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Burned Parchment

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The ancient room smelled like burned parchment, which made sense… in one way or another. Because of all the lit candles stocking up the shelves and filling up a bit less than half of the desk. It was most defiantly possible that the old gentleman, who once roamed this room, had at some point or another, accidentally burned one of his documents. What was a bit more, concerning, considering the matter, was that the smell had simply stayed.

The room long abandoned by breathing souls, so should a not-ever-lasting smell of burned parchment do. Disappear, that is. The explanation was maybe not so peculiar as it should have been. Because the old lord, who once owned the former burned parchment, had been a man who was a bit interested in the legerdemain, or as others would call it… magic.

Because of the gentleman’s superstitious beliefs, he had owned a bit more than a few documents, containing spells of all kinds, from necromancy and exorcisms to the simplest bewitchments and small predictions.

The lord liked to think of himself, as a well-educated man, even though he understood the fact, that he had only dipped his toes into this world of knowledge and power. He also understood, that he, a plain man with a plain mind, was not suitable for said world. He couldn’t preform the easiest of the spells and wasn’t at all brave enough to sacrifice some of his mind, his most precious belonging, to obtain a power, he didn’t even fully understand.

Therefore, he hid his obsession, in a dusty old basement. Burned what he deemed too precious for this world, and accidentally started an old enchantment, by flaming one specific parchment. It was in such an ancient language, the lord couldn’t be sure if it was magic of death, or just a levitating spell. So, he put it aflame, and by doing that, every candle in the room, was doomed to burn forever, and the scent of the burned paper just wouldn’t disappear after that.

And because of that little accident, the lord decided, it wasn’t exactly a thought-through plan, to burn the documents. Something worse might have happened. He stopped, and buried them in a library far underground instead.

In the mess of the mentioned library, in his section of unimportant, and small predictions, laid an inconsequential piece of paper, with a few lines, telling a story of two men, in a world of self-driving wagons, and buildings taller than castles, reaching as far up as the sky. Living in a never quiet city, the size of a small kingdom. Two men, who lived again. A second chance, since they failed the first.

No one had, of course read this document more than once. It wasn’t judged important. Hidden away with everything else.
Not so long after the lord buried his passion, the king of the country, he lived in, lost a wife, gained a son, and possibly misplaced his sanity. And because of that, our beloved lord possibly also misplaced his head.

That is now 1400 years ago and isn’t at all important to the story. Not in any way, what so ever.

Because this is a story, about a young man, moving from the country side, to the big city, to meet his destiny, as an employee at his uncle’s bookshop, Hiraeth. Not that Merlin Wyllt had much experience in selling books. He was much more interested in reading them, which possibly made him perfect for the job. Gaius certainly seemed to think so, and so did his mum. It could also have been because he was 25 and still living at home. But that was not at all his fault. He had lived in his own apartment for 5 years, right up until Will… Well, the crash.

So, no one could really blame him for moving back to his mum, for a year, until he was sent on his merry way to start again. And you couldn’t exactly say he was complaining. He liked Gaius when he was younger. The man had been real fun at Christmas, and always came with the weirdest presents, Merlin had ever seen. His uncle was also the one, who had given Merlin the leather bracelet with the weird symbol, that he hadn’t taken off since he was 8. Somehow it still fit. Merlin had learned over the years, to not ask questions about such things.

Besides Christmas, Merlin really only saw his uncle one week every summer, when he came to Ealdor, to teach Merlin things, you don’t learn in school. Or more accurately, how to hide those things.

And Merlin became good at hiding. He went mostly unnoticed all the way through his primary and secondary education. Only maybe making Mrs. Addington’s coffee too cold, warm, or even making it vanish once in a while. Those were the easy tricks. He also found himself disturbing Mr. Beckwith’s internet. Not entirely intentional. At least not the first few times. But there was something amusing about watching their tech-expert being baffled by something as simple, as connecting his computer to the Wi-Fi.

Besides, who would ever think, that the quiet scrawny kid with his magic-less mother, would have anything to do with any of that. But the fun and games, as all good things do, stopped. Merlin was around 12 when this happened. Thomas, a boy, a few years older. His mother was a well-known witch. Specializing in alterations, Hunith had said. Not that Merlin’s mum knew anything about what those words meant, but Merlin had not been slow to ask Gaius about it, that Christmas.

Thomas was a nice kid. Merlin didn’t really know him that well, and he wasn’t even sure if Thomas was aware that Merlin existed. Now he would never find out. Because the older boy, had been caught digging into something about occultism, which was high on the List of the Forbidden, Pendragon Co. had founded.

So, Merlin’s small public trickeries stopped, the second he heard Thomas’ body had been found in the river. 3rd degree burns around ankles and neck, animal-like scratches following closely around them, and his own skin, trapped beneath his fingernails.

A statement some called it. Gaius just called it murder.

So, Merlin stopped making coffee and Wi-Fi disappear, and instead started doing exactly that to himself. He became even more unnoticeable than before. Right up until he met Will. William Barlow, the most extraordinary 16-year old, that Merlin had the fortune to know. Will was extroverted in every possible way, he was open, accepting, and defiantly a party-goer, or… maybe more of a party crasher. But that didn’t mean people hated him every time he showed up with seemingly endless supplies of vodka and beer. Plus, he noticed Merlin, and pulled him along to every single party, even though the chair in the corner of Merlin’s room, was much more comfortable. But he could live with that, because seeing Will, in an environment like that, was something else entirely, than seeing him at school, half sleeping, with a pen behind his ear, or seeing him at home in his bed, laughing at that ancient photograph of baby Merlin, and his mum. Deep inside, Merlin knew Will loved that photo. But seeing Will drunk, with his head in the toilet, blabbering on and on about how much his dad would kill him, because of it, and how much he would kill Merlin, because it was 1 am and Merlin was already sober again. They could only really laugh at that.

For some reason those moments were the best. When Will was so vulnerable, and showed so much trust in Merlin, that he would often dose off with his head on Merlin’s shoulder. After all that time in the restroom, Merlin eventually also ended with his head first in the toilet, and all Will did was laugh at him for at least 20 minutes, before he sat down beside him, and they shared a drunken minute of starring into a wall, while slightly floating above the suspiciously yellow floor. Will didn’t really float, Merlin might have just a tiny bit.

“I’m gay.” Merlin whispered. It wasn’t exactly a secret at this point. He was pretty sure everyone had figured out by now, and it wasn’t as if he was trying to hide it. He just hadn’t said out loud before. And in his most disoriented time of his teenage life, he fought fuck it, and told his best friend.

Will, as predicted, wasn’t surprised. Just smiled, and laid his head on Merlin’s shoulder again, while an almost non-existent sound came from his mouth, that sounded a lot like, “same.”

They didn’t really talk about that part of the night again. The thing that happened a few seconds before it though, that was talked about plenty. Will did not hesitate to bring Merlin’s first head in the bowl moment up. It happened 5 times a day. At least that was what it felt like for Merlin.

No, it wasn’t really brought up again, until Merlin found himself at another party, in a neighbouring village, where he only knew Will, and suddenly Merlin remembered the ending of the conversation that first night.

Because Merlin in his drunken state, ended on the couch in the living room, with some really attractive stranger, and had his first many kisses. The sweetness ended though, when he made eye contact with Will, who stormed out of the house. Obviously the only logical thing to do at that time, was to leave his newfound stranger, and go running after his best friend.

The next few moments were probably the most memorable in his life. The sun had set hours ago, and the only thing illuminating the street, was the vague light from the party. But Will didn’t care. With a beer in one hand, and the other in his pocket, he stormed out onto the road, and didn’t see the car coming from his right. Worse thing was, the car didn’t see Will either.

Two screams, a pair of golden eyes, and a completely normal boy, thrown into the air, landing in the field, meters away from where he stood seconds before. Will’s widened eyes was the most frightening thing Merlin had seen is his very young life. All of it while, he could feel his golden iris not disappearing. He soon understood, that a sprained wrist was not the worst thing, that came out of that night.

Will seemed to have figured it all out, when he refused to speak to Merlin a few days later. And Merlin acknowledged that. He didn’t accept it, but he knew that Will needed space, for now. So instead of knocking on Wills front door for hours, he called Gaius, and the old man came as quickly as he could, when he heard what had happened.

