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Burned Parchment

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“Already back, Merlin?” Gaius yelled, as he heard the back door open. The older gentleman was in the middle of looking through his collection of medicine books. They weren’t the most popular in the shop. Nowhere near the adoration of his historical books, which Gaius needed to admit, was also his favourite. But he liked the books on medicine. He sometimes wondered how his life had turned out, if he had persuaded his dream of becoming a lawyer, as he had wanted to be when he was a kid. The idea hadn’t left him until he was well into his twenties, and he suddenly opened his eyes for magic. Then that was ripped from him twenty-eight years ago. So instead of participating in the illegal underground clubs and meetings that were in the beginning, he opened his book shop. It wasn’t in his intentions to accidently start an even more illegal business, than the forbidden meetings. But that was what eventually happened.

He attracted customers of all kinds; the good law-upholding bunch was the ones he saw most of the time. But once in a while, a man or a woman he either knew or had heard about in his past, would walk in, and start asking some very risky questions about some very outlawed topics. At first, he pushed them away, but slowly he realised he could start a secondary business, behind the façade of the bookshop, Hiraeth. He dug up his old papers and books on all things magic. Began teaching lessons on magic to the uneducated, he brewed potions and charmed small objects that he could sell to outrageous prices. No one would be able to complain, since it was already outside the law. Then he noticed that he wasn’t the only one who had taken advantage of the situation. Others ran shops much like his own. A lot was caught within the first few years, not to be seen again. But Gaius was good at hiding, along with a few others. Scattered throughout the city they stayed in contact. Warning each other about suspicious customers and loyal enchanters. Who they could trust and who they couldn’t. They had created their own secret community, and even though they rarely saw each other in real life, they trusted each other like brothers and sisters.

Gaius managed to survive the rise of Uther Pendragon and the fall of magic. Living life with just enough room to breathe. Just getting to know his weird new neighbour, Mr. Kilgharrah, right as his sister called about some awfully strange experiences she had had with her son, little Merlin. He immediately drove out to meet her and was speechless when he was presented with the boy. On Merlin’s 1st birthday, the kid was already throwing things around with his mind. Impossible was the absolute first thought he had rushing through his head. Already preparing for the emotional baggage he would be carrying around, when the kid would be discovered and taken away. But his dear sister, Hunith was begging him to help, well aware of Gaius’ past and his present, the woman knew which buttons to push. He tried everything he could to make the 1-year old understand that everything he was doing was illegal. Gaius had never been good with children.
He returned home after a week, without knowing, baffled by the wicked case, that was his nephew. Preforming levitating spells before he could even talk? That was completely unheard of. Wrong in every single way.

He dove into his books, and contacted everyone in his community, asking if they’d ever heard of something just resembling such young evolved magic such as Merlin’s. But the replies where empty, confused, and most of all, the others didn’t believe him. Honest to himself, Gaius didn’t really believe himself either. It had taken years of sweat, tears, and practice to preform something his nephew could do when he was 1! Unbelievable. He could do much more than the common magician, and little Merlin didn’t even know how to use the toilet yet.

He was left to speculate, when the eccentric neighbour decided to come in for a visit. Kilgharrah, eccentric indeed. Gaius was certain that the man smoked at least two packs of cigarettes each day, since the very awful smell of smoke followed him everywhere. The man was nice enough, walking around in that leather jacket and jeans, looking a lot older than Gaius, but apparently following the fashion trends more than himself who was walking around in (the most fashionable) sweaters. Grey hair, which must have been golden-blonde before it lost its colour, was messier than Gaius’ desk upstairs, and the beard looked wildly unkept. Kilgharrah clearly didn’t bother much for other people’s approval of his looks, the rash on his hands backed that statement up, looking almost scaly.

“Mr. Kilgharrah, I’m sorry to say, but we’re closed.” Gaius didn’t want to talk to the man at that moment, still pondering over his very young nephew.

“I know,” he simply answered, not giving any sign to leave. “Not the reason I’m here.”

