arthur went over to the corner, Merlin followed. Out of Gwen’s earshot, he whispered, “So how was your da-”

“Shut up, Merlin, and make me a bed.”

The warlock blinked. “How am I supposed to do that?”

“With magic, you idiot.”

“I don’t know how to conjure a bed.”

“Then fetch the mattress from my quarters and bring it up here.”

“How am I supposed to carry a mattress on my own? I’m pretty sure someone would notice a floating bed.”

“I don't know, strap it to your back.”

Merlin glared at him and turned to leave. “I’m going to bed.”

Merlin,” Arthur hissed.

“You’ve slept on the ground hundreds of times for patrol. I think you’ll live.”


“They’re nearly ready for you, Sire,” Alex said, holding out William’s helmet as Gwen finished tightening the last of Arthur’s armor.

“One moment,” Arthur said, sending the fake knight back out of the tent. He stood up and turned to Gwen.

“One more match. The tournament will be over.”

“You can go back to being Prince Arthur.” She grabbed the scrap of cloth she’d brought with her and held it out. “Um… I thought you might wear it… for luck.”

“Thank you.”

She smiled, then looked away. She tied it around his arm with shaking hands. Once done, she looked up again.

Arthur leaned down and kissed her.

When he pulled away, she felt a mountain of unsaid things crash down on her, and she could see the same happen to him.

“I must go.”

“I’ll go get him,” she said, leaving the tent. She sent Alex in then walked towards the stands.

“Arthur all ready?” Merlin asked, appearing at her side with a grumpy-looking cat in his arms.

“Uh-huh.”

“I took care of the assassin.”

“Uh-huh.”

Merlin cocked his head. “Are you okay?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Did he kiss you?”

“Uh-huh.”

Merlin laughed and she blinked. “What?”

“So you and William, huh?” he chuckled and she blushed.

“Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I’m just a serving girl. Nothing can really happen.”

“But something did happen?”

She went to swat his arm, but stopped when she remembered Cavall. She frowned when she realized he was clawing up Merlin’s jacket. “Uh.”

“He’s mad because he wants more fish. If I let him go, he’ll head to the kitchens and the cook only agreed to let me have the fish she gave me if I keep him from the kitchens for the rest of the day. So I get clawed and he gets carried. Lose-lose for us both.”

“But you found the assassin.”

He nodded. “He must have realized William was you-know-who. I found him just as he was about to sneak into Sir Alynor’s tent with a lance that had a dagger hidden in its point. I took care of it.”

She sighed with relief and turned to watch the joust.

“So…”

“Shush, Merlin.”


“The assassin was found dead, his own dagger in his heart. He must have angered the wrong person during his hunt.”

“It seems we both have good news. The creature is dead,” Arthur said, keeping his face blank.

“Excellent, but now we have Odin to consider. He must be made to pay for his actions. We must strike back at him.”

“Surely you understand the grief he feels for the loss of his son? We should try to make peace with him. There's been enough bloodshed.”

“Perhaps you're right,” Uther allowed. “You must be wondering about the tournament. We have a new champion, Sir William of Daira.”

“I'm sorry I missed all the excitement,” he said, glancing between Arthur and Guinevere and barely keeping his smile neutral.

Once the meeting was over, Arthur followed his father out, but paused when he saw Guinevere. He stayed back and called her. “What happened while I was staying with you… I'm afraid my father would never understand.”

She smiled and shook her head. “You don't have to explain. Perhaps when you are King, more things will be different then we’d thought.”

He couldn’t respond, just met her sad smile with his own.

“Arthur?” Uther called and Arthur turned away.

Chapter Text

Arthur turned to Merlin when he came in. They shared a look and Arthur turned back to the window.

“You know what this means.”

Arthur didn’t respond.

“We’re going to have to tell her.”

“We can’t, but we are going to have to do something.”


“Father.”

Uther nodded to his son as he came up to his side. “Ah, Arthur. Have you begun making the arrests?”

“Actually, about that. I went to speak to the guards about setting up the arrests and discovered a few of them saw the incident. It would seem it was a matter of nature after all.”

Uther gave his son his full attention. “You’re certain.”

“The guards reported seeing lightning strike her window during the storm, causing it to break. Then the fire started right after. They would have reported it sooner, but they assumed we had already been informed. I made sure they were aware to inform their superiors immediately next time something like this occurs.”

“Good, good. That is a relief.”

“Should I still conduct the arrests?”

Uther hummed, turning back to continue on his way as he thought. “No, if Morgana wasn’t attacked, then we can continue the investigations. Make sure Morgana and the rest of the court are informed that it was simply an act of nature and not an attack.”

“Of course, father.” Arthur bowed his head, then left to do as he was told.


Arthur smirked as he blocked Merlin’s blow. “Did Morgana like her flowers?”

The warlock faltered and he got a hit in.

“Flowers?” Merlin asked a moment later, rubbing at his side.

“You really should learn that you can’t hide anything from me.”

“I wasn't trying to hide them. I mean, I was. Just, erm, I didn't want you to get the wrong impression.” When Arthur opened his mouth to comment, Merlin quickly added, “How did it go with your father?”

The prince smirked, but allowed the change of subject as they started to spar again. “Exactly as planned.”

“That’s great, but you know we’re going to have to do something soon. She set her room on fire. If she hasn’t started to suspect magic yet, it won’t be long. Maybe I shou-”

“No.” Arthur stepped back. “Whatever happens, you’re staying out of it.”

“Morgana’s my friend too!” he huffed, feinting to the right. Arthur saw it coming, but allowed it.

“Merlin, we have no idea how she will react -- to her magic or yours. Until we know, we can’t reveal your powers to her. You know how confrontational she can be with my father.”

“But I could help her control her magic,” Merlin said, trying another feint though this time Arthur used it to disarm him.

“We can consider that once we’re sure she’s not going to immediately go blow up at my father. Or worse, try to kill him again.”

Merlin tried to argue again, but Arthur sent him a look. “Fine. We’re still going to have to do something.”

“When it comes to it, I’ll talk to her.”


“It's magic, Merlin.”

Merlin’s mouth opened, but nothing came out for a moment, two. “What?”

“I'm your friend, you know I wouldn't make this up.”

“Of course.”

“Then you believe me? You think it's magic too. Please, Merlin, I just need to hear someone say it so I don't have to keep feeling like I'm imagining it.”

Merlin nodded, glancing away, then turning to her with a determined expression. “Do you trust me?”

“Of course.”

“Then come with me.”

She was confused, but took his arm and let him lead her out of Gaius’s chambers.

He brought her through the castle, carefully avoiding the guards.

She froze as they reached Arthur’s chambers. “Merlin?”

“It’s okay,” he said, guiding her inside and shutting the door. He smiled at her, then snuck over to Arthur’s bedside. He carefully picked up a pillow, then smacked it onto Arthur’s head.

She felt a smile tugging at her lips as the prince jerked upwards drunkenly.

“Wha’s’ at? Who’s there?” he slurred, stumbling up to his knees and grabbing at the sword kept at his bedside. Just as his hand landed on the hilt, his eyes landed on the manservant slowly backing away with a pillow half-covering his face. “Merlin!”

“Sire?” Merlin questioned innocently and despite herself, the smile overwhelmed Morgana.

“How many times have I told -”

“I stand by the fact that that is the safest way to wake you in a hurry.” Merlin held the pillow slightly higher.

“Stand by this,” Arthur snapped, grabbing a jug off his bedside table.

Merlin, clearly used to this response, was ducking before the jug had left Arthur’s hand, hidden behind his pillow. Morgana, not so used to it, barely managed to step to the side so the jug hit the wall instead of her.

Arthur blinked stupidly at her before turning to Merlin.

They shared a look before Arthur sighed and got up. “Well, don’t just stand there, Merlin. Build up the fire then fetch us something to eat.”

Merlin rolled his eyes, but went over to the fire as Arthur grabbed a shirt off his changing screen. The boy grabbed a chair and pulled it over to the fire then left after giving Morgana an encouraging smile.

“So,” Arthur said, pulling on the shirt, “what’s got Merlin all in a tizzy?”

All of Morgana’s amusement fled her. “It’s nothing. I’m sorry he woke you.”

“Merlin’s an idiot, but he usually knows better than to bother me in the middle of the night for nothing.” Arthur grabbed another chair and pulled it to the fire. He sat down, then gestured towards the one Merlin had grabbed. “Usually at least. Come on, you can talk to me. Was it another one of your nightmares?

“Would you believe me if it was?”

“Morgana.”

She hesitantly sat down, but shook her head. “It’s nothing, really. I just had a nightmare, a real one. I went to Gaius for a potion, but he wasn’t there. I think I… I made Merlin nervous with my ramblings. Usually, Gwen is the only one who has to deal with me like that. I was upset, but I’m fine now. I’ll just g-”

“Morgana,” Arthur grabbed her hand as she started to stand, “it’s fine. At least stay until Merlin gets back with the treats. He always brings too much like he thinks I’ll give him some if I don’t finish them.”

“You could always just give him some,” she pointed out, but he just snorted and shook his head.

“So, what did you say?”

“I… I said I thought I had magic,” Morgana said quietly before waving her hand. “As I said, I was just -”

“Morgana, it’s okay. I know.”

Morgana opened her mouth.

“I know about your magic.”

Morgana choked. “I don’t have -” Morgana surged to her feet. “This is ridiculous! How could you even think -”

“‘Gana, calm down,” Arthur huffed, jumping to his feet and glancing at the door. He set his hands on her shoulders. “I told you, I know already. I’ve known for awhile actually. You’re dreams, they’re magic too. I hoped that was it, for your sake, but I knew there was a chance you might have… more.”

“You… You what?” Morgana whispered. She dropped into her chair. “You know. Knew. Why didn’t you say something?”

“Why didn’t you want to tell me?” Arthur said, sitting back down. He gestured towards the door. “My father…” he trailed off.

“Your father,” Morgana scoffed.

Arthur turned to the fire with that pinched look he always got when he was trying to understand feelings.

The door squeaked open and Merlin peaked in. “Should I come in?” he fake whispered.

Arthur rolled his eyes and waved him in.

Morgana squirmed as he came over with a tray of mulled wine and honey tarts.

“Does he know?” she asked.

Arthur nodded. “I told him not to say anything. To let me deal with it.”

“For the record, I told him to tell you earlier.”

Arthur shot him a glare and Morgana relaxed slightly.

“You really aren’t going to say anything?” she asked before taking a goblet and downing half the wine.

Arthur glanced at Merlin then focused on her. “I’ve started to see that father might not be completely right about magic. It can be dangerous, but it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be used responsibly, like any power.”

She flinched. “My power, it’s dangerous. I can’t control it.”

“You just need to learn how to.”

“And how do you expect me to do that in Camelot?”

Arthur met Merlin’s gaze again for a moment. “I don’t know,” he turned back to her, “but I’ll figure something out. I’ve got a few connections.”

Morgana raised an eyebrow, but his face stayed serious. “You have connections.”

“Yes.”

Morgana gaped, then quickly composed herself. “Right.” She set the unfinished goblet back on Merlin’s tray. “I think I’ve had enough excitement for one night. Goodnight Arthur, Merlin.”

“Morgana -”

“Good-NIGHT Arthur, Merlin,” she said, pushing through the door.

“Goodnight Morgana,” she heard Merlin call just before the door shut.

The lady kept her composure until she had made it back to her room, then slumped against the wall.

Magic. She had magic!

And Arthur knew!

And was going to help her?

She snorted and shook her head. How would Arthur be able to help her with magic?


Forridel froze, listening to her heartbeat.

As a few moments passed, she relaxed. She told her herself that she was imagining things and continued readying for bed.

Someone knocked on her door again.

Frowning, she grabbed the sword hidden near the door.

“Who’s there?”

“A friend.”

“Don’t have many friends that would visit in the middle of the night. Don’t have many friends period.”

She jumped away as the door unlocked itself. She raised her blade as it swung open to admit a tall, slender figure hidden beneath a cloak.

They -- or he, judging by the voice -- raised pale hands. “I mean you no harm.” He came inside and shut the door.

“Forgive me if I don’t believe someone who’d barge into my home.”

“Sorry, but I need your help. I need to find the druids.”

“I wouldn't know anything about them,” she snapped, stepping closer.

The man ignored the blade nearing his neck. “You don't need to lie to me.”

“I'm not -” she cut off as the man raised his hand and a small flame appeared atop it.

“As I said, I’m a friend.” She could hear the smile in his voice.

She studied him for a moment, then lowered the sword. “Who are you?”

He tugged his hood down closer to his face with his free hand. “I can’t tell you. I’m sorry, but it’s safer for us both this way.”

She hummed. “Why do you want to know where the druids are?”

“I need their help.”

She watched him for a moment. “Alright, not many who can carry fire in their palm would wish ill on the druids. One second.”

She grabbed a piece of paper and charcoal and drew up a crude map. “Here, you’ll be able to find them here, in the Forest of Ascetir.” She shrugged as he looked over the map. “It’s the best I can do.”

“It’ll be fine. Thank you.” He rolled up the map and it disappeared into his cloak. “In return, you should beware, Uther suspects your connection to the druids.”

Forridel paled. “How do you know?”

His head tilted to the side and she got the faintest glimpse of a smile. “I’ve got friends in high places. Be careful, please.”

She nodded and he nodded back before leaving without a word, disappearing into the night.


“Oh, hello, Your Highness,” Guinevere said when she answered the door for Morgana, giving a curtsey, and Arthur smiled at her.

“Gwen was just about to fetch me lunch,” Morgana explained, tying off her braid. “Should she fetch some for you as well?”

“That’s alright. I’m on my way to lunch with Leon. I just needed to talk to you for a moment.”

Guinevere glanced between them knowingly and stepped through the doorway. “I’ll just be off then.”

“Thank you, Gwen.”

“Thank you, Guinevere.”

She nodded and closed the door.

“So why are you bothering me now?” Morgana asked, putting away her brushes.

“I’ve found them.” He pulled the map Merlin had gotten -- with his own additions to make it actually legible -- out of his jacket.

“Them?”

He unfurled the map on her vanity for her to see. “The druids. They’re in the Forest of Ascetir.”

“Really?” she leaned over to study it. “How did you get this?”

“I told you I have connections. It should be a short ride. If we leave in the morning, we should have a good few hours before we’ll need to head back.”

“We?” she looked up at him with narrowed eyes.

“You know Father won’t let you go out alone. The best chance you have to go without him sending a squad of guards to protect you is if we tell him we’re going on a ride together, just the two of us.”

She snorted and crossed her arms. “The druids will never talk to me if you’re there.”

He thought about what Merlin had said about the druids’ attitude towards him and Arthur and nearly snorted. “Father will never let you go alone and we can’t trust anyone else. It will be fine, I promise.”

She looked down at the map, her eyes dancing over it. After a moment, she said, “Alright.”

He nodded and took the map. “I’ll tell Merlin to prepare lunch for us and have the horses ready.”

She gave him a look. “Gwen can take care of lunch. Merlin doesn’t need to do all of it.”

“It’s fine,” he said as he headed out. “Merlin likes it.”

“You’re an ass.”


“Merlin!”

The warlock smiled when he saw Gwen running towards him. “Morning. Did you get the lunch all packed? I can ta- Gwen, what’s wrong?” he asked, spotting the worry on her face as she drew near.

“Morgana, she’s gone,” she panted.

“What?”

“I went to wake her this morning and her room was empty and her bed hadn’t been slept in.”

“She’s going on her own,” Merlin whispered.

Gwen nodded. “We need to tell Arthur. The guards know she’s gone. When Uther finds out…”

“Let’s go!”

The two raced to Arthur’s chambers as fast as they could, but the warning bells were already ringing by the time they got there.

“Arthur!” Merlin shouted as he pushed through the doors.

“What did you do?” the prince huffed, already on his feet.

Merlin gave him an offended expression and Gwen pushed past him. “It’s Morgana. She -” She cut off with a blush and spun around when she realized Arthur was still pulling on his pants. “She’s gone, disappeared in the night.”

Arthur cursed and yelled at Merlin to help him. As his servant dropped the breakfast tray on the table and dug into his wardrobe, he said, “I should have realized she gave in too easily.”

A knock sounded alongside a call for Arthur.

“Come in,” he answered as Merlin finished with his shirt.

Leon gave Gwen a confused look as he came in before focusing on his prince.

“Gwen was telling me what she knows about Morgana’s disappearance,” Arthur explained. “Are the guards searching the castle?”

“They are, but a horse is missing from the royal stables and a guard spotted a woman riding out the eastern gate late last night.”

“Let’s hope she just snuck out for a night ride and got lost, then,” he said before turning to Merlin. “You’re free to run that errand for Gaius. You’d likely only slow us down.” He nodded at Gwen. “Take Guinevere with you. She could use a distraction and you could use a good example.”

Merlin pouted as the two men left, but grew serious as soon as the door shut. He ran over to Arthur’s desk and dug out the map from where he’d hidden it. “We need to go find her before they can track her to the druid camp.”

Chapter Text

Mordred glanced towards Lady Morgana’s tent as he passed it on his way out of the camp to fetch water from a nearby river. He’d been curious about the woman ever since the rumors had gotten out that Aglain had brought her into camp in the early morning hours suffering from a serket’s venom. What would she be like? Kind like Emrys, Arthur, and Gwen? Or more of Uther’s ilk?

How were the three doing? It’d been over half a year since he’d last seen his rescuers and he wished he could ask after them, but he knew it would be odd for a druid to ask after the prince’s health, if not suspicious.

With one last glance at the tent, he slipped out of the camp and onto the rocky path that led to the river.

He’d just reached the water and started to fill one of his buckets when he felt something brush his mind. It was so faint, he likely wouldn’t have noticed it in the bustle of the camp. Small and probing, searching, clearly done by someone untrained.

Curious, he hid his buckets under a bush and followed the feeling. He’d only met a few people that had the gift naturally like him, most had to learn it. There shouldn’t have been any other druids in the area, which meant they were probably on their own. A dangerous thing for someone with magic to be in Camelot.

He slipped through one of the mountain’s many defiles until he reached a small hill. He peeked over the hill and was both surprised and thrilled to see Emrys and Gwen coming to a stop atop a pair of horses.

The older warlock pointed ahead and Gwen slipped off her horse. They talked for a moment, Emrys looking worried, before Gwen took his hand reassuringly and walked off.

Mordred climbed over the hill and slid down it, calling out with his mind.

Emrys turned at his name, eyes widening. “Mordred? What are you doing here?”

“The druid camp I’m staying with is nearby,” Modred said, speaking aloud to be sure none of the others could listen in. Iseldir had told him to keep Emrys’s identity secret from the outlying clans, worried about the rumors of some clans turning against the druid’s peaceful lifestyle. “What are you and Gwen doing out here?”

“Looking for your camp, I think,” Emrys sighed, swinging himself off the horse. “Have you heard anything about the Lady Morgana?”

“She’s back at camp. She was attacked by serkets.”

“What?” he gasped, paling. “Is she okay?”

Mordred nodded. “Saraid said she saw her up and walking around with Aglain earlier. Is she why you’re looking for our camp, Merlin-Emrys?”

The older warlock’s nose scrunched up. “You know, you can just call me Merlin.”

Mordred nodded. He did, but Emrys was Emrys. The druids had taught him how such a title deserved respect.

“Right,” he said. “Yeah, we’re here to bring her home. Uther’s looking for her, and if the knights track her here..."

A shiver went down Mordred’s spine and he stepped closer to Emrys.

The warlock set his hand on his shoulder. “Hey, don’t worry, we won’t let you get hurt.” Emrys tilted his head, considering. “Hey, that thing you do where you talk in people’s heads, can you reach your camp from here?”

“Yes, why?”

“Could you warn your people? Even if we manage to get Morgana out, they might still spot you.”

Mordred nodded determinedly and reached out to the camp. He couldn’t speak to everyone, not all of the druids in the camp had magic, but he’d reach enough of them to get the message going.

The knights are in the area. We need to leave.

He heard the message repeated back to him in other’s voices as they took up the message, but focused on Emrys. “I told them.”

“Thank you, now you need to get back.

Mordred hesitated. He knew he needed to return so he could go with the camp, but he didn’t want to leave Emrys so soon.

His choice was made for him when a dog’s howl cut through the air.


Gwen bit her lip as she crept through the trees, hoping a druid didn’t spot her. She was relieved when she ducked behind a tent and spotted her lady through the seem.

“Morgana,” she whispered, poking her head inside.

“Gwen? What are you doing here?” Morgana gasped, turning to her.

“I came to bring you back.”

“Then I'm afraid you've had a wasted journey. I'm never going back.”

“What?” she asked, climbing into the tent.

“Arthur must have told you why I’m here.”

“I know, but you must return.”

“I can’t. More importantly, I don’t want to,” Morgana said, turning away.

“Uther thinks you were taken and the rest of Camelot worries you’re lost. Arthur’s been sent out to search for you and he can only slow down his men so much before gaining Uther’s suspicion.

“If I return, Uther will have me killed,” Morgana breathed and Gwen took her hand.

“He doesn't need to know about this. We won't tell a soul.”

“I'm sorry,” she said, pulling away. “I'm never going back. These are my people. They're like me. I don't feel so alone here. Do you understand?”

Gwen shook her head, tears forming. She thought of Merlin. “No, and I don’t think I ever will. But you have a place in Camelot, and people who care about you. Doesn’t that mean anything?”

“It does, but I need this, Gwen. I cannot return.”

“Mor-”

“Please, just leave.”

Crying, Gwen nodded and slipped out of the tent. She fled into the trees, picking up speed when she heard a dog howl. She came into the clearing where she left Merlin, only to find him gone.

“Gwen,” a voice hissed and he looked over to see Merlin peaking out of a crevice. She followed it around to where Merlin was hiding with the horses.

And the boy they’d snuck out of Camelot.

“Oh, it’s you!”

“Mordred is with the camp,” Merlin explained. “Where’s Morgana?”

“I’m sorry, she refused to come. She wants to stay with the druids and I couldn’t talk her out of it.”

Merlin shook his head. “There’s no way Arthur can call the hunt off now. Uther will never stop looking for her.”

“I know, but she wouldn’t listen. She said they were her people.”

Merlin looked sad and glanced down at Mordred. “I can understand that.” He sighed and squeezed Mordred’s shoulder. “Do you know where we can bring you so you can meet up with the rest of your people? I don’t feel comfortable just leaving you.”

Mordred’s nose wrinkled up and his eyes darted about. “I don’t know. Everyone’s shouting and talking over each other. I can’t tell what they’re saying.”

Gwen frowned and Merlin pointed to his head.

He cocked it like he was listening to something, his brow furrowing. “I can’t tell either, I think they might be -” he cut off as both boys went still.

Mordred started shaking and breathing heavily.

“What’s wrong?” Gwen asked, grabbing his shoulders. She looked up at Merlin to see his eyes were closed and his face pinched.

He took a deep breath and looked at her, tears already starting to fall. “Th-they found the camp.”

She gasped and brought Mordred into a hug.

“It-it sounds like a lot managed to escape, but…” He shook his head.

They stood in silence for a second then Gwen pushed them towards the horses. “We need to go. We’re too close to the camp.”

Merlin nodded and helped Mordred onto his horse. “Just try not to listen. Focus on my voice,” he said as he climbed on in front of the druid.

He didn’t talk after that, but Gwen assumed he was speaking with his mind, trying to cover up whatever they were hearing from the camp. She wasn’t sure if she should talk as well or if it would make things worse so she focused on leading the way out of the forest. When they reached its edge they took a break to let the horses rest.

“Are you okay?” she asked them.

Merlin nodded and helped Mordred down. She got down as well and pulled them both into a hug.

“We need to figure out what we’re going to do,” Merlin said. He took the horses’ reins and led them to some fresh grass. “Do you have any idea where to go?” he asked Mordred.

“I don’t know. I couldn’t tell where the others were going? They must have just scattered.”

“Can you find them?” Gwen asked, looking between them.

Merlin shook his head and looked down at Mordred, who did the same. “I was always just told to follow the others’ voices, but I can’t hear anyone now.”

“We can’t just run around looking for them. The knights will have set up patrols to try and track down the ones who escaped,” Merlin said. “We’ll have to take him with us until we can find another clan.”

Mordred perked up, but Gwen frowned. “You want to take a druid to Camelot?”

He flinched, excitement fading from his face.

“No one will know he’s a druid.” Merlin set his hands on Mordred’s shoulders. “It’s your decision. “We can go to Camelot, or Gwen can head back and I can try to -”

“I want to stay with you!”

The two blinked at his enthusiasm.

“Are you sure?” Gwen asked.

“I want to stay with Emrys.”

Merlin pinched his nose. “You need to call me Merlin.”

“I can do that,” Mordred said, nodding.

“Not Merlin-Emrys.”

He frowned, but nodded slowly. “Merlin.”

Gwen looked between them and sighed. This was happening then. “We’re going to need a story for why we have them. Could he be your cousin?”

“Yes!” Mordred said while Merlin said, “No.”

The druid deflated as the older said, “Gaius knows my mother’s side of the family better than I do and my father… had no family. Gaius would call us out on the lie immediately.”

“Well, I doubt anyone would believe he’s my family,” Gwen chuckled.

“I could be the son of a friend,” Mordred offered.

Gwen and Merlin shared a look.


“How is it,” Arthur sighed, running a hand over his face, “that I sent you out to find Morgana and instead you brought home a druid?”

“He’s not a druid. He’s Will’s cousin. His uncle asked me to take care of him.”

He met Merlin’s vapid expression with an annoyed one.

“We couldn’t leave him out there on his own. It’s just until we can get him home,” Guinevere said and Arthur crumbled under her pleading eyes.

He turned to the kid. “Your name’s Mordred, right?”

“Yes,” he said, looking up at Arthur with wide eyes.

The prince was surprised to not see any fear there, only wonder. He knew Merlin said the druids were worshipful towards them, but he figured it was more Merlin and they would still be cautious around him. He doubted it was because of how they’d rescued them. Arthur hadn’t even been around the kid while he was conscious.

“Where did you plan to have him stay?” Arthur said, focusing back on the other two. “The Physician’s Chambers are crowded enough with just you and Gaius.”

“He could stay with me,” Guinevere said. “I have the room, though I’d need to save up for another bed.”

Arthur opened his mouth to offer to buy one -- and take the money out of Merlin’s wages since he was sure this was all his idea -- when the memory of the rescue gave him an idea. Maybe he could finally solve a problem he’s been chewing on. “He could stay here.”

“Here?” Merlin said, glancing at the bed.

Arthur rolled his eyes. Idiot. “In my servant’s quarters.”

“Is that allowed?”

“It is if I make him my household page.”

The boys looked confused, but Guinevere nodded.

“Isn’t page the step before squire?” Merlin asked.

“Household page,” Guinevere explained. “Basically he’d be your assistant.”

“He’d be able to help me while your off being useless, or help Gaius while I need you for something.”

The glare the older warlock gave him was muted by his excitement and quickly abandoned. “You mean I wouldn’t have so much work to do.”

“You’d have the same amount, you’d just have help.”

“I’ll take it!” He frowned and turned to Mordred. “Only if it’s okay with you, though. Arthur can be demanding. I’m sure we can find something else.”

But the druid looked just as excited, if not more so. “I could help you and the Once and Future King.”

“Prince Arthur,” Arthur cut in. “Your Highness, Sire, My Lord, please use one of these. Even Arthur would do since people will think you’re just learning bad manners from Merlin. Just don’t call me that in front of anyone but us. And preferably not then either.”

“Of course, Sire,” he said, nodding rapidly.

“Are all druids like this?” Arthur whispered to Merlin as Guinevere took the kid into the servant’s quarters.

“Iseldir isn’t quite so bouncy,” Merlin chuckled. “But he’s just as respectful over the whole Emrys and Future King thing.”

“He’s going to need clothes, preferably ones that don’t look like he’s been living out in the middle of the woods all his life. We also need to hide his cloak. Most won’t recognize it as a druid cloak, and even my father wouldn’t charge anyone simply for having one, but it would make people look too closely at him.”

Merlin nodded. “I know, but it’s all he’s got so I couldn’t force him to get rid of it. I’ll hide it with the books.”

“I’ll give Guinevere some money and the two of you can get him some clothes. Say his uncle gave it to you for him.”

“Thank you. I know I’m asking a lot.”

“Just be careful. There’s been enough death lately.”

Merlin bowed his head in silence for a moment before looking up again. “How’s Morgana?”

“Furious. She’s trying to sell father on the idea that the druids were just journeymen who had graciously taken her in after hurting her ankle during her ride, but too many of the knights reported it as a druid camp so he thinks she’s just confused. Or worse.”

“Gwen tried to get her out.”

“I know, Morgana told me. I understand she’s scared, but she just doesn’t understand. Father never would have stopped looking for her and once it was reported that her trail ended in an abandoned Druid camp…” He shook his head. “I’m just grateful most of the druids escaped.”

“It’s not just fear, it’s also the acceptance and understanding the druids could have given to her. You can’t comprehend what that feels like.”

Arthur set his hand on Merlin’s shoulder for a moment before shoving him towards the wardrobe. “Come on, I need to get ready for dinner.”


Dinner was tense as Morgana was refusing to so much as acknowledge the king, which he was quickly growing tired of.

Finally, he turned his attention to Arthur and he braced himself in case Uther took his anger out on him. “The steward tells me you’ve taken in a page.”

Of course, the steward somehow managed to rat him out in under half an hour. “I have.”

“If that servant of yours isn’t able to serve you properly, then you should just get rid of him and get a new one. There’s no need to hire more help.”

Morgana finally looked up and Arthur hurried to answer before she could really anger his father. “The problem isn’t with Merlin’s service, but the time needed for him to serve. Merlin is Gaius’s ward and apprentice, which means his time is often shared between myself and Gaius. I cannot see reason in forcing him away from his apprenticeship as Gaius is getting on in years and Camelot will need a professionally trained Physician when he eventually passes on, either to the next world or retirement.”

“You think the boy can be trained?” Uther snorted.

Arthur shrugged. He did, but he couldn’t say as much to his father. Merlin’s idiocy had gotten him out of far too many situations. “I cannot say, but Gaius believes so and he is the expert. Perhaps medicine is the one thing Merlin can actually do.

“As I was saying, though, I considered letting him go as you suggested, but Gaius does not have the resources to pay his way. Merlin would have to get another job, which could take even more time away from his work for Gaius. In the end, I believed the most logical routes to take would either be to let Merlin go and increase Gaius’s stipends or get Merlin an assistant. A page would cost less than what we would need to pay Gaius and the page I found has some plant knowledge so he will be able to handle any minor tasks Gaius and I could have so Merlin can focus on his more important work.”

Arthur made sure he appeared relaxed as his father thought it over. Finally, he said, “I still don’t see how the boy could be taught a physician’s work, but I’ll allow it, so long as you ensure both boys are earning their wages.”

“Of course, Father.”

“When do I get to meet your page?” Morgana spoke for the first time since the meal began, curiosity glittering over the still present anger and mourning in her eyes.

“You have better things to be focusing on then the servants,” Uther said and she immediately shut down again.

Arthur sighed and speared a piece of ham with his fork.

Chapter Text

“How can you be so heartless?! Gwen is the most kind, loyal person that you would ever meet! She has been more than a friend to all of us and you would leave her at the mercy of those animals!”

“Morgana -” Arthur said, taking the waterskin Mordred had brought him and stuffing it into his saddlebag.

“Have you no shame? Do you think of no one but yourself?”

Arthur turned to her as Modred took the bag to stick a map and coin bag inside. “Morgana -”

“I knew you were many things, Arthur Pendragon, but I didn't know you were a gutless coward!”

“Morgana!” he shouted. When she didn’t continue, he gestured towards the boy. “Perhaps if you would stop shouting at me for one second, you would notice that we’re packing.”

“You're going after Gwen,” she sighed with relief.

“Of course I'm going after her. What do you take me for?” He picked up the saddlebag as Mordred grabbed his own. “I couldn't disagree with Father in public.”

They started to leave the room, but paused when Morgana called for Arthur. “Bring her home.”

He nodded and they left.

They met Merlin at the square and crept around the wall until they reached the gate.

Arthur studied the guards stationed there and patted Mordred on the shoulder. “We'll fetch the horses, you distract the guards.”

Merlin frowned as Mordred’s eyes widened, but Arthur pushed the older warlock towards the stables.

As he strapped his saddlebag on, he frowned at Merlin’s grin and barely withheld laughter. “What?”

“Nothing, Sire,” he said, leading Hengroen and Passelande out before anything else could be said.

It didn’t matter though as he got his answer when he came out to find the guards unconscious, surrounded by barrels.

“I said distract them, not knock them out!” he hissed and glared at Merlin. “You’re a terrible influence.”

“There's just no pleasing you sometimes,” he chuckled, handing Passelande’s reins to Mordred.

He tilted his head slightly and Arthur swatted it. “Talk aloud.”

“Of course, Sire,” he agreed, but a few moments later Mordred let out a snort and Arthur knew they were doing it again.

“I’m putting you in the stocks when we return.”


Merlin glared at Arthur’s back as he readjusted Mordred in his lap. He understood the need to get to Gwen as fast as possible, but they were hardly going to be any help if they were dead on their feet. Mordred had passed out an hour earlier -- thankfully having already switched to riding with Merlin when the older warlock had noticed him dozing -- and Merlin was sure he was only still on his horse because he was worried about Mordred falling off.

“Arthur, can we stop for just a second to rest?”

“Guinevere’s life is at stake. We cannot afford to waste a second.”

Troll.

Merlin’s lips twitched up and he barely held in a chuckle. Go back to sleep. I’ll wake you when we’re closer.

Mordred nodded, or maybe he was just nuzzling further into Merlin’s chest. Either way, he was soon asleep once more.

Merlin brought his horse closer to Arthur so he could talk quieter. “Please, Arthur. We’ll be of no use like this.”

Arthur scowled, but relented and turned them into a small clearing. “Rest up.”