His uncles’ words would follow and haunt him in the back of his mind, for the next few years, “You spared his life this time, but that means, he’s only living on borrowed time from now on.“ And oh, if only he knew how true that was back then.

It took Will the rest of the summer, and a month into the next school year, before he spoke to him again, and Merlin wished with all his heart, that it had been for another reason. Because on that rainy autumn day, it wasn’t Merlin who came storming to his former friends’ door, knocking aggressively, hoping that someone would answer. This time it was Will. And of course, Hunith let the poor boy with thousands of tears in his eyes inside. And when he started screaming about how he had just talked to his mum, and she had roughly told him, that his dad would not be returning from his trip to Mercia. Tears everywhere and a running nose, he sobbed through the sentences, saying things like, he didn’t know where else to go, because he didn’t want to be home or alone. So, he stayed the night, and the night after that. Actually, he stayed the entire week.

To see some light in the darkness, it brought Merlin and Will closer than ever, and Merlin let himself forget Gaius’ ominous words. On Wills 18th birthday, a month later, he didn’t really want to do anything special. So, they stayed at Merlin’s, just the two of them. Hunith was out of town for the week, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to free his mum of some red wine, she never had had the occasion to drink herself. They were now old enough to buy their own wine, but there was just something a bit fun and daring about taking his mums, like they were young and wasn’t allowed to drink, when in reality Hunith had told them to take as much as they wanted, she just didn’t want to hear from the hospital. Which in all honesty was fair.

The night ended sort of blurry, but kisses were exchanged, and the idea of buying an apartment together was also thrown around. So that was exactly what happened, the following year.
5 years they lived in that small apartment together. Young and fooling around, while being responsible enough to take an education. Merlin somehow ended up studying English literature, while Will took the more medical route.

Young and fresh out of university. And everything went sideways, because Gaius’ statement proved true. And how ironic that Will would be the one driving the car this time. No one came out alive.

 

For a year, Merlin didn’t know what to do with his life, and that is how he ended up here. In front of Gaius’ small unique bookshop, Hiraeth. The bell above his head chimed, while his foot hit the wooden-floor for the first time. He had never been there before, but he already loved the very distinct scent of burned parchment.

Chapter Text

Gaius is exactly as Merlin remembers him. Looking a bit older, than his actual age, with that long white hair, pulled back into a low pony tail, while wearing the ugliest of sweaters. The glasses are new, but Merlin knows not to comment on it, every time his uncle gets new glasses. More often than not, he learns from his mistakes.

“Uhmm. Gaius?” The older man looks up from his book, and gives Merlin one of those very confusing smiles, where Merlin is not exactly sure if he’s happy to see him, or not.

“Merlin! What a pleasure seeing you, dear boy,” he says, while standing up, and went in for a hug.

“Hi.” Merlin whimpers, as he’s getting crushed in the man’s, surprisingly strong hold. “Good to see you too.”

“Put your things down and come get a cup of tea.” Gaius is long gone, when Merlin had put his very small suitcase and his computer bag down behind the counter. So, he was left to wander aimlessly around the back room, for a minute, until he eventually knocked over a plant, cursed like hell for a few seconds, and then his uncle’s head, appeared from behind a door, Merlin would swear wasn’t there a minute ago. Or maybe it was, the train ride had been a long one. Gaius just started to shake his head and was gone behind the door once again. Merlin followed closely behind this time, leaving a clean room, with a nice, not broken, plant.

---

“So, Merlin,” he started, smiling over the edge of the tea-cup, “tell me, how’s Hunith.”

“Oh, the same as always, smiling and way too enthusiastic about her paintings.” Merlin looked down at the tea, Gaius had been so kind to make. Merlin didn’t blame him, it had been two years since they last saw each other, but if they were going to live together for a while, he had to know at some point, that Merlin was much more of a coffee-guy.

“Arh, I forgot, that the poor woman went back to her old interests again. But I shouldn’t be the one to talk, she didn’t start a business build on her ideas.” Gaius’ eyes drifted off to somewhere else in the small break room. And small was a generous word, for the room, with only enough space to put a coffee table. But somehow Gaius had fitted said table, a small fridge, two sofas, and a high table, with the kettle. In the near future, Merlin was sure, that there would also be a coffeemaker up there, beside it.

“But, you didn’t.” Merlin answered, confused as to what his uncle meant by that. Yes, the old man was very interested in books, just not the kind, you would be able to find an ordinary bookshop, in the heart of Camelot. No, you shouldn’t be able to find it anywhere in Camelot, or in all of Albion. At least not if you wanted to keep your head.

“So to speak, my dear boy. So to speak.” And that ended the conversation. Merlin couldn’t figure out, if it was a time for questions, or he should hold his mouth on the subject, exactly as he did with the bracelet. His mouth made the decision for him, as he desperately tried to kill a yawn, and Gaius rushed up, and almost screamed into Merlin’s face. “Oh, of course you’re tired. It has been a long day after all. You need some sleep, and I have a shop, who needs someone at the counter.” And with that, the man was gone. Leaving Merlin alone, with two cups of tea, and a couch, which looked exceedingly comfortable. With eyes half closed already, he didn’t bother paying attention, when he heard Gaius’ fainting voice, loudly speaking another man’s name.

“Mr. Kilgharrah, how amusing. What brings you here?” Merlin was long gone before he heard the other man’s answer. If he had been awake though, he might have wondered how an ordinary man, would be able to speak which such a hoarse voice, while still sounding somewhat sophisticated, in between his labyrinth of proverbs.

---

“Good morning sunshine,” was the first thing Merlin heard, when he once again opened his eyes. Something was a bit off about it, and Merlin concluded that it was not at all Gaius’, since this one belonged to a woman.

“Huh?”, seemed to be the only thing he could get himself to answer, with his still closed eyes, saliva on the pillow, and head somewhere in a forest with a deer, that wasn’t quite a deer. Weird dreams.

“You must be Merlin,” He finally looked up, to be met by a girl, in a nice red summer dress, and dark brown hair, framing her face very nicely. She was young, that much was clear. But she still looked extremely worn out. Bags under the red eyes, she had desperately tried to remove, with a thick layer of foundation, and her mascara was a bit smeared, as if it was from yesterday. In all honesty, she looked hangover, but that wasn’t quite right either. It was as wrong as her voice. Her slim build fitted well to the delicate and light voice, but somewhere behind it, something else was hidden. It was darker, and not appropriate for her, but he just couldn’t place what was wrong. So, as he did with all other confusing and scary things in his life, he brushed it aside, and would ask Gaius about it later.

“Yes, that’s me,” the answer, eventually came. He quickly began to wipe the saliva away from his face, and not so elegantly turned over the pillow, so she wouldn’t see it. “And you?”

“Freya, the name is Freya. I work in your uncle’s shop in the weekday evenings. My shift is starting in five minutes, but Gaius said, and I quote ‘get in and wake that lazy lad up, or he may lose a limb,’” She bit her lip, and looked up with a narrow smile, “your uncle is a bit… feisty.” She continued, probably regretting her choice of word.

“Yes, I suppose you could say that,” he laughed, extending a hand, “nice to meet you Freya.”

She looked at his hand for a moment, and eventually accepted it, “and nice to meet you too, Merlin.”

 

Freya turned out to be a really effective and passionate worker. She greeted all the evening customers like old friends. Not that there were that many, on a Wednesday night, all of three, but she still took her time to really chat with all of them, “Oh, Mrs. Darlington, so nice to see you again, how is Mr. Darlington doing?” And Mrs. Darlington was really a chatter, her and Freya gossiped for about half an hour, until the elderly woman realized, she needed to buy that one special cooking book, because she wanted to experiment a bit with her spices. Freya knew all of this beforehand, because Mrs. Darlington, was very obviously a regular. Then there was, “Mr. Smith! It’s been a while, how’s the café?” and the last customer, Miss. Gladstone, who really liked to complain about the owner of the small bookshop, Hiraeth, was never there when she was. And Freya insisted, that it wasn’t Gaius’ fault, that Miss. Gladstone always came Wednesday nights, where Freya was working the shift. Apparently, Wednesday evenings was the only time the shop is open, and Miss. Gladstone had some free time.