Gaius wasn’t in the mood for small talk, and helping Kilgharrah, who he didn’t particularly like wasn’t near the top 100 things he wanted to do that evening. But it wasn’t in his nature to be rude either, so he turned around to face the man. “Then what brings you here? Anything I can help you with?”

Kilgharrah started nodding, looking around the shop, until he rested his eyes on the history books. He picked up Legends of Avalon by Geoffrey of Monmouth. A book he had only just gotten hold of last week. A very special book, though not the original. He had still not taken his time to read it, thought the magic-less book might sell. “Have you ever cared much about legends, Gaius?”

That he had to answer no to, and he did. Gaius didn’t care for legends, the past was the past, and in a world with Uther Pendragon pulling all the strings, he liked to think more about his future, and how he would be able to survive from day to day. Therefore, studying the stories of a magical past wasn’t high on his to-do list either.

“I think you should start showing some interest, into one specific one.” Kilgharrah continued, unprompted. “The story of Emrys and the Once and Future King, is always a classic. A story of destinies, dragons, and a magical kingdom not much different than our own.”

“I’m not sure if you’ve been following the news, but magic has been outlawed the last 4 years.” Gaius said, with little interest showing his face, “and dragons are a thing of the past. Last one died 200 years ago.”

“Yes, yes, I’m aware of the death of the last dragon,” Kilgharrah smiled, finding something amusing in their conversation, “as for the ban of magic; how could I miss it? It certainly started a chain reaction. There’s not a lot of countries left with magic still legal, and those will be gone in the next few years if you ask the experts. But you don’t really care for the ban, do you now?”

The man looked smug, like he had just caught Gaius in a very big lie, which was exactly what had happened. Gaius just stood there, dazed and unsure what to do next. Silence filled the library until Kilgharrah decided to carry on his speech, not needing the other man’s answer.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. In fact, I admire you and this shop. It’s a wonderful concept. Defiantly a good place for a man with a family like yours.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh! Young Merlin of course. That boy will once again grow to do many great things, and to have an uncle like you to guide him through the years will defiantly be a bonus.” Gaius was once again, speechless. A bit confused and frightened by Kilgharrah’s knowledge.

“How in the world, would you be able to know any of this. Are you stalking my sister? Because if you are then I’ll call the police.” Gaius was already reaching for his phone behind the counter.

“I think you’ll find that a very bad idea, Gaius. I tend to speak my mind, and I really wouldn’t want anything to interfere with your nephew’s destiny. He is still just a baby, and not everything is set in stone yet.” Kilgharrah put Geoffrey of Monmouth’s book down on the counter and started walking towards the door. “Promise me you’ll read a bit into legends. Especially the ones containing Emrys. I think you’ll find them… educational at least.”

At that the man left, leaving Gaius with even more questions. Not sure why Emrys and the Once and Future King had any part in helping him with his nephew, but he didn’t have any other clues as to what he should do with the abomination that was Merlin. He started reading the book and found it to be very enlightening.
The old tales of Camelot were maybe not so time wasting after all, but there was still a lot leaving him with questions. So, he decided to visit his neighbour again. Get answers.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get much out of the man, Kilgharrah had started talking in riddles and proverbs. Either way he left with one important question answered. Merlin Wyllt wasn’t the boy’s only name, and Gaius should do everything in his power to make sure Merlin didn’t know that before it was time. Instead he should instruct him, help him on his way, and make the boy learn and understand the ins and outs of the magical world. But already when the boy turned 8, the magic was running wild, responding to every little emotion he felt, and reacting in strange and unpredictable ways. Gaius went to Kilgharrah for help, once again, and came out with the idea of a magical blocker. He then proceeded to contact every single one of his associates, asking for such a thing. Something to block out powerful magic. Most of them had such belongings, but it was all metal and chains, used to capture sorcerers and hold them prisoners, and Gaius didn’t fancy the idea of his 8-year old nephew running around looking like the sorcerer he wasn’t supposed to be. He then kindly told them no and kept looking for something simpler and less noticeable.