“Thank the gods,” Merlin sighed, climbing down carefully so he didn’t jostle Modred too much. He curled up with the boy under a tree, his head on his bag and Modred’s on his shoulder. He slipped off to sleep, but it felt like no time at all passed before water was being poured over both their heads.

“What's happening? How long was I asleep for?” Merlin muttered, jerking upright as Mordred rolled over and dragged the blanket over his head.

“Long enough.”

“Did you get some rest?” he asked, looking over the prince.

“Couldn't sleep.”

Can we use a sleeping spell on him?

Do you know any sleeping spells?

No, but you do.

Merlin made a note to teach Mordred some sleeping spells. Unfortunately, he’d know it was us and would just be even worse when he woke up.

It would be worth it.

It really wouldn’t.

“Stop talking like that!”

Merlin rolled his eyes and stood up. “I've never seen you like this. About anyone.”

“What are you talking about?” Arthur said, looking up at him.

“Gwen. You really care about her, don't you?”

“What I care about is not wasting any more time talking. Let's get moving.”

He chuckled and pulled a whining druid to his feet.


Mordred glanced around nervously as they walked through the tunnels. He had never heard of using foul-smelling berries to ward off wilddeoren. Usually, an elder would use a calming charm to keep the beasts back when the druids encountered them, much like with serkets or wyverns, but Emrys didn’t know druid magics and Mordred had not yet learned it.

He was sure Emrys could keep the beasts away with brute force if it came to it, but neither he nor Emrys wanted it to come to that. Wilddeoren weren’t evil creatures, they simply needed to eat like any other animal. It wasn’t right to hurt them.

I heard that some sorcerers could transport themselves instantly. Can you do that? Mordred asked, thinking that this would be so much easier if they could.

No. I’ve seen it done, but I don’t know the spell. It’s not in any of my books, Emrys said, urging him closer as a scritching echoed through the tunnel. The druids don’t know how?

Druids travel by land, that’s just how it’s done. Even the use of riding animals is rare and mostly reserved for those incapable of walking unaided.

Arthur suddenly grabbed both torches and stamped them out. “Wilddeoren coming this way,” he whispered, dragging them both to the ground. “Whatever happens, keep completely still.”

Mordred shook as the beast came into view and Emrys grabbed his hand. The beast approached them and sniffed at Emrys’s face, though it seemed the berries worked as it soon let him be. However, it then turned towards Mordred. He forced himself to stay still, eyes closing tight and body stiffening against the shivers that tried to overtake him, but he didn’t need to fear as a rock fell somewhere down another tunnel and he opened his eyes to see the glow fading from Emrys’s. The wilddeoren screeched and ran towards the sound.

“Good work,” Arthur whispered, standing.

You okay, Emrys asked, helping him to his feet.

Yes, thank you.

Do you remember the light spell?

Mordred nodded and held up his hand. “Léoht.” A white light appeared in his hand and grew until they could see.

Good job.

“Are you two doing it again?” Arthur asked, looking between them.

“Doing what?” Emrys’s voice was bemused as he walked on ahead.

Thankfully they didn’t come across any other wilddeoren and were soon kneeling on a riverbank to wash their faces.

“Gaia berries worked. Huh.”

Both warlocks froze.

“You didn't know if they worked?” Emrys asked, ice in his voice.

“Not for sure.”

“Now you tell me?!” he huffed, standing up. “Oh! Oh, what's that Wilddeoren eating? It's alright. It's just Mordred!”

Arthur’s smirk turned into a frown.

“You trying to get us all killed?”

“I'm sorry. I shouldn’t have risked your lives like that.”

Emrys glanced down at Mordred and mischief appeared in his eyes. “Well, they do say love makes you do strange things.”

Love? He asked, perking up. Arthur’s in love? With Gwen?

“What are you talking about?”

“Why can't you just admit your feelings for Gwen?” They went on a date shortly before you came. It was adorable, Ermys said as Arthur scoffed and shook his head.

“It's so obvious. A blind man could see it. Is it really that hard to admit you like her? Just say it.”

“I can't!” Arthur shouted and they both frowned. “How can I admit that I think about her all the time. Or that… I care about her more than anyone. How can I admit that… I don't know what I'll do if any harm comes to her?”

“Why can't you?”

“Because nothing can ever happen between us! To admit my feelings knowing that… hurts too much.”

“Who's to say nothing can happen?”

“My father won't let me rescue a servant. Do you honestly believe he'd let me marry one?”

Marry? Mordred said, climbing to his feet. I thought you said they’d only had one date?

I thought they had. “You want to marry Gwen?”

“No! No… I… I don't know… It's all talk, and that's all it can ever be.”

“When you're King, you can change that,” Emrys offered.

“I can't expect Guinevere to wait for me.”

“If she feels as you do, she'll wait for you.”

“We don't even know if she's still alive.”

“No, she is. We will find her.”

“Come on. We've got a long trek ahead,” Arthur said, starting to lead them on before suddenly turning back to them. “Oh, and Merlin, Mordred… if you dare tell anyone about this, I promise I will make your life a living hell.”

“You mean, more than you already do?”

“Yeah.”

Is that possible?

Do you want to find out?

Mordred shook his head.

Emrys smiled and wrapped his arm around Mordred’s shoulders. “We could talk about your feelings while you walk.”

“Shut up, Merlin.”

So he likes Gwen then?

Yeah.

Odd, I thought you two were courting. Are you courting her too?

Emrys missed a step and nearly brought them both to the ground. “WHAT!?”

“What?” Arthur repeated, looking back at them.

Us two? Arthur and I? You thought I was courting Arthur?

Yes? Mordred said, frowning.

“What are you two talking about behind my back?”

You think Arthur is courting me?

Merlin.

Yes. Why are you being so weird?

Why would you even think that?

“Speak aloud you two idiots,” Arthur growled.

“Mordred thinks we’re courting.”

“And by we -”

“You and I.”

“WHAT!? WHY!?”

Mordred flinched as they both stared down at him. He gestured between them. “I don’t know. You guys are just always staring at each other and flirting and -”

“We don’t stare at each other,” Emrys argued.

“I don’t know what counts as flirting for druids, but it’s definitely different then what flirting is for other people because we have not been flirting,” Arthur said, his face bright red.

That didn’t sound right to Mordred, but he nodded anyway.

“So you understand we’re not courting.”

He nodded again.

“Good. Great. Now let’s pretend this never happened.”

“Agreed,” Emrys choked out.


“We'll have to scale the walls.”

“Maybe there's another way in.”

“Why don't you go and knock on the front gate? I'm sure if you ask nicely, they'll hand Guinevere over to you.”

Maybe Cavall knows a way in.

Cav- Merlin cut off as he turned to see Cavall standing between Mordred and Arthur. He opened his mouth, trying to find something -- anything -- to say, but all that came out was, “Why?”

Arthur followed his gaze and glared. “We’re leaving that thing here.”

Mordred pouted and picked the cat up.

Merlin was surprised Cavall relaxed in his arms. As much as the cat would let others dote on him, only Arthur was allowed to grab him.

He’s not being serious, right?

It’s fine. Cavall would just find his way home even if we did, Merlin said. He’s weird.

They’re magic.

“Do I even want to know what you’re talking about now?” Arthur asked, a hint of pink on his cheeks.

“No,” Merlin answered. He'd been telling the prince the cat didn't have magic for months. He was never going to let him live it down when he found out he was right. Really? Great. Don’t tell Arthur.

Mordred looked confused, but nodded. He turned Cavall so they were nose to nose. Can you find us a way in?

“Meow.”

Can you speak cat? Merlin asked, honestly curious. Could druids talk to animals? It seemed like something druids would be able to do.

Yes, Mordred said, but there was too much amusement in his eyes.

Liar.

The younger warlock smiled and set down the cat, who immediately darted to the side.

Cavall!

“Mordred!” Arthur and Merlin both hissed as the druid chased after the cat. They followed him until the whole group ended up in front of a small gate.

“I guess we found our way in,” Merlin said as Cavall slipped through the bars and disappeared into the darkness with a purr.

Good boy! Mordred called after him.

Arthur shoved him. “Don’t run off like that. What if guards are patrolling out here?”

“You need to be more careful,” Merlin agreed, stepping up to the gate. It seemed to be old, likely forgotten. Only a small, rusted chain kept it closed. He didn’t even need a spell for his magic to snap it.


Do we go in the cage or stay out here? Mordred asked as Arthur jumped into the cage where a wilddeoren was about to attack Gwen and -- surprisingly -- Lancelot.

We’ll likely end up in the cage soon enough, Merlin sighed, checking that the shrinking spell hadn’t compromised Modred’s stolen chainmail one more time before leading him closer. Might as well try to knock down as many of these guys as we can before that happens.

Is this one of the times we can just use magic?

Probably not, Merlin said, and then proceeded to try to bring a chandelier down. His target dodged and Mordred threw a jug at his head.

The large man staggered, but didn’t go down.

“MERLIN!”

Merlin grabbed Mordred and dragged him over to the cage. You first. He helped Mordred over then climbed over himself.

“Let’s go,” Arthur said, directing down a tunnel connected to the cage.

“After them!” the man they’d tried to take out yelled as he climbed into the cage.

Merlin waited until everyone was in then swiped his hand at the rope holding up the portcullis, causing it to fall and trap the man in with the wilddeoren.

He saw Lancelot shoot him a fearful look and he realized he never got the chance to explain that Arthur already knew about him.

He saw! Mordred gasped.

Right, and Mordred didn’t know Lancelot.

“Explain later,” he said to them both, urging them on.

They ran down the tunnel, taking twists and turns until they reached the gate they’d come in from.

“Good to see you both,” Lancelot said hesitantly once they’d made it deep enough into the woods to slow down a little. “Where are your knights?”

“It's just us,” Arthur said, oblivious to the guarded expression on the man’s face.

“Arthur knows,” Merlin said before it could go any further. “Everyone knows actually. Mordred, this is Lancelot. He’s an old friend. Lancelot, this is Mordred, he’s a druid and my apprentice.”

Lancelot looked shocked, Gwen looked exhausted, Mordred looked thrilled, and Arthur looked angry.

“He is not your apprentice.”

“He kind of is. I teach him magic and he helps me with my work,” Merlin pointed out.

“Since when have you been teaching him magic? I never approved that.”

He ignored the prince. “It’s good to see you too, Lancelot.”

“Calm down, Arthur, you should have known they’d share spells,” Gwen said.

“Is that what you two are always going on about in your heads?”

“Sometimes,” Merlin said, choosing to ignore the fact that most of the time they talked like that just to talk like that since that was the form of communication Mordred was most comfortable with.

“You… know,” Lancelot said slowly, eyeing Arthur.

“He’s known since I came to Camelot,” Merlin explained. “I tried to tell you before, but you kind of rushed off on me.”

“Sorry,” he said, bowing his head to Merlin before looking back at Arthur. “Does the king know?”

“No, and I’d like to keep it that way,” Arthur huffed.

Lancelot nodded and glanced around the group. “Thank you, all of you. We owe you our lives,” he said, taking Gwen’s hand.

The two shared a look and Merlin turned to Arthur to see his face go blank. Merlin turned back to them to see Gwen glancing at Arthur as well before her eyes fell to the floor. Lancelot looked between her and Arthur and frowned.

Oh. Oh no.


So Gwen likes Arthur and Arthur likes Gwen.

Yup.

But Gwen also likes Lancelot and Lancelot likes Gwen.

Uh-huh.

And Arthur and Lancelot know they both like Gwen.

Yeah.

So now neither of them want to date her because they don’t want to get in the way of the other.

That sums it up.

Dating is stupid.

No, knights are stupid. Have I taught you nothing?

Chapter Text

“We… might have a problem,” Merlin said, sitting on Arthur’s bed.

The prince glared at him. “Is that problem you sitting on my bed?”

“Gaius thinks the Lady Catrina might not be the Lady Catrina. Apparently, he treated her years ago for an illness that made it hard for her to walk, which she no longer seems to have.”

“So she got better,” Arthur said, turning back to his reports.

“He said it was incurable.”

“That’s not proof.”

“No, but her attendant Jonas having a tail is certainly interesting.”

Arthur looked up, setting the reports aside. “A tail?”

“Well, I mean, I only glimpsed it for a moment. I could be wrong -”

“As much as I would love for you to be,” Arthur said, bringing his head down to rest on his desk. “This is pretty much par for the course.”

“Sorry.”

I told Gwen.

“Just keep an eye on her.”

“Already on it.”

Arthur looked up at him.

“I talked to Mordred on my way over and he just filled Gwen in.”

“Let me guess…”

“It really is useful to be able to talk to each other over a distance.”

Arthur put his face back down.


“What do you know about love spells?”

Merlin looked up to see Uther and Catrina laughing together.

“You think…”

They shared a look and Merlin bit his lip.

Merlin.

“I’m not saying anything.” Arthur thinks Catrina put a love spell on Uther.

Mordred’s laughter filled his head.


“Mordred said you think your father’s under a love spell.”

“I’m going to throw those two in the stocks,” Arthur growled, turning to see Guinevere smiling at him. “Actually, just Merlin. It’s all his influence.”

“They’re just having fun,” she said, coming to sit next to him on the bed.

“At my expense.”

She just shook her head. “At your father’s. You have to admit, the idea of him being under such a spell -”

“Don’t.”

“Why do you think he’s under a spell?” she said instead.

“Just… the way he’s been looking at her. And he’s flirted with her.”

“People don’t have to be under a spell to flirt.”

Suddenly, she felt to close.

She must have thought the same as she stood up. “I should be heading home.”

“Yes, um, right. Goodnight, Guinevere.”

“Goodnight, Arthur.”

She went to the door, but it opened before she could do it and the two warlocks stepped in.

“Oh, Gwen,” Merlin said, looking between her and Arthur.

“She was just coming to tell me you two have been gossiping,” the prince explained before he could get any stupid ideas.

“Right,” Merlin said slowly, clearly having gotten those stupid ideas. “Well, don’t let us distract you. Mordred, the mirror.”

Arthur frowned as Mordred grabbed the small round mirror from Arthur’s bedside while Merlin went to open the window. “What are you two up to now?”

“We’re going to spy on Catrina’s bedroom.”

“Don’t say it like that,” Merlin said with a blush, taking the mirror from the druid.

“I don’t think there is a good way to put that,” Guinevere said.

“We’re trying to figure out what Catrina is up to so we’re going to see what she does when she’s alone in… Yeah, Gwen’s right.” Merlin turned to the window and held up the mirror. “Sceawere, folge min bebod.”

When he let go of the mirror, it hovered in the air.

“Let me look, just in case,” Guinevere said, coming over. Merlin nodded and he lowered the mirror out the window. There were a few moments where she gave him directions and he twisted his hand about, pointedly not looking down, before Gwen jumped back with a gasp.

Arthur was at her side in an instant as Merlin brought the mirror back to his hand with a flick of his fingers. “What happened?”

“She -- It -- in her dress, but it wasn’t her.”

“Guinevere.”

She shook her head. “There was some sort of creature. It was wearing Catrina’s dress, but it was big and grey with fangs or-or tusks on her bottom jaw and just covered in warts.”

“A troll,” Mordred gasped. “That would explain the smell Em-” Arthur jabbed him. “-mmerlin talked about.”

“A troll?” the prince asked.

“They’re gross. They like sleeping in bogs and eating rotten food and dung. They hate people, but they love money and power.”

“Like my father’s,” Arthur said, putting the pieces together.

Modred nodded. “It might explain Jonas too. The tail, he might be an imp. They’re lesser magical creatures. Sentient, but not very powerful. They usually latch onto another stronger magical creature -- like a troll -- for protection. They usually look just like humans, but with one glaring flaw.”

“Like a tail,” Guinevere said.

“Like a tail.”

“I have to tell my father,” Arthur said and all three turned to him.

“You're going to tell Uther that his lady friend's a troll?” Merlin said disbelievingly.

“He needs to know.”

“Good luck,” Merlin snorted.


“Father.”

“Arthur.”

Uther looked up to see Arthur following his gaze with a frown.

“I need to talk to you about something.”

Uther nodded his permission to speak.

“It’s about Lady Catrina.”

Uther sighed. He should have known this was going to happen.

“I… It’s… This is going to be hard to believe.”

“Arthur.”

“She’s a troll.”

Uther set his hand on his son’s shoulder. “I know this is hard for you, seeing me with a woman other than your mother.”

“What? No -”

“But to make up stories like that, it is unbecoming.”

“I’m serious, Father.”

“Enough, Arthur.”

“Bu-”

“I said enough. I am trying to be understanding, but I will hear no more of this.”


When Arthur returned to his room to see Merlin waiting for him, he pointed a finger right into his face. “Not a word.”

Merlin nodded, then tilted his head.

Arthur grabbed his ear. “Aloud or not.”

“Ow! Okay, okay! I won’t say anything!” Merlin rubbed his ear when Arthur finally released it. “It didn’t go well then?”

Arthur rubbed his face. “He thought I was saying it because of my mother.”

“Because o-Oh! Wow. That’s… Sorry.”

Arthur dropped into his desk chair. “Hopefully he’ll at least consider what I said and he’ll start to notice all the weird things about her.”


Uther’s going to marry a troll.

Arthur’s going to have a troll for a step-mother.

Merlin and Mordred shared a look across the council room as Uther droned on.

If I didn’t know Arthur was going to kill us for not having fixed this already, it would be hilarious.

Modred’s lips twitched up. It’s still kind of funny.

Merlin smiled back. It is.

What are we going to do?

If only we could just reveal her outright. Just show everyone she’s a troll. Then we wouldn’t have to do anything. The knights could take her down.

I know a revelation spell: Hierste þæt íecen sóna. It’s supposed to reveal the true nature of things, but I think it’s only meant for objects.

Couldn’t hurt to try. The principle's the same. Merlin slipped a little more into the shadows. He focused on the woman. “Hierste þæt íecen sóna.”

He didn’t see a change, but she frowned.

“Hierste þæt íecen sóna,” he whispered again and he saw her skin shift.

Emrys?

Together.

Right.

“Hierste þæt íecen sóna,” he said once more and he felt Mordred’s power join his.

Her skin began to warp and she ducked her head. “Sire, I need,” she started, her voice cracking into a croak. “Air. The excitement,” she spat and rushed off.

“Of course, my love,” Uther said mindlessly.

Merlin and Mordred faced each other.

It was working.

But we don’t have enough time, all she has to do is hold out until she can get out of sight.

I’m sorry. If I was stronger, like you.

Merlin shook his head and walked over to the boy as the rest of the court began to leave. It’s not your fault, her spell is just too powerful. We need to go at it another way.


“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Gwen asked as they crept down the tunnels.

“No, but it’s the only one we’ve got. Mordred said imps are great potioneers, so even if he’s lying about everything else, the idea that she’s using potions makes sense.”

She bit her lip and nodded. When they reached the nest Jonas had told Merlin of, she held the torch as he searched about the straw and filth.

“You won't find anything in there.” They both spun around to find the troll glaring at them. “You may possess some magic, wretch, but you are no match for me.”

She raised her arms and with a crash of thunder and flash of light, the entrance to the room came crumbling down around Gwen.

She raised her arms, but before anything could hit her a pressure wrapped around her chest and pulled her back.

“Gwen, are you okay?” Merlin asked, coming to her side.

“I think so.” Her nose scrunched up as she realized her fall had been broken by the troll’s nest. “Thank you.”

He helped her up and they looked at the blocked entrance.

“Can you get through?”

“I don’t know.” Merlin walked over to the wall and grabbed one of the rocks. “There’s magic sealing them together.” He stepped back and held out his hand. “Ic ábíetee þæt stánhol.”

Nothing happened.


“I can’t let him go through with this,” Arthur said, stomping towards his father’s chambers.

“He didn’t listen to you before, why do you think he’d listen to you now, on his wedding day?” Mordred asked.

“I have to do something. My father is about to marry a troll.”

Mordred bit his lip.

“Where is Merlin? If he did his job we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

“We’ve been trying,” Mordred huffed. “And I don’t know where he is. I’ve been trying to call him all morning, but he isn’t responding.”

Arthur frowned. “Great, another problem.” He waved Mordred back as he pushed into Uther’s chambers. “Father.”

“Arthur, isn’t it a wonderful day?”

“We need to talk.”

Uther turned to him with a frown. “If you’re going to make up more -”

“Father, please, she never eats, her rooms smell of filth -”

“Arthur -”

“Gaius says she’s been miraculously healed from an incurable disease -”

“Enough.”

“She’s a troll, Father, and her servant’s an imp. They’ve been seen.”

“Guards!”

Mordred jumped out of the way as a pair of guards came in.

“Escort Prince Arthur to his chambers,” Uther said.

“Father.”

“I will not have you ruining this day with your nonsense.”

“You’re making a -”

“Out. And take the boy with you. Neither of them are to be allowed out until after the feast.”

Mordred ducked his head under Uther’s glare and allowed the guards to escort them out.


Mordred, Merlin shouted as he and Gwen raced through the castle.

Merlin? Where have you been?

The troll trapped Gwen and me in her nest. What’s happened?

Arthur tried to talk to his father again. We’ve been locked in his chambers until after the wedding feast.

“Arthur’s been locked up for speaking against Catrina.”

Gwen grabbed his arm as they reached the entry hall. “What are we going to do?”

“We have to get to the wedding.”

“And do what? If Uther wouldn’t listen to Arthur, then he certainly won’t listen to us. He’ll likely lock us in the dungeons, or worse.”

Merlin sighed and leaned up against the wall. “What do we do then? I can’t reveal her, especially not without Mordred’s help.”

“Then we need to find her potions. If they weren’t at her nest, then they need to be somewhere.”


Modred watched as Arthur and Merlin sparred.

Arthur was being particularly vicious today and Merlin was barely keeping up.

“Sire, I know… you’re angry, but… can we slow do-”

Arthur knocked him to the ground. “Get up.”

“Prince Arthur!”

Thank the gods, Merlin groaned as Sir Leon ran up.

“What?”

The knight hesitated, glancing down at Merlin. “The King has ordered that Merlin and Gwen are to be placed under arrest.”

“What? Why?” Arthur asked as Mordred ran over to help Merlin to his feet.

“The Queen has accused them of stealing her seal.”

“Of course she has,” Arthur growled, stabbing his training sword into the ground.

“She thinks we’re the only ones that know,” Merlin panted, pulling off his helmet.

“Sire?” Leon said, looking uncertain. “I know what the Queen has said, but Gwen -”

“I know it’s not true, Leon. Can I trust you?”

“Of course, Sire.”

“Even if it means going against the King?”

Leon frowned. “I am sworn to protect Camelot and her king.”

“I know. What I’m asking will serve to protect him?”

He still looked uncertain, but nodded. “I trust your judgment. What do you want me to do?”

“Who have you told about the arrest?”

“No one. Your father told me to tell you so you could make the arrest.”

“Then go gather the guard so we can make the arrest.”

Leon glanced over at Merlin and Arthur set his hand on the knight’s shoulder. “I will explain later. Just know that Merlin and Gwen are innocent and Catrina is not who she says.”

“Alright.” He bowed and left.

Arthur turned to Merlin. “Get changed and find somewhere for you and Guinevere to hide. Let Mordred know when you’ve got it then set up a false trail leading the opposite direction. Mordred, go find Gwen and tell her what’s happened. Let Morgana in on it if you need to, but get her hidden.”


“Arthur.”

Arthur opened his eyes with a frown, but there was no one there.

“Arthur!”

He leaped out of bed and grabbed his sword. “Who’s there?”

“Merlin!” the warlock said, poking his head out from under the bed.

Arthur jumped back and scowled. “You're back.”

“I never left.”

“You mean to say…”

“Yes.”

“You've been under there this whole time.”

“No. Course not. No.”

“‘Cause if you were…” Arthur pointed his sword at Merlin’s nose.

“I wasn't, I swear.”

Arthur lowered the sword and glanced at the bed. “Is Guinevere…”

Merlin smirked. “You’d like that, would you?”

Arthur faked swinging his sword and Merlin dove back under the bed with a yelp.

“What are you doing here?”

Merlin’s hand popped out holding a bottle. “I found the troll’s potion.”

He set his sword aside and grabbed the bottle. He opened it and immediately nearly dropped it. “That’s vial!”

“It’s a troll potion.” Merlin climbed out from under the bed on the opposite side.

“Did you get it all then?”

“No. If I did that they’d just make more. I’ve got a better plan.”

“Wha’s goin’ on?” Mordred yawned, coming in. He perked up when he saw Merlin. They stared at each other for a moment before Mordred frowned and shrugged.

“If you weren’t already wanted for theft, I’d have you in the stocks,” Arthur groaned, sitting down at his desk.

“Sorry.”

“So what is this plan of yours?”

“Modred’s going to take the potion to Gaius and see if he can make one that looks and tastes the same,” Merlin said.

“Without the troll magic, it won’t have any effect,” Mordred added. “So she’ll take it and won’t realize it’s not having an effect until it’s too late.”

“But we have to make the switch before morning or Jonas will notice.”

Arthur nodded and passed the bottle to Mordred. As Mordred ran out, the prince asked, “Are you sure Gaius will help?”

“He was the first to be suspicious of her,” Merlin reminded him. “He’ll help.”

“Good. Then I’m going back to bed,” he yawned, standing. “You should get back to Guinevere. I can’t believe you left her alone.”

“She’s fine. When I checked on her, she and Morgana were talking about new dress designs.”

Arthur paused, halfway on his bed. “Where are you two hiding?”

“Morgana’s chambers.”

Merlin.

“What? No one’s going to think to search her chambers. It’s like when we hid Mordred here.”

Lacking anything else close at hand, Arthur threw a pillow at his head.


He made me taste it! Mordred whined as he made his way towards Jonas’s room. Both his and the original! It was awful!

Sorry. He was able to do it then?

Yes, unfortunately, they taste exactly the same. Horrendous. Mordred looked both ways before slipping into the room. He went up to the cupboard and paused. What’s the unlocking spell again?

Tospringe.

“Tospringe,” he whispered and the door clicked open. He quickly slipped the bottle inside and shut the door. “Fýrbendum fæst.”

He heard someone coming and turned to the side door. “Tospringe.”

It’s done, he said as he quickly left.


Arthur looked up when someone came through the door, then jumped to his feet. “Guinevere! What are you doing here?”

“Modred told us what happened. Are you okay?”

Arthur turned away, leaning against his desk.

“It’s Catrina. You know she’s the one behind this.”

“She may have my father’s ear, but he still made the decision.”

“Whatever his faults,” she said, coming to his side to take his hand. “He cares for you. He’ll realize he’s made a mistake soon enough.”

“You should've heard the way he spoke to me.”

“I'm sure he was angry, but you're still his son. I’m sure the people appreciate what you did. They’ll know you tried, and won't forget that.”

“Maybe he's right,” he sighed pulling away. “One day I will be the King of Camelot, and I cannot be a friend to the people as well as their ruler.”

“That's not true, and you will prove it when you become King.” She stepped in front of him so he had to look at her. “You've a kind heart, Arthur. Don't ever change. Not for anyone.”

“I’ve done so many things that go against everything he’s taught me.”

“Because they were the right things to do.”

“How do you know?”

“Because they brought joy to everyone’s lives. Because they’ve protected innocent people. Because I see the way the people look at you. They love and respect you, Arthur. That is what is going to make you the great king Merlin and Mordred are always whispering about.” She set her hand on his chest. “Not your father’s iron grip, but your gentle heart.”

He set his hand over hers and stared into her eyes.

They leaned in.

“Sire,” Leon called and they jumped away from each other as the knight came in. He glanced at Guinevere, but otherwise ignored her. “The ceremony is beginning. The King has demanded your attendance.”

“I guess you’ll get to see the show,” Gwen said. “I should get back into hiding.”

“You and Merlin need to stop sneaking out,” Arthur sighed. “You’re going to get caught.”

She just smiled and curtsied before slipping into Mordred’s room.

“Show?” Leon asked.

“We think we’ve managed to find a way to reveal the troll for what it is.”

Leon gave a sigh of relief as they started towards the throne room.


Gwen and Merlin were playing dice when Merlin suddenly froze, head tilted.

Then he dropped his head onto the table.

“What?”

“Arthur must have been right about the love spell.”

“Why?”

“She turned into a troll right in front of them, and he yelled at Arthur and Morgana for insulting her before running off after her.”

“He… Her transformation didn’t affect him at all.”

“Nope.” He stood up. “I’m going to sneak over to Arthur’s. We’re going to need to figure out how to break the spell.”

“Be careful.”


Modred frowned down at the book. I don’t think there’s anything in here about troll magic. Also, I don’t think I should be reading about these spells.

Emrys glanced over, then blushed and snapped the book shut. “That isn’t a love spell!”

“If you two are done,” Arthur said, “I’m trying to save my father.”

“He’s right,” Emrys said, closing his own book. “There isn’t anything about troll magic in here. We need to figure out something else.”

“Where else could we get information?”

Emrys and Arthur shared a look.

“Come on. Time to introduce you to someone new,” Emrys sighed, standing up.

Who?

“You’ll see.”

Modred was a little curious at that. He was really curious when they headed down into the dungeons. He was extremely curious when they started down what seemed to be an abandoned stairwell.

He was stunned to see who they were there to meet.

That’s a dragon! Mordred said, vaguely registering that Emrys had explained the situation and the dragon was laughing at Uther’s expense.

Unfortunately.

There is a dragon under the castle!? Why have I never heard about this? Why didn’t you introduce me earlier?

Emrys shook his head and pulled Modred closer to him. “It’s a long story,” he said softly. “The dragon’s more of a last resort. I’ll explain more later.” He squeezed his shoulder and yelled, “This isn't funny.”


Leon frowned when he came into Arthur’s room to see Merlin and Modred whispering to each other in the corner. He still wasn’t sure how to feel about the fact he was helping Arthur keep hidden the fact that two criminals were hiding out in the castle. He trusted Arthur -- and, to a lesser extent, Gwen -- and wanted the troll queen gone, but it felt like a betrayal of his knight’s oaths.

“Leon,” Arthur greeted. “What’s happened now?”

“The king is raising taxes again. And he’s decided to allow Bayard to visit. If Bayard sees him like this… I honestly don’t know what’s come over him.”

“He’s enchanted,” Merlin said, coming over. “We need to get him to cry tears of true remorse. We’re having problems coming up with how to do that. I think Arthur’s the key, but that’s been vetoed.”

Leon turned to Arthur, who nodded. “They found the solution in a book. I’ve tried to explain to him that my father doesn’t care about me anymore, but he won’t listen.”

“I… agree with Merlin,” the knight said, feeling odd that he was agreeing with a servant over his prince. “In my years of service, you have always been the thing the king treasures above all else. If anything could do it, it would be you.”

Mordred appeared at Merlin’s side, staring up at the older boy, and Merlin tilted his head as he often did when the younger wanted attention.

Leon wasn’t sure what to think of Mordred. For the most part, he was energetic, cheerful, and friendly, but he never spoke unless asked a question when Merlin wasn’t around to answer for him and occasionally would stare off into nothing for seconds at a time. Then there was the slightly embarrassing fact Leon had spent nearly a month under the assumption Arthur’s servants were brothers.

“Mordred had an idea,” Merlin said, drawing him out of his musings. “He told me he knows how to make this potion. It’s used for meditation, to focus the mind before, uh, battles or stuff like that. But it slows down your heartbeat and breathing. Maybe we could give it to Arthur and then Uther would think he’s dead.”

“Is it safe?” Leon asked. He would not allow the prince to be put in danger.

Mordred nodded.

“It’s fine. It wears off after about half an hour,” Merlin explained. “That should be long enough to sell it, right?”

“If we time it right,” Arthur said.

Leon could see the prince was in planning mode and straightened up, awaiting orders.

“We might want to bring Gaius in on it too, just in case Father wants his verdict and he realizes I’m not actually dead.”

“I can update him,” Leon said.

“Mordred can do it. He needs to go there to make the potion anyways,” Merlin said.

“Leon, I’d rather have you with my father,” Arthur said. “We don’t know if he’ll remember anything when the enchantment’s broken so I need you to keep track of any changes the troll is making so we can fix them once my father is free. He won’t let me near him right now, but you’re still in good standing. I also want to be sure the troll doesn’t try anything now that she’s my father’s heir.”

Leon reprimanded himself for not even considering that the king might be in mortal peril and bowed his head. “I’ll keep a close eye on them both.”

“Thank you. I’ll send word as soon as we’re ready to move.”

“Let me know if you need anything else,” he said before leaving to track down the king.


“Do you think Uther apologized for not believing him?” Gwen asked as she picked up the dice.

“Of course he didn’t,” Morgana scoffed. “He doesn’t apologize for anything.”

“Eight. Darn.”

“He kind of apologized to his dead body,” Mordred said from where he was sipping at his heavily watered-down wine on Morgana’s bed. “Does that count?”

“I bet he didn’t, but they made up in that weird macho way they like so it had the same result,” Merlin said, taking the dice from Gwen.

“Never turn out like that,” Morgana told Mordred.

“Seven. Yes!”

“He won’t. He’s too much like Merlin,” Gwen said. “Although he should learn not to cheat as much as Merlin does.”

“I don’t cheat!”

“Yes you do,” Mordred chirped.

Merlin!

The group looked up as Arthur threw the door open.

“Don’t you know how to knock?” Morgana snapped.

“What are you all doing in here?”

“Merlin’s stealing all our money. What’s it to you?” she huffed, crossing her arms.

“I’m not stealing all of it!”

“Yeah, he’s very careful only to win enough that he’s still making money, but not emptying the girls out,” Mordred said.

“We’re playing dice. Would you like to join us?” Gwen asked.

“Just a warning, Merlin cheats.”

“Of course he does,” Arthur snorted. “You know, they’re not fugitives anymore, Morgana. You don’t have to let those two stay here.”

“For your information, I happen to enjoy Merlin and Mordred’s company. So either place a bet or leave.”