“Alice is a nice lady, even if she fancies Gaius just a tad too much. But I don’t think Gaius returns her feelings though, he mysteriously vanishes, every time I go out in the back when she asks for him.” Freya is sitting on the counter, looking at Miss. Alice Gladstone, who walks away emptyhanded, “I can’t remember if she’s ever actually bought anything, maybe a book on gardening once, I think.”

“That’s odd,”

“No, not really. She’s just a woman in love.” Freya sighs, and looks at her watch “Oh well, it’s 7 pm, closing time. “She jumps down from the counter, and waltz over to the door, where she smoothly locks it, and closes the curtains. Merlin looks at the girl, her shoulders are suddenly tense, and she is visibly shaking, as she still has one of her hands on the windowsill.

“Freya?” He isn’t sure if it would be the right move, to go over and comfort her, or keep the distance between them. He did just meet her, and her personal bubble could be anything and everything. “Are, are you okay?”

Freya didn’t react at first. Kept shaking and shaking and shaking. Her breathing was unsteady, and the other part of her voice started to come forward. Until it didn’t. She turned around, and smiled, with just a single tear falling down her chin, which she seemed unbothered by.

“Yes?”

“Are, are, Freya, are you sure you’re okay? Maybe you should go home?” He stammered, now it was his turn to be a bit unsteady.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Gaius always makes an extra portion for me anyway.” As calm as she had been seconds before, she pranced off, into the back, and up the stairs. Normal. Maybe.

---

The dinner table was oddly chatty. Almost as much as Mrs. Darlington. Freya and Gaius seemed comfortable with each other, jumping from topic to topic. Freya’s older brothers, Gaius’ new ancient books, social media, that neither of them really seemed to understand. Merlin tried to come with an input or two, but it was a lost cause, since the two, immediately changed the subject again. It was all happening so fast, Merlin wasn’t even sure if they were still talking about dogs, or they had left that conversation minutes ago.

“Meat?” Merlin asked, when he saw that Freya’s plate was empty. She shook her head, as she sent him a smile.

“No thanks, I’m a vegetarian.”

“Oh,” he said, scooping some of the leftover ribeye onto his own plate.

“So, Merlin.” Freya asked, still carrying that endless smile, “Got any plans for the weekend?”

“Freya!” Gaius interrupted, almost throwing his knife and fork onto his plate. Stern look in his eyes, and all of his focus, translating facial expressions into words, and the way Merlin read the room, he was not supposed to understand it.

“What! It’s been two months since I last had a night out, you must have made a new dose by now, and besides you’re fun Gaius, but I’m almost 23 and don’t want to spend my entire youth in a bookshop, with a man thrice my age.”

“And I get that, Freya, but you could at least wait until the Pendragons are out of town,” the old man was insistent, and it seemed like this was a topic they had discussed loads of times before.

“Yeah, wait until Uther Pendragon leaves his precious home? And when is that supposed to happen?” She rolled her eyes, and leaned back in the chair, ”when I’m 50, with 13 cats, and is probably sitting in a wheelchair, with how things are going. Besides if Merlin is with me, then it can’t all go wrong.” The intensity of the room was going crazy, and it looked like the girl and the man was having a staring contest, while Merlin awkwardly kept eating, not wanting the food to get cold.

But since none of the two other stubborn people wanted to speak the first word, Merlin felt sort of responsible of that role, “I don’t think I’m quite following, on what’s happening,” none of them left the staring contest, “care to explain?”

That seemed to trigger something, as Freya stood up, took her plate, and started spitting in Gaius’ face, minus the saliva. “Yes, Gaius, care to explain?” And with that, she left them to the silence again.

“Sooo?” Merlin said, in between eating the salad.

“Aehhm, yeah,” was followed by an exasperated sigh, “you see, my boy, Freya’s got a condition. A pretty bad one. The women In Freya’s family, carry a blood disease, of sorts. Its origin has foot in necromancy, but have over time, evolved so much, that there’s no trace left of it. So now instead, she is stuck with a curse of a beast. Forced to change into one at every dusk, and wake up, with no recollection of what happened, at dawn. She has told stories, of waking up in a pool of blood, not knowing if it’s her own, an animal’s, or heaven forbid it, another human’s.”

“But, if she, how…”

“How she is normal now?” Gaius took a second to breathe. “An old college of mine, who specialized in cases like this before the List of the Forbidden, knew her mother, and he had found a poison, that helped.”

“Poison?”

“Yes Merlin, poison. If you or I drank it, we would die instantly. But in small doses, it works great with her condition. It allows her to go out in the night, and party and drink like everyone else her age. She loves it, and it’s fantastic to see her being happy on an entirely different level than normally. But in the same time as it’s helping her, it’s also simultaneously damaging her. Over the last few years, she’s been overdosing. Taking it a bit too often.”

“Is that what she meant with the wheelchair?” Merlin had lost his appetite a long time ago now and had gently pushed his plate away from him. Instead focusing on his uncle’s words.

“Yes, it’s what happened to her mother. She started using it every month, every week, and eventually every day. So, one day she woke up with terrible pain in her legs. That continued the next month, until she couldn’t walk at all. Then it spread to her arms, and her torso. She couldn’t move at all, it wasn’t until she lost her ability to speak, that they understood, that the she was affected by the poison, just extremely slowly, and every single dose brought her closer to her end.”

“And Freya?”

“Freya knows this. She is fully aware of the possible consequences.” Gaius took the glass of water, and downed it in one, while also trying to dry his eyes.

“And she is still taking it every day?” Gaius immediately looked up at that, eyebrows meeting in the middle, and a thin line as his mouth.

“What? No! Of course she isn’t. I would never allow her to take it that often.” He said, sounding somewhat offended. “Why in the world would you even think that?”

“Uhm,” he started, trying to answer, “because she isn’t a beast destroying the entire street right now, and the sun set an hour ago.”

“Oh…” The offended expression in his eyes disappeared, replaced by something that could be shock, “well, that is a worthy accusation. But no, she isn’t, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why that is. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it must have something to do with the shop. She just doesn’t stay human anywhere else than here. It’s odd, but it came with the smell of burned parchment and Mr. Kilgharrah. In fact, those two things also came at the same time.” He started wrinkling his nose, disgusted in one way or another.

“Who’s Kilgharrah?”

“Just an old gentleman, who lives down the street. A bit peculiar, in more ways than one, if you get what I mean,” Gaius winked, and had a small private laugh, as he stood up. “But who cares about him. These dishes won’t clean themselves.”

Merlin took this as his cue, as he stormed up on his feet, eye to eye, with the slightly shorter man, “yes they do,” feeling the warmth from inside spread, and seeing everything in the room turn slightly gold, together with his irises. His magic welcomed him with open arms, and he could feel the kindness of it spread from his pinkies to his ginormous ears. A slight and harmless slap to the back of his head stopped the warmth. “HEY!” He yelled. But Gaius was not amused.

“Not here, they don’t. In Camelot you clean the dishes, using your own physical skills.” He insisted, raising one of his eyebrows, and Merlin knew that meant trouble, so instead of complaining, he decided to just do it himself.

Chapter Text

Thursday was a slow day. As slow as it gets, when the shop closes at 1 pm, with all of five customers. But considering the fact, that Merlin was new and did not at all know how the cash register worked, then it was good practice. Gaius tried to give Merlin space for learning, and it was a kind gesture, if it wasn’t because the uncle ran off every second, too check out back. So, Merlin was left to himself most of the time. It was okay, because the shop was truly something to itself, and he wanted to explore every single corner of the 50 square meter shop. So he did.

The shop was strangely organized. Cooking books in this corner, books on plants right beside it, and a few eerie books on cleaning, next to that. Novels occupying the other corner, romance, thriller, crime, fantasy, science fiction. School books standing obnoxiously in the middle. Comics hidden in the back lining up with the children’s books. Up front in the shop was the history books. Clearly those Gaius held dearest, as they were all in their best shape, dust free, and on the antique bookshelf.

Merlin decided to pick one of them up, Legends of Avalon by Geoffrey of Monmouth. A book on legends in the pile of history books. Another question added to the list, of things he needed to ask Gaius about. Right up there with, what is so interesting out back, that you’re never in the actual shop? And why is it still smelling like burned paper, shouldn’t you get that checked or something?