That’s when he met Alice Gladstone. She was a nice lady, owner of the pharmacy a few blocks away. Light brown hair she always kept in a braid that complimented her facial features just nicely. She wasn’t really invested in the magical community in Camelot, and rarely sold anything more complex than a perfume with a simple charm on it. Gaius was hesitant to go meet her, doubting her abilities and her loyalties. But Hunith’s pleadings became too much for him, and he could see the situation becoming desperate, when little Merlin was starting to explode their houseplants when he was asleep, and almost exposing himself when an old neighbour was visiting, and Merlin kept slipping in and out of consciousness as his irises turned gold, whispering a weird language under his tongue. It freaked the neighbour out and she was almost storming out of the house screaming “MAGIC”, as Hunith took little Merlin to his room, and eventually was able to convince the woman, that the kid was in a rebellious phase, where he liked to scare people. Nothing actually happened while he was “conquering spells”, and the golden eyes? A trick of the light.
Worse thing was, Hunith said that Merlin didn’t even remember any of it happening. The last hour had been erased from his mind.

At last, Gaius gave in, and decided to give Alice Gladstone a visit. Alice was as doubtful of Gaius as he of her. Not giving much information, as to why Gaius had been pointed in her direction. She said she knew why, she just wouldn’t tell him what she possessed. Scared the man before her would use this device on someone, and possibly give them up to Pendragon Co. The worst-case scenario was entirely likely, as he was asking for something inconspicuous to weaken heavy magic.
Both stubborn in nature, they stood their ground rock solid. Gaius not telling her the reason and Alice not willing to give one of her most extreme belongings away without knowing why. Not coming further in the verbal exchange, Gaius took his opinion and left, emptyhanded once again.

A week later he was more frustrated than ever. Hunith had called once again, telling another outrageously horrifying story of something Merlin now had done. The mother was crying when she talked to her older brother, struck with the fear that someone would come and take her little Merlin away. How could she not? The boy was only 8 and wasn’t even aware of what he was doing.
In the middle of such a thought process, the bell above the shop’s front door chimed, and in walked Alice, a small bag in her hand and watery eyes.

“Gaius?” Her voice was shaking, matching the trembling hand, not holding the bag.

“Miss. Gladstone?” He turned to look at her, “are... is something wrong?”

She didn’t return his look and kept her head down as she put the small bag on the counter. “It’s come to my attention that you need this more than I do.”

Gaius took a few steps towards her, intrigued by the black bag, laying quietly and undisturbed in between he and Alice Gladstone. “Is it?...”

“Yes,” she nodded, “it is. And you will promise me, to be careful with it. It’s more violent than you first realise and if you were to wear it, then you will succumb to its powers and perish from existence, and do not treat these words with a grant of salt. Let no one else than him walk around with it freely.”

Alice left after her finishing words, not straightening up once. Walking away with her head still low and eyes not meeting anyone. She soon disappeared around the corner, and it was only then Gaius dared to walk towards the black bag.

---

That Christmas Merlin received a brown leather bracelet with a druidic symbol on it. Merlin obviously asked a ton of questions about it that Gaius refused to answer. “Everything will make sense when you get older,” he said with a straight face. No smile was seen in his face the next hour, so Merlin put on the bracelet, and never took it off again.

---

Gaius took his time to say thank you to Alice after that. He was at a loss as to why the woman had just showed up and given him the bracelet. He asked her out for coffee, and she said yes.
The basic and yet powerful jewel wasn’t even brought up in conversation though. He had meant to ask her a billion times as he was drinking that coffee, but simply swayed away from the question when Alice had started a new and even more interesting conversation than the last.
When the coffee meet-up ended, he was yet again standing with no answers. Therefore, he decided to ask her out for lunch. She agreed.

And that game continued. Gaius forgetting to ask and instead spending a lot of time with a really nice lady.
He might even have started to develop some feelings for the woman.