“I’m not giving Merlin any more money than what he earns in his wages,” Arthur said, though he came over to sit at the table.

Merlin threw his hands in the air and went to sit with Mordred.

“So, did your father apologize?” Morgana asked, picking up the dice.

“Why would he need to apologize?”

“Hey, Merlin won a bet without having to cheat,” Mordred chuckled, then yelped when the older boy poked him in the side.

Chapter Text

It looks like a lion.

Merlin looked up to see Mordred sitting against a log, watching the smoke from the woodcutter’s fire. He considered the smoke, tilting his head. Looks more like a rabbit to me.

No, see, look. The younger warlock cupped his hands. There’s the mane.

Merlin smiled and held up his hand, whispering, “Hors, beride þá heofonum.” Actually, it looks like a horse.

A horse? It doesn’t look - he cut off with a gasp as the smoke formed the shape of a cantering horse. Merlin released the spell as Mordred turned to glare at him. That’s cheating!

Merlin pushed the wood he was holding into Mordred’s arms and ruffled his hair. Get back to work.

Mordred laughed and ducked away from him while he knelt to pick up Mordred’s dropped wood.

“Did you see it?” a woman gasped, suddenly at his side and grabbing his jacket. “The smoke, did you see it?”

Merlin stared at her, shocked. “No, I saw nothing.”

“Are you blind? You were right here! It was magic, I tell you. There's sorcery here. We must tell the King.”

“No! Wait!” Merlin called after her, but she was already gone. He turned to see Mordred peeking out from behind a tree, shaken. It’s okay. She can’t have realized it was us or she wouldn’t have spoken to me like that. It will be okay.

He nodded, but looked just as convinced as Merlin felt.


“Which one of you was it?” Arthur growled when he stomped into his room.

“I don’t know why you assume it was one of us. Or that anything even happened for that matter. You heard what she said. She only saw something in the smoke for a second. It was probably just a trick of the light as you suggested.”

“What were you thinking, Merlin!”

The older warlock set down the pillow he was fluffing with an offended look. “I just said it was- I do not object too much!” he huffed, shooting Mordred a look.

“You do,” Arthur growled, marching over to put Merlin in a headlock. “You are an absolute idiot.”

“Ow! Come on! It was just a bit of fun. It was only for a moment! I didn’t think anyone would even see, let alone think it was magic!”

“That’s the problem, you don’t think. You’re going to get yourself killed, and Mordred right alongside you.” Arthur dug his knuckles into Merlin’s head before finally releasing him. “No more magic, from either of you. Not until Aredian is long gone.”

“Aredian?” Mordred asked.

“The Witchfinder. He hasn’t been in Camelot since I was young, but he’s famed for his ability to track down sorcerers. If you two want to keep your heads, you’ll do as you're told.”

Mordred gabbed Merlin’s jacket and he wrapped his arm around the younger boy. “We’ll be careful Arthur.”

“No magic.”

Both nodded.

“Good. I need to talk to Morgana. I’m sure she’s already working herself into a fit.”


“Do you know what the story is between Aredian and Gaius?”

“Gaius?” Arthur asked, looking up at Mordred.

“Merlin said Aredian stopped him and Gaius while they were doing their rounds. Apparently, he kept making subtle jabs at Gaius.”

Arthur set down his quill with a frown. “I don’t know. I didn’t realize they had a past. Maybe they knew each other when Aredian was still around. I’ll ask my father about it. Tell Merlin to get back here as soon as Gaius is done with him. I don’t want either of you too far while Aredian is sulking about.”

Mordred nodded and turned back to his work. Then he sucked in a breath.

“What now?”

He turned to Arthur with a terrified expression. “Aredian told Merlin to be at his chambers in an hour.”

“What? Why?”

“He said he had some questions.”

Arthur cursed.

“Can’t you do something?”

“My father’s given him free rein to do as he pleases. If I try to intervene, it will just raise suspicions. Tell Merlin to keep calm and try to be less of an idiot. There’s nothing to link him to any sorcery so if Aredian thinks he knows something, he’s going to try to make Merlin implicate himself.”

Mordred shook as he nodded and Arthur squeezed his shoulder.

“It will be fine.”

“What about the books? If Aredian finds them, he’ll blame it on us because Uther would never think they were yours.”

“I already hid them in the vaults alongside the Sidhe staff and the cloaks. It’s going to be okay.”

When Mordred started breathing heavily, Arthur froze before awkwardly pulling him into a hug. “Calm down. Nothing’s going to happen, I promise.”


“How can one person see something and the other not?”

“Well, smoke can be like that sometimes, can’t it? One person sees a horse, another sees a lion or rabbit or nothing at all. It’s a pretty common childhood game to search for shapes in the clouds, isn’t it?”

“She seemed quite certain it was a horse, and she is no child.”

“The other day I swore I saw an owl in the trees, but it turned out to just be shadows. The mind can play tricks on us.”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps it was you who performed the magic.”


Where are you?

In the Physician’s Chambers. Gaius wanted some herbs ground up, Mordred said, setting the pestle aside to pour the dust into a bottle.

Get out.

Why?

Aredian’s accused me of being the sorcerer.

Mordred dropped the mortar.

They’re coming there to search for evidence. I don’t want him trying to link us together. Go to Arthur’s. Hurry.

O-okay.

Mordred darted to the door, then paused. What if Emrys had left something and forgotten. He glanced around and held up his hand. “Hierste þæt íecen sóna.”

One of the powder jars on the wall lit up and he ran over to it. He opened it up and fished a bracelet out. He tucked it into his pocket, then rechecked the main room. He did the spell once more in Emrys’s room, then fled to Arthur’s chambers.


“There's nothing here, Aredian!”

“I'll be the judge of that. Over there, behind this tapestry. In there, upend that stool. Be sure to check for hollow legs. In there, within those powder jars.”

Arthur gave it a few more minutes before a shelf of tonics smashed to the ground. “Enough!”

His men all paused and turned to him while Aredian scowled at him.

“You’ve turned this place upside down and found nothing. Clearly, you were mistaken.”

The man narrowed his eyes further at him and glanced towards Leon. “I am never mistaken. There has to be something.”

“There is nothing to find here.” Arthur turned to Gaius. “I’m sorry for the trouble. I will ensure you are reimbursed for anything damaged and Merlin can have the afternoon off to help you clean.”

“Thank you, Sire.”

“The boy is still a suspect.”

“I have seen no evidence to suggest Merlin is a sorcerer and will not let him be held under baseless accusations,” Arthur said, not looking at the man as he directed the others out. “Sir Leon, please see to it Merlin is released immediately.”


Mordred jumped to his feet when Arthur entered, thankfully followed by Emrys. “What happened?”

“Nothing. They ransacked the place and there was nothing to find so Merlin was released.”

“Glad I grabbed this then,” Mordred said, pulling the bracelet out of his pocket.

They both frowned at him and Emrys took it. “Where did you find this?”

“Hidden in one of the powder jars. I used the revelation spell to make sure you didn’t leave anything behind.”

“It’s not mine,” Emrys said, turning it over in his hand.

“You’re sure?” Arthur asked.

“I know you think I’m stupid, but I’m not going to leave a magic bracelet out for Gaius to find,” Emrys huffed, studying the inscriptions.

“Then where did it come from?” Mordred said.

“It’s just enchanted to glow,” Emrys mumbled. “And not even brightly either. It’s useless. Why would anyone make a glowing bracelet?”

“To make it look magical,” Arthur growled. “That’s why Aredian was so sure the knights would find something. He planted it.”

“Why would he do that?” Mordred asked.

“My father pays him to find sorcerers. If he can’t find one, he doesn’t get paid.”

“We need to get proof,” Emrys said, setting the bracelet down on Arthur’s desk and moving towards the door.

“Are you mad?” Arthur grabbed the back of his jacket and yanked him back. “He just accused you of magic and you want to go poking around him?”

“We need to find proof before he accuses someone else.”

“We’ll handle it. You need to keep your head down. Go help Gaius clean up. Aredian made a mess.”

That gave Emrys pause and Arthur grabbed his shoulders to frogmarch him to the door.

“I promised him your help, so go.”

“Tell me if you need help.”

“We won’t. Goodbye.”

“Be careful.”

Arthur shoved him out the door. “If you don’t go straight to Gaius, you’ll spend the next week in the stocks,” he said before slamming the door.

“What’s the plan?” Mordred asked.

“Find Guinevere. Have her keep watch while you search Aredian’s room. I’ll find him and distract him to give you time.”


Merlin fidgeted as he made his way into the square. He should be helping Arthur, not restocking supplies. This entire situation was his fault, to begin with. He couldn-

He froze, eyes darting about. Something was calling to him. Not a voice, like with Mordred or the dragon, but more of a… He couldn’t think of a way to describe it. It went beyond the five senses. It sent a shiver to his spine and it felt… painful. Not that he was hurting, but that whatever was calling him was.

He followed the sensation down into the crypts beneath the castle weaving through them until he came across an odd metal device. It was in the shape of a pyramid, with iron poles forming the sides and base while thin iron wires formed the walls. A chain connected it to the ceiling so it almost looked like a net that could be used to capture animals, but the wires laid loose enough that anything could slip through.

All the same, it appeared something had been caught in it as Merlin could see a dark shape inside that was giving a low growl.

Merlin crept up to the cage and held his torch over it.

“Cavall.”

The cat hissed and curled up tighter.

“What are you doing in there?” he asked, eyeing the cage.

He’d discovered he was allergic to iron one awful winter when Will had given him a necklace made from the metal as a gift. If he kept contact too long, his skin turned red and he grew sick. He’d been bedridden for a month before his mother had noticed the rash and realized his sickness was from the iron. Thankfully in the short term, it didn’t do more than cause a tingle. It was an unpleasant feeling, but harmless nonetheless.

The cat gave a pitiful mewl and looked up at him.

“You know you can just climb out.”

“Merrrrrrr.”

Merlin sighed and set the torch to the side. He grabbed the strings and pulled them apart to form a hole. “See?”

Cavall hissed as a few of the strings neared him and curled up even tighter.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked, letting go and rubbing the pins and needles out of his fingers.

“Mooooooow.”

“You’re ridiculous,” he muttered, grabbing the bottom and lifting it.

Cavall finally climbed out, pressing himself as close to the floor as he could until he was clear of the cage.

That was when Merlin noticed the pressure plate on the floor. With Cavall off it, the chain receded and the cage was pulled back up to the ceiling.

Cavall immediately pressed himself up against Merlin, whining and shivering.

“What is going on?” Merlin hummed as he shook out his hands.

He noticed a small saucer sitting on the pressure plate and picked it up. On it was what looked like honey, but it had a metallic glint and smelled of the sweetest berries. It also gave Merlin an eerie feeling.

Cavall gave a chirp and climbed into his lap to lap at the dish.

Rolling his eyes, he held the dish over his head. “Don’t eat random things you find in crypts.”

The cat just hopped up onto his shoulders.

Merlin scowled and said, “Bærn.”

The cat hissed as the odd honey caught fire and burned away. He scratched Merlin’s neck, causing him to drop the saucer with a yelp.

“Why?”

Cavall jumped down and ran off into the darkness.

“Try not to get caught again,” he called after him, rubbing at his neck. He grabbed the torch and began the trek out of the crypts.


Gwen gave a sigh of relief when Mordred appeared at her side. “Did you find anything?”

As they started walking away, he nodded and held up a flower petal.

“What is that?”

“Belladonna. It causes hallucinations. He had a jar full of them.”

“Hallucinations?”

“Merlin said Aredian brought in a group of women complaining of visions of magic.”

“But it wasn’t magic, it was poison,” Gwen sighed. “But how can we prove it?”

“It would be too suspicious for him to give it to them himself. Where could they all have gotten it from? What do they have in common?”

Gwen shook her head. Rhian was a chambermaid, Glaw was a seamstress, and Tegan worked at the tavern. They didn’t have anything in common. Except, “They are all women!”

“So?”

“What's the one thing only women would buy? Things to make them look beautiful.”


“Your Highness!” the apothecary gasped, bowing Arthur into his shop.

“I have a few questions for you.”

“Questions?”

“Do you sell belladonna?”

“B-belladonna?”

“Yes.”

“Um, yes, Your Highness, I-I think I've got a tincture of it somewhere. The women love their eyedrops.”

“Eye drops?”

“Yes,” the man said, holding out a bottle he’d found on a shelf. “Women use them to make their eyes more beautiful.”

“Where did you get this?” Arthur asked, looking over the bottle.

“Well, my usual suppliers.”

“Is that so?” he said, giving the man a look.

“Y-yes, um, is there an-”

“It would be wise not to lie to your prince.”

“I-I d-don't know -”

“You have nothing to fear,” he said firmly. “No harm will come to you. Tell me the truth.”

The apothecary’s eyes darted to the windows and said in a low voice, “The Witchfinder gave it to me, Your Highness. He-he said that I had to sell it or I would burn, and if I told anyone…”

Arthur set his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Thank you. I might need you to tell my father what you have told me. I assure you, Aredian will not be able to harm you.”

The man looked scared, but agreed.


Aredian frowned as he picked up a shard of broken pottery. He rubbed a finger over the soot marks with a hum. “So there really is a sorcerer in Camelot.”


“Uther, I have a new lead.”

Arthur and his father turned to see Aredian coming into the council chamber.

“It would seem the sorcerer has a -”

“Perfect timing, Aredian,” Uther cut him off, his face blank. “Perhaps you can explain why my son has just come to me with evidence that you’re behind the accounts of witchcraft.”

Arthur kept his face blank as the Witchfinder caught his eye.

“I have no idea where these accusations could have come from,” he said in a low voice.

“Despite your insistence that neither my men nor I would be needed, I thought to investigate the claims of magic myself. I discovered all three women had recently bought tinctures of belladonna from the apothecary in the lower town. My page informed me that belladonna could cause hallucinations and when I brought a sample of the tincture to Gaius, he told me the dose was far higher than what would normally be given to women for their eyes. Imagine my surprise when I went to speak to the apothecary, only for him to try to lie to me about where he’d gotten the belladonna. Failing that, he fearfully explained that you had forced him to sell it on pain of death.”

“How do you answer to these accusations?” Uther asked.

“They're absurd,” Aredian growled. “Likely the work of the sorcerer as revenge for the traps I set.”

Arthur nodded. “I do not want to believe them, which is why I came here to ask my father to search your rooms so that we could put these accusations to rest.”

“I have nothing to hide.”


Arthur was surprised by the flower petals falling out of the cupboard and the toad coming out of Aredian’s mouth, until he spotted the glowing bracelet set within the massive amount of tincture bottles.

“I thought I told you to stay away from him.”

“Gwen was worried you might need some extra evidence to convince Uther.”

“And the toad?”

“… Did you see the look on his face?”

Merlin!

Chapter Text

“We got the supplies,” Merlin said, coming into the room. “Mordred’s readying the horses.”

“Did you find a way to get me out of here?” Arthur asked. “A way that doesn’t involve harming the guards.”

Merlin rolled his eyes. They didn’t attack the guards that often. “I have actually. Remember that time with the troll. You know, your step-”

“Finish that sentence and I’ll gut you.”

“Right, well, remember how I got the mirror down for Gwen to see her.”

Arthur glared at him. “No.”

“It’s the eas-”

“You are not levitating me all the way to the ground.”

“It will be fine.”

“Absolutely not!”

“Do you have a better plan?”

Arthur threw his glove at him.

He caught it then came over to help him get ready.

“I swear, if you drop me…”

“You worry too much.”

“You’re the size of a twig.”

“We can’t all be the size of a gourd,” Merlin muttered.

“What was that?”

“Physical strength doesn’t mean magical strength. It will be fine.”

Once Arthur was ready they went over to the window. The prince opened it and looked down. “Can’t you just conjure a rope or something?”

“It would take too long,” Merlin said, setting his hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “Artur, folge min bebod.”

He raised his hand and Arthur came up with it.

“Woah!” Arthur waved his arms as if to get his balance and Merlin stepped back.

“Hold still or you're going to fall.”

“Don’t order me around,” he growled, but pressed his arms against his side.

Carefully, Merlin turned him so he’d fit out the window then slowly lowered him to the ground.


“I just think it's strange to agree to do something when you don't know what it is,” Merlin chided.

“One more word out of you, Merlin,” Arthur said, “and you'll be taking the challenge in my place.”

Suddenly Passelande whinnied and the two turned to see him throwing Modred.

“Modred!”

“Ambush!”

Both dismounted and grabbed their swords. Merlin ran to Modred’s side as Arthur locked blades with one of the men.

Are you okay? Merlin asked, reaching down to help the younger boy up.

Modred nodded. Behind you.

Merlin turned and blocked an attack from a man wielding an ax.

He struck the man down as he heard Mordred say, “Gar onbærne.”

A shout had him looking up to see a man falling out of a tree with a burning spear.

He focused back on the fight as Arthur took down the last man.


“What was your mother like?” Mordred asked.

Emrys shoved him off the log.

What was that for?

“I never knew her. She died before I opened my eyes.”

That.

Oh. “Sorry.”

“I barely know anything about her.”

“Can't you ask your father?” Emrys said.

“He refuses to talk about her. It must be too painful for him. Sometimes it's as if she never even existed. I still have a sense of her. Almost as though she's part of me.”

Mordred nodded, climbing back up. “My mother… She left me with the druids before I was old enough to remember anything. I know her name, but that doesn’t tell me who she is. And my father, I don’t even know that much.”

“That's the same with my father,” Emrys added. “I never knew him. And my mother's barely spoken of him. I've got this...vague memory, but it's probably just my imagination.”

“I'd do anything for even the vaguest memory.”

“Is that why you're so determined to find Morgause?” Emrys asked. “To see what she knows about your mother?”

“Is that so wrong?”

“No.”

“How do you know she’ll tell you the truth?” Mordred asked.

“I don’t, but I have to try.”

Mordred frowned and glanced towards the forest.

“I should ge-”

I’ll be right back.

“Where are you going?” Arthur yelled as Emrys asked the same with his mind.

Mordred didn’t answer either of them as he rushed through the trees, searching.

Mordred!

I’ll be right back, he repeated as he spotted what he was looking for. He quickly knelt in front of the ancient oak tree and searched its roots until he found a round stone the size of a coin. He sat down on the oak’s lowest branch and drew a basic shield knot on the stone with his finger, chanting, “Bilehwīte” with every corner. Once he’d done all four corners, the shield knot appeared on its surface. It burned through the stone until there was a perfectly carved hole in the shape of the knot.

Finished, he hopped down and raced back to camp.

Emrys was immediately on him. Are you okay? You can’t run off like that. We just got ambushed by Odin’s men, remember?

“Where did you go?” Arthur asked, glaring at him.

Mordred held up the stone. “I was making this.”

Arthur took it and turned it over in his hand.

“It’s a truth charm. You wear it and if someone lies to you, it lights up. White for innocent lies, red for malicious ones. The redder the light, the darker the intentions.”

“Could use one of these in court,” Arthur said.

“They only last for two days and wear out faster the more lies are said.”

“So it’d probably only last an hour in court,” Emrys joked, pulling the thin leather band off his wrist. He took the stone and slipped the band through before tying it to Arthur’s wrist.

“I thought, you know, this way you’ll at least know if what she says is true,” Mordred said, fidgeting.

“Thank you,” Arthur said and Mordred smiled. “You’ll only have to spend a week on dog duty when we get back now.”

“What? Why do I have to go on dog duty!?”

Mordred loved animals, but he hated dog duty. Arthur’s dogs always dragged him around when he tried to walk them and never listened to anything he said. Normally Emrys would always take the job -- the dogs were besotted with him and hung on his every word -- but Arthur liked to use it as a punishment for the younger servant.

“Because you ran off alone in enemy territory and ignored us when we told you to come back.”

You need to explain yourself next time, Emrys said.

“But -”

“Let’s get some rest.”

Mordred pouted as Arthur went to his bedroll.

Emrys ruffled his hair. Get some sleep.


“Are you sure you want to do this?” Merlin whispered.

“If you were granted the same opportunity, would you not want to meet your father?”

“We don't know why she's doing this.”

“She said she would show me my mother and the charm didn’t react.”

“That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have bad intentions, it only means she was telling the truth. There might be more to this than you think.”

“Or there might not be. Why are you so quick to distrust one of your own?”

“Because someone has to be cautious and you’re giving her exactly what she wants.”

“It is time,” Morgause said, blowing out the match she had been using to light the candles. She held out her hand and Arthur took it so she could lead him to the altar. She turned him so he was facing away from it and said, “Close your eyes.”

Merlin and Mordred stepped back into an alcove as she began her spell.

“Arise mid min miclan mihte þín suna to helpe. Hider eft funde on þisse ne middangeard þín suna wæs.”

Do you recognize the spell?

Mordred shook his head. You?

Merlin did the same.

The air warped in front of them, then a woman with Arthur’s fair hair and bright blue eyes stepped through the fold.

“Arthur,” she said, and when he opened his eyes, she smiled. “Arthur.”

“Mother,” he said.

“My son.” She rushed to him and pulled him into a hug. “When I last held you, you were a tiny baby.” She pulled away to cup his cheek. “I remember your eyes. You were staring up at me. Those few seconds I held you were the most precious of my life.”

“I'm so sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“It was my birth that caused you to die.”

“No, you are not to blame.”

“I cannot bear the thought that you died because of me.”

“Do not think that,” she said, pulling him into another hug. “It is your father who should carry the guilt for what happened.”

Merlin frowned as Arthur asked, “What do you mean?”

His wrist.

Merlin glanced down at Arthur’s wrist and gasped.

The charm was glowing a dark crimson.

“Arthur,” he whispered.

He saw Morgause glance at him, but Arthur was focused on his mother.

“It is not important. What matters is that you lived.”

“Why should my father feel guilty?” Arthur asked, pulling away.

“It is better left in the past.”

“You cannot leave me with more questions. Please.”

“Your father, he was desperate for an heir. Without a son, the Pendragon dynasty would come to an end. But I could not conceive.”

“But how was I born? Tell me.”

“Your father betrayed me,” she said and the charm lit up again.

Merlin frowned and focused on Arthur’s wrist. “Ábryrde.”

Arthur glanced down at his wrist with a hiss and froze.

“He went to the sorceress Nim-”

“You’re lying.”

“What?”

“Tell me the truth.”

She looked shocked, but then her eyes caught on the charm and her face went cold. Suddenly mist started to form around the room, circling Arthur and his mother.

Merlin raced forward and grabbed Arthur’s arm just as the mists engulfed them.

He looked around, but couldn’t see anything but Arthur and white.

“Mother?” Arthur called, pulling out of Merlin’s grip and taking a few steps forward.

Mordred? Merlin tried, glancing back as best he could without taking his eyes off Arthur.

“He can’t hear you.”

A hand wrapped around Merlin’s jaw and his body locked up as Arthur’s mother appeared before him.

“Mother?” Arthur said, turning to them. “What are you doing? What’s going on?”

She turned to him, considering.

Tell him the truth, the warlock growled.

She gave him a reprimanding look and suddenly pain was flooding through him. He gasped and collapsed to his knees, but couldn’t move otherwise.

“Merlin,” Arthur said, reaching towards him.

“Merlin? Is that what you call it?” she asked. Her hand was still on Merlin’s jaw and he could feel her nails digging into his skin deep enough to draw blood when she tilted his head up so she could study his face. “It needs to be taken in hand. While it’s loyalty is good, it needs to learn its place.”

“Leave him alone.”

She turned her focus back on Arthur.

“Tell me why you’re doing this? Why did you lie?” he said, glancing worriedly down at Merlin.

She finally released his jaw, instead choosing to weave her fingers through Merlin’s hair with a sigh. “Because I wanted you to kill Uther.”

“What?” Arthur shrieked, jerking back. He glanced down at his wrist and shook his head. “But… he was your husband. You loved him.”

She gave Arthur a patronizing, yet fond look that was so much like Arthur’s it sent a shiver down Merlin’s spine. “Come now, my son. Surely you must know by now that a king doesn’t marry for love. Uther may have come to love me, but that does not mean I returned the sentiment.”

“But what reason would you have to want him dead?”

“Because then you would be king,” she said simply. “I merely want what’s best for you.”

“So-so you would lie about being unable to conceive just to make me a mu-”

“That was not a lie,” she said, gesturing to his wrist to show her truth.

“Then how was I born.”

“Magic. I assured your father it was the only way and he sent Gaius to seek out the High Priestesses. Your father was naive to magic though. When Nimueh told him there would be a price to bring a life into the world, he thought she meant gold. Instead -”

“A life for a life,” Arthur said, voice shaking.

“Very good. I worried your education would be lacking without me by your side. Yes, the ritual required a life to be given. Nimueh planned to simply direct the spell out of the castle and let the life taken be random, but I had other plans. I knew Uther would try to make you in his image and I couldn’t allow that to happen.”

“You were going to sacrifice him for the spell.”

She glared off to the side and her fingers pulled at Merlin’s hair. “Nimueh realized I had interfered with the spell and saved him, but it was too late for her to direct the magic and the Old Religion took a life at random.”

“Yours.”

“A queen for a king.” She nodded. “I got my revenge though. Uther saw my death as the betrayal it was and launched his purge.”

Arthur’s fists clenched at his side. “He never knew. He never knew the truth, so he thought it was magic’s fault.”

“As I said, he doesn’t understand how magic works.”

“You caused the deaths of so many innocents!”

“Uther did that. You can-”

“Because he loved you!”

“Arthur,” she said, and Merlin felt her grip on him lessen as the mists began to fade. “Everything I’ve done was for you. You are my son.”

He shook his head and took a step back. “He loved you, and you betrayed him.”

“Arthur.” She reached for him and took a step forward, then disappeared.

Merlin doubled over as the paralysis fell away, panting into the floor.

Merlin! Modred yelled, running to his side and helping him sit up.

“What happened?” Moraguase asked and Merlin saw her looking between them.

“Thank you for granting my wish,” Arthur said, not looking at her. “I will not forget your kindness.”

“Are you alright?” she asked, coming closer.

“Fine. I’ve… merely been reminded that some wishes are better left unfulfilled.” he came up to Merlin and helped him to his feet. To Mordred, he said, “Fetch the horses. We're returning to Camelot.”

“Arthur?”

“Shut up, Merlin.”


“Arthur. Where have you been? I have had search parties out looking for you. Arthur?”

“I know… what happened to my mother.”

His father handed the papers he was holding to Leon and ordered. “Leave us. No one is to enter.”

Leon glanced between them warily, but walked away. Merlin stayed near the doors.

“Leave.”

“Go, Merlin,” Arthur growled.

“Don’t do anything rash,” Merlin said, but let Leon push him out. “He’s still your father.”

“What are you talking about?” Uther asked once the doors were shut.

“You were so desperate for an heir, you were prepared to use magic.”

“Did Morgause tell you this? She's lying.”

“My mother is dead because you both were selfish and arrogant.”

“No. That's not true. But Morgause would have you believe that.”

“This is what fuels your hatred for those who practice magic. Rather than trying to understand what happened, you blame them.”

“You would believe a sorcerer's lies over the word of your own father? I can only think that Morgause has enchanted you.”

“You hunted her kind like animals!” Arthur shouted. “How many hundreds have you condemned to death to ease your grief?”

“Those who practice magic will stop at nothing to destroy us!” Uther shouted back. “I have only done what is necessary to protect this kingdom!”

“You speak of honor and nobility! You're nothing but a hypocrite and a liar!”

“I am your king and your father. You will show me some respect!”

“You execute those who use magic, and yet you have used it yourself! You have caused so much suffering and pain!” He spat. His hand ached for his sword, but he knew Mordred or Merlin had sealed it in his sheath. “You are my father and king so you have my loyalty, but you will need to earn my respect.”

“Arthur!” Uther shouted, but he turned away and stomped to the doors. “You have not been dismissed.”

“I am going to leave before I do something I regret,” he said, yanking open the doors. “I request you give me time to adjust.”

“Arthur!”

He slammed them shut behind him. Mordred, Merlin, and Leon were all giving him worried looks, but he ignored them and continued on to his rooms.

“Ar-”

“I want to be alone,” he said over Merlin. “Go have Gaius take care of your face. I will send for you both when I want you.”

“I-Okay. Just know we’re here for you.”

Arthur waved him away.


“What happened?” Gwen asked as Gaius cleaned the small cuts on Merlin’s face.

Mordred shrugged. “Morgause summoned Arthur’s mother’s spirit and she tried to lie about him about his birth. Suddenly they and Merlin disappeared in some mists that I couldn’t get through. When they faded, Merlin and Arthur were alone and Arthur was… like that.”

Gaius froze, looking worried. “What did Ygraine say?”

Merlin frowned and met his eyes. “You already know most of it.”

Gaius sighed and turned away.

“What do you mean? What happened?” Gwen asked.

“That’s for Arthur to say,” Merlin sighed. “It… wasn’t good though. He’s going to need us.”

She squeezed his shoulder. “I’ll go get him some dinner.”

“Don’t push. It’s really bad. He’s going to need some time to process.”

She nodded and left.

When she arrived at his door was a tray of food, she knocked and pushed her way in, ignoring the shouted, “Leave me.”

“I’ve brought you some dinner.”

He scowled at her. “Merlin told you what happened?”

“Only that your mother said something that upset you. He said it wasn’t his place to explain.”

“Upset is an understatement,” he growled, turning away.

She set the tray down and went to the door. “I understand, but please take care of yourself. Don’t bottle it all up. I’m here to talk if you need it. Or Merlin since he already knows.”

“Thank you, Guinevere.”

She waited a few moments, then said goodbye and left.

Chapter Text

Halig burped and stood up, waving down one of the tavern girls. “Watch my food. I’ve gotta go check on my prize.”

The girl nodded and he lumbered towards the door. Suddenly someone bumped into him, spilling their drink onto him.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” a young woman said, brushing at his jacket.

“Not a problem,” he answered, looking the thing up and down.

“Please, let me buy you a drink as an apology.”

“Well, I won’t say no to a drink, just let me -”

She set her hand on his arm. “I need to be going soon, let me buy you a drink now?”

He looked her up and down again. Well, his prize wasn’t going anywhere. “How can I say no to a face like that?”

She muttered something under her breath then led him over to the bar. “A drink for my friend here!”

The barkeep grunted and dropped a tankard in front of them.

“Thank you,” she said, paying.

“Thank you, dear,” Halig chuckled. He grabbed the drink and took a big swig. He reached out for the young woman, but felt nothing but air. He looked around, but she was nowhere to be seen.

“Tease,” he huffed. He finished off his drink then headed out of the tavern.


Gwen caught Merlin’s eye in the hall and he ducked his head. “Gwen, thank you so much! I owe you.”

“It’s fine, Merlin,” she replied.

“It isn’t. Mordred told me about how that guy had been looking at you.”

“Oh, it’s not the first time I’ve dealt with creeps,” she said, waving it off. “How is she?”

Merlin shifted the tray in his arms and glanced around them. “She’s okay. We brought her down to the tunnels beneath the walls. I’m going to go check on her after I drop Arthur’s breakfast off.”

“Make sure you tell him,” she said, giving him a knowing look.

“Yeah, yeah. You know he’s going to kill me when he hears.”

“No, he won’t.”


“I’m going to kill you!”

“Gwen owes me lunch,” Merlin muttered, dodging a thrown goblet.

“What were you thinking? Nevermind, I already know you weren’t!”

“Are you done, Sire?” Merlin sighed, grabbing the goblet and returning it to Arthur’s table.

“No. And where’s Mordred? I need to yell at him too.”

“He chickened out and went to collect herbs for Gaius.”

Arthur snorted and snatched up one of his sausages.

“Arthur, you should have seen her in that cage. I couldn’t just leave her there.”

The prince made the mistake of looking at his servant’s face.

He rolled his eyes and grabbed a piece of cheese before shoving the plate at Merlin. “Wrap the rest of that up in a cloth.”

Merlin gave him a bemused look, but did as told while Arthur pulled on his boots.

“Bring me to her,” Arthur said, reaching for his sword.

“Is that necessary?” Merlin asked.

He rolled his eyes again, but left the sword. Instead, he grabbed Merlin’s arm and shoved him towards the door. “Go.”

Merlin led him down out of the citadel and towards the gate, but paused when he saw the line of people being checked over by the guards.

Arthur, on the other hand, ignored it. He continued past the line of people who curtsied or bowed their heads as he passed and Merlin hurried to follow. The guards didn’t give Arthur and Merlin a passing glance, but the bounty hunter reached out and grabbed Merlin, yanking him away.

“Where’d you think you were going?”

Merlin blinked. “I was just -”

“Search him,” the man ordered a guard, shoving Merlin at him.

The guard gave Merlin a confused expression, but stepped forwards.

“What is going on here?” Arthur snapped, finally noticing Merlin wasn’t at his side and coming back around.

“Your Highness,” the guard said, bowing, and the bounty hunter quickly followed suit. “A druid girl escaped from this man last night. We’ve been ordered to assist him.”

“That doesn’t explain why you’re accosting Merlin of all people and holding me up.”

“Apologies, My Lord.”

“Your father gave me permission to search the people in case someone is hiding the girl, Your Highness,” the bounty hunter said, puffing out his chest.

Immediately, Merlin and the guards flinched away. Everyone in the citadel knew not to bring up the king in Arthur’s presence.

The man hadn’t seemed to cotton on to the prince’s mood though as he continued obliviously, “This boy tried to pass through without being checked.”

“Are you suggesting I am hiding the girl?” Arthur growled.

He blinked, shrinking as he finally took in Arthur’s furious state. “O-of course not, sire.”

“Really, because Merlin is accompanying me to the Lower Town, so if you are suggesting he is going to meet the girl, then clearly you are suggesting the same of me.”

“N-no, Sire, that’s not what I meant. We can’t just allow -”

“He is my servant. I can allow him whatever I wish. In fact,” he turned to the guards, “Merlin has my absolute trust. He is to be allowed to pass freely from now on. If you have a problem with him, you come to me. Do you understand?”