---

As the time was closing in on being 1 pm, the bell over the door chimed, and in walked Freya. Big brown boots matched with a yellow jumpsuit, and a denim jacket. Bizarre match, but somehow Freya made it work.

“You know, the shop is closed,” he told, while locking the door, and turning to smile at the girl, “and even if it wasn’t, your shift wouldn’t start until tonight.”

He was greeted with an identical smile, and sparkles in her still red eyes, followed by the bags, which unfortunately didn’t perish overnight. “I know. I just thought, that I would show you around the city. Show you all the good spots and lead you away from all those bothersome tourists.”

“My knight in shining armour? Rescuing me from the pestering average folk?” He laughed, “how lucky I am to have someone like that in my life.”

Freya returned the laugh, making her face look a bit less worn out, “don’t accuse me of being the knight in shining armour, until you’ve tasted Smith’s coffee.”

“Smith? The man from last night?”

“Almost. His daughter and son own the best Café in the city.” Freya exclaimed, buzzing with enthusiasm, “if it wasn’t outlawed, I would think they used pixie dust in their brownies.”

“Pixie dust?! I wouldn’t even use that on my worst enemy,” irritation with a small mix of amusement in his voice, he laughed it off, and was then and there sure of the fact, that Freya did not know much about his world after all, even if she was in the horrific situation, of being her mother’s daughter. But in a city like Camelot, it made sense, that someone born of unmistakable magic, would try to keep herself hidden as much as possible. Ignorance was power. Or at least a way of survival.

“It’s a figure of speech!” She continued, not picking up on his slight fear of the product.

“Yeah, spoken by who?”

“Well, me for starters,” all he could do, was roll his eyes, “and everyone I went to school with!”

“Mhmm.” His eyes managed to roll once again.

“What! It’s true! I even heard one of my teachers say it once. It is a very common phrase here.” She insisted.

And for all Merlin knew, it might be. He did grow up in a small isolated community, where no one was interested in the big city life. Some did move to some of the bigger cities, but they usually wouldn’t hear from them again. Even when Merlin moved out, he was only living in a slightly bigger city, where his only real connection to any other people was Will, who also grew up in the same town.

No matter how much he loved Ealdor, he also knew they were a bit disconnected from everyone else, and also somewhat outdated. He created his Facebook profile when he was 19, not needing it beforehand, since everyone only lived a 5-minute bike ride away.

“Okay okay,” he threw his hands up in defeat, “maybe you’re telling the truth.”

“I am.”

“Yeah, that was exactly what I was saying.” Freya seemed pleased, so he let his arms fall down to his sides again, leaning on the counter. “Now, should we go and get that coffee?”

---

As they left through the back door, Merlin could faintly hear Gaius yell something about being back before 5 pm, but as Freya ignored it, he decided that so should he. About time as well. He was 25, living, sort of, on his own, and no one should be able to decide when he should be home. Unless, of course, if Gaius’ eyebrow of doom was in the question, then he would consider being back home before dusk.

But that didn’t matter, when you were being pulled down the streets, limping behind a tiny fierce girl with determination in her eyes. He actually didn’t mind, because he liked Freya, and her… passionate personality. Her excitement about everything and everyone was admirable, if not a bit frightening. People like that, in the books he usually read, was always the naïve and innocent, and nothing ever ends well for someone gullible. But that’s exactly where Freya differs, she had seen the horrors of Albion and the List of the Forbidden took a huge toll on her and her family, whether she knows it or not. Both her and Merlin grew up in an Albion, with magic outlawed. Pendragon Co. was founded 27 years ago. The golden time of Uther Pendragons madness, and the worst time for someone like Merlin and Freya to be alive. So, their kind learned to hide. Merlin by concealing his powers. Learning how to go by unnoticed, so people wouldn’t suspect him, when his magic did act up, and disturbed the world. In reality he should be studying the ways of it, how to control it and master it. Instead he knew just enough and had exactly the necessary amount of control over his magic, that he wouldn’t have accidents giving him away.

With that came all the small tricks, floating things around, changing somethings temperature, and alternating small things, such as making his scarf a slightly different shade of light blue. Those things came with his years of practice with Gaius all those summer weeks. The old man had taught him few handy charms, going against Hunith’s suggestions. Gaius thought they would help him master his powers. Sometimes they did. They prevented most of the accidental slip ups, because now he actually knew how to conquer an incantation, instead of guessing all the answers.
The only problem was the fact that Merlin, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t the most well-behaved child. One particularly warm summer day when Merlin was 10, Gaius wasn’t looking so Merlin took one of his books. Not even sure what the book contained, he hid it under his bed until his uncle left them, none the wiser somehow. Simple Bewitchments by Ruth Osborne. To this day, he still had the book.

But Freya didn’t grow up that way. 3 older brothers, who all loved her dearly, but sought shelter every night. Frightened she would kill them, or worse. Her mother died when she was just a little girl, so she grew up, mostly alone, not really knowing much about herself and her curse. Locked in a cage every night since she was young, must really have messed something up in her mind. Until she met Gaius, who held answers and a temporary solution. Hope was visible, but after all she was still a small terrified girl with horrors unseen by others. Keeping such a heavy secret to herself. The fear of hurting others, while also anticipating her inevitable death if anyone ever found out.

Midday coffee was acceptable for the duo.

---

As it turned out, Blacksmiths the coffee shop, was off limits for tourists. There was a giant sign out front, with bold letters spelling ‘No tourists allowed’ or anything like that, but because it was so well hidden, Merlin wasn’t sure if he would be able to find his way back to the main road again, after walking through the labyrinth of alleys. But it was there, clear as day welcoming everyone with open arms. Door opens, and a few coffee tables out front, all filled to the brim with chattering people. A waiter walking from table to table, collecting empty glasses and plates.
The waiter looked up, as Merlin and Freya were approaching, smiled as he recognized the girl and greeted her with a wave.

“Freya! Lovely to see you again,” the waiter put the tray, and hugged her. “Have you been overworking in the bookshop? Dad mentioned you were there last night.”
“I have maybe been a bit busy lately,” she admitted, when the server let go of her again, “but I’m going to have a bit more free time now, since Merlin here has come to help me with some of my shifts.” She gestured to Merlin, who stood a few steps behind her, not wanting to interrupt the reunion, of what seemed like old friends.

“Hi,” he said, stepping into full view.

Freya was nearly jumping up and down with excitement, when she started introducing the two. “He’s Gaius’ nephew,” sounded the opening, “Merlin, meet Elyan. Co-owner of Blacksmiths, and my best friend since seventh grade.”

He grinned. “That’s a positive statement. You hated my guts the first few years,” Elyan remarked, shaking Merlin’s hand. “Nice to meet you Merlin, but I’m afraid I don’t have much more time to stay and chat. Work calls.” He picked up the tray and started walking towards the entrance.

“Is your big sis still pestering you around, making you do all the dirty work, while she manages the register and all the people?” Freya asked as she was following right in Elyan’s heels. Merlin close behind.

“No no no, not at all. I’m getting off easy collecting people’s trash. It’s Gwen who got the demanding job, serving all the barbaric customers.”

“Elyan Smith, are you calling the customers barbaric?” Sounded a voice, a few feet away, openly displeased. Elyan didn’t seem worried though, turning around to face the woman behind the counter who was standing, taking a teenage girls order. “I certainly hope it isn’t sweet Karina here, you’re talking about.”
The girl, Karina, seemed fairly uncomfortable to be caught in the crossfire, of the two’s disagreement.

“Gwen, you know I don’t mean the nice regulars,” he gave Karina a wink before he continued, “I’m more worried about the harpies coming in, insulting my everything, and then demanding to see the manager.”

The woman behind the counter, Gwen, snorted. “And who might that be? Besides I thought you loved to pull the ‘co-owner’ card, whenever someone asks for the manager.”

“You must admit it’s entertaining to watch them take back their own words,” Elyan put the tray down and had started pointing at his older sister, “and you have never seen Frida Phillips’ dark side. She adores you.”

“That is very rude of you, to call Frida a harpy, she’s more…” Loss of words, Gwen stood there, speculating, forgetting all about sweet little innocent Karina’s order.