Right up until the clean-out. That’s what they called it… might as well have been spring cleaning or something else positive.
Pendragon was becoming restless and paranoid. Thinking that around every single street corner, would stand a sorcerer planning a plot against him. People was chosen at random at odd hours there would be a surprise visit to a home. Everything was searched, and if there were small evidence suggesting magic, then the people was taken, and not seen for a long time.
The clean-up lasted 3 months, and Gaius was lucky enough to not be searched, Alice wasn’t.

They found one of her small boxes filled with charmed objects. All completely harmless but also entirely magical. She was taken and wasn’t released before the search was completed.

When she came back, she didn’t recognise Gaius.

He never found the answer to why she showed up on his doorstep that night with the bracelet.

---

Nine years went by, and everything was quiet, until Merlin accidently revealed his magic to a friend as he had postponed the poor boy’s death. A sad incidence, and the boy was freaking out that entire summer, head in an entirely different place than the book Gaius had given him to study. It was understandable and yet unacceptable. But he decided to give the boy some slack and went easy on the studying that year.

---

A few more years flew by him, not realising that time was moving faster than he could comprehend. It was all of a sudden 22 years since the purge, and a young girl in tears and ripped clothes was standing outside his door. Magic was practically pouring out of her, a dark purple aura shining clearly to the naked eye. Visible to everyone within a mile, so he dragged her inside without giving it a second thought.
She introduced herself as Freya, and in less than a minute, she had told him her entire life story. From growing up, sleeping in chains every night, till the meeting with one of Gaius’ friends, Aglain. Aglain had apparently pointed her in Gaius’ direction.
He tried comforting her and later found out that the shop offered some type of immunity. Freya then soon used almost all of her nights there, sleeping on a couch in the back room.
Gaius eventually replaced the couch with a bed, telling the girl she could stay as much as she wanted. Feeling pity on Freya, he didn’t charge her of money, and as a thank you, she started working the evening shifts for free. It was a good deal.
And then Aglain came to the shop one day, introducing the poison that could help the girl, at a cost. She welcomed it with arms wide open.

---

That’s what brought him to that Thursday afternoon, listening to the back door opening. Asking if it was Merlin, even though he immediately knew it was not, recognising the smell of cigarette smoke. “Oh, it’s you.” He said instead, when Kilgharrah came crawling from behind.

“Do not sound so disappointed.” A wide grin plastered to his face, “some might think you don’t like me.”

“No need to like you,” Gaius turned around to meet the eyes of the surprisingly tall man, “I just need to tolerate you for a bit longer. Besides, you’ve been oddly chatty lately, what brings you out of your cave?”

“I suspect you know the answer. How is he? Causing trouble yet?”

“If you’re asking, if he’s causing the downfall of Pendragon Co. yet, then no. He doesn’t even know he’s supposed to.” Gaius began re-sorting the books on his shelves, to make it look like he had something to do.

“You shouldn’t tell him. It’s a violation of everything that you know.” Kilgharrah followed the shorter man around, watching him take out random books and putting them an inch further away than their original place.

“Why not?” He asked, looking at the cover of a cooking book, “it would make everything a million times easier, if he just knew.”

“And it would also have been a million times easier if I was ten meters taller and could breathe fire, but I cannot. No man is important enough to know their own destiny. Not even Emrys.”

“So that’s what you came to tell me, huh?” Gaius was now standing with a book on herbs. Out of all the ordinary books, this one was probably his favourite. “That no man can know his destiny? I think I’ve possibly heard that one before.”

“Everything will make…”

“Make sense with time. yeah yeah, I’ve heard it all before you know.” Gaius sighed, squeezing the space between his eyebrows with two fingers, to distract himself from the headache that had started to form. “Merlin’s fine, Freya likes him, and I think they’re down visiting Gwen and Elyan Smith’s coffee shop.”

Kilgharrah seemed intrigued at that, something other than magic lighting up behind his eyes, “the Smith’s? Yes, that sounds promising.” He then started spinning on his heel, and left through the front door, leaving Gaius to wonder why he came in through the back in the first place.