“Of course, Your Highness,” the guards agreed immediately, bowing.

Arthur sent the bounty hunter a look and he immediately ducked his head and agreed. The prince turned on his heel and marched off with a snapped, “Merlin!”

Once Merlin had stumbled up to his side, he growled, “I hate men like that. Those who think since my father shows them even the smallest favor then they can do whatever they wish.”

“Yeah, only noble prats are allowed to act like that,” Merlin joked.

Arthur turned his glare on the warlock. “Watch yourself. You’re the one they’re looking for, remember. I could always just go back and hand you over to them.”

“But you won’t,” Merlin said softly, leading Arthur into the tunnels. “Do you wa-”

“If you ask me if I want to talk one more time…”

Merlin sighed. “She’s a bit jumpy so try not to act so…”

“Intimidating?”

“Haughty.”

Arthur reached out to smack his head, but missed in the darkness. “Damn it, Merlin I can’t see anything!”

Suddenly a light appeared in front of them, glittering gold and blue.

“That’s not what I meant,” he hissed, managing to smack the warlock’s head this time.

“Ow! Can’t I ever just get a thank you?”

“Shut up, Merlin.”

They reached the girl to see that she was sleeping with Cavall curled up against her.

He stayed back as Merlin gave her the food and set up some candles after waking her. It was only with the added light that she spotted the prince.

She flinched back and Arthur held up his hands.

“It’s okay. He’s a friend. I promise he’s actually really soft,” Merlin said.

“Oi!”

She glanced between the two nervously, but continued eating.

Arthur stayed back, letting the two talk.


“I know what it’s like to keep secrets.”

Freya looked up at the man Merlin had brought briefly, to see him staring down the tunnel. “Who else knows you have magic?”

“Besides Mordred, only Arthur and our friend Gwen.” Merlin glanced at the man, Arthur, as well then leaned closer. “Modred has magic too, was a druid like you, but Gwen and Arthur… They don’t really get it.”

“I wish I was like everyone else, but…”

“You always know, deep down, you’re not?”

“Because I’m cursed.”

Arthur’s head perked up, but Merlin didn’t even blink.

“Freya, don’t say that!”


“I think they've been killed by some kind of wild animal,” Gaius explained.

“Have your men been able to track the creature?” Uther asked.

Arthur ignored him, looking over the ground to make sure he hadn’t missed anything.

“Arthur.”

“The ground is soft, Gaius. A bear or wolf would leave some mark, but there are no tracks.”

Gaius glanced between them and pointed to a set of tracks. “Then what are these?”

“Human footprints.”

“But they're leading away from the bodies. Did someone escape the attack?”

“No one's come forward.”

“Could the person who -” Uther asked.

“Could a smaller animal have done this? One light enough not to make tracks?” Arthur asked, cutting over the king.

Uther scowled at him, then sighed.

“I don't believe so,” Gaius answered cautiously. “These wounds could only've been inflicted by a beast of considerable size.”

“And if this was done by neither a man nor beast, there's only one other explanation. It must be the work of a magical creature.”

“I guess it’s time for a witch hunt,” the prince growled, standing.

“Arth-”

“If you’ll excuse me, I need to increase the guards’ patrols.” Arthur met his father’s eyes, daring him to comment.

Uther glared back for a few moments before waving his hand. “Leave.”

He turned and left without any other fanfare.

It must be the work of a magical creature.

As much as he hated to admit it, his father was right. Arthur was an idiot. No, Merlin was an idiot who really needed to grow out of his pup face.

“That’s not a strawberry,” he heard the druid girl giggle as he approached her hiding place in the tunnels.

“Er, it’s the right color,” Merlin responded and Arthur came around the corner to see him handing her a rose.

Oh great, he has a crush! There was no way this was going to be easy.

“We need to talk,” Arthur growled and the two jumped.

“Arthur?” Merlin asked, but the prince ignored him.

He marched up to tower over the girl. “Why did you do it?”

The girl stared up at him with terrified eyes, but also knowing ones.

“Arthur!” Merlin snapped, stumbling to his feet and trying to pull him back. “What are you doing?”

“Two people were found dead in the lower town. All evidence points to magic.” Arthur turned his glare on Merlin. “Do you think it’s a coincidence that you freed a druid girl and then the next night magic attacks?”

“Yes!”

“He’s right.”

The two turned to the girl.

“Freya?”

She gave Merlin sorrowful eyes. “I’m sorry. You’ve been so good to me, but I don’t deserve it. I’m not like you.”

“Why did you attack those people? Merlin rescued you, we’ve been hiding you. Why would you turn against us like this?” Arthur asked.

She bowed her head. “I didn’t want to. I hate killing, but I have no choice. I’m cursed.”

Merlin tried to go to her, but Arthur shoved him back, hand falling to his sword. “You said that before, what did you mean?”

“I’m a monster. I… There was a man. He attacked me. I didn’t mean to hurt him, but I thought he was going to kill me.”

“It was an accident,” Merlin said.

“His mother was a sorceress, and when she found out that I’d killed her son, she cursed me to kill forevermore. At midnight I transform into a beast the druids called a bastet. I can’t control myself in that form. All it wants to do is kill. That’s why I went to the druids, to begin with. I had hoped they could help me.”

“They couldn’t?” Arthur asked, studying her.

She shook her head. “I was too dangerous to keep around. They didn’t have a way to keep me contained long enough to find the cure. They could fend me off, but only for so long. Someone ended up getting hurt.”

“There has to be a way for us to help you,” Merlin said.

The prince thought over her words. “The dungeons should hold her.”

The girl’s head fell further down and Arthur could feel Merlin’s eyes burning into his back.

“There are larger cells under the normal ones. We don’t use them much now. They’re made completely of stone aside from the solid metal doors. We could lock you in while you’re transformed so you won’t hurt anyone while Merlin and Mordred figure out how to cure you.”

The girl’s head whipped up so fast Arthur was sure it had to hurt.

He turned to Merlin, who was giving him his I’m a proud idiot smile. “Have you heard of this bastet beast before?”

“No, but I can ask Mordred. If the druids recognized it, then hopefully he’ll at least know something that can give us a starting point.”

“Then -”

“You believe me?”

He turned back to the girl.

“Of course!” Merlin chirped.

“Not yet,” Arthur countered. “But if you are telling the truth, we need to get you somewhere where you can’t hurt anyone. And if you aren’t, then you’ll already be in the dungeons so that’s good enough for me.”

“Arthur,” Merlin hissed, but Freya relaxed and nodded.

“That is fair.”

Arthur nodded back. “Then I will come and get you just after sundown.”

“Mordred and I will prepare a cell, make sure it’s comfortable for you.”

“Thank you, Merlin,” she replied and Arthur took his leave of the two.


Arthur eyed the guards marching along their patrol routes before slipping into the darkness.

Freya was waiting for him when he reached her, Merlin’s jacket wrapped around her shoulders and the candles extinguished. He placed Merlin’s cloak over the jacket. “Keep the hood up and your head down. No one’s likely to question you as you’re with me, but if the wrong person sees and gets curious…”

Freya frowned, but pulled up the hood. She ducked her head and held his arm as he brought her out of the tunnels and up to the citadel, avoiding the patrols easily.

Too easily. He was going to have to rework the routes when this was all over. There were far too many holes for people to use. Good for his warlocks to do their thing, but also good for anyone else up to no good.

Mordred met them at the entrance to the dungeons and led them down, distracting the guards so they could slip past. The three quickly slipped through the halls and down the stairs until they reached the cell Merlin had prepared, the older warlock and Guinevere waiting for them.

She smiled and stepped forward slightly, holding out her hand. “Hello, I’m Guinevere, though everyone calls me Gwen.”

Freya tugged her cloak closer. “Merlin told me about you. He said you helped him free me.”

“It was my pleasure.” She held out a dress. “Here, it might be a bit big, but I thought it might be nicer than what you have now.”

Freya stared at the dress, not taking it. “Why are you all so good to me?” she looked up at them. “I’ve killed people, many people. I could kill again.”

“We won’t let that happen,” Merlin said, taking her hand. “I promised you I’d look after you, and I will. We will. You’re safe here.”

“And people will be safe from you,” Arthur agreed. “If you’re honest, then you’ve had enough pain brought upon you. I will see to it you do not face more.”

“Told you he was actually really soft,” Merlin whispered to her.

“Shut up, Merlin,” Arthur growled, turning away and marching off to the sound of Guinevere and Mordred’s muffled chuckles.


“Try to get as much rest as you can,” Gwen said, giving Freya the dress before heading off after Arthur.

Modred gave her a wide smile. I’m going to start looking through our books. Night, Freya!

“Goodnight.”

Mordred ran off, catching up to Gwen just as she turned a corner.

Freya turned to Merlin, clutching the dress closer. “You should go as well.”

Merlin shook his head. “I want to stay with you.”

“You can’t -”

He stopped her with a squeeze of her hand, stepping closer. “Until just before midnight. Please, I don’t want you to have to be down here alone.”

“You’re not scared of me?”

Merlin took another step closer and shrugged. “I’ve faced worse. Uglier too. You should have seen the troll.”

Freya chuckled and pressed into his side.

“Come see what we’ve done,” Merlin said, pulling her towards the cell.

She smiled, but inside she couldn’t feel his excitement.

A cell was better than a cage, but it was still a cell.

He pushed open the door and waved her in. She stepped through, then froze.

Rose vines and Welsh poppies grew up the corners and across the ceiling, filling the room with their scent. A few glass orbs held up by the vines glittered with a soft, warm light. A nest of blankets and pillows created a soft-looking bed on one side, which Merlin’s familiar was making use of. Most astounding though was the painting across one wall. It featured a tall mountain range with a lake at the base.

“You remembered!”

“Of course. I’m so sorry for what that sorcerer did to you.”

Freya pulled him into a hug. This… This was the nicest thing anyone had done for her since she’d fled her home after realizing she’d been cursed. “Merlin, you have nothing to be sorry for.”

He hugged her back. “I promise, we’ll save you.”

“You’ve already saved me. You made me feel loved.”

Merlin pulled back with a blush.

The two looked into each other’s eyes then, as one, leaned in.


“Has Halig found the girl yet?”

“The guards report that there hasn’t been any sign of her,” Arthur said shortly, not looking up from his meal.

“She’s likely long gone,” Uther said.

“If she was ever here. We’ve seen no sign that such a girl even existed. Maybe he made the whole thing up in hopes you’d pay him anyways.”

“Halig’s usually far more reliable.”

“Perhaps you’ve allowed him too much favor and he’s become complacent.”

“You may be right. Either way, we can’t waste men on this any longer. It’s been a fortnight already. I'll tell the guard to return to their posts.”

Arthur didn’t respond. He finished his food and pushed his empty plate aside. “May I be excused.”

“Arthur… you may.”


Arthur watched the bounty hunter’s cart trundle into the forest through a hall window before continuing on his way to the physician’s chambers.

“Merlin,” he called as he strutted inside, then paused.

Merlin was sitting at the table next to a girl he almost didn’t recognize.

Freya had cleaned herself up, the dirt and grime washed away to reveal flawless fair skin and dark chestnut hair.

He smiled at her. “It’s good to see you out and about.”

She smiled back, running a finger over her braid. “It’s nice to be out, even if it’s only during the day.”

Merlin smiled and set a hand on her shoulder, but was stopped from saying anything when Gaius came in.

“Prince Arthur, is there something I can do for you? Or were you looking for Merlin?” He asked, giving Merlin a look.

“Prince?” Freya squeaked.

Chapter Text

“Arth-”

“I know what you’re going to say,” Arthur cut over his father. “I know how important these talks are. Anything between us can be set aside until they are complete.

“Good. We must present a united front if Camelot is to enter a new era of prosperity,” Uther said, setting his hand on his son’s shoulder.

“Is there anything else?” Arthur said, though he didn’t pull away.

“Olaf has sent word that he is bringing his daughter with him. I want you to personally see to it that she receives the best care Camelot has to offer. She is his pride and joy. If she is disgruntled, he will be too.”

Arthur bit down a comment and nodded. “I will see that it is done.”

“I… Arthur, we should talk -”

“I think it would be best to hold off such a discussion until after the talks are over. For Camelot’s sake.”

Uther sighed and squeezed his shoulder before letting go and leaving. “You are right. Make sure the preparations for Vivian are complete.”


“And who might you be trying to impress, Sire?”

“Well, let me see. Perhaps the four kings sitting in the banquet hall below.”

“Oh. Not the King's daughter, then, the Lady Vivian? She is very beautiful.”

“Anyone trying to impress the Lady Vivian does so at extreme peril,” Arthur said, coming out from behind the dressing screen. “Olaf would have their head in a vat of hot oil before they'd have a chance to say hello. Besides, she's not my type. She may be beautiful, but she's incredibly rude. You should've heard what she said to Freya.”

“Freya? What about Freya?”

Arthur rolled his eyes at the steel in Merlin’s voice. “Nothing for you to concern yourself with. Freya’s dealt with worse than the sniping of some spoiled lady.”

“But -”

Merlin. She laughed it off. It’s nothing.”

“Alright,” he agreed, but then Arthur heard him mutter. “Anyone insulting Freya should do so at extreme peril.”

“Leave it. These talks are too important for any of your shenanigans. Or Mordred’s for that matter. Where is he?”

“Helping Gaius. King Ruadh needed a stomach settler after his ride and King Alined wanted a hangover potion delivered before the feast so he’d know he’d have one on hand in the morning.” Merlin glanced up at him. “So is that the only reason you’re not impressed by Lady Vivian.”

“What more reason do I need?” Arthur asked, putting on his jacket.

“Well, there’s Gwen.”

“What?”

“I know how you feel about her. That is, if your feelings haven't changed, as I presume they haven't.”

“I do have my own vat of hot oil, you know.”

Merlin laughed and pointed at him. “You're blushing!”

“No, I'm not.”

“What's wrong with Gwen?”

“Nothing.”

“I think she's very worthy of your love.”

“Indeed, were it so.”

“Which… it is.”

“Merlin.”

“Yes, Arthur?”

“Get out.”

“Yes, Sire.”


Merlin smiled as he pulled back from Freya. “Are you sure you’ll be alright?”

“We do this every night,” she chuckled. “Go on. You need to sleep. I will see you in the morning.”

“Alright, take care.”

They shared another kiss.

Are you in Arthur’s room? Mordred said in a groggy voice.

They both frowned and broke apart. No, I’m saying goodnight to Freya.

Gross.

Why? she asked.

There was a moment’s pause. I thought I felt magic, but I must have been dreaming. There’s no one here.

Alright. Go to bed. It’s almost midnight.

“You should follow your own advice,” Freya chuckled before kissing the corner of his mouth. “Goodnight.”

“Night.” Merlin waited until the door of her cell was shut and he heard her lock it before heading out of the lower dungeons.


“I may have caused a problem. Although it wasn't entirely my doing.”

“What happened?” Freya asked, looking up from her folding.

“Arthur's in love,” he said, pacing.

“And?” she hummed, getting back to work.

“I gave Gwen flowers from him.”

“Okay?”

“Because Arthur told me to give the girl he was soft for flowers. Oh and a poem. I wrote her a poem.”

“I don’t see the problem, besides the fact that Arthur should probably be doing that himself.”

“Arthur’s in love with Lady Vivian.”

She looked back up. “What?”

“He’s completely besotted, he can't concentrate on anything. All he thinks about, all he talks about is… is the Lady Vivian.”

“But he was going on about how obnoxious she is just yesterday.”

“I know. Something doesn't feel right.”

Freya frowned. “You talked to Gwen already, right?”

“What? To get the flowers? No, she already found them.”

She crossed her arms. “And you told her what happened?”

He froze and turned at the tone of her voice. “No?”

Freya marched over and grabbed his shoulders to push him out the door. “Go tell her right now. I can’t believe you. What happens when she finds out the truth!?”

He ducked his head. “You're right.”

“Yes, I am. Now go.”

She shook her head as he ran off. She loved an idiot.


“- and you didn’t think to check!? You just assumed!”

Merlin squirmed under Gwen’s fury. “I know you both have feelings for each other, so I just…”

“You’re an idiot.”

“Yeah, I know,” he sighed.

Gwen dropped down onto the bench at her kitchen table and her anger faded to sorrow.

Merlin felt even worse and quickly knelt in front of her. “I’m so, so sorry, Gwen. I don’t know how this even happened. Only yesterday he dismissed her as rude and blushed when I mentioned you two together.”

She shook her head. “Things change, Merlin. Now, I’d like to be alone.”

“I’m really sorry.”

“I know.”


“What on earth?”

Merlin turned to see Arthur holding a lock of hair.

“You really need to start paying attention to the details.”

Merlin came over and took it, his eyes widening.

“I knew something wasn't right. Do you know what this is?”

“Hair?”

“Vivian’s hair!”

Arthur perked up and tried to grab it, but Merlin held it away.

“You’re enchanted.”

“With the Lady Vivian, yes.”

“Not what I meant. I mean you’re under a love spell.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Arthur grabbed for him and fell off the bed.

Arthur’s under a love spell.

Well, that explains his behavior, Freya said as Mordred merely laughed.

We need to find a way to fix him.

Alright, I’ll be there in a few minutes, the younger boy chuckled.

I’ll see you in the morning, Freya said.

I can -

It’s fine, Merlin. Fix Arthur. I will be okay for one night.

If you’re sure. Goodnight.

Goodnight.


“There are so many love spells in these books,” Merlin groaned.

It would go faster if I could help, Mordred said from his spot lying next to Arthur on the bed.

Not after the last love spell I caught you looking at.

“And that’s only counting the love spells and not the… other ones,” Gwen said with a blush as she read through one of the books written in Brythonic, unknowingly mirroring the warlocks’ conversation. “And it doesn’t help that so many of them have awful consequences for using the wrong counterspell.”

“It’s useless. The only thing I’m bewitched by is my lady’s beauty,” Arthur groaned, but the three ignored him.

“Who could have done this?” Mordred asked aloud.

“Trickler,” Merlin said.

“Who?”

“King Alined’s jester,” Gwen answered.

“I should have realized he had magic,” Merlin huffed, shoving the book he was reading aside. “No one can make butterflies appear from thin air.”

“Why would he want Arthur to fall in love with Vivian?”

“If Olaf finds out, it would mean war,” Merlin said, remembering what Arthur had told him before. “Arthur, what reason would Alined have to end the peace talks?”

“Hm. Deorham is one of the foremost war profiteers. Aliened would make far more coin in wartime than peacetime.”

“Would he be the type to try to make war himself?”

“Not himself, he’s too cowardly.”

“But he might trick someone else into doing it?” Gwen asked.

“Yes, that would be like him.” Arthur frowned and picked his head up. “You lot aren’t still trying to say I’m enchanted, are you?”

“No, of course not,” Merlin lied and the prince laid back down with a smile.

“So Trickler enchants Arthur, Olaf finds out he’s harassing Vivian and attacks him, Uther declares war, and Aliened profits,” Mordred said. “That sounds complicated.”

“But effective, unless we can figure out how to break the spell.”

If I don’t get to help, then I’m going to go get snacks from the kitchen, Mordred said, getting to his feet.

Grab some honey tarts. “Do you want anything from the kitchens, Gwen?”

“I’m good.”

“If you’re going to keep me up all night, I want some raspberries,” Arthur said.

Mordred nodded and slipped out the door.

A short time later, Gwen showed her book to Merlin. “How about this?”

Merlin read through the spell and smiled. “That's it! You’ve got it!” He mouthed the spell a few times then stood up and focused on Arthur. “Abuge áglǽccræft.”

He felt his magic react, but didn’t see a difference in the prince.

“How do you feel, Arthur?” Gwen asked.

“You mean besides the fact that my servants are keeping me up through the night and my lady cares not for me. Just great, Guinevere.”

“It didn’t work.”

Merlin stepped closer and met Arthur’s eyes. “Abuge áglǽccræft. Abuge áglǽccræft!”

“Are you done?”

Merlin shook his head and turned to Gwen. “I don't understand it. Trickler's magic is strong, but surely it can't be stronger than mine?”

She opened her mouth to say something, but a noise from the hall made them pause.

“Who are you?” Mordred’s voice asked.

“Oh! Well now!” came Trickler’s voice, and Gwen and Merlin shared a look. “A better question is, who are you? A little one sneaking around the castle in the middle of the night? Stealing treats from the kitchen? Naughty, naughty.”

“These are for my master, Prince Arthur. He’s working late and asked me to bring him something.”

“Hmmm, no, no. But you used to be so much bigger!” he said as Mordred opened the door. Gwen and Merlin ducked out of sight, but both peeked out to see Trickler holding up his hand at Merlin’s height. “How did you shrink?”

“That’s Merlin. He’s the prince’s manservant. I’m the prince’s page,” Mordred said.

Arthur’s head perked up at his title. “Are those my raspberries?”

“See. Now if you’ll excuse me.” Mordred shut the door. He’s weird.

Yeah. Merlin gestured him closer then, in case Trickler was still near, whispered, “What was he doing here?”

“I don’t know, I just saw him sneaking towards the door.”

“Maybe he was going to try to get rid of the lock of hair before someone noticed it and realized what it was?” Gwen asked.

“Or maybe he needs to repeat the spell to make it work?” Mordred suggested.

“No, the spell we found doesn’t need to be repeated, and we must have gotten the right spell or Arthur would have green hair?”

“I’m sorry, what?” Arthur hissed, glaring at Merlin.

“Go think about Vivian, Arthur,” Merlin said.

It was a testament to the spell that Arthur actually listened to him.

“So the counterspell didn’t work?”

“No, something else must be going on. I just don’t know what. There’s nothing else in the books.”

Gwen looked over at Arthur and sighed. “I hate to say it, but we might need to check somewhere else for information.”

Mordred perked up. “The dragon?”

“You’re way too excited.”

“I know what you’ve said, but he’s still a dragon. A giant, fire breathing -”

“We get it,” Merlin snorted, ruffling his hair.

“So are we going to go?”

Merlin turned to Gwen. “You’re right. It might be the only way.”

“Yes!”

“You’re staying here,” Gwen said.

“What? Why?” Mordred whined.

“Someone needs to keep an eye on Arthur and Trickler already knows you're here to serve him so it won’t be suspicious,” Merlin said.

“Also, you’re too impressionable to be around that beast,” Arthur said. “Why are you two going to the dragon?”

“Keep an eye on him,” Merlin said before leading Gwen out of the room.

“As much as I would prefer you not go alone,” Gwen said, “I’m worried about Vivian. If Trickler enchants her as well…”

“We’ll have two lovestruck royals to wrangle instead of one,” Merlin finished.

She nodded. “I’m going to stay in her servant’s quarters for the night to keep watch. If she says anything, I’ll just say I was assigned to be near in case she needed something during the night.”

“Alright, I’ll let you know what the dragon says in the morning.”


Freya stepped out of her cell to see Merlin sitting against the opposite wall, his foot nervously tapping against the floor.

“You haven’t fixed Arthur yet, then?”

He yawned and shook his head as he stood. “The dragon told me what we need to do though. “

“Did you get any sleep?” she asked, stepping into his arms.

“A little.” He pressed a kiss to the top of her head and pulled back. “We need to go find Gwen.”

“She should be in the kitchens.”

The two climbed up to the main castle and came into the kitchen to see her gathering breakfast for Morgana. They grabbed trays for Arthur and Vivian and followed her out.

“Did you find out how to help Arthur?” Gwen asked.

“Yeah.” Merlin took her tray and replaced it with his own. “You need to go to Arthur.”

“And?”

“And kiss him.”

Both women stared at him.

“The dragon said Arthur needs a kiss from the person he truly loves.”

The two shared a look.

“Please, Gwen. Anyone who spends five minutes with you can see how you feel about each other.”

Gwen bit her lip. “I don’t know.”

“I do. Search your heart. You know who he loves.”

Freya set her hand on Gwen’s shoulder and nodded.

Gwen took a deep breath and put on a determined face.

Freya watched her march off then kissed Merlin and left to bring Vivian her breakfast. She woke the lady and dressed her before leaving her to her food.

When she reached Arthur’s chambers, Merlin and Mordred were waiting outside.

Gwen showed up with his breakfast and kicked me out, Mordred explained. They’ve been alone in there since.

She nodded and settled next to Merlin. He wrapped his arm around her and she leaned into him.

When Gwen finally poked her head out of Arthur’s chambers, her face was lit with a flush. “It’s done.”

“What took you so long?”

Merlin shoved Mordred.

Gwen’s blush grew. “We had somethings to talk about.”

“So he’s back to normal?” Merlin asked, sounding pleased.

She nodded and Mordred threw his hands in the air. “Finally!”


“Anot’er crisisisisis aver’ed!” Merlin cheered, toasting with his goblet of mead. He and Freya were on the rug in front of Arthur’s fire. She was sitting with her back to the fire and he was lying down with his head in her lap. “Can ‘e have br’k now?

She giggled into her own goblet, running her fingers through his hair.

“What is it with Pendragon’s and… and love spells?” Guinevere breathed slowly, slumped over in her chair. “First Arthur and Sophia… then Uther and the troll… and now Arthur and Vivian. Why does everyone want to… to enchant them?”

“I’m right here,” Arthur reminded her, sitting in a chair next to her.

She blinked up at him. “Arthur? When did you get here?”

“You both are drunk,” Freya said.

“G’us says I can’t have al-al-wiiiiiiine. Says-says I ge’ drunk j’st off the smell o’ a barm’ds apron,” Merlin slurred and she took his goblet.

“Alright, you’re done.”

“Can I have it?” Guinevere asked, making grabby hands at his goblet despite already having one in her hand.

Arthur took hers and downed the remaining liquid.

She pouted at him. “Should have made… Merlin kiss you instead?”

Arthur choked.

“Mmmmmmeeeeeeee?” Merlin asked, staring up at them with wide eyes.

Merlin?” Arthur coughed.

Guinevere nodded. “Would have worked just as well.”

“You are really drunk,” he said, before spotting Freya nodding. “What?”

She smiled and finished off her glass. “You both are oblivious.”

“You love Merlin,” Guinevere said, shaking her head. “But he… insisted I go… It was a really good kiss, though. Like, really good.”

“Art’ur… an’ me?” Merlin said frowning. “Art’ur loves me?” He shook his head. “Nuh, Art’ur loves Gwen. I got p’oof!”

“Shut up, Merlin.”

The boy immediately started tearing up and Arthur rolled his eyes.

“Sh! It’s okay. He still loves you,” Freya giggled and he smiled at her. “And you love Arthur.”

“He’s m’ bes’ friend!” he said, nodding.

“We don’t love each other,” Arthur argued.

“Yes, you do,” Guinevere huffed. She poked him with her foot. “Kiss him.”

“I’m not going to kiss him.”

She narrowed her eyes at him and turned to Merlin. “Merlin, enchant him so you can kiss him.”

Merlin scowled. “I h’t’ love sp’s!”

“I don’t think he can enchant anything right now,” Freya said, running her fingers down his cheek.

Guinevere groaned and stood up.

“Where are you going?”

She staggered over to and opened Mordred’s door. “We need you to do a spell.”

“Mordred is sleeping in Merlin’s room tonight, remember?” Freya said.

Guinevere slammed the door shut. “Then call him.”

“You’re a bossy drunk.”

“I c’lled him!” Merlin cheered.

Arthur shook his head and went over to help Guinevere back to her chair. “Maybe you should head out now. It’s getting late and you’re going to have to help her down to Morgana’s chambers first.”

“One more goblet,” Freya said, grabbing the jug of mead.

They each finished off another goblet then Arthur got up to help her get Merlin in bed.

“What’s going on?” Modred groaned, coming into the room.

“Mord!” Merlin cheered.

“What are you doing here?” Arthur asked.

“Merlin said I needed to come quickly.”

“I c’lled him!”

“Mordred. Perfect. You need to enchant Arthur!” Guinevere ordered.

“What? Why?”

“She wants to prove that Arthur and Merlin are in love by having you put a love spell on Arthur so they can kiss to break it,” Freya explained.

“Okay.”

“Not okay,” Arthur argued.

“No kiss?” Merlin said, confused.

“Look, you made him sad,” Guinevere huffed standing up to lean against Arthur.

“He’s not sad.”

“Mordred, enchant him!”

“Merlin’s drunk. We’re not doing this.”

Freya smirked. “Are you saying you would do it if he was sober?”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Why are you trying so hard to push your boyfriend onto me?”

She shook her head. “If you’re so sure, then prove it.”

“I am sure, bu-”

“Prove it,” Mordred huffed.

“I’m not going to -- Merlin’s drunk!”

“When he’s sober,” Freya reiterated.

“Yeah, once he’s sober you can prove, once and for all, if you’re courting,” Mordred said. “Unless you’re scared.”


“I can’t believe this is happening,” Arthur growled.

“I can’t believe I said all those things,” Gwen said, face in her hands.

“I’m never getting drunk again,” Merlin moaned, his head lying on Arthur’s desk.

“I’ve got it,” Mordred said, setting a book down on Arthur’s desk. “It’s just a basic love spell. It only lasts an hour, so even if by some miracle the kiss doesn’t work, there won’t be any lasting effects.”

“I never agreed to this,” Merlin muttered.

“We’re shutting down this whole thing once and for all,” Arthur said, hitting his desk to make Merlin groan.

Freya rubbed his back. “If you don’t want to do this -”

“It’s fine. Let’s just get it done so I can go beg Gaius for a hangover potion.”

“Who am I going to make Arthur fall in love with?” Mordred asked, reading over the spell.

“Me?” Freya offered.

Mordred glanced at Arthur, who nodded. “Okay, I need you to sit down.”

Arthur sat and Mordred came around behind him. He placed his hands on either side of the prince’s head without touching him. “Artur, frēost oferwacest āsēċest Freyja.”

Arthur blinked rapidly before his eyes glowed pink. He was immediately on his feet, taking Freya’s hand. “My love, you are more beauti-”

“Merlin, please,” Mordred whined as Freya put a hand over Arthur’s mouth.

The older warlock stood up, but hesitated as he stared at the prince. He reached out and grabbed Arthur’s shoulder, turning him to him.

“What are you doing, Mer-”

At first, the kiss was just a simple press of lips, like the ones that he shared with Freya. It was nice. He could feel Arthur’s warmth and energy buzzing around him as they both pressed closer to each other.

Then Arthur’s hands settled on his hips and the kiss started to deepen. An unpleasant shiver went down Merlin’s spine and he pulled back with a blush.

Arthur stared at him, gaping, and Merlin’s blush grew.

“I’m, uh, going to go get that potion.”

He ran out as Mordred laughed, Freya and Gwen shared smiles, and Arthur stared blankly at the wall.

Chapter Text

“Keep up, Merlin! … Watch your footing! … Don’t actually watch your feet! Keep your eyes on me! … Block! You need to block!”

“How long have they been going at it now?” Freya asked, coming to sit next to Gwen.

“Not long,” She said, glancing up from her sewing. “I know it doesn’t look like it, but Merlin’s really improved. You should have seen him when he started. I asked him how his sword felt and he told me it felt swordy.

Freya pulled out her own sewing and showed the stitches to Gwen for inspection. “Have they talked about it yet?”

“Not that I’ve heard. I wish they would, but at least it’s taken Arthur’s mind off his father. You missed a stitch there.”

Freya nodded and brought out her needle and thread to fix it. “Do you think we’ll ever know what happened between him and Uther?”

“I don’t know. I’ve tried talking to him about it, but he just changes the subject.”

Freya! Freya! Freya! Freya! Freya! Freya! Freya! Freya! FREYA! FREYA! FREYA! FREYA! FREYA! FREYA!

The girl turned to see Mordred running up, a book held overhead.

“Focus, Merlin!”

“Ow! It’s not my fault! Mordred’s shouting in our heads!” Merlin yelped, bringing his sword up to block against another hit to his head.

“I’ve got it!” Mordred shouted, stopping next to Freya and Gwen. “I’ve found it!”

“Found what?” Arthur asked, not taking his focus off the spar.

“The Potion of Sekhmet!”

Merlin’s head swung around and Arthur used the opportunity to land a blow to his chest. The warlock groaned, but otherwise ignored it as he pulled off his helmet. “You’re sure?”

Mordred nodded, racing over to show Merlin something in his book.

“I’m sorry, should I come back later?” Arthur asked. When neither warlock reacted, he said, “We’re in the middle of something.”

“This is important,” Merlin said, still reading through the book.

“More important than your prince.”

Merlin looked up. “We’ve found a way to cure Freya.”

Freya and Gwen looked up. They put their sewing away and came over as Arthur pulled his own helmet off and glanced over the book.

“This is Latin,” he said. He looked up at Mordred. “You know Latin?”

“No, but Merlin taught me Sekhmet as well as every word that could mean potion so I could search the books.”

Arthur took the book and looked over it. “It’s a book on stories from Aegyptus.”

“That’s because that’s where the bastet is from,” Merlin said. “The curse is said to summon the power of the Aegyptiaca cat goddesses Bast, specifically in her more violent lion aspect Sekhmet.”

“And this potion can get rid of the bastet?” Freya asked, looking over the pages, but there were no pictures and she couldn’t read the writing.

“Not exactly. The ritual we found said, Sekhmet’s bastet must stand under a full moon’s light in a body of mystic water. There she must drink of the Potion of Sekhmet. With a blessing of peace, her bloodthirst will be sated and she shall be of Bast once more,” Merlin explained. “After that, the curse should be gone and you’ll be back to normal.”

“Wait, the bastet has to drink it?” Arthur clarified.

“Yes,” Merlin said, then seeing the prince’s face he added, “It will be fine. I’ll be able to contain her long enough to do the ritual.”

“You think.”

“If the druids were able to hold her, Merlin should be able to,” Mordred said.

“I don’t want to put anyone in danger,” Freya argued.

Merlin took her hands. “Everything will be okay, I promise.”

“Where are we going to find a body of mystic water?” Gwen asked.