“Shrewish?”

“Now you’re just using words you don’t understand, Elyan.” And that ended the conversation, because Karina had finally found the courage to make a small cough, so she would get the attention of Gwen. “Oh, right. I’m terribly sorry about that Karina. Now, what’s your order?”

The other half of the bickering sibling-duo had left to finally go out with the dirty dishes. All left to do now, was get in the short line, consisting of Karina, Freya, and Merlin.
“Freya! Thought it was you hiding behind Elyan,” she turned her attention to Merlin. Studying the tall, dark haired man for a moment, before coming to a conclusion, “I don’t think I’ve seen you before. I’m Gwen. The better…”

“Worse!” Could be heard, coming from out back.

“Nicer sibling,” her head was slightly tilted, a smile plastered on her face. Unlike Freya’s smiles, this one reached her eyes. That smile, made him decide that he already really liked Gwen.

“Merlin,” he introduced, returning her smile and taking a step forward.

“Merlin, what a lovely name. It must fit your personality, because if Freya likes you, then so must I. Not because it’s a rule or anything, just because Freya usually have good type in friends, and you seem like a nice one. Not that I can judge someone based on their looks, but you don’t seem big and dangerous, not that you aren’t… I’m blabbering again, aren’t I? Sorry.” And the kindness continued. Followed by a small and nervous laugh. The bubbly nature of the girl was quite something. Likable for one thing. He hadn’t known her for more than two minutes, but something about her screamed familiarity and comfort. He sort of wanted to share his whole life story, including the bit about him, being a bit illegal in nature. Obviously, he didn’t. She was a stranger. Just a really trust worthy one, according to his instincts.

“Thanks, I think.” A small chuckle escaped him, “and likewise.” The girl smiled again, trying to ignore the blushing, she instead began to take their orders.

“The brownies Merlin! You gotta try the brownies!” Freya was almost yelling. At least speaking so loud, that the entire café could hear her. He then tried the brownies. And without admitting it publicly, he silently agreed to the statement, that they might did put some magical substance into them. He did, though, not admit this to Freya sitting opposite him, whit a shit-eating grin, anticipating his reaction.

“Okay… I have to admit they’re absolutely fantastic,” the girl almost flew out of the chair, hearing his words. “But I do not approve of a phrase misusing the power of pixie dust. Freya it’s illegal for a reason.” His words made Freya fall directly into her seat again. Suddenly the red sprung eyes seemed much more visible.

“That… that’s…” She put her cup of coffee down on the table and straightened up. “Merlin out of everyone, I would not think you would approve of that list.” That’s when he spotted the mistake. Both in his own words, but also in Freya’s magical education.

“I do not in any way approve of the list. But pixie dust was outlawed long before Uther Pendragon’s birth. It’s dangerous on an entirely different level. The Sidhe fear it, and I hope you know what they’re capable of.” Freya simply nodded silently as her shoulders fell down, after being tensed. “Now, I really don’t want to talk about this anymore. Let’s just… change the subject.”

After a few moments of prolonged silence, they did exactly that. Small talk was something Merlin could handle, and with Freya it seemed like second nature. The girl effortless jumped from one topic to the next, like she had done with Gaius the night before. Except this time, it was in a much slower pace that Merlin could actually follow Freya’s line of thought.

“Still up for tomorrow night?” She eventually asked, as she was just about to take the last sip of her coffee.

Merlin leaned back in his chair, “I thought Gaius wouldn’t let you out?”

“Nah. The old man will budge. It’ll just take a bit of persuasion. Nothing much.” Freya didn’t meet Merlin’s eyes while she talked. Looked out the window, and then down at her hands. He could see the thin line representing a smile, as her eyes flew up to look at Merlin’s coffee cup.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea?”

“Yes, yes I am absolutely sure.” Her eyes finally reached his, “I did promise to show you all the good spots in Camelot, and The Rising Sun, is magnificent on Fridays.” The thin line pretending to be her mouth, extended into a somewhat real smile.

“You’re going out tomorrow night?” Merlin’s back stiffened, as someone came up from behind him. Chocked for a moment but relaxed as Gwen sat down beside him. “Oh sorry, I hope I didn’t startle you? I really didn’t mean to! I just heard you were talking about The Rising Sun, and... and… oh, I promise I wasn’t eavesdropping! Because I wasn’t. You know, sometimes you just hear a keyword, or something, and I’m talking nonsense again, aren’t I? Sorry.” Her cheeks reddened.

“It’s okay, really.” Merlin sent her a reassuring smile, recalling his first meeting with Will. “I’ve done that thousands of times before.”

Gwen, still flustered, started nodding. Seeming better but ended up throwing her head into her hands. “It’s just since I created this dating profile, I’ve been terribly nervous around strangers. Fearing they’ll maybe judge me or something. I know it’s dumb, because almost everyone has tried online dating now. I just feel a bit out of place, using it. I’ve just never been exceptionally good, using phones and computers and such. Honestly, I don’t even know why I’m dropping all of this on you two. I’ve only just met you, Merlin, and yet here you’re getting all my problems.” She sighed and leaned back into the comfort of the chair. Merlin related to her confusion, as he himself had felt the urge to share every small detail of himself with the girl. Contrary to her, he had succeeded in keeping quiet. But also, just barely.

“It’s fine. Totally. Not in any way feeling judgemental.” He tried to start, sincere in his words buy not knowing where it was going from there. Right as he was trying to talk out of his arse, Gwen intervened and continued her rant.

“Thank you so much Merlin! I mean, it’s all just a bit hectic right now. The café is starting to attract a lot attention, and there’s way more customers than I’m used to, and between me, Elyan, and the five very great employees who all have limited time to work because of school. It’s just been a bit much, with working day in and out, not really catching my breath at any moment. Tomorrow night is one of my first weekends off in a long time, so I’m meeting up with my first match in The Rising Sun and since it’s a really long time ago I’ve had anything resembling a boyfriend in my life, so now I’m left stressing over that. And then there is my dad, who you know Freya, who’s always talking about going on family trips, eating family dinner, and overall just spending time with me and Elyan, and I would love that, if my schedule wasn’t already filled with work, and evening classes.”

“Oh, you’ve started studying again?” Freya broke in.

“Yeah, I’ve been taking a few lessons in all the subjects I missed, when I went to college. Business management is more difficult than I thought.” For a single moment, the girl took a breath clearly happy to get it all off her chest, and into the real world. “But what I was getting at, before I started rambling off on all kinds of different topics. I was wondering, if I could tag along tomorrow night, when you’re going to The Rising Sun? It would be nice to have some familiar faces to fall back on, if everything goes wrong.”

“Yeah sure, that would be nice. Merlin and I can be your bodyguards! I bet we’d be real good bodyguards.”

“Really? I would love that. And I promise I won’t be so chatty tomorrow, I really don’t know what happened, but it all just came out at once.”

Gwen thanked them again, and took their empty plates with her, when she left. Much happier than she seemed before. Freya didn’t seem bothered by the other girl’s behaviour or just her general character. Merlin though, he had a really weird sense of déjà vu.

Chapter Text

“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.

Chapter Text

Merlin felt bad for Freya that night. Gaius had shoved her into a different room right after dinner, because he, for one reason or another, felt the need to start Merlin’s magical lessons right away. First real day in a new environment, and he was already being pulled right back into those old routines he had had with Gaius every summer vacation.

“Samhain and Feast of Beltane,” Gaius stood and looked down at Merlin, who had his head buried in one of his books of Old Camelot.
When it came to the history of magic, Merlin really didn’t think he needed any more lessons. It intrigued him when he was younger, and still sort of new to the whole thing, but now, twenty-five and still surprisingly alive, considering the topic he was studying, he was bored with it. Why did he need to know how the Festival of Ostara had formed into what he knew as Easter? He didn’t care much about Ostara, and he was sure that Uther Pendragon didn’t either. He defiantly wouldn’t care the slightest about Merlin’s frantic tries at de-magicalysing Ostara, by saying it was a time of hunting, and not at all an old druidic celebration.
Freya would maybe be interested. He thought of her as the type of girl who still loved to paint on eggs every Easter. Merlin liked painting.
Merlin also liked other people than him being well-educated, and after all the time that Gaius and Freya had known each other, Merlin wondered why she hadn’t been educated. She was a smart girl, would catch on quick, and would be generally interested in the topic that had started to bore Merlin to death.

“Merlin!” Was what he yelled into his ear, when there hadn’t been an answer in the span of a few seconds.
The question concerning Freya would have to wait for later.

“Samhain and Feast of Beltane are opposites. Beltane opens the season of light and hope, while also being the end of winter.” He recited from memory. “On the other side stands Samhain, which marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter and dark times and such.” In reality, Samhain was just an old way to say Halloween, like Ostara was Easter. Except back then it would be seen as rude to run around wearing a sheet and yelling ‘boo’. “High Priestesses would also sacrifice a human, and for some reason release old, mostly evil, creatures into the world. Seems like a lot of work to me, why couldn’t it be a wasp or something?”

“Merlin!” It was the same word as Gaius had shouted seconds before. A different tone and Merlin suddenly got the feeling that he somehow offended the man.

“What?!” He leaned back into the chair, tired of looking at the dancing letters, “I mean, druids always walk around, preaching that all living life is equal and such, so I can’t see why these High Priestesses, apparently raised so high above us, couldn’t just sacrifice a wasp. I suppose it’s of equal value to us in their eyes, and I guess it would also be in the eyes of druids. No one gets offended! And when there always has to be a sacrifice anyway, then why not something as annoying as a wasp.”

“I don’t think anyone would be able to follow your logic, my boy.” He sighed, sitting down opposite him. Merlin though, fully aware of his opinion on wasps, from a terrifying afternoon when he was 10, and still wandering around and poked his nose somewhere it didn’t belong. That particular day, he found his nose in the middle of those wasps’ nest.

“Wasps are small flying assholes, they deserve to be wiped off the surface of the earth.” He said, pouting and reminding himself of all the horrific encounters he had had with those devilish creatures.

“Be careful what you wish for, or it might come true.”

“Yeah as if,” Merlin thought about it for a second, “it would be a blessing though.”

Gaius became quiet for a second, pondering about the possibility of that happening, and if it was in the range of Merlin’s powers. He then came to a somewhat satisfying conclusion. “Well, if anyone is going to pull off a stunt like that, it would be you, Merlin.”

---

He found himself unable to fall asleep that night. Head in a rush to plan the downfall of wasps, while also jumping back and forth from Gwen and Elyan. He didn’t really know why he thought that Elyan and Freya’s friendship felt so out of place, or why his and Gwen’s felt so right.
He didn’t think the siblings new of Freya’s condition. It seemed irrational and naïve of the girl to tell them, even if she and Elyan had been friends for a long time. 'Great friends' was the first instinct, but not close. She would greet him with a hug but stand at least a few feet away at all other times. School buddies who had stayed in contact seemed more rational. Freya seemed like a regular at the coffeeshop. With all those sleepless nights in the past, caffeine was probably a miracle-worker.
Brain overworking with speculations, all wasps, felt his throat dry. He swung his legs out onto the cold wooden floor. No underfloor heating. On his toes, he snuck out of his room, and down the stairs from the apartment to find himself some packs of green tea, he knew Gaius hid in one of the upper cabinets. Merlin may be a coffee-drinker, but caffeine doesn’t help one sleep.
Waiting for the water to heat, he found himself listening to the back room of the bookshop. Laying under the apartment, he couldn’t hear Gaius’ rhythmic snoring, but the other habitat of the building was making a lot of unexpected noise.
He knew Freya slept in one of the rooms on this floor, and in that moment, he would easily be able to pinpoint which one. The girl didn’t snore, it was more like whimpering the unregular groan or sharp take of breath was made the entire floor some type of eerie.
Ignoring the heating water, he instead moved himself out of the room and into the corridor. Whimpering and unsteady breathing came from behind the closed door. As it was echoing in the corridor, he chose not to disturb the girl.

---

Friday finally came, and Freya was more than a bit excited to leave the house that night. Going out clubbing was an activity Merlin hadn’t particularly missed from his university years. Yes, it could be fun when you were an entire group of friends going out for drinks and a good time, but over the years Merlin one by one lost his small group of friends from university. Gilli was out of his life the moment senior year ended, said he wanted to travel the world, and according to his Instagram, that was what he was still doing. Morris had stuck around for a few months, but eventually he had gotten an internship in Mercia, and was on his merry way across the border. Drea travelled back to her village, Howden, and he had just slowly lost his connection to her. Elena was the one who stuck around the longest. She left shortly after Will’s funeral, not of her own will but because Merlin pushed her out of his life. He would often think about the possibility that they would still be in touch if he hadn’t been so focused on being alone and suffering that year.
With that group of people, Merlin would have loved going out with. But Freya was still a stranger, one he was quickly becoming close to, and in those 2 days he had known her, he was most likely the one who knew her the most.
The thought of dating again was also swaying around in his mind. His mum had defiantly been encouraging him to put himself out there, and a night out would be the perfect opportunity. On the other hand, the time didn’t feel quite right yet. Perhaps a few pints of beer would change that point of view though. That was at least what he hoped would happen.
He fancied the thought of meeting Gwen, the bubbling woman, again. Although he was a bit brought back by the thought of the date she was supposed to meet up with. What man, in their right mind, would offer a bar of all places to meet with the supposed woman of his dreams. That kind of creep wasn’t good enough for someone as sweet as Gwen. And as he and Freya were standing outside the Blacksmiths’ coffee shop, he wasn’t holding that thought back.

“Well, I suppose it’s a bit weird,” Freya spoke, tripping from one foot to the other. It was only an hour and a half, since she had taken the medicine, and Gaius was strictly telling them both, that it would take two hours before it worked properly. Luckily, the sun wouldn’t set for at least 40 more minutes.

“Yeah! Isn’t it?!” Merlin squinted at her, as she looked away. She wasn’t shaking, as she’d done that first night in the bookshop. Which should be a good thing, Merlin found himself thinking, perhaps she just needed a little time to adjust herself to the night again.

Freya turned to meet Merlin’s eyes, “but Gwen’s usually a good judge of character. She knows it’s sketchy, and that’s why she has two amazing bodyguards at her disposal!” Grin spreading from ear to ear, she twirled, making her skirt spin around with her.

Merlin stood, looking straight into the nothingness, both arms in the pockets of his jean, hiding a bit behind the flaps of his leather jacket. “Yes, yes, we’re extremely intimidating, a puppy and her dog-sitter.”

Freya didn’t bother to make a comment, she just punched his shoulder, and lifted her eyebrows. Merlin didn’t have the time to respond, as Gwen came walking out the back door, and interrupted their conversation.
She wore a yellow, long-sleeved dress, jacket resting on her arm, and a bag thrown elegantly over her shoulder. Her curly dark hair was framing her head, where she had left little to no make-up. Merlin spotted a bit of mascara, but her natural look was easy to locate.

The moment the other girl was out of the door, Freya had already jumped her, and thrown her arm in lock with Gwen’s. “Damn girl, you look absolutely astonishing.” She said, while preparing to haul her down the street. Merlin, in a time of rescue, offered to carry Gwen’s jacket and then locked arm with her as well. “What a merry little gang we are,” Freya continued, as they were striding down the street.

Gwen giggled at the younger girl, and quickly agreed with her, “I’m honestly just a bit nervous about tonight, the guy I’m meeting is really sweet when he’s writing. But obviously I’ve heard all these horror stories about it as well.” She bit her lip, followed by a quick shake of her head, “but on the other side, I need to put myself out there more.”

Merlin silently agreed with that statement.

---

The Rising Sun turned out to be… something… It was smaller than he had expected, and maybe a bit less night-clubby than he was used to.
The music was ever present, but not in the ‘you need to scream, or else I won’t be able to hear you’ way. He couldn’t place the song, but a guy in the corner defiantly could, as he was singing his heart out. One of them sang louder than the artist over the speaker.
The tables spread around the room, were all made of tree matching the bar. In the opposite corner of the guy with the horrific singing voice, was something resembling a dance-floor, currently occupied by a pair, only just out of their teenage years. Closer to the bar, stood a pool-table, surrounded by a group of girls, who, according to their obsessive yelling, didn’t care about the thoughts of the rest of the bar.
It reminded him of a sports-bar, without the consumed fans, or the flat-screen in the corner, showing the latest footie-match. More or less, it seemed like a less toxic environment than that.