“The Lake of Avalon,” Mordred said. “It holds the land of Avalon under its waters and it’s said the Sidhe guard one of the gates to Annwn on the island at its center. If any body of water is mystical, it’s that one.”

“What do you need for the potion?” Arthur asked, reading over the page. “Red wine, red ochre, and -” Arthur’s nose crinkled, “- human blood.”

“Only a little,” Merlin reassured. “No one has to be hurt. It's just for the smell.”

“You want her to drink it?”

Freya shrugged. “I’ve eaten and drunk worse like that. If it will get rid of my curse, I’ll do it. I’m just worried about being loose.”

“I won’t let anything happen,” Merlin said, squeezing her hands.

“I’ve done blessings with the druids plenty of times, so I can do that and Merlin will be completely focused on you,” Mordred said.

Neither Arthur nor Freya looked comforted, but the other three’s excitement had them agreeing.


Arthur scowled down at his reports, unable to take in a single word. Some sorcerous bandits had been brought in earlier and Morgana was on the warpath, cursing his father at every turn and sending him death glares for not doing anything. Arthur, meanwhile, didn’t know what to think, he just knew he was angry. Angry at himself, at Morgana, and at his father.

“Arthur?”

The prince looked up to see Freya standing in the doorway. “Hello. Merlin’s not here.”

She nodded and shut the door. “I wanted to ask you something. About tonight.”

He shrugged and gestured her forward, grateful for any distraction he could get. “You must be excited.”

It had finally reached the full moon. Merlin was mixing the ancient Aegyptiacus potion since it had to be mixed under the sun and Mordred was off collecting incense for the blessing.

“I am, just…” She stared down at her hands. “I was hoping you would promise me something.”

He gestured for her to continue.

“If-if something happens and I get loose, I want you to kill me.”

Arthur froze. “What?”

She came over to kneel in front of him. “Please, Arthur. I-I can’t be the cause of any more deaths. I know Merlin would never want me to hurt anyone, especially one of you, but I also know he’d hesitate to do anything that might hurt me. Gwen isn’t a warrior and Mordred is a child so I can’t expect them to do anything. I need you to do this. For me, for Merlin, and for your people, promise me.”

Arthur wanted to reassure her, to promise that nothing would happen, but he knew that wasn’t what this was about.

He stood up and set his hand on her shoulder. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she said firmly despite the tears in her eyes

“Then I promise.”

“Thank you,” she sighed with relief.

He’d never say it aloud, but he felt relieved as well.


Guinevere shivered and Arthur pulled his cloak off to drape over her shoulders. She blushed and smiled at him and he gave his own smile before turning away.

“Are you done yet? It’s nearly midnight.”

“Just one more,” Merlin called back, holding up a bowl as Mordred whispered over it. The contents of the bowl began to smoke and Merlin set it on the water with the four others that were already floating around the two.

Freya was standing at the edge of the lake. Merlin’s cloak was wrapped tightly around her as she had already pulled her clothes off and left them near Arthur and Guinevere so they wouldn’t be damaged by her transformation.

Arthur’s crossbow was also nearby, superficially there because his father thought he, Mordred, and Merlin had left for a hunt. He was pretty sure his father had only agreed to let them go in an effort to only have one person glaring at him over the upcoming executions instead of two, but he wasn’t looking a gift horse in the mouth.

“Alright, we’re ready,” Merlin said as Mordred waved his hand to make the five smoking bowls circle them.

As Freya carefully walked towards them, Arthur wrapped his arm around the still shivering Guinevere. He frowned when her arm felt bulky. “Are you okay?” he asked, recognizing the feel of a bandage.

“What? Oh, yes. Merlin just needed some blood for the potion.”

“And he asked you?” Arthur would have thought the older warlock would have rather used his own then bother Guinevere.

“He said pure human blood is always the best for cleansing rituals. He and Mordred are warlocks so they’ve got magic in their blood and Freya is the one that’s cursed so he couldn’t use hers. I told him I was surprised he hadn’t gone to you, but he just started sputtering apologies and saying he’d get it from somewhere else so I stopped questioning it.”

Arthur’s jaw tightened and he stared into the darkness of the forest. “He couldn’t use mine. I was born from magic.”

She gasped, but didn’t say anything. After a few minutes, she leaned her head against his chest and he turned back to the lake.

Merlin and Freya were talking to each other in low voices and Mordred was standing at the edge of the circle, fiddling with the jug of potion in his hands.

“My mother couldn’t conceive,” Arthur whispered. “So my parents turned to magic.”

“That’s why you’ve been fighting with your father?”

“He used magic and it didn’t work out like he’d thought because he didn’t bother to ask, so now he burns anyone who uses it. He’s a hypocrite. There’s more to it, so much more, but that’s what’s important right now.”

“I’m so sorry.”

Freya hissed and doubled over.

Everyone’s focus turned to her as Merlin stepped back to the edge of the circle.

It was disturbing to watch as her body distorted, even with the cloak covering most of it. Finally, the cloak was knocked off as large, bat-like wings rose from her back and the bastet was revealed. She looked like a large lioness with pitch-black fur and oversized fangs that hung down from her mouth.

She roared and leaped forward, but a cry of “Scildan!” from Merlin had a dome appearing over her, keeping her pinned in place in the knee, high water. “Now, Mordred.”

“Fleoge seoxter!” Mordred said, holding up the jar and it flew forwards, slipping underneath Merlin’s shield. “Ástryce!”

The jar shattered, spilling the blood-like liquid in front of the bastet. She gave a short, sharp snarl and sniffed at it before she began lapping at the water.

Mordred immediately dropped to his knees, head bowed. Arthur couldn’t see his lips moving or hear any spellwork, but he must have been doing something as the smoke coming from the bowls suddenly turned a glowing white, the air filling with so much of the fragrance of camomile and evergreen that Arthur could smell it from his spot near the trees. The bowls also froze on the water, keeping their place despite the small waves rippling through the lake.

Moonlight shone up from the circle like a second moon was just beneath the water and the bastet threw her head back in another roar. Merlin’s shield held through her thrashing though and soon she collapsed under the water. The smoke and extra moonlight vanished.

“Freya!” Merlin yelled, dropping the shield and running to the woman.

Arthur and Gwen ran for the edge of the water and reached it just as Merlin pulled her up to the surface, human once more. He carried her to the edge with Mordred following, cloak in hand and eyes to the sky.

Merlin knelt on the beach and checked her vitals. “She’s not breathing,” he said, setting her down and placing his hands on her chest. “Ápyffest!”

Water spluttered out of her mouth, but nothing more.

Merlin repeated the spell twice more to the same effect before she took in a shuddering breath and turned on her side. He rubbed her back as she coughed up the last of the water and fell silent.

He checked her vitals again and sighed. “She’s asleep, but she’s breathing.”

“Did we do it then?” Mordred asked, handing him the cloak.

“We won’t know until midnight tomorrow,” Merlin said, tucking it around her. “We should get a fire going before she catches a chill.”

Mordred went to fetch the bowls while Arthur helped Merlin carry her up to their campsite. The two left Guinevere to dry and dress her as Merlin started a fire and Arthur grabbed the bag of food from their supplies.


The three waited anxiously in Arthur’s room as midnight came and went. Arthur was standing at the fireplace, staring into the flames. Guinevere was embroidering one of Morgana’s dresses at his desk. Mordred was polishing one of Arthur’s boots.

Finally, the door opened to a grinning Merlin. He stepped aside to let Freya in.

Gwen squealed and ran over to hug her.

“I’m glad to see you’re finally free,” Arthur said.

“Thank you, all of you,” Freya said, tearing up.

Mordred went over to pat her back and Merlin came to Arthur’s side.

“Thank you. I don’t know if we could have done it without you,” he said.

“Of course you couldn’t’ve,” Arthur said, then bumped their shoulders together. “Did you get all her things moved to Guinevere’s?”

“She’s all set up. We were talking, though, and I think she wants to make a trip back to her home village now that her curse is gone.”

“I’ll speak to the steward and see if she can get some time off. Will you go with her?”

He shook his head. “She told me she didn’t want to take me away from you for that long.”

Arthur squirmed as the memory of Merlin pressed up against him flooded his mind.

Merlin cleared his throat and he turned to see the warlock looking away with a blush.

“Right, well she should at least take Mordred with her.”

“I’ll, uh, talk to them about it.”

“Good.”

“Yeah.”

Arthur faked a yawn. “I think it’s time we all get to bed.”

“Good idea,” Merlin agreed, moving over to the group. “I’ll walk you two home.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Gwen said and Freya kissed him.

“We’ll be fine.”

“If you’re sure.”


We should stop and eat soon, Freya said, looking up at the sky.

I think there’s a clearing just up ahead, Mordred said, urging Passelande to go a little faster.

Once they reached the clearing, they both got down. Freya grabbed the saddlebag and Mordred led the horse to a tree near some grass to tie him up.

Did you hear that?

Mordred looked up to see Freya staring off into the trees. He listened, but couldn’t hear anything. What?

Her head twitched slightly. Someone’s coming.

He spun around as a branch snapped behind him. Freya’s hand wrapped around his shoulder and pulled him back towards her as a man came out of the trees, a sword leaning against his shoulder.

“Well now, what do we have here?”

Two more men stepped forward on either side of the man.

“What’s a pretty thing like you doing in a place like this?”

“Sorry, you’re not my type,” Mordred said and Freya squeezed his shoulder.

Arthur’s right, you spend too much time with Merlin, she hissed as the men scowled at him. “We don’t want any trouble,” she said to the men and Mordred heard an odd high-pitched rumbling in her throat.

“Trouble?” the man chuckled. “Who wants trouble? We just want any money you’ve got, and maybe to have some fun.”

Mordred scowled and stepped in front of Freya. “Get lost.”

The men laughed and the one on the right said, “You’ve got a mouth on you, kid.”

The first man came closer and the others followed his lead. “How about you leave this to us and your sister, huh?”

“I’m giving you one last warning,” Modred said as the men drew near and Freya’s weird sound grew louder.

Ignoring him, the first man lowered his sword and reached out.

The boy’s hand shot up and magic flowed out of him to throw the men backward.

“Sorcerer!”

He spun around to see another man run out of the trees with a crossbow. “Scildan!”

The bolt bounced off his shield and the man immediately fled into the trees.

“Don’t touch him!”

Mordred turned again just in time to see Freya shove a man that had been sneaking up on them. To their surprise, the man went flying. They faced each other and Mordred’s jaw dropped.

Freya’s eyes were a greenish-yellow with oval pupils. As she blinked, her eyes faded back to brown and her pupils constricted into circles.

Chapter Text

Arthur looked down at his father as the worry started to set in. If everyone in the city was like this, then any one of their enemies could march in and slaughter them all. If they survived that long. How long could a person last in an enchanted sleep? Would they die of starvation or hunger? Or would the spell kill them?

“Who could have done this?” He looked up at Merlin and Morgana and his eyes caught on the lady.

Morgana, who had magic. Morgana, who had tried once already to kill his father. Morgana, who had risked the lives of countless druids just to get away from him.

“You're the only one who's not been affected, Morgana. There must be a reason,” he growled, coming around the desk.

She looked between him and Merlin. “I-I don't know.”

“That's all you keep saying! You must know something!”

“No, they just fell asleep one by one!”

“It's obvious,” Merlin said and he turned to him. “Her magic, it must be protecting her.”

“Right,” she said after a moment’s hesitation.

“Is that possible?” Arthur asked, not entirely convinced.

“People with magic tend to be more resistant to magical attacks. Uh, according to some stories I’ve heard, I mean,” Merlin said, the last part coming out as a nervous afterthought.

Arthur glanced at Morgana and nodded.

He hoped that was true.

“Go and see if you can find something to cure everyone in Gaius’s,” Arthur said, giving Merlin a meaningful look. “Morgana, go search for signs of life in the lower town.” He grabbed his father’s sword and handed it to her. “We need to know how far this has spread. I’ll stay here and look after my father. If anyone attacks, they’ll come straight for him.”


“Merlin!”

“Morgana?” Merlin shoved his book under Gwen and stood up to see Morgana running up to the door.

“Why are you here? I thought you were supposed to be at Gaius’s?”

“I found something and wanted to see if it would work so I was trying it on Gwen. It, uh, didn’t.” He took in her frazzled appearance and the way she was holding her sword like she was about to be attacked any second. “What’s wrong?”

“There are eight knights, black knights, heading into the city.”

“Eight? According to the legend, there were only seven nights of Medhir.”

She shrugged.

“We need to tell Arthur.”


Arthur saw Merlin’s lips twitch up as apples bounced off his father’s head and he growled. “It is not funny, Merlin.

“He does deserve it,” Merlin hummed and Morgana gave him a confused look.

Arthur shoved down that part of him that agreed and said, “Did you find something to wake everyone up?”

“Er… no.”

Useless warlock.

They carried Uther into Arthur’s room and Merlin and Morgana dropped his legs.

“We can't leave him here!” Arthur snapped. “We have to lift him onto the bed.”

“Why? He's asleep. He's not going to know,” Merlin said dismissively.

“Merlin!”

“Well… I'll get him a pillow.”

“He's the King!” Arthur shouted as Merlin ran to the bed.

“All right. Two pillows.”

Arthur dropped his father’s arms and threw his hands in the air.

Whatever, let the hypocrite wake up with a sore back!

He helped Merlin put the pillows under his head and when he stood up, the room spun.

“You alright?” Merlin mumbled, giving Arthur a bleary look.

“Are you feeling the same?”

“We're getting sick,” he said, and Arthur heard the unsaid comment.

They turned to Morgana.

“We can't let that happen,” Arthur said. “We must keep my father hidden.”

“Why don't we disguise him?” Merlin offered.

“That might just work.”

“We could dress him as a woman.”

Arthur shot him a glare. “That, on the other hand…”

“We could dress him as a servant.”

“That's better.” He turned to Morgana. “Find him some clothes. You’re still unaffected so you’ve got the best chance of getting away from the knights. We’ll stay here to protect my father.”

She hesitated, but nodded and left.

“It’s not her magic protecting her.”

“You don’t know that.”

Arthur turned to Merlin with a scowl. “You’re better trained and have had your magic longer. Why would you be affected and not her?”

“Morgana -”

A hiss cut him off and the two looked over to see Cavall sitting on the bed, eyeing the door.

Arthur ran a hand over his face. None of this made a difference if they couldn’t figure out how to stop the knights. “You couldn’t find anything in the books?”

“I’ve tried all the awakening spells I know, and have double-checked some of the books, but we don’t have time for me to comb through all of them on my own.”

“Protect my father.” Arthur drew his sword and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?”

“To the only one who might have answers.”


“I swear on my honor and all of Camelot!”

The dragon stopped laughing. “Careful what you say.”

“You have to help. Camelot will fall if you don’t.”

“Camelot matters more to you than your own life. This is an oath I believe you will honor.”

“I will.”

The dragon eyed him as he relaxed on his platform. “It is one thing to cast a spell that puts everyone to sleep. The power to maintain it is a very different matter. It will need more than just words to break this enchantment.”

“Speak plainly!”

“You must eradicate the source, Arthur.”

“Wonderful, any idea what that is?”

“Not what, but who. Such spells need a vessel, a constant living presence to give them strength. The source of this pestilence is the witch, the Lady Morgana.”

“So she has turned against us,” Arthur sighed, running a hand over his face. “You’re sure she is part of this? Could someone have placed the spell on her?”

“A spell like this has to have been taken willingly. The ancient prophecies speak of Morgana’s dark trials, and now she has chosen to turn her back on her own.”

He wanted so bad for it not to be true. Morgana… They’d grown up together. She was the closest thing he’d had to a sibling. She was his first friend.

But she had conspired against Camelot once already and he knew how vicious she could be.

“How do I stop her?”

“That is easy, young prince. You must kill her.

“What?” No. He’d stop her, but kill her? Could he do that?

“The spell is woven with magic of such power that even Merlin is not immune. You must act now before it's too late. If you do not, then Camelot will fall and you will die, and the future you were destined for will die with you.”

Arthur ran. He didn’t stop until he’d reached the main castle.

He collapsed, his face in his hands.

He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t-couldn’t kill Morgana.

But he had to protect his father, protect Camelot.

What was he supposed to do? Walk right up to her and drive a sword through her stomach?

No, even if she had betrayed Camelot and conspired against the king, she deserved better than that.

Though it’s not like they had time for an actual execution.

And would burning her at the stake really be any better?

There had to be a better way.


“Where’s Arthur?” Morgana asked as she came in, servant’s clothes in hand.

“Gone to find somewhere safe to move to,” Merlin said, glancing down at the cat hissing atop Uther’s chest. “Are you okay?”

She nodded and knelt at Uther’s side to disguise him, but she had to move back when the cat swiped at her.

“Hey!” Merlin said, grabbing it. “Sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He usually only swipes at me. The spell must have him nervous.”

Morgana met the cat’s eyes and shivered when it almost seemed to glare at her. Did it know what she’d done? “Is it yours? I’ve never seen it before.”

“No, Arthur’s, not that he’d admit it. I’m surprised you’ve never seen him. It seems like everyone in the castle knows about him,” Merlin said. He tried to set it on Arthur’s desk, only for it to jump onto his shoulders and wrap itself around his neck. “I’ve even caught Uther and the lords discussing the stray.

She shook her head.

Merlin set it down again, earning him a nipped hand and scratched jacket, but this time it stayed down so he was able to come help her.

Arthur came in shortly after they’d finished. “They’re in the castle, we need to go.”

They gathered up the king and dragged him through the hall, down a set of stairs, and into a servant’s quarters. They set him onto a bed, Merlin and Arthur gasping.

Arthur sat down on the bed and Merlin dropped down at its foot, so Morgana went to check out the window.

“We can't keep this up much longer,” Arthur panted.

“I know,” Merlin agreed. “Wait. We're in a servant's quarters. If we leave him here, they'll just think he's a servant.”

“Not if the sorcerer sees him. Without knowing who they are, we can’t be sure they won’t recognize him. We need to get him out of Camelot.”

Morgana turned back to them just as Merlin looked up at Arthur. “When we arrived there was a cart in the main square, remember?”

“You are full of good ideas today, Merlin. You go and look.” Merlin frowned at him, but left.

“How are you feeling?” Arthur asked her, pulling out a wineskin and fiddling with it.

Morgana started to come closer to him until she spotted the cat from before peeking out from between his boots, teeth bared until she stepped back again. “Fine. Merlin must be right, my magic’s protecting me.”

He hummed and glanced at his father. “Is there anything you can do to stop this?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“I would if I could,” she lied.

The situation was scaring her, of course. She hadn’t expected so many to be affected by what Morgause had planned. However, the results were what mattered, right? No one but Uther would be hurt in the end. Her sister would kill him then lift the spell and everything would be better. Arthur would be king, Morgana would be safe, and no one else would ever have to fear they’d be killed for their magic. Arthur would lift the ban, she knew it. Why else would he protect her secret?

“I don’t know how to do anything like that,” she finished, glancing towards the door.

If only Morgause would come to them.

“Right,” Arthur sighed, opening the wineskin and taking a drink. “Here, have some.”

“I'm not thirsty.”

“Morgana, please, before I drink it all.”

“You should save some for Merlin.”

“If you’re going to let him have it, then you really better drink now. He drinks like a horse.”

Morgana rolled her eyes, but came over. To her surprise, the cat didn’t so much as bat its eyes at her as she reached his side and grabbed the skin. She took a few mouthfuls then closed it, planning to save the last of it for Merlin.

She took a few steps back towards the window before the world shimmered. It felt like she was breathing through fog and her body went cold. Her legs gave out from underneath her and she thought she would fall, but arms wrapped around her and lowered her to the ground. She looked up and could just barely see Arthur’s face staring down at her through the haze.

He looked remorseful as he brushed her hair out of her face. “I’m so sorry, but I had no other choice. I can always tell when you're lying.”

She tried to shake her head, to yell, to do anything, but couldn’t get her body to move.

He’d betrayed her. Poisoned her! She’d thought -- But she’d been wrong. He was just like Uther!

“I don’t know why you turned your back on us. Maybe… Maybe I should have done more to show that you would be safe. That you could put your trust in us and that we would be there for you. I don’t know, but I hope one day, in another life, we will be able to move past this.” He pressed his lips to her forehead and closed her eyes.

Liar! LIAR! LIAR! TRAITOR!

“They're closing in! We wo- What happened?”

“I did what I had to do,” was the last thing Morgana heard.


“… I hope one day, in another life, we will be able to move past this.”

Only once Arthur had pressed a kiss to her forehead and closed her eyes did he allow the tears to fall. His friend, his sister, was dying in his arms and it was because of him. The poison he’d taken from Gaius’s chambers was fast-acting and painless, but that didn’t ease the guilt in the slightest as he had hoped.

He doubted anything would.

“They're closing in!” Merlin shouted, barging in. “We wo- What happened?”

“I did what I had to do,” he breathed, rubbing the tears off his face.

“What do you mean?”

“Mor-Morgana was the source of the spell. The dragon said so.”

“No.”

“That’s why she is still awake. Whoever’s doing this, she’s in league with them.”

“No!”

“Merl-”

“NO! You’re wrong!” he said, running over and taking her from Arthur.

The prince didn’t fight him. Just watched as the warlock ran his hand over her wrist and neck.

“She can’t be.”

“I’m sorry,” Arthur said, climbing to his feet. He knew Merlin and Morgana were close friends and Arthur knew Merlin had wanted to help her as he’d helped Freya and Mordred.

Morgana had chosen her side though.

“I -”

The door to the room burst open, flying off its hinges to hit the opposite wall. To Arthur’s surprise, Morgause came rushing in.

“You!”

She ignored him, running up to Morgana’s side and stealing her away from Merlin, knocking him back with magic when he tried to stop her.

“What have they done to you?” she asked, checking Morgana’s wrist and neck as Merlin had done.

Merlin shook his head, hand coming to his mouth and Arthur stepped between him and the woman. “You forced my hand.”

She looked up at him in shock. “You poisoned her!”

“You gave me no choice. Why have you done this? I thought we left on good terms.”

“We did, but your father has too many crimes to account for. Since you would not kill him, I shall.”

Arthur’s fists clenched. Of course. If she’d known his mother, then she would have known his mother would try to turn him against his father. It had been a trick from the start like his father had thought. “My father has many faults, but I will not let you harm him. Call off the knights.”

“I am not one of your pathetic servants! You don't tell me what to do!”

He glanced down at Morgana. “I know enough about magic to know you cannot cure her without knowing what the poison is. I will tell you, but only once the knights are gone.”

It was a longshot. There was no telling if Morgause cared enough about Morgana to stop the attack or if her desire for revenge was greater, but it was his best chance. Either she would go for it and the knights would be stopped, or she wouldn’t and he could at least buy some time until Camelot’s knights awoke and could join the fight.

“Tell me the poison or you'll die!” Morgause spat.

“As will she. I don’t want her to die, but I have to save my people. Now, do you accept my terms? Your knights for the poison?”

Morgause leaned down to Morgana and held her close. When she looked back up, she surprisingly had tears in her eyes. “Astýre ús þanonweard! Cnihtas Medhires, éower sáwla. Rid eft ond forsliehð eft.”

The knights that had followed her in collapsed.

Arthur pulled the bottle from his pocket and held it out to her.

“You will regret this, Arthur Pendragon,” she hissed, taking it. She held Morgana close and began to chant, “Bedyrne ús! Astýre ús þanonweard!”

Winds came out of nowhere to form a tornado around the women, building and building until they couldn’t be seen through. Then they were gone, taking the women with them.

He heard a groan behind him and turned to see his father rising from the bed.


It was quiet in Arthur’s chambers. Guinevere, Arthur, and Merlin each had mead in hand, but not even half a goblet had been drunk between the three. Arthur and Merlin sat on the bed, leaning against each other. Guinevere sat on the floor, her head resting on Arthur’s leg and Cavall curled up in her lap.

A knock sounded.

Another knock sounded.

The door opened. “Sire.”

Too empty to even be bothered by the compromising position he’d been found in, Arthur just sighed and Merlin squeezed his hand. Without looking up, he said, “Yes, Sir Leon.”

“The first round of searches have been completed. There is no sign of either of them.”

“Let my father know.”

There was a moment’s pause and Arthur could hear Leon’s armor shifting. “Sire, I know -”

“You’re dismissed.”

He heard Leon take a step, then stop.

Surprised, he looked up to see Leon hesitating in the doorway. “You’re dismissed,” he repeated.

The knight cleared his throat. “If you need a distraction, I am always ready to spar. I know this must be hard for you. Both the Lady Morgana’s disappearance and…”

“And?”

Leon glanced at the door. “I overheard your discussion with your father.”

Arthur sat up straight. “And what, exactly, did you hear?”

“Nothing the king would care for me to repeat.” He gave a bow. “I simply thought to remind you that I trust your judgment. I will report to your father now.”

Arthur frowned as he left. In all the years he’d known Leon, he’d never disobeyed an order like that, nor been so open with him.

He knocked his shoulder against Merlin’s. “Your insolent ways have begun to infect my knights now.”

That started a giggle out of Guinevere and the three began to laugh, though it may have been a bit hysterical.

Once they’d calmed down again, she took a sip from her mead and asked, “What exactly did you tell your father?”

“I told him Morgana was working with Morgause and they fled together. I couldn’t admit what I’d done, which was probably for the best as he refused to see reason. He’s declared that Morgana was under an enchantment and ordered me not to tell anyone of what happened. I don’t know what he would have done if I told him the full truth. As it is, he’s as mad at me as I am at him.”

Merlin set his head on his shoulder and Arthur wrapped his arm around him.

The group settled back into silence until Merlin began to softly snore into Arthur’s chest.

The prince shifted him so he was laying down and set their goblets on the table. Then he helped a dozing Guinevere to her feet and into Mordred’s room to sleep. Once he double-checked that the outer door was locked so no one would walk in to see her where she wasn’t supposed to be, he went back into his room. He closed the curtains around his bed and grabbed the sword he’d hidden underneath. With his own door locked behind him, he headed down to the dungeons.

Chapter Text

Arthur glared out at the smoking remains of Camelot.

“This isn’t your fault,” Merlin whispered.

“Yes, it is.”

The warlock grabbed his shoulder and gently turned him. “No, it isn’t. The dragon used us and Morgause forced your hand. And if it wasn’t for me, you’d never have met the dragon. We both made that promise back with Sigan. If you have to blame anyone, blame me.”

Arthur pulled free and turned back to the window. “I was the one who wielded the sword that cut the dragon’s chains, the one who swore on his honor to free him immediately after defeating the Knights of Medhir. I am the one who wrought this destruction on Camelot.”


“Are you sure about this, Arthur?”

“Do you have a better idea?”

Merlin shook his head. “My magic is useless.”

“Then we have no choice.”

“I’ve never even heard of a dragonlord.”

“Neither have I. See if you can get some information from Gaius. We need to know as much as we can if we’re to convince this Balinor to help us.”

Merlin nodded. “How’s your shoulder?”

“It’s fine.”

“Gwen said -”

“Gaius saw to it. It’s fine. Go, do your job.”

Merlin eyed Arthur, but left him to pack.

When he reached the Physician’s Chambers, Gaius was pacing. Merlin sent him a curious look as he passed to his room. “Are you okay?”

Gaius hummed and waved him on.

He quickly gathered his spare clothes and a bedroll and packed them into his bag. He came out to see Gaius still pacing. As he gathered some herbs and bandages to bring for emergencies, he asked, “Who were the dragonlords?” He looked up when he didn't get an answer. “Gaius?”

His uncle finally stopped pacing. “There were once men who could talk to the dragons, tame them.”

“What happened to them?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant and turning back to the herbs.

“Uther believed that the art of the dragonlord was too close to magic. So he had them all rounded up and slaughtered.”

“But one survived. How did you know?”

“I helped him escape.”

Merlin looked up at him, shocked. “Gaius?”

The physician stared back with a frown. He came over to the table, leaning against the other side. “Merlin, you've never heard the name Balinor?”

“No,” he answered truthfully. Why would he?

“Your mother never mentioned him?”

Merlin blinked and set down the herbs in his hands. “My mother?”

“She took him in.”

“She stood up against Uther?” he said, amazed. His mother? The woman who had spent his life panicking over even the smallest use of magic? Had housed a man on the run from Uther?

“Yes.”

“She was brave,” he said for lack of anything else to say.

“Yes. When Uther discovered where Balinor was, he sent knights to Ealdor to hunt him down. He was forced to flee.”

“Why didn't my mother tell me any of this?”

“Merlin,” Gaius said, coming to his side. “I promised her I would never speak of these things.”

“Of what?”

“I've always treated you as my son, but that is not what you are. The man you are going to look for… is… your father.”

Merlin had been smiling at the first part, but it fled as Gaius continued. “My father?”

“Yes.”

Merlin shook his head. “He was a dragonlord? Why did no one ever tell me?” he shouted, backing away.

“I wanted to. Your mother feared it would be too dangerous.”

“I had a right to know!” he yelled, grabbing the last of the herbs.

“She wanted to protect you.”

“No. I had a right to know.” He shoved the supplies into his bag and stormed out.

His father… and they’d never said a word!

“Merlin?”

And now, he was going to meet him! After all this time! And he was only just now finding out!

“Merlin.” Gwen grabbed his arm and turned him to face her. “Are okay?”

“Fine.”

“Are you -”

“I need to go get the horses and Arthur ready.”

“Bu-”

Merlin pulled away from her and ran down the hall. He stopped in the kitchen to quickly grab some travel food then rushed off to the stables, ignoring anyone who tried to stop him.

He got Llamrei saddled up and was finishing up Hengroen when Gaius walked up behind him.

“You got everything you need?”

Merlin ducked his head at the timid voice. “I'm sorry.” He wasn’t angry, really, just… just… “I didn't mean to…”

“I know that.”

“Come on, Merlin,” Arthur called and Merlin came around the stallion to see he was dressed for travel.

“You're ready?

“No thanks to you,” he said, though Merlin could see him looking him over and turned away quickly.

He climbed up into the saddle as Arthur got on Llamrei and Gaius set his hand on his leg.

He watched Arthur ride off then whispered, “Merlin, whatever happens, you must not let Arthur know who this man is. Uther would view the son of a dragonlord with the deepest suspicion.”

Not for the first time, he considered telling Gaius everything. If Gaius had risked helping his father -- THE DRAGONLORD! Gaius had known his father! -- and had been keeping his heritage secret all this time -- even from him! -- then surely he would keep his secret, right?

But Gaius had made it seem like dragonlords and sorcerers were separate things, and Gaius had always seemed close to Uther, loyal to him. Maybe a dragonlord was worth it, but a sorcerer wasn’t?

Merlin gave his uncle a nod and followed after his prince.


Arthur looked back at Merlin and rolled his eyes. “What is wrong with you today?”

“What?” he asked, rolling over to look at the prince.

“It pains me to admit it, but I do enjoy your surly retorts. In fact, it’s probably your only redeemable feature.”

“Thanks.”

“Guinevere said you were in a mood with her too. Said I needed to make sure you were okay.” Arthur carefully laid back on the bed, doing his best to ignore the pain from his injury. “So what is it?”

Merlin stared at the ceiling for a moment before blurting out, “The Dragonlord is my father.”

“What?” Arthur nearly jerked upright, but a sharp pain kept him down.

The warlock nodded.

“How? What do you mean? How could he be your father? I thought you said you didn’t know your father.”

“I don’t. Gaius just told me.”

“How would Gaius know?”

“Apparently he smuggled him out of Camelot with my mother’s help.”

“Gaius…” Arthur shook his head. “I’m too tired for this conversation.” He placed his uninjured arm over his eyes. “So what abilities does a Dragonlord have, exactly?”

“Controlling dragons, I guess. Gaius didn’t go into detail.

“If your father is a Dragonlord, can you learn to be one as well?”

“I don’t know. Gaius didn’t say.”

“Did Gaius tell you anything?”

“Not really. I might have stormed out right after he told me he was my father. I was angry that he and Mother had kept it a secret.”

“It seems both our mother’s like their secrets,” Arthur sighed. “Especially where magic and our births are involved.”

Merlin flinched. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”

“Go to sleep, Merlin.”

“Goodnight, Arthur.”

“… Goodnight.”


Arthur yawned as he sat up, stretching his back out. “Merlin.”

When he didn’t receive a response, he looked around for his magical servant.

He was shocked to realize he was sitting in a cave, nestled within a pile of furs. There were supplies scattered about, including the remains of a cookfire. “Merlin?” he called again as he stood up. He stretched again then headed out of the cave.

Smiling, he spotted Merlin sitting on a rock. “I feel great! What the hell did you do to me?”

“It was all down to Balinor.”

Arthur followed his gaze to see a man standing by a river. “So we found him, then? Thank heaven for that. Have you spoken to him?”

“Unfortunately. He won’t help.”

“What?”

“He doesn’t care. People are dying and he doesn’t -“ Merlin ducked his head.

Arthur frowned and glanced at the man. “Did you tell him? About you?”

“No.”

“Why?”

Merlin’s shoulders scrunched up and his fists clenched. “What would that say if he only helps because of me? If that even changes his mind. Maybe he’ll just tell me to stay here or go to Mother. Or maybe he won’t care at all.”

Arthur scowled. “I’m going to talk to him.”

“Arthur, please, don’t tell him.”

He wanted to. He wanted to shove Merlin in the man’s face to make him see how he was hurting his son. It wasn’t his place though. Merlin didn’t interfere with Arthur’s relationship with his father, it was only right that he do the same for Merlin.

He nodded and marched up to the man.


“I don’t know what it is to have a son.”

“Or I a father.”

The two stared at each other until a branch snapped and they turned to see Arthur patrolling past.

“You must be wary of Uther,” Balinor said, watching the prince.

“I know.”


Merlin was setting up the firewood when Arthur returned from his patrol. “All clear?”

“For now.”

He hummed. “I… I told him.”

Arthur sat down on a log next to him. “How’d he take it?”