“Soo, which one is your guy?” Merlin leaned over to look at her phone, trying to catch a glimpse of a potential picture of her mystery-man. Instead he only saw a few messages between the two of them, something like, “I’m here now,” and his response of, “I’m already inside,”.

Gwen tilted her head towards the table with the group of guys in the corner. For a second, Merlin was nervous that it would end up being the singing guy, but that thought was wiped away as another guy stood up, at the sight of the trio.
At that moment, Merlin decided that Gwen had excellent taste in men.
Dark hair neatly tucked away behind his ears, and a subtle stubble. The hair matched the colours of his eyes at some extent, except for the shine that was in them when he spotted Gwen. A grey dress shirt tucked in dark blue pants, and with a light brown leather-belt as a divider between the two.
It was a nice outfit to wear at a bar, such as The Rising Sun, where everyone was in a somewhat more casual attire. Except the exact group, that Gwen’s date had come from, when Merlin took a second look, everyone at the table wore something business-y, and Merlin all of a sudden felt remarkably underdressed with his blue t-shirt, black jeans and his black leather jacket.

“Gwen?” The guy asked, as he had moved towards her. Gwen nodded, and they both went in for a hug. Both with a splash of red scattered on their cheeks.

As the two separated, the guy turned his eyes to Merlin and Freya, shaking both their hands, and introducing himself, “Lance,” he said with a smile, and Merlin returned it, with his best ‘I have only known Gwen for a day, but if you hurt her, I hurt you,’ even though he wasn’t sure if it came of that way, or just him looking constipated. Either way, Lance led them over to the other guys, and pushed a few more chairs over. One strategically placed beside his own chair. The four sat down, and Merlin glanced around the table, and tried to get familiar with the three unnamed strangers.
First was someone, who Merlin instantly dubbed The Mountain. He didn’t resemble the Game of Thrones character in any way, but in height and muscle mass he did resemble a mountain. More attractive than his GoT counterpart though. He wore an all-grey suit, with the jacked and striped tie, thrown over the back of the chair.
The second guy was currently eyeing the singing guy, who had stopped singing. Reddish curls were wildly surrounding his face, floating nicely above the white dress-shirt. Merlin was sure that it wouldn’t be white for much longer.
The singing guy was sitting across the table from Merlin, ignoring the looks from Redbeard at his side, and instead using his full attention to stare straight at Merlin. He was handsome, but in a scruffy way. Dark hair matching Lance’s, but more uncontrolled. He was also the only one in the group not wearing a suit, but a black t-shirt and jeans. He didn’t match with the group and their expensive attire, but Merlin knew that he defiantly belonged with them on some other spectrum.
It was something about the aura of the 4 men, that made Merlin mildly nervous.

 

“These are my colleagues; Percival, Leon and Gwaine,” Lance said, pointing at the three as he introduced them. The singing guy, Gwaine, still hadn’t moved his eyes from Merlin.

“Pleasure to meet you...?” Gwaine paused, leaning a bit forward.

“Merlin.” He answered. Offering no more than his name. Freya though, she came crashing from his side, with more confidence than the other entity in her petite body.

“And I’m Freya.” She offered her hand to the rest of the table. Met with different kinds of excitement as responses.
Gwaine finally looked away from Merlin and sent her a smile. All charm showing. Leon politely shook her hand, and afterwards placed both his hands on the table. That’s when Merlin spotted the wedding ring. Percival almost knocked over his beer when he tried to shake her hand. Quickly cursing followed by a few apologies. A light red colour spread throughout his face as Freya giggled a bit at him.

“You must be Gwen?” Leon smiled at the girl, who seemed to be smaller at every passing second. Or it at least seemed like she tried to become smaller.

“Yes, I am.” She answered and offered a smile.

“The oh so infamous Gwen.” Gwaine rested his head on his hands, as he looked over at her. “Lance won’t shut up about you.” He coughed slightly and started a long rant of impressions. “Oh, she’s so sweet. Gwen would love this. Gwen would love that. Gwen is so beautiful, and funny, and wonderful, and fantastic.”

Leon smacked the back of his head as Percival simultaneously picked up Gwaine’s beer. “No more for you, it would seem.”
Gwen and Lance sat beside each other, both of them looking anywhere else, while violently blushing.
While they were busy being completely embarrassed, Merlin wondered that it was there they had put down the line, and not when Gwaine, minutes before, had sung his heart out.

“Well yeah, we’ll see about that.” Gwaine blinked at Merlin, and he had a sudden urge to drink something himself. So, he and Freya walked up to the bar.

---

Merlin looked at his phone. 01:04 am. A headache had started forming a few minutes prior and Freya had left him twenty or so minutes ago to dance with some guy. Two minutes ago, has Merlin noted that Percival was standing in a corner with his phone, occasionally glancing up at her. He chuckled into his beer and put his phone back into his pocket.

“So, Merlin.” Gwaine had appeared at his side. “How do you know Gwen and Freya?”

“Oh, I met Gwen yesterday. And... uhmm. Freya I met Wednesday.”

Gwaine began coughing up the beer he had ordered behind Percival’s back. Not that that would have been difficult, as he was watching someone else. “Yesterday? I thought you had known them for years. Why in the world would they invite a complete stranger with them to a bar?”

Merlin chuckled some more, before he began explaining. “Freya works for my uncle, and I live in the apartment just above her.” He decided not to include the part, where she actually lived with his uncle. One could understand how that would seem strange. “And she is like best friends with Gwen’s younger brother. I think they know each other pretty well. And I think Gwen trusts me because Freya does.”

“Mhmm. Mhmm. A somewhat believable explanation.” He said as he emptied the glass. “But I suppose anyone would trust you at first glance.”

Merlin looked over at him, “what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, I just can’t imagine how anyone would not be able to trust a face like yours.” Gwaine was tilting a bit in Merlin’s way, and for a second Merlin considered going in for a kiss. But in all honesty, he wasn’t quite in the mood for a one-night stand.

“I guess.” Merlin said and put down his own empty glass beside Gwaine’s. He had been feeling dizzy the last few minutes and decided that that had been his last beer for the night. “I think I’m going to go outside for a bit.”

Something was thumping against his skull, and his eyes began to itch, as everything around the room got a gold-ish glow. He rushed to look down and began scratching his forehead, letting some locks of hair fall down in front of his face.

“Should I come with?” Every flirty undertone in Gwaine’s voice.

“Yeah, no no, I’m fine. I just-“ he hastily set his eyes in the direction of the door and began to walk. “I just need a bit of fresh air.”

As soon as his hand left the table, began the banging in his ear, and through the music, he heard a high-pitched scream. Clear as day. Merlin turned to find Freya in the crowd. It proved to not be difficult, as the tiny dark aura he usually could see around her, had quadrupled in size. The form of the creature was almost visible. Wings were surrounding her, bashing out against everyone close to her. Her eyes were red and glowing strongly in the dim light. No one around her bat an eye. The creature was still under control. She was safe. Merlin knew he couldn’t say the same thing about himself, as he was collapsing into someone’s arms.

“Merlin? Merlin?” Gwaine’s arms. “You are clearly not okay. Should I call someone to come and get you?”

He sat down on the floor. “No, no it’s fine. I don’t live that far from here. I can walk.” He was pinching himself to the extreme, trying to make the golden glow of the room disappear.

“No Merlin, you cannot walk.” Gwaine was helping him to stand. Throwing Merlin’s arm over his shoulders. “I’m following you home.”
Merlin knew he wouldn’t be able to protest much, and he wished with all of his heart, that his eyes would turn blue when he got away from the buzz of the bar.

“Okay. I’m just going to go and get my jacket.” Merlin loosened himself from Gwaine and walked towards the table where Gwen and Lance were currently having fun.

“Hey Gwen, I’m going home. Could you tell Freya for me?” He said, picking up the jacket, that was hanging over the back of the chair.

“Yeah sure I can. Are you okay?” Merlin could tell that Gwen was sending him a nervous smile. But he tried to avoid her gaze, and just turned his back on them, and yelled over his shoulder.