“Good, I think. He seemed happy.” Merlin looked up at him with a big smile and he snorted.

“So you were being a girl about it for nothing.”

“You’re such a prat.”

“Oh yeah?” Arthur hooked his arm around Merlin’s neck and dragged him in to dig his knuckles into the top of his head.

“Ow! Come on! Let go!”

A throat cleared and Arthur looked up to see Balinor glaring down at him.

Suddenly it occurred to the prince that the boy he had in a headlock was the son of a man with unknown power, a grudge against his family, and no way of knowing that this was all just horseplay and Arthur would never actually hurt Merlin, that he thought of Merlin as the closest thing he had to a best friend.

If not more.

Arthur froze and Merlin took the chance to escape, laughing. “Clotpole.”

He shot the boy a look out of reflex. “Idiot.”

He looked back up and relaxed at seeing the Dragonlord’s scowl had fallen to bemused glancing between the two. Balinor set the branches he was carrying down next to the logs and moved to the firewood Merlin had set up.

“Oh, I’ll take care of that,” Merlin said, raising his hand.

Arthur realized what Merlin was about to do a second too late. “Mer-”

“Bæl on bryne.”

Fire engulfed the wood, making Balinor jump back and turn back to them.

“Merlin!”

Rubbing the back of his head where Arthur had smacked him, the warlock pouted. “What was that for?”

“Don’t just do that out in the open!”

“We’re the only ones around! You said so yourself!”

“Yes, except for -” Arthur waved his hand towards Balinor.

“What?” Merlin glanced briefly at the man before increasing his pout. “He’s not going to tell anyone. Even if he wasn’t my father, why would he? Uther wants him dead too.”

“What part of the less people who know, the better don’t you understand?”

“The part where he’s my father.”

“You buffoon!”

“Clotpole.”

“Dunderhead.”

“Turnip-Head.”

Arthur turned away from the warlock with a growl, which brought Balinor into his field of view.

The Dragonlord was watching him with a wary gaze, one hand on his sword. His own gaze narrowed and his hand matched the man’s.

Merlin, unaware of the two’s staredown, huffed and stood up. “Now if you’re done, I’m going to make us something to eat.”

The two stared at each other in silence until Merlin had reached the horses.

“He has magic, and you are aware of it,” Balinor stated.

“Have been since he came to Camelot.”

“And your father lets him live?”

“He doesn’t know, despite Merlin’s best attempts. I’ve been looking after his neck.”

Balinor crossed his arms, but didn’t look any less ready to attack and Arthur had dealt with enough mages to know the man didn’t need a sword to fight. “You would shelter him against your father’s laws?”

“Merlin has done much for me, most of it at my request.” Arthur looked over to the boy, who was digging through their bags. “If it weren’t for my father’s laws, I’d have made him a knight. Since I can’t, I merely do what I can to protect him. I owe him too much to turn him over to the pyre.”

“He’s your friend?” the Dragonlord asked, incredulous.

“Likely the closest thing to one I can have as a prince,” Arthur downplayed.

Balinor snorted. “Your father thought well of Nimueh and Gaius and look where they are now. Nimueh hunted and Gaius banned from his magic.”

“Merlin isn’t Nimueh.”

“And what do you know about Nimueh?”

“I know she wasn’t as innocent as she claimed, even if she wasn’t as guilty as my father does.”

Balinor hummed, but said nothing else as Merlin returned.


“Why did you never return?” Merlin asked, watching his father carve at some wood.

“I thought her life would be better without me.”

“Why?”

“Uther wanted me dead. If he'd found me, he'd have killed me, and your mother. I wanted her to be safe,” Balinor said, staring into the fire. “I tried to move past her, even thought of trying to take down Uther after a few years. I didn’t trust Lewdwn, Cenred’s father, but I reached out to some of his more trustworthy lords and ladies. Stayed with one for a short time, but then we realized I couldn’t give her what she wanted, no matter how hard I tried.”

“What was that?” Merlin asked, leaning closer.

“My heart,” Balinor sighed, turning back to him with a sad smile. “I just couldn’t get past your mother, so we went our separate ways.”

“You could've come back. We’d have gone with you.”

“What kind of life would you have had here?”

“We'd have been… happy.”


Arthur watched as Balinor stroked the flames of their campfire. He glanced over at the still sleeping Merlin then leaned forwards. “So, what powers does a Dragonlord possess?”

Balinor ignored him.

“Will Merlin be one when he’s older?” Arthur asked.

There was silence.

“Is the lord part just referring to controlling dragons or do you actually have a noble title?” he continued, annoyance beginning to color his tone.

“The Dragonlords are not noble by power alone,” Balinor said and Arthur perked up. “My family was, though. My ancestor, Aurelianus Ambrosius, claimed lordship after serving your own. By birthright, I would be the family’s head and as such a lord.”

Arthur’s eyes widened. “I’ve never heard of the Ambrosius family.”

“I’m not surprised. I’m sure your father destroyed all records of my family just as he did for all other noble families that had magic at their heart.”

“I’m sorry,” Arthur said, ducking his head as a familiar wave of guilt and anger tried to fill him.

So many lives and legacies lost because of his parents’ selfishness.

Balinor watched him for a moment before nodding. “It is not on you and it is not you who should apologize.” He didn’t give the prince a chance to respond, moving over to set something in front of Merlin before settling back down on his furs to rest a while longer.


“AAAAAAH!”

Arthur cursed then struck down the last of Cenred’s men. “Merlin!” he shouted, running up to where he’d left the warlock and his father.

He froze as he saw Merlin kneeling over the Dragonlord, whispering healing spell after healing spell. “No.”

Merlin didn’t acknowledge him, continuing to try to save his father’s life.

Balinor, on the other hand, looked up at him. “Do right by my son, Pendragon.”

Arthur knelt next to them. “I will, but without you, Camelot is doomed.”

He raised a shaky hand and set it on the back of his son’s neck, staring up at the boy. “The title isn’t completely false. Like a noble’s power, the power of the Dragonlord passes from father to son at the father’s death.” He dropped his hand and turned back to Arthur. “Your father knows this. He must not learn of our connection.”

“I swear on my honor, I will do whatever I can to keep my father from learning what Merlin can do. No matter what, he will not face the pyre or any other form of execution.”

“I’ll hold you to it,” he said before he closed his eyes and his head fell back.

Arthur bowed his head and set his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “Merlin.”

He yanked his arm away and kept incanting.

“Merlin, he’s gone.”

He shook his head.

The prince pulled him away from his father, turning him so they faced each other. “He’s gone.”

“No, I can still save him.”

“No, Merlin, you can’t.”

“H-he’s my father.”

Arthur hesitated, then pulled Merlin into a hug. “I know.”

“We’ve only just met.”

“I know.”

Arthur let the boy cry into his shoulder awhile before pulling back. “I’m sorry, but we can’t stay here, Merlin,” he said softly.

He nodded, scrubbing his face.

Arthur stood then helped Merlin to his feet. “We need to get back to Camelot, but I’ll give you time to give him his rites.”

“Thank you, Sire.”

Chapter Text

Mordred had just finished tying off the ribbon around a bouquet of wildflowers when a branch snapped behind him. He turned to see a large, dark shape slinking towards him. A low rumble filled the air as he caught sight of large fangs.

“Oh, hey Freya. The flowers are ready.”

The bastet slipped out of the trees to nuzzle his cheek with a playful grumble before grabbing the dress folded next to him and slipping back into the bushes. A few moments later, Freya stepped back out of the trees as a human. “You got the red ones right?”

“And the purple,” he said, showing her the bouquet. “Just as requested. How was it today?”

“Good.” She took the flowers and looked them over with a smile. She reached out her hand and helped him to his feet so they could set off down the hill he was waiting atop. “I think I’m finally getting used to controlling it without relying on the bastet’s instincts.”

“That’s great. I can’t wait to see the look on Arthur’s face.”

She chuckled and nudged him with her hip.

They reached a burial site and Mordred let Freya drift ahead as she went to one grave in particular. She paused with a frown before she reached it.

“Freya?”

“Someone left flowers.”

Mordred came to her side to see a bouquet similar to the one Mordred had prepared for her sitting on her parents’ grave, though bundled with twine instead of the ribbon they’d brought from Camelot. “Maybe a friend of theirs from the village?”

“I guess so, but I thought all their friends had passed on or moved.” She stepped forward to lay her own flowers next to the mystery bouquet. “I wonder why they haven’t come to talk to me.”

“It’s been a while. Maybe they just don’t recognize you anymore.”

She shrugged and ran her fingers across the flowers. “Whoever it is, I’m glad someone’s been visiting them.”


Prince and warlock pulled their horses to a stop in a clearing just out of sight of Camelot.

“Why are we stopping here?”

Arthur swung off Llamrei and drew his sword. “We need to face the dragon where no one can see. Call him here.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“You heard what your father said.”

Merlin slid off Hengroen. “I’ve never done this before, Arthur. I’m not sure if I’m strong enough to stand up to him.”

“That’s what you said about the griffin.”

“Yes, but -”

“And what did I tell you then?”

“That if I can slow time then that should be easy.”

“Exactly.” Arthur slapped his back. “And you were even born for this.”

“Arthur -”

“Just do it, Merlin.”

“I’ll try,” he sighed and turned to the clearing.

Arthur rolled his eyes and shoved him. “Don’t try. You’re terrible at trying, like most other things. Just relax and let your instincts take hold.”

The warlock gave him a look, but stepped forward. He closed his eyes and reached within himself.

In the evening light, he felt the presences of Arthur and the horses, and he felt the presence of one other.

“Do it, Merlin.”

Merlin opened his eyes and roared, “Dracan! Nán dyd ǽlc áciere miss! Eftsíðas eom ála cræt! Géate’ stǽr ábære gárrǽs! Géate cyre. Mé tácen átende diegollice. Car grise áþes.”

A second roar answered him and a moment later Kilgharrah flew into the clearing, landing in front of the two. The dragon lowered itself and curled into a bow, it’s body drooping as if bearing a heavy weight.

Arthur stepped in front of Merlin, raising his sword.

“His heart’s on the right, not left,” Merlin whispered.

“I am the last of my kind, Merlin,” Kilgharrah said as Arthur approached. “Whatever wrongs I have done, do not make me responsible for the death of my noble breed.”

“It is not Merlin you need to atone to.”

“And yet it is his power holding me here.”

“Arthur is my prince,” Merlin said. “It is his kingdom you attacked, his people you’ve hurt, so it is he you have to answer to.”

Kilgharrah turned to Arthur. “Your father’s men have ended the lives of all the great dragons of old. Will you finish his work?”

“After what you’ve done, it’s only right to execute you.”

“Have I not paid. More than twenty years I was imprisoned in that cave while innocent.”

“And that makes it right to hurt all those innocent people?”

“Surely you can understand my rage and grief. Can understand why I would lash out at your father in any way I could.”

“Not at the expense of my people!”

Kilgharrah lowered back into a bow. “I am at My Lord’s mercy, My King. And he is at yours. Do with me as you will, but please, consider my side. And my connection to the young warlock. We are kin, after all.”

Arthur’s grip tightened on his sword. “Enough. No more of your manipulations.”

Kilgharrah opened his mouth to speak and Merlin yelled, “Silence!”

The dragon’s mouth snapped closed.

Arthur glared at the ground before raising his sword to point at Kilgharrah’s face. “You will leave Camelot at once. You will only return if Merlin calls for you and you will leave again after. If you ever return to stay again without my blessing or if you ever take another innocent life, your life will be mine. You will spend the rest of my life serving the kingdom you have ravaged. Only once I have passed will your service be complete. One lifetime to atone for the many you ended in your futile quest for vengeance. Am I understood?”

Kilgharrah bowed further. “It is as you say, My King.”

Arthur planted his sword in the ground. “Then go, I have shown you a mercy I’m not sure you deserve. Leave before I change my mind.”

“My King, what you have shown is what you will be. I will not forget your clemency. I’m sure our paths will cross again.”

The dragon spread his wings and took to the air, heading away from Camelot.

Arthur watched him until a hand landed on his shoulder. He turned to see Merlin watching him.

“Did I make a mistake?”

“No, sire, I don’t think you did.”

“He killed so many people.”

“As did your father. It doesn’t make you wrong to want to end the bloodshed. As Kilgharrah said, it makes you what you will one day be: A great king.”

Arthur snorted and pushed him away. “The Once and Future King.”

“Exactly,” Merlin chirped, though his usual dopey smile was tainted by sadness. “Besides, it’s not like Kilgharrah will be able to attack again. If he does, we can put a stop to it.”

“Oh, now you’re confident,” Arthur joked and slung an arm over his shoulders.

Sadness didn’t suit Merlin.

Merlin shrugged. “It wasn’t as hard as I’d thought it’d be.”

Arthur grabbed his sword and turned them to the horses. “So once again, you were just being a girl about it.”

“At least I wasn’t a prat,” Merlin tossed back.


Arthur paused before entering the chamber he knew his father waited in. “You’re dismissed, Merlin.”

“What?”

Arthur checked to make sure they were alone before saying in a lowered voice, “I need to inform my father about what happened, including your father’s death. I doubt he’ll have any kind words to say and you don’t deserve to hear them. Take the rest of the day off. In fact, take a fortnight. Go to your mother. Mourn.”

The warlock stared at him before his eyes went soft and he gave a deep bow. “Thank you.”

Arthur squeezed his shoulder. “If Freya and Mordred return before you, I’ll send her to you.”

Merlin glanced at the doorway before pulling Arthur into a hug. “Thank you, truly.”

Arthur patted his back then pushed him away. “Yes, yes, now get off.”

Quick as a whip, Merlin pressed a teary-eyed kiss to his cheek before darting down the hall.

Shock rolled over Arthur for a few moments until he was able to shake himself back into the present. He quickly went over the story he and Merlin had decided upon and strode through the doors.

Uther and his advisors rose to meet the prince.

“Father, I bring good news. The dragon will never bother us again.”

“You found the Dragonlord?” Uther came around to grab his son’s shoulder.

“Yes.”

“Excellent.” He glanced behind Arthur with a frown. “Where is he?”

“Dead.” He saw Gaius bow his head. “We found him where we were told and we convinced him to help, but on our way to Camelot we were attacked by Cenred’s men and the Dragonlord was injured in the fight. We were able to defeat the dragon just outside the city, but the wound was too severe and Balinor succumbed to his injuries.”

“Then we are rid of two threats, that is great news indeed!”

Arthur didn’t bother to hide his frown as Uther turned to the others, knowing everyone would assume it was just the tension that had settled between them over the past months.

“This calls for a feast.”

“Perhaps we should hold off for a few days. Let the people clean up and mourn their dead first.” And give Merlin time to get out of the city before people begin celebrating his father’s death.

“Of course, you’re right.” Uther turned back to Arthur. “You’ve done well.”

“Thank you, Father.”


“Rise and shine!”

“Shut up, Merlin,” Arthur groaned.

“Not Merlin.”

Arthur picked up his head to see Mordred standing in front of him.

“Why are you sleeping at your desk?”

Arthur blinked at the boy before sitting up straight. “When did you get back?” he yawned.

“Late last night. I told Morris I could take care of you on my own. Gwen told us what happened. Freya should be leaving soon, if she hasn’t already.”

Arthur nodded and pulled the breakfast plate Mordred had brought closer. “She’s going on her own?”

“She’ll be fine. Our month may not have been as eventful as yours, but a few things have happened.”

“Such as?” Arthur asked, spearing a sausage.

“Freya can turn into the bastet on command.”

“What?” Arthur shouted.

Mordred nodded, grabbing a roll and dropping into the chair Leon had been using the night before as they went over patrols. “Apparently the ritual only got rid of the bloodlust and midnight aspect of the curse. She’s still a bastet, she just has control of it now. She can even tap into its strength without transforming.”

“She’s got magic?” Another one? Wonderful.

“No, she still doesn’t have magic of her own. She’s just a bastet. She can transform and mind-speak, but nothing else. Oh, and talk to cats.”

“Well, that’s… something.”

Mordred nodded and looked down at the ground. “So Morgana’s gone.”

“Yes,” Arthur sighed.

“And so is the dragon.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry we weren’t here to help.”

“There wasn’t really anything you could have done,” he said, shaking his head.

“Still,” Mordred said before taking a bite of the roll. “So why were you asleep on your desk?”

The prince glared as he registered the theft. He grabbed at the roll, saying, “You’ve been spending too much time with Merlin.”

“He said you don’t care,” he explained, holding it out of reach.

“He lied.”

“He also said you’d say that.”

“You’ve definitely been spending too much time with that idiot,” Arthur snorted, sitting back.

“Why were you sleeping on -”

“Would you stop asking that?”

“Yes, sire,” Mordred agreed. He nibbled on his bread for a few moments before leaning over to read a paper on Arthur’s desk. “Why are you reading about the noble families? Didn’t you have to memorize all this stuff ages ago.”

“The current families, yes. But I’m looking at the old records for the families that no longer exist in our records.”

“Why?”

“Something Merlin’s father said to me. He said that my father erased the records of any noble families with magic. I’m trying to see if I can find them. Well, one of them in particular since I wouldn’t be able to tell the ones that were erased from the ones that died out.”

“Which one are you looking for?”

“The Ambrosius family.”

“Why that one?”

“It’s Merlin’s.”

Modred dropped the roll, which was quickly spirited away by Cavall. “What?”

“Merlin’s father was Lord Ambrosius.”

“You’re kidding?” the boy said, standing up to get a better look at the papers.

“Not according to his father. Which is why I’m trying to look for his family. Hopefully, it will give some clue to finding the rest.”

“Does Merlin know?”

“Not yet. I’ll tell him once he gets back.”

“Huh, so Merlin’s a Lord. Lord Merlin. Lord Emrys.”

Arthur smirked. “I will give you a gold coin if you greet him as Lord Emrys when he returns.”

“You know he’d hate that.”

“Exactly!”

Mordred shook his head. To himself, he muttered, “I still can’t believe his father’s a dragonlord. It’s so different from the stories.”

“Stories?”

He blushed and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

Arthur took a bite of sausage and stared him down.

“It’s just, there are stories of how Emrys would be born. Not like the stories of you and him, just imaginings. Emrys is meant to be powerful, so people have wondered how he would come about and…” He waved his hands nervously.

Powerful? That was a new one. Merlin did have a bit of power though so he supposed it made sense. “And what are these stories?”

“There are a ton. The ones I liked the most were that he was a changeling or a child of Annwn, usually King Arawn himself. Though the most well known by far was,” Mordred blushed, “the, uh, one that said his father was a demonic presence.”

“You-you think Merlin’s half-demon?” Arthur snickered.

“No, the druids never even believed that myth,” Mordred said quickly. “The ones I said before were more believed, or the idea that he was a god -- one of our own or one from a distant land -- given flesh to aid you in your quest. Even that he was magic itself in human form. The demon one just… got spread around a lot.”

Arthur couldn’t stop laughing. Merlin, a demon’s son!


Arthur was eating lunch when Merlin stumbled in. He swallowed down his chicken then said, “You’re finally back then?”

“You did give me a fortnight.”

Before Arthur could respond, Mordred came in with Arthur’s laundry. He immediately dropped into a bow. “Lord Emrys, Your Highness.”

Arthur snorted as Melin gave the boy an annoyed look. He turned the look on Arthur. “Did you put him up to this?”

“Of course not,” Arthur lied before openly handing Mordred a gold coin.

“Prat.”

“I got you something, too,” Arthur said, gesturing towards his wardrobe.

As he was already opening it to put away Arthur’s clothes, Mordred reached into the wardrobe and pulled out a black cloak from the hidden compartment.

Merlin frowned when it was tossed to him. “This is my cloak.”

“The shoulder, Merlin.”

Merlin turned the cloak to look at the shoulder. The faded portion had been covered by a patch, a crest showing a pair of dragons, white and red, in flight.

“Well?”

“It’s nice.”

“It’s your family’s crest, your father’s crest.”

Merlin looked up at him. “My father.”

Arthur nodded. “I found it in the old records. You can’t wear it anywhere my father could see, but since that is your illegal activities cloak, I thought it would be fine.”

“It’s wonderful. Thank you.” He ran his finger over the patch. “I never considered my father might have a family crest.”

“It’s typical for noble families.”

“Noble?” he sputtered.

Arthur nodded. “He didn’t tell you during your talking? Your father was descended from Aurelianus Ambrosius. According to the records, an ancestor of mine -- Vortigern Pendragon -- had tried to build a fort atop a hill, but its walls would fall every night. He was advised by a prophet that a young boy without a father would solve the problem and sent out his men to gather any who filled the description. He promised those that were brought before him reward if they could answer why his fort fell.

“None had an answer until a boy named Myrddin Ambrosius told him that the hill was over an underground pool that housed two fighting dragons. No one believed him until he not only led a group of knights down to the pool, but also tamed them so that the fort could be built. As a reward, Vortigern took him in as his ward, renaming him Aurelianus Ambrosius.” Arthur smirked. “It seems your family has a habit of worming their way into royal households.”

“It’s a gift,” Merlin chuckled. “So he became nobility?”

“When Aurelianus was older, he led the dragons into battle in the name of Camelot so Vortigern made him a lord and gifted him the land that the fort sat on. Your family held the claim until… the purge. It’s abandoned now.”

“Wow,” Merlin said, shaking his head. “That’s… mad.”

“So you’re a lord,” Mordred said, coming over with an empty basket.

“I’m sure Uther would beg to differ,” Merlin pointed out.

“My father never technically rescinded the nobility, he just destroyed the records under the impression the line had been wiped out. There might be records in other kingdoms that list your father as Lord Ambrosius and your abilities prove your birthright. You could technically claim lordship at any time,” Arthur said.

“And get my head chopped off for my troubles,” Merlin finished and Arthur nodded. Merlin frowned and glared at them. “Wait, that’s why you called me Lord Emrys?”

Mordred smirked and bowed to them both before darting out the door.

“You’re turning him against me.”

“You’re one to talk, Merlin. Who told him I like having my food stolen?”

“We have to keep you fighting fit.”

“Speaking of which, when was the last time we had sword training? We have to get Your Lordship in proper form.”

“Prat.”

“Idiot.”

Chapter Text

Arthur scowled as a large hart fled into the forest then he and Leon turned to Merlin.

“Oops,” the warlock said, giving them his vapid smile as he climbed back to his feet.

“Leon, would you mind trying to catch the trail while I deal with this idiot?”

The knight nodded and Arthur left him to it, grabbing Merlin by his neck and dragging him away. “How is it that a druid child is better at hunting than you?”

“Just because the druids respect nature doesn’t mean they don’t hunt,” Merlin said, rolling his eyes. “Mordred actually likes it as much as you do, for reasons I’ll never understand. Why any of you think killing poor innocent animals is fun will always escape me?”

“I’ll keep that in mind the next time you want to eat some meat from the poor innocent animals,” Arthur huffed, forcing down a smile. He gave the warlock a small shove forward. “Head back to camp.”

“I’m not leaving you.”

“This is our first break from searching for Morgana in months. I’m not going to let you ruin it with your antics.”

“I’ll behave.”

Arthur studied Merlin for a moment then glanced back to see Leon had disappeared into the foliage. He leaned in and pressed a quick kiss to the corner of Merlin’s mouth.

Red rushed across Merlin’s face as Arthur pulled back.

Arthur patted his shoulder and turned to follow Leon. “Good. So you’ll return to camp, then?”

“I, uh…”

“Great.”

“You, what? Y-you can’t do that!”

“Make sure to take care of the horses and have a fire ready for when we get back.”

“Prat!”

“I found the trail,” Leon said when he reached him. He looked up, then frowned. “Are you okay, Sire? Your face is all red.”

“Fine. Let’s go.”


“Nice shot, Leon,” Arthur said, patting his knight on the back as they walked into the glade where the downed hart lay.

A hound brayed the moment the two were fully into the clearing and a group of men on horses appeared through the trees. Most of the men appeared to be knights and were wrapped in shining steel. One, however, was in rich purple finery with copper accents and wore a copper crown atop his head. When his horse stepped into the glade Arthur noticed his hair and eyes had a metallic sheen, hair glittering like strands of silver while his eyes looked like sharp bronze disks. His ears, too, were odd, long and wavy like oak leaves. The man was stunningly attractive, a handsome beauty that Arthur would have appreciated more if he wasn’t staring at Leon and Arthur like they were the deer to be hunted.

“It seems we have vermin on my lands,” the man tutted.

Leon bristled and stepped forward. “You are talking to Prince A-”

The man waved his hand and turned away. “I care not for your names, little humans. Take them.”

The last part was directed towards his men, who immediately moved to take down Arthur and Leon. The two drew their weapons, but they were outnumbered ten-to-one. They each managed to take out a few men before eventually being knocked out.


Merlin scowled as he stared at the footprints on the ground. Footprints that disappeared halfway across the foot as if the foot had been standing half in mud and half on solid ground.

Except it was all mud!

“What did you get into this time?” he huffed, glancing around the woods. “See if I ever leave you alone again. I’m going to get you a lead.”

He looked around the area, but eventually found himself back at the end of the footprints when he couldn’t turn up anything else. He went a few yards back and knelt. He followed them with his eyes, checking the direction, and looking for something that might explain where they had gone. He frowned as he saw… something. He titled his head slightly and it disappeared. Slowly he moved his head around until it came into view again. It seemed to hover in the air right where the footprints disappeared, but he couldn’t see what it was.

He watched it for a moment, then stood up. Testingly, he set his feet into the footprints and stared ahead.

He could see it.

Carefully, he walked forwards keeping to the imprints. To his surprise, the thing turned into a beam of sunlight, which grew into a sunlit glade. He paused a few steps away. This had definitely not been a glade when he’d been at the edge of the footprints before. And looking down showed that the footprints no longer had an edge, but walked straight into the glade for a few steps before the ground became solid enough to not hold tracks.

 With narrowed eyes, he stepped into the glade, reaching out with his magic. It didn’t feel malicious, but there was something in the air. A change to the normal ambient magic, subtle enough that had he not been looking, he wouldn’t have noticed. It felt…

Merlin threw his hands in the air. “Of course! Of course you idiot knights managed to walk right into an Otherworld! I ought to leave you both here!”

Laughter rolled across the glade and Merlin spun around, his hand going to his sword.

A beautiful woman stood half-hidden behind a tree. She wore a yellow satin dress and variegated leather shoes. A golden frontlet sat on yellow curling hair, which hung over her shoulders. To Merlin’s horror, her hair seemed to be stained with blood and her dress was torn.

“Are you okay?” he asked, cautiously approaching her.

She smiled and stepped out from behind the tree to give him a shallow curtsey. Merlin took in the way her hair glittered in the sun like a jewel and the odd shape to her ears as she said, “I am well, Emrys. It is kind of you to ask.”

“Your hair and dress?”

She smiled and he saw that she seemed to have eight sharp canines compared to a human's four. “You assume I do not prefer them this way.”

“You’re an inhabitant of this Otherworld?”

“Correct.”

“Since you know who I am, can you tell me your name?”

Her grin grew. “True names are powerful things for my people, Emrys. You would do well not to let any others you might meet know yours and I will not be telling you mine. You may call me Luned.”

“Nice to meet you,” he chuckled nervously. Her eyes looked like cut rubies, facets and all, he realized. “Where exactly are we?”

“We are in Gorre near Dolorous Gard, the home of King Maleagant.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have seen a pair of knights come through here?”

“I have not, but I know Maleagant has brought two humans to his castle. Perhaps they are the ones you seek.”

“Probably,” he sighed. “Could you tell me what direction that would be?”

Her grin was now wide enough that Merlin could see most of her -- twice as many as a human -- teeth. “Perhaps. But if I do you this favor, I would ask for one in return.”

Merlin stiffened, sensing there was more to her words than she was saying. “What do you want?”

“Maleagant is a false king. He stole the crown from the true queen. In return for my help in finding your knights, I ask that you defeat him so that she may take the throne once more.”

“Defeat the king of an Otherworld?”

“It is within your power,” she said. “I would not ask of you something improbable. Maleagant’s power lies in curses and enchantments. He can not stand to your offensive power.”

“That sounds like a fair trade,” he said sarcastically and she nodded seriously.

“It is. Maleagant’s curses have made the castle near impenetrable. You would not reach your knights without my help.”

 “What kind of curses?” Merlin asked, getting worried.

“He has made it so that any who wish to enter the castle without his blessing must first defeat twenty enchanted knights single-handedly. They resist magic, can only be brought down by the sword. It is a near-impossible task for even the best of knights.”

“How can you help if I have to face them single-handedly?”

She held out her hand to show her ring. “This is a ring of protection and invisibility. Should you wear it, only those of power can see you.”

“I can see you and you’re wearing it,” Merlin said.

“You are Emrys. You are magic turned soul. The knights are not so powerful. You’ll be invisible to them and will take them with ease.”

“What about Maleagant?”

She shook her head. “He may not have your power, but he has power enough for this.”

“Yeah, I figured.” He considered everything. “So you’ll show me to the castle and give me your ring, and in turn, I need to take down Maleagant for your queen.”

“Yes.”

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“My people are incapable of lying.”

Merlin stared blankly at her. “Seriously?”

She frowned and tilted her head so far her ear touched her shoulder. “You do not believe me? I suppose that’s fair. Humans are quite fond of their ability to lie to one another. Such a pathetic trait.” Merlin began to sputter but she continued, “I have no reason to lie to you, Emrys. Even still, you must simply agree and the deal will be struck. Should I be deceitful, about helping you with the knights, the deal will not take.”

Merlin eyed her hand when she held it out. “Why do you want your queen on the throne so bad? If what you say is true, won’t Maleagant be mad you helped me? You’re risking a lot for her.”

“Maleagant is a cruel king. He treats our people like slaves and enchants or hurts any who do not do his bidding. There was a time when knights could pass through our lands and challenge our own for peaceful sport. Now Maleagant imprisons them without thought. I believe the queen was kinder. Though I do not do this purely for selfless reasons. When the queen was on the throne, I lived in a large house with many riches to my name. I hope that should you defeat Maleagant, I will regain my standing.”

Merlin nodded.

“So, I help you find your knights and you cast out Maleagant. Deal?”

He bit his lip. He still wasn’t sure he could trust her, but he didn’t really have any other leads on where Leon and Arthur could have gone and who knows what dangers lay out in this Otherworld. He needed to find them as soon as possible. He took her hand. “Fine, it’s a deal.”

Magic warmed his hand and he jerked it away. “What was that?”

She gave that overly wide smile again. “True names are not the only things that hold power with my people. I would suggest you not go back on our deal now, especially once I complete my part.”

Rubbing his hand, he scowled at her. He’d heard of magical contracts and knew they could have horrible consequences if they were broken. He’d never read about a species that could make them without any sort of spell or writings though.

Luned pulled her ring off and held it out to Merlin. He took it and looked it over. It was copper and styled like a curling horn. An inscription wrapped around it, but it was in a script he didn’t recognize. He slipped it on and felt its magic wrap around him.

He looked up at the woman to see her walking into the woods, gesturing for him to follow. A short walk through the trees revealed a road where a cart awaited them. Two animals were tied to the front. They looked like deer, but were two heads taller than Merlin. Their antlers swooped back instead of up and were shaped more like the Roman’s fallow deers, though they still had sharp prongs jutting out.

Luned patted one on the neck before climbing onto the cart’s front seat and taking their reins. Glancing a bit to his left, she said, “Climb in the back and keep low. Most will not see you, but it is best to be careful.”

He did so then let her know he was ready and they set off. The trip was short and quiet and soon the trees began to thin around them until they reached a large lake.  Within it sat an island connected to the shore by a causeway. Rising from the island was a fantastical castle. Perfectly square aside from the four towers rising from its corners, its outer walls seemed to be made of glittering crystal.

As they started across the causeway, she said, “Once we reach the island, you must climb out. I can not lie to the guards and they will be too precise in their questions for trickery to allow you to be granted passage. Go around to the back of the castle and you will find a dueling ground where the knights will await you. Once defeated, you will be able to pass through the gate unheeded. Journey to the center of the castle. There you will find Maleagant at a fountain spilling forth from a gilded copper horn. Remember your end of the deal.”

“I will,” he said, then slipped off the cart when it moved onto solid ground. He crept around the castle until he reached the dueling ground. There he found nineteen knights standing in a semi-circle around the flattened area while the twentieth stood waiting at its center.

The moment Merlin drew his sword and stepped onto the ground, all the knights came to attention and his opponent raised his blade, his head turning as he searched for his challenger. Merlin quietly approached him, then cut him down.

If the others were concerned that the knight seemed to have been taken down by nothing, they didn’t show it as a second simply stepped forward into the ring and repeated the first's actions.

Excepting a few times where Merlin wasn’t quiet enough and he had to fend off a knight’s lunge until he could step far enough away for them to lose him, the trial continued as such until all the knights were defeated. Thanks to the ring’s protection, he came out no worse for wear than a sparring match with Arthur. A bit sore and bruised, with a cut on his hand and cheek each, but otherwise unharmed.

When the last knight was cut down, a light flickered over them and magic washed past him. As one, they rose and retook the positions they’d been in when he arrived. Cautiously, he slipped around them and to the gate, which opened by itself as he neared to let him pass.

Inside was a small market that appeared to wrap around the castle proper. The people there appeared to be the same species as Luned, given their leaf-like ears and the way their hair caught the light like metal or jewels. They floated through the stalls with nervous energy, heads lowered and eyes darting about. A few looked up at the gate quickly before continuing on their way, but only two or three actually seemed to spot him with fleeting curious expressions on their face.

Making sure not to bump into anyone, he slipped through the thin crowd to the castle’s entrance. A pair of guards were stationed at the open doorway, but they didn’t notice as he slipped past them.


Arthur glared at the man guarding their cell, but he ignored them just as he’d done since Arthur and Leon had awoken hours earlier. The only time the man had even moved was an hour before when a servant had come down with a tray of cheese and bread and a bowl of water. The man had waved his hand at the bars of the cell, creating an opening for the servant to step through as there was no door. Arthur had tried to move towards the opening, but found his feet trapped to the ground. Leon had likewise been trapped and the spell hadn’t lifted until the bars were once more whole.