“I’m fine. Hope to see you around.” Walked straight by Gwaine, who was waiting patiently, and ran for the door to get some air. He could feel his head giving up again, and his legs were shaking.

“Oh, mate. Relax! You can barely stand, no need for running.” The moment Gwaine was by his side, Merlin through some of his weight over on him. “Damn dude, you’re really not feeling good. What happened?”

“I think I just drank a bit too much.” Came a hasty answer. “Can we sit down for a second?” Merlin pulled him over to a nearby bench and sat down. He didn’t register that Gwaine didn’t sit but kept standing.

“Uhm Merlin. Any possibility that you can call your uncle, and get him to pick you up?” Gwaine sounded panicky, looking at his phone, that had suddenly appeared in his hand.

“I, - I don’t.” Merlin glanced up a bit. Gwaine was tripping from one foot to another. Ready to sprint. “I can do that. What’s happening?”

“Work emergency. I really gotta go. I’m so sorry.” Gwaine began to run in anything but a straight line. Drunk Gwaine and work? That didn’t sound good. Whatever it was, Merlin could feel that it really was an emergency.

He didn’t care in that moment though, as he finally had a moment alone in silence. His magic was truly running wild, and he needed some outlet for it. He walked down an alleyway, sat down, with his back up against the wall. Both hands on the ground, and then started a silent incantation. This wasn’t something Gaius had taught him, but something he had found in the book he stole all those years ago. It wasn’t intended as something to calm wild magic, but more like taming nature.
It took him months to learn how to do it right. Making plants grow exactly the way he wanted them to. There was a lot of calming things about it, and from what he had read, some people would faint when they were done. It was drowsing, and it was also a fantastic way to sober up.
He felt the warmth coming from his fingertips, creeping up his arms, like something was lightly embracing him. There was a smooth humming around him, as he started to form an image in his mind.
Forming the gold from his irises to a wall of climbing roses. He let himself focus solely on that picture. Focusing on the thorns, the leaves, the colour and the miscolouring of a few. It used to take him hours to perform this spell, to the perfection he does this day. But as he opens his eyes, mere minutes later, everything looks exactly as he first imagined.
A rosebush crawling up the wall opposite him. Albeit they didn’t stand that much out in the night, Merlin was sure someone would wonder how they appeared, when morning comes.
He stood up and started walking away from the scene. The swaying of his feet, and the thumbing headache were both gone.

---

He couldn’t have been walking for much more than 10 minutes, when he felt his magic start acting up again. Not like before though. The world kept its original colours, but it began rushing around him. Making an invisible shield.
Then a woman came running. Barefoot. Her blood red dress was torn in almost all places, and hair running wild in the wind. The two made eye contact, and Merlin tried pushing his magic away. It seemed to be more unpredictable than usual that evening, so no reason to accidently reveal himself to a stranger.
She stood still for only a second, as she spotted him, and then ran straight towards him.

“Help!” She almost screamed, voice hoarse. “You really have to help me. They’re - they’re coming. I have to hide.”
Merlin was watching her, not knowing what to do. Her dark hair was hanging down in her smeared mascara and splotchy red lipstick. Tears were running down her cheeks, and coloured her skin black, from the mascara.

“Calm down. Calm down.” Merlin started, “breathe? Okay. Who is coming?” He reached out, and briefly touched her arm, but as he did, she jumped back. She was no longer crying, or hyperventilating. Instead she stood with posture looked him up and down.
“Emrys.” She whispered and tilted her head a bit to the left.

“Excuse me?” Merlin answered, but he didn’t have to bother waiting for an answer, as a group in military gear came running down the street.

“Step away from her!” Someone yelled, and Merlin didn’t hesitate to do as they ordered. Guns were aimed at both him and the woman, but while Merlin was busy throwing his hands in the air, the woman didn’t move an inch.

“Nimueh!” The guy at the front yelled, taking a few steps towards them. “There’s no more running for you.”

“Sir don’t provoke her.” The man at his side said. ‘Sir’ however turned a blind eye to him and walked closer.

“I don’t think I need to run anymore, boys.” Nimueh said. “Call the car. I’ll come.” She turned to look at Merlin, smiled, and went to meet the military men half way.

The two men right behind the higher ranking guy, ran towards her. One with a gun aimed at her head, the other had pulled a pair of weird glowing handcuffs out. He threw her on the ground, knee against her back, with her face scrubbing against the concrete road. Merlin heard her gasp.
The soldier with the glowing handcuffs didn’t seem to mind as he put them around her wrists.

“Have you called patrol?” ‘Sir’ yelled, looking at the scene happening in front of him.

The man standing with the gun, dared to look away from her for a second to answer, “yes, sir. They’re right around the corner.”

Merlin still stood with his arms raised in the air. Feeling the colour in his face disappear. He was absolutely certain that he looked like a corpse. He hadn’t heard about a Nimueh before, but he should have been able to recognise such a powerful sorceress anywhere. Even a drained one. It took him a few seconds to recognize the magic in her, as there wasn’t much left. There weren’t many ways to explain it but simply stating that she was leaking. Merlin could sense small amounts of loose magic in the air, and if he focused hard enough, he could see a reddish colour around her. Just as torn and broken as the dress she was wearing. Something horrible had happened to her magic.
Then it dawned on him, that in a city like Camelot you wouldn’t find a girl being chased by 6 men in military getup on any normal occasion. These men were from Pendragon Co.

“And who might you be?” Sir asked, standing a meter away from the shaking Merlin. How could he have missed it? The dragon embroidered on their chests. It was a huge dead giveaway.

“Uhm. I’m, I’m… I’m Merlin.” Merlin had dared lowering his hands. He looked at the man before him. Sir still stood at a distance, hands on the gun, that could quickly be aimed at Merlin’s face. What would his mum think… Or worse, how mad would Gaius be? And he had left Freya at the bar… Alone! With her other side in a reckless state. How could he have done that?

“Merlin? Anything accompanying that name?” He tried to study the soldier, but because of the helmet and the badly placed street lamp, Merlin couldn’t make out much of his face.
It didn’t seem to matter anyway in that situation. Nimueh had currently two guns aimed at her head, and one standing behind her ready to throw her back onto the ground.
Two other soldiers were standing a bit away from the group. One was talking into something resembling a walkie-talkie, and the other was looking Merlin’s way. He also had a resting hand on the holster.
Merlin was about to answer the question when someone else entirely came running out of nowhere and took the word.

“Merlin?!” Gwaine, he realised. Why was he here?

“Greene? What are you doing here without gear? And how do you know him?” Sir had dropped his hand from his gun, at the sight of Gwaine running towards them. He was obviously not walking in a straight line.

“Oh princess, you know how I think the vests stinks. They’re horrible and they break way to easily. Besides I didn’t exactly come from base. Was out drinking with the guys, and coincidentally Merlin here was there.” Gwaine threw an arm over Merlin’s shoulder.

“You’re drunk and you answered a call?” Sir/princess had fully loosened his grip on his gun, making Merlin regain his breath.

“Mate, I heard you fucked up. I had to come see.” Gwaine laughed, still with an arm around Merlin. He was beginning to think it was more a protective gesture, than a caring one.

“Ha Ha, you’re so funny Gwaine. But your drunk statement isn’t gonna clear his name.”

“Princess, Merlin has a bulletproof alibi. Unless you think both mine, Lance and Leon’s drunk arses can’t testify. Then Percival was completely sober. Too busy sulking over some girl to drink.”

Merlin looked over at Gwaine, “oh yeah, Freya?”

“Yes her! It was pretty obvious right?” Gwaine laughed at the thought before he returned his mind to the situation. “Point is. We’re four pretty trustworthy people, and a full bar who can testify about Merlin’s whereabouts the entire night.”

“I’m not sure if I can trust you Greene. But you could say I’m feeling generous tonight.” Said ‘sir’, and took off the helmet. Blonde hair was flying everywhere. “I still need you at the office tomorrow for questioning. Merlin...?”

“Oh! Wyllt. Merlin Wyllt.”

“Bit of an unfortunate situation, but nice to meet you anyway, Merlin Wyllt.” He shook his hand. “Arthur Pendragon.”

Pendragon.

Gaius was going to kill him.