Despite their hunger and thirst, neither had dared touch the offerings for fear of poison or enchantments.

They had tried to consider a means of escape, but the guard ignored them, and even if they could lure him close, they had nothing to fight him with. They’d had their weapons, armor, and even their shoes taken from them before they had awoken and the only things in the cell were the tray and bowl. The bowl wouldn’t fit through the bars and the tray was too flimsy to do any harm. Even still, with no locks to pick or keys to steal, they couldn’t get out even if they did knock out the guard.

Leon was across the cell from him, drawing circles in the dirt as he stared up at the window high above the cell, but he turned to the bars when a door opened somewhere out of sight. They climbed to their feet as a trio of knights marched into view.

“King Maleagant wants to speak to one of you,” one said.

Their guard waved the cell open, but the magical knights didn’t enter.

Arthur and Leon shared a look.

“I’ll go,” Arthur said and the unknown knight gestured him forward.

He shifted his feet and found he could move.

“Be careful, Sire,” Leon said as he stepped up to the opening and the magical knights grabbed his arms and bound his hands in front of him.

They led him up through the castle until they reached a courtyard. There the king they had seen before waited, still in his purple and copper finery. Next to him was a large curling horn that was tall enough to reach his chest and had crystal clear water spilling from it. The king was watching the water, letting his fingers run through it when they entered the courtyard, but turned as they grew closer. He smiled at Arthur and gestured to an elegant armchair that sat nearby.

The knights led him to the chair and pushed him into it before nodding to their king and leaving. Arthur tried to stand up, but a pressure kept him seated.

“Well now, little prince. It seems I have been ignoring you. Perhaps we should begin again. You may call me King Maleagant. Would you give me your name?”

Arthur just scowled at him. “I thought you didn’t care.”

“That was my mistake. I wish to correct it.”

“Why?”

Maleagant frowned. “I wish to use your proper name.”

“And I wish to be let go. How about we trade?”

“No deal,” he said quickly.

Arthur shrugged. He needed to buy time and making the king work for his name seemed as good a plan as any.

Merlin better hurry up and find him.

“Perhaps you would give me your friend’s name then?” Maleagant suggested.

“What friend?” Arthur asked, playing stupid.

“The one who followed you here. Emrys.”

His eyes widened. Merlin was here? Had the idiot been captured or just spotted? “Don’t you lot just call him Emrys.”

“Of course, but I know those of you from the human plane like to use proper names. I would like to use his.”

Human plane? “You can just call him Emrys. In fact, you can call him Lord Emrys. He’ll love that.”

“Is it not polite in your world to use proper names?”

Arthur shrugged. “Depending on who you are. Considering I’m a prince, it would be more polite to call me Your Highness. You can call him Your Lordship if it makes you feel better. What do you mean by the human plane and my world?”

He could see Maleagant growing annoyed. “You are in the land of Gorre, a different world to yours. Now -”

“An Otherworld? Like Annwn and Avalon.”

“Precisely.”

“You’re not a Sidhe, right?”

The king scowled and straightened up. “Of course not. My people are far greater than those diminutive creatures.”

“Right, of course. Hey, where did you say Emrys was?”

“I will tell you, in return for your name.”

“Deal. I’m The Once and Future King. So Emrys?”

The king’s eyes narrowed. “Your proper name.”

“You didn’t say that. Are you going back on our deal?”

Maleagant flinched back as if he’d been struck. Furious, he said, “Emrys is on his way here to rescue you. I spotted him very near. That is why you are here.”

“Hostage,” he said, nodding. “The moment he gets here, you’re going to threaten me to get him to do what you say.”

“On the contrary. I’m going to promise to release you and your knight the moment he reaches me.”

Arthur snorted. “He’s an idiot, but he’s not stupid enough to believe that.”

“It is the truth. My people are incapable of lying.”

“I don’t buy it. Why would you release me?”

“I am no fool. I know I have no chance of standing against the power of Emrys. Once he reaches me, he can take you both and leave in peace. However, if you wou-”

“Sire!”

Chapter Text

Merlin rushed through the corridors until he spotted a courtyard just ahead. His eyes widened as he saw a man -- Maleagant he assumed, given the finery and crown -- standing over his prince. He nearly called Arthur’s name before he remembered Luned’s warning about true names.

“Sire!”

Both turned to him and the king smiled. “Ah, Emrys, wonderful.”

Merlin ignored him, looking over Arthur as he hesitated in the doorway to the courtyard. He was relieved to see the prince was unharmed, sitting in a plush chair with just steel manacles keeping him bound. “Are you okay, Sire?”

The prince was looking around with a frown so Merlin slipped the ring off his finger and pocketed it. Arthur’s eyes locked with his and after a second of shock, he said, “I’m fine, Mer-”

“Names have power here, Sire. Call me Emrys,” the warlock said quickly. “Have you given him your name or Lion’s? Where is he?”

Thankfully, Arthur shook his head. “He’s back in the dungeons.

Merlin turned to the king with a glare. “Hand them over.”

Maleagant raised his hands in surrender. “As I told your king, I have no intention of fighting you.”

“He said he would just hand us over,” Arthur scoffed. “As if we couldn’t see past a blatant lie.”

“My people can not lie,” the king said, looking offended.

“Then I’ll hear it from you,” Merlin said.

Maleagant nodded. “Should you come to us, you are welcome to take him. I will even call for my knights to fetch your lion.”

Merlin frowned as he thought that over. “It’s that easy?”

The king smiled. “I am aware that I do not stand a chance in a fight against you.”

Nodding, Merlin came forwards. Two steps in, the floor disappeared beneath his feet and he fell.

“Mer-Emrys!”

He gave a yelp, which cut off in a moan as he hit solid stone. He tried to push himself up, but it felt like the ground was pulling him towards it. He opened his eyes to see glowing blue runes surrounding him. He turned his head to see a square of light overhead, which Maleagant appeared within.

“Enjoy your stay, Emrys.”

The square closed up.

Merlin growled and fought against the magic keeping him pinned, but could only get to his knees and elbows before the magic would drag him down again.


Arthur thrashed against the magic keeping him pinned as the hole Merlin fell down closed up. “I knew you were a liar!”

Maleagant scowled at him as he came back over. “I did not lie.”

“You said -”

“That he could take you if he came to us. He did not reach us, so I have no reason to hand you over.”

“That… How is that not lying!?”

“I spoke the truth!”

“But you made sure he couldn’t come over here!”

“I never said I would allow him to come to us, only that if he could I would allow him to take you.”

Arthur tried to kick the man, but he was too far away.

“This wouldn’t have happened if you’d given me his name.”

“Because you would have used it to do something else. I would like to use his name. Yeah, but not to be polite!”

“I never said that’s why I wanted to use it. I simply said that’s why your people use proper names.”

“You’re even worse than the court. At least they have the decency to just lie instead of talking around in circles.”

Maleagant snorted. “My people are far better than you humans. Your lies only show how unintelligent you are. That you can not get what you want through the use of truth is a weakness of your species.”

The knights returned and the king nodded at them.

“You can return to your cell now. You may as well eat and drink. You will not be going anywhere for a long time.”

Arthur punched the wall of the cell the moment the knights left.

“Sire? Are you okay? What happened?”

“M-My servant’s been captured.” When Leon frowned, he added, “We can’t let any of these people know our actual names. Something about them having power or something. I don’t know, it sounded bad.”

Leon nodded. “So he was captured, and no one else knows where we are.”

“Exactly.”

“Did the king say what he wanted? Is he holding you for ransom?”

Arthur shook his head. “I think he’s just doing this for the fun of it.” And maybe Merlin’s power. “They’re not human and they don’t care about human things. I think he only even called me up to trick my servant into a trap, and to gloat.”

“What are we going to do then?”

Arthur didn’t answer as he didn’t have one to give.


Merlin glared at the runes as he was forced to the ground for the hundredth time. There had to be a way to get past them.

A door opened nearby and he turned to see Luned walking in, a bowl in one hand and a jug in the other.

“You lied to me,” he growled.

“I did no such thing,” she tutted, back straightening with offense.

“You said your people couldn’t lie, but Maleagant lied to me.”

She knelt next to the runes, giving her overly-wide smile. “You’ve spent too much time with humans, Emrys. They are too used to their lies to be able to tell the difference between an honest truth and a deceitful one.”

He thought over her words, then Maleagant’s. “He said if I came to him, he’d let me take the prince… but I never reached him -”

“So he did not need to hand him over,” she finished with a nod. She poured some water into the bowl and slid it into the circle for him to drink. “The truth is a more powerful weapon than lies. You would do well to learn how to wield it.”

“Won’t do me much good trapped in here,” he said, pushing himself up enough to look into the water. He looked up at her. “You know, I’m human.”

“Are you?”

“Yes.”

She hummed, unconvinced.

He let the runes pull him back down. Curious and a bit desperate, he asked, “Would you be able to help me?”

“That is quite the favor you ask of me.”

“Is that a no?”

“No, but in return, I would ask something of equal importance of you.” She leaned forwards so she was just at the edge of the runes. “A kiss.”

He flushed. “What?”

“A kiss from Emrys is equal to the task you ask for me. Should you fail again against Maleagant, he will know I was the one to free you and my punishment will be severe. But a gesture of love from one such as yourself is powerful indeed.”

Merlin fidgeted. He needed to get free so he could save Arthur and Leon. Was a kiss really that big of a deal?

He thought of Freya tucked into his chest as they spent some time together before he had to leave for the hunt. Of Arthur’s quick kiss only what had to be a day earlier.

“I-I can’t.”

“You can’t?”

“It… isn’t mine to give.” He thought quickly and his mind went to the copper in his pocket. He pulled it out and held it up. “Would giving you back this be worth your help?”

She studied him a moment, then smiled. “It seems I was not wrong to choose you. You would choose your loyalty to your loves over your freedom and that of your knights. Yes, I will take the ring as payment.”

Her hand glowed blood-red and she reached in to take the ring. Once it was back on her hand, she slapped it against the ground just in front of a rune. As the stone began to crack, she grabbed the jug and stood.

“Drink. You’ve had nothing for hours,” she said before slipping out the door.

He turned back to the floor to watch the cracks slowly spread until one cut a rune in half. All of them immediately stopped glowing and the pull vanished, allowing him to stand. He glanced briefly at the water before running to the door. He could get something once he was sure the others were safe.

Opening the door slightly revealed a guard standing stiffly just outside. A whispered “Swefe nu!” had them collapsing to the floor. He grabbed their arms and dragged them into his cell.


Leon tapped his fingers mindlessly on the bars of the cell, keeping watch as Arthur restlessly slept in the corner. Neither of them had wanted to let their guard down around the Otherworld beings, but they needed rest.

Not for the first time, Leon’s eyes drifted to the tray of food. He grabbed the bread and looked it over. It appeared normal, and smelled normal when he brought it to his nose. He tore it in half and didn’t find anything wrong with the inside either. He set down half for his prince and settled back into his watch with the other. He tore a piece off, but before he could bring it to his mouth, the door to their cell block opened.

He dropped the bread back on the tray and shook Arthur awake as a guard walked up to their cell, sword drawn.

“What’s going on?” Arthur said, climbing to his feet.

“King Maleagant wants the knight now,” a familiar voice growled and they both froze.

Not paying them any attention, their guard waved his hand to open the cell.

“Well, that was easy,” Merlin chuckled. He whispered something as he slammed his sword hilt against the guard’s helmet and the man collapsed. He then yelped as the bars began to slowly reappear.

“Idiot,” Arthur huffed as he and Leon barely darted through them before they could close.

“How was I supposed to know they’d automatically close once he was knocked out?” Merlin huffed, handing Leon the sword he’d been holding while Arthur stole the sword off their guard.

“Oh good, you found them.”

Leon and Arthur swung towards the cellblock door, swords at the ready, but Merlin stepped in front of them and pulled off his helmet. “Luned? What are you doing here?”

“Luned?” Leon asked.

“She’s a friend.”

“She’s covered in blood,” Arthur sighed. To Leon’s surprise, he did lower his sword and Leon hesitantly followed suit.

“It’s not human if that makes you feel better,” the woman said with a smile that sent a shiver down Leon’s spine.

“Slightly,” Merlin chuckled nervously. “She’s been helping me, Sire.”

“My half of the deal is complete, Emrys,” Luned said, staring at Merlin. “It is time for you to complete yours.”

The boy flinched as she slipped back out the door.

“What deal?” Arthur asked.

“Well… to get her help, I kind of had to promise to take down Maleagant. He’s -”

“What!?”

“- not the true ruler and she wants to put the actual ruler back on the throne.”

Mer-Idiot!

“But it’s okay, I’ve got a plan.”

“Do you now?” Arthur said, staring Merlin down. His eyes darted to Leon for a moment, but he didn’t get the prince’s meaning.

Merlin looked at him as well and shook his head. “It will be okay, trust me. Come on.”

He grabbed Arthur’s hand and tugged him out of the cellblock, with Leon rushing to keep up.

“Would you like to share this plan of yours?” Arthur huffed.

“Not really.”

The prince pulled his hand free to smack the back of Merlin’s head.

“We need to go, Sire. I’ll explain later,” the servant huffed, putting the helmet back on.

Arthur grumbled, but they followed him up through the castle until they reached a side entrance.

Merlin pushed the door open slightly to check if anyone was there, then held it open. “Hurry.”

They’d barely stepped through the doors before knights came rushing from the market stalls to surround them.

“Now, now. Who let you out of your cage, Emrys?” Maleagant asked.

“Emrys?” Leon asked, but everyone ignored him.

“That doesn’t matter,” Merlin said, stepping in front of them. “What does matter is that we are leaving the castle, and so are you?”

The king laughed. “Is that so?”

Merlin said something, but Leon couldn’t tell what. The roar of wind sounded in his ears despite their not being so much as a breeze while his vision blurred around Merlin’s mouth.

Arthur looked as confused as Leon, but all the magical knights stiffened and glanced around. Their gaze eventually settled on Maleagant, who was frozen with wide eyes and faintly glowing.

Merlin took another step forward and spoke again, though only part of his speech was obscured. “*******, you will leave this castle and never attack these people or mine ever again.”

The king looked furious as he took a step back. “How?”

“Now.”

Snarling, Maleagant took another step back before his body collapsed into a flurry of leaves that flew up and over the crystalline outer walls. The knights all turned to Merlin before kneeling. A pulse of blue-white light came off them in a flash, leaving their armor dark and bloodstained.

“What happened?” Arthur asked, stepping closer to Merlin and eyeing the knights.

“I think the enchantment on them has been lifted.”

“Indeed.” The three turned to see Luned walking up, looking pleased. She turned to the kneeling knights with a hum. “The crown is yours now, Emrys.”

Merlin blanched. “I’m good. Your queen can have her throne back.”

“Wonderful.” She waved her hand and it lit up with blood-red magic. A haze Leon hadn’t noticed before lifted away from the golden frontlet on her head to reveal it was actually a copper diadem in the shape of curling horns.

“Of course you were the queen all along,” Merlin chuckled, exasperation tinting his tone.

“I never said I wasn’t.” She waved her hand again and the crystal walls darkened to obsidian and gave off a faint red glow.

Cheers sounded from around the castle and the knights slammed their swords against their shields. “Long rule The Lady of the Fountain!”

“That’s much better,” Luned chirped. “It will take time to remove the rest of his enchantments. I don’t even want to know what he did to my bloody fountain.”

“Does she mean bloody as in actual blood or…” Leon started and Arthur shook his head.

“I don’t even want to know. Can we go now?”

She turned to the three and looked them over. “Have any of you eaten or drank anything while in this land?”

“No,” Merlin said, glancing at Arthur and Leon as they shook their heads.

“Pity. I would have enjoyed having any one of you in my court.”

“Pardon?” Leon asked.

“Those who eat or drink of this land become of this land and cannot leave.”

“You gave me water to drink!” Merlin yelled.

She smiled and stepped close to Merlin, grabbing his face between her hands before he could pull away. Softly, she said, “I would have greatly enjoyed having you in my court, sweet Emrys.”

“We’re leaving. Now!” Arthur growled, grabbing Merlin and yanking the boy away from her. To Leon’s amusement, he tucked him against his side and wrapped an arm around his waist.

The queen looked amused as well, if a bit disappointed, as she whistled. The knights stood and moved aside as two giant hart-like animals galloped up, saddles on their backs. “My lovelies will take you back to the glade you arrived in. From there, you need only follow your footprints out. Make sure to not look up from them until you reach familiar territory or you may find yourselves even more lost than before.”

Arthur gave a grunt that could generously be considered a thank you and shoved Merlin towards one of the beasts so Leon went to the other.

“Emrys,” she called once Merlin was up. “Could you tell me how you knew Maleagant’s true name?”

“I can’t,” he said and she nodded as if that was the answer she was expecting.

Arthur climbed up in front of Merlin then checked that Leon was on before nudging the beast on.

Thankfully the creatures seemed to know where they were going as Leon certainly didn’t and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to direct them if he did. The world seemed to blur around them as the animals rushed out a gateway, across a causeway, and into the forest. Quite soon, the animals slowed to a halt inside the glade where Leon had downed the hart that had led them into this mess.

All three slipped off the beasts. Arthur and Merlin’s let the servant pet it’s snout for a moment then both took off back the way they’d come.

“What exactly just happened?” Leon asked.

“What did you say to him?” Arthur added.

“I used his true name. That’s what they meant by true names have power. In this world, if you use someone’s true name, you have complete control over them.”

“How did you find his? I’m guessing it’s not Maleagant.”

Merlin shook his head as he started pulling off the guard armor and tossing it to the side. “It isn’t. It’s just a name he uses, like how The Lady of the Fountain told me to call her Luned or how we called him Lion,” he said, nodding towards Leon.

“Or how you used that Emrys nickname,” Arthur agreed, coming forward to help.

“R-right. I meant what I said back there, though. I literally can’t say how I found out about Maleagant’s true name. It was part of the deal for how I discovered it,” Merlin hummed.

Arthur rolled his eyes. “Well, let’s just be glad you did. Now, let’s get going.”

With Merlin looking his usual self, they followed their footprints as they’d been told. Only once Merlin had confirmed they were safe did they look up. Leon headed towards their abandoned camp, hoping the horses hadn’t run off or been taken as his prince leaned against a tree to glare down at his bare feet.

“We’re riding straight for Camelot and you’re pouring me a hot bath,” he heard the prince huff.

“Of course, Sire.”

“Merlin.”

“Yes?”

It went silent and Leon frowned. He crept back towards the two and peeked around a tree.

Arthur and Merlin were standing just a breath apart, Merlin’s arms wrapped around Arthur’s neck and Arthur’s hands on his waist. They both were blushing, but that didn’t stop them leaning in.

Leon ducked back around the tree and continued on with a sad smile. He knew Merlin was good for Arthur -- had seen how the prince had changed for the better since the servant had arrived -- and was happy for them, but he also knew that Arthur had responsibilities. Arthur could never marry a servant, especially not a male one. Hopefully, they would be able to make it last as long as possible until Arthur’s duties got in the way.

“Mrow.”

The knight looked up and frowned when he spotted a shape slinking into the trees. It almost looked like… No, that was impossible. How could the cat have gotten all the way here from Camelot? Unless he’s magic?

Shaking his head with a chuckle, he stepped into the camp and gave a sigh of relief when he spotted Hengroen, Llamrei, and Cameliard waiting for him by a weather-beaten, but otherwise untouched camp.


“Meow.”

Merlin threw up his arms as he turned to see Cavall staring up at him from down the hall he was passing. “Why? No, how? We are in an Otherworld!”

The cat yawned and turned to scratch at the door he was sitting in front of. “Mrrrrrr!”

Merlin walked over and picked up the cat. “I’m going to get you a pen in the kennels!”

He turned to the door and frowned. It had a geometric design that felt out of place with everything else he’d seen in the castle. He spotted words lower on the door and let Cavall climb onto his shoulders so he could kneel to read them. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to be in a script he recognized.

He was just about to stand again when Cavall’s tail smacked him in the face.

He swatted it away with a glare then turned back to the door. His eyes widened when he realized he could understand the writing now. Similar to his first spellbook, the writing was in a language he didn’t know, but even still he knew what it said.

I leave this as a gift to those of my land who may end up trapped in this one
Should you need to face the ruler, the key to their defeat lies behind this door
Speak this word and it shall open

Be warned, by opening it, you make a deal with me, and deals are binding in this realm
Should you open this door, you may not speak of it or what you find to any other
Should this agree with you, then you need only speak

Agoraf

Merlin stood, biting his lip. He set his hand on the door and said, “Agoraf.”

The door creaked open as magic washed over him and sunk deep inside.

He pushed it the rest of the way and found himself inside a tomb. A sarcophagus laid on a plinth and above it was more words written in the unknown script.

True names hold power in this world
Those who carry another’s name carry that person’s very soul
Be wary of who you give yours to as they can command you
So long as they reside within this world

Below you will find the Sarcophagus of the Monarch
It holds the true name of whatever ruler sits on the throne
I stole it away and hid it here so that you, my kin, could find it as need be
Open it and the monarch’s soul shall be yours

Merlin’s eyes widened and went to the sarcophagus. The sides were engraved with a story that seemed to feature one of the people of this world traveling alongside a pair of humans to return a dragon egg to its mother.

Grasping the edge of the lid, he carefully lifted it until he could read the underside.

Here lays the King

Malegant, the Clear One

Here he shall lay by his True Name

Brendan

Chapter Text

Merlin raised his sword as they approached a seemingly abandoned camp. It was definitely an ambush -- It was always an ambush! -- so he carefully looked around as he followed close to Arthur’s back.

The prince was checking the campfire when one of the knights collapsed, an arrow in his back. “On me!” he called, raising his own sword as men poured out of the trees and tents.

Merlin locked swords with a man that ran at him and scowled as Arthur moved away from him to face his own opponents. He quickly defeated the bandit, then another with an ax when he sprung out of a nearby tent, before placing himself at Arthur’s back as a third snuck up on the prince.

Arthur glanced back with a smirk. “Don’t worry, Merlin. You just stay behind me and I’ll protect you.”

Merlin rolled his eyes and took down his opponent. “Dollophead.”

Arthur defeated the last bandit and they looked around to see the fight was over.

Then the crackle of branches snapping echoed through the trees. They turned towards it to see a figure approaching through the mist. All of them readied their weapons as it grew closer until it finally emerged to reveal…

“Morgana?” Arthur breathed.

The lady’s dress was rags and her hair was a tangled mess. She was caked with mud and shivering as she looked over the group. Her eyes locked onto Arthur and she ran forward.

His sword, which had dropped in his surprise jerked up, but never made it all the way before she threw herself at him.

“Arthur,” she sobbed, burying her face into his neck.

Slowly, he held her back. “I-I’ve got you.”

He turned and met Merlin’s eyes, then looked at the knights.

He squeezed her and pulled back. “Are you okay? Are you injured?”

She shook her head and pressed close to him again.

“Alright, let’s get you back to Camelot. Sir Galeschin, find a horse for the Lady Morgana.”


“She’s back,” Gwen whispered.

“She is,” Merlin said.

“Has she said anything?” Mordred asked.

“No,” Gwen answered.

“What is the prince going to do?” Leon asked.

“What can he do? The king has declared she’s innocent,” Freya growled.

“We’ll just have to keep an eye on her until we can figure out where her loyalties lie,” Merlin said.

“What are you all doing? Guinevere, Gaius is wondering where you are. He needs your help with Morgana. Leon, aren’t you supposed to be putting the squires through their paces? Get back to work, all of you.”


“I took my chance. When I saw you, I couldn't believe it.”

Morgana leaned towards Arthur and he pulled her into a hug. They stayed like that until Arthur awkwardly pulled back. “Everything's gonna be alright. You're safe now. You should get some rest.”

She grabbed his hand when he stood. She stared at it for a moment before whispering, “I know what you did. You tried to poison me.”

“Morgana, I’m sorry. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.”

“It's alright, Arthur. I understand. You were just trying to protect Camelot, I would have done the same.”

“Really?” he said, holding her hand and searching her face for lies.

“I was so naive, Arthur. I don't think I really understood what I was doing. I was just so afraid of your father. But believe me, I have seen the evils in this world. I should have trusted you more. You don't know how much I regret everything that I've done. I just… hope that you can forgive me.”

Arthur studied her for a moment more, then sat down to pull her into another hug. “I am so sorry for everything you've been through. It's good to have you back.”

She gave a tearful laugh. They shared a few more moments before he left her to rest.

He came out of the room to find a herd of busybodies.

“Well?” Merlin asked.

“She regrets what happens and doesn’t blame me. Morgause must have mistreated her harshly for her failure.”

“You believe her?” Leon asked and Arthur could see he was unconvinced while Merlin and Gwen were hopeful. Freya and Mordred seemed caught in the middle like himself.

“I-I do, but maybe I’m just letting my hopes blind me.”

“We could just stick to the original plan, just in case?” Mordred offered.

“Plan?”

“To keep an eye on her,” Freya said.

He really shouldn’t be surprised to find the lot of them plotting behind his back. “Fine, just be discreet. I won’t help any of you if you get caught disturbing Morgana’s recovery.”

They all nodded and left, though Arthur caught Merlin’s arm before he could get far. “I need someone to spar with, and I noticed a few mistakes in your form.”

The warlock pouted, but let himself be led off.

“Since when have you been dragging Leon into our activities?” he asked once they reached the empty armory.

Merlin shrugged. “He’s just been getting involved more, and it's useful having a knight on our side. Remember when he helped us with the Water Leaper. Or when he covered for us when we went to face the pwca.”

“Just be careful not to get him too involved. He’s still a knight of Camelot. We can’t risk that he’d take my father’s side if he were to find out about you three.”


“Sire, your father’s illness…”

“Is just that. He shall recover soon.”

Leon nodded. “It is… timely, however.”

Arthur’s lips tightened. “There is nothing to suggest it is anything more than exhaustion mixed with a drunken fit.”

“If you are certain.”

He glared at the knight. “I liked you better when you followed orders without question.”

“Of course, sire.”

“Just keep to the plan until we have proof.”


“Sire -”

“I know, Leon. The dead guard is one coincidence too many. I’ve got someone looking into it.”

“I can help.”

“Not this time. A knight is too conspicuous. I’ll let you know as soon as we’ve found something.”

“Alright. Tell Merlin to be careful.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think he knows the meaning of the word.”


Are you getting Arthur’s breakfast, or should I? Mordred waited for an answer, but nothing came. Merlin?

Mordred?

Freya, have you heard from Merlin?

I was just about to ask you the same. Gaius told Gwen he didn’t come home last night.

Mordred went pale and threw open the door between his and Arthur’s rooms. “Arthur!”

The prince groaned and rolled over.

“Wake up, Merlin’s missing.” He ran over to the curtains and pulled them open.

“Merlin!” Arthur hissed, pulling a pillow over his head.

“Is missing!”

He peeked out. “What?”

“Gaius said he didn’t come home last night.”

Arthur sat up. “Merlin was looking into Morgana last night.”

“I know. Freya and I -”

“No,” Arthur said, rubbing his eyes. “She’ll notice if you two slip away and know we’re onto her.”

“Well you or Gwen would be even more obvious.”

“I know.” He stood up. He grabbed a blank piece of paper and wrote something on it before rolling it up and sealing it. “Go to the kitchens and grab my breakfast. Pass this to someone who can get it to Leon. He’ll know what to do.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Mordred asked, taking it.

“No, but it’s the best one.”


Leon frowned as he brushed a pile of leaves aside. He’d done as Arthur had said. He had followed a set of tracks that had two going, but only one returning. He’d even gone out the eastern gate as he’d suggested, but now he was at the end of the trail. The returning tracks had reached a clearing and turned back while the others had gone a short way into the forest before disappearing. He’d found another set of tracks in the clearing, horse tracks, and had tried following those. Which had led him here, kneeling deep in the Forest of Ascetir.

He’d lost the trail, and Merlin with it.

He climbed atop Cameliard and turned him back towards Camelot. However, they only made it a short way before the horse began to snort and shuffle nervously.

“What is it?” he asked, rubbing the dark neck as he glanced around.

He spotted it almost immediately. Large as a horse, a scorpion scuttled through the trees just ahead. He drew his sword in surprise. A serket? During the day? But they never came out unless there was prey near the nest.

Prey.

Leon turned Cameliard in the direction the serket had been going and urged him on as fast as he could safely go. They overtook not one, but three serkets before he heard a familiar grunt.

He came to a hollow to see Merlin at the bottom, wrapped in chains and muttering to himself. He hopped down and led his horse carefully down the slope, calling, “Merlin!”

“Leon? What are you doing here?”

The knight ran up to his side and knelt, looking over the chains. “Arthur sent me out to look for you when you didn’t come home last night. What happened?”

“You were right, Morgana’s still working with Morgause. Morgana caught me following her -- it might actually be a first, really -- and neither of them took it well. Don’t bother with the chain, it’s enchanted. It won’t come undone. It needs to be cut.”

Leon clicked his tongue so Cameliard would come closer. “This is going to be uncomfortable. We need to ride fast. Serkets are coming this way.”

Merlin groaned, but nodded. As Leon picked him up and draped him over his saddle, he muttered, “Well at least I’m special enough to warrant death by serket. Though considering Morgause’s huffing about Arthur, it might have been just to tick him off.”

“Considering your fondness for annoying people, it might be a mix of the two,” Leon joked, swinging himself onto the saddle. He shifted Merlin so he was leaning against his chest in hopes it would be a bit more comfortable, then set off. Thankfully the giant scorpions were still separate enough and Cameliard was fast enough that they could slip past without a problem.

When they grew close to the city, Leon slowed, considering. “I don’t have anything to hide your chains,” he said, cursing himself for not wearing his cloak. “If I bring you into the city like this…”

Merlin tilted his head. “You know where Gwen’s is right?” At Leon’s nod, he continued, “Gwen should be home at this time, either her or Freya. Leave me here and go there. Gwen should have something that can cut through these.”

“Are you sure?”

He nodded, so Leon helped him down to sit against a tree, hidden behind some bushes.

“Leon,” Merlin called once he was back on the horse. “Under Uther’s bed, there’s a plant. It’s what’s causing his illness. You need to burn it.”

“On it,” he said before hurrying off.

Freya was opening the door to the house she shared with Gwen practically before he’d even knocked. “Is he okay?”

“He’s alright, but there are these chains. Merlin said they’re enchanted. He thought Gwen might have something to cut them. He’s waiting right outside the city.”

She sighed with relief and hugged him. “I know what he needs. You should head back to the citadel before you’re missed.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’ll take it from here. You said he’s outside the city,” she asked, grabbing a cloak from next to the door.

“Out the eastern gate. Follow the path until you hit the trees. He should be just inside and to the left, hidden behind a large oak.”

“Thank you,” she said before darting out the door. By the time he followed, she was gone.

He wanted to go with her -- Arthur had asked him to retrieve Merlin and the job felt only half done -- but Freya said she could handle it and his king needed him.

He raced up to the citadel and handed Cameliard off to a stablehand. He quickly made his way to the king’s chambers, and he thanked his status that the guards didn’t even blink in his direction as he pushed through the doors. As Merlin had described, there was a plant hanging from the bottom of Uther’s bed. It was a twisted root that dripped a horrid black tar that sent a shiver down Leon’s spine. He ripped it out and tossed it into the fireplace where it burned near instantly.

Uther jerked upwards with a gasp and Leon came to his side. “You’re alright, Sire. You were under an enchantment, but it’s been destroyed. You need to rest. I will call for Gaius.”

The king stared past him for a moment, then blinked and focused on his face. He gave a slow nod and let himself be laid back down.

“Guards!”


“Merlin is holed up at our place,” Freya said.

“Good, Morgana hopefully won’t realize we know anything if she doesn’t know he’s back. What did he say Morgana and Morgause spoke of?”

“He said Cenred’s army is riding for Camelot at Morgause’s command.”

“We knew he was amassing an army,” Leon said.

“But now we know Morgause is involved,” Arthur growled. “They enchanted my father to weaken Camelot so it would be easier for Cenred to launch an attack. Gaius was right, I need to step up as regent, just until my father is back on his feet.”

Gwen set her hand on his arm. “No one believes you’d do it out of malice.”

“My father might, with all our arguments.”

“You two have been getting along better these past months.”

“And I’m about to ruin it.”

“The king will understand,” Leon said. “Anything to protect Camelot.”

Arthur stared down at his lap then stood up. When he looked at them, he was determined. “We need a battle plan.”

“A patrol just left that’s headed in that direction. I was supposed to be on it, but traded favors so I could help Merlin. They should return with numbers,” Leon said. “I fear his army will be too much for us, though.”

“We must prepare the city for siege then.”

“Are you sure that is wise?”

“The castle is our strongest weapon. No army has ever taken Camelot.”

“But what about the people in the outlying villages?”

“Give them refuge within the city walls.”

“And what of their houses, their livelihoods?” Leon asked, worried. “Cenred will destroy everything in his path.”

“But they will have their lives. What other choice do we have if we can not raise enough of an army to combat them.”

“We might find a way to appease him.”

“What concessions will Cenred insist on? What territories will he demand? And that is just him. What might Morgause and Morgana whisper in his ear? We need to stay strong.”

“If the castle is so defensible,” Mordred said, gaining everyone’s attention. “Then Morgana would know it, right?”

“As would Cenred,” Leon agreed.

“Then they might have a plan for Morgana to sneak in some of his forces or give him an edge from the inside.”

Arthur nodded. “Cenred’s not a fool. He wouldn’t attack if he didn’t know he’d win. If he’s banking on Morgana’s help and we intercept her, he might call the attack off altogether.

“Leon,” he said, sitting down as a battle plan formed in front of his eyes. As he began to write on a few scraps of paper, he instructed, “Ready the army. Tell them we’ve received word of an oncoming attack and need to prepare for a siege. Gwen, return to Morgana. Stick as close to her side as possible. Use your fear of the approaching army, Merlin’s disappearance, my father’s illness, and her recent recovery as an excuse. Mordred,” he sealed the two letters and handed them to the boy one at a time, “This is for the council. It’s a notice that I’m stepping forward as regent due to the upcoming battle. This is for the messengers. They need to ride out to the villages and warn the people. Everything between us and Essetir. Go.”

All three bowed or curtsied and left.

Arthur turned to Freya. “You’ve been keeping Merlin updated.”

“Mordred and I, yes.”

“Is there anything he can do to help?”

“Not on the grand scale. Unless you’re willing to call in you-know-who.”

He scowled. “That is the last resort. What about on a small scale?”

“He can place protective runes on the walls of the citadel to strengthen them against catapults and the like and slow invaders that try to pass over. They can’t be too strong, not without attracting attention, but…”

“Something is better than nothing. Will they interfere with my men?”

She looked to the side for a few moments. “No, they’ll only affect attackers. If any of your men get affected, then they deserve it.”

Arthur nodded and pulled the record of the guards’ patrol paths out. “Have him place them tonight.”

She took the paper and looked it over. “He said to tell you there’s also the gargoyles, whatever that means?”

Arthur gaped at her. “He knows how to raise the gargoyles?”

She shrugged. “He said, I borrowed a book while the tomb was open. You did give me the night off.

He rubbed his face. “That’s not as much of a last resort as the monster, but it’s up there.”

“There’s one more thing.”

“Of course there is.”

She hesitated. “Morgause referred to Morgana as her sister.”

Well, that's just fantastic! “That explains why Morgause was willing to give up to save her. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about that. My father would just say Morgause is lying if I tried to tell him.”

“If he even let you get that far into the conversation in the first place.”


The castle is under attack. Enemy armsmen attack Camelot’s barricades. Catapults reign flaming boulders on the city. A still injured king fights alongside his son at the frontlines. A witch floats through the infirmary under the gaze of a druid and maid.

All the while, no one spots how the walls are unharmed as glittering light mistaken for fire intercepts the boulders that should hit them. No one notices how the men crossing into Camelot slow as if they’re moving through water. No one realizes the catapults’ ammunition that makes it over the walls does far less damage than it should. No one catches the flash of gold in the eyes of a man atop the walls as he puts out fires. No one sees the winged lioness perched in the shadows of a roof, watching over her love’s king.


“Pull back! RETREAT!”

Merlin glanced over to see Arthur leading his men back through the gates. He spotted Cenred’s men moving to follow and whispered, “Forbearnan.”

A fence of fire rolls out to block the path.

Morgana’s making her move.

On our way, Merlin said, watching the gates close before running for the stairs.

Sending Cavall to Arthur, Freya added just before he spotted a shadow peel away from a nearby roof and fly off.

Where is she headed?

Her room, it looks like.

Merlin slid around a corner and up a different set of stairs. Almost there.

Mordred was waiting when he reached the top and they entered Morgana’s chambers together. Merlin drew his sword and stepped ahead of the younger boy when the room seemed to be abandoned.

Right.

Merlin turned in time to block Morgana’s sword.

“Morgana, please. I beg you. Women and children could die. The city will fall.”

“Good,” she spat, stepping back.

“No, you don't mean that,” he said, looking her over and spotting the staff she was holding. The staff, it must be her plan. Go around, I’ll keep her distracted.

“I have magic, Merlin. Uther hates me and everyone like me. Why should I feel any differently about him?”

“You of all people could change Uther's mind, but doing this?” he gestured around them and her eyes focused on his sword. He spotted Mordred slinking around the column she had been hidden behind. “Using magic like this will only harden his heart.”

“You don't have magic, Merlin. How could you hope to understand?”

“I do understand, believe me. If I had your gifts, I would harness them for good. That's what magic should be for. That's why you were born with these powers.”

“You don't know what it's like to be an outsider. To be ashamed of how you were born, to have to hide who you are. Do you think I deserve to be executed because of who I am?”

“No. It doesn't have to be like this. We can find another way.”

“There is no other way.”

Merlin nods and looks down. Now.

Mordred jumped forward and grabbed the staff from her. She turned to attack him and Merlin caught her sword with his own.

Run, take it to Freya. I’ll hold her off, Merlin said, swiping at her to keep her on the defensive as Modred fled.

“No!” she shrieked, laying into Merlin.

“What are you going to do? Kill me?”

“You don't think I can?” she scoffed.

Merlin smirked and twisted his sword to knock hers aside and elbow her in the stomach.

She staggered back, looking shocked before coming at him with even more fury.


“Enough of your games, Morgause. What has happened to your traitor?” Cenred demanded.

“For such a great king, you have very little patience,” Morgause said, frowning. Morgana should have used the staff by now.

“The time for patience is over!”

Something fell between them and they looked down to see two pieces of rowan at their horses’ feet. They looked up, but only saw darkness.

“No,” Morgause hissed, slipping down to look over the pieces. “How?”

“Your traitor has failed us just as I knew they would. I'm calling off the siege.”

“You can't!”

“I cannot take the city unaided. That was not our bargain!”

“You have failed me, Cenred.”

“I would rather fail you, Morgause, then watch thousands of men die.”


“No!” Morgana snarled as Merlin blocked her at every turn. “How?”

“Arthur’s been training me for years. You used to know that, Morgana.”

“He plays with you. He’d never bother to teach a servant.”

“You once believed in him. What happened?”

“He poisoned me!”

“Because you attacked Camelot!”

Their swords locked together and she snarled in his face, “I was going to make Arthur king!”

“By killing his father! Do you think he would have ever forgiven you for that? He barely forgave you for Tauren and you didn’t even go through with it!”

She looked shocked before she shrieked, “I don’t want his forgiveness! I want his death!”

Merlin sidestepped her swing and brought the hilt of his sword to her forehead.

He stared at her unconscious form for a moment before sheathing his sword and kneeling to pick her up. Did you guys do it?

Yes. Cenred’s army is falling back.

What happened with Morgana?

Merlin set her on her bed and left the room. I took care of her.


Arthur stepped into the council chambers to meet his father before his speech and felt anger rise when he found Morgana waiting there instead. In a steady voice, he said, “Morgana.”

“Don’t bother. I know your little pets were acting on your orders last night.”

He scowled. “They used to be your friends.”

“That was before you turned them against me. Before you all turned against me.”

“You turned against us first.”

She snorted and shook her head, then looked up at him with sad eyes. “Oh Arthur, you can’t even hear how you sound, can you?”

“What?”

“It’s so sad, how they’ve enchanted you.”

“What are you talking about?”

She smiled. “Don’t worry, I’m sure once Uther has burned those two for their magic, their spell will be broken and you’ll be free.”

Arthur staggered back. Did she… No. “You know Merlin and Mordred don’t have magic.”

“Do I?” She stepped up close. “If you want to drag your pets into our squabbles, I’ll be happy to do the same. Who do you think Uther would believe has magic? A pair of servants or his treasured ward?”

Arthur’s fists clenched at his side.

The door at the back of the room opened and they both took a step back.

“Morgana?” Uther said, smiling at her. His smile faded when they turned to him. “What happened to your head?”

Arthur glanced over at the bruise covering her temple and smiled with pride on the inside. On the outside, he matched his father’s frown. “A piece of rubble caught her when she tried to help in the battle. Thankfully it looks worse than it is.”

“You need to be more careful,” Uther lightly scolded, coming over to pull her into a hug.

Morgana sent Arthur a smirk over the king’s shoulder and he took his leave.

Chapter Text

Merlin and Mordred groaned as they searched for the book Gaius had asked for.

Do you see it? the younger boy asked kneeling on the floor to check the lower shelves.

Merlin glanced around and spotted it on a high shelf out of his reach. Unfortunately.

Mordred looked up, then followed his gaze. Great, he huffed. He peaked in the direction of Geoffrey’s desk. Do you think we could just magic it down?

With our luck when it comes to Geoffrey, he’d see, Merlin sighed. He leaned up against the shelf and cupped his hands. Here, I’ll help you up and you can grab it.

Mordred set his foot on Merlin’s hands and they pushed him up. He grabbed for the shelves to keep his balance, but one missed. He gave a choked-off yelp as he lost his balance. His other foot sought purchase and landed on a lower shelf, which tilted under his weight.

Suddenly the bookshelf was swinging around, sending them into a hidden room.

The two warlocks shared a look then Mordred grabbed the bestiary and hopped down.

What is this place? he asked.

I’ve never seen it. Merlin brushing spiderwebs and dust off a book.

Do you think Geoffrey knows about it? Mordred asked, squinting his eyes at a clouded jar to try to see what was inside.

Considering what’s in here, I doubt it?

Mordred turned to look at him and he held up what was clearly a book of magic.

Woah. He came over to see it, knocking into a box as he went.

The box knocked back, something inside grumbling and pounding against its walls.

Mordred jumped away from it and Merlin grabbed his shoulder.

What is that? he asked.

Mordred shook his head, pressing closer to his mentor.

Should we open it?

Mordred shrugged. Probably not.

They shared a look.

Merlin held out his hand. “Onluc scrin.”

The lid flipped open and a green-skinned creature climbed out.

What is it? Mordred repeated.

No clue.

“Are you going to say something, or shall I?”

The two jumped.

“You can speak,” Merlin asked.

“You’re a sharp one,” the creature said, stretching with a groan.


Merlin and Mordred fled the library.

By the gods, a goblin! Mordred groaned. We just released a goblin into the castle!

A goblin?

I think so. The way it was acting, it sounds just like the stories. They’re supposed to be mischief-makers. Cerdan used to tell stories about how they love nothing more than playing pranks and hoarding gold.

Merlin’s eyes widened. You mean a magical creature is going to be running around, causing trouble and stealing gold, all because of us?

Yes.

There was a moment’s pause then they both shouted, We need to find it before Arthur finds out!


“Merlin, Mordred!”

“We didn’t do anything!” Mordred squeaked and Merlin sent him a look.

Arthur crossed his arms, glaring at the two. “And what, exactly, didn’t you do?”

“Anything, as he said,” Merlin answered, closing the book of magical creatures he had been reading.

“Really, so you two have no idea why my father has suddenly gone bald.”

“Your father is… bald,” Merlin choked and Mordred stuffed his hand in his mouth to muffle his laughter.

“Think it’s funny, do you? You think I’m not aware that only magic could have done that to him. I should have you both in the stocks. Or maybe a few nights in the dungeons.”

Merlin’s smile immediately fled and Mordred threw his hands in the air. “It wasn’t us!”

“Then who was it?”

“It… might have been a goblin,” Merlin answered slowly.

“A goblin?”

The two nodded.

“Why do I get the feeling there’s more to this than you’re saying?”

Merlin glanced at Mordred, who ducked his head. “In our defense,” Merlin started, “we didn’t know the box had a goblin in it.”

“Merlin!”

“Don’t worry, we’re working on a plan to capture it. But, um, we might need a bit of gold.”

“Gold?”


Gwen watched the two warlocks as they readied the storage room for the goblin. “I can’t believe Arthur just gave you a chest of gold.”

“He said if we lose it he’ll just put us in the stocks for longer,” Mordred muttered as he finished laying out the coin trail.

“He won’t actually put us in the stocks,” Merlin comforted.

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” Gwen teased. “He’s put you in the stocks for less than releasing a magical creature into the castle.”

“That was years ago!”

Gwen chuckled into her hand. “I know, Merlin. I’m only joking.”

“We’re ready,” Mordred said, not looking at all reassured.


“You let it escape, you stupid boys!” Gwen huffed. “Now you just stand there like sacks of potatoes. Go after it! Go! Shoo! Shoo!”


“Merlin told me what’s going on,” Freya said, coming into their house. “Have you seen any sign of the gob- What happened?” She looked over the trashed room in shock.

“It’s that pesky goblin!” Gwen snapped. “Those two let it escape and it’s ransacked our premises! You better tell them they’ve got some cleaning up to do.”

“Are you going out?” Freya asked as Gwen headed out the door.

“I’m going to the tavern.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”


Freya frowned at Gwen as she shuffled out from behind the curtain that marked her sleeping area. “Are you alright? How much did you drink last night?”

“You don’t look so good yourself. What’s your excuse?”

“What?”

Gwen shushed her. “Too much talking. I have a head like the inside of a drum, and a mouth like a badger’s armpit.”

Freya’s eyes widened. “Gwen?”

“Don’t you have a job to get to? Away! Go!”

Freya frowned, eyes narrowing. “Are you feeling alright? You’re acting odd.”

Gwen frowned, then smiled. “I’m sorry. Last night has given me a headache. How about I make you breakfast as an apology?”

Freya studied the other woman. “That would be lovely, thank you.”


Gwen smiled at the guards and curtsied. “The Lady Morgana has asked me to retrieve a necklace from the vaults for her.”

The guards, recognizing her, let her pass.

Gwen smiled and licked her lips as she saw the shelves of golden jewelry.


Mordred!

The young warlock looked down and gasped.


“Gwen, good to see you.”

“Can’t say the same,” she snorted, continuing on.

Merlin frowned at her odd behavior before he spotted a bit of gold peeking out of the collar of her dress.


“Arthur!” Mordred called as Arthur entered his chambers. “We’ve got a problem.”

“You bet you do. Where’s Merlin?”

“That’s not important right now. Arthur, look.”

Arthur raised an eyebrow as the boy held up a black cat. He might have thought it was Cavall if it weren’t for the cat’s warm brown eyes.

“A cat?”

“It’s Freya.”

The cat meowed and waved it’s paw like it was saying hi.

Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose. “How?”

“She came to find me. She told me Gwen did it to her.”

“Guinevere?” Arthur scoffed. “Why would she do this? How could she do this? And how can Freya talk if she’s a cat?”

“She can still talk in our way. And I think the goblin is possessing Gwen. Freya said she’s been acting weird since last night and Gwen was helping us catch the goblin when it disappeared.”

Arthur frowned. He had tried to talk to Gwen earlier, but she had blown him off. He had thought she had just been worried about being caught, but maybe…

“Where’s Merlin?” he asked again.

“I don’t know. I came here hoping I’d find one of you.”

“Right, let’s go find him then we can track down Gwen.”

“Sire!” The two turned to see Leon standing in the door. “A guard has reported a magical creature loose in the castle. A dragon the size of a horse.”

Arthur’s heart skipped a beat and his thoughts went back to a year earlier. “Are you certain?”

“He was, though none of the other guards saw anything. One of them even suggested that he had been drinking and that’s why he was seeing dragons. I’m not sure what to think.”

“Hopefully, he’s wrong. I’ll look into it. Where was the supposed dragon heading?”

“Towards the dungeons, sire.”

“Great. Help Mordred find Merlin.”

“Merlin?”

“Gwen’s been possessed by a goblin and Freya’s been turned into a cat.”

Leon looked down at the cat Mordred was holding and she meowed and waved.

“Long story.”

“Do we know how to remove the goblin?”

“Not yet.”

“Right. I’ll try to track him down. I think I saw him heading towards the armory.”

“I’ll check Gaius’s.”


Arthur kept his sword at the ready, even though he knew it would do little if it truly was a dragon he was going to find. Any hopes that there wasn’t something down here had been crushed when he’d stumbled upon a trio of downed guards (only unconscious, thankfully) and a hallway of overturned torches that spoke of a large creature trying to make its way through.

The hallway that led to stairs to the Great Dragon’s cavern.

The stairs Arthur was currently reaching the bottom of.

He held his torch high as he stepped into the cavern, but saw nothing. “Show yourself, beast!”

“Arthur!”

His eyes widened at the familiar voice. “Merlin?”

There was a gust of wind then a dragon around half Kilgharrah’s size clumsily landed on the outcropping Kilgharrah had once used when Merlin or he came to talk to the dragon. This new dragon was red with stormy blue eyes.

“What on earth?”

“It’s Gwen, she’s the goblin.”

“Yes, Mordred realized that when your girlfriend showed up as a cat. What happened to you though?”

“Freya? Is she okay?” Merlin growled, rising and stretching his wings.

“She’s fine! You, on the other hand, are a bloody dragon!”

Merlin slumped down again. “Yes, it gave goblin-Gwen quite a shock too. I think the spell it used just turned people into animals according to spirit.”

“And your spirit animal is a dragon?”

“Well, I am a Dragonlord after all. The blood of dragons runs through my veins when I’m human, let alone when I’m a beast.”

“Right,” Arthur sighed. “Well, you’re useless like this. We’ll just have to figure out how to take out the goblin then hopefully Mordred can turn you back. You’re far too big to hide.” Arthur looked up at him and frowned. “How’d you even get down here?”

“I wasn’t this size at first. As soon as I realized what I was, I rushed down here. Barely made it inside before I was too big for the tunnel.”

“Right, well, just stay down here and keep quiet. The fewer people who see you, the easier it will be to play it off as the goblin’s mischief.”

“Be careful, Arthur.”

“It’s just a goblin, Merlin. I think Mordred and I can handle it.”

“It’s inside Gwen, though. You can’t just take a sword to her.”

“It will be fine.”


Arthur glared at Merlin, who was lying on his back across the rock. His legs and wings twitched with his laughter.

He brayed at the dragon, who only laughed harder.

“I can’t... understand... a word you’re... saying, sire.”

Arthur turned to Gwen and Mordred, the former was smiling apologetically while the latter had his face buried in Freya’s fur to poorly hide his own laughter. He brayed at them and Gwen stepped forward.

“Please, Merlin, can you fix him? I feel so bad about what happened. Mordred tried but he’s not strong enough.”

“It’s not your fault, Gwen,” Merlin said, his laughter dying down to the occasional chuckle. “For you though, I’d be happy to. Although, it kind of suits him.” He turned to Arthur. “I always have said you were an a-”

Arthur let out a loud bray and threw a rock at the dragon.

Merlin tilted his head. “Wow, I couldn’t even feel that. Scales are way better than armor.”

“Merlin.”

“Right, right.”

He leaned closer to the group. His eyes flashed gold as he breathed a golden mist onto Arthur, washing away the donkey ears. He then did the same to Freya, returning her to human.

He shook his head as he straightened. “That’s a weird feeling. Definitely different from my normal magic.”

“I should put you on the pyre!” Arthur shouted now that he had his normal voice back. “First you set a goblin loose and now you nearly refused to turn me back!”

Merlin rolled his eyes, knowing Arthur didn’t mean it. “Come on, you know I was going to turn you back. I just wanted a good laugh first.”

Arthur threw another rock at him.

“Can you turn yourself back?” Freya asked, looking over him worriedly.

Merlin shook his head. “I tried already, but it’s a lot harder to direct my own magic back at myself like this. Stupid dragon magic.”

Mordred frowned. “I don’t think I can do it. I couldn’t even fix them and my magic can’t pierce dragon scales like yours can.”

“It’s alright, Mordred, you’re still learning,” Merlin said, his voice rumbling in something resembling a purr. His wings stretched out. “Unfortunately I think there’s only one person who can help me. I was just waiting for sundown to call him.”

Arthur scowled and Merlin ducked his head.

“If that’s okay, Arthur.”

“Fine. It’s not like we can leave you like this. I need to go speak to my father.”

Merlin sighed as Arthur marched off. “You guys should go. I’ll come back once I’m myself.”

“He’ll be fine, Merlin,” Gwen said.

“I know. And I get it. I still don’t forgive Kilgharrah either, but we can use his help.”

Gwen smiled and led Mordred out. “Come on, let’s go start cleaning up the goblin’s mess.”

Merlin turned to Freya. “I’ll be back soon.”

She shook her head and hiked up her skirt. “I’m coming with you.”

He chuckled and jumped over to cling to the wall next to the overhang she was standing on. “I’m still clumsy with my wings.”

She pressed a kiss to his scaly cheek and climbed onto his neck near his shoulders. “That’s nothing new for you, love,” she teased.

As gracefully as he could, he pushed off the wall and flew out of the cavern. He stayed low to the trees to hopefully not be spotted by anyone in the castle until he reached a clearing he judged to be big enough for both himself and Kilgharrah. He let Freya down then lifted his head and roared, “O drakon, e male so ftengometta tesd'hup'anankes!”

They settled down to wait, though it wasn’t too long before wings sounded overhead and they looked up to see Kilgharrah coming down to land.

“I didn't think you'd answer my call,” Merlin admitted, standing. He could feel that his magic was different like this and wasn’t sure if his abilities as a dragonlord would have been affected, but he had to try as he knew it was likely the only way he’d return to human.

And then, of course, there was the fact they hadn’t been on the best terms last they met.

“Merlin, I could not resist a dragonlord, even if I wanted to. What have you done to yourself?”

“A goblin got loose in the castle. He did this to me when I tried to catch him. Can you fix it? My magic wasn’t working on myself and Mordred can’t get through my scales.”

“Of course,” Kilgharrah laughed. “Hold still.”

Merlin stiffened his body, pressing his tail against the ground and ears against his skull to keep as still as possible while a wave of golden breath washed over him.

Chapter Text

Waking up in pain wasn’t a rare thing for Gwaine. Heck, waking up without any pain was the rare thing. Usually, that pain was in his head though, not his leg.

He cracked his eyes open to see he was lying on a cot in a small room. Not a prison this time, thankfully. It looked like a bedroom that doubled as a storeroom.

A girl was sitting at a table under the window doing some sewing. On the table was a black cat and the two were watching each other like they were having a silent conversation. The girl looked a match for the cat; all slim curves, lithe limbs, and silky hair.

The cat’s ear twitched and as one they turned to him.

“Good morning,” the girl said, setting aside her sewing and standing up.

“That it is,” he said, looking her over as she approached and giving her a charming smile.

Her dark red dress may have covered everything but her wrists and head, but it was also very flattering for her figure.

Her lips pulled up in what might have been a smile, but felt more like an animal baring its teeth. “How are you feeling? Are you in pain?”

“Nothing I can’t handle.” He sat up and looked around. “Where am I?”

“In Camelot. Merlin brought you here to be treated by the court physician.”

Merlin? That sounded familiar. “Merlin’s the mouthy one that started the brawl, right?”

Her smile became more genuine. “That sounds like him.”

Well, that explained that.

The court physician though. He hadn’t pegged Merlin for nobility. He guessed that explained his fighting skills and confidence. “You can thank him for me, milady -”

She caught his shoulders as he tried to get up and pushed him back down with a surprising amount of strength. “You need to stay off your feet until Gaius or Merlin can check your leg. And I’m not a lady. I’m a serving girl. Arthur asked me to watch you until you woke.”

“Arthur?”

“The prince. Merlin said you saved his life.”

“If I'd known who he was, I probably wouldn't have. He's a noble.”

She nodded as she poured some water into a cup. “That’s fair. He can be a bit of a prat.”

He chuckled as he took the cup. “You seem pretty familiar with the nobility for a serving girl.”

“Spend a day around Merlin and Arthur and you would be too.”


“I've only eyes for you.”

“I'm sure,” the dark-skinned beauty said as she walked off.

“You’re quite the hound, aren’t you?”

Gwaine turned to see Freya watching him and smiled. “What can I say, pretty faces are my weakness.”

She giggled and shook her head. “Leave Gwen be. She has too many relationship problems as it is to have a dog like you chasing after her.”

“Does she carry a torch for a noble as well?”

She frowned, adjusting the basket on her hip. “Does that happen to you a lot?”

“It's starting to seem like it.” Although perhaps it’s just a Camelot thing. “You know, it's not going to work out in the long run. Nobles stick to other nobles in the end.”

“In Uther’s reign maybe, but Arthur’s a different sort.”

Gwaine didn’t buy it, but far be it from him to crush the hopes of a beautiful girl. “Do you have plans for the night? I’m thinking of getting some drinks at the tavern.”

She rolled her eyes. “I may not have Gwen’s problems, but I’m just as unavailable.”

“Some drinks between friends then.”

“I’ll consider it.”


“Is Merlin here?” Freya asked, peeking into Arthur’s chambers to see him working at his desk while Mordred cleaned up.

“No, he’s helping Sir Oswald right now. Why?”

“Gwaine invited me out for drinks at the tavern so I wanted to tell him I’m leaving early.”

“You’re going out for drinks with Gwaine,” Arthur said slowly, raising an eyebrow.

“Considering his idea of a good time is getting into bar fights and flirting with women, I thought it best he does not go alone.”

“Fair enough.” Arthur opened one of the desk drawers and pulled out a coin bag. He checked inside then tossed it to her. “Here. Gwaine turned down any kind of reward from my father, so the least I can do is give you two a fun night in the tavern.”

“Thank you. I think a few tankards of mead is the only reward he’d actually accept from a noble.”

“He doesn’t like nobles?” Mordred asked.

“Let’s just say him and Merlin have quite a few things in common on that front,” she chuckled and bowed her head to Arthur before slipping out to track down Merlin.


“Then he spent the next hour walking around with it on his back. He only even realized it was there because Leon happened to mention it!”

Freya watched the two men burst out laughing with a shake of her head and downed the last of her mead.

Merlin had decided to join them for drinks after the day he’d had with Oswald, though he’d stuck to a single mug of wine given how much a lightweight he was. Her and Gwaine, on the other hand, were in a bit of a competition. To be precise, Gwaine was trying to out-drink her, not realizing she had a bit of a leg up when it came to not getting drunk. Honestly, they were just lucky she and Merlin had talked Gwaine out of buying drinks for the whole tavern. Arthur’s purse wasn’t unlimited and the two of them had drunk quite a bit just on their own.

Gwaine refilled her mug and gave her a wink before turning to Merlin to slap his back. “You know, you’re a pretty good guy for a noble.”

Merlin choked on his water. “Wh-Me? Noble? I’m not noble.”

“Really?”

“Merlin is Arthur’s servant,” Freya said, rubbing her boyfriend’s back. “Should we feel insulted that you thought we were nobility, considering how you feel about them?”

“Not at all.” He tipped his mug in Merlin’s direction. “I only thought that because you’d brought me to the court physician. Not many servants have access to a court physician. And not many servants have the skills with a sword you do, either.”

“Gaius is my uncle and mentor. Besides, Arthur wanted you brought to him too. Said you were to be given anything you needed. And my skills aren’t that good. Arthur and the knights are way better, and you should see our friend Lancelot, he can give Arthur a run for his money.”

“Should have known you weren’t a noble just by how modest you are,” Gwaine snorted, knocking his fist against Merlin’s shoulder.

Freya leaned against his other one as he pouted and rubbed the injury. “He’s been training with Arthur for years now. He always goes along on patrols and quests so Arthur wanted to be sure he could protect himself.”

“What is it with you and nobles?” Merlin asked, wrapping his arm around her.

“Oh, nothing.” Gwaine took a large gulp of mead. “My father was a knight in Caerleon's army. He died in battle, leaving my mother penniless. And when she went to the King for help, he turned her away.”

“You didn't know him?” Merlin said softly and Freya grabbed his hand.

“Just some stories I've been told.”

“Yeah, I know how that feels. I met my father just briefly before he died.”

“Why?”

“He was banished. Lost his status as lord.”

“What had he done?”

“Nothing. He served the King.”

“But the King turned against him? That doesn't surprise me.”

“Arthur's not like that.”

“Ha! Maybe. But none of them are worth dying for, heh?”

Freya spat out her mead and started laughing.

Merlin blushed and Gwaine looked between them. “What?”

“Gwaine, Merlin has tried to die for Arthur so many times.”

“Freya!”

“Sh! One time, barely a month or so after he’d come to Camelot, he found out Arthur’s cup was poisoned, then drank from the cup to prove it!”

“Now that sounds like a story,” Gwaine said, leaning closer.

“There's more to it than that,” Merlin muttered and Freya patted his chest.

“Then Arthur went and disobeyed his father to get the antidote. He nearly got eaten by giant spiders and spent a week in the dungeons afterward.”

“Really?” Gwaine asked, surprised.

“Yep. And this other time -”

“I liked it better when we were roasting Arthur,” Merlin muttered as Freya continued on.


“You and Freya are the best friends I've ever had,” Gwaine slurred as Merlin dumped him onto his bed.

“That so?” Merlin snorted, pulling his boots off.

The drunk hummed. “Probably my only friends really.”

“I'm not surprised,” Merlin said with enough teasing in his voice that even Gwaine could hear it through the alcohol.

The man laughed and slapped him on the back before Merlin pushed him down and covered him up.

“I think it’s time for bed. You need to sleep off the mead and I’ve got to be up early to help Arthur.”

“Thoroughbred little braggart,” Gwaine chuckled. “Can’t even let you have a morning off. My father always treated his servants well.”

“You didn't know him.”

“Well, I like to think that he did. What about yours?”

Merlin frowned as he settled down on the pallet he’d spread out to sleep on the night before. “I don’t know about when he was a lord, but by the time I met him, he didn't have any servants. He didn't have… well… anyone.”

“When did he die?” Gwaine asked, his voice suddenly somber and serious.

“About a year ago. I just wish that I had the chance to know him better. There’s so much he could've taught me.”

“But you did get to meet him.”

“Yeah.”

“If there's one thing that I learned from my father's life, it’s that titles don't mean anything. It's what's inside that counts.”


Freya smiled when she came upon Gwaine leaning against a window overlooking the training fields. She peeked out to see Arthur and Merlin sparring. “Having fun?”

“Just keeping an eye on things. They really are something else.”

“They are. It’s mostly Arthur though. I doubt Merlin would have lasted this long as anyone else’s servant. He’s too stubborn to put up with how they’d treat him. And Arthur, he might like to pretend he hates how Merlin never listens, but there’s a reason all the bootlicking servants he had before Merlin never lasted.”

Gwaine hummed and they watched a knight approach Arthur and Merlin and Arthur broke away to spar with the knight instead. “I’ve never known a noble that would allow themselves to be treated in such a way.”

She smiled and bumped her hip against his. “I told you, you just need to spend a day around the two of them. You should meet Sir Leon. They’ve worked their magic on him too. He’s off on a patrol right now, but he should be back in a week.”

“Don’t know if I’ll be around then. I’m not the type to stay in one place too long.”

“That’s too bad,” she said. “Well, if you do leave, you’ll always be welcome back anytime.”

He turned a smile on her. “That’s something I don’t hear too often. Are my charms finally sinking in then?”

She rolled her eyes and patted his shoulder. “Nice try, but Merlin holds my heart.”

“He’s a lucky guy.”


“To the eye, the sword appeared blunt, but when I touched it…” Merlin trailed off as Mordred wrapped his finger.

“You were lucky. I've seen those blades in action. They're forged using sorcery,” Gwaine said, watching the group.

“Of course they are,” Arthur sighed, rubbing his face. “Why would Oswald have such a thing?”

“I think they mean to kill you in the melee,” Merlin said.

“But there’d be so many witnesses. How would they get away with it?” Mordred asked.

“It's the perfect cover. If they succeed, nobody will suspect it was intentional,” Gwaine said.

“No, I know Oswald,” Arthur said firmly. “He wouldn’t do something like that. There must be another explanation.”

“I can investigate him,” Merlin said, standing up. “We’ll need proof anyways if we’re going to take this to your father.”

“I can sneak in and get the blade,” Gwaine offered.

“What if they catch you? What reason would you have to be in Sir Oswald's chamber? No. It's safer if I do it.”

“Last time I sent you sneaking about, you ended up in a serket’s nest,” Arthur pointed out and Gwaine’s eyes widened.

Merlin waved it off. “Leon got me out before any serkets even showed up.”

“Barely.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Merlin.

“I’ll call if I need help.”

“That’s a good idea,” Gwaine said. “We can be nearby and if something happens we can help.”

“R-right, that’s what I meant,” Merlin said, having forgotten Gwaine was there and didn’t realize they didn’t have to be near to hear his call.


“What’s going on here?” Arthur asked, coming into the room to see Oswald and Ethan shoving Merlin up against a wall, Oswald with a dagger in hand.

“I awoke to find the boy trying to steal from me,” Oswald growled.

“I was just rearranging the bedclothes, that's all!” Merlin said, catching Arthur’s eye then Gwaine's.

“Merlin may be an idiot, but he’s no thief,” Arthur agreed.

“I know what I saw. I demand an audience with the King!”

“Of course. Merlin.”

The boy came towards him, but tripped over his own feet as he passed Oswald. His hands shot out to catch himself and landed on the knight’s necklace. He fell to the ground, the crystal in hand.

Arthur drew his sword and he heard Gwaine do the same behind him as Oswald transformed into the thug from the tavern brawl.


“Are you sure you have to leave?” Freya asked as she accompanied Gwaine to the gates.

“Yeah. It’s for the best I don’t stick around. People get sick of me too quickly.”

“I didn't.”

He smiled and took her hand, kneeling to kiss it. “Then I will be sure that we see each other again, milady.”

“I told you, I’m no lady,” she scoffed, pulling her hand away.

“I don’t know. The way I see it, you’ll soon be marrying a lord,” he chuckled, standing.

“Merlin’s no lord.”

“Not yet, but I’ve seen the way Arthur looks at him. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t allow Merlin to reclaim his family’s status.”

“Not during Uther’s lifetime, but I think he has plans, to Merlin’s annoyance,” she said, eyeing him. “Does this mean you’re rethinking your idea of nobles?”

“Hardley. But perhaps those two are worth dying for.”

“Where will you go?”

“I was thinking Mercia.”

“Perhaps somewhere safer, like Gwynedd?”

“Anything for you, milady.” He gave a teasing bow and headed out the gate.


“They seem very friendly,” Arthur noted, watching Gwaine kiss Freya’s hand.

Merlin glanced up and smiled. “They are. Why should you care?”

“Doesn’t it concern you?”

He shrugged. “I trust her. If she believed there was something between them, she’d tell me.”

“And if there were?”

Merlin smirked. “It would hardly be fair to judge, considering…”

“Considering?” Arthur turned to Merlin with a frown. Then a blush took his face. “Merlin…”

“Shut up?”

“You guessed it.”